Lizabeth enjoyed seeing the musical “Jersey Boys” on Broadway earlier this year while visiting NYC with her dad. By day they checked out college and conservatory programs. By night they sought the perfect balance of plays, musicals and Italian food.
Last weekend, it was my turn to travel. But we didn’t hit NYC. Instead I headed with my daughter to New Jersey, home to Fairleigh Dickinson University — where Lizabeth has been accepted into the musical theater program.
While there, Lizabeth sat in on an accounting class — which I think she enjoyed more than most math classes she’s been a part of. And we toured an exhibition of student art that I’ll be featuring in an upcoming post.
Before making the trip, I knew very little about the state. Except that it gave birth to rockers Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi, and a couple of reality TV shows — “Jersey Shore” and “The Real Housewives of New Jersey.”
I’ve seen their governor giving animated versions of conservative talking points on TV, but I wasn’t so impressed when I tried to drive on New Jersey roads — many full of potholes, low on lighting and lacking lane lines. (“Infrastructure” is not a dirty word.)
We’d have seen a lot more of New Jersey if we hadn’t been met at nearly every intersection with a “No Left Turn or U-Turn” sign. Especially since “please make the next legal U-turn” was a favorite command of the GPS in our rental car.
We spent a lot of time driving through small towns in and around the Borough of Florham Park, home to one of FDU’s two New Jersey campuses. Much of our time was spent in Madison, where we found a delightful book store, vintage clothing shop, cupcake bakery and toy store.
Lizabeth loves roaming the aisles of educational toy stores — where she finds all sorts of things that remind her of bygone childhood days. I marveled when she pointed to a stacking toy and recounted her difficulty in sequencing the colored rings correctly as a child, something I didn’t notice at the time.
Our other Jersey finds included small museums, amazing thin crust pizza, a Shakespeare theater and signs for streets with names like “Dickens” and “Abby Road.” At times, it seemed like every street was named for another destination, leading us to joke about our “world tour” through New Jersey.
We saw plenty of freeway signs pointing the way to NYC and other points of interest, but exercised remarkable self control in ignoring each and every one of them. Instead, we admired the state’s magnificent blossoming trees, birds with brightly-colored breasts and charming rows of closely-spaced homes.
I got my NYC fix at our hotel one night, watching a Charlie Rose interview on PBS. It featured cast and creative team members of the new Broadway play titled “Bengal Tiger at the Bahgdad Zoo” — including playwright Rajiv Joseph, director Moises Kaufman and actor Robin Williams.
If Lizabeth ends up choosing a school on the East Coast, we’ll have plenty to explore in New York, New Jersey and places beyond. Maybe we should pitch a cable network about starting a new reality series called “Real Museums of New Jersey.”
They’ve got some impressive offerings — including the “American Hungarian Museum” in Teaneck, the “Center for Latino Arts & Culture” in New Brunswick, the “Edison National Historic Sight” in West Orange and the “Museum of Early Trades and Crafts” in Madison.
Also the “Meadowlands Museum” in Rutherford, the “Walt Whitman House” in Camden and the “Grounds for Sculpture” in Hamilton. The latter sells jewelry by local artisans in its “Toad Hall Shop” (unlike “Toad Hall” at Scottsdale Community College, which offers school tours centered on desert habitats and wildlife).
Half the fun of having a daughter on the East Coast would be traveling to get there. I don’t hold up terribly well with long flights, little sleep and lousy coffee, but I can take the pain if I can just figure out how to schedule Chicago layovers lengthy enough to allow for visits to Chicago’s many theaters and museums.
Our trip to New Jersey ended with a stop to refill the gas tank in our rental car — where a nozzle gone awry soaked me in the flammable liquid, which made for fun times cleaning up in one of those tiny airport bathrooms with sinks that dispense weak trickles of water for just five seconds at a time.
Picture a “Real Housewife of Arizona” struggling to wash the gasoline out of her clothing, hair and a single shoe while mothers with small children try their best to fathom what they’re witnessing.
I must have done a decent job, because I made my first trip through airport security without any extra screening — realizing soon thereafter that one of my favorite earrings now lives in a bathroom sink in Newark.
As our plane from Chicago to Phoenix made its descent, Lizabeth eagerly pointed out some of our favorite Tempe haunts. Harkins Theatres at Tempe Marketplace. Tempe Center for the Arts. ASU Gammage. Even the “In & Out Burger” we’d craved while eating at “Five Guys” in New Jersey.
In the end, whatever Lizabeth’s college decision, we’ll always have great memories of our own quirky “Jersey Girls” tour. Still, I hope she’ll never lose that “it’s good to be home again” feeling.
Coming up: A “Bad Hair Day” in New Jersey