40 days in the USA: Country done come to town

As I’ve mentioned before, being a traveler from New Jersey can sometimes prove to be a difficult task. All around the world are unfortunate souls who have the wrong idea of New Jersey and who desperately need to be educated. They see our state as a string of dirty beaches populated by beefed up men and scantily clad women boasting orange spray tans and a few pounds of hair gel petrifying their spiky, odd-looking haircuts.

This is not entirely true. I like to explain how New Jersey’s beaches are sandy little havens where one can dip toes into the Atlantic and play some volleyball before dining at one of our many chic beach and riverside restaurants boasting fresh fish and fruity sangria. We have hills and mountains webbed with trails ready to be hiked, wide easy ascents and narrow, poison-ivy ensconced ridge trails that are both difficult and poorly marked – but rewarding. In the summer, we have fireworks and county fairs. There are golf courses to be conquered and rivers to be kayaked. Bon Jovi lives on the banks of one, and Bruce Springsteen can sometimes be sighted blending into the crowds of common men clinging to the notes of a cover song or something new and twangy.

We have eccentric little towns like Red Bank and Asbury boasting quirky, hip bars and microbreweries. We have countryside and lonely bicycle paths along the coast. We have boardwalks with little stands serving hoagitos and Italian ice. We have concerts on the river and movies on the beach.

Arriving home, I was instantly reminded of all of this. Two hours after getting off the plane, I met Shar and we dined at our favorite Mexican restaurant. Our usual waitress greeted us and asked when I got back. A few minutes later, the owner presented us with a shot of cinnamon tequila on the house as a welcome back and probably as a thank you for making his restaurant top priority after saying hi to my parents.

Yesterday, Shar invited me to join her and her beau at a country festival on the river. Country is relatively new to this part of New Jersey; I remember vividly the day we got Thunder 106. It had been advertised in the newspapers for weeks, claiming that 106.3, an inconsistent radio station that shifted from indie to pop to hip hop, would now be our very own first country station. I was sitting at the bank drive through waiting for my tube to return, with the radio set to 106.3, which had been playing a thunder clap on loop for the past hour along with the names of popular country artists. And then, suddenly, we had a country station.

Now, everyone’s on board – and how could they not be? No matter where you’re from, songs about dirt roads and cold six packs and pick ups all somehow seem to resound in all of us.

Last night in the park, as the sun set over the river, pierced here and there by the sails of boats, Shar, Rob, and I stood and watched Maggie Rose belt out some impressive tunes, accompanied by a fiddle player and an energetic band. We sat on hay bales for photos and sipped beer out of plastic cups before dining at a Thai restaurant nearby and paying a visit to my favorite bar – and favorite bartender.

There’s nothing like good company and a country festival to welcome ya home.

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We're not fans of benches in NJ

We’re not fans of benches in NJ

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