Signs you’re in South Jersey.

thSorry to have maintained radio silence for the past week. Getting ready to get out of town, the overnight journey (15 hours door-to-door), doing Philly stuff for a day and a half, taking the Megabus to Manhattan, doing NYC stuff in heat ’n’ humidity with my niece and her kids, getting the bus back to Philly and then the bus to South Jersey, writing for my day job….Well, it took more out of me than I’d expected.

I’m still pretty flattened even though I’ve been at my dad’s place for two days. It didn’t help that the Megabus out of New York was late, which meant extra standing around in the aforementioned H&H. It also meant that I missed the Jersey bus I wanted to get.

Did I mention the sudden high winds that powdered me with Philly grit while I waited near the corner of Broad and Vine? Or the thunderstorm that rolled in immediately afterward? And for extra credit, the NJ Transit bus was late, too.

Why not get a rental car? Two reasons:

I didn’t need wheels for the first two days, because I was too tired and too busy (I’ve had to write two MSN Money columns since I got off the bus) to want to ram around much. Dad let me use his pickup for short visits with my Aunt Dot and my brother.

Also because I’m cutting corners where I can. We’ve had a great time so far but we’ve spent a boatload of bucks. When Alison and her boys arrive tomorrow I’ll pick up the rental car and we’ll divvy up the usage.

Besides, on the bus ride I saw my first real sign that I was back in South Jersey.

It was a literal sign: “Serene Custard & Miniature Golf.” For the uninitiated, “custard” is sort of an American gelato – a type of ice cream made with extra egg yolks, so it’s very rich and creamy. This is a soft-serve version rather than the soft-scoop kind found at places like Culver’s.

Custard was a huge treat when I was a kid. We didn’t get it very often, which made it even more special. My parents always got us the 10-cent cones (gee, I’m old) and I used to dream of being grown-up and able to buy myself the 15-cent or even the 20-cent cone. Luxury!

Seeing a custard stand means I’m back in South Jersey.

Other roadside attractions

Additional signs, observed over the past two days:

Heat rash. My legs look like they’ve been flayed.

Humidity. Or as they say here, “you-midity.” After months in arid Anchorage it feels damn near tropical here. As of 11 p.m. it was 82 degrees and 78% humidity. It ain’t Florida but it ain’t comfy, either. When I wondered aloud how people stood it in the days when it wasn’t decent to wear short sleeves, let alone short shorts, my dad told me about an elderly neighbor’s memory of Saturday night dances in the summer. He’d take three or four extra shirts so he could freshen up every so often.

Clotheslines. Just about everybody has them. Even in the you-midity, clothes will dry eventually. My nightgown and shirts smell lovely after hanging out in yesterday’s breeze. Fortunately I brought them in just before yesterday’s downpour.

Wawa stores every few miles. People from outside the Delaware Valley laugh hysterically when they hear the word “Wawa.” They’re just jealous that their convenience stores aren’t as cool as these.

Wild turkeys. The reintroduction of these birds was so successful that they seem as common as sparrows. Great big sparrows. They wander along roadsides with no apparent fear of cars, and they saunter around my father’s property as though they hold the deed to the place. True story: My brother hit a turkey and its beak went through the grille of his vehicle and punctured the radiator. That’s one expensive fix, and one more “weird auto damage” tale for his insurance agent to tell at conventions.

Roadkill. On back roads like this one the speed limit is more of a lifestyle option than a mandate. Sometimes drivers can’t stop in time when something runs out of the woods. On previous visits I’ve seen a dead turtle, possum, fox, cat, squirrel, an unidentified bird and several deer. I’ve taken only one walk so far but I’ve seen two dead things: a squirrel and what I think was the remains of a vulture. That last was probably eating something else that had been hit – maybe a turkey? – and couldn’t get out of the way of the next vehicle to come along. There’s a moral to be made about greed and risk, I think.

Roadside trash. As always, I’m disgusted by the tendency of South Jerseyites to throw crap out of their car windows. On the bright side, I picked up four My Coke Rewards caps. But I was appalled by the sheer quantity of stuff I saw: bottles (beer, wine, soda), cups, sandwich wrappers, shopping bags and, I swear, a partly empty tube of KY Jelly. There’s a pun to be made about “back roads,” I think.

Tastykakes. As regional as custard, and as fondly remembered. I crave these snack cakes the rest of the year, and will have to fight to make sure I get my share once Alison and the boys get here. Fortunately, they were on sale at the Wawa.

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  1. Holly Samlan

    I have missed you but just figured you were busy w/your trip. Also I did see your articles over on MSN. Its been hotter and just as or more humid here in metro Chicago.

  2. Glad you’re back! Like Holly, I just figured you were whoopin’ it up on your trip and would let us know how it went.

    Love that there IS still regionalism in this television-cocooned country of ours. Thanks for the report on its survival; enjoy your Tastykakes and have a safe trip home.

    p.s. I used to commute 30 miles over country roads from my home in North Florida to my job in South Georgia. There was a flock of wild turkeys with a death wish here, too. They would burst out of the woods into the path of my car after a particular intersection, to the point where if they did NOT, I wondered if I’d made a wrong turn!

  3. Enjoy your vacation. It’s unbelievably humid here yesterday and today (already!). It’s 8:45 AM as I write this. The temp here in Central Illinois is 81 degrees, but the “RealFeel” temp is 96 degrees because of the humidity! And it isn’t even 9:00 AM yet!! The kids and I didn’t even go outside yesterday because we felt like we couldn’t breathe in the dense humidity. Anyway, no such luck today. Getting ready to go to town and run around in these temps all day. Write when you can. I always love reading what you’re doing! 🙂

    • Donna Freedman

      Stay as cool as you can, and thanks for your kind words.

  4. Your pricing of the soft serve ice cream cones reminds me I’m just enough older than you that they were 5 cents, 10 cents, and 15 cents in my youth at the Foster’s Freeze. Needless to say I almost always had the 5 center.

    Also, I just noticed there is no “cent” sign on this keyboard. When did that go away? 😉

    • Donna Freedman

      You’re right — the cent sign is gone! Sigh.
      I do remember “baby cones,” which were 7 cents and contained a lot less ice cream. My little cousin David got one of those because he was too young to put up a fuss.
      After going to see Aunt Dot last night I went to Hopewell Custard, just outside of Bridgeton. Really good. But I have a particular fondness for Blinker Custard in Millville, because they sometimes make banana — that is, when the bananas for the splits get super-ripe they throw them into the next batch of vanilla. A little too tasty….

  5. With ya on the humidity….here in the “Free State” we’d love to have weather in the 80’s. We’ve been blessed with high humidity and highs in the 90’s as well as a thunderstorm or two a day just to make it interesting. Aaaah…Tastykakes….don’t know which one I would grab first …a lemon pie or a choclate junior. One of these along with a bag of Utz chips and a Frosty Root Beer…it doesn’t get any better…

    • Donna Freedman

      Sure it does: When you grab a Diet Coke that’s been in the freezer for a while. The salt and the sweet do go nicely together. Up here, I’m leaning toward Herrs potato chips but in New York the kids pounced on bags of Utz cheese balls for 99 cents. I don’t know what entranced them more, the flavor or the chance to say “balls” and then giggle hysterically.
      Hoping for a cure for the humidity for us both, and soon.

  6. ImJuniperNow

    Thank God for North Jersey

    • Donna Freedman

      Isn’t it really humid there, too? New York was a shvitz bath…. 🙁

      • ImJuniperNow

        Aw, just poking at ya.

        But they claim it’s cooler here because of all the air-conditioned McMansions pouring on the central AC!

  7. Jersey Babs

    Definitely humid here in Union County! The bunting on my front porch is turning green! Eeek! All thanks to the record rains of June and this early heat wave.
    Now to figure out how to get the whites white again while not turning the red pink and the navy blue into baby blue.
    I might need to run out and get me a custard to help me recover 😀
    Hope you have a great time…. tho aren’t you early this year…. it’s not peak tomato time yet!

    • Donna Freedman

      You’re right: I’m early. But my niece wanted her kids to be in Philly for Independence Day. At least there’s early corn to be had, and peaches, and blueberries. We’re going to a pick-your-own place later this week — the boys will be delighted by blueberry bushes vs. the Alaska berries, which grow at ground level and necessitate a lot of stooping.
      Good luck with your bleach alternative.

  8. Donna, are you going to the Blogher conference in Chicago end of July 2013?

    • Donna Freedman

      Nope. I did BlogHer once and there just wasn’t enough there for someone like me.

  9. Karen W

    I’m from Villas N.J. Don’t forget abput scrapple, Taylor pork roll, birch beer and Macks pizza!!Real signs that you are a local! Weather supposed to get a bit better this weekend…..come on down to Cape May and the beach!

    • Donna Freedman

      I was thinking about Ocean City, actually…But if we went down your way we could get the kids some Cape May diamonds.
      Noticed the birch beer in the grocery store. Regionalism rocks!

  10. Holly Samlan

    blogHer was prob when we met.
    I suspect you can look forward to better temps/less humidity in a day or 2. Gradually dropped here i metro Chicago late Wed after noon. Comfy on both right now-actually a bit cool.

    • Donna Freedman

      Actually we met at SaveUp and again at the Financial Bloggers Conference. The BlogHer that I attended was in San Diego. If I get back to Chicago again we’ll try for another meet ‘n’ greet.

  11. Alane Farmer

    Welcome Home! Gotta love Wawa. Hey don’t forget to get the kids a slice of real pizza and some soft pretzels. Oh, and a hoagie too. Enjoy your time here.

  12. Ahh…Tastykakes! I wish we could get these in Anchorage!

    • Donna Freedman

      We’ll be getting them because we’re mailing them to ourselves. 🙂

      • ImJuniperNow

        Let me know when you want more!!!

      • I wonder if we can order them and have them shipped???

        • Donna Freedman

          At one time you could mail-order them. But I found that Alaskans got dinged for extra postage via private carrier. 🙁
          When I’m visiting I can fit three to five boxes in a USPS flat rate box. Know anybody back there who loves you enough both to shop and to visit the post office for you???
          Last week they were two boxes for $5 at — you guessed it — the Wawa.

          • Actually….I do. I’ll see if I can’t get her to stop by and get me a couple of boxes. I miss Kandy Kakes!

  13. Maggie

    Donna, if you ever want to branch out from personal finance, i think travel writing would be a perfect fit! I can almost taste those Tasty Kakes.

  14. “Nobody bakes a cake as tasty as a Tasty Kake!”

    I, too, have fond memories of Tasty Kakes.

    When I was three years old, I was in a minor car accident (which is an entire story in itself) which left me with a terrible bruise all over the lower half of my face. When my mother took me grocery shopping while I was at my most black, blue, and purple, she could feel the judgmental eyes of every other patron in the store.

    Because I was apparently an infant evil genius, once we got to the snack aisle, I waited until there were quite a few people staring at my mother in horror and then asked in my sweetest voice, “Mommy Dearest, may we *please* get some Tasty Kakes?”

    My mother claims that the only reasonable response to such a situation is to throw ALL the Tasty Kakes into the cart. We ate Tasty Kakes for MONTHS. It was the first time my older sister thought I might be worth keeping around.

    • Donna Freedman

      I remember that little ditty…And I once had a tin with a vintage Tastykake ad on it, “Tastykakes: The cake that made Mother stop baking.”
      It’s not that they’re particularly exquisite. I just have so many childhood memories of hoping to get a Tastykake and sometimes actually getting one. I could bake cupcakes any time I want, and somewhere I have a recipe for faux Peanut Butter Kandy Kakes. However, I tend to save my Cake Credits for when I’m near a good cupcake place or when I’m in South Jersey/Philly. The mind is a funny thing.
      P.S. I’m old enough to remember when they were called “Tandy Takes.” Honest.


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