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Considering the Unthinkable

February 22, 2012

After college, I spent one somewhat painful year living in the small town of Medina, Ohio.

Maybe it was because I moved to a small town after spending four years living in Boston. Maybe it was that I was young and inexperienced in living outside of a major metropolitan area. Maybe it was the fact that people in Ohio were just nicer than the people I was used to in New York and Boston. I don’t know, but whatever the reason, Ohio and I just didn’t mesh.

The daily paper that I worked for took a chance on hiring me right out of college, and I felt like I couldn’t just pack up and leave even though I knew that’s what I wanted to do almost immediately after I’d arrived. So, I toughed it out and spent a fairly miserable year in the Midwest. When I left, I vowed never to live in the center of the country ever again.

Today, I find myself considering breaking that vow.

If you’ve read this blog even occasionally, you know that I’m a car enthusiast. I love everything about cars, from the way they look to the way they sound and, of course, the way they drive. I read all the popular car magazines, I watch all of the popular car shows, and I drive everything I can get my hands on. Knowing this, it should come as no surprise that one of my dream jobs is to write for an auto-related publication like Car & Driver or Automobile.

So, why haven’t I pursued any of these jobs before? Aside from the fact that the major mags like writers who also have engineering degrees (which I don’t have), they’re all located in Detroit. Forget for a minute that Detroit has a reputation as one of the most depressed and dangerous cities in the country. I can deal with that. My problem is that it’s also smack in the middle of the Midwest.

They say beggars can’t be choosers and I’ve been looking for full-time work for a while now. So, when a job lead that sounds almost too good to be true comes my way, I have to chase it, even it means potentially relocating to Michigan. So today, I did the unthinkable. I applied for a job in the Midwest. Will I actually have to consider moving to Detroit? It all depends on if I get the job.

Right now, I’m taking one unthinkable step at a time.

Of Hometowns and Shit Holes

February 20, 2012
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Now Main Street’s whitewashed windows and vacant stores
Seems like there ain’t nobody wants to come down here no more
They’re closing down the textile mill across the railroad tracks
Foreman says these jobs are going boys and they ain’t coming back to your hometown
Your hometown
Your hometown
Your hometown

— Bruce Springsteen, My Hometown

I don’t know exactly when my hometown turned into a shit hole, but things in Ardsley, New York certainly aren’t what they used to be. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like people are dealing crack on the corners or stabbing each other on the streets, but Ardsley has fallen on harder times than many of the neighboring towns in the area where I grew up.

If I have to guess as to what’s caused Ardsley’s problems, I’d say it’s mostly due to poor planning and the lack of a cohesive downtown area.

Ardsley isn’t a big town. It’s a village, really, measuring about one-square mile. Growing up, it was the picture of the (near) perfect small town. Lots of small, independent businesses run by families who lived within a mile or two of where they worked. A Rexall pharmacy. A Big Top novelties store. A Sunnydale Farms convenience store. A shoe store, a couple of pizza places, a couple of local garages, a flower shop, a diner, a couple of local bars. It could have been any small town in America.

Nowadays, you can get all (or most) of the same goods and services you used to find, but the town has lost its soul. The Mom & Pop stores have all been pushed out by big chains stores. The shops that haven’t been completely replaced sit vacant, along with an abandoned gas station, and a rundown string of shops in the square. The place feels like it’s dying from a slow, painful disease.

Ardsley's Clock

The thing is, there’s no reason Ardsley should be in this kind of shape. Located about 20 miles North of Manhattan, it’s still a popular commuter town with folks who work in the city. We’ve got good highway access and are close to three different Metro North stations that can get you from here to Grand Central in about 40 minutes.

What’s more, it’s not like this is a poor part of the country. The median cost for a house in Ardsley is about $500,000 and most people who live in the area have plenty of disposable income to spend. We even have a celebrity living in town, if you call Funk Master Flex a celebrity. (Other “celebrities” with Ardsley connections include Tom Carvel, Peter Riegert, Alan Alda, and Mark Zuckerberg, though none of them live here anymore.)

Driving around the area, I’ve noticed that neighboring towns like Dobbs Ferry, Scarsdale, and Hartsdale all appear to be in much better shape than Ardsley, and I think I know the reason why. Unlike Ardsley, these towns all have real main streets or shopping districts filled with interesting stores. They encourage people to leave their cars, walk around and, ultimately, spend money.

Ardsley has Addyman Square, a small collection of uninteresting shops and cheap takeout restaurants that no one wants to go out of their way to visit. And, even if someone does want to purchase something in the square, it’s almost impossible to park there. What’s more, Ardsley’s main street is Saw Mill River Road, a busy, unattractive artery that does little more than link commuters with the New York State Thruway and the Saw Mill River Parkway, both of which have exits located within a few hundred yards of “downtown.” There nowhere worth walking to on Saw Mill River Road and no reason to walk even if you wanted to.

It’s obvious that Ardsley can be so much more than it currently is and the thing I don’t understand is why the residents and taxpayers don’t do more improve things. Sure, revitalizing a town isn’t easy or cheap, but the thing is, any money that’s spent on rehabbing the village now will be returned with interest if town officials encourage new, unique business to open their doors. Give people a reason to shop in Ardsley – and create a shopper friendly environment for them to do it in – and they’ll show up. Dobbs Ferry, Hartsdale, and Scarsdale have all proved this to be true. There’s no reason Ardsley can’t do the same thing.

Going Off the Grid

February 17, 2012

So, I missed another day of posting.

I tried to come up with something interesting to write about yesterday, but I just couldn’t do it. There was nothing there and, rather than bore people with bull shit, I decided to skip a day. I’m not displeased with the decision. Sometimes, the best thing to do is nothing.

That said, I do have a new post rattling around in my head. I’ve actually tried starting it a couple of times today, but it’s not coming together the way I want, so I’m putting it aside for a while. I’ll come back to it though. In the meantime, I’m letting this space go dark again for a couple of days. Not because I don’t want to post, but because I’ll be up in the wood in Becket, Massachusetts where I’ll have no Internet connection.

Circumstances beyond my control, you might say, except for the fact that I’m voluntarily choosing to go to the Berkshires. No matter. The fact is, I won’t have Internet at the house, so I won’t be posting.

See y’all in a couple of days.

Shooting Your Mouth Off — Or Not

February 15, 2012

Two very different stories got me thinking about the perils of speaking out when you probably shouldn’t.

The first story comes from today’s New York Times and explains how Edward Maher found himself in police custody in Ozark, Missouri nearly 19-years after he allegedly robbed an armored car in London, England. Maher, a former armored car driver, allegedly stole his cargo during his last shift and fled to the United States with his family.

What did him in after almost 20 years of living on the run under a series of false identities? His son, Lee, who apparently couldn’t keep his mouth shut. Lee, who the story says had been trained to lie in order to protect his family, just couldn’t do it and “repeatedly shared his most carefully guarded secret, one so unbelievable that for years no one took him at his word.” Finally, one night, Lee’s wife called his bluff and, when all was said and done, Edward Maher ended  up behind bars.

The next story that got me thinking came from Daniel Negreanu, who posted a new video blog today. Negreanu spends most of his time talking about fairly mundane topics – his upcoming trips to Brazil and Ireland, his health, etc. However, in the last few minutes, he comes back to one of his favorite topics – bashing Howard Lederer, Chris Ferguson, and Ray Bitar over the Full Tilt Poker scandals.

Specifically, Negreanu reiterates how he thinks each man should suffer some old-school Vegas justice for their roles in the downfall of FTP. Why the venom, aside from the fact that Negreanu simply hates Howard, Chris, and Ray? According to him, it’s because they have continually dissed the poker community by failing to speak out in any kind of meaningful way about what happened in the final days of FTP, and on why the site has been unable to pay its players back. In Negreanu’s words, their continued silence on the matter makes them look guilty.

While I personally hate to agree with Negreanu on anything, I do have to admit that Tilt’s handling of the funds shortfalls after Black Friday has been incredibly poor, if not shameful. Still, I understand why Ray, Howard, and Chris have failed to speak out publicly.

As officers and board members for the company, Ray, Howard, and Chris are in very tough legal situations. Even if criminal charges against them fail to move forward, there are all sorts of civil penalties and lawsuits hanging over their heads in the wake of FTP’s demise. Speaking on the record, no matter how much they want to, just doesn’t make any sense since anything they say will undoubtedly come back to haunt them somewhere down the line.

Does this mean I’m excusing Full Tilt for its behavior both before and after Black Friday? Not at all. The company – through an official spokesperson or attorney – should have come clean long ago. It’s obvious to everyone that something shady was going on behind closed doors in Dublin and Tilt owes its players an apology along with a detailed explanation of what went wrong.

As for Chris, Ray, and Howard? It would be nice for at least one (if not all) of them to come clean about what they knew and when they knew it, but realistically, that’s not going to happen until the legal dust has settled and their fates have been decided. Sure, their continued silence makes them look guilty right now – and maybe they are – but with the very real consequences they face in a court of law, I can see why they’re willing to stay quiet and get lynched in the court of public opinion.

Dial-A-Lede

February 14, 2012

Everyone has a different way of writing.

Some people plan out every aspect of what they’re going to do like they were taught to in school. An outline. A draft. A revision. A polish. Others, like me, are more stream of consciousness writers. We get an idea and start putting words down on paper. We work out our stories and arguments in our heads, trying to make logical connections that advance us from one point to another until we’re finished. When we’re done, we’ll go back, give our work a quick polish and move onto the next thing on our agenda.

I’ve always preferred this method of writing because I’m something of a procrastinator. I need deadlines in order to focus. Tell me I have a month to complete a project and chances are, I’ll put it off until I leave myself the bare minimum of time in order to complete it. I like the pressure. I need the pressure.

I don’t have problems finishing what I start. Instead, I often have problems starting what I’m eventually going to finish. For me, the hardest part of writing anything – an article, a blog post, a screenplay – is coming up with my opening line. I need to find that door, that way into the piece, before I can do anything else. Without a lede line, I’m useless.

Again, this is just a peculiarity of my writing style. I know plenty of other people who can put a placeholder sentence at the start of whatever they’re working on, fill in the rest of the document, and then come back to the beginning and write their introduction. In fact, back at my first real job in Medina, Ohio, my housemate and fellow reporter, Tori, was the master of this technique.

Tori would come back from a meeting or an interview, organize her notes and start putting her story together in sections. Eventually, once she’d written the meat of her piece, she’d pick up the phone, dial my extension, and ask for 1-800-Dial-A-Lede. This was my cue to wander to her desk, read her work and, usually, suggest an opening sentence or two that she could tack onto her otherwise finished story.

It’s been a long time since I thought of my Dial-A-Lede days or about my friend Tori. She’s married with kids now, living in England with her family. We talk on Facebook every once in a while and keep making vague promises to catch up with one another the next time we’re on the same side of the Atlantic.

There’s no real reason Tori came to mind today, except for the fact that I was stuck looking for something to write. I needed a lede – a way into my mind – and somewhere, some old decrepit brain cell lit up with the message “Dial-A-Lede.” I’d liken it to something like Ray Kinsella’s non-specific voice in Field of Dreams – “If you write it, the rest will come.” OK, maybe not that dramatic and certainly, Kevin Costner and James Earl Jones aren’t about to show up and help me find some deep, dark truth about myself, but you get the picture.

Actually, that’s not completely true. I mean, it’s true that Costner and Jones aren’t going to show up here in my living room, but writing this – and everything else I’ve cranked out over the past couple of weeks – has reminded me of an important truth. Writing is about the process, whatever that process may be. It’s about showing up and putting words on paper. It’s about finishing what you start and, more importantly, starting something that you have to finish.

And They Were Never Heard From Again

February 13, 2012

I don’t have much to write about today, but I did come across this remarkable piece of video out on the Interwebz.

 

While part of me is tempted to let you view this without adding any additional commentary, that would defeat the purpose of having a blog. I mean, if I’m going to post video of two stoned yahoos laughing as a bear sizes them up for lunch, then I should really comment on whether or not it’s a bright idea to wander through the Canadian woods armed with nothing but a video camera and a bong.

Having never wandered through the Canadian woods myself, I’m thinking these guys were probably ill-equipped for the situation they found themselves in. On the other hand, if you’re going to come face-to-face with 1,000 pounds of walking death, then maybe being stoned out of your gourd isn’t the worst thing in the world. Six of one, a half-dozen of the other.

 

Failure Is Always An Option

February 12, 2012

Yup, I blew it. I didn’t post anything yesterday, but I tried. I started the same post four different times only to keep trashing it before I got halfway finished. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, the words won’t come and there’s just nothing you can do about it.

Failure sucks, but it happens.

Which brings me to the day’s other big news – the untimely death of Whitney Houston. I can’t claim to have been a fan, but I also can’t deny her talent. Still, while Whitney’s death may be sad, it certainly shouldn’t come as a shock. She’d been failing for a long time.

Whitney was blessed with more than an incredible voice. She capitalized on her talent and earned more money than most of us will ever see in our lifetimes. She could afford anything she wanted, including treatment to help her beat the demons and addictions that most likely led to her death. Many people with similar problems don’t have that luxury.

I don’t claim to know what problems Whitney was dealing with or how screwed up her personal life may have been. That said, I’ll find it hard to feel badly if it’s determined that she died because of an overdose. She was an adult. She knew the risks associated with her behavior and, more importantly, she had the means to pursue a meaningful recovery if that’s what she wanted.

That she may have chosen poorly just proves what I said at the beginning of this post. Failure is always an option, no matter who you are.