I’m No Secessionist, But We All Know There’s South Jersey and There’s North Jersey

Will Hurricane Sandy unite the state once and for all?

So much for moving forward as a nation. Citizens in all 50 states have now signed petitions on the White House website demanding secession from the United States, including Pennsylvania (19,263 and counting), New Jersey (12,863) and Delaware (6,863). My guess is that only half of these people see this as a symbolic gesture of their post-election frustration. The rest will say the President is ignoring their constitutional right to petition for a redress of grievances. Thankfully, the right to think and act like a complete asshat on the Internet remains intact.

A story in the Inquirer localized the matter even further, recalling how, roughly four decades ago, there was a movement to split the state of New Jersey in half. That always made sense to me.

Growing up in South Jersey, I didn’t have much awareness of anything further north than Great Adventure. If there were more drive-thru safaris way up in those parts, I figured it must be a cool place. In college, I spent a few summers with friends and their families in Seaside Park, just south of what is now best known as Snookiville, a.k.a. Seaside Heights. If you haven’t been there, believe me, the same characters you’ve seen on Jersey Shore have been flocking there from the north since the only blowouts that Pauly D produced were in his diaper.

My college girlfriend lived in Bergen County, which is rather scenic and friendly. But once you pass New Brunswick on the Turnpike, there’s not much that resembles the Garden State I knew. Think Sopranos and that Real Housewives show with those New Yawk-accented, overtanned harpies.

On a more practical level, there’s a constant tug-of-war between the politicians in the north and the south, each one trying to squeeze more out of Trenton for their half of the state and turn the governor’s attention their way. Split it across the middle and those squabbles—along with people who pronounce “picture” like “pitcher” and the New Jersey Devils—will go away.

Then something strange happened in the aftermath of superstorm Sandy—folks started talking about New Jersey as one place. It didn’t matter where the homes were torn off their foundations or where the streets were flooded. The Shore needed help. That’s it. When Wildwood regulars saw the photos from Seaside and the FunTown Pier roller coaster that’s now in the ocean, they thought about how lucky they were, and their hearts broke for the less fortunate. No one cared where the donations went, as long as people without power, or homes at all, got help. As someone who’s spent many long, lazy days everywhere from Cape May to Ocean City to Lavallette, it was touching to see the outpouring for people in need, regardless of their zip code. If The Guv and The Boss could be pals, maybe New Jersey could finally come together.

Fast forward to next spring, when we’re reading stories about the Shore getting ready for the summer, and how much work still needs to be done to bring life there back to some state of normalcy. By that season’s end, while the rebuilding continues, our attention to it will fade. I hope this sense of togetherness endures. But the forecast for a united New Jersey seems about as likely as the one for a united nation. South Jerseyites will see folks up north as having all the New York attitude without the urban cool. Northerners will see the lower half as a no-man’s land of strip malls and farms. And Pennsylvanians will keep mocking them all, despite enduring hours of traffic just to spend some time at the Jersey Shore.