As I drove north from the Delaware Memorial Bridge, I could feel my "R's" flying out the back vent windows, littering the road under the "Welcome to New Jersey" sign. The preposition "of" instantly changed to a simple "a," and I coulda sworn a buncha superlatives entered my brain, because as I closed my windows, I thought: "I'm gonna freeze if I don't put on a sweata, what is this, Antarctica?"
It's what happens whenever I return to the state where I attended college, next to the land where I grew up, Long Island. I know it may be hard to believe, but I revert to a faster-talking, slightly more edgy and flamboyant version of the me you know from Janet's World.
I wear bigger earrings and higher heels. I gesticulate more emphatically. I even eat pizza because it's real pizza made by real Italians who know pizza is a handmade work-of-art food that will never be ready in under 20 minutes or it's free.
North of the Delaware Memorial Bridge, you will not alarm someone in a conversation if that person says something really funny, and you respond with a blasting: "Get outta here!" You can also poke fun at a person you have just met, right to his or her face. It is a way of establishing a quick bond - a weird way, but a way that works well from Metuchen to Manhattan. Finally, you can interject in conversations using words like "Stop!" "Wait!" or "Hold on!" which would signal a veritable conversational emergency in, for example, Richmond, Va. In short, the New York metropolitan area is a juxtaposition of the blunt and sarcastic with the warm and effusively charming; a wonderful world, if you know how to survive it. And I did, for the better part of what I hope will turn out to be the first third of my life.
But I had a strange epiphany before picking up my R's driving home that same night. Maybe it was the nature of my one-day trip; I had driven to a memorial service for my college roommate's father. But as I paid the toll for the Delaware Memorial Bridge, I suddenly recalled how, earlier in the day at the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel toll, I had heard a genuine "Thanks, hon."
Then I saw the "Welcome to O'Malleyland" sign, and, shoot, I got a tear in my eye, and I sighed like Dorothy at the end of The Wizard of Oz, when she wakes up in her own bed and realizes she is home.
Maryland is my home now. I love the unaffected people here - smart, talented people who may be descendants or relatives of H.L. Mencken, Cab Calloway or Edgar Allan Poe but refuse to flaunt it.
I love that people in Maryland love a place like Ocean City, and no amount of comparisons to the Outer Banks or fancy resort beaches will ever dim their view of heading "downy ocean."
I love that I can go to Johns Hopkins for an ingrown toenail, if I so desire.
I love that we have elevated steamed, spiced crabs - let's face it, an exceptionally messy and unfulfilling meal - to a cultural event. The rest of the country should take note: You have to sit for hours and talk with your family and friends when you're picking crabs.
I'm not blind to the issues that we have - but I do believe we are on a constant self-improvement campaign in Maryland. Perhaps that should be our motto: "Maryland: We're Working on It." We passed a smoking ban in Howard County. We're trying to clean up the Chesapeake Bay. And in a clever move that nicely brings my past and present together, we hired a guy from the New York City public school system to help us fix Baltimore's.
Get outta here? Never. There's no place like home, hon.
Contact Janet at janet@janet gilbertonline.com