Thursday, June 28, 2007

What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?

In the old days (two weeks ago), I got 14 minutes a day with broadcast radio, during the drive to and from the ferry. For the northeastern liberal who favors the AAA format, there were generally two or three choices: WAMC, the regional public radio station, which at those times is playing Morning Edition with some regional news thrown in (or, if I caught the later ferry, I got the regional forecast by Mike Landin out of SUNY Albany’s Earth & Atmospheric Sciences Department; it’s like driving with a scientist), and there was...

Make that one choice.

NOW...hoo-boy! There’s 107.1 — “The Peak” — out of White Plains, playing, you know, rock, but not classic rock and not “world class” rock (update: I'm wrong, it IS "world class rock.") There’s WFUV, Fordham University’s folksy AAA station, interrupted occasionally by actual Fordham University sporting events, which, I mean please, really, who cares (and my sister went to Fordham, but still). Also interrupted occasionally by Steely Dan and/or Steve Miller, puh-extra-leeeze. And then there's WNYC, New York's public radio station.

It's possible that nothing strikes closer to the upstate/downstate, Hudson Valley/Manhattan vibe than the NYC/AMC dichotomy. (Then again, it's possible that the economic differences between Jamestown and Scarsdale come close.) To illustrate the difference between WNYC and WAMC, let me try this. Take Alan Chartock on the one hand, and Soterios Johnson on the other. It's like Bugs Bunny versus Felix Unger. Jimmy Cagney versus Ralph Fiennes. Woody Guthrie versus Frank Sinatra, but also, ALSO, Frank Sinatra versus Bing Crosby. Oat bran versus pudding. Soil/marble. Wood floors/tile floors. WHAT MORE DO I HAVE TO SAY?

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

A Different Take

The new commute takes me (by car) over the river on the Bear Mountain Bridge, then into the wild roads of northern Westchester. It's interesting; there are ways to go that don't involve big highways and multilane clogs. This morning, with a little extra time, I pulled into a scenic overlook not far from the bridge and wondered if my former train was passing below. There were signs of eagles.

See? Signs, of eagles.

The Wheels (of Justice)

It's December 2006, and I get a speeding ticket. I plead not guilty, because I am clear in my conscience. This evening, my court date. My name is called in the small, packed room. I walk the four feet from the back of the room to stand before the judge, who doesn't look up but takes out a rubber stamp, whacks it on a piece of paper and says "go home."

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Additional Scenery

Weekends around here, when you're not weed-whacking or waging a thankless war against poison ivy, are spent in the presence of things like this:

Friday, June 22, 2007

The Transitioneer, Issue Four: Payoffs

Lest you think The Transitioneer is a litany of complaints and a record of Fears of Change, try this on:
  • Two hours less commuting per day.
  • Higher pay.
  • Goodbye, subways. Goodbye. Goodbye.

I can just sit around for two extra hours a day spending money.* Who hasn’t dreamed of having that kind of time?

Also on the plus side? I won’t have to ride with the guy assembling his paintball gun in the seat across the aisle.**

*The author is joking.
**The author is, alas, not joking.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007


I’ll never forget the day I parachuted into the walled island of Manhattan on assignment – very much against my will – to rescue the President, whose plane had crashed but whose crash-proof pod had landed intact. The authorities were getting strong signal from his personal transponder, but to stage a recovery op they needed someone who could navigate the city’s complex criminal hierarchy and treacherous back alleys. That’s where I came in.

It’s twelve years later. While I never did find that darned president, I did get a series of comfortable temp jobs and had some extremely limited, tiny success writing pieces for the “Internet,” which at the time was a source of limitless money that ran on a crank and pulley system from someplace on the west coast. I had friends who worked there. Later, after getting in good with the thugs who ran the island (from their heatproof dome in the volcano located under Grand Central Terminal), I was given a temp job at a well-known company in the recycling industry, where I quickly became a permanent employee and rose to some prominence as the one least likely to quit. Failed again, I suppose.

Having some years ago moved to the outlying farming districts (principle crops: onions, McMansions, tree stumps), but bound by honor and paycheck to make a daily pilgrimage to the city (especially daunting because it meant being fitted for a new customized high-velocity parachute harness and dropped from 6,000 feet every morning, then digging through the base of the wall with a spoon and swimming through the nematode-enthickened waters of the Harlem River every afternoon around 5:30 to make the mainland to get home in time for dinner), I sought in vain some way out of my predicament. Rescue came this year, in the form of a squad of revolutionaries from Westchester who rappelled in armed with an excellent benefits package and a job description. I accepted their gracious offer, but, of course, was apprehended digging through the wall.

Which is why you find me live-blogging from a small platform set over a pool of lava in the catacombs below 42nd and Lex, tied to a rather comely woman who attempted to help me escape (to my wife: I’ve never met her before, I have no idea who she is and besides, I think she’s going to betray me), with only my trusty laptop, oh, and Blackberry and cell phone — uh, and my PDA, thumb drive, VPN token and headphones — to help me get out alive.

The barbarian overlords of this granite and steel enclave shouldn’t have brought me here, of course, so close to the heart of their base, because naturally once I’ve used Google’s new UnderStreetView™ to research the best way out of here, I’ll be passing by the vault containing the bagel and pizza recipes that are the source of their stranglehold on power (it’s not “the water,” people). Easily overpowering the overly-complacent guards, I’ll take those with me, thank you very much, and be on my way, synchronizing my departure perfectly with the eruption of said volcano and the destruction of the entire complex. Which will work out nicely, because it’s June and everyone will want to be in the Hamptons anyway and they’ll get everything cleaned up by Labor Day.

In other words, it’s my last day here. Thanks for the adventure, New York. See you soon.

Monday, June 18, 2007

The Transitioneer, Issue Three: Scenic Splendour

Perhaps I’ve mentioned once or twice that I currently commute by train along the Hudson River and how very nice that looks. In the winter, eagles and ice. In the summer, trees and…uhh, water. Big skies. Wide views. Great leaping splashes of mighty fish (truly). Storm King Mountain in all its majesty. Old, haunted castles. The sudden turn at Spuyten Duyvil and entry into the brick, concrete and steel of the Bronx, with bridges.

And next week? Okay, winding country roads and a beautiful bridge in the highlands over the river, fair enough, but after that it’s the flat black ribbon and a sea of cars, I fear. In the winter, ice — but dangerous fighting ice. And if I glance at an eagle, off the road I will careen. I’m not made for careening.

Maybe I’ll just tape some pictures of Yellowstone to the windshield to soothe me as I drive.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

The Transitioneer, Issue Two: The Automotive Industry

This is really simple. The automotive portion of my commute is changing from a five-minute jaunt to the whole one-hour monkey. So: 1) $1k to replace the a/c on my $2500 eBay car? Or 2) a) Mini Cooper or b) Toyota Prius or c) Honda Civic? Oh, also, what is this – how you say – radio I hear about? And the book that is on the tape?

Thursday, June 14, 2007

You Set Me Up

Because I don't talk enough about my commute, I've decided to take one photo per day of one of its best features. I suspect I'll get a maximum of 12 shots of ol' Storm King, as that commute ends on Wednesday. But here you go, click for the Flickr set:

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Transitioneer, Issue One: The Service Economy

Introducing The Transitioneer, an occasional series on Exurbitude celebrating the changes accruing to the author’s forthcoming new job and commute, elements of which have been explained previously.

There’s not that much support infrastructure in place for changing your commute. Presently, my dentist, doctor, emergency tailor, barber, massage therapists, podiatrist, and Weight Watchers meeting — not to mention prime breakfast and lunch spots – are all identified and located relatively close to work. I’ll have to get a new one of each of them (although I seem to have been cured by my former podiatrist, so I might be okay on that front, and massages were covered by the company, so they’re probably a thing of the past).

Isn’t there a service that can do that for me? When you move to a new town, you often get a ‘welcome to the neighborhood’ packet with a lot of ads and info. I want that. Plus I want someone to circle the best ones. And should I even be getting these services near my new job, or near my home?

Someone send me the URL.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Runner's World Personal Record Column, June 2007

My latest piece for Runner's World is now online. Regular readers will spot several familiar themes. Enjoy!

Friday, June 8, 2007

A Long, Earnest Post About Literature, or Something

Popular Eschatology

A lot of people I like and respect have an incredibly pessimistic view of the future. One just loaned me The Road, by Cormac McCarthy. I read it over the course of two commutes. While McCarthy isn’t exactly known for his sunny vision (cf. Blood Meridian), this was a particularly brutal look ahead. I loved it – the story of a father and son traversing post-nuclear Appalachia and “carrying the fire” satisfied my inner need for political vindication, perhaps, or dovetailed perfectly and painfully with my own expectations. Terrifying, disgusting and above all sad, it was delivered with McCarthy’s Hemingwayan, journalistic spareness. Every detail reported, even the most explosive or enraging, using simply the words on the page.

Were there no need for apocalypse in the popular imagination, you wouldn’t have Mad Max. And Mad Max wouldn’t have formed my (for instance) narrative expectation of doom, destruction, and desert. The same goes for Edward Abbey’s Good News. I suppose Kevin Costner’s movies The Postman and Waterworld are in that canon, but I haven’t seen them. Certainly the book and film Children of Men feel right in that company. Even in Anne Lamott’s angst-ridden parenting journal, Operating Instructions, she envisions raising her son to be the “leader of the resistance.”

Oddly, this isn’t a political stance. Conservative end-timers, liberals, intellectuals and militarists all feel like it’s coming down. They’ve felt this way for centuries, in many cultures around the world. To be honest, I don’t know who William Miller was, but I know this: he thought the world was going to end on a particular date. And he was only one of dozens in a famous lineage. Today we have whatsisname, the Peak Oil guy.

Nuclear weapons only bolster the ancient narrative of Ragnarok. The narrative, the expectation, was there before nukes, which suggests that the invention of race-ending technology only serves a peculiarly homo sapiens hunger for world’s end. Why aren’t we tempering population growth? How come we’re all resigned to massive global climate change, brought about by our own excesses? Why are these books and films and religious movements so popular? I submit it’s because it just feels right.

This fear and expectation grows from the knowledge of individual mortality: each of our individual worlds will end one day, and that's frightening. A cynical view of organized religion suggests that the codified narrative of apocalyse was caused by/crafted to capitalize on this fear. It’s another mode of control, based on the assumption that attaining heaven is not good enough. Only by even more truly embracing the faith (or sacrificing your enemies, or donating to Pat Robertson) can you save yourself after that fateful day.

So it is with The Road. “We’re carrying the fire,” the man tells his son. And there’s no mention of precisely what the fire is, but the reader knows. It’s a perfectly developed device, because there isn’t a reader in the world who’d read that and NOT nod his or her head in shared understanding. Yeah, we think, reading. You and me both. And it doesn’t matter what you picture burning there in your own consciousness – intellectual curiousity, civilizing impulses, belief in law, the flame of the Enlightenment, protective love of family, religious faith, Yankee fever – you know that you’ve got it, too.

And you’re right. That’s the crucial thing. We’re all carrying SOME fire. Each one of us – right now, you, me, the person in the next cubicle – believes it. Even the most debased and evil people in the world believe it. The cannibals in McCarthy’s book? That mohawk dude, Wez, in The Road Warrior? They believe it, too.

So maybe, instead of hoping/waiting for/expecting the future world to explode in a refining event that brings out the One True Fire, we can start to look at the world we have as a place already replete with beings of pure flame, each bearing his or her single spark. If you know that the person in the cubicle next to you, or your nation’s enemy hiding in a cave someplace, both believe the same thing about themselves that you do — I’m chosen — doesn’t it make it more worthwhile to save and improve the world we live in today?

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Introducing: Storm King Adventure Tours

Not far from where I live, a new business opened up this spring. As of last night, they've got a website. Welcome SKAT. Do you like kayaking? Do you like Hudson River Valley Kayaking Tours? Do you like Hudson River Valley Hiking and Mountain Biking Adventure Tours? Do you like how subtly I'm putting keywords about kayak tours and kayaking and hiking and mountain biking into this post and linking it to Storm King Adventure Tours? Do you think I'm some kind of traffic pimp? Well.

Storm King Adventure Tours, the Orange County New York mid-Hudson region's best outdoor adventure tour outfitter, is a really cool place if you like the outdoors. There's lots of open space in this area, and they capitalize on it. Check 'em out if you get up this way. And yes, yes, please tell them I sent you.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Two Point OMG

Is it just me, or is all this Twitter, LinkedIn, FaceHead, MyBook, VimeoTube, Technorati, MetaFilter, CompoundWord, AIM, SMS, Blackberry stuff giving you a headache? I’m going to lie down in some grass this weekend and look at the sky. (Then check for ticks. Two people I know have hit the Lyme lottery in the past week.)

Before I do that, though, I have to go to work tomorrow because we’re launching the Big Fat Web Project we’ve been working on for a year. Check it, people (after 9pm Saturday, if all goes well, Monday morning if bugfest).