When in Rome

When a friend invited me to her house in New Jersey for a weekend trip, I accepted without much thought. I needed a break from my 60-hour work week, and New Jersey was the excuse I needed. But who knew that the Garden State would turn out to be my summer paradise? I'm just as surprised as you are. I've driven through New Jersey a dozen times or more but have never noticed anything worth stopping for on the Turnpike. It's not surprising considering my New Jersey knowledge consisted of the following:

1. New Jersey music obsessions include Bon Jovi. 2. It's Guido central. See "My New Haircut." 3. There is a disproportionate amount of Georgetown students from New Jersey. 4. New York is better.

And the list goes on. Still, the allure of a break from DC life was stronger than my half-joking prejudices.

Being far from home and family, I am easily won over by any situation involving a.) family togetherness or b.) motherly love, so spending time with not one but TWO Italian families was a micro paradise. I was showered with love and attention from heavily accented and heavily tanned women while their own children, my friends, looked on. Is it strange that this is part of what made my vacation great?

I also adored the beach. I grew up in Northern California where the beaches are plentiful but hard to access. Drive over a mountain to a cliff, find parking, descend cliff via shoddy stairs, sheepishly remove sweatshirt, and boldly enter frigid waters. When we went to the beaches of the Jersey Shore, we drove on FLAT terrain, pulled into a parking lot, and walked on FLAT ground to the sand only seconds away. My preference for the East Coast just keeps growing...

Seaside Heights boardwalk

The nearby Seaside Heights boardwalk was a scene straight from the 1980s. The signs, the colors, and sometimes even the fashion. Everyone, young and old, had tattoos. And more importantly, everyone had a pack of cigarettes next to their SPF 4 sun tan lotion. I had my SPF 50 ready to go.

I'm back from Jersey now with a new appreciation for the so-called Armpit of America. "When in Rome, do as the Romans do." I didn't get a tattoo, but I got a decent tan, smoked a cigar, and hung out with Italian Americans. That's a great vacation, even if it was only a weekend.