Why Jersey Left? I’ve tried to blog a few times before, but I’m one of those writers who needs a title first. It isn’t that the title determines the content, it is that the title determines the way I think about the content. Titles open possibilities. My previous attempts were too pretentious, or too limited, or too academic, or not academic enough. But Jersey Left feels right–and that is, indeed, a pun. A Jersey Left is actually a right. Officially it is called a jug handle. (See the image at the top of Fisher Place Jug Handle on Rt. 1, NJ.) To turn left on some of New Jersey’s scariest highways one stays in the right lane, exits into a jug handle shape curve, and then crosses the highway. Sometimes a U-turn is permitted. Mostly people take one if they want — because this is Jersey. I like that there is more than one definition, and the others are all about that tough New Jersey attitude (Sopranos, Sandy-survivors, etc). The non-jug handle Jersey Left is that death-defying left turn made just as the light turns green when oncoming traffic could plough right into you. Someone ran a stop sign and pulled a Jersey Left right across oncoming traffic a few years ago. I was that oncoming traffic and if she hadn’t been on her phone she might have realized how close she came to death before I managed to swerve enough to almost total my Prius but not hurt her.
So Jersey Left is about getting away with murder, but it is also about a specific convention confined to those in-the-know. In the discourse community if you like. My GPS still tells me to turn left across oncoming traffic every time I drive on Rt. 22 near my house — where some of the oldest jug handles are to be found So does my iPhone. But I know to take the jug handle instead. So Jersey Left is about knowing more than the machine. About specific knowledge. And about learning to live in a new place with rules that must be learned quickly if one is to survive. The New Jersey driver’s manual doesn’t reveal specific rules for the most dangerous situations. Nope. “There are no set rules for driving into, around and out of a traffic circle in New Jersey” it informs the unsuspecting new New Jersey driver (14). OMG. Really? Yup. “In most cases, the circle’s historically established traffic flow pattern dictates who has the right-of- way” (14). But wait. Who knows that “historically established traffic flow pattern” aside from Jersey natives? When I took my New Jersey driver’s test 20 years ago I was told that if you come to a light with two lanes, one is a turning lane only and one is for those who want to turn and those going straight. But sometimes the left lane is for those turning left and the right lane is for those going straight. At other intersection the left lane is for those going straight. And sometimes the “historically established traffic flow pattern” is to flip the turn/straight lanes at times of day when one turn is busiest (if, for example, there is a school down that road). How do you know which is which? “Local convention determines which lane to use.” Right. Oh, and you can lose your license for littering from a moving vehicle (17). Just saying.
So this blog is about local convention. About rules that can be broken if one has the sheer audacity to do so. And sufficient knowledge to do it safely. About rules that benefit us all (no littering). And about “historically established…patterns.” My areas of academic expertise are writing across the curriculum, discipline-specific writing, first-year writers, information literacy and use of sources, and writing majors. It is about learning the language and conventions and “historically established” patterns of rhetoric and writing and communicating effectively. My research explores how students use–and misuse–sources and why. I’m interested in research assignments, and in how we teach students to read and use source material. I have also recently become really interested in what a senior-level writing course might do. First-year writing prepares students for writing in college (arguably), but as their time in college draws to a close how do we help our students take all those skills and translate them into the workplace, civic, community, and personal writing they can use for the rest of their lives? And where does social media fit all this?
Welcome to Jersey Left.