In the surrounding towns of Essex County, N.J., outside of beautiful village-like Maplewood, suburban sprawl rules, just like every other American city. Living in New York City makes it a guilty pleasure to take part in the strip mall culture that so many roll past on a daily basis.
Staying with my pal Suzanne at her sister Kathy and partner Ann's beautiful Colonial for a few days, we couldn't help but venture out Tuesday and Wednesday—despite winter temps dipping into the 20s—for some suburban delights. Let the journey begin!The pretty town center, known as the Village... Dickens Village, a collection of little playhouses and shops in the center of the town square.The historic Maplewood train station along Metro North, which connects to New York's Penn Station in about 40 minutes.Try and stop me... just try. Union, N.J., with one of the dumpiest, most dated Walmart's I've ever seen. But I found Captain Crunch with all Crunch Berries. Sold!Heavenly hardware. A Home Depot SuperStore! Yeah, cool cats! Suzanne bought a single drawer pull. It was an exciting outing.They were all about: Friday's, Applebee's, Olive Garden, Red Lobster, Boston Market, Outback, Pizza Hut, Charlie Brown's Steakhouse, Denny's... every single East Coast chain restaurant known to man and beast. My fave is Ruby Tuesday for the delectable Endless Salad Bar. I was giddy with delight, even after consuming an entire head of lettuce, with eggs, mushrooms, peas, cheese, croutons, tomatoes... and yes, southern delight, Thousand Island dressing.An online and catalog store that I know as well as my own ears... but I had no idea Home Decorators Collection had a retail outlet. It was actually fairly disappointing: one of those joints where everything looks better in the catalog than in reality. Now I understand why the prices are so tempting... the merchandise is hardly first class. Sigh.Back home to play with Faith, the enormous Mastiff that resides with Kathy and Ann and family. Imagine 150 pounds of sweetness... with the snore of a 500-pound man.Guess which dog weighs more than a mid-size sedan?