A Field Guide to Central New Jersey

Giant Residences

The term “McMansion” is used to describe a large residence that is built in a cookie-cutter style and is often seen as a status symbol.

These gargantuan homes are typically out of scale with the surrounding neighborhood and lack architectural distinction. Alternatively, one could refer to them as giant residences.

A picture depicting the Central New Jersey area is presented, with the photo providing an insight into the region.

I’m traveling down Pleasant Valley Road, accompanying my daughter to a pool party at Joey Martinelli’s house, and passing by the decrepit red barn that marks the boundary of Marlboro and Colts Neck in New Jersey.

The vista is of low hills without trees, but with a plethora of McMansions that were hastily constructed in the early 2000s and faced with Dryvit.

Mixed in are the leftovers of nineteenth-century Dutch farmhouses and Revolutionary War battle sites. There are no mature trees in this area; they can only be seen from afar.

This is Monmouth County, the northernmost part of the Jersey Shore, an hour south of the Holland Tunnel, located between exits 128-117 of the Garden State Parkway.

The Martinellis’ neighborhood boasts yards with immaculate landscaping, featuring topiary, spirals of emerald green thuja arbor-vitae and the odd stone lion.

The street names hint at lofty aspirations: Lecarre crosses Coleridge Drive, while Huxley Court is adjacent to Blake. A pleasant scent of barbecued food and freshly cut grass permeates the air.

Jamie Martinelli, her long corn-flower locks and eyelash extensions in full display, stands in the entrance of her large house and yells, “You didn’t bring Dunkin Donuts, did you? My bulldog is allergic to gluten.”

Her welcoming personality, which is true to her Central New Jersey roots, is both relaxed and direct.

I only brought Ellie with me.

My daughter interjects with, “Don’t forget a birthday gift for Joey,” as guests appear. The bulldog, with a bright pink leather collar, rushes up to the visitors, breathing heavily and wagging its tongue.

Jamie’s neighbor was wearing a black leotard and sequined sweatpants for an event, she said. Her family runs a bar mitzvah dance troupe and the bulldog was jumping around and the kids were swarming.

It was as loud as an Italian dinner. I received a bear hug from the person who designed Jamie’s Bespoke Home Garage. It was an extraordinary creation with epoxy-coated floors, overhead storage and slate-colored cabinets.

This person had also coached my son’s team in Little League. In the cathedral ceiling, two fathers were discussing where to find promotions on leaf blowers. What was the topic of discussion for Bespoke Home Garage Guy?

Piqued by curiosity, I paused to listen to a conversation about barbecuing and Peter Luger’s sauce. One of the dads went on to discuss his business of delivering drums of equipment to stadiums.

Jamie Martinelli was gesturing animatedly, evidently responding to the praise of her family photos that were hung up the winding staircases. The Martinellis had become wealthy thanks to their scrap-metal recycling plant, turning what others had discarded into a fortune.

The McMansion Tribe has found a way to make money without relying on inherited wealth, tech money, or private-equity funds – they use regular cash.

They have ingeniously crafted methods to offer goods and services that are resilient to economic downturns. They also supported Donald Trump in the election, with 53 percent of people in Monmouth County choosing him.

In comparison to my old home in Manhattan, Central Jersey is a world apart. There, people would size one another up without exchanging a word. I don’t yearn for that. Instead, here, people are open and welcoming in their communication.

This gathering of people is not composed of the stereotypical Trump-supporting working-class whites, though their parents are.

Having similar parents, I am familiar with how this group identifies with the president. Much like him, they are often seen as tacky, and they share his insistence on loyalty.

The McMansionville of Central New Jersey is practically a replica of Trump Tower in its excessive display of marble, mirrors and enormous kitchen islands.

There are plenty of moderate Democrats in the area, but Monmouth is anything but a fortress of liberal thought. Hillary Clinton was not a relatable figure in this part of the country with her Harvard Law degree and her style.

As for me, I’m on the far left. Despite my far-left stance, I feel at ease here and it is quite a pleasant atmosphere.

Whittier Street

The name of the street is Whittier Drive, but it is commonly referred to as Whittier Street. This road is a popular destination for those who enjoy the outdoors, as it offers plenty of recreational opportunities.

From biking and hiking to camping and fishing, this street has something for everyone. The scenery is beautiful, with lush forests and rolling hills providing a stunning backdrop.

The wildlife is abundant and the air is clean, making it an ideal place to escape the hustle and bustle of city life. Whether you are looking for a peaceful place to relax or a thrilling outdoor adventure, Whittier Street is the perfect place to explore.

A picture of Central New Jersey is presented here, allowing a field guide to be created that will give an insight into the area. This image gives an overview of the region, enabling individuals to explore its features and learn more.

I was raised on the modest side of Route 9, in a neighborhood with generations of families occupying the same Levittown-esque residences.

That was before the real estate scandal of the ’90s, when the mayor Matthew Scannapieco was discovered taking bribes from developers and the area experienced a 40 percent spike in housing units, leading to the construction of McMansions.

Recently, there has been an influx of immigrants from the former Soviet Union. The people living across the street from my childhood home, which I moved to after my divorce with my mother and my kids, are the Gertsbergs.

Another Russian family has just moved in next to us. And my mother takes my daughter to an elderly Ukrainian cubist called Val to receive private art lessons.

My dog walker, who has a tattoo of the state of Jersey on her forearm, informed me that there are three distinct types of people who live there. She noted that South Jersey is “slow as sap”, Central Jersey is “laid-back”, and North Jersey is seen as “classy”.

This comment was made in reference to Serge and Svetlana’s backyard in Central Jersey, where they had installed a set of pull-up bars and a mini ninja warrior course.

This area is far removed from the cultured city of Montclair or the intellectual hub of Princeton. It is not the Delaware Water Gap or the Pine Barrens.

This is not even Elizabeth, with its close proximity to Manhattan’s glitz and glamor. It is not the affluent towns of Bernardsville, Bedminster, or Tewksbury – towns which offer a wealth of services, such as waxing Barbour jackets.

This is a part of the state which is much more low-key; a night out here consists of blackjack in Atlantic City and shopping for the kids’ Steph Curry high-tops.

On Whittier Drive, Grandmas are the unrecognized heroes. My mother offered her adult daughter and grandchildren a place to stay in her dwelling.

Just next door, Ginny Hogan, a former gym teacher, resides with her daughter, four children, and three canines. Additionally, Jackie and Sean Strang modified their garage into a room for Sean’s grandma. Cohabiting with Grandma is once more the norm on Whittier, due to financial need.

On a Saturday evening, my children and I went out for dinner with the Reyeses, a Filipino family from the neighborhood.

Dana Reyes, who works as a receptionist at a doctor’s office, is married to Leo, an electrician. He had spent his childhood in the same house he resides in currently. I had a faint recollection of Leo from my high school days as a sociable, quiet person who was a part of the wrestling squad.

When I inquired about his childhood in this house, Leo replied that it was like their own version of Ellis Island, with up to fifteen of them living in the two-thousand two-hundred square foot home.

We all then piled into the family’s conversion van, with curtains on the windows and an elevated roof, my son sitting with their son Paolo, and my daughter with the Reyes twins. Leo looked back at me and said, “I’m warning you, I don’t want to hear any arguments. Friday’s on me.”

At some point in one’s life, it’s necessary to leave Whittier Drive – otherwise, it’ll never happen. Last year, the Armenian woman who had babysat me when I was a toddler sold her home and the McGeehans, two residences away, followed suit. Sadly, Pat McGeehan passed away a month after the family relocated.

She was a teacher in the middle school I attended and her husband was on the Board of Education. We had the same birthday, just eight days apart. Although it is hard to process, in some ways it makes sense.

Revival at The Shore

A visual guide to Central New Jersey can be seen in the image of the 118 Field Guide. Pari Chang created this artwork featuring the area.

When discussing New Jersey, one cannot fail to mention its 140 miles of oceanfront, ranging from Perth Amboy to Cape May Point, which is more commonly known as the Jersey Shore. Long Branch is home to Seven Presidents Beach, with its imported palm trees, while Red Bank is situated on the Navesink River.

Asbury Park, recently acclaimed as the go-to gay spot, is reminiscent of Coney Island after its makeover. People can attend the Melvins’ performance at the Stone Pony or do their laundry at the Razzle Dazzle Laundromat, which is across from the renowned Saint.

In Neptune, women wearing splendid hats can join the Victory Tabernacle of Prayer to hear Pastor Everniece C. Carlisle deliver her Sunday hallelujah message.

When I returned to New Jersey after my divorce, Hurricane Sandy had just ravaged the area, leaving telephone wires, power, and homes destroyed.

The years of making fun of the Jersey Shore finally reached a tipping point and a sense of pride and confidence began to emerge – an evocative revival. For me, this change felt very personal, as I could relate to the towns and lives of those affected. It was no longer Snookiville, but a place of rebirth.

Last summer, I underwent chemotherapy. My friend Dolores kept me company and drove me to the gym each morning, always saying “You got this.”

The Reyes family would look after my children, sometimes for entire nights. On the weeks I wasn’t having chemo, I would sometimes travel to Mary’s Place by the Sea, a charity beach house for women with cancer in Ocean Grove, located between Asbury Park and Avon.

This tranquil blue haven was full of daylight during the summer, and in it we did meditation, got Reiki massages, and took yoga classes at nightfall. Our nourishment came from purely vegan dishes that were grown on nearby Jersey farms.

There, I was able to recover in the company of other women from Old Bridge, Holmdel, Belmar, and Spring Lake who were also attempting to heal themselves.

We walked the recently built Trex boardwalk, and stopped off at the Asbury’s Convention Hall to admire the handmade jewelry and letter-press stationery that was being sold.

This is the New Jersey that my dog walker had inscribed on her arm, the Jersey Shore as the Comeback Kid, and the explanation behind why “Jersey Strong” is quickly transforming into a famous bumper sticker.

With the right amount of support, tragedy can make you tougher and give you the opportunity to reinvent yourself.

Despite being battered by Mother Nature and labeled as an armpit by Manhattanites, the Jersey Shore is on the mend, aided by FEMA money and the never-give-up spirit of its inhabitants. We are experiencing a second chance.

The Cafe

A diner is a restaurant that serves up classic American dishes in a casual and inviting atmosphere. The same can be said for a cafe, which also offers a relaxed atmosphere and serves up a variety of dishes.

A visual guide to Central New Jersey can be seen in this photograph. It is a great way to explore the region, with its variety of attractions and landmarks. This image captures the area’s beauty and diversity, making it a great way to discover the region.

The Marlboro Diner, situated a half mile away from my childhood home, has a distinctive hum and grumble of an industrial dishwasher on Sunday mornings. My children and I hang our coats on the available hooks and carefully slide into a booth.

We then each carefully look through the glossy laminated menus. Both of the kids order the chocolate-chip pancakes, which have a size comparable to their heads. I can feel the presence of my dad, who passed away 14 years ago, in the air.

He had a particular way of making his scrambled eggs, always instructing the wait staff to “stir them constantly, I like them really soft”. There is even a story about him.

When I was growing up in New Jersey, the Manalapan Diner was my high school hangout. Recently, it has been given a makeover with a Klimt-theme; the servers even wear a reproduction of The Kiss on their ties.

While Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks would have been more appropriate, I can’t help but wonder who had the idea of combining “diner” with Klimt. I can still remember grabbing a line cook by the collar after sending back his eggs twice, saying: “This isn’t scrambled, it’s a chopped-up omelet!”

An entire page of the menu has been dedicated to paying tribute to the decor.

The Garden State is home to more than six hundred diners.

The illuminated sign of the Marlboro Diner is unmistakable, standing out amongst the other businesses in the area. It is neighbored by a Russian LLC and the Marlboro Motor Lodge, which offers rooms at a rate of sixty-five dollars a day or fifty dollars for four hours.

There is a flag, potted plants, a scraped-up bike, and a weathered garden gnome that indicates the latter is rented by the week.

Prior to becoming a parent, I had never given the area much thought, but my son has since enlightened me to the fact that a student from India gets off the bus here and plays on his iPad. The Marlboro Diner, just a mile from my house, has become a regular spot.

No Klimt paintings can be found in the diner, not the ’50s “Valentine” diners quilted stainless steel or the ’30s railroad-car style. The vertical-striped brown-and-black awnings announce a no-frills atmosphere.

Nonetheless, it has its own unique charm. At the next table, a couple is discussing in great detail the food from their Royal Caribbean Cruise.

Guatemalans and Mexicans, who are in seasonal employment, come to work at the diner, car wash, or mulching businesses in Freehold Borough and Keyport.

They make their way to the job sites with New Jersey Transit buses, and once there, they wipe down the tables. These employees live in the aging clapboard houses in the area.

Cuzin’s Fish and Clam Restaurant

A snapshot of Central New Jersey is depicted in this image, showcasing the area’s diverse landscape. Fields, buildings, and other features of the region are featured, providing a unique glimpse into the area.

At Cuzin’s, you’ll find an extravagant seafood restaurant located in a strip mall that even offers valet parking. An interesting blend of rustic and modern decor awaits you, with dozens of exposed light bulbs attached to cords of varying lengths hanging from the ceiling.

TVs with high-definition images can be seen above the bar, where customers wait to be seated.

It’s as if a cruise liner and a gambling establishment had united in matrimony.

My friend from New York, who is a poetess, asked for “the full Central Jersey dining experience” when she visited.

I’m willing to do as she wishes.

The establishment is in the possession of relatives. One of them is the proprietor.

I indicated a direction by pointing.

She remarked that he had an impressive tan. A burly gentleman then brought over some icy refreshments.

The barkeep advised us to ignore him. “He recently graduated college,” he added with a wink.

I exhale quietly to my friend, “It looks like it’s prison for us,” in the hushed tone people usually use for such conversations.

The word “Cancer” has become a familiar one.

She exclaims, “What an incredible De Niro!”

We have been seated at last. My friend begins with an immense crabmeat appetizer. The seafood comes out on mountains of ice. We keep ordering and ordering. Mountains of pasta contrast with the Caribbean of clam platters.

I savor the pappardelle carciofi, a small nation of roasted artichokes and zesty sausage over pasta. In this extravagant yet seedy establishment, one must remind themselves to switch off their opinion and just open their mouth, because the cuisine is faultless.

People are lolling on couches drinking Ciroc. A server in a black leather corset and white-collared shirt is courteously navigating the throng. The bass is reverberating in my ears. Cuzin’s is much like the in-vogue eateries with bars in Manhattan, apart from the apparel which is designer there and too small and snug here.

Cuzin’s Seafood Clam Bar is a better experience than the typical chain restaurants, diners, Italian eateries, or take-out Chinese in Central New Jersey. The atmosphere is quite enjoyable; everyone is comfortable with each other, eating their meatballs, Parmesans and enjoying their Cadillac Escalades.

It’s a setting where everyone knows each other; the steaks are always juicy and thick. My father, a wholesale meat packer by trade, would have loved this place. The patrons are lively, hungry, and ready to laugh.

It’s easy to imagine my parents here on a date, all dressed up, my mom sipping her one glass of zinfandel, and my dad having his prime rib.

We opt to use cash for the payment of the bill because that’s the way the majority of people are doing it. Two bags of takeout are taken with us when we depart.

The valet brings forth my Subaru and I reward him with a five-dollar bill. He opens the doors of the car, like a chariot, on both the passenger and driver’s side.

Avanti Day Sanctuary

A place for guests to come to relax and enjoy themselves, Avanti Day Resort is the perfect destination for a much-needed getaway. It offers a variety of services, including spa treatments and recreational activities.

The beautiful surrounding area, combined with the resort’s luxurious amenities, create an unforgettable experience. With its attentive staff, comfortable accommodations, and enticing activities, Avanti Day Resort is the perfect place for a relaxing, rejuvenating escape.

A guide to the Central New Jersey area is depicted in the image. It is filled with a wealth of information about the region, from its attractions to its culture. This visualization provides an overview of the area, allowing viewers to quickly identify what makes this region so special.

On the weekends when my ex has children, I give myself the present of an appointment at the Avanti Day Resort, which is advertised on billboards along Route 9 as “The Perfect Gift”.

In the three-mile area around Route 9, a snow globe would show a large store, several tanning salons, and some diners in a mix of commercialism. The farmland has been overtaken by strip malls, and a Smoke Ringz vape shop is located near the Fox.

Nestled in the corner of this shopping center you will find the Avanti Day Resort and the restaurant, accaria, specializing in Italian bread.

A day resort offers a full day of pampering and relaxation. Upon entering, it feels like a festive wonderland. The shop is stocked with perfume, luxurious shampoo, and jewelry.

The woman there greets me as if we are old friends. She’s like a Twisted Sister lead singer, trying to sell me baby bonnets. When she realizes I’m not interested,

She sells sandals decorated with precious stones.

Amidst a vibrant atmosphere, the salon is bustling with activity. The walls are adorned with brightly colored, Chihuly-like lighting fixtures. Hairdressers are performing various treatments such as “calligraphy” cuts, highlights, lowlights, balayage, Japanese straightening, and “Magic Sleek hair de-frizz.”

I heard one of the stylists informing her customer that her new beau was proposing to go to Washington, DC this Saturday.

The museums in that location offer no cost admission.

The hairdresser was running her comb through my hair and exclaimed, “Museums are not my thing!” I replied, “‘No studying for me,’ I informed him. ‘It’s the weekend!'”

I walked through the manicure area

Technicians from Russia, Poland, and the United States of America skillfully apply glitter, gel, and ombre polishes to nails, and New Jersey is renowned for its excellence in this area.

I slip into the spa, through a curtain of red velvet. A gentle melody, a crackling fireplace, and a muted TV playing an underwater scene, greet me.

The living area is adorned with voluminous, scarlet-hued couches. The beds used for massages are lighted waterbeds. I pour a drink with cucumber slices in it, take a handful of dried apricots, and then I go to get my eyelashes done.

As I recline, she peers at me through her magnifying glasses while illuminated by a bright light. It is almost like a trip to the physician’s office. She carefully inspects me with her metal tools.

She boasts, “My technique is top-notch!” “You’ll be pampered!” I learned of her broad eyelash-application training. Her husband is the mayor in their city, and they entertain often. She has to leave quickly, as a guy came to hang up two chandeliers in their dining room.

Eyelash Lady’s life is far more extravagant than mine. When I leave Avanti, I have a better understanding of the expense; the eyelashes cost five hundred dollars and I didn’t even pick the mink ones! Mink eyelashes!

I received the necessary items for my lash-extension upkeep in a black tulle drawstring bag from her: a cleanser, some applicators, and a crystal-drop coating.

Handing over another hundred dollars, I understand that I won’t be returning every two weeks for maintenance at these prices. Even so, I’m content with my lashes; it makes me feel like a real Jersey girl.

Strength of Jersey

Dolores and I are side by side on the treadmills. She is wearing her Giants jersey and is concentrating on the game while running the incline. On the other hand, I have my running mix on.

The workout building we’re in was known as WoW or Work Out World, but recently it has been rebranded as Jersey Strong. The walls are decorated with huge phrases like: “Jersey Strong is a mindset and an attitude that we can accomplish anything.

It’s not forgetting our roots, the challenges we have overcome, and the future that we are building.”

Going back several lifetimes, the location was an Acme supermarket. It was huge and had a commercial vibe, with some areas accented in a fluorescent green. An instructor was standing behind a glass door, calling out “Fire hydrants!” to an assembly of women on their hands and knees, all of them raising their legs up and out together, like a bunch of male canines aiming at a mark.

Dolores’ voice is ringing out on her treadmill, shouting “Defense! Defense!” and I can hear her over my music. She’s always so enthusiastic and even her strawberry-colored hair is filled with life.

We met when our kids were on the same Little League team – the one coached by Bespoke Home Garage Guy. She was always so passionate when our boys were up at bat, clapping and giving me high-fives.

Dolores demonstrated her enthusiasm for the game by giving me a piece of soft pretzel and letting out a whistle with her fingers in her mouth, as if she was a professional mommy sports fan. “OK, he did good, a walk is good,” she would remark.

Residents of Central Jersey are unapologetically candid, even if, like Dolores and Jamie, they can be over-the-top at times. Dolores and her husband, John, had taken Christopher in as a son from Guatemala.

John had set up a batting cage in the backyard, and he and Dolores attended all of Christopher’s practices and games. Additionally, Jamie was persistently present at school, volunteering and taking part.

The people in this place appear to be content with themselves. Dolores and Jamie both have thick accents that they do not attempt to hide—Dolores is from Brooklyn and Jamie from Staten Island, both having common origins in the region.

The individuals in the gym are proud of their origins, drinking from water bottles with the mascot of their children’s elementary schools and displaying tattoos of ’80s rock bands that glisten with sweat.

Bruce Springsteen is a frequent visitor at WoW/Acme/Jersey Strong, which charges a monthly fee of $9.95. I personally have not encountered him yet, but I have had a few friends send me photos of themselves with the Boss from the parking lot.

He looks just like the other gym-goers with his baseball cap pulled low, and he is incredibly fit and committed.

It may be that it is New Jersey which is suited to him. His decision to live in Monmouth County, the place of his birth, reveals his modesty. Springsteen, who is credited with inventing the Jersey Shore and Central Jersey in a cultural context, was an exponent of blue-collar rock and roll.

Many of the people I knew in my youth related to the feeling of being “born to run”. Even the line “sprung from cages on Highway 9” had a deep meaning for us, as it was our own road, and symbolized our restlessness.

Outside the gym, people are absorbed in their phones, scrolling through social media. Meanwhile, the man who just lifted an impressive 240 pounds is now taking a puff from a menthol cigarette.

The people of Central New Jersey couldn’t care less about what others think of them; they do their own thing. It is possible that one of these individuals, like Bruce, will use their New Jersey experience to create something beautiful in the form of art.



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