Equinox Mountain

I took this photograph from atop Equinox Mountain in Manchester, Vermont in October 2016. The mountain is part of the Taconic range and at a height of 3,848 feet, it is the highest peak in the range.

New Life

 

A few days ago, I found some new residents in one of my bushes. The doting parents will soon be busy providing food, shelter and vital life lessons to their young. In a few weeks, the nest will be empty. Man and nature are not that different.

 

Steel Rails

 

I have been and always will be a railroad fan. Generations of my family on my father’s side have worked for a railroad. As immigrants from Italy, the railroad offered good pay and steady work. My father was the last of those tried and true railroaders. Most all of the family members I can remember worked for the New York Central Railroad. It was the premier railroad in its time, offering passenger and freight service throughout the Northeast and the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec.  The New York Central was formed in 1853 by industrialist Erastus Corning as a consolidation of ten, independent and smaller railroads. It became highly successful and profitable within a short period of time. By 1925, the railroad operated 26,395 miles of track.  A disastrous merger with The Pennsylvania Railroad in 1968 led to eventual bankruptcy in 1970 with the newly named Penn Central Railroad now in its death throes.  The federal government took over and Conrail was born. The railroad’s fate was now sealed. Liquidation occurred in 1998 and Conrail was absorbed by CSX and Norfolk Southern.

As a young boy, I could always be found reading about and researching railroading. My father had a series of thick, black hard cover railroad engineering reference books in his possession; and I was glued to their pages. Right of way design, signaling, electric power and rolling stock facts and figures were abundant.  These books even smelled like they came from a track-side shanty, handled by the greasy hands of a track foreman seeking advice on how to replace a frog or unfreeze a switch. Thankfully, much of that knowledge still resides with me today. Technology may have changed, but railroad fundamentals remain etched in stone.

My fondest memory of the railroad was when my father was on vacation. He would drive to work to pick up his weekly pay check and I would accompany him. He worked out of the 34th street freight yard in Manhattan.  It was a huge!  Hundreds of sidings and switches moved countless freight cars loaded with goods. Switching engines roared and belched diesel fumes as they pulled and shoved rolling stock to either break down or make up freight trains. The experience was surreal. I can still smell the fumes, lubricating oil and salt water coming from the adjacent Hudson River. Everything was in motion, a ballet of commerce and raw power. Sensory overload took hold from the cacophony of sights, sounds, and smells emanating from this breathing behemoth. The ground shook and I was hooked.

My dad would show me around, introduce me to his coworkers and treat me to lunch at a nearby Sabrett hot dog stand. “Two with everything” was the standing order. Once, I even got to sit in the engineer’s seat of an idling diesel engine awaiting clearance to embark on a cross country journey. The engines were rumbling and I could feel their power throughout my body. It was like riding a dragon, only better. I can see why generations have been drawn to railroading, it is hypnotic and addictive.

An Old Friend

I have a friend who I have known for thirty years. I did not know him when he was a youth, but I did make his acquaintance later in his life. In his younger days, he enjoyed nature’s bounty and lived a relatively short albeit happy life, as his fate was surely sealed. He was born with a higher purpose, and so it was. Death would be quick and his metamorphosis a bit slower.

Our friendship began in 1982. I knew at once that we would be together for many years. He has always been by my side through different jobs. We have traveled together on long distance business trips and mundane, daily commutes. He has held business papers, reading material and sundry personal effects. Together we have lived the working life, being hired, fired, promoted and demoted. He has always been by my side and has always been nothing but reliable. Undeterred, through thick and thin, we have traveled an often bumpy road.

We are now in the waning years of our working lives, weathered and tired on the outside, but still full of life and hope on the inside. Our roles have been diminished. He is now a valet, carrying my lunch time sustenance and assorted medications. The important work is gone, such is life. Together, we will ease into permanent retirement and take on new roles.

Island of the Lost

Hart Island, a nondescript island just northeast of City Island in the Bronx, is home to New York City Potter’s Field. It has an interesting history, as it has been used in the past as a Union Civil War prison camp, a tuberculosis sanatorium, reform school, psychiatric institution, drug rehabilitation center and a Nike missile base. Today it is the burial site of over one million indigent or unclaimed New Yorker’s. Riker’s Island prison inmates conduct the mass burials and are paid fifty cents an hour for their labors. The dead are placed in plain, pine boxes and are buried in mass graves which are basically unmarked trenches.

This island has always held a morbid fascination for me. Having grown up in the Bronx, I knew it well. I always wondered, how can someone die without family or friends to care for them? A friend and I decided one day that we were going to make a pilgrimage to the island which was, at the time, off limits to visitors. So with a six pack of beer in hand, we rented a rickety row boat and began our adventure. We didn’t get far because the currents of Long Island Sound are strong and we were barely staying afloat. Our hopes were dashed, we never made it onto the island.

The New York City Department of Transportation runs a ferry from City Island to Hart Island several times a week to shuttle the inmates and the deceased to their destination. A plain box truck will deliver the dead to the pier, as plain as plain can be.

I was inspired to write a short poem about this ferry, named the Michael Cosgrove after a former New York City Dock Commissioner:

 The Michael Cosgrove

Tied to the pier, awash in the Sound

He patiently waits for the next trip ’round

His cargo is coming from boroughs afar

In plain pine boxes, stacked neat, not ajar

The ferryman heaves to, and off they do go

Across the water to a place we won’t know

Where peace will come to those nameless few

Who were lost in this life, and concern was not due.

Hello, can you hear me?

 

Photo Attribution: CSIRO

I read that NASA has discovered seven Earth size planets forty light years away. These planets rotate around a sun and have all the requirements to support life as we know it. Scientists are doing somersaults! Extraterrestrial contact can’t be far behind!
This worries me.
We have been searching for extraterrestrial life since the 70’s. We regularly send radio signals deep into space providing our exact location in the universe, hoping that someone or something will respond. Wouldn’t it be grand to make contact? Think of all the wonderful things we could learn from our new alien friends. This of course assumes that our new compadres would want to be our friends. However, what if they viewed us as something inferior that should be conquered? History has taught us well that the weak do not inherit the earth. They are usually enslaved, exploited and eventually exterminated.
Stephen Hawking recently opined that chances are pretty good that contact with a species that has the ability to time warp millions of light years in a few seconds would probably view us as nothing more than pesky bacteria. I tend to side with him. Intellectually, Dr. Hawking is no slouch.
In my humble opinion, we should go dark, post haste. We should stop sending invitations into the unknown and should keep a very low interstellar profile. I, for one, don’t wish to be an extraterrestrial’s personal sock puppet.

 

 

Growing Up In The Bronx

 

Ok, I’m a bit prejudiced on this issue, but I contend that growing up in the Bronx in the sixties and seventies was a great experience. Not that a child growing up today has it bad, but we had it better! There is no arguing with me on this point. Just read below and get clued in.

My old neighborhood is now called Norwood, but back in the day it was called Bedford Park or Mosholu Park. I lived in a five story walkup apartment building across the street from a public school which had a playground and a recreation center. At the end of my street was a park, yes a park with trees and grass. On the other side of the park, also known as “across the park’ was a shopping area, a movie theater and the public library. We also had a wonderful local shopping area on Valentine Avenue, just one block from my building which featured a fresh produce store, Laundromat, candy store, deli, barber shop, drug store and butcher. A block down was an A&P and Associated Supermarket. Everything we needed was within walking distance. No need to hop in the car and drive two miles for a milkshake or a loaf of bread. No super centers or big box stores, just local merchants who knew you by name. We walked to school, even when it SNOWED! You read correctly, even when it SNOWED! School was hardly ever cancelled. Bullying was usually handled not by the school principal, your parents or a chat room moderator, but by you. A swift kick in the ass or punch to the mouth usually resolved the issue, even without the costly assistance of lawyers. Political correctness was defined as accepted behavior in our neighborhood. If you didn’t like something or someone, you avoided it or him- no hard feelings.

Life was good, particularly in the summer. All you had to do was go outside and your friends were there, waiting for a day filled with fun and mischief. No scheduled play dates, no video games, just a bat, a ball and maybe a water gun and our imaginations planned our day. We made tree forts, built skate boards out of wood found in a vacant lot and had a blast! When it was time for lunch or dinner, mom would shout out of the window for you to get back home. She didn’t need a smartphone to contact me.

Sadly, the old neighborhood turned ugly in the late seventies and there was a mass exodus. I read that it is ok now and I was planning on making a trip back to appease my nostalgia. A trip along memory lane would be just what the doctor ordered. However, those plans were quickly dashed when I recently read that someone was attacked in my old building with a machete by a group of thugs – so much for nostalgia.

Things are just a tad different today, better in some ways, worse in others.

I know I sound like an old windbag grousing about how times were better when I was growing up, but they really were!

Thanks to Google street view, you can take a stroll around what was the old neighborhood, enjoy.  My Old Neighborhood Today

Radio Man

Ever since I was a teenager, I have always been interested in electronics, radio in particular. I found the concept of music and voice traveling through the airwaves as being almost mystical. I loved building radio equipment, audio mixer boards and sound systems. I even aspired to study electrical engineering. Sadly, my math aptitude was totally lacking, so that plan was abandoned. As an alternative, I thought, “why not study the non-engineering aspect of radio?” With that in mind, I decided to major in Communication Arts and eventually become a radio personality. When I mentioned my switch in major from English to Communication Arts to my parents, my father asked if I was studying “fixing telephones.” This was not an altogether inane question because “Communication Arts” wasn’t a popular major at the time. It was a soft major, with no science or math requirements. There were many speech, journalism and film courses supplemented by a plethora of wine and cheese parties. I even met Bob Keeshan, aka “Captain Kangaroo” at one of these events where he was the keynote speaker. I had arrived!

Ultimately, I came realize that my radio career was not going to go far if I never saw the inside of a radio station. My college was just starting to plan a campus radio station but had no funding.

So, I got a bit creative and I became a disc jockey at Manhattan College radio station WRCM, pretending to be a student there when in fact I was a student at Iona College. I took a Sunday afternoon shift which no one else wanted and started on my journey. After a while, I thought that I had this gig mastered, so I prepared an audition tape showcasing my talents. A young lady who I knew at the time told me that she had a contact at Albany, NY radio station WTRY. This was a real radio station which was in a top two hundred market. So off went my audition tape and my dreams of a career in radio. Was I to be the next Dan Ingram, Cousin Brucie or Don Imus?

Within a week I received a letter from the Program Director of WTRY. My heart was pounding as I opened it. My big break had arrived!

Or had it?

The letter was not a form letter and you could tell that this gentleman took the time to listen to my tape. The figurative slap in the face was soon to be delivered.  He went on to say that I would be best served by sticking to a behind the scenes role such as sales or production. On air was not going to happen unless I hired a voice coach to improve my diction and vocal timbre. My voice was high pitched, my delivery was stilted, I had no personality and my Bronx accent was annoying.

At first, the five stages of grief came flooding in but I eventually realized that he was right and that he did me a huge favor. The dream was over. In retrospect, the nomadic lifestyle of someone starting out in this business would not have been to my liking, nor would the lack of job security. Thank you sir for being honest!