Sunday, July 27, 2008

Running in New Jersey

There is just something about running in New Jersey. I don't know quite what it is. The omnipresent sounds of the highway? I'm not sure that's it--I live within a relative stone's throw of the busiest (and consequently deadliest) section of Interstate 81 in America, and the truck traffic alone is enough to wake the dead. You're aware of it, but after a while it just becomes white noise.

New Jersey, in spite of being the most densely populated state in America, is surprisingly verdant. There's an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond where Frank is trying to discuss, "Who invented the lawn?" I suspect it was someone from New Jersey. I liked seeing the manicured lawns, but the trees are always striking. People in my parents' neighborhood have a LOT of trees, and they're beautiful.

The smell is certainly unique; it's a not-altogether-unpleasant mixture of diesel and compost. There were a lot of gardens and flowers along my run, but they were simply overpowered by the odors of the morning. In an interesting and noteworthy side note, my high school was literally across the street from a landfill. A fairly sizable one. And the school had no air conditioning. So in those May and June days when the mercury would climb, the stench would begin. I never really got used to it, but I learned to deal with it. We would hold track practice in that environment every day. We used to run, jump and throw in the shadow of a veritable Landfill of Mordor, but the real fun began when the visiting team would show up. Home field advantage was never so deliciously not delicious. More than once I saw kids walk off the bus and actually get physically sick from the smell. There was a kid Roscoe from Burlington City who once asked, "How do you guys deal with the smell?" I looked at him and gamely replied with a total deadpan, "What smell?"

There's an often overused saying, "It's not the heat, it's the humidity". In New Jersey, it's usually both. Jersey gets that combination of 100+ degree days (think bordering-on-Southwest hot) with 90+ percent humidity (think walking-and-trying-to-breathe-in-soup humid). You can walk out your front door and be drenched by the time you get to your car. It's like the Mississippi Delta of the north.

I think the thing about running in Jersey is that it's just such a complete visceral experience. The state provides an all-out assault on the senses unlike any other. At the end of my run, I felt like I had really accomplished something in finishing it...though I'm not really sure what. Which is kind of like New Jersey, too.


Mary said...

very accurate description! -mwah!

eric oliver said...

It has been 23 years *gasp* since I last spent my days sitting across the street from the dump. onetheless, the smell remains fresh(?) in my mind. Your words brought back that old familiar taste, and all my pharyngeal constrictor muscles began involuntarily twitching.

Thank you for the choking, almost retching, stroll down memory lane.