Hi, I’m Rick Steves, back with the Best of the Big Ten! Today we’re in picturesque Piscataway, New Jersey to share in the majesty of a fall football weekend with college football’s first winning team.
That’s right – not only was Rutgers the home of the first college football game in 1869, the juggernaut we now know as the Scarlet Knights defeated Princeton that day by a score of 6-4. You might say they’ve been pretty #B1G from day one.
Now, nearly 150 years later, fans still flock from all over to make a pilgrimage to college football’s version of Bethlehem.
Rutgers and the surrounding area have so much to offer you, but it’s always important to understand the local customs before immersing yourself in a foreign culture.
Every state has its own unique vernacular for expressing location. For example, people from Michigan hold up their hands and point to where they live in that mitten-shaped state.
Because everything in New Jersey is seemingly located no more than five miles from either the Garden State Parkway or New Jersey Turnpike, communication about location is done by exits. When asking where something in the state is located, just inquire, “What exit?”
Rutgers’ football stadium is located off Exit 9 from I-287.
If you are driving to the game, you should be aware of another charming local custom. It is illegal to pump your own gas in the state of New Jersey.
By law, all gas pumps in the state are full service. It is one of two states where that is true, and the other (Oregon) recently relaxed its law somewhat.
You can be fined between $50-250 for pumping your own gas, so just sit back, relax, and wait five minutes before the guy finally comes over to your car.
New Jersey’s gastro scene is divided geographically into northern and southern halves by a line known as the Taylor Ham/Pork Roll Line. This split crosses the state just north of Rutgers, placing the campus in Pork Roll country.
In both cases, it refers to a processed pork product that is generally sliced, pan-fried and then served as a sandwich. This carnivore’s delight is the same in both sections of the state, but those in northern New Jersey call it “Taylor Ham” based on a popular brand, much like “Xerox” or “Kleenex” became generic terms for all products in their respective markets.
My best dining tip? You can’t go wrong stopping in a New Jersey diner to grab a bite to eat. The state boasts more than 500 of them, and every single one features a menu slightly thicker than a medium-sized city’s Yellow Pages, a mildly-disinterested wait staff, and will bring out your food so quickly that you will wonder if it was teleported there. It is always advisable to ask your server for recommendations, because there is a very good chance they will tell you if it’s best to steer clear of a certain menu item.
Before ordering your beverages, check whether they have Egg Creams. This mixture of seltzer, milk and syrup (generally chocolate) contains neither egg nor cream. It’s one of my favorite treats! It was popularized in New York’s Jewish delis, but can often be found on the New Jersey side of the Arthur Kill as well.
Seeing the Sights
Just around the corner from the stadium, the Hale Center is a must-see for any visiting fan. The lobby of Rutgers’ football facility boasts impressive mementos such as the 2005 Insight Bowl runner-up trophy and a 2012 Big East co-championship ring. Good luck finding one of those in Columbus!
The school’s Center of Alcohol Studies is another popular stop for visitors, many of whom mistake it for a bar, but stay to take whimsical photos to share with their friends back home.
High Point Solutions Stadium is sponsored by a technology company with a name just vague enough to make you wonder if it’s a mob front. It sits on the banks of the Raritan River, so visiting fans will undoubtedly find it evocative of Ohio Stadium.
Take a riverside stroll before heading to the stadium, which opened in 1994, and underwent an expansion between 2008 and 2009. Its record crowd stands just shy of 54,000 people.
The main attraction is a cannon, which a crew dressed in Revolutionary War garb will fire off when Rutgers scores.
Locals also enjoy frolicking in a pair of newly-installed hot tubs in the student section. It’s a quaint nod to the state’s GTL past, and ensures that the school’s perpetually-abysmal basketball coaches aren’t the only ones on the hot seat.
In all, the stadium is a charming structure brimming with history, such as 2006, when Jeremy Ito kicked a game-winning field goal against Louisville and pointed to the SkyCam, and a 2014 win over rival Michigan.
Thanks for joining us. I’m Rick Steves. Until next time, keep on traveling.