Sunday, June 26, 2011

city avenue redistricting

I think I finally understand what the Lower Merion Board of Commissioners wants to do with the City Avenue redistricting plan.

Lower Merion's "Golden Mile" sort of "just growed" like Topsy when construction started in the 1950's. The land closest to City Avenue and Conshohocken State Road was offered to my father, to buy, but he refused because, there was a small apartment house on the property and he did not want to be a landlord.

And, the buildings just appeared, and branched out, without much rhyme or reason. And, with the construction of the Schuylkill Expressway, the ease of travel into center city Philadelphia increased the value of the property and more and more buildings appeared. There was a hotel with restaurants, many office buildings, lots and lots of retail shops, and plenty of parking spots - but without consideration of needs or desires of the Lower Merion community. The Presidential Apartments, on the city side provided customers for the retail shops.

Now, with new office complexes popping up as competition to the City Avenue spots, and with the redesign of Bryn Mawr shopping area, and the hoped for redesign of the Ardmore shopping area, the City Avenue "golden mile" needs more than just a face lift.

The commissioners are reaching out to everyone in the community for input - what we would like to see on this valuable real estate. What kinds of buildings with what kinds of uses. And what problems the resulting increased automobile traffic would have to be resolved. Although the best guesses are that increased traffic will present problems to the "feeder" roads, like Bala Avenue, Bryn Mawr Avenue, Conshohocken State Road, Belmont Avenue, Winding Way, etc., just remember what happened to all the anticipated traffic when the Schuylkill Expressway was closed. It disappeared. And then, as soon as the Expressway reopened, the traffic was back. To this day, no one really knows where all the displaced traffic went. It did not appear on any of the alternative routes.

Parking is a mysterious problem. King of Prussia has more parking spots than anyone would ever have thought would be necessary, and yet, I have never been there when parking was easily available. NEVER.

When it comes to a planned community, we have to determine what we want, where we want it, and how much we are willing to pay for it in terms of convenience and money (and property value changes). All the side streets, off of Bala Avenue, and Montgomery Avenue, are home to beautiful residences. It would not be fair to the residential streets to permit tall, expansive buildings that would block light and sun. Our community is known for gracious homes, wonderful schools, and caring neighbors. And yet, it would certainly be convenient, and add to the revenue stream, if high quality, property tax paying retail shops made their homes in Lower Merion.

In planning the new community, we have to be mindful of crime prevention. A series of police sub-stations, scattered throughout the new community would be helpful and probably a crime deterrent. Well lighted pathways would also help. And caring residents who do not barricade themselves in their home behind steel gates are a must.

Saturday, June 25, 2011


Last night's game was one of those great old fashioned pitchers' duals. Reminded Edgar and me of our experiences, as much younger people, when the Athletics were the Philadelphia American League team.

During the middle 1940's, Edgar was a "soda jerk" while trying to earn money during his high school days (Central High School, class of 184). One day, an imposing, barrel chested man entered the shop, sat down at the counter, and ordered a dish of vanilla ice cream. The man was wearing a camels hair, sport jacket, ate his ice cream, paid the 25 cents and left Edgar a nickle tip. The owner rushed over to Edgar and said, "Do you know who that was?" He didn't. "That was double x." What? Who? "That was the great Jimmy Foxx," who was then playing for the Phillies. At the time, Edgar was unimpressed but as time has passed, Edgar remembers the encounter fondly, especially the nickle tip. It was unheard of to leave a tip for the lowly soda jerk.

My mother was a Phillies fan. She especially liked Robin Roberts, but used to cringe at the idea of his giving up "gopher balls." One day, she insisted that my father, who liked everything, buy tickets to a Yankees/Athletics game. "Joe DiMaggio is playing," she said, "and I want Selma to be able to see this greatest ball player of all time." I don't remember when it was, or anything about the game. I remember only my mother's excitement about seeing Joe DiMaggio. And, reflections years later, strengthen my memories of how excited my mother was about the prospect of seeing Joe DiMaggio, and then of seeing him in action, and then her talking about how great a ball player he was.

As near as Edgar can remember, one sunny afternoon, in 1935, his father went to visit his sister and his sister suggested that her son, Herbert, take Edgar to the Athletics' game, played in the afternoon. Herbert and Edgar sat in the almost desserted left field stands, on the first row. Edgar and Herbert could clearly see the tall, spare Connie Mack, in the dugout, moving his players around by waving his straw hat. Indian Bob Johnson hit a home run which cousin Herbert who was about ten years' olders than Edgar, caught on the fly. There was no TV, no commotion , no stopping of the game, just another caught home run. Herbert gave the ball to Edgar who proudly took it home and saved it until his mother said, one day, "what's this dirty thing?" and threw it out - along with his other baseball memorabilia.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Bala Avenue and LM Commissioners

Commissioner George Manos met with us, at our house, for about 2 hours today - to calm our questions about the future of Bala Avenue. As I understand it, no plans exist at present to change the residential side of Bala Avenue. All the proposed zoning changes relate to the other side of Bala Avenue (between Union and City and both side between Union and Montgomery). The proposed, far in the future, plans would like the areas on Bala Avenue, near the sidewalks, to have retail shops but none with drive thru windows like banks and fast food shops. Sounds good, in theory. Just imagine, a resident can get off the bus or train at City Avenue, stop at a retail shop, pick up dinner and flowers, and head home with no extra energy expended.

We discussed other issues - including safety codes that permnit flexible pipe to connect dryers to the gas line, effectiveness of the City Avenue Special Services District, using banks as payment centers for Lower Merion tax and sewer bills, the effectiveness of "no parking" signs when loading and unloading are permitted in spite of the signs, large lighted signs on Bala Avenue, seeking historic significance for the art deco Bala movie theater (that used to be called the Egyptian) and new, more effrective, more pedestrian friendly street lighting on Bala Avenue.

I told him that I police Bala Avenue, probably twice a day, sometimes more, to pick up the litter left by inconsiderate and careless people - either playground users or pedestrians. I am particularly resentful of the dirty diapers, glass bottles, candy wrappers, fast food bags, and other detritus, left on the street. Commissioner Manos said he would talk to the Street cleaning people about that. I suggested that the City Avenue Special Services District bicycle riders should carry plastic bags and pick up whatever trash they see in the street, and on the adjacent grass patches, as they ride by. He did not seem receptive to that idea.

We stressed that, if crime goes up in Bala Cynwyd, property values will decrease in Gladwyne with crime creep. That if traffic is congested in Bala Cynwyd, and Merion, property values will decrease in Gladwyne, with congestion creep. If taxes continue to go up, residents will threaten to move out; but I think the threat is a ploy, not practical.

A good piece of news, the traffic light at Union and Bala Avenues will be replaced with a 4-way stop sign. Good, because drivers will no longer be able to speed up to try to beat the yellow light. Instead, they will all have to slow down and stop at this intersection.

We discussed the new smart parking meters - they allow 10 minutes of free time, to run in to a store to get change, to give a refund to the smart card of the time not used at the meter, and to give net revenue to the township.

We discussed the stalemate over replacing the decaying Union Avenue bridge. The problem seems to be with Septa that wants to own the air rights over the tracks in case, sometime in the not foreseeable future, Septa wants to do something with the air rights. Like build a stadium? The resolution will probably be something like what happened with the Merion Avenue bridge when all the parties are locked in a room and no one can leave until a decision is made and the bridge can be replaced, before it falls down. The date inscribed on the Union Avenue bridge is 1911. Plans are to widen it, just a little, so that Union Avenue is the same width all the way through and you don't have to hold your breath, and make yourself thinner, in your car, when you drive over it.

Plans for beautification of Bala Avenue include planting more trees.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

I don't have to hold my tongue any more

I speak my mind. Everyone who knows me knows that I say what I think and if a person is acting like an idiot, I might tell him.

For instance, I met a man who has had a series of heart attacks, has had 2 bypasses, and his still smoking. I called him an idiot to his face and told him there are easier ways to commit suicide that would be less expensive and less painful. He nodded, said that he is trying to cut down, and really is not trying to die. I asked him if he has a large, paid up life insurance policy for his wife. He looked chagrinned and turned away.

I met a woman who has diabetes, tests her sugar with regularity, takes insulin, and still loads up her plate with as many desserts as will fit. I didn't say anything to her and she sort of apologized by saying that she felt that her sugar was low. I exercised extreme self control, nodded and walked away.

I met a man who was wearing an American flag lapel pin and asked him if he was advertising that he was really a scoundrel. ("Patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels.") He seemed confused. I pointed to his flag pin. He said that he liked the way it looked. I did not say what I really felt (in addition to the scoundrel part). After all, we are all proud and happy to be living in this great country - the greatest of all - where people quite literally die to be able to come here.

There was a man who was double dipping at a party and I bit my tongue and did not tell him to use the spoon to ladle out the little meatballs. He kept sticking his toothpick back into the bowl - and then into his mouth. Made me nauseous just to look at him.

Scolded the hotel management for having a slippery bath/shower pre-fab insert with vertical, not horizontal grab bars. Fortunately, the only injury were two large very black and blue marks.

Our latest trip to Wisconsin

If it weren't for our family, believe me, we would never make the airplane trek to Wisconsin. But the payoff is soooooo worth it. Our trip from Philly to Madison was as uneventful as a crowded airport and crowded planes would allow. As usual, we met and talked to interesting people - a flight attendant who was travelling to Chicago to catch up with her Shanghai flight which she discovered had been put on hold for an indeterminate time. Her husband, an airplane captain, had the weekend off because he was in an aerobatic show near Pittsburgh. She said that watching him made her very very nervous and she was just as glad not to be any where near the performance. We talked about the P-51 airplane. She told us that a buddy of her husband, also a "stunt" pilot, took her up in one, didn't warn her that he was going to go straight up and exert a lot of "G's" on her, and she passed out. He thought that was hilarious. She did not appreciate it one bit.

From Chicago to Madison, a young man who was born in China, and spoke beautiful English, told us about his recent trip to Tianjin. "There are about 350 million school age children in China," he said. And then he went on to say that although a prescribed curriculum of literature, mathematics, science, English, and history is mandated for every child, the rigor and intensity of instruction varies with province and geography. To our surprise, we knew more about ancient Chinese history than he admitted to knowing.

We enjoyed our stay in Stoughton, on Lake Kegonsa, near Madison. The children were loving with hugs and kisses on arrival, during our stay, and then mixed a little with tears when we left. Their parents seemed to tolerate us - the usual reaction of grown children with their own parents. We visited a crane sanctuary where, in addition to cranes we saw a beautiful red-wing blackbird, heard a rousing "Hot Money" concert, picnicked at a State Park, attended a karate lesson, and watched the peaceful sunset over Lake Kegonsa from the back porch.

Our trip home, except for the fact that we arrived home safely, was a traveler's nightmare. We arrived at the Madison airport at 2:00 in the afternoon and got to the Philly airport at 2:00 the next morning with the hardest landing we ever experienced. Our teeth jarred on impact. The trip was so long that we could have been in Honolulu.

But, sitting in the Madison airport, we enjoyed an intellectually stimulating conversation with the Dean of the UW Engineering School. I thought I was a first class cynic, but he was at least my equal. When our flight to Chicago was delayed (because of a ground hold in Chicago), he predicted that our plane would be used to send another group of American Airline passengers some place else and we would have to wait. He was right. The two flights to Chicago were combined into one and we left Madison after our flight to Philly departed Chicago.

We had a brief conversation with a TSA employee who came to Madison from San Francisco to take care of his ailing parents. He had been a pastry chef, trained at a first class restaurant school in California, and enjoyed his job as chef to the San Francisco Forty-Niners. His favorite people to serve were the referees, during half time and he described the roast beef sandwiches that he made for the men. "We piled on the roast beef when we fed them during half time," he said, "and then all the calls went in our favor during the second half."

And when we landed in Chicago, the mess was almost indescribable. I won't deny that weather was a problem. Lots and lots of flights from all over the country were still having trouble and airport employees were setting up cots for stranded passengers. American Airlines could not figure out where our departure gate would be and, because we're old, we had wheelchairs. Our assistants wheeled us all over the terminals from L to H to G where we got our new boarding passes and waited.

The flight to Philly passed quickly as we spoke, at length to a young man from Brazil who worked for an oil company that had bought an interest in Sunoco. He lived at 16th and Chestnut in the city and worked "across the street" in the Mellon Bank Building. His English was impeccable and his curiosity about places to go and sights to see was unquenchable. His parents have never seen the trees change colors and he wondered about the best time to see that in our area. Late fall we told him. And the trees turn color earlier in the season, the further north you are. He told us that crime has decreased dramatically in the large cities in Brazil. "Why?" Brazil has added a lot of police and the presence of the authorities has cut down on the amount of crime. He enjoyed talking about Brazil's role in WWII, especially after it left its neutral stance and permitted Allied ships to port in its most Eastern city.

You know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men (aft gay aglay). We were supposed to land around 9 PM and our friend kept watching the computer screens to see when we were going to actually land. I called her and told her to go to bed and we would find a taxi to take us home and she became indignant and said that she is a friend and would be there for us. And she was. At 2 o'clock in the morning. And she knows that we would do the same for her.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Does anybody notice?

I have a dilemma. What do I do when I discover plagiarism by a writer for whom I had respect? A prominent businessman who had been writing weekly columns for years for an inhouse publication wrote a beautiful story about an interesting person. I wanted to learn more about the subject of this article and found out that the New York Times had written practically the same story about him three years ago.
What do I do? Is this just another example of "I didn't think anyone would notice?"

This reliance on not noticing is epidemic. Sarah Palin thought no one would notice that she had Paul Revere warning the British, not the colonists. Anthony Weiner thought no one would notice that his lewd photo was actually sent from his own cell phone. John Edwards thought no one would notice that his campaign funds paid for his "love child." Arnold Schwartzenegger thought no one would notice that his teenage godchild was in reality his own son. And so forth.

Back to the plagiarized column. The author wrote as if he himself had conducted an interview with a prominent naval admiral instead of rearranging the facts and either making up the quotes or copying them from the New York Times.

And, on, Amy Rosenberg got the story wrong about Rhea Hughes and her bicycle incident. This was not an egregious error. The spirit of the story was correct. Hughes was riding her bicycle on the wrong side of the street, facing traffic and was chastized for not riding with traffic. The fact that it was a bicyclist that scolded her, and not a motorist, was the error. Rhea Hughes emailed the journalist that she should have checked the facts with her and that she is always available. The journalist disputed that. Nevertheless, this appears to be another, contemporary example of "I didn't think anyone would notice" or even care.

My precocious grandchildren pulled the "I didn't think you would notice" line on their mother when they were two and three years old. One would think that mature authors would grow up and know better.

Monday, June 6, 2011

family party

We drove to Baltimore, MD on Friday morning for a weekend of family parties. Surprise of surprises, I-95 had no traffic problems, and we had smooth sailing - I mean driving - all the way. We followed the directions to the Residence Inn in Hunt Valley and made only one wrong turn. That was a record for us. Our room was ready, the service was pleasant, and after lunch, we rested up for the parties.

Showers on Friday afternoon were almost uneventful. The one-piece set-in bath and shower unit turned slippery and Edgar reached for the vertical shower bar and his hand slid down, and his body slid out of the shower and onto the floor and toilet seat (which broke). Fortunately, he has only two psychedelic purple bruises on his back and no broken anythings. And I did not faint.

After Friday night services, on our way to dinner, Edgar tripped over a wooden log in the parking lot that had no business being there. This unpainted unlit barrier sat between the outlined spaces and caught him totally unprepared. He says that the next thing he knew he was kissing the ground. Friends and relatives rushed to his aid. And with careful and gentle cleaning, several large bandages on his face, and the regaining of his equilibrium, we were on our way to dinner. We arrived at the large and expansive home with the personal guidance of one of the family members. Ben did a great job.

Dinner, delicious and uneventful, mixed with pleasant conversations and great stories from old times. Plentiful bowls of food sat mainly on the large dining room table, but the overflow platters made their way to guests in the living room, the veranda, and the various porches. I was very careful to keep my mouth shut when I noticed some double dipping (a la Seinfeld episode) going on.

From the house to the hotel, a route that could have resulted in complete loss of direction and circling forever like the Flying Dutchman, became easy because Neil drove and let us follow him. Without his guidance, who knows where we would have wound up, or when.

Saturday morning services and the following luncheon exuded scholarship, fellowship, exuberance, and delicious food. Again, we caught up with friends and relatives. One of the guests, a heart attack survivor, still smokes and, to his face, I told him that he is an idiot. He agreed. I told him there were easier and less expensive ways to commit suicide and I hoped he had a paid up large life insurance policy to protect his wife. No answer.

The big party was Saturday night at the Woodholme Country Club. We had directions from Google maps, Mapquests, and AAA. Don't ask. The main highways are numbered and marked but after our 10 miles on these roads, the streets lost their signs. We thought that only people who know where they are going, or who belong here, are welcomed. We realized that we had probably gone too far and turned into a cul de sac street to come out on a highway at a traffic light and retrace our steps. At the intersection, to our great good fortune, a police car was stopped at the red light while we made the turn on green. Hurray. We pulled over, put on our blinkers, and stuck my hand out the window to wave. Nice officer. He didn't know if I was in trouble or just drying my fingernail polish, but he stopped and came over to the car. We told him our predicament. He said he was not surprised that we could not find the street to turn on because it is not marked. "Do you happen to be going that way?" I asked. He nodded. "Could we please follow you?" Again a nod. And when we got to the street to turn on, he motioned for us to turn, waited to see that we had done it, and left. What a wonderful service he provied us.

We told the assembled about our police escort, and their question was "Did he turn on his siren?" I hope they were joking.

The extravagant party had more food than anyone could imagine; a ten piece band with singers, one of whom had been on American Idol; three dancers to encourage the party goers to dance on the floor; an energetic DJ who kept the 90 youngsters, and the hundreds of adults engrossed. Edgar and I even danced a little when they played oldies music for us old guys (but not Moon River). Dinner was preceded by hors doeuvres that ranged from crudites to hot potato pancakes with sour cream and lox to bowls of fresh fruit, and so on.

We are usually in bed before 9:00 but we enjoyed the party so much that we didn't leave until after eleven. Getting back to the hotel presented itself as an ordeal but we received outstanding directions and made the trip without one wrong turn.

The weather forecast threatened possible rain on Sunday afternoon, so we left Baltimore for Bala Cynwyd around ten o'clock in the morning, and arrived home safe and sound. Our gas mileage in our 2009 Nissan Altima was 30.5 mpg. We had a great time and are looking forward to more and more parties, only for happy occasions.