I've been watching the Giant/Phillies playoff games in the heart of south Jersey, the communities around Atlantic City. I had no idea this was the heart of Phillies country.
The area is really interesting. It was farmland and many of those who survived the Nazi death camps came to south Jersey to work on the egg farms - a job that only required you to speak chicken, not English. One of those egg farmers used to escape "for some air" to Atlantic City where even in those days, parking was a problem. He saved his money, bought a parking lot, and when the casinos came calling to buy his land, he said no. But he offered to lease it to them for a million a year. Oral histories from these Holocaust survivors turned into an entire study center at a college called Richard Stocker. The college had a month long exhibition of paintings and lectures - and my Bosnian war crimes play "A Patch of Earth" - to commemorate the 15 year anniversary of the massacre at Srebrenica. It's a place that believes that "never again" really means something.
Contrast that with the fact that there's apparently an entire secret military complex in the tiny town of Absecom. That's where the fighter jets that flew over NYC on 9/11 came from. And underground, there's reportedly a major command center.
And then there's the wetlands. Atlantic City is built on the Atlantic ocean, but on its backside is a vast network of marshes and rivers and bays. My husband and I took a winding road to discover a fishing village from another century - small houses built on pilings next to a winding river and a sea of yellow grass. It was glorious.
But back to the Phillies.
In our drives, we spotted lots and lots of yard signs. Most of them for political races. But there were also red and white "Phillies Repeat!" signs on the front lawns of dozens of houses. And I even spotted one house with red Christmas lights on the side of the house, shaped in the recognizable "P" shape.
So it was with some trepidation that we watched what would be the last Philly/Giant game in the bar of a traditional Italian restaurant a few blocks from the casinos in Atlantic City. What a great place! Wine bottles stacked on one wall, with little white twinkle lights around the border, dark paneling, pictures of celebrities on the walls, wise cracking waiters, and old fashioned Italian food - the kind Stanley Tucci and Tony Shaloub refused to cook in the movie "The Big Night." And in the bar out front, lots and lots of Yankee pictures to make the owners happy and lots of Philly paraphernalia to make the customers happy. New Jersey doesn't allow smoking in bars and restaurants, so the smoke-filled atmosphere was missing. But it was dark, there were big screen TV's in every corner, and every bar stool was filled with a Philly fan.
National League West fans that we are, we rooted for the Giants. After all, it was the Phillies who beat our beloved Dodgers in the past few post seasons. That sentiment was met, as you can imagine, by more than a bit of disdain. There was rooting and booing and sarcastic comments (in a wonderfully typical Jersey accent) thrown across the bar. People became louder as the drinks flowed. We decided to leave with the score tied. But just as we got up to go, Juan Uribe hit a solo homer and the Giants took the lead. The homer took the air out of the Phillies - and their fans. They started hitting the exit as well. And outside the bar, the guy wearing the Utley jersey extended his hand to my husband, congratulating him on the Giants' good fortune. I do believe they may even have hugged.
I leave south Jersey with a great deal of respect for the baseball fans in this part of the country. They bleed Philly red. And they're already waiting 'till next year.