The call came from my editor at Voyageur Press after a few months had passed since the publication of our last book. The first edition had already sold out and her question came quickly, "Are you interested in doing a book on the backroads of New Jersey?" "Hmm, depends on what you mean by a backroad, let me think about it." Could be an oxymoron.
A backroad is a popular conception, and a longing. Maybe a dream, but we can't go back. We can remember. Perhaps the pleasures of automobile touring can help to better appreciate what remains. Much is lost, but we can still preserve. We can protect. So the idea is not so much to escape reality, but to refine it.
New Jersey is a small state, but has the greatest population density. From early on, even Ben Franklin called it a keg tapped at both ends. That's been the rap. Stuck between New York and Philadelphia. The butt for vaudevillians' jokes and David Letterman. I came to want to better understand such a place, so overshadowed and influenced by two mighty neighbors and their relentless sprawl - neighbors not of the place itself. What then is the meaning of a backroad where the fleeting impression of the New Jersey Turnpike is presumed to summarize the state, and "What exit?" to best describe its inhabitants? That backroad may be buried deep in a transportation corridor where layers of history build and rebuild. When a new road is built, the old road becomes a backroad, and those passing through won't easily see the place.
And New Jersey is the first state in the U.S. to approach a final build-out of its land area.