Having The Shit Scared Out Of Me

It’s 11:45 PM and I was in my car, driving home. Like the good son I am, I was on the phone (hands free) talking with my mom.

I have made the same trip nearly every night for the last 17 years. Up State Street and onto I-91. Off at Exit 10 and onto the Route 40 Connector to Hamden.

I’m usually in the right lane for the exit on I-91, but quickly move to the left to avoid slower traffic exiiting Route 40 at Exit 1. I’m in that position 99 nights out of 100.

99 nights out of 100, I would have hit the guy going the wrong way on Route 40 head on.

Who knows why tonight was my lucky night? I needed to pick something up at the market, but it wasn’t pressing. Up until the last moment I had been deciding which route to take.

I was in the right lane, getting off, when I heard the sound of metal, saw sparks and watched a car, probably a pickup truck, continue down the highway. Another car, possibly one he’d hit, swerved and went up on two wheels.

It was all a blur. I really don’t fully know what happened.

“Gotta go.” I said to my mom. “I’ll call you back.”

911 rang four times before a State Police dispatcher picked up. He already knew about the wrong-way driver. Troopers were on the way.

He was calm and nonchalant. He’d been through this before.

“Are you OK,” he asked? It was a nice gesture on his part.

I was thoroughly spooked, but I said OK and got off the phone. A few seconds later I was explaining what happened to my mom.

The person driving the pickup truck… the wrong-way driver… could not have been any more dangerous had he pulled out a loaded gun and fired in a random direction. My suspicion is, his punishment will not be commensurate with his crime.

Second Guessing Knock Offs

In the past, I’ve talked about buying knockoff watches and other ‘almost’ things on the Lower East Side in Manhattan. You may decide for yourself whether my purchases have been good or not.

I really didn’t think there was harm in what I was doing. I wasn’t going to buy the high end, name brand, real deal anyway. I find it tough to believe anyone’s buying the Roleckcs and eschewing the Rolex. They certainly never lost a sale from me.

In the past I heard shadow stories about how buying knockoffs support al-Qaeda. Seriously, is there a story with less credence?

Here’s the part of the equation I never thought about. Knockoffs aren’t limited to designer clothes and accessories. There are knockoff drugs and auto parts being made. These knockoffs replace items that provide ‘mission critical’ functions.

My watches come from China (though the case may say otherwise). So did the knockoff Colgate toothpaste, with poisonous additive. Did one beget the other?

If my $30 watch fails, who cares? It’s different if it’s my Lipitor or airplane engine component.

We have become very dependent on the Chinese to make stuff for us. They do, on the cheap. But we’re also buying into their way of doing business, which doesn’t seem to have the same respect for intellectual property as we’re used to. On top of that, there is little regard for the manufacturing employees&#185, much less the consumers at the end of the trail.

Corners are cut. Ingredients aren’t what they seem. The controls we expect aren’t in place. Does anyone police it?

I don’t want to think my purchases encouraged this… but maybe they did

It’s troubling. I’ll admit it.

&#185 – A nameless friend, in China to produce some news stories, visited a plant where workers were plating metal, dipping it, along with their unprotected hands and arms, into a mysterious chemical solution. As toothless as EPA and OSHA are, I can’t imaging that happening here.

My Trashy Story

Every week, on Friday, our trash goes to the curb. Every other week it’s supposed to be accompanied by recycling. It doesn’t work that way in our household.

Whether it’s our distance from the curb or the amount of recycled newspapers we have (we subscribe to both the New Haven Register or New York Times) or maybe all the boxes we get because of online shopping, going to the curb bi-weekly doesn’t work. So all of this recyclable material piles up in the garage. A few times a year we stuff it into the SUV and I drive it to the transfer station.

Transfer station, what a lovely phrase. It’s so much more genteel than town dump.

I drove up to the transfer station this morning only to find the new policy – no newspapers. I had an SUV full of recyclables, and of course, the supermarket bags of newspapers were on top!

I unloaded the 20 or so bags of newspapers to get to the cardboard and other material underneath. At this point the transfer station folks took pity on me and found a place… a transfer station loophole if you will… that allowed me to drop the papers off. From now on it’s newspapers to the street, I suppose.

I want to be a good citizen, but it is increasingly difficult to follow the rules. In fact, it would be much easier to hide the newspapers and cardboard and bottles with our weekly trash. I’m sure a lot of people do just that. It also always strikes me as a little ironic that the two most talked about recycled products are made from sand (glass) or grow on trees (paper).

I know this is supposed to be good for the environment, and I’m for that. But, is it really? Is this just a feel good exercise with no payoff… or negative payoff?

From “Recycling Is Garbage” – New York Times Magazine, June 30, 1996:

Every time a sanitation department crew picks up a load of bottles and cans from the curb, New York City loses money. The recycling program consumes resources. It requires extra administrators and a continual public relations campaign explaining what to do with dozens of different products — recycle milk jugs but not milk cartons, index cards but not construction paper. (Most New Yorkers still don’t know the rules.) It requires enforcement agents to inspect garbage and issue tickets. Most of all, it requires extra collection crews and trucks. Collecting a ton of recyclable items is three times more expensive than collecting a ton of garbage because the crews pick up less material at each stop. For every ton of glass, plastic and metal that the truck delivers to a private recycler, the city currently spends $200 more than it would spend to bury the material in a landfill.

I don’t know what to think. I want to do what’s right, but I am really not sure. Until I know otherwise, I will follow the rules.

In the meantime, part of our recycling life at home will have to change. Newspapers to the curb. I can hardly wait for the first really big rain on a Thursday night.

Continue reading “My Trashy Story”

100th Anniversary of the Subway

All kids like trains, I suppose. Kids from New York City like subways. That’s me.

New Yorkers have been taking subways for 100 years. Today is the actual anniversary of that first trip under Manhattan.

Growing up, I went to high school taking a bus and then one or two subway trains (depending on my rush and desire for a seat). It was a long ride.

The optional train was the Express – the “E” or “F” train. The required subway was the “GG.” It is now called the “G,” but it’s the same.

The “GG” is the only subway line in New York that doesn’t go through Manhattan. It started in Queens at Continental Avenue running parallel to the express track that went into Manhattan. At Queens Plaza it turned left, south toward Brooklyn.

I didn’t know it at the time, but the “GG,” which started in an affluent Queens neighborhood of tall apartment buildings, went through some of the toughest, most crime ridden, poverty stricken, neighborhoods in New York. Ignorance, for me, was bliss.

Sometime during my four years of high school, I made friends with a motorman on the “GG.” He’d open the cab door a bit and we’d talk as the train rolled on. He was an Irishman. I think his last name was Sheridan. He spoke with a thick Irish brogue. He was a union man in the TWU – Mike Quill’s union.

Even when I wasn’t on his train, I’d usually ride in the front car, my nose pressed up against the glass, looking at the tunnel and tracks.

The “GG” has an interesting ride. Though we took the same route as the express trains, for a few stops they disappeared. I’m not sure if they took a more direct route or were over or under us. They just weren’t there, where you expected them.

There was one spot that looked like it had been planned as a spur. The tunnel opened to the right side, though no tracks were laid.

In Brooklyn, at one stop, a third track appeared. The station had two platforms with the “GG” on the outside tracks and a phantom track in the middle. If it was used for anything, I never saw it.

The “GG” had old cars. In the late 60s, as stainless cars started appearing on other lines, the “GG” kept rolling with equipment from the 30s and 40s. The seats were padded beneath a wicker material or some red rubbery replacement. That was probably the last time New Yorkers were trusted with padded seats that could be ripped apart and vandalized. The cars were lit with incandescent bulbs that blinked every once in a while, as the train made and lost contact with the third rail.

To cut down on theft, the subway’s bulbs screwed in the opposite direction of the bulbs you use at home. Pretty clever.

I knew these trains well – their ins and outs. If there was someone you didn’t like, all you needed to do was take the ‘arm strap’ above and push it back until it would go no further. A black shower of very fine metal would come down, staining whatever was under it.

I always wanted to ‘drive’ a subway. I know that’s the wrong term. It’s still what I wanted to do. Even today, if given the opportunity, I’d take the controls.

When our family goes to New York. We often take the subway to go from place-to-place. My family thinks of it as necessary transportation. I think they know in the back of their mind, it’s still a fun ride for me.

Blogger’s note: Photos accompanying web entries should reflect the actual content. In this case, they are random subway shots I’ve taken. I wasn’t clever enough to anticipate my blog and shoot the “GG” in 1967. Photography in the subway is now prohibited. This is a real shame. I loved taking available light shots while underground.

We’re Home

I am writing this page grudgingly. In my heart of hearts I know I want to write and share some experiences. On the other hand the trip home was so awful and exhausting. We left this afternoon and spent nearly five hours driving through rain, much of it torrential. And somehow, either through a weird driving position or more likely while carrying our overstuffed bags upstairs, I pulled something in my upper left leg that needs little provocation to be painful.

But I digress…

Monday was another awful weather day in Atlantic City. Looking back at some of my photos, I see hints of blue. Trust me, if you were there in it, you wouldn’t have used the color blue in any description.

As I mentioned earlier, Steffie was not particularly thrilled with the Boardwalk. Still, I hadn’t been in at least ten years and Steffie had nothing better to do, so the three of us got the car and headed out.

I believe there’s a tax issue here, but another way Atlantic City differs from Vegas is that you’re charged for parking. We went to one of the Trump hotels and were hit up for $5 for the self park garage.

I should get a break for the mere fact that I was a registered New Jersey voter who originally voted to bring casino gambling in. Is there no loyalty?

The Boardwalk remains as tawdry as ever. Unfortunately, the first thing you notice is, there’s no beach to be seen! Oh, it’s there, but it’s hidden behind dunes which have been built to stave off erosion. Somehow, I would hope there’s a compromise between the beach disappearing physically and the beach disappearing visually. Maybe not.

All the casino hotels back on the Boardwalk. Because of the salty sea breeze they are stucco or ceramic facades. It would be foolish to expose too much metal here. Still, the lack of chrome and glass and the salty coating makes everything dull, including the colors.

Other than the casinos, here’s what you’ll find on the Boardwalk: psychics, t-shirt shops, old arcades, a few food joints, Steel’s Fudge and birds. The number of birds on the Boardwalk is astounding. Some hotels and other businesses have strategically placed metallic spikes to keep the birds from roosting. But they’re around 24/7. There are constant sources of food, both discarded and offered.

There is one older apartment building that seemed to be home to thousands of birds. They would fly in an intricately choreographed swarm and then light on small outcroppings.

Some of the outer structure of the building, hopefully not weight bearing, has crumbled away. Maybe it’s because of what the birds leave behind. Maybe it’s the salt air. Probably it’s a combination of the two and too little maintenance.

Steffie and Helaine went to Steele’s to get some fudge. It’s really great. A true Atlantic City treat. I believe pound for pound Steele’s fudge has more sugar than sugar!

We popped into Trump Plaza on our way to and from the beach. I remember thinking, years ago, how gaudy and yet upscale it looked. Not anymore. Everything seems small, crowded and a bit seedy.

As we walked by an outside window, a Trump Security vehicle pulled up. It was old, sort of beaten up, and had letters missing from its name. The Donald would not be thrilled – though this vehicle is the least of his Atlantic City problems.

Back at The Borgata we had dinner at the buffet again. There’s no doubt I’ll be dieting again as soon as I can! Buffets are my undoing.

The comedy club at the hotel runs seven days a week. Monday is when the new acts begin. So Helaine got tickets and we got to see another three comics working hard.

First up was Jim McCue. He just couldn’t get started – couldn’t get the audience warmed up. About 15 minutes in, he started talking to the audience, again going nowhere. He had some funny bits and maybe as second up he would have done better.

Next was Rob Magnotti. He is a talented impressionist, but he needs better material to support his voices and movements.

The ‘headliner’ was Kenny Rogerson. He was very funny – top notch. It’s interesting how a comedian’s performance often hinges more on his command of the stage and audience than jokes. I thought this guy took charge from the beginning and there was no doubt he was going to be funny. That’s very important and then he followed through.

It was 10:30 when the show ended. We said goodnight to Steffie and I headed to the basement and poker. Unlike the weekend, the list for the $10/$20 Texas Hold’em table was short. Within 10 minutes I was in the back ‘room’ playing.

The players at this table were older than those I had been with over the weekend. One man, who the dealers called by his first name, sat a few chairs down from me. I had played with him earlier and he had been a putz. He continued on that track.

Of the ten at the table, I would guess 5 or 6 were regulars or semi-regulars. This was tougher competition than what I had faced earlier.

Within the first few hands I played a big pocket pair (I think it was Kings, maybe Queens) only to get busted on the river (someone had caught good cards to beat me – the best hand when dealt). I was down over $100 and the night was young.

I wavered a little, crawling up and down, but by the time Helaine stopped downstairs to check on me (she called me on the cell phone from within the poker room because she couldn’t see me in this back area) I had shed nearly $200. My play was fine, but the cards weren’t great and the competition was.

I had bought in with $300, getting $20 in white $1 chips and the rest in $5’s. The chips at Borgata are a good idea gone bad. They are clean and new. Unfortunately, they have a tendency to stick together. Mention this to anyone and you’ll be told there’s a magnet inside – but that’s not true. If there was a magnet, at least some of the time it would repel. These always seems to stick together.

Over hours and hours of playing I had lots of time to look at the chips. I think I know where the problem lies. The chips are quite smooth. There are no grooves or ribbing anywhere around. The center inset is depressed ever so slightly – a few fractions of an inch. When two chips come together, a vacuum is formed between the chips in that tiny cavity. It’s enough to make it cumbersome to separate them easily as their natural tendency is to stay together.

Before Helaine left, I won a hand. It was fairly big and I quickly moved from minus to plus. I continued playing until nearly 2:00 AM. At one point I said to myself, as soon as I won a hand, I’d walk. And, I won the very next hand from the small blind position.

At the end, I was up $253 for the night and, as I previously mentioned, the trip was a remarkable success at the poker table. Each time I sat down, I cashed out a winner.

Of course that got me to thinking about what I did right.

First of all, I played my cards. I know that sounds foolish, as that’s what you’re supposed to do. Sometimes, a player wants to look weaker than he is, or stronger. I’ve been guilty of those ruses myself – and often to my detriment. When I thought I was leading, I bet. When I felt behind I folded. Simple as that.

I didn’t play crap before the flop – didn’t chase. If a large number of players were in, and I was in a late position so I could see them bet before me, I’d sometimes play two suited cards or ‘connectors’ (like 9-10 or 7-8). Compared to the table, I was conservative.

If there were tells to be seen from me, no one seemed to catch on. And, to my surprise, my betting really didn’t affect many other people’s play. I was surprised at how few players folded to my raises. Weird.

These tables were fairly loose. Not as loose as some I’ve seen at lower stakes. Still, for a $10/$20 table, I was amazed at how many players saw the flop, even after a raise.

I was lucky, but not overly so in having my cards hold up. I would hope I could replicate my play for similar, if not quite as lucrative, results.

At one point I brought up the subject of on-line play. No one at the table played on-line. To me, the thousands and thousands of hands I’ve played have been my real poker education. I can’t vouch for its honesty in ring games, as I’ve heard stories. But it seems that it would be tough to cheat in the tournaments on a regular basis.

I left the poker room, found Helaine and we got to the room at about 3:00 AM.

Today was getaway day, and pretty uneventful. There was one piece of high tech equipment that caught my eye on our way out. At the valet parking stand is a sophisticated computer system. As each car goes in or out, six cameras take a photo, getting a detailed look at the entire car. Any pre-existing damage is beautifully documented! And, as the cars go in and out, the valet ticket and the ID of the driver are both recorded.

I asked the driver who delivered our car if this system pays for itself. No pause, “yes.”

Blogger’s note: I’ve posted some pictures from the trip in my photo gallery. All the shots with this entry are there, but in a larger, more readable size.