Archive for March, 2010

Right Place, Right Time

March 31, 2010 2 comments

Sometimes I think deciding whether or not a decision I make is the right one is just a matter of how I decide to look at things.

For instance, take last weekend’s drive back from Vermont to Syracuse. I’ve narrowed the trip down to a choice between two routes: the easy one and the fast one. The easy one, via the Northway (I-87) and Thruway (I-90), is about 50 miles longer but has plenty of services and rest stops and lanes and radio/cellphone reception. The fast one winds through the Adirondacks and has lots of steep hills but not much congestion (as long as I’m feeling nervy enough to pass on mountain roads) and generally takes about a half hour to an hour less time if the weather cooperates.

That’s a very big “if.” A steady March rain in most of the state can translate into a flash snowstorm at the high elevation of places like Speculator, NY (1,739 feet) and in fact did so on Sunday night. I hadn’t checked the weather report, but it wouldn’t have mattered if I did, because the forecast — rain — didn’t mention icy roads and several inches of fresh powder on the Routes 8 and 30 slalom.

The trip started OK — just a little drizzle — but as I got further into the mountains, I started to encounter more dense fog, more places where the wet turned slippery and more of the “jump to hyperspace” effect every time I tried to use my high beams in a vain attempt to figure out the orientation of the next bend in the road before I actually reached it.

On the climb into Speculator I found a particularly heavy patch of fresh snow so I downshifted until I was doing about 40 mph. Halfway up the hill, I came upon a car against the guard rail. Slowing further, I saw one person there so I stopped to see if I could offer any assistance. I also noticed another car off the other side of the road about an eighth of a mile uphill.

The teenager who was driving the car that had crashed was all right, and I gradually figured out that her father had gone on ahead — I’m still not quite sure where — and that the other car off the road wasn’t in any way associated with this one.

I offered to call for help, but then noticed my cell phone had no signal. So I headed up the hill with — I never did learn the names of any of the people I encountered, so let’s call her April — to take a look at what was going on with the other car, which turned out to be fine though ditched. Its driver — she’ll be Meghan — had recently moved here from Austin, Texas to work at the religious camp that is apparently the largest employer in greater Speculator. She’d had even less experience than April with snowy mountain roads.

Also present was Chip, a 20ish brawny, cropped-haired local who didn’t seem fazed by the cold even though he was only wearing a t-shirt. I guess Chip had also stopped to help. Shortly after reaching them, April’s dad Steve returned, and I noticed that my phone had signal so I made the call to 911. Chip informed me that we were halfway between Greene and Speculator at “Million Dollar Bend,” so-called because of the expense involved in the car repairs and tow fees caused by the sharp curve in the steep road. Steve and April were locals as well, as I learned when Steve used my phone to reach someone he knew nearby and asked them to contact AAA and come out to get them.

The four of us tried pushing Meghan’s car out of the ditch, Steve calling out directions in a very capable and dadlike manner, Meghan learning how to rock her car back and forth. We might have even managed it, if only April hadn’t chosen to wear high heels for the trip, a fact she lamented several times (her dad pointed out that at least he’d talked her out of wearing flip-flops). Without some extra traction though, we didn’t have quite enough oomph to get Meghan’s Versa back onto the road.

Though there was little else I could do, I stuck around until a state trooper arrived — it didn’t feel right to leave. I learned a bit more about where and who we were via that awkward small talk that comes from five people with little in common besides cars and snow and not being where they intended to at that moment.

After Officer Friendly got a handle on the situation, he suggested everyone who wasn’t in need of assistance should leave. It was late, I was only halfway to my destination and, most importantly, I really needed to pee, so I headed back down the hill. Checking to make sure nobody else was following, I yellowed the snow by hazard light and was soon on my way.

I didn’t feel quite like a hero — I’m sure someone else would have stopped if I hadn’t. And the nagging sense remained that I’d been stupid to take the road less traveled — especially when I had to creep up some of the remaining hills in second gear. But I got to feel useful, got thanked, and got enough of an adrenaline rush to keep me going until I made it back to firmer and flatter ground.

Categories: Essays Tags: ,

Happy Pi Day

March 14, 2010 2 comments

In honor of Pi Day (3/14) I made one of my favorite — but also, importantly, one of my kids’ favorite — foods, broccoli quiche.

Broccoli Quiche

Pi Day Broccoli Quiche

I’ve heard of mythological children somewhere who make a face at broccoli, but it’s one of those foods that all three of my boys have always enjoyed enthusiastically, making it my go-to veggie when I’m feeling the need to get some deep green goodness into their growing bodies. It’s the non-meat pizza topping of choice, sometimes with black olives (the only one who won’t eat the olives will chow down on the pepperoni pie that I usually get to appease the ominvores). They like it the way my mom prepares it with garlic, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I’ve already written about the crowd-pleasing properties of my Tofu Broccoli Stir Fry. They’ll even gobble it up steamed with a little salt.

But as much as they like all these, my broccoli and cheddar quiche seems to get the most “yays!” when they find out I’m making it. I like it because I can get nearly all the cleanup done in advance. Also, because the veggies are inside, it makes a side dish optional, though tonight I served it with steamed carrots and garlic bread. I also got a peach pie just to be extra celebratory.

My recipe is adapted from Mollie Katzen’s famous Moosewood Cookbook and its sequel The Enchanted Broccoli Forest (which, interestingly enough, I’ve never prepared). I don’t make my own pie crusts; I probably could but I’d rather avoid the time, work and mess for something that would never come out as good as the boughten kind anyway.

Broccoli and Cheddar Quiche

2 pre-made deep-dish pie crusts
2 medium crowns of broccoli, cut into small pieces
8 ounces sharp cheddar, shredded
6 eggs
2 cups milk
4 Tbsp flour
1/2 tsp. mustard powder
1 tsp salt
1 small clove garlic, crushed
juice of 1/2 lemon

Preheat the over to 375 degrees. Steam the broccoli until it’s bright green and gives some resistance when you try to pierce it with a fork.

Line the bottom of the pie shells with the cheese.

To make the custard, whisk together all the rest of the ingredients except for the paprika. When the broccoli’s done, add half to each pie shell, and then cover each with the custard. Dust the tops with paprika and bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until the middle is firm. Let the quiches set for ten minutes before cutting.

Happy Pi Day!

Categories: Recipes Tags: , ,

Lami, you got some complainin’ to do

March 14, 2010 2 comments

My partner calls it “complaint blogging” — that form of online communication where you get your knickers all in a twist and just dare somebody to try to straighten them. But even though I consider myself a world-class whiner IRL, I try not to do too much of it here. Partly because I don’t need another reason to dwell on the negative — if I type my gripe, I’m going to be wearing my angry face for the duration of my thorough, anal-retentive editing of the post.

And then there’s that whole privilege thing I’m trying to work on. As a (deep breath) tall, thin, educated, hetero, middle-class, adult white male (whew), I realize I’m generally the winner in every game of “privilege bingo” I play. So I need to ask myself if this is a legitimate complaint or am I just butthurt because someone else’s needs displaced my own.

But there are times when I decide that it’s perfectly OK for me to get my kvetch on, either because it will expose a problem that doesn’t affect just me — using my voice to help those less likely to be listened to, and it doesn’t take a lot of bus trips to figure out that you’re riding low in the low-privilege lane — or else just because I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore. Maybe punks aren’t running wild in the streets, but at least the buses could run once in a while. So here’s what I submitted to Our Fine Bus Service (Centro):

Very Dissatisfied

This morning I waited in vain a half hour at the corner of Some Road and Some Other Street, from 8:00 AM until 8:30 before giving up, walking home and taking the car that fortunately was available only because my wife was out of town.

Not only did the 237 not show, but also the 537 never came either (I walk down Some Road so I would have seen it come by).

Because of this I was over an hour late getting to work today. When I called Centro to ask whether the bus was coming, all the customer service representative told me was that the radio on the 330 was broken and so there was no way to know what had happened. Not even an “I’m sorry” or “Give me your contact info and I’ll have a card good for a free ride sent to you.”

What’s worse is that the CSR initially decided that I “must have just missed it.” No, in fact I was there five minutes early; why should it be assumed that the customer is wrong?

It’s frankly ridiculous that *two* buses don’t show up, that nobody knows why, and that nobody at Centro seems to give a damn that they can’t be depended on to get their customers to work.

These times ought to be presenting opportunities for Centro to be getting more people to take mass transportation, and I’m sad that I’ve had so many negative experiences lately that I’m hesitant to recommend anyone use your services.

This is not the first time I’ve used the handy response form on the Centro website to register my concern. The last time was because I was sassed by a driver, who after buzzing past me (I had to jog down the block to where he finally stopped) laughed that it was my fault for not being more obviously standing at the bus shelter that he wasn’t watching. But that Blue Bayou moment was just a warm up for this case of “Carmine said there would be two buses and here there are none.” So I wasn’t surprised at the reply from Chris Dithers (not the real name), Centro’s Customer Service Supervisor:

Mr. Redlami,

Thank you for your email regarding the buses #237/#537 Some Other Street not showing up. I apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused. Be assured that this matter will be thoroughly investigated.

I reviewed the #37 Some Other Street schedule to verify the times the buses were scheduled to depart Some Road and Some Other Street. A #537 Some Road bus was scheduled to depart at 7:59am and the #237 Some Other Street bus was scheduled to depart at 8:05am.

I am under the assumption that you were waiting for the 8:05am bus? This scheduled trip will be looked into specifically and at the conclusion of the investigation, you will be contacted.

Please provide me with your mailing address as I would like to send you a courtesy ride coupon for your inconvenience.

Again, thank you for bringing this matter to our attention.

Chris Dithers
Our Fine Bus Service
Customer Service Supervisor

Looks good, right? I get $1.25 (cost of a ride) for my wasted hour, and they’ll be sure to let me know why there were no buses. So why am I still peeved? I mean, aside from being somewhat peevish by nature? Maybe it’s because I don’t like the idea that the “customer service” line didn’t provide any, and rather than respond to that part of my complaint, Chris is trying to mollify me with a free ride (I have to thank my partner’s laser vision for zeroing in on this issue).

So what’s next? Besides responding to Chris (hey, I’ll take the voucher for starters) I’ve figured out that there’s a rep on the Centro board from my town, so that’s where I’m taking my concerns next. Because that’s the way I troll.

You know we’ll have a good time then

March 12, 2010 2 comments

Sometimes in my current pre-divorced state I find myself kicking the tires on single parenting: going it alone on shopping, meal preparation, laundry, getting kids out the door in the morning, checking on homework and all the other things that don’t sound nearly as important as going to the office and pushing out a report on the US Immigration Courts but nevertheless become my primary focus when my soon-to-be-former partner is out of town.

While on daddy-duty I tend to focus on the tasks at hand, and frequently feel too harried and put-upon to listen to a synopsis of the latest book in the Warriors series or a preview of the features expected in Portal 2. At times like this I wonder if I’m sounding a little too much like the dad in the Harry Chapin song who never had time for his kid.

But once in a while I manage to step out of what I’m doing and really pay attention. And then I wonder what life is going to be like when seeing them get up in the morning and go to bed at night is the exception and not the routine. Sometimes I admit I’m impatient for the day when I’m on a predictable schedule of responsibility. But there are some moments when the enormity of the coming change smacks me in the face and I get maudlin for the kind of idyllic suburban family life that I occasionally glimpsed but never really had.

This morning I had one of those pauses. The two younger boys had just gotten on their bus, which was mercifully only ten minutes late. It’s been as much as a half hour late, and when that happens I have to choose between leaving the kids sitting outside so I can get to my bus, or waiting and giving up on getting to work at anything close to my normal time.

So they got on their bus and I had twenty minutes for the thirteen minute walk to the bus stop. I like this time because it gets me exercise as well as time to think or even, if it’s not too snowy or rainy, do some reading (yes, I read while walking). I also get to watch the parade of yellow buses go by: besides the three public schools in the vicinity, there’s a private school just down the street, and I’m always amazed to see all the far-flung school districts represented by these students.

One of those buses turned out to be the very one my kids boarded a few minutes earlier. I looked up to see my eleven year old flashing a toothy, goofy grin while he waved at me. The bus stopped at a light and I caught up with it, creating another waving opportunity. It passed me again, only to stop at the intersection to make a left turn. As I walked by a final time, I turned and caught one more wave from my youngest and that’s when it hit me that I’d probably have a lot fewer of these wonderful silly interludes. Of course I’m already having fewer as the kids get older. Even if I weren’t moving out, I’ve always made it clear that I expected them to.

But what I’m realizing in these countdown days is that while I shouldn’t idealize my parenting experiences — there have been plenty of frustrations all around — I nevertheless want to cherish my kids and the good times we have while I’m still part of their daily lives. Whether it’s cooking something like broccoli quiche that they like so much they’re too busy stuffing their faces to tell me so, or trying to appreciate the various kinds of music they create or consume, or watching with satisfaction as they make friends and little by little go about the task of replacing their parents as their principle avenues of companionship and support. Basically trying to Be Here Now. And of course, avoiding those “Cats in the Cradle” moments.

Categories: Essays Tags: , , ,