Pushing the Calendar

Jimmy Buffett has a song on his Christmas album ’Tis The Season called, Santa Stole Thanksgiving. His lyrics clearly depict the feeling that many have that the retail world keeps pushing the seasons on us earlier and earlier.

Ooh, ooh
Santa stole Thanksgiving for Christmas
Dragged Plymouth Rock to the North Pole with his sled
Pilgrims never saw him coming
The Wampanoags they kept drumming
That Thursday in November
Gob-gobble about December

The next verse is even more telling…

Santa stole Thanksgiving for Christmas
It was such a happy holiday
No more laid-back relaxation
It’s Black Friday degradation
Seems Santa sold Thanksgiving to the mall

Back in the dark ages, when we were kids, the Christmas season didn’t start till Santa showed up at the end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade. Although many give lip service to that premise, the truth is that many in the retail world go from Labor Day right to Christmas! See for yourself! On Wednesday September 8th, at the Costco in Stafford Township, New Jersey, the Christmas Department was already set up!

For another example of how far we have come, let’s turn to the classic song We Need a Little Christmas, from the 1966 Broadway Musical Mame, with words and lyrics by Jerry Herman. Mame and her household staff sing this song at a particularly down time, starting off with this uplifting verse:

Haul out the holly
Put up the tree before
My spirit falls again
Fill up the stocking
I may be rushing things
But deck the halls again now

For we need a little Christmas
Right this very minute
Candles in the window
Carols at the spinet
Yes, we need a little Christmas
Right this very minute
It hasn’t snowed a single flurry
But Santa, dear, we’re in a hurry

So there are a couple of clues there that they are, in their minds, early for Christmas! Like when Mame sings, “I may be rushing things,” or that last line, “It hasn’t snowed a single flurry, But Santa, dear, we’re in a hurry.” Even more indication that they are early, when later in the song, young Patrick Denison has this line:

But Auntie Mame!
It’s one week from Thanksgiving Day now

Remember, a pivotal part of the Mame story, was the stock market crash of 1929, so even in 1966, this was by no means a current story, but I don’t believe in 1966, when I was 16 years old, we had pushed holidays around the calendar for the benefit of the retail world, as much as we find today!

Look, you want a bathing suit for a vacation in August, if you go to the store in August, you are more likely to find sweaters and other fall clothes on the shelves. Want new cushions for your back yard furniture, don’t show up at Lowes or Home Depot in June, because they’ll all be gone! After all, they’ve been in the store since just after they took down their Christmas displays. Speaking of Christmas, need a new set of lights for the tree, head to the stores in October, because that’s when they stock their shelves and you’ll be lucky to find anything in December.

I know, I know…stop being an old fart and lamenting about how the world has changed, right? I’m sorry, but we love Christmas and honestly, we start listening to Christmas music in November (in the car and in our house…but only when we are alone!), but we don’t decorate the outside of the house, or put up the tree until after Thanksgiving! We are traditionalists (that’s a classier way to say old farts) and sorry, but I don’t need to have Pumpkins pushed on us on September 10th, a full 7 Weeks and two days before Halloween, as Shoprite in Somers Point is already doing!

Okay…Enjoy the Holiday…whatever the calendar says it is, because I’ve lost track!
Rant over!

Jimmy Buffett from his album ’Tis the Season with Santa Stole Thanksgiving

Angela Lansbury and the Broadway cast from Mame with We Need a Little Christmas

September 11th – Where Were You?

Anyone who was just about anywhere in the New York Metropolitan area on the morning of September 11, 2001 will always remember that day, and where they were. I know in our family that’s the case. My wife Sue was at work at Hampton Street School in Mineola. Our oldest son Billy was in his second year at Ithaca College, and his brother and sister, Krissi and Kenny, were sophomores at Mineola High School. I was at work at WABC Radio, 17 floors above Penn Station.

I remember it was a great looking, if uneventful, September morning. There was just a touch of fall in the air – it was one of those special kinds of days we get after the humidity of summer leaves. I was, as usual, on the 7:24 LIRR train from Mineola to Penn Station. As I said, a totally uneventful September morning in all respects….but that was soon to change.

Shortly after the first plane hit at 8:46 AM, word started to come into the newsroom that a plane had hit the World Trade Center’s North Tower. It was primary day in New York, and there were reporters around the city for the various TV morning shows. Almost immediately, Dick Oliver of channel 5 went on the air from Park Row, just outside of City Hall. They weren’t the best shots, but you definitely could see the fire and damage to the tower. Everyone assumed that it was a small plane that had hit and no one could understand how someone could have missed seeing a structure as big as the World Trade Center on a beautiful, clear morning. There was speculation of a student pilot, or someone who had a heart attack – just about anything, but what had really happened, which up until that point was unthinkable to most of us.

By 9 o’clock, better pictures of the damage were available on TV, including long shots of the buildings from further uptown. Just before 9:03 AM, I was standing in studio 17E next to Chief Engineer Kevin Plumb, when we noticed a plane flying into the frame of the shot. Assuming we were looking at a small plane trying to get a better view of what was happening, one of us commented, “what the heck is that plane trying to do?” At 9:03 we were shocked when we saw that plane (which we later found out was a Boeing 767) crash into the South Tower and explode in a ball of flames. In that moment, everyone who saw that happen live, knew that life as we had known it up until that moment was over, and that there was a brand new reality.

I remember all hell breaking loose at the station as we all went into high gear. There was an incredible amount of misinformation flying around, and frankly, open fear from some. Everyone tried to act professionally, but since no one knew exactly what was going on, and since we were all working 17 floors above Penn Station and a couple of blocks west of the Empire State Building, many wondered if we might be in the target zone too. The next hour was a blur of news reports, discussion and speculation. Shortly after the first plane hit, our morning anchor George Weber took off downtown armed with a cell phone and a recorder. He phoned in a couple of reports about what he was seeing, but as the cell phone system overloaded, we stopped hearing from him. Then at 9:59 AM, the South Tower collapsed. Faces stared at the TV pictures, and as a group, were almost unable to fathom what we’d seen. Less than 30 minutes later the North Tower collapsed, and these twin buildings, which were so identified with the skyline of New York City, were incredibly gone, along with close to 3,000 of our fellow New Yorkers.

So many questions hit us all at once…who would do this, how did it happen, how could these two huge buildings collapse, and one that was on all our minds at WABC, where was George Weber? The news reports continued, but with all the confusion it was hard to tell what was true and what wasn’t. Were there more hijacked planes out there, and had other attacks taken place in Washington and elsewhere around the country? Getting a landline phone call was very hard; cell service was pretty non-existent, communications among families and friends was almost impossible. It was over an hour later when we heard from George. He’d walked for blocks from the WTC site and had waited on a line at a pay phone before he was finally able to check in with the station. Okay, we knew one of our friends and coworkers was alive…but what about everyone else.

WABC’s 2001 9/11 Montage

The day dragged on, and we watched TV as they tried to figure out what had happened, and what was happening. One of the hardest tasks of the day was getting in touch with friends and family, finding out if they were okay, and assuring them that I was fine. The first response of the city was to shut down, and a lot of us wondered how we’d get home. Being above Penn Station, we kept looking down at the crowds milling around a closed Penn Station. We also kept looking a couple of blocks to the east at the Empire State Building and realizing it was once again the tallest building in New York!

Later that day, the Long Island Rail Road started running and those of us from Long Island headed downstairs, and like every other commuter that day, got on any train as long are it was leaving New York City! As we came out of the tunnel into Queens, everyone looked to the south where the twin towers of the World Trade Center had been on the way in that morning, but now were replaced by smoke. It was very quiet in the train as everyone realized that those two buildings we’d seen every day on our commute into Manhattan were gone, along with all the folks who were working in them.

The days after September 11th were very strange to say the least. The fact that there were absolutely no planes in the sky made for a very eerie quiet that was very unlike the norm. I know that for weeks after the planes started flying again, every time one flew over I would find myself stopping and looking at it. Taking the LIRR into the city in the days after September 11th was also different. There was an uneasy quiet on the trains, that I guess came from a lot of folks who would rather be somewhere else, but who had responsibilities and had to do what they were doing. I remember not seeing people that had been regulars on our trains, and wondering if they were in the towers when they came down, or were they perhaps too scared to venture into Manhattan again. Questions I’d never have the answers to….

One thing that made the post 9/11 strangeness livable was the feeling that we were all in it together. There were American flags on houses, cars, businesses…virtually everywhere! Groups were banding together collecting items for families that were affected, or to help rescue workers at Ground Zero. People were friendlier to each other and more respectful…even politicians! From New York City to Washington, the political discourse had a united front. We weren’t Republicans or Democrats, Liberals or Conservatives, we were Americans. There was no finger pointing, just everyone shouldering the load and helping to move forward. If every cloud has to have a silver lining, that was September 11th’s.

Too bad that these many years later, so many seem to have forgotten. There’s no way that anyone who lived through that day will not be thinking today about their experiences, about all the New Yorkers who are no longer with us and about how the rest of us pulled together as a team. I’ll also be thinking about my friends who were involved after the towers came down. People like NYPD ESU Officer Scott Strauss who pulled the last survivor out of the rubble, or PAPD Detective Don McMahon who spent the next 6 months at the on site morgue, or the many Fire Men I know, both NYFD and others who spent so many hours on the pile digging. Thank God there are so many people among us who run towards trouble as the rest of us run away!  Thank you for your service and for your friendship and for setting an example for the rest of us.

Even in our new world, I know we live in a better world because people like Scott and Donnie are a part of it.  As we remember those who died that day, I hope we will all also remember the heroes of September 11th.  Friends, neighbors, family members, and people whose names we will never know, who stepped up on that horrible day.  Ordinary folks who did extrodinary things, and renewed our faith in our fellow human beings.  That’s the lesson I try to take from that horrible day.

WABC’s 2002 9/11 Montage put together for the first anniversary

Frustration

Frustration can take many forms. You can be frustrated with inanimate objects!, like when your computer won’t allow you to do what you’ve done hundreds of times, or you can’t get reception on your cell phone, or when a light bulb burns out just as you sit down besides your favorite reading lamp to finish a great book. You can be frustrated with people in your life, like folks that stop in the middle of the aisle in the supermarket, or the guy driving in front of you who stops for no reason, or when somebody doesn’t understand what you are trying to explain to them. We all must contend with a certain amount of frustration in our lives, but it just seems to me that my frustration level is on the rise as of late! It’s probably just me, but it also may be the world we live in. Here’s my beef.

I guess my number one frustration today is the way our world seems to be sliding back into that horrible year 2020! We all lived through a year with little or no social contact, brought upon us by Covid-19. For sure there were folks acting like nothing was different, but for most of us who didn’t want to get sick and perhaps die alone in the hospital, we did what we had to do to stay distant and safe. Then, when the first and then the second Covid Vaccines were approved for emergency use at the end of 2020, Susie and I did everything we could to secure the vaccine. We made phone calls, stayed on line for hours and days at a time, and eventually we did it! By the middle of March, 2021 both Susie and I were fully vaccinated, having had our two shots and waited the required 2 weeks for full protection! We were ready to live our lives again!!

For the first time since we left for Florida in January 2020, by the middle of March, 2021, Susie and I were back in our two weekly haunts, Charlie’s and Angelos! Yes, masks were still the order of the day, and there was no bar service and folks were still social distancing, but we felt for the first time in a year that we were getting our lives back! We were enjoying old routines and seeing friends again! Thank God For Science!!!! We were so optimistic that the worst was over, and that Covid was retreating from our shores! America had won!

That was then, but then politics reared it’s ugly head! Suddenly the Covid Vaccines were not the savior of our country, but the scourge of mankind! Suddenly stemming the continuing speed of this insidious disease was not smart science, but rather the limitation of personal freedoms and an affront to all that was sacred to so called patriots! Suddenly wearing a mask to protect yourself and others was akin to the Nazis killing millions of Jews and others during World War Two! Suddenly the salvation of our lives that Susie and I had seen when we were fully vaccinated was slipping away. Numbers were growing, hospitalizations were growing, and people were dying. Yes, I am surely frustrated that so many Americans have answered the call to turn this crisis into a political side show. I am frustrated that they have done everything they can to drag us back to 2020! Sorry, but that is one huge frustration for me right now!

Our oldest son is frustrated that so many people are still not vaccinated! He’s frustrated that numbers of Covid cases are rising, and that masks are being worn again. Mostly he’s frustrated that his three kids…our three Grandkids…who at 7, 5, and 2 and are too young to be vaccinated, are still living under a cloud!

If you disagree with what I’ve written above, please don’t send me your arguments, documentation, or any other propaganda about people having a personal right to do as they choose, because frankly, I DON’T CARE!! Don’t bother sending me any form of communication that will attempt to change my mind, because I won’t read it! Unfriend me on Facebook, take my number out of your phone contacts, do whatever you want, but DO NOT THINK YOU CAN CHANGE MY MIND!!!

When I was a kid, we were all scared about getting Polio and either dying or spending the rest of our lives living like a science experiment in an Iron Lung! Thanks to science (and our folks making sure we had a Polio Booster every year), that’s not something my kids have ever had to worry about. Enough of these bullshit theories that this vaccine will change your DNA, or that Bill Gates will be able to track your every move once you are vaccinated. The reality is that these vaccines will save your life. They will keep you out of the hospital, off a respirator, and out of the morgue. You will not die alone. If you think anything else, then I’m truly sorry for you and I wish you well, but frankly, you are screwing with my family’s well being, and that pisses me off!

The Automat

Have you ever been in an Automat? Do you even know what an Automat is? Well, let’s turn to Wikipedia and see what they say…..

“The first automat in the U.S. was opened June 12, 1902, at 818 Chestnut St. in Philadelphia by Horn & Hardart. Horn & Hardart became the most prominent American automat chain. Inspired by Max Sielaff’s AUTOMAT Restaurants in Berlin, they became among the first 47 restaurants, and the first non-Europeans, to receive patented vending machines from Sielaff’s Berlin factory. The automat was brought to New York City in 1912, and gradually became part of popular culture in northern industrial cities.”

The listing further goes on to state that in New York City there were eventually 40 Horn and Hardart Automats, with the last one closing in 1991. Automats were prominent in New York City when I was a kid in the 50s and 60s. In fact, when the Metropolitan Opera was located at 40th Street, there was a basement level Automat on 7th Avenue, between 40th and 41st Street, and we went there a lot. It was a place to get a quick cup of coffee, or for a little kid to get a bologna sandwich!

If you’ve never been a little kid, with a handful of nickels, looking over what you could get in an Automat, then you probably weren’t a kid in NYC at the same time I was. It truly was the quintessential New York experience from back in the day. So much so, that in the 1962 movie ,That Touch of Mink starring Cary Grant and Doris Day, Doris Day’s best friend (played by Audrey Meadows of The Honeymooners fame) worked behind the scenes in a local Automat that was prominently featured in the film. Here’s a clip from that movie that gives you an idea of what an Automat looked like.

The two things in the Wikipedia quote above that surprised me were, (1) that the first Automat opened in Philadelphia and (2) that it was basically a copy of Berlin Automats using the machines that dispensed the food as produced in Germany. Who knew. As I said, the Automat seemed like the quintessential New York Experience! My personal relationship to this blog, and why the Automat will always hold a special place in my memory, centers around a story that my cousin Jeanne Pratt and I have laughed at many times over the 60 plus years since it happened to us.

My Mom’s parents were visiting New York from Chicago. This time, they also had my Chicago cousin Jeanne with them (the daughter of my Mom’s younger brother). One day, my Grandparents, Jeanne, and I were in Manhattan. We could have well been at Radio City Music Hall seeing the movie and show – something my Grandma liked to do. At some point in the day, we stopped in at an Automat. My Grandma always seemed to be picking up strays, and this day in this particular Automat, she picked up, what we used to call back in the day, a bum. He was dirty and smelly, and my Grandmother fell for his story that he’d been a famous brain surgeon, but when his wife died, his life fell apart, leaving him to beg on the streets. I think my Grandma was the only one to buy his rap.

She invited him to sit at our table, to the dismay of myself and Jeanne (she was probably 10 at the time and I was 8), who were not buying his tale of woe! Immediately, she dispatched my Grandfather, “ Go get him a cup of coffee Bill,” and off he went to one of the famous Automat coffee dispensers. Jeanne and I looked at each other, as the story unfolded as he drank coffee and regaled my Grandmother. I have no recollection of how we finally got to get away from him, but I’m pretty sure my Grandfather left with a few less bills in his pocket, at the insistence of my Grandmother!

While we don’t see Jeanne and her husband Walt that often as they live in Connecticut and Florida, and we’re in Jersey, the once or twice a year we’re together, invariably one of us will bring up the “Automat Incident.” Some 60 years later, we still both laugh, and shake our heads, and just acknowledge that, “That was Grandma!”

The List

Are you a list person? I really wasn’t/aren’t, but after almost 42 years of marriage, it’s a skill I am starting to understand, thanks to the love of my life, my Susie!

Susan Lynn Johnson D’Elia is most definitely a list person, and has been from the first day I met her way back in 1977. I don’t know if this is something that comes from her former life as a Registered Nurse, or something borne out of her slight OCD tendencies, but my wife has been a huge proponent of making lists for as long as I can remember. She loves making lists of things that need to be done, and then gets great enjoyment when she can cross completed items off that list. There are two steadfast rules, however for Susie’s lists. #1 is that nobody but she can place items on her lists (and most surely not me with my chicken scratch penmanship), and almost as important, NOBODY but Susie crosses things off one of her lists!

Over the years, there have been many, many lists. I don’t recall if I knew it at the time, but I’m pretty sure there was a list pertaining to our wedding. I’m sure she had a packing list for our honeymoon, and I know for a fact, we have long had a list for the things we were going to do when we win the lottery! Now that list has changed over the years (like we no longer have to have “Buy a House in Ocean City” on our wish list), but you best believe that there still is a list! Once the kids were able to write, she started them on Christmas Lists, which she still asks them for today!

Of course, there are the day to day lists, like our weekly meal planning, our grocery shopping lists (which Susie has organized by the aisle in our local Shoprite, so we zip through the store), jobs around the house, and that sort. There still are the long range lists too, like projects we want to do around the house, but not things we can accomplish right now. As always, she feels very accomplished when she crosses things off the “To Do” lists, and even more so when she gets to rip a completed page off her clip board, and throw it away!

Oh yes, Susie has a dedicated LIST clipboard. It’s a small 5 by 7 clipboard that is loaded with the mini size legal pads, and thanks for our Cousin Walt’s gift, always has a pen at the ready. As I write this, the lists on the clipboard include our meals list, a shopping list (two really…one for Shoprite and one for Costco), her long term to do list, and a list of various things we want to do this week, broken down by days. My wife is nothing if not organized!

But I have to agree, she is 100% right about lists. They help you stay organized, make sure you get done the things you want to get done, help you stay focused during a project, and at our age, help you remember that thing you just had on your mind, but forgot by the time you go to do it! She has even got me making lists, and I have to agree that there is a great sense of accomplishment when you can cross an item off! Sometimes, I even tell her to write a task we’ve completed on a list, that wasn’t on the list, so we can have the pleasure of crossing it off the list!!

This whole discussion of lists was started because on September 14th I am having my second knee replaced. Two years ago, my left knee was replaced, and in September it will be my right knee’s turn. I mentioned to Susie the other day, that I felt much more organized two years ago, and that I didn’t feel that I had as good a handle on the tasks I must accomplish before the surgery this time around. Her answer, “Make a list of the tasks, put them in order, and cross them off when you’ve taken care of them.” She was right! Sitting down, going through the paperwork from Dr Zabinski, writing tasks down, and putting them in order was the perfect way to wrap my head around the tasks. Lists are a great way to get organized and to really feel like you are prepared, and now on the fridge is a nicely printed out list with 13 things that MUST be done before September 14th! I feel organized now, have a handle on what I have to do when, and even have 4 items checked off already!

Thanks Susie for your lists! They do work…

Doie Barnes….American Hero!

Pictured above is Doris Barnes, Sargent, United States Marine Corp.

During World War II, joining the Marine Corps was not something you’d expect a young woman to do. In fact, according to an article at Marine Corp University, “American women in military uniform were rare at the beginning of World War II.  On 30 July, 1942, the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve was established as part of the Marine Corps Reserve.  The mission of the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve was to provide qualified women for duty at shore establishments of the Marine Corps, releasing men for combat duty.” Doris (or Doie as most call her) was one of those women.

According to that same article, “Women Marines were assigned to over 200 different jobs, including radio operator, photographer, parachute rigger, driver, aerial gunnery instructor, cook, baker, quartermaster, control tower operator, motion picture operator, auto mechanic, telegraph operator, cryptographer, laundry operator, post exchange (store) manager, stenographer and agriculturist.” Doie a long time ago told Susie that her job during the war was dispatching planes. To our minds, she is truly a hero and a fascinating part of the history of the United States Marine Corp, and our country.

I’m writing this blog today, because our Ocean City neighbor Doie was born on July 30th, 1921. Today is Doie Barnes’ 100th Birthday! Yes, during World War II, Doie was a young lady in her early 20s, and knowing the person she is today, I can only imagine the adventures she had back then…..and the tales she could tell! 16 years ago, when we bought the house next door, she was a young 84 year old, and today she’s a young 100 year old! She’s a regular at the daily Flag Raising Ceremony on the Ocean City Boardwalk, and a cherished member of American Legion Post 524. If the weather is right, you can see her taking her daily stroll around our neighborhood. Although, her hearing isn’t what it once was, and her knees could be better, she is still fast with a quip, and hearing she and her son-in-law Doc Anderson go back and forth is a joy.

At this morning’s Flag Raising Ceremony she was honored for her service during WWII and for her 100th birthday. It was an honor for Susie and I to be part of the group cheering her on as she was recognized by the Marine Corps League, the City of Ocean City, and Cape May County, and her Pennlyn Place friends and family! It’s truly an honor to live next door to this American Hero, and Susie and I are very happy to be able to wish Doie a very Happy Birthday, and hope that she lives many more years in good health

Happy Birthday Doie!!!

Some photos courtesy of Neen Raspa.

Bluetooth Ear Buds and your Cell Phone

Wikipedia defines Bluetooth as “a short-range wireless technology standard that is used for exchanging data between fixed and mobile devices over short distances.” The first consumer Bluetooth device was a hands-free mobile headset that was launched in 1999. Those first Bluetooth headsets were large, but as the technology improved, the size dropped until Bluetooth Ear Buds became the norm. They are a great invention, that allow joggers, walkers, people at the beach, and others seeking privacy the perfect tool. No cords or huge headsets to get in the way of your activity, you don’t bother others near you, and small enough to be carried in your pocket when you are done with them. Back in the olden days, when I was still working at WABC, a set of Bluetooth ear buds made my twice daily Long Island Rail Road trips a bit more palatable. They were easy to use, small, and much better than a wired headset. They are indeed a great way to listen to music, podcasts, or the radio, if anyone still listens to the radio!

Then there is their other use…conducting a phone call while connected to your cell phone! I’m sure we’ve all had the experience of having someone at work, on the street, or in a store, say “Hello,” think they were talking to us and respond, only to then discover that they had a Bluetooth ear bud in one or both ears, and were in the midst of a telephone call! Sorry, but people doing that should be forced to wear a sign or some other outwardly obvious indication to those around them that they’re on the phone and that the rest of us should ignore all talk that comes from their mouth! I know that I have been caught multiple times, and frankly it is embarrassing once you are either waved off by the person, or you yourself realize what’s happening. There are also other issues I’ve discovered over the years. Here’s one, from my personal experience.

When WABC Radio moved to 2 Penn Plaza in early 1989 from 1330 Avenue of the Americas, the neighborhood around our new home was very different from what we’d enjoyed at 54th Street and 6th Avenue. Instead of being a block from ritzy Fifth Avenue with stores like Saks, across from the New York Hilton, and blocks from Rockefeller Center, we were now 17 floors above Penn Station and Madison Square Garden in a much older, undeveloped area. Rather than skyscrapers that housed Corporate America, we were across from the ancient Pennsylvania Hotel, 2 blocks from the Macy’s on 34th Street, and surrounded by small buildings with everything from Pizza places to Taxidermy Supply stores as tenants. New York City was a very different place in 1989, and on the average day, 5 people were murdered, there were 9 rapes, and 194 aggravated assaults. Then there was Penn Station in our basement!

The “New” Pennsylvania Station was basically a basement establishment, under 2 Penn Plaza and Madison Square Garden, having taken the place of the beautiful McKim, Mead, and White designed train station in the late 60s. On any given day, Penn Station looked more like a portal to a third world country than a prime transportation hub in New York City. If you came to work too early in the morning, you literally had to step over people, as hundreds (perhaps thousands) of homeless folks used it as a flop house! Many of them were pushed out into the surrounding streets before the commuting day started, but Penn Station was still the home to many of NYC’s best crazies! We joked about it, but there were literally people walking around in tin foils “hats” so nobody (aliens, the CIA, you name the group) could read their thoughts. On a daily basis, I’d see folks giving others furtive looks, yelling at people who were just passing by, and of course, having long animated conversations and arguments with others that nobody else could see! I always said that you could always tell the crazies from the “normal” folks, as the crazies were the ones talking to themselves. Then came Bluetooth ear buds.

In the later years, before I retired in 2016, whenever I’d venture down the 17 floors and take the escalator underground to Penn Station, there were new rules. Now, it was much harder to tell if somebody was nuts or just on the phone. Some of the crazy people were very normal looking, but now, some of the “normal” people acted as crazy as the best of the crazies! Talking in a loud voice to nobody, having explosive arguments with nobody, and making extravagant hand gestures were no longer a clue. They could be crazies, or they could be folks on their cell phones! You decide….

I was prompted to write this blog, when I saw (and heard) a lady walking down our street yesterday as I sat on our front porch in Ocean City. She was all alone, and there was no one around, and yet, she was carrying on an extensive conversation, including using body language for effect! As with my experience long ago at Penn Station…on the phone, or crazy? Remember, when you avail yourself of the latest in technology, the rest of us don’t always know!

Car Shopping

An interesting aspect of life as we move through the pandemic…car shopping.

Three years ago, Susie and I decided to trade in our five year old 2013 Hyundai Sonata Limited. It had been a great car, but because it was the car we’d used for our “Big Trip” in 2016, it had over 80,000 miles on it, and had started to cost us some repair money. Having never done it before, we investigated the world of car leasing. As we get older, we like the idea of having a new car every 3 years, and of not tying up the full purchase price of a new car, but rather only paying for the years we would be using it. We also decided that since we sometimes had been forced to ask friends to pick up things for us that didn’t fit in our sedan, we would look at the world of small SUVs. We were not looking for something the size of a Chevy Suburban and as I did my usual due diligence on what was available, I liked the Honda CR-V. Car-like, good reviews, great gas mileage, and when the seats were folded down, enough room to load our Christmas Tree and all the ornaments to get them from our storage place to our home. We now had our target.

Late spring of 2018, we decided to stop in at our local Honda dealer, Boardwalk Honda in Egg Harbor Township and take a look at a CR-V. We walked into the showroom and met a salesman named Brian Ford. After laughing that a man named Ford was selling Hondas (yea, probably the 10,000th time he’d heard that) he showed us a CR-V that was on the floor. Susie and I sat in it in almost all the seats and liked the way the car felt and thought the size would be perfect for us. We told Brian that we were still going back and forth between buying and leasing, and we promised we’d come back and see him when we made up our mind.

Over the next couple of weeks, we went back and forth. One day we were going to lease, then the next day we were going to buy. We continued the discussions like this till we decided one day it was time to put up or shut up, and the final decision was made to lease. Having never leased a car before, I read up on it on the Internet, and on Monday June 11, 2018 we went back to Boardwalk Honda to talk to Brian about the particulars. Things happened faster than we envisioned, and that afternoon we no longer owned a 2013 Hyundai, but were rather the new leasers of a 2018 Honda CR-V EX-L in Sandstorm Beige. We were scheduled to travel back to Long Island the next day, see some Doctors, and then meet Krissi and our not yet son-in-law Mike for drinks and dinner. We made the trip in a brand new CR-V with less that 20 miles on the odometer!

In the ensuing months and now years, we’ve grown to love our CR-V. It was just the right size, was comfortable to drive, got incredible mileage (30+ driving 70-80 MPH on trips – 25+ around town) and as our daughter said, “Unless you look behind you, you don’t even know your driving an SUV.” We’ve loaded and unload our Christmas things 3 times, shopped at Lowes and Home Depot, made 3 trips to Florida, and countless trips to visit our son’s family in North Carolina, to visit Krissi and Mike in New York, and our Maryland family too. It’s just been the perfect vehicle for us, and we had every intention to turn it in at the end of the lease, and start all over again! Then came the Pandemic.

Today’s cars are lightyears ahead of even those that were produced 10 years ago. Our CR-V has Adaptive Cruise Control that uses radar to judge the speed of the car in front of you and slow you down. It has Lane Keeping Assist that uses the radar and cameras to direct the car back, should you wander out of your lane. It has emergency braking, which causes the car to break itself if you do not heed the warning it gives you. It has Side Warning Sensors that warn you if there is a car in your blind spots on either the right or left side. In short, the car thinks and is there at the ready if you, the driver, don’t respond. How many chips do you think every modern day Super Car uses??? Then came the chip shortage!

A lesson that the world auto makers learned a long time ago from Toyota, was a concept called “Just in Time” parts inventory. The Japanese were famous for having parts delivered to their assembly lines when they needed them, saving the expense of storage. When the world shut down with the pandemic in March, 2020, automakers the world over cut orders on parts including chips. Many of those in the semiconductor business switched their production from the chips used by the auto industry to chips used in consumer electronics, like 5G cell phones. However, the pandemic did not derail the sale of cars as much as was expected and the auto industry faced much more demand then they’d anticipated, but unfortunately the supply of chips they needed just wasn’t available. Ford had thousands of F-150 pickup trucks (the best selling vehicle in America) built but unable to be finished due to the chip shortage. Honda, Subaru, Toyota, and Volkswagen also have individual models that have lost more than 10,000 units to the chip shortage in North America. The obvious solution would have been to just increase the capacity at the car maker’s suppliers, but given how difficult and expensive it is to build semiconductors, the reality is that just wasn’t possible!

So what was the effect of the chip shortage? Car prices went wild! Used cars went through the roof, with year or two old cars selling for even more than they cost new! New cars were selling for above sticker price, if you could get them at all, and all the “normal” rules of the car buying business went out the window. According to our lease contract at the end of our lease, we could buy our CR-V for $18,45, but today a 3 year old Honda CR-V with 40,000 miles on it is worth over $24,000! Crazy! In checking the inventory at our local dealers on line, I found 3 or 4 of our models, rather than the 30-40 there were 3 years ago. Although I really didn’t want to buy the car, I was afraid that as our lease had less than 2 months left, I didn’t know what else we could do.

Just the other day, I decided that I best give our salesman a call, and see exactly what the situation was. I discovered that Brian was no longer a salesman, but rather the Finance Manager at Boardwalk Honda, but as an established customer, he was happy to deal with me. He confirmed that they only had a couple of CR-Vs in stock and since we are kind of particular on our color selection, what they had in stock or what they were getting delivered in their next shipment did not meet our needs. I asked him what to do, and he said that the factory has told them that they are getting more chips and expect assemblies to ramp up in the next 3-4 months, and that if we waited, they would probably have exactly what we wanted. I asked him, “So are you saying I should buy the car?” and he said, “No, just call Honda Financial and extend your lease.” Turns out I can tell them I’d like a 6 month extension of the lease, and since it’s really month to month, just terminate it when we start a new lease with a brand new CR-V. Now our only problem is, do we want an Aegean Blue or Radiant Red CR-V, and will it be a 2021 or 2022 model. Stay tuned…

The Dog Days of Summer

Breaker Boy and Beach Boy show the only way to enjoy the beach during the Dog Days of Summer!
Photo courtesy of Doc Anderson

Wikipedia defines the Dog Days of Summer as, “the hot, sultry days of summer. They were historically the period following the heliacal rising of the star system Sirius (known colloquially as the “Dog Star”), which Hellenistic astrology connected with heat, drought, sudden thunderstorms, lethargy, fever, mad dogs, and bad luck. They are now taken to be the hottest, most uncomfortable part of summer in the Northern Hemisphere.” According to the Old Farmers Almanac, “The “Dog Days” of summer last from July 3 to August 11.” Welcome to the Dog Days of Summer, 2021! Yes, as I write this, we are smack dab in the middle of the Dog Days. I know here at the beach, we are well aware that we are in them, as the humidity and the temperatures sore to beyond uncomfortable heights.

According to the web site Mentalfloss, “Dew point readings between the freezing mark and about 55°F are pretty comfortable. A dew point between 55°F and 60°F is noticeably humid. It’s muggy when the dew point is above 60°F, and it’s uncomfortable outside when it ticks above 65°F. Any dew point readings above 70°F are oppressive and even dangerous, the kind of stickiness you experience in the tropics or during a brutal summer heat wave.” For the better part of the past 2 weeks, our daily dew point (which is a combination of the temperature and the humidity levels) has hovered in the mid 70s! As I write this, our mid day temperature is 83 degrees with a real feel of 89 degrees and the dew point is 73 degrees!

Even when you’re actually on our beach, unless there is a nice breeze from the ocean, believe me, you feel that kind of temperature and dew point. If the wind is coming from the land instead of off the ocean, you get a dry warm breeze, which is often accompanied by bugs! Even better!

As Facebook reminds me daily, back before we lived at the beach full-time, this was the exact time we’d set aside at the house for our vacation. It started as two weeks in July, then went to three, and the last year I worked at WABC, we took the entire month of July in Ocean City. Now, we were admittedly younger back then (anywhere between 5 and 16 years younger), and all we had was our vacation time down here, so the heat and/or humidity wasn’t as much of a yard stick that determined our beach time. Today, that situation is different!

Luckily, we are just 500 feet from the boardwalk and just beyond it, the beach, so on the way down, after coming out of the beautiful air conditioning, the trip is easy. We traditionally love to get down there early (between 9 and 10 AM), when it’s both cooler and less congested. We unload our beach cart, set up our chairs, and settle in for 2-4 hours of beach time. Honestly, the length of our stay is determined by the weather conditions, if there are bugs or not, and how many jackasses decide to invade our space with their tents, canopies, etcetera. The issues come about however in the Dog Days when it’s time to leave. If we could only twitch our nose like Jeannie did on I Dream of Jeannie, life would be grand, but by the time we pack up, walk back to the boardwalk through the no longer cool sand, and then make our way back to the house, we are drained! A dew point like today really makes it hard to enjoy any part of the beach frankly, and so on many days like this, we choose not to go. We often say that we live here so our beach time is infinite, and although I know that’s not true, we just don’t feel like killing ourselves just to say, “we’ve been to the beach!”

The draining heat and humidity that the Dog Days bring us, change the experience for us. I still need a new knee, Susie needs a new hip, my asthma doesn’t like humidity, and spending EVERYDAY at the beach just isn’t that important to us. I know this may sound like blasphemy from someone who lives at the beach, but sorry, that’s just how we feel. We continue to love being in Ocean City, seeing the water every time we go on or off the island, and love our time at the beach…under our terms! Feeling like you’re in a blast furnace is just not what we’d call, “under our terms.”

On another note, the Dog Days are also known for lethargy and bad luck, and I’m going to add another symptom…writer’s block! The last time I posted a blog was July 3rd, when I talked about the wonderful Father’s Day Weekend we’d had with all our kids and Grandkids. Since then, although I have sat down in front of my MacBook Air multiple times, and even started a few essays, nothing has jelled for me. Yes indeed, lethargy has been rampant in my brain!! But here I am, breaking the curse of Dog Day Lethargy by writing an essay about the Dog Days of Summer! Kind of poetic justice you might say!

Stay cool my friends, and like I do, thank God every day that we enjoy the legacy of Willis Carrier, the man credited with designing the first modern air conditioning system in 1902…probably during the Dog Days of Summer!!

See you on the beach….maybe.

Lake House Fun!!!

Something happened this Father’s Day weekend that has never happened before! The entire immediate D’Elia Family was together in one place for 2 days! Two parents, three siblings, three spouses, and three grandkids! But first, we had to get there!

After a wonderful week in Ocean City with our two oldest Grandkids (https://rnewadventures.com/2021/06/25/two-kids-at-the-beach/), the four of us were looking forward to the weekend at Lori and Bill’s Lake House, on Roanoke Rapids Lake in North Carolina. Lori and Bill were going to pick up Uncle Kenny and Uncle Chris at the airport, and then drive to the house. Waze said that the trip would take about 6 hours for us, so we figured with bathroom stops and a lunch break, we’d all get there about the same time, if we left about 8:30 in the morning. On Friday, we all got up, Susie got Layla and Henry some cereal and toast for breakfast, and Grandma and I got ourselves, and what we were taking with us ready. Just after 8:30 we pulled out of the driveway, and thought we were in great shape!

Waze took us up the AC Expressway to Philadelphia and then down I-95 towards Delaware. When we stopped at the Delaware Welcome Center to switch drivers, we’d made great time, and were right on schedule, but traffic was getting heavy. Then, as Susie drove through Maryland, we were bitterly attacked by Cicadas! First one bounced off the windshield, leaving a white streak, and then Susie saw a swarm of them flying across I-95! Size-wise, somewhere between an insect and a small bird, three or four more slammed into the front of the car and the windshield with a resounding thud! At one point, our Granddaughter Layla cried out, “Come On Now!” in reaction! When we switched drivers in southern Maryland, the front of the car was plastered with their remains! Yuck!

Traffic was heavy, but moving as we crossed into Virginia, and thankfully the Express Lanes around Washington had changed directions, and we were able to use them! Regular 95 South was a parking lot, and we were happy to pay for the convenience of driving at the speed limit! However, as we approached the end of the southern express lanes, our joy was replaced with dread! Of course, traffic was heavy when the Express Lanes merged with regular 95, but unlike what usually happens, we crawled for most of the rest of our trip! A couple of times Waze took us off 95, but honestly the relief was short lived. Suffice it to say that the trip that we’d figure to do in 7 hours with stops, took 10 full hours! The kids were troopers (even when they had lunch at 2:30) and although Henry wanted to know a lot if we were in North Carolina, they did real good! Then, suddenly we saw the North Carolina border, and within miles had exited 95 and were near the Lake House!!

It was the trip from Hell, but once we pulled up outside Lori and Bill’s Lake House, it was so worth every minute of every hour on the road! Bill, Kenny and Chris met us at the car, and after hugs were exchanged, quick work was made of emptying the Honda! Then the fun started. We went down to the house, hugged Lori and 2 year old Annabelle, and quickly started making plans to head out to the lake and their pontoon boat! Some munchies, some drinks, and family time on the lake…what could be better!

We sat around the fire pit on the deck way too late that night, and with 3 little kids, morning was early too! Another beautiful day in North Carolina, as we anticipated the arrival of Aunt Krissi and Uncle Mike, and the completion of our family circle. As we had a couple of hours till Krissi and Mike arrived from New York, a little more boating was on the agenda after those who wanted it had breakfast. Problem was, the boat wouldn’t start! We tried everything from jump starting the battery to pushing every button on the dash, but nothing. Bill tried calling his dealer’s service department, but on a beautiful Saturday in mid-June, he was told that perhaps they could get to him in a week or two. Not what our son wanted to hear! None the less, after Krissi and Mike arrived, the lake was still the spot for everybody, and a great time was had in and around the boat house!

That night, we all feasted on wonderful Cheesesteak Sandwiches that Lori created, along with Grandma D’Elia’s macaroni salad. To top off a wonderful day, there were s,mores on the back deck as the sun set on another wonderful day of Father’s Day weekend!

Sunday morning, actual Father’s Day, dawned with a wonderful gift for our son Bill…He and Lori had found a boat repairman to come look at the dead pontoon boat! The second piece of good news was the problem was just a blown fuse, which he replaced, and showed Bill where it was and how to do it, and even left him a couple of spares! Even better, the guy wouldn’t take any money! He just asked for a good review! Lori and Bill now have a new pontoon boat repair guy!

Layla and Henry gave their Daddy the Father’s Day cards they’d made with Grandma as well as the flag, pole, and bracket they’d wrapped in Ocean City. Grandpa got several wonderful cards, gift cards to Chipotle (from Kenny and Chris), Omaha Steaks (from Bill and Lori), a custom made New Rochelle baseball cap from Krissi and Mike, and a Grandpa cup from the little D’Elias to match the Grandma mug they’d gotten Grandma for Mother’s Day! Great gifts, but the greatest gift of all was the weekend with our family!!!

Gift giving over, it was time to hit the Lake on the pontoon boat and have fun!! Now with a happy oldest son/husband/father because his boat worked!!

Early that afternoon, Lori and Bill’s good friends and neighbors from Wake Forest, Courtney and Adam, showed up to join in our Father’s Day celebrations. Not only are the four parents good friends, but Adam and Courtney’s daughter Violet is a good friend of Layla’s and their son Crosby and our Henry are good friends! We loved Adam and Courtney and what could be better for our two oldest Grandkids than to have people to play with, well, besides Uncle Chris, Uncle Kenny, Uncle Mike and Aunt Krissi!

It was a fun afternoon on the boat, enjoying it as a platform to swim in the lake as well as some adventurous tubing courtesy of Captain Bill!!

Dinner that night was under the direction of Chef Uncle Chris, as he grilled several tri tip steaks that Grandma and Grandpa had brought from Ocean City, along with all kinds of delicious sides. Full and happy, the night concluded with Layla reading her story of she and Henry’s time with Grandma and Grandpa, with an able assist from Aunt Krissi!

It was a wonderful weekend, and a wonderful way to cap off an incredible week in Ocean City with Layla and Henry! Grandma and I were tired, but oh so happy! Thank you to Krissi and Mike and Kenny and Chris for flying to North Carolina, and for making the weekend probably the best Father’s Day ever! A special thanks to Lori and Bill for being the perfect hosts and for coming up with the idea originally. None of it would have happened had you not bought the Lake House and the boat, and once again, we applaud your decision, and the wonderful family memories that will come because of that decision…including this great Father’s Day Family Reunion!

Family is wonderful, especially when 3 generations get to spend time together! We truly love our 3 kids, their spouses, and of course, the 3 most incredible Grandkids in the world! Color us proud and very happy!!!