I have always thought that New Jersey got a bad rap. Anytime someone says they are from New Jersey the first question they get asked is, “what exit?”
Everyone in New Jersey lives near an exit of The New Jersey Turnpike. Or so legend has it.
I am not a big fan of The Turnpike having driven it hundreds of times and the Garden State Parkway is often worse. But there are plenty of pretty places in New Jersey, especially in the western part of the state and if you pull off The Palisades Parkway just north of The George Washington Bridge you can find some spectacular views.
That said, the state is, well, quirky.
In many places, if you want to make a left turn, you have to turn right—and go around a jughandle to cross the road which always involves an extra light. You can’t put gas in your car. Full serve only. The prices are good—very good in fact—but when you are a control freak like me you don’t like waiting for someone to show up and ask you what you need. Often, if you’re traveling The Turnpike and don’t want to get off at an exit the lines at the rest stops bring back memories of the gas crisis 30-plus years ago. I always try to make sure I have enough gas to get through New Jersey, going north or south, even though if I was willing to wait on line the Jersey gas would be cheaper.
There’s another thing about New Jersey: You MUST get lost. There is no way to find anything without getting lost either because of roads criss-crossing one another; jug-handle turns or roads changing names when you aren’t looking. (To be fair, this can happen in downtown Washington too).
The first golf tournament I covered while researching ‘A Good Walk Spoiled,’ was the 1993 U.S. Open at Baltusrol. I don’t want to say I drove around in circles trying to find the golf course but I think two presidential elections were held while I was searching for the place.
When I finally found the media parking lot it was smack in the middle—I’m not exaggerating— of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s mounds of ashes in ‘The Great Gatsby.’ Another 45 minutes later, after riding on a school bus that I was convinced was going down at any minute, I arrived at the front gate of the golf club. (And friends of mine wonder why I obsess about parking).
I wasn’t the only person to have this sort of experience. Several bus drivers en route from the media hotel (which was at Newark Airport) got completely lost too. One was halfway to Pennsylvania before someone started screaming at him. The great Bob Verdi arrived one day and promptly told then-USGA Executive Director David B. Fay, “I don’t want to say we were lost for a long time but I need to shave again.”
So here we are in New Jersey 18 years later for the first round of the “PGA Tour Playoffs for the FedEx Cup.” If you have nothing better to do the next few days, count the number of times my Golf Channel colleagues and my CBS non-colleagues use this phrase. I’d say the over-under for the four days might approach 100.
Plainfield Country Club is the site this year and I was able to find the place with relatively few glitches by paying close attention to road changes and by staying very patient with the cop who was trying to tell me the road leading to the clubhouse entrance was closed even though I had a parking pass for the clubhouse. (No ashes for me again, thank-you very much).
The players seem to like the golf course although it has a lot of blind shots and a lot of side hill lies. I’m sure Ian Baker-Finch will think it is magnificent.
I spent some time with my buddy Paul Goydos while he was on the range this afternoon. He asked me if I’d heard his line about Atlanta Athletic Club—I didn’t make it to The PGA so I hadn’t.
“Only golf course I’ve ever played with a three-shot par four and a drivable par-three.”
If you play golf you know how funny that line is. Goydos is always funny.
Joe Ogilvie is also funny. After the earthquake yesterday he tweeted that if an earthquake would push those on the left in Washington and those on the right in Washington closer to the center then he was in favor of earthquakes.
I was in my car when the earthquake hit. The car started to shudder and I thought something was wrong with one of my tires. It stopped and I drove on. A little while later I got in the car to drive up here and started to go through my call list, which I routinely do when I have a long trip. Except I couldn’t make any calls.
I finally got a call through to Matt Rennie, the deputy sports editor at The Washington Post.
“Jesus,” I said. “Something’s wrong with my phone, you’re the first person I’ve been able to get through to in half an hour.”
“Well an earthquake will do that,” he said.
“What the hell does that have to do with anything?”
“We just had an earthquake you idiot! You didn’t notice?”
That was when I remembered the car shuddering.
I was instantly reminded of the other time I was in an earthquake. It was not San Francisco 1989 but San Diego—also during The World Series—in 1984. I was in my hotel room getting ready to take a shower when the room began to shake. Unlike yesterday there was absolutely no doubt about what was happening.
It stopped and the phone rang. It was Tony Kornheiser, who was also in the hotel.
“Did you feel that?” he said.
“Yeah I did,” I answered. “I’m guessing it was an earthquake.”
“Well, what are you going to do?”
“I’m going to take a shower.”
“You’re going to take a shower in the middle of an EARTHQUAKE?”
“Look, either there will be an aftershock and the building will come down or there won’t be and I need to shower before the game.”
“But there was an earthquake! I’m going down to the front desk.”
“Fine. I’m sure the building won’t collapse down there.”
For years Tony told the story about me getting in the shower in the middle of an earthquake.
Yesterday, shortly after I arrived here and checked into my hotel, Tony called.
“Did you feel the earthquake?” he said.
“Yeah, I did. I was in my car but I didn’t know what it was at the time.”
I told him the story about Rennie.
“So what are you doing right now?” he asked.
I told him the truth. “I’m about to take a shower.”
“I should have known.”
Time now to venture out again on the roads of New Jersey. I should be safe—at least until the hurricane hits. I hope we'll have hot water.