Monday, November 18, 2019

Good riddance, Mr. Cuomo?

Television personality Sean Hannity moved out of New York in 2014; President Donald Trump , a lifelong New Yorker who grew up straphanging on the city’s subway, moved out this year. Between these two poles, Governor Andrew Cuomo has presided over an exodus of residents. This is an exodus of talent, treasure and potential.

This struck a chord with me, because I watched my peers, born and raised on New York’s Long Island, Staten Island, and in Westchester County leave the Empire State by the handful. They graduated college and set out for the South, particularly Florida. With home purchases and families started, they aren’t coming back soon.  Weather was not the issue. It was housing costs, traffic delays, career prospects, and taxes; overall cost and quality of living.

Immigration from around the world masks the effect of this exodus; it is the difference between New York’s resilient dynamism and Rust Belt decay. But New York has made large investments in its youth; to include college tuition in recent years. Why is the Governor so willing to see the future disappear? I would point to entrenched constituencies who believe that things are “good enough” under current leadership. The critical mass demanding better, the citizen voters who put Andrew Cuomo’s father out of office in 1994, have decamped for other states, taking their New York educations, pensions and real estate proceeds with them.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Halloween in Mayberry 20037

There are things that your realtor does not tell you about the neighborhood when you buy a home. Trash pickup day and street sweeping are two firm examples. There are soft rules, like how late you may mow the lawn without disturbing the neighbors. In addition, every wood-framed craftsman home on the block flies an American flag.

As a young kid, my brother and I made trick-or-treat runs in Washington DC's Georgetown neighborhood. Walkable townhouses were filled with larger-than-life couples who enjoyed the door-ringing tradition. Yet, I came to realize, there are different ways for Halloween to be celebrated.

 I heard of exurban kids being driven door-to-door; but what about my new neighborhood in Norfolk, one that is coming through a time of transition? What was our protocol?  Do we trick-or-treat or not?

As the sun set, the neighborhood kids came out, some in costumes, others not. Some headed across our commercial drag to the brick houses with lawns. Theirs is the land of plenty. Trick-or-treating was in full swing over there. The others headed to church activities. Some Baptist communities do not practice Halloween, a fact that Jack Chick and his gas station pamphlets made clear.

One may think that a neighborhood on the upswing would rejuvenate the door-ringing practice. But the inertia of memories from a different decade- caution and fear- are hard. There is another reason: Vice Magazine described the decline of trick-or-treating in Washington DC's  gentrifying Logan Circle neighborhood. Empty-nesters stay home to dish out bowls of candy; Dual Income, No Kid couples have other plans for Halloween evening.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Short Trip on American Rail

Train 88, 6:15 am northbound departure from Norfolk

This morning, I scrambled to find winter clothes. I put on a long-forgotten jacket. Having spent the front half of the year straddling the Equator in Guam, I'd forgotten what "chilly" feels like. But here, straddling the North Carolina line, it's "Summer, Winter, Fall and Spring in one day", quipped a local acquaintance. It's marathon weather. Races in Norfolk and Washington, DC this weekend. Why drive? 

Park and ride at the Norfolk station. One track and platform, with a small and new waiting room. 200 feet from car to waiting train. Many empty seats now, but wait for Richmond, advised the conductor. The night is crisp, clear, dark, late like Autumn. I brought breakfast from home; having plenty, I gave away my orange juice.

One week ago, the National Weather Service recorded:
October 2, 2019, Norfolk Virginia: 93 F degrees near the oceanfront
October 3, 2019, Roanoke Virginia: 98 F degrees for a mountain cool

Crates of pumpkins appeared at the grocery and hardware store in balmy weather. It's that month: the prelude of the holidays season. Do 'they' keep pushing the holidays earlier, or had this been an endless summer? 

The train spent over an hour chugging through the rural woods of southern Virginia. In the City of Richmond, a brief change of scenery as the tracks runs in the median of Downtown Freeway. A few trains headed to Williamsburg serve the historic Richmond Main Street downtown station, but the city's main station is simple and suburban, serving all trains travelling north and south. Our train edges north to Randolph Macon college in Ashland. Isn't that swell? A college with an on-campus train station. The seats fill up.

The next four stops serve the southern suburbs of Washington, DC; the last of which is Alexandria, flanked by high-rises and the Metrorail line. Big city life as seen out the train window. Over the Potomac River, eager travelers muster their baggage, for arrival at Washington's Union Station occurs just a few minutes later. Stepping out of the coach, you hear the din of train movements, the hum of waiting commuter trains, station workers, the traffic over 'Hopscotch' bridge. You see gritty stone over a hundred years old, office buildings and luxury condos pressed against the tracks. The South, it seems, is now a distant memory. Now on the Northeast Corridor, Train 88 switches its diesel engine. for a high-speed electric locomotive.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Got My Name Changed Back

One prominent road in Arlington, Virginia just lost its Confederate name; and no one is looking back. Transecting Crystal City, future home of Amazon’s HQ2, Jefferson Davis Highway reverted to its pre-1920’s name, Richmond Highway. Signed as US Route 1, the road still connects Washington DC to Richmond, Virginia; though parallel Interstate 95 is the preferred, and usually quicker, alternative.  Route 1 is the common, layman’s name; except for the hotels and major businesses whose stationery list the once-lengthy street address bearing the Confederate States of America president’s name.

These business owners and representatives were supportive of the change. Damnata Memoria (Banished history) aside, a succinct name like Richmond Highway works in the text-and-Siri age. “Jefferson Davis” is also a mouthful to business partners and visitors for whom English is a second language.

When, in contrast, a residential street changes names, private citizens bear the burden of informing state agencies, banks and acquaintances of their new yet geographically identical address. Such is the talk in Hollywood, Florida, where city leaders are discussing renaming two suburban streets. In recognition of this challenge, local Lee Highway and Beauregard Street; also named after prominent Confederates, will retain their nomenclature for the foreseeable future.   

Another, slightly more southern segment of US Route 1 changed names sometime earlier. It occurred as a recently-country road was being upgraded to a thoroughfare compatible for the burgeoning national security and defense industries surrounding Fort Belvoir and Quantico. Street names are dynamic in the exurbs, where old roads designed to serve agriculture (literally, Farm-to-Market roads in Texas) are repurposed for office parks and residential cul-de-sacs. Motorists most likely noticed shorter backups well before they noticed a sanitized road name.

* This is my second blog post about Crystal City. Several years ago, before Jeff Bezos put the close-in suburb on the map, I pondered new uses for the transit-accessible, yet fading, neighborhood.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Lasting Memory

Milestone of a new epoch

Our youngest soldiers and sailors weren’t even born on 9/11/2001, 18 years ago. But they learned about the unfathomable attacks from friends and family, experienced service members, and in the classroom.

While not well publicized, the threat of radicalism and non-state actors was recognized by the US government prior to 9/11/2001. There were attacks at US Embassies overseas, as well as damage inflicted upon USS Cole in 2000. Those attacks were “over there”.

The 9/11/2001 attacks brought the American public into a new national security mindset. The “Middle East” replaced the Soviet Bloc in the national conscious.

National unity and shared sacrifice
Banker and firefighter, secretary and executive, General and Private all faced mortality during the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon, and a field in Western Pennsylvania.
When air travel resumed, there were no fast-lanes at airport security, and first-class passengers gave up their metal cutlery for several years. Major, sweeping legislation such as the Patriot Act was passed with wide bipartisan support.

The experience and memories of a fateful day 18 years ago rests on geography and station of life. New Yorkers recall lost neighbors and family members, and the constant smoke cloud. Washingtonians changed their commuting routes in light of the national emergency. In other quarters there was righteous indignation. The US Coast Guard, then predominately a maritime safety organization, would be incorporated into the newly-created Department of Homeland Security with a new counterterrorism mandate.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Breaking Troupes

This is the insanity I saw during my very first visit to California:

Berkeley Radicals

I expected to meet the illiberal Left (Stalinists) at Berkeley’s BART Train platform. Instead, I proceeded without incident to take a selfie at UC Berkeley’s Free Speech gate, wearing F-16 jet shorts draped in the American flag. I realized that Milos Y. might actually be a provocateur.

Gender as fluid as the San Francisco Bay

Even UC Berkeley didn’t have “gender neutral” bathrooms. Around the area, there were Womens’ rooms, Mens’ rooms, and unremarkably unisex water closets. Exception is the deYoung museum, which has a “gender neutral” restroom, which is basically a co-ed facility like one would find in a European youth hostel.

Environmental Fascism

Foie  Gras and fur may be out in San Fran, but plastic bags can still be procured at ten cents’ tax. Highway tolls are few and far between, even the long Oakland Bay Bridge merely levied a $7 toll, single driver, during rush hour. Many streets in central SF are set up as one-way arterials for the purpose of moving vehicular traffic. In Washington, D.C., Mayor Bowser has “de-commuterized”
several streets, with traffic-calming measure, in booming mid-city neighborhoods.

Tech Bro Colonizers

They exist, they ride exclusive commuter buses, but they blend in with the urban fabric as well as other urban professionals. Hard to get a table at a ‘hip’ restaurant, though.

Mass transit is falling apart and everyone must ride Uber

BART’s 50-year old Transbay tubes are undergoing major renovation, practically ending subway service at 8pm. But the system, and the MUNI streetcars, earn their keep during the daytime hours, with frequent and fairly comprehensive service. With just 36 stations, the SF Bay Area’s  BART falls well short of counterpart Washington DC’s 90+ station Metrorail. Put on some walking shoes.

Oakland is a war zone

The city across the bay is working to find its groove. Street life leaves much to be desired, but increase in new residents will create a demand for shops and restaurants.

Palo Alto Snobs
The students at Stanford University’s suburban-style campus were quite friendly. Education still has meaning besides a means to a financially rewarding end.

Crippling taxation
As a visitor, yes San Francisco was expensive, but less so than a Western Europe’s destination city. New Yorkers tell me that their City is a great place to visit, but that living there is expensive. I conjure the same about San Francisco. Several restaurants and shops itemize a 5% levy to cover healthcare costs. I ate in more than I usually would on travel.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Last Flight to Hong Kong

It takes 8 hours to fly from the territory of Guam to the State of Hawaii; and 13 hours to the Mainland United States. If on Guam and interested in travel, xenophobia is a disadvantage; for the experiences of Japan, Taiwan and Korea are but 4 hours away by air.

Hong Kong, which I had not visited yet, caught my fancy, being in similar proximity to Guam. Since 1997, when the British lease on Victoria Island and surrounding areas ended, the former British colony has undergone Sinification. The area would be remolded into Beijing’s image. Hong Kong’s hybrid culture palpably faded as its newfound status as a “Special Administrative Region” wore on. Reunification is scheduled for the year 2047, but many residents feel the end of special status is near. Hong Kong’s fish mongers resented overbearing law enforcement; this was prelude to a summer of discontent, spurred by an extradition agreement with Mainland China. In travelling to Hong Kong, I sought to capture a glimpse of a time past.    

The window of opportunity was quickly closing, and I was in a fortuitous position to make a trip. I had concerns: being unable to procure a transit visa through Mainland China, Hong Kong International Airport was my only way to depart Hong Kong. Through Alfred P. Chester’s A Sailor’s Odyssey and other works, I read about the many American expatriates desperate to leave war-drummed Europe in 1940 and 1941 on the few passenger liners still sailing. Failing that, they abandoned their belongings and assets, riding across the Atlantic as supercargo onboard derelict freighters. I realized it was possible for history to repeat.

Despite the widescale weekend protests, as of August 1st, the US State Department had not issued a travel advisory on Hong Kong. I did make sure to book a hotel away from Victoria Square, epicenter of the protest activity, namely at Harbourview near Hong Kong station. I purchased airline tickets and researched Hong Kong’s MRT subway system.  The flights landed and departed uneventfully.

The weekend after my scheduled trip, 10-11th of August, tensions reached a fever pitch. On Facebook, I came across a photo taken in an MRT station. Laser sights pierced the smoke-filled cavern. “This is not a sci-fi movie. This is Hong Kong”, read the caption. Hong Kong’s international airport was shut down.