The NJ Turnpike


Jesse Fried • Jun 14, 2017

Some Abstract Thoughts and Travel Notes

The New Jersey Turnpike, that throbbing clogged artery of our nation, offers its millions of anonymous passengers a view of the strange soulful country of Central and Southern NJ. The land is glimpsed at a distance, like New York from a Double Decker bus.

I have about as much insight into the territory south of New Brunswck as the average American. The cornfields, woodlands, swamps, shipping and distribution centers are not rural innocents, but rather bear the imprint of our state's dense civilization. A farm along the Turnpike, for instance, has a pond lined with slopes of heavy industrial crushed rocks and topped with a chain link fence. Names of corporations familiar and unknown adorn the sides of long low buildings.

The land is predominantly flat with some areas excellent for agriculture and others too sandy or swampy. The forest cover is a gradual transition from Mixed Oak/Northern Hardwooods to a more southernly type: tulip poplar, white oak, and red maple seem dominant, with gum trees in occasional swamps. Holly appears in the understory - a notable difference from Northern NJ.

The Philly suburbs are a conspicuous presence on the side of the road for a long stretch. I-295 runs parallel immediately adjacent to the turnpike and offers more local exits. This double highway has always seemed decadent to me.The Philly suburbs are a whole world in and of themselves. I always assume they are slightly blander, trashier and less cosmopolitan than the NY suburbs, but I have no basis for these claims.Sprawl is a big issue in this part of the world. Farmland is constantly turning into what I like to call "people farms:" low-density treeless repetitive expanses of development - often of McMansions. Incentives to live hear are financial apparently - it's a way to get a nice house for cheap. Also it would be appealing as a kid to have residual open space around to play in.

Once you get past Philly, you start to see some southern-looking pines. Also long wide inlets from Delaware Bay break up the wooded landscape. I think of this area as mildly Southern in feel, but I don't know much about it, or the South for that matter.

The Turnpike crosses Delaware Bay on the enormous Delaware Memorial Bridge, sometimes abbreviated "Del Mem Br" on road signs, exiting New Jersey. This hulking but somewhat graceful steel structure lifts the motorist a substantial distance above a mostly flat landscape, offering a sweeping panorama of three states - New Jersey being of course the most interesting.