A blog about living in Aberdeen, New Jersey.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Birds of Treasure Lake

One of the nice things about living on Treasure Lake is the interesting birds found here. I usually hear the belted kingfisher cackling before I see him flying over and diving into the lake. He nests in the ground somewhere along the lakeshore. Then there is the night heron that roosts in the tree behind the house just over the lake. In the early morning I hear the northern flicker pecking at the rotted wood at the top of a tall oak in the front corner of the yard. We get downy and red-headed woodpeckers, too. Once or twice a year we are visited by a small cluster of brown-headed cowbirds feeding on the ground in the front yard. We have a brown creeper who circles up the bark of our oaks.
In the fall the goldenrod along the seawall attracts ruby crowned kinglets. From spring to fall we have white-throated sparrows. You can do some birdwatching at Treasure Lake by heading down to the park by the bay at Cliffwood Beach and walking along a path near the seawall towards Keyport.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Commuting Under the Weather

I've been under the weather for the past week or so, dealing with a hearty case of acute bronchitis. Blogging and most everything else have been sidelined for over a week. It's been mindless daytime television and a steady cough from the couch since the weekend before the Inauguration. My prescription has been lots of Tussin DM and water, as well as a daily dose of Levaquin.

BTW, does anyone go to the doctor anymore? It is routine now for me to call my doctor's office and get a "diagnosis" and Rx from the receptionist. I make sure I get in for the occasional checkup, but I can't tell you the last time I visited the doctor when I was actually sick.

I headed back to work on Monday after four sick days last week. It's never what you'd call a pleasant commute, given that it takes about an hour and a half each way into the Big Apple. But when you're getting over a bug and you have to stand on a cold platform and wrestle with the hoardes of commuters, it can be harrowing. I survived courtesy of my new iPod and some extra warm clothes. It's been in the low 20's, and that hasn't helped.

Yesterday I woke up to three inches of snow on the ground, so I wanted to curl back in bed. I called the office -- twice -- to see if they might offer a delayed opening, but no such luck. They have their own 800 number to see if things are operating normally or if the gods are granting some sort of reprieve. To be fair, when it comes to closing the office due to snow, it's tough to be an employer in New York City. Your employees live in Philadelphia, Stroudsburg, Bridgeport, Toms River, and Port Jefferson. Pick two employees and their weather circumstances will be different. But I can't be reasonable this week -- I'm feeling icky.

I took my time and left for work after the rush. But it wasn't smooth sailing. When I got to the Garden State Parkway, I ended up in a caravan of cars following half a dozen snow plows moving slowly towards the Raritan River bridge. They were talking bad weather on the radio, but it's all a matter of perspective and where you live.

When I got on the bridge, the snow turned to heavy rain. You see, anyone who's lived here very long will tell you the Raritan is some sort of weather dividing line. If it is snowing south of the river, it will be raining on the other side of the bridge. If it is steely gray skies in Woodbridge, it may be sunny and warm in Old Bridge. Rain wouldn't have been so bad if I had thought to bring an umbrella. It's been 22 degrees and the lake is frozen behind my house, so the umbrella is in the closet. So I guess my recuperation suffered a bit of a setback due to how wet I got that day.

I stayed home today to host the Cablevision installer. Yes, I've cast out the Verizon FIOS equipment after only a short but decisively negative trial. I can't say the Cablevision DVR is any better -- it is worse -- but I expect the tv signal will be better and the Internet service will be three times faster. I've switched back to my Linksys wireless-G router, which gives my wife and daughter a much better wireless signal than the absolutely awful Verizon router. I was personally at wit's end over the loss of two or three words in tv shows about every half hour. And the picture would break up. What's with that, Verizon? J D Power and Associates obviously never asked me about FIOS.

While I was home today I canceled my Asbury Park Press subscription, too. Why not pile on? We have had a new delivery person since December and service has been abysmal. If you have a newspaper tube mounted in front of your house, can't you expect the newspaper in the tube? Is that too much to ask? We've been retrieving the paper from snowy curbsides and from puddles in the depths of our yard. Those papers go right into recycling. We tried a couple of times to get the issue resolved, but alas the delivery person is stubborn. We tried a vacation stop for a few weeks, figuring to have a time out and give it another chance, but the papers kept showing up anyway. APP is history, at least for now. You'd think they'd be trying extra hard to keep customers. You'd think.

We went to Best Buy then had a nice dinner at Chili's Restaurant in Holmdel this evening. It's sad to see the old Romano's Macaroni Grill dark next door. Here's hoping they bring something fresh and exciting into that spot.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Commuter Parking / Aberdeen Winter

Aberdeen Township has contracted with Strathmore Shopping Center on Route 34 to provide permit parking for bus commuters. It will cost you $100/year if you are a resident and five times that if you are an alien.

I just noticed that the township newsletter is not published in a winter edition. I am glad the township puts out such a newsletter, and the issues are nice and informative, but skipping the winter edition might just give people the impression there is nothing to do here when it is cold. Maybe someone oriented to cold-weather activities should take the helm of the newsletter for the winter edition? I just returned from two winters in Erie, Pennsylvania, and their tourism board emphasizes things like ice fishing, skiing, snow shoeing, and ice skating. Aberdeen residents certainly find fun in the winter.

Image from Flickr.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Broadband of Brothers

The raging war between the telephone and cable companies is just background noise until it comes to your neighborhood. Aberdeen residents have apparently switched over to Verizon FIOS in such large numbers that Cablevision is feeling the pinch. The cable company's sales force is now going door-to-door here attempting to lure their customers back. For example, this afternoon we have Verizon FIOS Retention on the phone upstairs and the cable salesman at the door downstairs. In my case, the FIOS system has been less than satisfactory, so I'm switching back. Cablevision is paying Verizon's early termination fee and giving us a faster, more reliable system at a cheaper price. If you are unhappy with FIOS, I can refer you to my salesman.

Friday, January 16, 2009


It is 8 degrees this morning in Aberdeen. It's expected to get up to all of 20 degrees today. We're in the middle of an arctic blast. There was a bit of snow yesterday, just enough to tie up my morning commute to Metropark on the Garden State Parkway. Everyone is hunkered down as this cold snap is expected to last the weekend.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Regionalization and Aberdeen: Perfect Together?

I'm originally from Prince George's County, Maryland, where we had county police and a county board of education. When I moved here to Aberdeen in 1978, the whole idea of maintaining distinct town governments and town boards of education seemed overkill to me. And I'm still nonplussed at the morass of governance and the costly redundance of municipal services. Whenever anyone tells me they are fed up with the high cost of local property taxes, I just chuckle. What sane person would have so many superintendents of schools and chiefs of police? I'm sure it's ingrained in the local experience, but since I've not yet joined the Borg I exercise independent thought and balk at the concept before me.

The cost of maintaining duplicate infrastructures is finally overwhelming state, county, and local government coffers like a perfect storm. And with the economy tanking in the wake of the 2008 financial market failures, all levels of government in New Jersey are exploring their options to formulate practical budgets.

The affected parties are already starting to grumble and posture at the prospect of change. We're not talking about CHANGE a la President-Elect Obama, but change emanating from Governor Corzine and county governments. The trigger word for stakeholder hostility is regionalization, which simply suggests that there are bound to be cost cutting benefits to merging governmental services between jurisdictions.

When Fair Haven and Rumson, the first local NJ governments to explore the regionalization of police services, recently held a public meeting on the subject, they ended up with a local town hall full of angry police officers and their families speaking out against change. One parent even said the local police knew her kid personally. That certainly wouldn't happen with a regional force, I agree. No matter that the plan is projected to save millions, let's all fund her kid's personal Scared Straight program.

The NJ School Board Association, not yet ready to organize at public meetings, sees the whole regionalization thing as being forced upon them. They don't like it, but they'll consider it. A recent APP article, in unattributed background noise that can probably be laid at the feet of the spokesman for the NJ School Board Association, continues to lament how school districts are being pushed and forced to accept regionalization, even while quoting an Oceanport principal who is supportive of cost cutting mergers. Rumors have been floated that regionalization of school districts can't happen because superintendents are getting poison pill clauses built into their employment contracts that will make merging districts too costly.

Like I said, I'm inclined to see regionalization as a natural way to save money and standardize policies. It worked fine in a large county in the Washington, DC metropolitan area. We had forty or fifty towns and things ran pretty well as I recall. But maybe such a thing wouldn't work in Monmouth County or the Bayshore or with Old Bridge or whatever region you might imagine. But I'd like to see a plan before stomping on the idea.

Image from Search Engine People.

Aberdeen NJ Videos

Stewarts Drive-in celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2008.

You can take an eastbound North Jersey Coast train from Aberdeen via Newark to New York or Hoboken. This video gives you a pretty good view of the Aberdeen platform at Aberdeen-Matawan train station.

NJ Transit trains now have multilevel passenger cars. Here's one of the early ones at Aberdeen-Matawan train station.

Captain Kidd supposedly buried treasure in the lake in our backyard. Maybe it's time to start digging? After the pirate(d) footage near the beginning of the video there is some interesting footage of Cliffwood Beach, the seawall, Treasure Lake, and the pool that was destroyed in Hurricane Donna.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Route 34 Strip Is Aberdeen-Matawan's New Main Street

Times change.

When we first moved to the area thirty years ago, Main Street in Matawan was a different place. A neighborhood-sized Foodtown grocery store was not in contention with Price Club. Harris Hardware was not yet wrestling with Home Depot and Loews. Matawan Drugs was not competing with CVS and Walgreens. And Johnnie's Cozy Corner was serving breakfast and lunch to a walk-in crowd that wasn't coveting an IHOP meal. While there's still a bank, a post office, and a library on downtown Main Street, there's little else to draw a crowd.

Today's Main Street is the Route 34 Strip between Main Street in Matawan and Lloyd Road in Aberdeen. Locals looking to avoid the big box stores and movie multiplexes in Keyport, Hazlet, and Holmdel go instead to convenient shopping centers and stand-alone store fronts along Route 34. Here are some of my favorites:
  • My regular light breakfast gnosheries are Starbucks and Eli's Bagels. See what Mack-Morris Realtors has to say about Eli's. They're not the only ones offering praise.
  • A more substantial meal can be found at Park Place Diner, Trattoria Rustica, or Court Jester. Peter's Fishery is good but my wife is allergic to shrimp so I'm not a regular.
  • An exotic meal can always be found at Amravathi (Indian), Kicky's (pan-Asian), or Mahzou (Japanese).
  • Fast food includes many of the regulars: McDonald's, Taco Bell, KFC, and Burger King. (Wendy's is on Rte 35. Subway is near the Parkway Exit 120; and where the heck is a local Quiznos??)
  • When Friendly's closed, that left the strip with no chain restaurants: the closest Applebee's are in Middletown and Marlboro; Friendly's and TGIFridays are in Hazlet. Red Lobster is in East Brunswick. And Chili's and Houlihan's are in Holmdel. (I heard that a Benihana will replace the Macaroni Grill that closed in Holmdel. True?)
  • Summertime desserts are found on the strip at Ice Cream Palace or, just north a ways on Route 34 to Rita's Italian Ices. And don't forget Stewart's drive-thru on Main Street just south of Route 34 for summertime burgers, fries, and fountain drinks and desserts.
  • Shop Rite and Stop and Shop are the big grocery stores on the strip. Maybe too big? Neither is the kind of place you want to drop into for a quick purchase of hot dog rolls or milk and eggs. Shop Rite has lots of ready to eat meals and a fancy bakery near the door, but you have to walk to Pretoria to find the milk, eggs, and juices. No doubt there is a market for a cozier, more convenient grocer.
  • None of the drug stores have a local character. That market is glutted. I think I shop most at Walgreens on Broad Street, but they're all pretty much the same. Watch for a shakeout.
  • Bank of America probably has the most local branches but its office along the Route 34 strip is completely off anyone's radar. Could it be more difficult to get into or leave? I take my drive-thru ATM business to the BOA branches on Main Street in downtown Matawan and the Hazlet branch near Airport Plaza. (I dearly miss the drive-thru ATM in the A&P shopping center on Route 35, by the way. That ATM disappeared when the UJB branch closed and brought its ATM into the A&P store eons ago. That old branch became the Cliffwood branch of the US Post Office, thus the many inexplicable "drive-thru lanes" behind the post office.)
  • For fun there is Strathmore Lanes and the Clearview Cinemas in Strathmore Shopping Center. You can rent a movie at Blockbuster, but I suspect that business is on borrowed time.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Nice Words About Court Jester

The parents of two autistic children brought their family of seven to the Aberdeen eatery Court Jester last summer at the invitation of an autism support group and the restaurant. The parents posted a blog in August to say how wonderful everyone was and how nice a time they had. It's always good to hear about local efforts to help out struggling families.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Commuting to NYC From Aberdeen

Even though there's a perfectly good train station in Aberdeen, it has a difficult parking situation, so I've settled into the routine of driving to Metropark to park in their daily lot and catch the Northeast Corridor Line train. It's a shorter train ride and the cheaper fare covers about half of the $5 daily parking fee. And the drive, while harrowing during the morning rush with so many veteran Jersey drivers heading to work, is usually only about twenty minutes door to door. It isn't a perfect solution, but Aberdeen residents don't have many options when it comes to riding the train.

Check out the City-Data bulletin board for an accurate description of the parking situation at Matawan Aberdeen train station. The wait list for a parking permit is said to be seven years long, but I think they are so cheap yet so valuable that people pass their permits down in their wills or sublet them at a markup. Private parking has been a boon to local residents, who pave their lots and open their driveways to charge commuters to park. For some of those residents it pays their mortgage. It's a totally outrageous situation.

I figure that local government doesn't want to add parking garages -- there's plenty of room to build them -- because it would attract a huge flow of cars into town and congest local roads. There's an old southbound railbed that could probably be used for a train station access road, but it would disturb the backyard calm of a lot of local residences so that will never happen.

A large construction project has been in the works which would revitalize the station and supposedly improve the parking situation, but you'll note that it is right on the Garden State Parkway, which passes not far from the train station, so it keeps those cars off local streets. A law suit was settled in July according to the Bayshore Independent. An August article in the same paper says the project, which has been in the works for six or seven years, is back at square one. And it makes no mention of parking.

The Suburban, an Old Bridge paper, suggested in an August 2001 article that NJ Transit is proposing construction of a station in Laurence Harbor to divert the Old Bridge residents from using the Aberdeen Matawan station. The article said the station was at least five years away, but it's been eight years and I've heard nothing more about that idea.

The Asbury Park Press had a January 2007 article about the station's routine. It discusses the parking situation and commuter congestion. The Matawan Advocate recently pointed out that the old station house is getting a bit of a facelift. The On-Track-On-Line bulletin board provides a brief discussion of the paint job as well.

Gotta go to work now.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Terror at the GSP Exit 117 Interchange

My candidate for Worst Traffic Interchange in Central Jersey has to be the place where traffic merges off and onto Route 35 at Exit 117 of the Garden State Parkway. Here's some hypothetical travel scenarios to give you a sense of the madness.
  • A Strathmore businesswoman is passing through in the left lane of Route 35 South heading to Barnes and Noble to read the latest Harvard Business Review off the rack.
  • An Aberdeen family is in the right lane of Route 35 South heading to Holmdel Park to see if the concession stand is open by the lake or if they still have only vending machines like last time they were there. They plan to turn right at Beers Street.
  • A Staten Island family unfamiliar with the GSP Exit 117 merge onto Route 35 South are looking for the Home Depot that is advertising playground equipment in today's paper. The driver fails to yield to oncoming traffic and ends up creeping along the side of Route 35 South. The whole family is looking over their shoulders in abject horror at the 50 MPH traffic swarming around them like angry bees.
  • Two Brooklyn 20-somethings familiar with the GSP Exit 117 merge onto Route 35 South to return those Yankees jackets they bought last week at Sports Authority because, like, the team didn't even qualify for the Series this year. They fail to yield to oncoming traffic and squeeze between cars at high speed with barely a coat of paint to spare.
  • That Aberdeen family trying to exit Route 35 South (right) onto Beers Street to go to Holmdel Park must contend with the Staten Island family creeping along the shoulder cowering in fear. It's difficult to exit because the Staten Island driver is obviously in distress and unpredictable. There's no room to exit and driving this slow is a bad idea as cars are starting to cluster up and switch lanes all around.
  • A Hazlet couple enter the right lane of Route 35 South at Beers Street to get a new toaster at K-Mart. A Ridgewood man shopping for a Buick pulls out of a car dealership for a test drive and the Hazlet couple nearly hit him.
  • The two Brooklyn dudes have returned their Yankees jackets and make their way down Clark Street and enter directly into the left lane of Route 35 South at Beers Street with the intention to make a U-turn and head northbound on Route 35. They'll save a toll charge and follow Route 35 North back towards home. They cut off the Strathmore businesswoman heading to Barnes and Noble, force her to brake suddenly causing her to get rear-ended, then they make their U-turn and head north on Route 35.
  • A Manhattanite who rented a car to visit her father at Bayshore Hospital's cardiac unit is on her way back to the city. She is heading north on Route 35 from Holmdel Road and knows the GSP Exit 117 is just ahead because a sign says so. But when she comes over a rise in the road, the exit suddenly appears on the left -- Who knew? and there is traffic in the left lane. There's a bit of a curve in Route 35 North at this point and the guard rail on the right seems menacing all of a sudden. The Manhattanite slams on her brakes and puts on her left turn sign. Who knows how she'll ever get back to the GSP if she doesn't do it now? Especially with those NJ jughandles everywhere. She commits and dives left into the entrance ramp, joining hundreds of other drivers from outside the area who've done the exact same thing.
  • A Keyport couple are heading to McDonald's in Cliffwood on Route 35 North when the two Brooklyn guys are finishing their U-turn. Again the Brooklyn driver fails to yield but this time the Keyport couple smashes into them at 40 MPH and they don't make it back to Brooklyn.
If you're itchy for a bit more background, including a list of other fun Garden State Parkway exits, check out Wikipedia.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Cliffwood Beach CDP

My wife and I have been happily ensconced in the Cliffwood Beach section of Aberdeen Township for thirty years. We're right on Treasure Lake and just down the street from the Bayview Presbyterian Church and the Raritan Bay.

Those of you who have lived here a while might be surprised to learn that the US Census Bureau thinks that Cliffwood Beach ends at the Monmouth County side of Whale Creek (right). The Feds have split Cliffwood Beach into two so-called Census Designated Places (CDP) -- the Cliffwood Beach CDP and the Laurence Harbor CDP. I've always understood that Cliffwood Beach extends into Old Bridge Township, Middlesex County and includes the section of OB that sits on both sides of Route 35 at the 7-11 store. Not so, according to the USG.

Another problem: The Census Bureau thinks Cliffwood Beach in Monmouth County extends all the way to Route 35. They've absorbed part of the Cliffwood section of the township into this census imagined place. To be sure, Cliffwood begins at Lenox Road and includes a considerable area around and beyond the A&P shopping center on the other side of Route 35. Anyone who's lived around here a while knows that, right? Isn't the Cliffwood branch of the US Post Office located in the A&P shopping center? And doesn't Cliffwood have its own zip code (07721)? Cliffwood Beach in Monmouth County uses the Keyport zip code (07735).

So when the census enumerators come to your door next year, ask them where Cliffwood Beach is. They won't have a good answer for you.

This mixup has had a negative effect on my efforts to have an accurate map produced for the Cliffwood Beach Wikipedia article. I've been unable to convince Wiki graphics editors that the Census Bureau is wrong, and the Census seems to be what everyone is relying on for this sort of map. Wikipedians have allowed the text description to stand but it's only a matter of time before they edit it to match the map. As I mentioned in another blog piece, I've spoken to the county officials responsible for coordinating the upcoming census, but it just may be too late to convince all of the required officials to make such a change at this stage of the census process.

Image of Whale Creek from http://www.city-data.com/picfiles/pic1492.php.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Living in Aberdeen

I thought I'd write a blog that shares my thoughts and experiences of living in Aberdeen, New Jersey. During our thirty years here, my wife and I have put an addition on our house and a child through the school system, so I figure I might have something to say about local government and the schools. We've shopped, eaten at restaurants, and sought recreation and entertainment in the area, so I have some opinions about places to go and things to do. Let's see how it goes.