Being that I was born in North Jersey, went to college on the Jersey Shore and now live in Central Jersey (and write about it daily for a newspaper), I’m fully aware that South Jersey might as well be another state.
Dry Quaker towns? Jimmies and hoagies? Tomato pies and cheesesteaks? Tinges of Southern accents? A trip home from Atlantic City that doesn’t feel like you need a pit stop just to nurse your hangover?
Yeah, we’re not in Somerset County anymore.
However, I’ve long wanted to check out Haddonfield, a Norman Rockwell-esque South Jersey downtown known for a bustling main street, adorable shops, and even acclaimed nearby restaurants like Zeppoli and Hearthside. So, my birthday felt like an appropriate time to spend the day here (because there’s not much else to do when you’re 32 and inflation is rocking your fun money).
Ever since I hit “book” for our SoCal plane tickets a few months ago, Mike has said we just have to go to Tijuana while we’re there. I wasn’t exactly opposed, but I was nervous.
There’s a pandemic, and I sure as hell don’t want to be trapped in another country where my Spanish is limited to what I learned through fifth grade. Also, on every Botched episode I’ve ever seen, all of the sad plastic surgery patients got their super shady procedures in Tijuana. And finally, if Mike spent many fuzzy nights there during his time as a Marine stationed at Camp Pendleton, it’s probably not the safest place to hang out.
But once we were in San Diego, it seemed easy enough, especially when I looked up the drive – 20 minutes from our hotel. I told Mike I wanted to be back in the States by 6 p.m. and once we got to a parking lot that was very clearly marketed to people heading to Tijuana just for the day, I felt a little better. I felt even better when a bus parked in our lot agreed to drive us there and back for $20 round trip and we breezed through customs as some of the only people in the entire building.
For two years, Mike, your typical Jersey guy through-and-through – loves a good slice of pie, isn’t afraid to tell a stranger that he’s wrong, curses way too much in traffic – was stationed in San Diego.
It was a long time ago – nearly 20 years – so he doesn’t mention it all that much. But I know he loved it, because when he does mention it, it’s as if it was heaven on earth. He loved the year-round perfect weather, the kind where here in Jersey, you say to a stranger, “What a beautiful day.” He loved the laid-back attitude that only seems to come with being near water. Oh, and the tacos. He really loved those.
But through our weeklong SoCal trip, he’s not especially nostalgic about any of the places we go or the activities we do. I think of when I went back to Florence, Italy two years ago, about a decade after a semester abroad, and how I nearly kissed my old apartment door. But Mike seems content to cruise by, not saying much, maybe mentioning a bar he had been to once on this block.
I may not have a piece of designer clothes to my name, but I’m a sucker for anything glitzy and glamorous. My Netflix history says it all: Million Dollar Listing, Selling Sunset, Keeping Up With The Kardashians. I love a 30-minute snippet where I can see the world from someone else’s eyes (whose loaded, obviously), where I don’t have to worry about finding another part-time job to pay my rent next month or think about our mismatched furniture.
So, of course I was beyond thrilled to head to Los Angeles for one day during our weeklong tour of SoCal. Mike doesn’t share my thrill for chasing celebrities down Sunset Boulevard, so instead, I booked a food tour through downtown Los Angeles with Sidewalk Food Tours, figuring we could check out some cool foodie spots and I could scope out the scene I have so dreamed about.
I wouldn’t call myself a Scrooge, but I guess I’m kind of a Scrooge.
I hate cheesy Christmas songs and any holiday movie that’s described as “heartwarming.” I enjoy Christmas decorations, as long as they lack Santa Claus or snowmen or anything else that should be reserved for children. I like giving gifts, but I hate the anxiety of opening my own and wondering if my smile showed enough appreciation.
But one thing I always looked forward to, for no reason that made sense whatsoever, was visiting New York City to see the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.
Although my distaste for cheesy holiday happenings is only equaled by my hatred of the rotting garbage, dirty subway and gray background of New York City, during one visit every December, I relish in it all.
When I couldn’t find Mount Vernon, Maine – or even the nearest city, Augusta – in my guidebook, I should have been tipped off. But it was only when searching for nearby restaurants once we arrived and only finding a few lobster roll stands and drive-ins that I really knew this wasn’t exactly the place for a foodie.
But I can’t blame Central Maine. That’s just not it’s thing, and that’s OK. Instead, bordered by crystal-clear Echo Lake, a profound silence and endless, deep greenery, it’s a popular place for campgrounds – which is actually what brought us here in the first place.
Even though our home state of New Jersey’s opening date for outdoor dining – June 15 – was still in the distance, Pennsylvania was opening its al fresco tables on June 5. And, living about 40 minutes from the state border, we were more than ready to start making calls to secure our own reservation for that following Monday which we were sure would offer us a taste – literally – of our former foodie lives.
So, Adam, my boyfriend Mike’s coworker and friend who had come to feel more like family in the last few months of the pandemic, and I sat on the couch and began to make some calls to New Hope, Penn. restaurants a few days before June 5. Dialing sequence after sequence of numbers, it began to feel a bit reminiscent of my days working as a telemarketer.
Shut in my house due to coronavirus, I actually haven’t spent much time in the kitchen (unless that entails standing in front of the pantry eating Doritos). Instead, I’ve left the cooking to my boyfriend Mike, who normally works most nights as a bartender but since restaurants in New Jersey have been closed for dining-in, has been stuck at home as my personal chef.
Not that it’s much of a difference than what my average cooking routine entails. Since starting a weight loss plan about a year ago, I cook pretty boring meals at home – think baked salmon, grilled zucchini, a warmed-up 70-calorie brownie if I’m feeling adventurous.
Just a few years ago, though, the kitchen was my favorite place to be. After finally learning some cooking basics from my college roommate Alex – prior to that, I was raised on microwave meals, although I loved real food – I headed to Italy for a semester in Florence and, as any smart college kid does, I signed up for a Pairing Food And Wine class.
At 29-years-old, my life lacks some of the domesticity and normalcy that seems to come so naturally to my peers.
I don’t own a house yet, although I would certainly like to. Mike and I have been together for five years, but we aren’t married yet. We do not have kids yet, just a fluffy cat. Our rented townhouse’s decor includes concert posters, a turquoise painted coffee table and wooden Betty Boop’s made by a former mobster. I love the creativity offered in my job in journalism, but I definitely don’t love the pay.
Sometimes when I scroll my Facebook or Instagram feeds, this makes me feel kind of bad. Am I a loser, skipping my way through life? Or am I just not thereyet?
A huge sushi fan, I’ve been dying to go to Japan. However, when I found that Taipei, Taiwan – the last destination of our Asian journey – was known as the best city to find Japanese cuisine outside of Japan, I was pretty thrilled.
Being that Mike’s birthday fell during our trip, I hoped to take him to Nomura, a Michelin-starred sushi eatery in Taipei. However, by the time I was able to ask the concierge at our hotel to call for a reservation, they were all booked up.