Welcome to the wilds! New Jersey for me was like crossing the border into Tijuana. Sure, the new lifestyle was crazy, but no one would ever admit to living there. When my husband’s job was relocated here in August 2010, we both were frightened. Now we’re learning about life, love, and marriage in this strange new culture. Feel free to tag along for the adventure.
Sunday, August 29, 2010
Over the past two days, we have found many necessities: Walmart, Kohl’s, the grocery store, Lowe's, Home Depot, and Bottle King. We even tried a general store for sandwiches and the local coffee hot spot. Both of which were good. But the best thing NJ has to offer so far are the local vegetable markets. Their garden tomatoes and cucumbers are scrumptious! We have devoured them in earnest, and I am planning another trip to get more tomorrow.
Surprisingly, we have also ventured into yard sale territory. This was the first time that I had seen my husband in action. We stepped onto the gravel drive of the yard seller's domain and I could have sworn antennae popped out of my husband's head as he scanned for deals! I saw a lot of nothing. He saw bargains that we could not pass up. All in all we bought 8 cigar boxes for 10 cents a piece and one end table that needs polished. In my naive non-bargaining ways I agreed to pay $5 for this table and was scolded promptly for my ignorance, because as my husband put it, "Woman, we could have gotten it for 3 dollars that's two less dollars in our pocket!" I could only roll my eyes, laugh, and shake my head at his thrifty ways.
Other than that all is well. We had our first non-working visitor over today and enjoyed his company immensely. He is from Jersey and I promised to post something kind about the state. Although, over the past few days, I've come across nothing to incite anger or rage. In fact this pastoral lifestyle is peaceful. We have found fawns grazing on the lawn just outside our front door and have seen yellow finches and chickadees pecking at the seeds at our bird feeder. There's no busy traffic, and people swim, hike, bike, and jog around our community.
We have not met our neighbors. We have seen them in passing, eyed each other and nodded. Eventually, I imagine one of us will get the courage to actually verbalize a greeting. However, the simple acknowledgment that we exist is enough for now.
The only anxiety remains in whether or not my husband will like his new post. He is confident and unaffected by the change, but I harbor enough nervousness for the two of us. Both my fingers and toes are crossed that all goes well tomorrow as he meets his new colleagues.
And with that, I'm signing off...
Until next time,
Friday, August 27, 2010
Sunday, the night before my trip to Jersey, my in-laws were in Baltimore Harbor for an art show. They had to bring a U-Haul and offered to carry a dining set that we had stored in their basement. At the time, it seemed so serendipitous. We had movers coming the next day, they were only a half hour away with the table, four chairs, and a bench…it was only a matter of transporting the goods about thirty miles. It was perfect…or so we thought.
As we arrived in Baltimore around 7:00 PM, we were invigorated with the possibility of eating at a table. For the last year, we had devoured nearly all of our meals on the sofa, because the fold down table seemed just too much of a hassle to pull out every night. We were so excited to finally act like adults and have space to dine.
Nothing worth fighting for is ever easy though. This we should have recognized, but it did not truly register until our 2010 Mazda hatchback buzzed through downtown Baltimore. It was dusk, but people of all nationalities still populated the streets laughing and carrying on. This was rare. Having been rated in the top ten cities for violent crime, generally few people ventured onto the streets after dark. Our enthusiasm blinded us to this oddity, but we were forced to acknowledge it as we passed the aquarium. The main parking garage was packed full and the ignominious sign, “Event Parking $25” was hung out in front.
“That will have nothing to do with us,” I said trying to calm my husband’s anger before he slammed on the brakes and did a u-turn. We had come so far I couldn’t turn around and return empty handed. The whole drive we had discussed where to put the table, how great the white runner would look on it, and I could just envision the vase of sunflowers at its center. There was no way I would have supported giving up at this juncture. We had to at least try.
Before another word was uttered, the cell phone was at my ear to call the in-laws. They too had difficulty parking. Apparently, both garages and lots in the inner city hated trucks. But after badgering and pleading, they had finally found a lot to take them. They gave us directions to it, and told us where to look; promising to meet us there. Everything again felt like it was smooth sailing. Once again, we were on our way. The bluebirds were chirping, the sun was setting pink behind the boats…again we were hopeful.
That was until we turned onto the cobblestone road, crossed a bridge…and discovered that the U-Haul (sandwiched between cars at its left, right, and center) was at the front gate to the event: the Goo Goo Dolls concert.
People were dressed to their sluttiest filing toward the white tented dome. Music emanated into the sky. Our spirits fell, but still we pushed on through the traffic. Eventually, we entered a roundabout. Our car stopped next to the U-Haul, parking illegally in the circle, but not really obstructing traffic. At this point, only a metal fence separated us from our goal.
If ever there was validation for the maxim, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” it was that night. Through a combination of hopping the fence and balancing pieces of furniture, my husband and his father managed to pack our tiny Mazda with a six foot wood table, a bench, and three chairs. Then, they petitioned my aid, which entailed sitting in the passenger seat and having an upside down chair shoved on top of me, pinching my feet and pressing on my bladder. BUT we did it… Two hours later, we had it unloaded, wiped down and in our apartment.
All night, I fretted, because I knew that adventure was only the beginning. It had already taken every ounce of nerves that I had left. SO on Monday, as I packed the kitties in their crate, I prayed and pleaded for the them to be okay. And would you believe it? The drive I have dreaded for weeks was the most peaceful trip between MD and NJ. It was the easiest part of this move. The whole time, they didn’t make one peep. They watched out the window. They slept. They purred.
All in all we survived...and if you need more proof of the power of perseverance, the table looks great!
Sunday, August 22, 2010
Over the past week in preparation for this final move, we have discovered that transferring residency is more hellish than originally conceived. First, there will be three days of either living in a hotel or camping in a townhouse without blinds. Second, USAA, our favorite corporate entity, cannot legally offer us renters’ or auto insurance, and the surrogates have offered the general trade off: less benefits for more money. And lastly, we have been warned that the taxes will strip us of any dignity. But we’ve resolved that’s just the wilds of New Jersey: an unfamiliar culture with stranger laws and bureaucracy than any state we’ve lived in or intended to.
I’ve also postulated in this short time that New Jersey is a woman, and has decided to hate us for our PA heritage. This fact is evidenced by all the difficulty in changing over licenses, addresses, and companies. I think we’ll be working through the BS for the next year, and spending major dollars to complete it. If New Jersey was a man, we would have settled these disputes with a fist fight or perhaps a grueling hike to the top of Kittatinny Mountain. However, as most things in an alien culture, I am dealing with the supremely vengeful monster. This time she’s known as NJ government.
I nod my head to her coy means of dissent. She has won this first battle, but I warn her…I am down but not out.
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
Not surprising, the people of NJ are neither like The Real New Jersey Housewives nor the conscience impaired crazies of The Jersey Shore. In fact, they are quite normal, salt of the earth folks, so to speak.
Since living in the city, I had come to accept Targets and Walmarts, as being the closest thing to another country that I could find; because beyond the general culture divide, there were also major language disparities. Not that I’m complaining, I always got what I needed.
“Do you have fruit?” I would say.
“Fruit?” they would repeat.
I nodded. They pointed.
The end… not necessarily of my search, but of the communiqué. It worked.
It’s not like that in rural New Jersey. At Target, the check-out lady and I actually said more than “hello” and “thank you.” Actually, my husband accused me of being “dismissive,” because after standing at the check out with my bagged packages in hand, I was ready to leave…but the conversation hadn’t ended.
‘Strange place,’ I thought, but the interesting encounters only continued.
We went to Home Depot. My husband’s general rule when we go to any “man store” is that there is to be no hand holding, no kissing, and no cart pushing until we have looped around the store at least three times. “It’s necessary,” he says, “in order to see everything,” (before buying what we actually wanted and needed). This increases our bill and decreases my patience, because my wonderfully thrifty husband will see discounts and say things like “I think we need a chainsaw.” These comments usually irrevocably degrade my calm into a childish man-store-tantrum, because there is absolutely no need for chainsaws in our civilized lifestyle or the list of other ridiculous whim purchases that he desires. Note that my husband is cackling fiendishly during said tantrums.
Anyways, in the city our loops around Home Depot or Lowes are ignored. No one is around to watch you; even if you were about to palm spray paint or hammers. Even if you push those orange buttons, you might as well bring a book to read, because they never come to find you. It’s like a joke, and I have often wondered if they sit in the backroom watching to see how long the idiots will wait for service. However, this too is not the same in the wilds of NJ. We completed five laps around Home Depot and at least one person asked us if we needed help every time. Some gave us strange stares like we were casing the joint by the end, but in truth everyone was quite helpful.
Then, to top off that day, we struck up conversation in a parking lot with people from JORBA (Jersey Off Road Biking Association), who were happy to detail the local trails, best grocery stores, and ate lunch with us.
By the end of the day, all the work on the house that needed down: the carpet cleaning, bathroom caulking, and light bulb changing became a mere annoyance. My husband and I were both equally excited to move into a community where the general demeanor was overwhelmingly friendly. We had not missed the greetings of small towns, but after surviving in the city where people brush you off and most pedestrians avoid eye contact unless they want money, the wilds of New Jersey were surprisingly refreshing.
And there you have it… one “sunshine on my shoulders” kind of entry about The Garden State.
Some said it wasn’t possible…
Thursday, August 12, 2010
“This is great!” I lied. There was just no way to fully explain the trauma of another broken sink. Some people are unlucky in love; I am unlucky with plumbing. In my many rental years, I’ve not just had minor apartment repair problems like a broken faucet or clogged drain; but also the PVC pipes busting, drains leaking, and garbage disposals clogging …the list is as long as the New Jersey sewer system.
To illustrate this curse, I exhibit my first apartment in Washington DC (also my first and only Craigslist apartment find). It was a tiny efficiency off of Connecticut Avenue. It was little, but quaint. I romanticized the city life: riding the metro, living in a dimly lit hovel that was both over priced and abused. It all seemed perfect to me. Granted when I moved in the electricity was glitchy, every surface was covered in wood chips, the shower had about as much water pressure as a dripping drain, and of course there was the sink. My “handyman” landlord, wrote into the lease that I had to call him first for any repairs. Little naive me signed it. Ha…Ha…Ha…
A little helpful advice if your new “handy” landlord has just sold his convertible to buy his fiance an engagement ring, rides the bus, would try to talk himself outside of a cardboard box, and has already evidenced his “mad skillz” with faulty electricity…BEWARE!
The first of many lies that passed across his lips was move-in day.
“The sink doesn’t drain,” I said.
“You have to run the garbage disposal to get it to drain. If it really bothers you, let me know and I’ll read up on it and come over and fix it.”
Now, if you’re reading this, don’t roll your eyes. I thought, “Well, that’s life in the city for you,” shrugged my shoulders and gave it little thought after that. However, I should have thrown my hands in the air and said, “Ah Ha! I know you’re lying! You can’t possibly read?!”
In the first week, my “handyman” landlord visited three times to fix first the electric, then the shower, and eventually endeavor to repair the drain. Turning on the disposal every time I rinsed a glass or ran the dishwasher had gotten old. Just try flipping on the garbage disposal every time the dishwasher drains, and you’ll see my point. However, as suspected my not so handy landlord could not fix it.
It took nearly two months; until the problem was resolved. But don’t hold your breath, he was never successful.
On his final attempt, he said, and I quote, “Could I use one of your steak knives?”
“Sure,” I replied; having no clue what it could possibly be used for when working on a garbage disposal. Then, as he sat cross-legged on the kitchen floor, I watched as he attempted to saw PVC pipe with my knife! Inevitably, it slipped. He sliced his own finger, and there was carnage…but paper cut size.
The bleeding stopped after some time, but he still sat in the middle of the kitchen floor whining childishly about the slice, expecting me to feel sorry for him. I had already given him soap, paper towels and a rag, as well as wasted precious minutes listening to him complain rather than watching him fix the broken sink. But I added, “Would you like a band aid?”
“I think I’ll need stitches,” he replied dramatically; as he cradled his pointer finger. And I snickered. Okay, there was a lot of blood, but fingers bleed a lot. Just ask O.J. Simpson.
For a week, I survived without a kitchen sink, because my landlord was too “critically impaired” to come and fix the thing. He just left it out in the middle of my kitchen floor. Don’t feel sorry for him though…he didn’t need stitches. Then, just before his wedding (this is crucial for the story) he does finally come to fix my sink, puts it back together…and surprise, surprise the garbage disposal was still necessary to drain it and now the dishwasher was also unusable.
I’m angry to say the least; especially since another problem of said landlord was his inability to show up on time. He was in a hurry to leave; already late for another appointment, and promised once he returned from his honeymoon he would fix it. He actually asked me to be understanding. And here I thought I had been…for the last two months.
But my battle with the kitchen sink was not over. No, oh no. It exploded while I had a sink fully of soapy water. The constant use of the garbage disposal finally dislodged bolts and piping and the whole thing one night simply broke. After the ferocious clatter, it did not take long to deduce the cause of it. A waterfall cascaded out of the cabinet underneath the sink. We’re talking a massive flood: filthy, soap-scummy, steaming water everywhere!
I called a plumber. There was nothing left to do. Said landlord was on his honeymoon and “I was trying to be considerate” by calling someone else. When my favorite plumber arrived, he needed to snake the disposal after he fixed the pipes. And would you like to guess why my garbage disposal and sink hadn’t worked? It was clogged by packaging material. My landlord never took the plastic and Styrofoam out of the thing when he installed it!
I no longer resent him for his ineptitude. I simply think, “God Bless.” After all it takes a rare individual to defy the laws of nature. With Darwin’s theory, the man should have been dead years ago.
This cautionary tale, however, does illustrate the reason for panic over a broken sink. So when my new landlord asked us to use his handyman before calling in a professional, I gulped back fear and heartache. And I vowed if he asked me for use of a knife, I would kick him out, and call a plumber. There was just no reason to relive the horror.
At 4:30 on the dot, the landlord’s handyman arrived in a truck with all sorts of workman paraphernalia in the bed of it. That was the first good sign. The second was his workman’s shirt and boots. We exchanged pleasantries before he detached and inspected the garbage disposal (I had seen my past landlord take an hour to do the same thing). He worked. I watched. Everything was going well.
It seemed he had made some success before he asked, “Do you have a…”
I held my breath hoping and praying he did not say “knife.”
And when he said, “Flat-head screwdriver. I’ve got one in the truck, but I think I’ve found the problem.” I nearly cheered. Before my amazed eyes, the handyman proceeded to explain what had happened and offered to replace the garbage disposal, because the seal had disintegrated…which he completed in under a day.
Point of this story: Of all the strange things in the Wilds of New Jersey, so far the most intriguingly helpful are handymen…quite capable individuals!
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
Here I am trying to be optimistic about this move and you continue to thwart me with your regulations and bureaucratic bull shit. The irony of the situation is that when we signed our lease we had to wait until Monday to get all the papers on where to call to set-up the gas and electric. I survived without the hot water. Hell, I could boil water if necessary. However, today as I’m on the phone setting up the electric…the electric truck arrives to shut me down. Even with the phone secretary on my side, I asked first nicely, then pleadingly to keep the electric on. After all, I was on the phone setting it up!
“Not until I get my paperwork,” he says.
To make a long story short, as I watch my nemesis drive away in his white truck with black lettering, the electric company’s secretary has all the paperwork and puts me on hold to send the information to the drivers' office so that I can get electric today. BUT, the guy who can send out the paperwork to the drivers is on vacation. SO, the secretary returns to me on the phone and says and I quote, “We never do same day installation but we were trying to do something special.” I roll my eyes and try to keep my voice cool and collected. Trying to do something special and actually accomplishing it are too completely different things. There are times when you can say, “It’s the thought that counts.” Today is not that day.
Our closing remarks are “I spoke with the driver and he is very busy tomorrow he’ll be there between 8 and 3:30PM but he cannot guarantee anything more than that.” I smile trying to not share the gnawing scream of frustration in my chest.
But no, that is not the end, because I need to get the account confirmation. The electric company tries to sell me more stuff before they’ll give it to me. Even with that sales woman I manage a polite lie that I really have to get going…
“Oh…well I have just a few more things to tell you,” she says.
“I really need to get going,” I say again. Seriously, I don’t want to hear about any more specials and deals for other companies that I’m not going to use, because I’m a renter (which she knows).
“I can’t guarantee the same discounts on other services if you call at a later date.” She’s slightly miffed at my impatience; I can hear it in her tone.
“Well,” I finally say, “That’s my problem not yours. The confirmation number please…”
At last she gives me the number which is a ridiculously long 21 digit code. At this point, I’m near yelling, “I’m getting electricity; not trying to break into some covert, underground, government security system. 21 digits, are you serious?”
But I do not. I simply smile, hoping it is shared with the person on the other end of the line and say, “Thank you. Have a nice day;” although those sentiments are not exactly what I’m feeling.
I wish that had been the end of the phone calls, but I had one more: the gas company. Ah, the poor lady on this line finally does it when she says, “She needs to speak with my husband.” The one phrase that generally ticks me off really pushes me over the proverbial ledge this time.
The poor woman…
If she were reading this, “I’m sorry.”
Monday, August 9, 2010
In the city, it’s research, research, research. The internet is your pick axe as you search for gold. There are deals and steals out there like corporations offering a two months free special or Craigslist landlords who need to pay the additional mortgage. There’s no need to pick up a free apartment guide, because by the time it has been printed everything inside is out of date.
Armed with this knowledge, my husband and I adventured into the Wilds of New Jersey, searching for a place to live. As we had learned, we began with research. Granted, our criteria included three seemingly innocuous check marks: cat friendly, dishwasher and washer/dryer. With a radius of 20 miles around his office, we thought for sure we would find something…and after a few hours of internet clicking we were sorely disappointed. North is wilderness and housing developments. East toward New York City is settling for a hovel without the romanticism of living in Manhattan. South is beautiful, constructed of million dollar homes. And West, is into the heart of the woods.
Apparently, northern New Jersey is on a watershed, so most of the rentals have hook-ups for washing dishes or clothes. In total, only one apartment had all the criteria necessary for a perfect fit. We crossed our fingers and drove the four hours to see it, battling traffic on the turnpike, and paying nearly $15 in tolls one way. When we finally arrived, the actual apartment was both grungy and uncomfortable. It sat atop a hill that bobsledders might drool over…but my car is front wheel drive; not an SUV. Let’s be honest, the first snowfall and I’d be sliding backwards into oncoming traffic.
Disappointed, but not discouraged, we tried the realtor route. And to make the arduous process sound short, eventually; we submitted an application for a place.
Queue Dueling Banjo music…
Trying to “exercise patience” as our Realtor talked to the landlord’s Realtor, who talked to the landlord; we drove around the areas north and west of my hubby’s work. We traveled over mountains, through underpasses, by scenic overlooks, and across a few one lane bridges. We cataloged everything; trying to learn as much as we could about this strange place.
As the elevation increased and the temperature dropped, we headed north, and found a diner. That’s not saying much, though. Diners are like deer in rural New Jersey, spotted every few miles. We entered and grabbed a free apartment guide for good measure; having exhausted all conversation on the drive. Then, we met locals, had a waitress with the expected accent, and ate food that we could actually feel putting fat onto our thighs.
And after this entire adventure, do you know what we learned?
First, always carry cash, in the wilds; credit and debit are not always accepted.
Second, don’t miss your exit; once in the woods that mistake will cost you nearly a half hour as you first drive 14 miles to the new turn off and then return to the major road to backtrack.
And three, not everyone publishes their apartments online. In the north, free apartment guides are not just recycled paper. They can actually come in handy.
Wednesday, August 4, 2010
Seven years ago as I headed for college in the City of Pittsburgh, I proclaimed, “I never want to live in a small town again!” And let me tell you, the words were uttered with such fervent resolve, I (and everyone else in my family) was sure I’d never ever go back. For seven years, I escaped the cows and their fragrant manure, tractors clogging the two lane highways, the suicide deer leaping in front of my speeding death machine, and the “hi-dee-ho” neighbor life style. But alas, I had uttered “never.” Karma and Divine humor have swirled together into a psychedelic throwback to the “back country.”
But the real kicker, being from Central Pennsylvania (Pennsyl-tucky as I’ve learned to call it since living in Washington DC), moving to New Jersey is like crossing the border into Tijuana. Sure, the new lifestyle is crazy, but no one ever admits to living there. It’s the place you go to get your gas pumped for you and it’s a necessary evil in route to New York City. Nobody ever says, “I’m moving to this great place, it’s in New Jersey.” People move with hope, optimism, and enthusiasm to places like Florida, California, or Australia. These are the places that dreams are made of; not New Jersey. More specifically, not rural New Jersey wilderness. The very words when said aloud ring with an almost disgusted tone.
Now, here I am: packing for the inevitable adventure. Thus far, I’ve been told I will most certainly be attacked by a bear, my skin will turn orange, my hair will be all types of blond, and I will need low cut tops and fake nails in order to assimilate into this unknown culture. But, “everyone reaches life’s finish line, it’s how you get there that counts,” so I’m being optimistic. I intend to find the hidden gems of the state, find some hobbies, and experience renting a house with my husband (and two cats) instead of our little two bedroom.
With a wary smile, I am signing off...hoping to survive.