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One for the Road: You say it’s your birthday

By Shadow

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The state of New Jersey began in 1664 as a royal gift from Charles II of England to his brother James, Duke of York. The sizeable land parcel was then given to two loyal noblemen, Sir George Carteret and John Lord Berkeley, both of whom have had towns and streets named after them. Of course, the area wasn’t really new because the land already supported a diverse population, but the document that records the 1664 transaction proclaims “said Tract of Land is hereafter to be called by the name or names of New Cesarea or New Jersey” and that made it official.

New Jersey wasn’t going to let this year go by without some recognition so a website was created, www.officialnj350.com, which lists a year’s worth of events and celebrations in honor of our 350th anniversary. The themes are innovation, diversity and liberty. After all, New Jersey is one of the original 13 states and the first to ratify the Bill of Rights in 1789. Here were the first organized baseball and basketball games, the first boardwalk, first drive-in movie theater (in fact, the first movie!), the first brewery, the first town lighted by electricity, and many more firsts. And when we refer to the Jersey Shore we’re not talking about a bunch of stupid kids and their drunken antics but well over a hundred miles of prime shoreline.

Early on, New Jersey became known as the Garden State and we’re still world famous for our tomatoes, corn and cranberries. Much of the state is now industrialized and we have the highest population density of any state in the country, as well as the highest number of toxic dumps in the U.S. It is said that when truckers enter New Jersey via one of the bridges or tunnels they radio, “We’re in the Garbage State.” Yet New Jersey has done a pretty good job of saving a lot of our wilderness areas. In South Jersey, 1.1 million acres of the Pine Barrens are preserved in perpetuity. And there are dozens of state and county parks and forests, many that I’ve enjoyed while hiking and camping.

Throughout the 21 years I’ve lived here, countless smartasses have asked, “You’re from Jersey? What exit?” It is true we have the densest highway system in the country. Did you know the Jersey barrier was invented here? And the jughandle? But once you leave the limited-access highways with their service areas featuring fast-food chains and stick to local roads, you get to experience the phenomenon known as the Jersey Diner. With an estimated 400 such establishments, New Jersey is known as the Diner Capital of the World. In fact, the official 350th anniversary website lists several events dedicated to the Jersey diner. Did you know that hundreds of diners—those stainless steel beauties—were manufactured here in the 20th century, and that of those originals, only a few dozen remain?

Yet to bikers, diners represent something else entirely. They are excellent meet-up spots. They offer comfort food during cold rides. Cheap eats—mostly. Nonjudgmental staff and no dress codes. To me, they evoke nostalgia and sometimes intrigue. Take the Tick Tock Diner, an art deco structure built in 1947 on Route 3 in Clifton. It’s where I went on my first Match.com date (a disaster), and had to take my first-ever night ride home to my Hoboken condo, solo on my Sportster. The Tick Tock is one of the top-rated diners in the state and was featured on Guy Fieri’s Food Network show, Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. It was also the place where, years later, the manager of the diner was arrested for plotting to kill his uncle, one of the diner’s co-owners. He’d hired a hitman to kill his uncle and hide the body because he thought he was keeping too much of the profits. Part of the ill-conceived plan was to torture him into revealing the combination to the safe.

Then there’s the Hibernia Diner in Rockaway, just a few minutes from my current home. I’ve enjoyed numerous breakfasts there and it’s a frequent meet-up spot for my motorcycle club’s rides. This is a typical family diner and we think it was perfect the way it was, but now it is being completely renovated from the inside out. The entire town is waiting for its reopening.

The state has seen fit to recognize our distinguished diner heritage and has sponsored a few events honoring this New Jersey institution. Sadly (yet not surprisingly), the 350th anniversary website does not list any motorcycle-related events. So a while back I made a subtle suggestion to one of the dealerships in the area. “Hey, New Jersey is celebrating its 350th birthday. You should have an event around that.” I was politely thanked for “a wonderful idea” and since then haven’t heard a thing.

So I propose a tour to discover the wonderful world of Jersey diners, traversing the seven official scenic byways in the state along with lesser-known back roads. The state is 70 miles wide and 170 miles long and there is much fabulous riding here—from High Point in the northwest corner of the state, through state forests near the Delaware, to the Pinelands in south Jersey, along the shore and many areas in between.

While we’re down south we can stop at the Vincentown Diner that features organic foods, locally grown produce, pasture-fed beef and Jersey-vinted wine. You can go into the diner and find a variety of locally produced culinary delicacies being sold next to the front counter. Up north in Hasbrouck Heights is the Bendix Diner, a typical stainless steel railroad car-like structure. And there are so many more. One could spend years riding the thousands of miles and visiting the hundreds of diners here. I think that from a motorcyclist’s point of view, it’s a fitting tribute to the 350th anniversary of my adopted state.

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