“Getting there is half the fun!” Alright, so as clichés go, it’s generally about as welcome as “are we there yet?” repeated ad infinitum. Every now and then it’s the truth, though, and come Friday evening Rhea and I were treated to a good lesson in how it became a cliché in the first place. Sometimes a nice, leisurely, laughter-filled drive down the New Jersey Turnpike is just what the doctor ordered to shoo away the snowy winter blues.
Speaking of clichés, I know that New Jersey’s weirdness is certainly one. Still, it’s kind of true; just take one spin through the radio dial once you’re on the Turnpike and you’ll see what I mean. Screaming castrato metal that was ten years out of date fifteen years ago? Check. Hilariously awful talk radio, both political and romantic? Uhh-huh. Angry sounding Spanish speakers? Si, mis amigos. Last but hardly least, THE ROCK YOU GREW UP WITH? Two devil horns up, especially if you grew up listening to nothing but AC/DC. Throw this soundtrack on top of the sights and smells of industrial suburbia run amok, and while it may not be the stuff of Norman Rockwell paintings, it is enough to let you know that you’re not in Noo Yawk anymore, buddy.
About two thirds of the way there, we stopped off for dinner: our first experience with Red Robin and their gourmet burgers. I became an immediate fan; while they’re nothing if not nutritionally crap through and through, that “yummmm” tag-line in their commercials is hardly deceitful advertising. It’s also worth noting for all you fans of nutritionally bankrupt food that they offer what may well be the best desert available at any national chain: deep fried cheesecake. The part of me that’s really serious about dropping a few pounds and getting into better shape took one look at the promo tent describing them on our table and simply admitted defeat for the evening.
|Rhea's burger. You know you want to sing the commercial: Red Robin..yummm!|
Sufficiently stuffed full of empty calories, we made our way south to the lovely Howard Johnson’s Express in be-yooti-full downtown Bellmawr, New Jersey. (That’s right, the town that’s not the home of the Rock ‘n’ Roll McDonald’s.) As HoJo Expresses go, this one’s highly HoJo Express-y. It’s clean, conveniently located, and comfortable enough…but apparently not memorable enough for either myself or Rhea to have snapped a photo of. Actually, I wish I had: the one attribute that sets this motel apart from any number of other moderately-priced lodging facilities is its bizarre window placement. The motel is enclosed: that is, you access your room from an indoor hallway rather than having direct access to the outside. Each room in this hotel has a window that faces out into the hall, should you get a hankering to see white paint and a door. Weird stuff – but then again, it is in Jersey.
Once we'd checked in, we threw our stuff down and headed out in search of a nightcap six pack. One thing that frustrates me no end about Jersey is that you can’t just buy beer in a gas station or grocery store, as you can in civilized states. We drove for a few miles past several liquor stores that had closed for the evening. By the time we found one that was still open, we had crossed into Camden, a town which is fairly infamous for having no nice parts. We took one look around at our surroundings, decided that we liked our car and its hubcaps and/or stereo system too much to gamble them for a sixer of Yuengling, and headed back towards our HoJo, settling for sodas from Walgreens and a photo of the nearly Rock ‘n’ Roll McDonald’s along the way. ‘Twas all the same in the end, really: either way, we would have ended the day by fading into sleep, listening to Charlie Sheen teach us all about winning on the TV.