Jersey v. Chicago: My impressions (Pt. 1)

Friday, December 8, 2017

I was born and grew up in New Jersey, and spent about 18 years of my life in total living there. They say that New Yorkers are very full of themselves, and don’t really pay attention to any other places or cultures, and in Jersey it was much the same. Not all of us are intentionally closed-minded or xenophobic (though many are), and I no longer am, after 7+ years of becoming cultured and traveling to different areas.

But when I was growing up, I didn’t realize that we in N.J. spoke with accents - I thought everyone in the U.S. talked that way! And I didn’t realize there were people who held their pizza differently, or didn’t know what pierogis were, or had highways without jug handles, or who didn’t have the option to just hop on a bus and be in NYC in under 30 minutes. Well, I figured all that out soon enough, especially after moving to Chicago. Well, I also noticed that the Windy City has its own insular-isms - they, like New Yorkers and Jerseyans, are very much wrapped up in their own way of doing things.

Well, after spending a good number of years in both my home state and Chicago, I’ve decided to compare things that stood out to me about each place, and for each thing, pick which place I like better. Here goes.

Food & culture

...the hell?!
Okay, let me first say that I recognize that deep dish pizza is the “Chicago pizza.” It’s not really my thing. I mean, I’ve had it and it’s not bad, but what I’m going to discuss is Chicago’s version of “New York style pizza.” Now, this is bizarre: They cut a round pie into squares. The first time I saw it, I thought I was imagining things. It makes zero sense! I could understand if you had a Sicilian pie, which is supposed to be square, but taking something round and cutting squares out of it seems to me to indicate that the person responsible is a little geometrically challenged! It’s like the kid trying to put the square peg into the round hole. It just doesn’t work!

And, you know, I would add that with these little square pie slices, you can’t fold it and hold it properly, but no one does that here anyway. Even if the slice is cut the right way, they hold it with two hands and kind of just feed it into their mouth. I’m not knocking it, but I definitely prefer how it’s done back home. Moreover, the pizza just doesn’t taste good. There’s too much cheese (which I understand is a good thing for a lot of people) but not enough sauce or oil, and instead of having that thick flour on the bottom of the crust that I love, a lot of places will use this kind of corn flour instead. Nope! Not for me.

Jersey is famous for its 24-hour diners, and it’s an inextricable part of our culture. You start drinking late at night (or for some people, smoke weed), get the munchies, and head over to the local diner around 2 a.m. to have a greasy plate of food. Well, Jersey and New York are two of the only states that really have this. Lots of other states have diners, but it’s not the same. They’re not open 24 hours and they don’t have the same foods that, as a kid, I assumed all diners had. In Jersey, every town will have at least one or two diners, but in Chicago, diners are very few and far between. And there’s no chance of finding the foods I’m used to at them, like taylor ham, triple deckers, disco fries, or - for dessert - fried oreos. I’ve tried diners in nearby Indiana, too. Same problem.
A friend of mine took me here. Great food.

Food choices
In this area, Chicago definitely has Jersey beaten. People here are much more cultured and there is much greater diversity of food. In my neighborhood alone, the ethnic/cultural food choices include Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Thai, Indian, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Jewish, Italian, Mexican, Jamaican, American, BBQ, Cajun, and French, and in other neighborhoods, you also have Polish, Russian, Ukrainian, Czech, Romanian, Kyrgyzstani, Pakistani, Cuban, and Puerto Rican places, among so many others that I’m probably omitting.

Now, I recognize that NYC has just as many choices or more, but Jersey? Not so much. An average town there will have mostly American, Italian, Spanish, or Polish food, and the occasional Chinese place, which is fine, but you’d be hard pressed to find good Indian or Mediterranean food in many of these areas.

I don’t know if any other East Coast transplants have noticed this as much as I have, but man, Chicagoans are slow as hell! I’m not talking about disabled people, those with health problems, or the elderly. I’m talking about average people in their 20s and 30s. Millennials, fit-looking grown men and women, and even people who are supposedly rushing to and from work on the streets. You’d think people would move a bit faster, but nope. It can get very frustrating. And here’s the thing: I don’t consider myself a New Yorker. My life is not ruled by anxiety and a rush to get somewhere. I’m honestly not in any hurry, I was just raised to walk at a fast pace and I enjoy doing so. It’s normal and healthy to me, and even after 7 years in Chicago, there will be times when I accidentally collide into someone in front of me, because I just haven’t learned how to slow down my pace in order to “adjust” and assimilate into the Windy City way of doing it. Sorry, Chicagoans, I’m that guy.

Another thing I’ve noticed is that when you walk around someone, to get around them if they’re walking slowly, people here get really offended by that. I don’t know why. I mean, I usually do take care not to bump into or jostle anyone, I’m merely making a beeline around them to get to where I’m going. People often angrily say “excuse me!” behind me, though, or they’re like “pssh! Really?!” as if I did some horrible thing. Guys, chill out! No one is telling you to speed it up a bit, but don’t be so wounded if someone likes to walk at a different pace than you.

Convenience & transportation

Okay, I love this about Chicago: You can pay almost anywhere with your card. Or, for that matter, your phone, if you’ve got Google Wallet. I don’t understand why Jersey - and even much of New York - has not evolved to keep up with what they’re doing here in the Second City yet. Go to any town in Jersey, and you’ll have to pay in cash at a lot of stores. Same deal in NYC neighborhoods. Granted, there are small mom and pop stores in Chicago that will occasionally require you to spend $5 or more in order to pay with your card, but I get that they’re just trying to make a living. But when larger stores (I’m not talking about department stores like K-Mart) won’t take your card, that can get aggravating. But I haven’t encountered that problem in Chitown, so I can insert my card or tap my phone and it saves me the trouble of dealing with bills and coins.

Don't tell me what the fuck to do!
What the SHIT, Chicago!? (I’m betting Chicagoans who read this will also chime in and agree!) Your taxes are fucked! (Harsh language totally called for!) You’ve got a sugar tax and a cigarette tax, and when you’re already charging somewhere close to 19 bucks for a pack of smokes, that’s adding insult to injury. By contrast, you can often get a pack in Jersey for under 8 bucks. And a bottle of soda? Jesus fuck, it’s like $2-something for a two-liter, not including your “sweetened beverage tax”! In Jersey, you can go to a dollar store and get a three-liter bottle for one dollar! Chicago also taxes you for buying vape pens, even though there’s no tobacco involved. It’s ridiculous, but it’s only a symptom of a larger problem: the state of Illinois is very fond of legislating morality. Whatever people here self-righteously deem “unhealthy for you,” can be taxed so that your life is made much harder if you want to buy those “unhealthy things.” It’s an attack on your civil liberties and overall, it’s an attack on hard-working people who just want to buy a damn bottle of Coke.

I’ll make this one short and sweet: Internet access is so much better in Chicago. Here you’ve got Xfinity, which always provides very decent service (unless you’re in a neglected neighborhood, but that’s part of a separate systemic problem). I’ve got 100 mbps here. I can play 1080p and 4k videos on YouTube without any problems, and streaming isn’t an issue, either. In Jersey, it’s a very different story. They have shitty unreliable services like Optimum and RCN, and they just don’t cut it. Get with the times, Garden State!

Uber in Chicago sucks! I have no idea why, and I will admit that service is better on the North Side, but if you’re in neighborhoods like Hyde Park or Bridgeport, forget it. I know there are problems with ridesharing, but I got used to it while staying in Jersey this past year. In towns like Garfield or Hoboken, I’ve never had to wait more than 2 minutes for an Uber. In Chicago? I’ve sometimes waited up to 14 minutes, and the drivers don’t always know where you’re located. It’s weird.

Public transit

On this point, Chicago and Jersey are actually tied, and I’ll explain why, but the apparent cultural difference between mass transit here and back home is worth commenting on. You see, in Jersey, the cities have great and efficient public transit, but the suburbs have shitty service. For example, Hoboken, Garfield, and Jersey City, you can get buses and trains right away to wherever. In West Milford or Pompton Lakes, forget it. You really need a car out there. But in Chicago proper, it’s the opposite. The city itself has some of the slowest and most dysfunctional public transit I’ve ever seen (the routes a lot of the buses take, for example, are so out of the way compared to going by car), and it’s also fucking expensive. Now, the suburbs are mainly served by Metra trains and Pace buses, and both of these seem to provide comfortable and excellent (though still pricy) service. So while CHI and N.J. both have efficient transit, it depends largely on what area you’re in.

International travel
Chicago wins here. With two airports that are very easy to get to (trains connect directly to either of them), you can fly from Chicago to another country - or another U.S. state - without much hassle. Now, if you’re in the right spot in Jersey, you can quickly and easily get to Newark Airport, but if you’re in any other part of the state, you’re screwed. You’ll have to commute to that airport, or commute all the way to NYC to get to one of the airports there. Note that if you’re in South Jersey, or the Northwestern part of the state, this is not always an easy task.

So far Chicago seems to be just one point behind Jersey. As much as I’ve knocked the Windy City in the past, it does have a lot going for it. So does Jersey, of course, and the state will always be my home, but it doesn’t hurt to point out its flaws, as every place has them!

I’ll write Part 2 of this in my next blog post, where I’ll compare Education, Crime, Nature, and Weather. That’s all for now!

No comments:

Post a Comment