It Didn’t Work Out

Posted: September 6, 2012 in Uncategorized

Well, I gave it a try.  After a year in back in NYC, I found myself again without a job. The prospects for work didn’t look good, and eventually I found myself taking a summer job in the far away northern suburbs of Chicago, with hopes of returning to a full-time job in NYC  after the summer. No such luck. I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. I may have learned that you can’t go home again. Nine months of a grueling 100 minute (each way) commute by bus and subway from Brooklyn to my job on Manhattan’s upper west side took their toll. The short 20-minute drive to work I had all summer long in the Chicago suburbs was so much more enjoyable, that eventually I decided that I might be better off relocating to this area – though I’m not sure exactly where I’ll wind up living. I’ve taken on apart-time job while I look for more permanent work or garner enough other part-time positions to make a go of it. One thing is for certain – while Chicago isn’t cheap compared to many places I have lived, it is quite a bit cheaper to live here than in NYC.

So thus ends the saga of Adrian Is Back In The City-almost. I’ve yet to return and arrange to move most of my possessions, furniture, etc. out here. So I’m fairly sure there may be a blog post or two to get out of that process. Stay tuned.

When I was growing up in NYC, part of what I was taught by my parents and other adults was what I can only call public transportation etiquette. Simple rules of the road, courtesy and cooperation that help make everyone’s experience more positive. Some of these were taught by example, others more explicitly. These concepts included:

1. If you have a seat, always offer it to a senior citizen, a person with a physical challenge, a pregnant woman, a person with young children, groups of children traveling together on trips.

2. Always let people get off the bus or subway car before trying to enter it.

3. Going in the back door of a bus and bypassing the fare is unethical and illegal. Jumping a turnstile, or otherwise sneaking in to a subway station is also unethical and illegal.

4. Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze.

5. No spitting.

6. When taking a seat on a bus, move to the window seat if the aisle seat is also empty. Don’t force someone to have to go past you to get into the window seat by sitting in the aisle seat.

6a. Be observant. If you see someone around you start making obvious preparations to get out at the next stop, don’t wait until the last minute. Be courteous and make it easy for them to get out. If they had the window seat, after they go, move into their seat and let someone else have yours.

7. Don’t use seats for your bags, packages, etc on a crowded bus or subway. If the bus or subway car wasn’t crowded but now is, move your stuff off the seat!

8. Don’t play music out loud. (In modern terms, don’t play music through the speaker on your phone!) If you have “leaky” headphones, turn the volume down.

9. Move to the back of the bus. As spaces open up, keep moving toward the back of the bus. Don’t stubbornly hold your ground forcing everyone closer to the front to crowd. Don’t be that one stubborn person who territorially holds on to your sacred spot near the front or the door at the expense of everyone else’s comfort.

10. Don’t stand in the doorway if you can help it, and if your stop isn’t soon. IF you are stuck standing in a  doorway with no option, find a way to get out of the way of people trying to exit, even if it means stepping off for a second than then getting back on.

11. In general, keep your voice down and your conversations quiet. Don’t shout and scream at people across the way (or near you.) In modern terms-if you MUST use your cell phone, keep the conversations brief and quiet. No one else wants to hear your conversations. If you play games on your phone, turn off the ‘effing sounds!

12. On a crowded bus or subway car, remove your backpack or large bag/purse and hold in in your hand down hear your feet, so it doesn’t become an obstacle to others, or hit them.

14. At a bus stop where an elderly or physically challenged person is waiting, too. Let them get on the bus first.

15. You have a choice. If the bus or subway car is too crowded, you can wait for the next one, if you have the time. In fact, if you have the time, it would be a courtesy to others to not unnecessarily crowd the bus or subway car.

16. MTA staff (booth clerks, conductors, engineers, police, track workers, etc.) deserve your respect. They are not your servants.

17. Say good morning to your bus driver when you board the bus. Say goodbye when exiting (if you happen to be exiting the front door, which you’re really not supposed to do on a bus, but I do it when it’s not crowded just because I like to thank the bus driver and say goodnight.)

18. Learn how to properly fold a newspaper for reading on the subway or bus, so you aren’t swatting other people with it or blocking their views.

There are probably plenty more, but these are the ones that come to mind. Growing up in the city during the 60s and 70s, I found these rules were generally observed by most people. Now back in the city, I find that, for the most part, only people my age and older even consider following these etiquette rules. It seems as if no one has taught them to younger folks, and, if they have, younger folks just don’t give a hoot, and have a hooray for me eff you attitude. That is not the way to live in a city crowded with millions of people. Everyone’s use of public transportation will be better if we all try and follow these simple courtesy protocols. Courtesy is contagious. Try it.

Adrian (aka  MigdalorGuy)

On the radio this morning, while driving, I heard something unbelievable: that some NYPD officials were blaming the Occupy Wall Street protests for the recent rash of violent crimes in other parts of the city. Their reasoning was that special anti-crime units had been withdrawn from neighborhoods where they were needed (and where several violent crimes occurred over the past few days) in order to help maintain order at the Occupy Wall street protests.

As the saying goes, “hold your watches up.” It’s a wry way of saying that the sh*t is getting really deep. Well, all I can say about these statements is that they are the balls-iest pieces of BULLSH*T I’ve heard in a long time. NYPD has had to pull special anti-violent crime units down to lower Manhattan to deal with the (mostly) peaceful and non-violent protests?

If it is true that special anti-violent crime units were pulled from their regular duties to staff the OWS protests, then I’d say stupidity is reigning at the NYPD. Whether this happened or not, to blame the recent spate of shootings, molestations, and other crimes on OWS is a tactic beneath contempt, and those responsible for even suggesting such a thing ought to be drummed out of the NYPD.

Problem is, although I am quite certain I heard this on the radio (WCBS 880am, sometime between 8:30-9:30am today, Oct. 23, 2011) I haven’t been able to find any reference to such statements online. I intend to keep trying, but if you happen to come across such a reference, please send me the link so I can update this blog.

Some of you may also note that I wrote recently about the failure to take the entertainment and professional sports industries to task for the outrageously high salaries paid to their equivalent of the 1%. Then, some of this 1% starting visiting and supporting the OWS protests. This lovely article in the NY Times today: Hollywood on Wall St by Frank Bruni says just what I feel about the whole thing.

I also can’t resist commenting on the irony that NYC has a Mayor who is, clearly, one of the 1%. That very fact generally causes me to disregard or at least distrust pretty much anything he has to say about OWS. Notice how quickly the issue of hizzoner’s lady friend being on the Board of Brookfield Office Properties, the owners of Zucotti Park (Zucotti is a co-chair of Brookfield) seems to have disappeared from the press. Methinks hizzoner doth protest too much when he suggests he and his lady don’t discuss politics in the bedroom. Got a bridge to sell you if you believe that one.

Leaky Headphones II

Posted: October 5, 2011 in Uncategorized

The “leaky headset” problem is getting worse. Each day on my commute by bus and subway, I find myself subjected to an almost continual barrage of “leaky headphone” noise. I have found the only solution is to drown it out by wearing headphones of my own and listening to my mp3 player (an original 30Gb Zune, if you must know.) To be honest, I’d been hoping to avoid this. I don’t want to become just another drone drowning out city annoyances on my daily commute by retreating into music. In fact, I relish (and always have) just taking in the sights and sounds on public transportation, and hope for those all too infrequent chances to actually talk with another human being. I don;t want to be seen as just another passenger ignoring my fellow passengers. However the onslaught of “leaky headphones” has so far left me little choice. Add to that the voices of people talking on their cell phones (at least on the elevated portions of the subway, and on the buses) and it becomes altogether too much to endure. I understand why people are retreating into their own little worlds of music.

By the way, just to be sure I wasn’t becoming part of the problem, I did enlist the help of some friends (and strangers) to insure that my own headphones weren’t “leaking.” They’re not, and they’re not anything special, just some run-of-the-mill Sony in-ear models. I just take the time to properly and fully insert them (and choose the appropriate tip for my ear size) and don’t crank the volume to full. I can’t be sure what causes leaky headphones – cheap manufacturing, improper wearing, volume too high – but it’s an epidemic and it needs to stop!

Leaky Headphones and Tzedakah

Posted: September 8, 2011 in Uncategorized

Today some city observations. Yes, the two parts of the title seem incongruous – and they aren’t directly related. I am going to address both issues.

Years ago, when portable “boom boxes” were all the rage, what was then the NYCTA (New York City Transit Authority) and is now the MTA instituted rules that prohibited the playing of “boom boxes” and other devices on subways and buses. The rise of the Sony Walkman and its attendant headphones slowly lead to less need for reinforcement of the “boom box” rules. One would think that the almost complete migration to iPods, mp3 players, and smartphones would have eliminated the problem entirely. On the contrary. First we have what I call “leaky” headphones. Some people keep the volume on their headphones up so high (which is really damaging to their hearing) that while one may not be able to fully hear the music, one can hear the more percussive sounds. In ear headphones are, surprisingly, at greater risk of causing this problem than good quality over the ear headphones (like the Sony’s or Dr. Dre Beats Audio styles that are popular.) I don’t know about others, and maybe it is because I still have sensitive hearing as a musician, but I find the constant background sounds (almost as if someone were lightly playing a set snare and high-hat right next to you) extremely disturbing. I’m sort of reluctant to say anything to anyone about this, because technically they’re not violating any MTA rules. So perhaps it is time for the MTA to update the rules.

There is an additional problem – people who just listen to music right out of the speakers built into the cell or smart phones. They may be holding it close, or up to their ear, but you can darn sure hear it, and it is as annoying. To me that seems a more clear cut violation of MTA policy, but again I’m reluctant to do anything more than perhaps glare at the guilty party.

So, if you live in NYC and rife the subways and buses, what do you do about this problem (or does it even annoy you?)

Now on to another observation. Several times I have encountered this one conductor on a particular subway line who is very talkative. I’m actually appreciative of that, to some extent, since it is a line which isn’t yet using the automated announcements found on some lines (like the L train.) Not only does this conductor announce stops (and quite clearly, but he also reads the safety and other announcements you also hear on the lines with the automatic announcements, and while waiting on train platforms. However, this is one regular announcement he keeps making that troubles me.  Every few minutes, he announces the policy that “panhandling and soliciting on subways and buses is prohibited and illegal.” That alone wouldn’t bother me. He goes on to add (and I do not know if he adds this on his own or if it really is official MTA text) “do not give them anything.”

Well it seems to me that saying this is challenging a deeply held religious or ethical belief of many of the riders, myself included. There are nuances within the Jewish approach when it comes to panhandlers, but my understanding of the basic premise is that one is obligated to give tzedakah. (Just the other day I heard an educator tell other staff that she did not want to hear them using the word charity, because that implies choice, whereas tzedakah is a commandment. I’ve taught this same sentiment to others, and have often encountered it.)

Yes, we find panhandling uncomfortable-but isn’t that exactly the point? Their existence reminds us that we are not all doing as much as we can to help our fellow human beings.Are some panhandlers con artists? I’m sure. Some doctors are quacks. Do we stop using (or paying) all doctors because some are quacks?

I’m going to look into whether or not this conductor is relaying actual MTA approved text or his own enhancement, and respond accordingly. I don’t want any government agency telling me I can’t perform the mitzvah of tzedakah on their premises!

Adrian (aka Migdalor Guy)

Following Paths

Posted: September 5, 2011 in Uncategorized

I had intended to start this blog a little sooner. Already I’ve accumulated a lot of thoughts, anecdotes and more about adjusting back to living in New York City after over three decades away. I’ll slowly begin to share those. Today, however, I was motivated by an interesting observation.

Garage parking spaces are at a premium where I am living here in Starrett City in Brooklyn. There were no parking spaces available in the garage located near my building, on my loop. (Starrett City is basically a series of loops branching off the east and west sides of Pennsylvania Ave. The loops are named alphabetically-Ardsley, Bethel, Croton, Delmar, etc. Buildings in the complex are more commonly referred to their “place”  in their section. My building in C-4, that is, the fourth building in the section including Croton loop. Never mind that only two of the buildings – C4 and C5 actually front on the loop.)

Anyway, the closest garage space I could get (and a rooftop space at that, so I hope I get an inside space before winter comes) is in the A garage. So on those once or twice a week occasions when I use my car, I have to make the trek to the garage.  Today, as I was returning home from the garage after a relaxing afternoon drive out to Long Island (with no particular destination in mind) wheeling my shopping cart (I was going to go shopping but decided against it) I had what I can only think was a typical NYer’s thought: “why do architects always design walkways to follow indirect, meandering paths, often circumscribing large sections of lawns – lawns roped off the discourage people from walking on them?”

Thoughts swirled in my head. I realized that this was often just as true in other places – college campuses, other cities. I also thought about the ridiculousness of creating large swaths of lawn only to discourage people from using them (except, of course, in the proper place-the parks, or the country.) How odd that city architects often go out of their way to create green spaces, large and small, in the city, and then rope them off so people don’t use them.

The Dyckman Houses project in the Inwood section of Manhattan where I spent most of my childhood certainly had lots of open, green lawns between buildings, with pathways that usually forced you to take a less than direct route to your destination. In the city, there have always been those who simply disregard the “keep off the grass” signs and forge their own paths (and I’m not talking about “nature” types, but “selfish types,) but, at least as a child, by and large, I think most people followed the pathways and didn’t cut across the lawns. (Of course, the lawns aren’t fenced-off. There is usually a simple chain or wire between low posts surrounding the lawns – easy to step over.) However, kids will be kids, and we played lots of games – football, baseball, tag, ring-a-levio, hot-peas-and-butter and more – on the lawns. Oh, sometimes the housing cops would come along and chase us off, but that was pretty rare. Even with our regular play on the lawns, they didn’t look much the worse for wear-they remained green, and didn’t sprout huge bald spots. Some of the smaller lawns were actually ringed by bushes and were harder to get on, though we would sometimes use the bushes as pretend forts and shelters, too.

In my years away from NYC I’ve been on lots of campuses. On many of them, you could see the telltale signs of paved pathways that were added once it became clear that students were not staying on the allotted paths. I was always torn, emotionally, about such things. On the one hand, it makes a certain amount of sense to not overly inconvenience your students, and bow to their desires to be able to quickly get from one building to another with little time between classes. On the other hand, what sort of lesson does this teach students about respecting boundaries? It is interesting to note that outside of NYC, you don’t find as many lawns surrounded by low wires or chains intended to keep people off of them. I suppose people outside of NYC were less worried about preserving these lawns as they had more of them. (Green space is not as precious a resource in NYC as one might think. The city has many, many parks. Not all of them are in the best shape, but few neighborhoods are completely without close access to a park of other green area. (Even Manhattan has plenty of green spaces, though you might have to walk a little farther to get to one than in other boroughs.)

I have always struggled with shortcuts, myself. As a child, I rarely took a shortcut across a chained-off lawn. As an adult, I tend to be a very law and rule-abiding citizen. I’m not perfect, but I’m more likely to observe speed limits, not double-park, not stray from paths and walkways, etc. It’s an attribute that some of my friends and family have found annoying. I just can’t bring myself to do something just because everyone else does it. (Regular readers of my work may recall I’m found of the story that Eli Wiesel tells about the prophet who initially thought he could change people with her words, and now, after years of trying, he keeps preaching to keep himself from become like those to whom he preaches!)

I have to admit to a certain amount of surprise that I felt a mild annoyance at having to follow the less direct pathways back to my building. Was this an effect of being back in the city? Was I already succumbing to the tendency to be so time-challenged that even the slightest deviation from a direct path was problematic? What was my hurry? I was just concluding a leisurely afternoon and had nothing pressing to do. Sure, I’m older, and not in the best physical shape, so extra steps sometimes matter. But I’m not that old or out of shape yet for this to matter.

Things are relative. I knew that I had become used to life in small towns when three cars at a red traffic light was a traffic jam, when anything more than a 10 or 15 minute commute was long. We always get used to the ways things are where we are living. In Florida, we all enjoyed the light traffic during non-Tourist season,and bemoaned the change when the tourists came. In Florida and New Orleans one gets used to the muggy heat in the summer, and the threat of hurricanes. In Fargo, one gets used to the cold and the snow, the long winter, and the short but surprisingly hot summers. I have to be honest that I never really got used to anything in Nashville (except the high prevalence of allergies.) Living in the DC metro area for 5 years, I once again grew used to heavy traffic (in some ways, I found rush hours in that area worse than NYC.) Living in Amherst the past three years I got used to lighter traffic again (though it’s lightest during the summer when the students are all gone.)

My daily commute to work by bus and subway (from Brooklyn to Manhattan’s upper west side) now takes about 80-90 minutes door to door, so it is with amusement that I look back on those in the DC area who would complain about their long commutes, and even greater amusement at those who lived in the five-college area of Amherst-Northampton-Hadley-Mt. Holyoke – folks considered it a “long drive” to go the few miles from one to the other, especially if it required crossing a bridge over the Connecticut river. (DC Metro had a similar issue, with DC and Maryland folks always reluctant to cross the great “Potomac Ocean” to go to Northern Virginia. I routinely commuted (by car) from Alexandria, VA to Bethesda, MD for a number of years. No big deal.

I digress. Which is as it should be, and which should also be a lesson that it’s not always a bad thing to follow the meandering path rather than the direct shortcut. There are times for shortcuts, and times for meandering.

Sure, I’ve already begun studying my daily commute to figure which entrances/exits are closest and which subway cars will stop near the staircase that’s best to use, to know what alternatives there are when there’s a delay on one line. Which route will save a few steps, or avoid stairs. I’m considering which banks to use based on the convenience of which ones I pass on my daily commute. Yet sometimes, when I don’t feel time-pressured, I’ll take a longer route just for fun. In fact, being back in NYC has been healthier for me. I am walking a lot more, and using steps more often.

The real question for me is whether one of the keys to not feeling time-pressured is to, well, not feel time-pressured, and just enjoy the path you’re following, even if it’s not the most direct. This applies both when you are and are not in control of that. (Case in point is that I’ve had the opportunity to accompany my Mother on Access-A-Ride trips to and from Brooklyn and Manhattan. Each times the driver seems to take a different route. Some routes may not seem to be the fastest, but I have learned to enjoy seeing different neighborhoods. These are sometimes shared-ride trips, and I have often heard other passengers muttering under their breaths about the particular route chosen by the driver,m and how they know a much faster way to do. I never say it out loud, but I am usually thinking “hey, you’re not driving, so just sit back and enjoy the ride, and let the driver choose the route.” If I can think this, then what made me even become the slightest bit annoyed with having to follow some slightly less direct paths from the garage to my apartment building (and it probably is just a matter of seconds or a minute’s difference in time anyway.)

I’ve been in long-lasting traffic jams or subway delays where I’ve managed to remain calm and relaxed, with a “nothing you can do about it, just go with the flow” attitude. At other times I’ve been in shorter delays and have totally lost it, succumbing to the aggressive side of my passive-aggressive self. I’ve certainly gotten better over the years at remaining calm, though I will admit that returning to the city has presented some challenges in this regard. I pretty much try to not drive anywhere in the city unless I absolutely must do so. I seem less able to relax on those drives. I’m not scared to drive in the city, and at times I can be very patient. Yet Murphy’s law seems to be very active when it comes to city traffic. Should be a corollary to the effect that “the chances of getting stuck in traffic are directly proportional to your need to be somewhere on time.” You learn to allow lots of extra time. Sometimes even that doesn’t help. At those times, it may be more frustrating, but, at least for me, it’s easier to accept that it is out of my control. After all, I did make my best effort to allow extra time for the trip.

Now, back to those pathways that circumnavigate all those lawns in developments all over the city.

Growing up, my parents made it a point to get the family out of the city regularly. We went camping and hiking. We learned to appreciate nature and the great outdoors. I have thoroughly enjoyed living in places that have more green space, more “country.” North Dakota might be cold, but it is stunningly beautiful place to live, and has a great quality of life. Nevertheless, the big city has a beauty all its own. The avatar picture for this blog shows the beautiful flower beds found just out the back door of my apartment building in Starrett City. It is not just plants, trees, flowers, but also buildings, streets, subway stations and more that have beauty and can be a joy to look at (or, if not exactly beautiful, at least interesting, historic, or challenging.)

So maybe the architects have it right after all. I think I’ll try and learn to enjoy their circuitous routes. I’ll not seek to combat my naturally rule-abiding nature. I’m hopeful it will make me a happier, less-stressed person. I’ll let you know.

Adrian (aka Migdalor Guy)