I grew up with one other sibling in a five-bedroom Colonial style house with a giant lawn and a stream in its backyard. It was on a cul-de-sac surrounded mostly by trees and other five-bedroom houses, which at the peak before the housing bubble collapse could have sold for around $800K each. The median household income of Randolph, NJ, according to latest census data, is around $100K. $150K for families. At times I felt like I was the only person in town who also didn’t own a pool or a dog.
In Middle School we would always joke about Randolph being a “boring, suburban hell” that just consisted of houses surrounded by houses surrounded by more houses. Today, Bloomberg News confirmed that that is exactly what my hometown is.
Randolph is the classic American exurb, with no real town center and one main state road lined with car dealerships and chain retail stores. Sport utility vehicle-driving consumers arrive in front of shops along Route 10 with the grim intensity of Marines charging into battle. The town’s Wikipedia profile waits until the fourth word to use the adjective ‘affluent.’
On Reddit’s quite hilarious map of New Jersey, Morris County is labeled as “Executives Living in Mansions, Driving Mercedes-Benzes.” I have to temper a bit and say that this isn’t an entirely accurate portrait; most of the executives actually drive BMWs.
Last week, when visiting, I was almost hit in a bank parking lot by a white Cadillac SUV driven by a soccer mom. Or maybe a field hockey mom, a lacrosse mom, or a band geek mom. It’s hard to tell who is who in this town.
Our town motto is “Where Life is Worth Living,” but my high school years (2003-2007) were rocked with scandal and tragedy. One of our cheerleaders who was at the Hula Bowl in Hawaii died when she fell, drunk and naked, out of a hotel balcony window. My freshman year algebra class was interrupted when my teacher was abruptly arrested for sleeping with a 16-year-old on the soccer team he coached. A year later, another teacher was arrested for sleeping with an 18-year-old student. Another year later, a girl who would have been a high school freshman was beaten and stabbed by her neighbor and had her body disassembled and nearly thrown off a bridge. The guy was caught and recently sentenced to life in prison.
Today, the single security guard has evolved into several security guards “Ram Guards” and once-open doors remain locked for security reasons during the day. People still talk of the 2008 Vermont post-prom trip where 110 RHS students were busted by the the cops.
Randolph High School was once the 32nd best public school in NJ, ranked by a 2006 issue of New Jersey Monthly. As the veteran teachers retired and the school grew overcrowded, tax-conscious Republican voters in New Jersey continued to support slashes in public school funding. RHS’s ranking dropped to 65nd best public school in 2008. It was still at 52nd in 2010.
This phenonemon of emphasizing individual achievement is not endemic to this town, but it’s a cultural attitude that permeates many of the well-educated and overworked of Morris County. Unfortunately, it is a myopic attitude that fails to see that public issues like lacks in school and library funding also take away in other personal wealth aspects like home property value.
I once heard a member of the Walsh family (who owns practically every bar in Morristown) say: “I’m just not in the right tax bracket to vote Democrat.” Considering that he’s from Mendham, the borough right next to Randolph which Republican Gov. Chris Christie is also from, I’m sure he is not alone in this sentiment.
Famous Randolphians include:
- Chris Pennie, drummer for The Dillinger Escape Plan and Coheed and Cambria (lived in Lake Hopatcong, but went to RHS)
- Antonio Cromartie and Drew Willy, professional football players.
- Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, the writers of Harold and Kumar go to White Castle.
- Greg Fields, a.k.a. IdrA, a professional Starcraft player who briefly lived in South Korea.
Randolph is still a nice town to own a home and raise a family in. It is boring, but there is a low crime rate and it has plenty of scenic parks in which to pass the time. You need a car to get around, but most people can afford it. As in most of Jersey, it’s only 20 minutes away from a nice mall. The lawns are green and mostly cut by Mexicans, but still lots of people own seated lawnmowers and cut their own lawns out of a personal sense of pride.
But as a twenty-something who spent her entire childhood in those lazy suburbs and wants to do something other than work at a pharmaceutical company and spend money, I’m still glad I moved to Brooklyn.