In just about the same amount of time it takes to drive from Harford County to Ocean City or the Delaware beaches, it's possible to be on the shores of the Garden State.
Though it can serve as a punch line, even without a setup, for jokes about undesirable places to live or go on vacation, New Jersey has a lot to offer aside from its refineries, turnpikes and commuter access to New York City. Vacationers in the north can enjoy the rugged mountains and wild areas around the Delaware Water Gap.
Then there's the location that is, along with Coney Island, a place that offers the quintessential American ocean beach experience: the Jersey Shore. From Cape May in the south to Red Bank in the north, the New Jersey beaches have spawned the likes of Bruce Springsteen, the Miss America Pageant, saltwater taffy and legal gambling beyond Nevada.
Indeed, Atlantic City, N.J., is an eastern terminus of the pathway to the American West, spiritually linked to both the Manifest Destiny migrations of the late 1800s and the automotive explorations of the post World Wars era, as described by Jack Kerouac in his iconic novel "On the Road."
While "On the Road" is most commonly identified with the mystic qualities of U.S. Route 66, the so-called Mother Road where Bobby Troup suggested you could "get your kicks," Route 40 links the East Coast to the legendary road west at St. Louis, gateway to the American West. And Route 40 has its start at the southern terminus of the Atlantic City Boardwalk.
It may be fun to have a laugh at the expense of the beaches of one of the nation's least remote locations, but there's no denying they are icons of the American experience.
Thus, it came as something of a shock last year at this time, even though it was in the meat of the Atlantic hurricane season, when New Jersey took a roundhouse kick to the jaw from what has since come to be known as Superstorm Sandy.
It was a heck of a storm, and Harford County had prepared for a hit locally that could well have struck Maryland and Delaware instead of New Jersey. Actually, Sandy was such a big storm that it did hit Maryland, in general, and Harford County, in particular, in a memorable way. The edges of the meteorological mutant cross between a tropical storm and a nor'easter caused plenty of flooding, power outages and wind damage locally.
It wasn't as bad as some other storms of recent years, and certainly not what hit New Jersey.
It's worth remembering, however, just how close those New Jersey beaches are to Maryland and Harford County, and how bad things could have been in these parts had the storm shifted just a little bit to the south when it came ashore.
There's a theory that's more philosophical than scientific that postulates a butterfly flapping its wings in the Hawaiian tropics, if the conditions are right, could spawn a devastating storm – so long as the conditions are just right.
It's an illustration that's used to demonstrate the way good or bad deeds can be magnified as they touch ever-larger circles of people affected by the original act. The literal shifting of a major storm by a few miles and a relatively small force, however, is certainly something that comes to mind when pondering near misses like Harford County experienced with Sandy.
Harford may have dodged the worst of Sandy last year, but there will be plenty more storms. Eventually, that butterfly won't be in the right place at the right time, and a storm will hit Harford County full on.
The only thing to do about it is be prepared.