Monday, July 30, 2007

Asbury Park progress... maybe they are doing what they said they would...

Went back down to Asbury Park; was wondering how the renovation of the Casino was going.

I found a good deal of activity going on. The old Howard Johnson's restaurant, with its space-age architecture, had been cleaned out, its former tenant replaced by a trendy casual restaurant. The goombahs who had sat outside keeping watch on the boardwalk were replaced by upper-middle class folks who would have shunned the old HoJos in disgust. A glass-blowing workshop and an art gallery were mixed in with the usual hot dog and pizza stands -- Asbury Park has to have the only boardwalk in the world that's home to resident artists who don't do caricatures. All of the businesses seemed to be getting good foot traffic, and people were dining at tables laid out cafe-style on the boardwalk.

I half expected to find the entire Casino site reduced to rubble, but there it was: the walkway and the carousel portion of the building, still standing.
In a way, I'm relieved that the scariest part of has been torn down - that the ghosts of the wilderness that grew inside the ruins of the part over the beach are now gone. But it looks totally weird that there is nothing there ... and that a temporary wall has been built there, kind of like those metal sheets magicians use when they divide the woman in the box.
The walkway was open to foot traffic as it was last summer, and a few people were walking through. I still got the willies from it, but I decided to check it out.

The plywood construction walls were gone, exposing the ornate, century-old plaster walls, complete with framed windows. The back side of drywall, held up by new metal studs, blocked off the entryways leading to the arcade that no longer stands. And I looked up to see what has to be a new corrugated metal roof, held up by the old metal rafters. I wonder if they'll put up new plaster to replace what had been there (and falling down).

As I walked through, I noticed that a door in the construction barrier on the western side of the building was open and exposed the carousel room. I'd never seen the inside of that, except in pictures of the old merry-go-round that had long ago been sold off to some amusement park in the Midwest ("ride on an authentic Jersey Shore carousel!"). Work was being done there, and I was happy to see that the metalwork faces in the arched windows have been preserved.

Outside, workers were busily tearing the shingles from the peaked circular roof above. Already, the room between the main walkway and the carousel had been replaced by a shiny new metal roof awaiting a final topcoat. Hopefully they won't find any rot beneath, and they'll be able to save at least part of what was originally laid there.

So who knows where they'll be in the process the next time I'm down there. They're certainly making progress. Maybe (hope springs eternal) by this time this year, we'll be enjoying the new building.

I just wonder if it will still give me the willies.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Gotta love technology...

One of the alternately fun and frustrating parts of my job is the necessity of using technology, namely "social media." That's the fancy term for computer-based stuff that gives people the ability to communicate back and forth with others without having to go through a gatekeeper (editor, censor, etc.). You just publish what you want, let it fly and wait for others to comment using the same technology.

Blogging, of course, is one avenue to take. Another is podcasting, which I always find kind of fascinating. The idea that people are downloading boring business presentations to their iPods always seemed kind of ridiculous to me, but I guess there are some subjects that folks would download.

One of my work friends and I are both single, and we've had many a conversation about the vagaries of ending relationships. I've always said it's best to be open and honest and tell the guy you'd rather stop seeing him. Now, I say that's best, but it takes a lot of courage I only recently have been able to muster. My work friend, on the other hand, is a big fan of the remote -- or even silent -- breakup. You know: just stop calling, be unavailable, etc. If she's feeling particularly brave, she sends the guy an e-mail. Of course, you can take the happy medium and call him. You don't have to face him, you become the breaker rather than the breakee, and you can write up speaking points for the conversation.

That led us to the new media alternative: the breakup podcast. All you need is a computer, a microphone and a belly full of disgust or sheer contempt. (Let's face it -- you need to have enough energy to take the trouble.) And you can script yourself! If you make the podcast generic enough, you can recycle it. That's particularly useful for those of us who make the same mistake and date the same kind of guy over and over.

There's probably a very profitable business in there somewhere, too. In the past, folks have made good money writing "Dear John" letters. How about the "Dear John" podcast? It's both effective and memorable! And think - at some point there will be some guy out there collecting the "best of" breakup-casts. I'll bet they start a special section on iTunes for free downloads.

Okay, so maybe it's not the best thing in the world, but it beats IM'ing the guy to tell him you think it's not working. And yes, this was once suggested to me when I said we needed to have "the talk." Ironically, one of my issues with the relationship was that he was over-dependent on texting.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Collecting up flies?

With the magical timing only the White House seems to be able to conjure regularly, a report on al Qaeda's growing strength to attack in the US just happened to come out at the same time as Congressional Republicans are trying to force Bush to change direction in Iraq. In the words of today's New York Times editorial, "the message, as always: Be very afraid. And don’t question the president."

Now, most people with an ounce of common sense in their brain pan understand that the war in Iraq has united -- not weakened -- the terrorist threat. Nothing like giving those who hate you even more reason to hate you, right? Makes America look like one of those abusive parents who shouts at a sobbing child, "You wanna cry? I'll give you something to cry about!" And I won't even get into the debate over whether there was any connection between Saddam and the 9/11 hijackers.

Sure, Bush and his cronies are using every last pathetic angle to build fear among the populace. You know -- fight 'em there so they can't get here. It's an interesting approach, actually. You create an irresistable annoyance in one place (Iraq), figuring that it will distract the bad guys away from another place (mom, apple pie and baseball).

Reminds me of a story told by the late, great Spalding Gray. In one of his monologues, he related his experience in crashing for a night in the hovel of a grimy old hippie. All night, Spalding was pestered by flies. Couldn't catch a wink of sleep. The next morning, he asked his host whether he, too, had a lot of flies in his room, and whether they kept him up.

The hippie admitted he had flies, too, but he had a secret that kept them away from his bed. "I collect them up."

Collect them up?

"Yeah -- I just shit in the corner before I go to bed, and the flies crawl all over it all night."

I guess that's like "fight 'em there so we don't have to fight them here," but the only ones who get fooled are the flies. In any case, Bush has certainly dumped a lot of shit in the corner -- and it certainly stinks up the joint.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Random musings on exploration

This is a small segment of the Paulinskill Viaduct, a massive, 100-year old train trestle in the middle of nowhere in Warren County, New Jersey. Towering more than 10 stories, it stretches 1100 feet across the Paulins Kill (Kill being a Dutch word for a type of river or stream) and the surrounding countryside. In other words, it's big. It's really big. These photos don't do it justice, and my exploring companion and I may go back after the leaves have fallen.

The first inclination is to wonder why the Delaware Lackawanna and Western would spend a ton of money to build this huge structure in the middle of nowhere, until you found out that it was part of a deactivated rail line between New York and Scranton. I guess the volume of coal coming from that part of Pennsylvania made it a viable route. (The viable viaduct -- hmm) See a 1950s era passenger timetable for a list of stops on the route.

There's also the usual apocrypha about a worker being buried in the concrete during construction and so forth. I always wonder about stories like that, which seem to haunt every bridge structure built in America. I guess the smart guys waited to apply for jobs working on them until the requisite one laborer died there. (And no Jimmy Hoffa jokes, please.)

The viaduct gets plenty of coverage, so to speak: Weird NJ and a host of websites dedicated to the exploration of abandoned structures. It's really enticing in a spooky way. Those arches beneath the track bed are hollow and conducive for crawling through. The scenery and the graffiti are said to be incredible.

I've seen photos, but no way was I going to go up there. At least not on this trip. While I don't have a fear of heights, I have trepidation of heights when there's no railing to protect me. And while I may possess the dexterity and energy to make the climb up the steep hill to the most accessible base, there's the whole matter of getting DOWN.

It does, however, bring me back to some of my travels in Europe. Like anyplace else, getting to some of the more attractive destinations takes a bit of skill and courage. Most recently, I experienced this at the Skellig Islands off the coast of southwestern Ireland, where you have to climb six hundred slate steps to get to the real attraction: the sixth century monastery up top. Man, those monks really got away from it all, didn't they?

The view is incredible but the steps are scary! And the trip to the island is made in a small boat. Across choppy waters. It wouldn't be so bad if you could just keep your eye on the horizon, but with waves sometimes bigger than the boat, it's not always possible. Needless to say, if you get there without losing your cookies, you may or may not feel well enough to climb to the top.

Anyway, back to the point - nowhere on Skellig is there a railing, except for the rope you can cling to as you climb the sturdy concrete steps up the dock. There are no signs warning you that the slate stairs are often loose. Or that they're barely wide enough to plant two feet on. No disclaimers, no releases to sign. You just go and hope for the best.

That's the difference between Europe and the overly litigious United States. Reminds me of a story I heard about two Frenchmen who visited Yellowstone park and came upon some bears. As one walked closer to the huge animal, the other warned him not to. The more adventurous (stupid?) one said that it was okay, the Americans wouldn't have bears in the parks if they were actually dangerous. What happened next? Let's just say that the safer Frenchman went home alone.

Thursday, July 05, 2007


Today marks four years since my cat, Hattie, came home to live with me.

It still kind of amazes me that she's been with me so long. Sometimes it amazes me that she's with me at all. I'd wanted a cat on and off for many years -- since childhood, actually -- but I had myself convinced that I wouldn't be a proper caretaker for another living being who depended on me for sustenance. But I'd been volunteering at a shelter with a man I was dating, and I came to realize that the love I was giving the dogs there might actually mean that I could take care of a little furry creature at home. A dog clearly wasn't an option, though there was one I would have taken home in a heartbeat. Also, when the boyfriend and I started at the shelter, I made him promise he wouldn't let me bring a new little friend home, and he took that promise seriously.

Eventually, the boyfriend and I broke up, and I found myself spending a lot of time at the shelter, working with the dogs. Maybe it was the need for unconditional love, or maybe it was just a way to keep myself occupied with something productive that made a difference for someone. In any case, I guess it helped me work out my feelings a bit.

It was kitten season, and opportunity kind of hit me in the face. The shelter was looking for foster homes to take in a few at the point when the need was greatest: late spring and early summer. While I knew I couldn't care for a bunch of little guys just a few weeks old, I told myself it would be just as helpful to foster a grown cat. The shelter would have more space, and I would be able to "test drive" being a cat caretaker, so to speak. If things didn't work out, I could bring the feline back without feeling like a complete jerk.

On one of my regular volunteer nights, July 3, I told one of the shelter officers I'd been thinking of fostering, and she was ready to have me take home a cat that minute. I went into the shelter as she told me the names of some of the more sedate cats who wouldn't climb the walls. She was particularly enthusiastic about one who was about as active as a sofa cushion.

I took a look around as cats walked past me, rubbing against my legs. None of them appealed to me. One of the other volunteers told me that I'd just know the right one, and if I didn't feel it that night, it might hit me in a day or two. That made sense.

While all of the crates were open and most cats were taking the chance to stretch their legs, one small gray one sat shyly inside. When I put my hand in to pet her, she started licking it. I'd never been licked by a cat before -- I didn't know they did that.

I went home that night without a cat. The next day was July 4th, and even as I went about celebrating independence, that small gray cat started rubbing against the corners of my mind. By the next morning, I knew I had to go get Hattie.

It was a really hot day, and I remember bringing her home with the AC blasting in my car, telling her we were going to be great friends. She meowed concerns, I sang to her. As soon as we got to my house, I set up the litter box and let her out of the carrier, at which point she promptly holed up in a nook in my bathroom. I knew it was best to let her come out when she was comfortable, but I'd go in from time to time to speak gently to her.

Later that evening, I went into the bathroom to visit her, and she wasn't there. As I returned to the living room, I found her waiting patiently by the sofa. I laid down, and she jumped up onto my chest, did a rhythmic milk tread for a few moments, settled down to nestle against me and began to purr loudly.

Something about the trust of that small gray ball of fur, and the contented purring, and the closeness, brought me to tears. After several weeks of being alone, it was a relief to feel that someone, even a cat, wanted to be close to me. The fact that she'd accepted me so quickly -- the fact she'd chosen me -- felt like such a miracle to me. The whole "foster cat" concept went out the door. She wasn't going anywhere if it wasn't with me.

We've been through a lot, which is a whole other story, and she's even gotten to meet the old boyfriend, now a friend, who's known to her as the person who's the catalyst for her and me even meeting. She's happy to see me in the morning when I wake up and at night when I come home. And she parks herself on my lap, or even my shoulders, whenever I work on this blog. Of all the constants in my life, she's one of the most pleasant, and I'm thankful for that.

So happy Gotcha Day, Hattie. You've taught me a lot, like any good friend does, and you've given me even more love than I've given you. I'm so happy you're with me.