I've lived in New Jersey since I was two years old. I've grown up at the Meadowlands, which is the complex where MetLife Stadium is located. Literally. My first concert was there. It was the site of the high school state championship game I would attend to watch the game, not the cute boys in the next row. Now it's hosting the Super Bowl. How cool is that?
Here are my ten things to do, eat and know while in New Jersey for the Super Bowl.
1. If you want to make friends, don't ask if they know Snooki or the Situation. Ask about Springsteen vs. Bon Jovi. Or James Gandolfini. This is a common problem that tourists have with New Jersey. Snooki and the Situation are not from New Jersey. They don't represent our state in a positive manner and we know it. Instead, ask if they like Bruce Springsteen or Bon Jovi better. Most people fall on one side or the other in that debate. If you really want to avoid any sort of Jersey conflict, ask about James Gandolfini. The actor's recent death rocked the state and someone will be able to tell you where they were when they found out.
2. It's ok to joke about the George Washington bridge problem. Just maybe not to the governor. (If you have no idea what I'm talking about, come out from under your rock.) New Jersey residents have a pretty good self-depricating sense of humor. (If you don't believe me, read this article by The Star Ledger's Jerry Izenberg.) The absurdity of the whole George Washington bridge controversy is not surprising to anyone and you can definitely joke about it with residents. They'll appreciate the fact that you're trying to fit in.
3. Pizza. It's a must have while in the Garden State. My favorite is Brooklyn Pizza in Hackensack, which is about twenty minutes north of the Meadowlands. Their crust is thin, tomato sauce light and full of flavor and they use fresh mozzarella. If you can't get up to Hackensack, then find a mom and pop joint. Ask the locals. They'll tell you their favorite spot.
4. There are cool places that are not in New York. Everyone keeps talking about how there is nothing to do in New Jersey. Completely false. Obviously, I'm biased, but Montclair has some amazing shopping and isn't too far from the stadium. If you're an Italian food fanatic, get a reservation at Giotto Montclair. (Ask for their off the menu specials. Out of this world.) If you're looking for a great bar scene, but maybe not the New York touristy-standard, check out Hoboken. It's a younger crowd, but older folk are welcome for a night! The best part: you can take the PATH train back to New York if that's where you're staying.
5. Breakfast Sandwiches on Bagels. Trust me. If you ever do one thing for your taste buds, this should be it. Your perception of breakfast and bagels will be forever changed. Einstein won't cut it anymore. My favorite is a classic- bacon, egg and cheese on an everything bagel. Eggs scrambled. Every bagel place in the state knows how to make it.
6. Be forewarned: Not everyone is happy the Super Bowl is there. NJ residents are used to all the big sporting events happening in New York. They can go into the city for the day, then return to their sanctuary. No mess. No cleanup. This is a different situation. It's on their turf now. They have to deal with the construction, the massive influx of people and the aftermath. However, there's still a pretty good chunk of people that are ecstatic about it.
7. We're nice. I promise. NJ might get a bad rap for mean residents, but if you're genuinely in a jam, there are plenty of people that will help you out. Like the guys in the lighter blue jackets with the yellow triangles and the cool hats. They're called the New Jersey State Troopers. They're awesome, so be nice to them.
8. The accent is charming. You got a problem with that? Never take on someone's Jersey accent. It's not Joisey. Or "Cawfee" or "Watah". Don't even think about going there. It's not going to end well for you, especially where you won't have back up. Everyone who lives in the great state of New Jersey will go to Mars and back to defend the accent. It doesn't matter if they lost theirs or are a new resident, they will always side with the Jersey resident. The whole Jersey Strong concept was a unspoken thing before Hurricane Sandy. Now, it's a common greeting.
9. Traffic is going to be bad. We know. We deal with it every day. Our drivers are a little more aggressive, so don't take offense to it. If someone honks, don't feel badly. It's just a gentle NJ nudge to move out of the way. Also-the left lane is reserved for Jimmy Johnson level of speed demons, so don't go 45 there.
10. Have a Designated Driver at the game. Or take Mass Transit. The Meadowlands is literally on a swamp. There's NOTHING around it. Those nice guys I talked about earlier called the Troopers? They'll pull you over if you're driving while intoxicated and then they won't be so nice. Take Mass Transit. Call a cab. Don't drive drunk (period) but especially here.
If you're heading to the game and need more tips, Tweet me @TessQuinlan and I'll be more happy to share some more Jersey wisdom with you. #JerseyStrong