Our first stop on this trip is New Jersey, the state right next to New York City and New York State. Charlie was horrified to learn that New Jersey is the most densely populated of the 50 United States. And he wasn’t terribly impressed that it is the second wealthiest U.S. state by per capita income. I was born and raised in New Jersey, so I was not particularly horrified or impressed by anything.
Native Americans were the original population of this part of the country, but the Dutch and the Swedes began settlements there in the early 17th century and started to take over. When the English took it away from them in the mid 1600s, they named it the Province of New Jersey after the largest of the Channel Islands, Jersey. All during my childhood, our family had a summer cottage on Lake Shawnee in New Jersey, and my brothers and I used to occasionally find Indian arrowheads in the woods. I am very regretful that none of us ever saved any; at the time we thought they were just souvenirs of summer vacations.
Charlie and I spent our first couple of nights in the town of Princeton, home of Princeton University, founded in 1746, even before the American War of Independence. Charlie, always sensitive, could actually feel the ghosts of the many Nobel laureates and former U.S. presidents, Supreme Court Justices, Secretaries of State, Secretaries of Defense, Congressmen, senators and of course Albert Einstein, who kept an office on campus and lectured there on his theory of relativity even before he won his Nobel Prize.
Charlie agreed to accompany me to Atlantic City, which, of course is on the Atlantic Ocean, a very different part of New Jersey from Princeton. Atlantic City was was very big part of my youth; proms and weekends, beaches and its boardwalk. It is not nearly as old as Princeton, but it became a city in 1854, and the first boardwalk was built in 1870. The famous boardwalks were originally built to keep the sand out of hotel lobbies. In the 1800s, people came to Atlantic City by railroad, and it was a railroad company that actually built the first hotel there.
The Miss America Pageant originated in Atlantic City in 1920. During Prohibition (1920-1933), the period in which alcoholic drinks were prohibited throughout the United States, Atlantic City became even more famous, as the gambling laws and the liquor laws were mostly unenforced there. The city was nicknamed “The World’s Playground” at that time, and corruption was rampant, mostly in the form of kickbacks. In 1929, Atlantic City even hosted a conference for organized crime, and gangsters from all over the country attended.
Gambling was gone by the time I used to go there in the 1960s, but crime was still prevalent, although it was mostly petty crime. The big gangsters had migrated to Las Vegas, where gambling had become legal and business was booming. But my generation loved not only the boardwalks, the salt water taffy and the sausage sandwiches, but also the elegant, crumbling old hotels. The town had a lot of personality and there was a lot of falling in and out of love for New Jersey/New York teenagers, much of which occurred on the boardwalk.
Gambling has been legalized in Atlantic City since 1976, and the Miss America pageant is still held there. Personally, I think that the new, revitalized Atlantic City seems dehumanized, another shiny Las Vegas, void of personality. But that’s just me, and after all, I’m a senior citizen.
Tattoos have been around for more than 5,000 years. Egyptians, for example, used tattoos to differentiate between peasants and slaves, a kind of social branding. But ink art, which is what some fans like to call tattooing, has really exploded in the past 25 years. But not all of us have succumbed to this fad. And many of us who don’t have a tattoo have a favorite mug. Having a tattoo or becoming attached to a mug are not dissimilar. According to research, 60% of Americans say they have an emotional attachment to a favorite mug. And about 40% said their special mug was irreplaceable, and about 1/3 of those said they would be devastated if it broke. Personally, I think that most of these people don’t have tattoos. Mugs and tattoos are both an extension of our personalities, and both express the way we would like the world to perceive us. That is not to mention, of course, that those of us who have tattoos or mugs are often irrationally attached to them.