Out with the old…2019 is Gonna Rock!

Happy New Year!

Like a semi truck loaded with steel barreling downhill on the Pennsylvania Turnpike in a blinding snow storm with no exits (I was in this predicament once, only in a car with the steel trucks on my tail)…2019 is coming straight at us and it’s going to be a great year!


2018 was a pretty good year for me. I can’t put a pinpoint on exactly why except that I feel pretty good going into the new year.

Last year was one of ups and downs, like everybody else. But the ups outweighed the downs, for sure.

I pretty much worked my ass off again in 2018. Just about every holiday, just about every big news story. It’s vastly interesting and downright fun being in the news game these days, as you can well imagine. I’ve enjoyed getting much better at my writing and editing to the point where I’m finally really confident and comfortable doing what I’ve been working toward my whole career. That’s a very fulfilling feeling.


Me at the NYSE

For the first four months of 2018 I worked very early mornings producing live shots for our CBS MoneyWatch segment from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. It really was one of the highlights of my year. I would arrive at the NYSE at 1:45am. The only person on the trading floor. It was a surreal experience and a lot of fun and an experience I will never, ever forget.


The trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange before the traders arrive

I laugh a little about this experience. When I was a senior in high school, when the NYSE still gave tours, I remember wondering why in the world my father would make us go there. Now that I am really interested in financial news and do some trading on my own, it was a complete thrill to walk on that trading floor at 11 Wall Street.

I’ve had endless debates with people about a variety of topics. Some of them were well thought out and pleasant, if not challenging. Others, were, well, not so nice.

Living at the beach — or should I say — ON the beach has been the experience of a lifetime. Imagine the sound of waves waking you up and lulling you to sleep at night. The sea air is cleansing and fresh. My windows stay open year-round, thanks to a building super with his finger far away from the thermostat. The sound of the sea birds is also such a pleasant sensation.


This is the view from my window

It’s been wonderful reconnecting with old friends from just about every part of the country.

I spent part of the year banging my cymbals (hard as I could) with the New York Skyliners Alumni Drum and Bugle Corps. I had to curtail a lot of my activity due to work, but had a pretty enjoyable time when I was able to participate. There is nothing, NOTHING better in the world to reduce stress than to crash the living Hell out of those cymbals.


My good friend Barbara Rogers and I marched in the Hudson, NY Flag Day Parade in June

I’ve done a little bit of traveling around the US this year: to Florida (of course), back home to Wisconsin and Illinois and Michigan. My sister and I visited our childhood homes and it was a great excursion down memory lane. We also took a neat trip to Quebec City and Montreal and Salem, Massachusetts. I spent a week working at our Los Angeles office and had a really great time. And I spent a bit of time touring around my own adopted hometown of New York City.


My sister Orry in Quebec City. We had a great time exploring this awesome city

I can’t begin to tell you how much I LOVE NEW YORK. But most of you already knew that. Someone recently told me that living in NYC is like a marriage. After seven years you’re either in…or you’re out. I’m definitely IN.

I’ve made it a point to weed out the toxic people in my life. It astounds me how people want to argue about everything anymore. Life is way too short to put up with crap from anybody and I choose to never do it again. Some of the people were probably surprised I’d taken that step. But at this point I really don’t care. I’m selfishly taking care of ME first.

On the downside, my health has gone downhill a bit — nothing that can’t be fixed and something I’m going to focus on A LOT this year.

I’ve also veered away from my hobbies of writing, painting and photography. I think I need to give up running for the sake of my knees. I vow to make more time for creative endeavors and FUN.


As we enter 2019, I’m thankful for what I have and I’m looking forward to making a major decision that will affect my future, possibly the rest of my life — more on that later.


I don’t really have specific New Year’s resolutions except to eat better, exercise more, connect more, work less, have more fun, wean myself AWAY from social media. (My iPhone tells me how much I’m online…and it’s way too much.)

My sister and I have set a longer-term goal: hiking the Appalachian Trail together. We’re not sure when we’re going to do it, but we’re working toward it now. Getting the gear, training the body, taking some longer section hikes. It’s going to be a life-changing effort and we’re both up to the task.

I wish you and yours a rockin’ new 2019, a year filled with peace, happiness, good health and good vibes.


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Just a little note from your “enemy.”

So you heard that four journalists and a sales associate were gunned down on Thursday at The Capital Gazette Newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland.

A man armed with a shotgun stormed an office building and opened fire into the paper’s newsroom in the middle of the afternoon, sending people running in fear, diving under their desks and praying for their lives.

The man who’s accused of this horrible crime had a vendetta against the paper for printing a story about him years earlier. He wrote about his rage against the paper and the reporter who wrote the story on social media quite frequently leading up to the attack.

As a result of his anger and hatred, five people who got up to go to work to do their jobs — just like you do — are dead. Their families, friends and colleagues (their second families) are now left with a huge void.

It’s senseless. It’s sad. And it’s an attack on the free press — yes I said free, please reread your Constitution. The section listed as “First Amendment.”

But it’s not the only attack, as you well know. As a journalist, I’ve been labeled an “enemy” of the people. I’m accused of producing “fake news.” So says the leader of the free world, who regularly uses his platform to discredit, malign and vilify journalists. And the message, unfortunately, reaches vast numbers of people who agree and emulate this behavior.

I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had defending my job and profession with people — even family members — who I thought I knew well, only to be scolded, ridiculed and criticized about how I / we “slant the news,” “hide or alter the facts,” “make things up.”

As a professional, I grumble mostly to myself, sometimes to my close friends and family and shrug it off.

I am just one of the hundreds of thousands of journalists who gets up every day to work every imaginable shift under the sun and the moon. Sometimes three different shifts within the same week. On most holidays. In every form of weather you can imagine. Just to produce news, to bring you the truth. To hold the powerful accountable. To relay information that matters to you.

Journalists are not your enemies. We are your sisters and brothers, daughters and sons, moms and dads, friends and neighbors. We, too, are the people. We work at tiny weekly newspapers, big city dailies, rinky-dink radio stations, local TV affiliates, major networks. No matter what our venue, our work is important and you rely on us — whether you realize it or not.

Just for a minute: imagine only one day with a complete news blackout. What would you do?

When big news breaks — such as a terrorist attack, mass shooting, natural disaster, chemical attack or plane crash — we witness and report about things we should never have to see. Ever gotten to the scene of a “floater” recovery? The stench. The visual of a bloated corpse being carefully lifted out of a river so as to keep the limbs attached? Or how about a horrific accident where babies are thrown through windshields?

We often become so engrossed in producing, reporting and distributing the product — getting it out to you — that we have little time to process the horrific events we cover on a daily basis — until we’re driving home. Usually alone. Trying to get to sleep at night. Endeavoring to carry on like everyone else. Some become desensitized.

I remember 9-11. I was a new news director (just three months on the job). When we weren’t in network coverage, we blanketed our market, localizing the story. From the time the attacks happened until days later, continuous coverage. On that first night I got home at 3am, sat down and watched Dan Rather for the first time all day and took in enormity of the attack. Then I lost it. All alone.

Journalists are nomads, picking up and moving to wherever the story or job takes us. Many of us don’t sleep well. Don’t play well (we’re always checking in to see what’s going on, even while on vacation). Don’t eat well. Don’t have great personal relationships because our job takes us away. Calls us in at a moment’s notice. News doesn’t take holidays. News doesn’t care if your Easter dinner (in the old days because nothing was open on holidays) is Cheetos and Mountain Dew. News doesn’t care if you really wanted to attend an event or participate in a class or join a regularly scheduled sports team or club activity.

Our best friends are often our colleagues because they “get” us. We share the good times and the bad and too many holidays. We eat too many donuts. A LOT of “election night” pizza. We slam down our lunches at our desks while we write or edit or in the live truck as we’re heading to whatever news story is breaking.

Many (myself included) have attention spans that come in increments of :30 seconds, 1-minute and 1:30. We live and die by deadlines and slam against them all the time.

We understand all of this. And we do it because we love it. We love to dig for the truth, find the stories, tell them. To witness and record history. It’s not for the fame. It’s not for the money. Some still earn crappy salaries. I started at The Saginaw News as a young — still in high school — editorial assistant answering phones, writing wedding and engagement announcements and the occasional feature story for minimum wage. I was on Cloud 9. I moved over to a local radio station for $100 a week covering city council, school board and county commission meetings. I graduated to $12,000 a year — well below the poverty line — for the “glamorous” world of local TV News. Worked my way up to the network level. Why? Because it’s in my blood. I knew it way back in the fourth grade when a poem I wrote was actually PUBLISHED in The Flint Journal.

We grieve for our heartbroken colleagues at The Capital Gazette. And the journalists who are determined to carry on, despite the horrific loss of their friends and co-workers. We pray for our co-workers’ safe return when they’re sent into dangerous situations. An attack on any of us is an attack on all of us.

We persist because the truth matters. Journalism matters. This is our mission. This is our passion. And we will not be silenced, will not be stopped.

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My Stroll through Grey Gardens

It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. A chance to wander through Long Island’s fabled Grey Gardens and maybe even take a piece of it with me.

Last weekend, author Sally Quinn, the soon-to-be former owner Grey Gardens, held an estate sale. She was selling off stuff she no longer wanted plus some iconic items that were labeled as “Original Grey Gardens“…items owned by Edith “Big Edie” Ewing Bouvier Beale and her daughter “Little Edie.”

Quinn recently sold the estate to an undisclosed buyer for between $17-$19 million. She and her late husband Ben Bradlee — the former Executive Editor of the Washington Post — liked to visit Grey Gardens every summer for just the month of August. Bradlee passed away in 2014. Quinn felt the place wasn’t the same without him and decided to move on.

In case you don’t know the astonishing and terribly tragic story of Grey Gardens, the Edies were the co-dependent and reclusive mother and daughter, aunt and cousin, of the late Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis. (Big Edie was the sister of Jackie’s father, Black Jack Bouvier).

The Beale family owned the mansion from 1923 to 1979 until Little Edie sold the property to Bradlee and Quinn. (Big Edie died in 1977, Little Edie lived alone at Grey Gardens for another two years. She eventually moved to Florida, Montreal and back to Florida before she died in 2002 at the age of 84).

The couple bought the place for $220,000 with the stipulation that Grey Gardens was not to be torn down.

Bradlee and Quinn bought a mess. Structurally, the Beales had let the place go to ruin. Cats, raccoons and other animals took up residence inside the mansion along with the eccentric Edies. There were open holes in the roof. The beautiful walled garden was a tangled, overgrown, neglected disaster. As little Edie once put it, “a sea of leaves.”

Bradlee told The New York Times that he wasn’t sure he wanted to buy the place, that there were 52 dead cats inside and that funerals had to be planned for each one of them. Quinn later said it would have been easier to demolish Grey Gardens and start over.

Quinn said she had to tear most of the wood out  — a lot of it was rotted — to remove the cat smell from the house. (Strangely, that’s the first question a lot of people asked when they heard I’d gone inside: “Is the cat smell gone?” The answer, yes.)

The Beales were New York socialites who summered at Grey Gardens.  After a life of privilege and glamour, their existence had deteriorated to one of isolation and squalor after Big Edie’s husband, Phelan Beale, left her in 1934 and eventually divorced her in 1946. Phelan, an attorney, fell on hard times in the years following the great stock market crash of 1929.  He substantially reduced Big Edie’s allowance. Little Edie was hoping to make it big as a performer in York City. She abandoned her dreams in 1952 when she was summoned to live with her mother. The Edies ended up sharing the home for nearly a half century.

The plight of the women made headlines in 1972 when Suffolk County health inspectors threatened to remove them from their abhorrent conditions. There was no working plumbing or running water. At that point, Kennedy Onassis and her sister Lee Radziwill paid for repairs and to have years of accumulated trash hauled away. But once Jackie O had the place cleaned up, the Edies allowed conditions to revert to a mess again.

Albert and David Maysles produced the documentary “Grey Gardens” in 1975 about the women and their lives at the estate. The chronicle shined light on the story that lived within those walls. They followed up with the lesser-known “The Beales of Grey Gardens,” which consisted of material that didn’t make it into the original documentary. Drew Barrymore recreated the role of Little Edie and Jessica Lange played Big Edie in the Hollywood movie. There was also a Broadway play.

While to outsiders it looks as though the women were living a horrible life, watching the Maysles’ documentary,  I got the impression that they were happy and comfortable enough to be themselves with abandon. That’s something few people in polite society are ever allowed to do. Despite that, Little Edie talked through the whole film about how all she wanted to do is escape Grey Gardens and lamented all of her missed opportunities. The documentary is a fascinating, yet devastating true story of love, devotion, yearning, loss and mental illness.

I’ve always been fascinated with Grey Gardens since first seeing the Maysles’ documentary. As a journalist, I was also interested in Ben Bradlee. In fact, I produced his obituary for CBS Newspath. This past summer, my sister and I found the property (you can’t really see it from the road, as hedges pretty much hide it). We drove onto the circular drive and jumped out of the car to nervously snap a few pictures.  I was thrilled at the opportunity a few months later to actually go inside.


I wasn’t alone. The sale started on a Friday. I heard about it late that night and decided to make the trip out to East Hampton very early Saturday morning. I was #7 inside, as the auction company allowed groups of 40 at a time to go in. People lined up for about a half block waiting for a chance to take a peek and maybe grab a souvenir. But unfortunately, the place was pretty well picked over by Friday evening. Still, I was more interested in seeing the home for myself than buying anything.


All that remained were some kitchen goods, linens, fans, mattresses and other household items. The remaining “Original Grey Gardens” furniture was quite old and faded. Everything was priced to sell, costing between $2 and $700. I ended up with a silver spoon (go figure) and three crystal goblets (could be Original Grey Gardens, but I’ll never know) a few votives and a set of floral coasters. Grand total $14. But again, that’s not why I was there. I came to experience Grey Gardens.

The home is beautiful, a typical Hamptons abode. (If you watch the Food Network’s “Barefoot Contessa” — Grey Gardens is reminiscent of Ina Garten’s home in East Hampton.) It’s solid and huge — the outside view doesn’t do justice to the amount of space inside. There’s extensive woodwork. Bradlee and Quinn did a beautiful job renovating the place without taking away from its original charm and character.

When you first walk in, you see the staircase, where Little Edie appeared in the documentary dancing and waving the American flag. The steps wind upward to a huge open hallway with six bedrooms jutting off from every angle.




That famous staircase


Top of the staircase empties into a large hallway with six bedrooms at various locations.

Among the bedrooms is the the one where the Maysles shot most of their documentary. That was the room where the Edies essentially lived — at least during the six weeks of shooting the documentary. Quinn restored the bedroom to its original shade of yellow. There was a sign on the door indicating many of her guests refused to sleep there because they feared ghosts. Ghosts who presumably liked pate with a slice of lemon, or maybe some boiled corn-on-the-cob chased with a quart of ice cream. Staunch spirits who loved to sing.


The bedroom of Staunch women


This bedroom is in the back, directly over the breakfast room. You see the top of the wrought iron circular staircase here.

There are three more bedrooms — added by Quinn — in the attic. Prior to the renovation, the attic contained many of the pieces of furniture that were sold at the estate sale —  the “Original Grey Gardens” stuff.


Attic bedroom added in renovation – previously home to various critters.

Back down the stairs, as you walk in through the front door — to the right is a huge sitting room / parlor with a big fireplace. Large windows overlook the patio. That room leads to a spacious and beautiful glassed-in solarium that contains a wet bar and overlooks the famous walled garden.


The large sitting room / parlor. The Bradlees added the floor-to-ceiling bookcases.



The gorgeous solarium.

In the opposite direction on the other side of the stairway and foyer, there’s a big dining room with a fireplace leading to a hallway into the kitchen, which is HUGE. Modern fixtures now adorn the space. The day I was there, furniture was situated to resemble a small sitting room with a sofa and two love seats and chairs right in the middle with plenty of room to spare in the kitchen. I’ve seen photographs of this same space when Quinn and Bradlee lived there and they also used this space as sort of a lounge.


Big dining room, immediately to left of staircase as you walk in.


Huge kitchen, the few pieces of stuff still left for sale following Friday’s big run on merchandise.


Sitting area within the kitchen, looking in opposite direction from previous photo.

Continuing through the kitchen there’s a breakfast room, which has a white wrought-iron spiral staircase leading up to one of the bedrooms.


Wrought iron staircase in breakfast room/office leading to back upstairs bedroom.

The gardens themselves are beautiful, however Long Island recently had its first killing frost so everything was dormant. I took a walk around the yard, passing a beautiful little gazebo with a thatched roof.  Outside this lovely space is the grave of “Spot Beale,” a beloved family dog that died in 1942.


Wooden gate leading into walled garden.


Thatched roof gazebo type room.


There are concrete benches situated around the garden along with an enclosed pergola and sitting area against the back wall.  The grey concrete for the wall was imported from Spain and runs around the perimeter — hence “Grey Gardens.”  In the distance, you can hear the waves rolling in at Georgica Beach. I can only imagine how lovely this wonderful, peaceful place looks and feels when it’s in full bloom.

There’s also a Har-Tru (similar to green clay) tennis court and a big Gunite swimming pool that Bradlee and Quinn added to the property.

I spent about an hour and a half inside the home and gardens. The beautiful thing was that the company administering the sale was generous about letting people wander and get the feel of the place without rushing anyone out. The way it worked, you came in and had free run of the house and gardens. The caveat was anything you wanted to buy you had to haul around with you. If you left for any reason and wanted to come back inside, you had to get back in line. I talked with people who were so excited just to be there as they walked around with their treasures and took photographs. Most were discussing the Beales as they marveled at the restoration and wondered what the Edies would have thought of all of us traipsing through their sacred sanctuary.


The weather was overcast and dreary the day I went to Grey Gardens. I wondered if the moody weather was a foreshadowing of the estate’s future. It’s not known if Quinn sold the mansion with the same stipulation — not to tear it down — as when she bought it. I hope the new owners leave this piece of history intact. The estate is on prime property, about a block away from the ocean and beach.


View of the mansion from the garden.

A security guard working the sale said it was his understanding that Grey Gardens’ new owners want nothing to do with the story once they take over the property. So I’m figuring my little field trip really was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

I’m really glad I went. I wish my sister had been able to go with me.


— note: All of the photographs are mine, along with the November 18 video of the gardens.  LF





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Dear 2016: Please go gently into that good night.

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await another voice. And to make an end is to make a beginning.” — T.S. Eliot

2016 was a very strange year.

If I had to rate it according to the senses, I’d say that:

  • It was the color of oozy swamp muck: dark brown/black/green. Yucky.
  • It stank like swamp muck: pungent in a bad, biting way.
  • It sounded like a high pitch whine, a cross between a dentist’s drill and elephants on a rampage.
  • It felt like static electricity: clingy, uneasy, unsettled.
  • It tasted bitter. I won’t say swamp muck, because I’ve never eaten any, at least not so far. It tasted like bitters, the kind you put into cocktails.

In short, 2016 was toxic. In so many ways.

The election and all the months leading up to and following it, for starters, contributed to my overall bad feeling: On social media, where the toxicity reached epic levels and in real life, where people continue to this day to be snarky, nasty and mean. Terrible losers, horrible winners. Where have our manners gone? There are a lot of  people for whom I just no longer feel any affection. It has nothing to do with who anybody voted for…it has everything to do with peoples’ reaction to others. So many have exposed who they really are and what a disappointment! These folks no longer lurk in the shadows. They let it all out via social media and I’m glad that I finally can see them for who they are, not who they presume to be.

I specifically never said for whom I voted. Why set off off half of my friends and relatives? Why subject myself to nastiness? I don’t need it.

“Fill your bowl to the brim
and it will spill.
Keep sharpening your knife
and it will blunt.

Chase after money and security
and your heart will never unclench.

Care about people’s approval
and you will be their prisoner.

Do your work, then step back.
The only path to serenity.”

The Tao Te Ching

Technology has made America mean. People are only too ready with their smartphones to shame someone on social media if they catch them doing something inappropriate. Then again, people are doing way too many inappropriate things, thinking they can just get away with it.

Technology has also made people lazy, distracted, rude and inattentive. I’m scared on the road these days. Too many are texting or chatting while they should be driving or walking.

I didn’t like 2016 for other reasons. I know I’m not alone here.

People all around me felt it was okay to constantly complain…about virtually everything. I do understand to a point. It’s been a terrible and stressful year for many. I’ll admit, I’ve done my fair share of it myself. But after having listened to so much of it over the past year, I’ve done my best to curtail my own ranting. I think people are so used to complaining they don’t hear themselves doing it. Until someone tells them…and then they get quite nasty about it.


I lost way too many of my friends to early death: Sam Merrill and Chris Steed Reynolds, my my coworker Dick Rinehart, just to name a few. Men taken away from us much too soon.

My personal health has gone a little downhill. The fault is all my own and I’m working hard to turn it around. In my own defense, I had a crazy year, a crazy work schedule, food around me all the time, a lot of stress and no time for much fun, information overload. Truth be told, I don’t think I’ve been the same since before I contracted Hep A during a trip to Latin America in 2015.


I did it before (4 times, actually)…I can do it again.

There were some good things that happened this year. Some of the toxic people in my life have moved on, allowing the sun to shine over me again. Bravo! One toxic terrorist in particular. Thank God. Karma does sometimes come through.

And…there were few dull moments. For sure!

I moved to the beach, my haven, my sanctuary, my favorite place. Nothing like salty sea air and the constant sound of the tide to lift me.beach

I met a lot of really great people in the Bridgemen Drum and Bugle Corps. and got to perform before a big audience in Indianapolis. I took up and learned how to play the cymbals (yes, it’s a whole lot more than banging, clanging and crashing). And now I have another new family, the New York Skyliners, with whom I’ll perform this coming year. I get such joy out of playing music in an ensemble. It’s the ultimate way to live in the moment…which really is the only way to live.13116262_10207406428973795_3375127975063111896_o


Bridgemen 2016 Cymbals

Overall I am healthy, I have a great job and people who matter to me nearby.

I look forward to 2017…but I have a feeling  it’s going to strange in its own way.

I don’t have a lot planned except for the usual resolutions: become more physically fit, run and train for a half marathon, paint, play music, write, produce and edit better, learn a new language, try to separate myself from social media in favor of real life face-to-face contact.


I’m also going to work harder to accentuate the positive. To walk on the sunny side of the street. To stay hopeful.  To take more pictures. To dance more.


One of my favorite pix from 2016 – boy with dog and ice cream in Central Park

Cheers to all of us…for a HAPPY new year. And as for you, 2016, I’d love to give you the finger and tell you to f-off.

Instead, I’ll ask you to please go gently into that good night.


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Fling your mashed potatoes…like monkeys fling their, um, you know…

So it’s Thanksgiving and half of the country is effing stupid. The other half is dead-on righteous, right? Or self righteous? Depends on your point of view. Feels like all or nothing. Blue…or….red.

That’s the impression I get from reading social media (which I vow to stop doing because it alternately makes me sad and angry) and listening to conversations on buses, on the street, at the gas station, etc.

Now that the bitterly fought election is over, the winners are gloating and the losers are self-righteously indignant. We’ve entered the equally nasty “Aftermath Zone.” And all of the issues that have been argued to death will be hashed out again at your Thanksgiving dinner. With the people you claim you love. But who voted the wrong way, in your estimation. Boundaries and politeness be damned! This is family! We can say what we want! 

Good luck with that.fangs

I won’t be surprised if we hear police have been called to break up a lot of family feuds this year. We’ll probably even hear of a few that turned violent.

I’ve purposely stayed out of most of the political fray, given my occupation. Plus it all just becomes nasty noise after awhile. Nobody’s changing anybody’s opinion about this election. I know it and you know it.  And yet people dig their heels in and gird their loins for battle. People yell at each other. Friends suddenly find nothing in common with each other. “Defriending” (not even a real word, by the way) runs amok on Facebook. Feelings are hurt. Family members wonder how they were born into such a group. Some question whether they were adopted because, really, there’s no way these are “my people.”

But maybe everybody should reconsider taking a time out. Even if  it’s only for that hour that we sit together stuffing ourselves at the turkey table. Or set a timer for finger-pointing, scolding, admonishing and chastising. Then stop. Just stop when that timer goes “ding.” For your own good.

There’s a horn-of-plenty filled with anxiety, ill feelings and hate on this Thanksgiving — the day we’re supposedly counting our blessings and listing what we are thankful for.

But maybe that’s just what we should do. If you have a roof over your head and a nice dinner today, you’re better off than more than eighty percent (80%) of the people in the world.

And consider this: just because you may have to endure this holiday with people who you may not see eye-to-eye with…it’s highly unlikely you’re having the worst Thanksgiving of your life — like the family and fiancee of Officer Collin Rose of the Wayne State University Department of Public Safety. The 29-year-old was gunned down this week, killed in the line of duty, for just doing his job. Or what about the people in Chattanooga? Six families lost their beloved children in a horrific bus crash this week. Several more families will spend Thanksgiving at their children’s hospital bedside, praying they make it.

So, yeah, is Uncle-what’s-his-name really an effing idiot?  The same uncle you adored as a child? Just because he voted for Donald Trump (or Hillary Clinton)? That “racist” asking you to please pass the stuffing could be your brother or sister. The one you shared a room with as kids, who you played hide-and-seek with. That a-hole Clinton-or-Trump-voter who fell asleep on the sofa while you were watching the football game together could be your cousin who you loved to go on adventures with when you were kids. That uninformed stupid nitwit who you called your best friend for decades voted for, in your opinion, the wrong person. But…that fool you thought you knew is still the same person.

Deal with it. Move forward. Or don’t, at your own peril.

Is it really appropriate to lay a smack down on your grandma just because she voted for _______.?

Really? On Thanksgiving, for God’s sake?

Technology has emboldened people to exhibit their true colors instead of masking them. Used to be folks lurked in the shadows. Now we have social media. Safety in numbers. I’ve personally gone into “upload” only mode with pretty pictures on my Facebook page. Mostly for my own sanity. I posted something the other night about President-elect Donald Trump sidestepping the media to deliver his own video message. The floodgates opened. It was ugly and brutal. And also enlightening. But I didn’t defriend anyone, nor did I block, unfollow or slam or shame anybody in a public forum. I did try to mediate. It was an exercise in futility.

It seems as though we’ve all lost sight of what’s important. Ask yourself: Is all this screaming and yelling and arguing and belittling really worth it? Is it? And even if you do win that argument, can you actually say you feel good about it?

Maybe…if you really feel like you need to vent, go outside for a nice walk after all that yummy turkey and the fixins’…yell if you need to in your car….maybe sing some opera…and if you fling your mashed potatoes at the Thanksgiving table the way monkeys fling their poo…make sure they’re loaded with gravy.

For maximum drama and effect.

Happy Thanksgiving!

PS: Go Lions!

**thank you John Edgell, if you’re reading. You know why.

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How I arrived at Drum Corps…decades late

When I was a teeny tiny little girl growing up in Rockford, Illinois, I remember being assigned to “play” the sticks in kindergarten. They looked like orange pieces of wooden rebar. I was heartbroken. The sticks were, well, sticks. Dull. Thunk, thunk, thunk. I wanted to play the triangle. It made a better, prettier, more interesting sound.

I got the sticks again in first, second and third grade at St. Bernadette’s. (What was it about me and the sticks?) I didn’t understand it then. I understand it now. Banging those sticks prepared me for playing the cymbals in the Bridgemen Alumni Drum and Bugle Corps decades later.

I was first exposed to drum corps at about the same time. I was four years old. It was the Fourth of July and the Phantom Regiment Drum and Bugle Corps was playing its annual show at Boylan High School in Rockford. I was mesmerized. That wall of music coming straight for me thrilled me. My sister cried through the whole thing. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be on the field performing someday.

I am a member of the Bridgemen Alumni Drum Corps

I am a member of the Bridgemen Alumni Drum Corps

I took up the clarinet in the fourth grade at Myers Elementary in Grand Blanc, Michigan. I didn’t think much about what I wanted to play. The clarinet was just…available. It had been my aunt’s decades earlier. I eventually picked up my mom’s old tenor saxophone in high school and loved playing in the jazz band at Grand Blanc High. Later, after we moved to Saginaw Township, I marched with the sax but played bassoon in concert band. It never crossed my mind to join the percussion section. Not in a million years. I didn’t understand drummers or their complicated techniques. Their music looks strange. I can’t do fractions very well beyond 1/2, 1/4, 3/4. Percussion demands much better.

Some of my music -- I absolutely LOVE every single number we play!

Some of my music — I absolutely LOVE every single number we play!

I briefly dated a guy from the Saginaires Drum and Bugle Corps — a horn player — when we lived in Saginaw. I was excited about possibly joining until my mother threw cold water on that idea. She allowed my brothers to join their cadet corps and I was, again, heartbroken.

My family eventually moved back to Rockford, without me. I stayed in Michigan because I was in college. I also really didn’t want to leave my adopted home state. My brother Tom joined the Phantom Regiment as a cymbal player. Later, my brother Michael joined as a soprano player. They had a blast. My mom went on tour with them one summer. I was envious.

Fast forward to many, many years later. I lived in New York City. Michael moved to Weehawken, NJ and joined the Bridgemen Alumni Drum and Bugle Corps. He had a great time during his first season playing cymbals and urged me to join the following year. I dismissed the idea. I was too busy.

But when he brought it up again, I thought it would be a great way to spend more time with him and to carry on the family tradition of cymbal playing in drum corps. It also would reunite me with one of my greatest joys: playing music in an ensemble. Michael switched to bass drum this season.

My brother Michael and me

My brother Michael and me


Final show in Bayonne 7-23-16

I joined the Bridgemen in November 2015, nervous as ever, as I hadn’t played, let alone read music in many years. It took my brain awhile to adjust to counting the notes again. It took longer to assimilate into the drumline. I had terrible trouble crashing my cymbals at the appropriate time. I had difficulty memorizing the music. I was used to playing a melody, not just randomly crashing two pieces of metal together. There was no music when we had sectionals. Just counting and crashing and somehow having it sync up.  It never made sense to me until about April. I’ve never been that great at counting…but counting is job #1 in the percussion section. And when you make a mistake everybody hears it.

Drumline warmup for our last show in Bayonne, NJ

Drumline warmup for our last show in Bayonne, NJ

2016 Bridgemen percussion section

2016 Bridgemen percussion section

Famed drummer, drum instructor, drum corps guru Dennis DeLucia is our section’s instructor. He explained he had taught a percussion class to non-percussionists and he understood where I was coming from. He took time to pull our cymbal section aside one day to work on the finer points of cymbal playing. I learned more in that 20 minutes than I had in all the previous months of practicing.

My cymbal siblings...Frank, Carolyn and John

My cymbal siblings…Frank, Carolyn and John


My biological sibling -- Michael, who plays bass drum

My biological sibling — Michael, who plays bass drum

Playing the cymbals is not all smash and crash, folks. We sizzle, we ring, we crash, we scrape, we chick, we choke. (I’ve got bruises in the strangest places). I’ve joked that I’ve enjoyed “crashing the hell out of the damn things” after a rough week at work. But if you’re playing the cymbals properly, you’re doing just the opposite of that. There’s technique. There’s finesse. It’s something I work on every time I pick them up.

Bridgemen 2016 Cymbals

Bridgemen 2016 Cymbals

I’ve got the music mostly memorized. I see the sheet music in my mind’s eye as I’m playing and maneuvering. I still mess up. Dennis reminds me “cymbals, you all gotta play together! When one of you crashes when you’re not supposed to, the whole thing sounds bad.” Fellow cymbal player George Hunt calls me “up beat” because that’s sometimes how much I’m off (it’s that darn fractions thing). I’ve been practicing a lot lately, though, to clean that up.

Music and FUN!

Music and FUN!

I’ve had a bit of a growing process into the drum corps culture. It’s like a fraternity. It’s like a family. I’ve made some great friends and I feel joy every time I crash my cymbals and help the bigger group make beautiful music. Talk about living in the moment!

2016 Bridgemen - final season

2016 Bridgemen – final season

This is the Bridgemen’s final season. We wrap a storied 51-year history with a performance on the biggest stage of all: at the DCI World Championships semi-finals on August 13 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. The Bridgemen organization will continue with other various smaller incarnations, but the drum corps will no longer be after August. It saddens me. I regret I got in on the fun so late. There are other alumni corps in the area. I’ll decide later if I will join. I’m really leaning toward it. As I said, the joy I feel when I play music is unmatched by almost everything. Anyone who plays music understands this.

I never even knew alumni corps existed until last year. I’d have joined so much sooner had I been aware. It’s so fun to be a part of something so much bigger than myself and to know I’m making a contribution. I have to thank the Bridgemen for allowing this drum corps rookie to be a part of their organization. It’s been a real honor…and a whole lot of fun…and an experience I will never, ever forget.


***Final performance is at DCI Semi-finals at Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis.







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Sandy Lurks in the Background Three Years Later

Santicipation. The wind is howling. The windows are whistling. Sirens blaring. The sky is grey. Whitecaps dance on the Hudson, the water is blowing toward the harbor at this point. Streets are deserted except for the Yellow cabs and the occasional walker. I did not sleep well.

Sandy still taunts us here on the east coast three years after the now infamous storm roared ashore. Each and every single day.

For many here, life is divided into two parts: Before Sandy and After Sandy.

The calm before the storm on the West Side of Manhattan: the wind has kicked up considerably, the temp has dropped, there’s a mist in the air and people are scurrying home with shopping bags full of groceries. I’m out for the last of my supplies now.

Ready to Run? I thought not at the time.

Ready to Run? I thought not at the time.

Here’s how I was feeling the night before, after I’d gone to the Food Emporium to find empty shelves and long lines:

West side of Manhattan is a Ghost town. Presumably because everybody’s inside preparing french toast. Seriously. No bread. No milk. No eggs. That’s gotta be it, right? Oh yeah, and it’s gotten colder and the wind is starting to howl here a bit, but as I gaze at the mighty Hudson outside my window…it’s still quite calm on the water.

No food. Long lines.

No food. Long lines.

Some of us have minor inconvenience — like we have to use the “old” South Ferry station for the 1 train to catch the Staten Island Ferry. The train that never makes it to the station on time and we constantly and consistently miss the boat by one minute after sprinting from the train through the ferry terminal only to have the glass doors closed in our face. The “new” South Ferry station had opened in 2009. But Sandy’s salty flood waters drowned it and ongoing repairs are likely to take another year or more. That’s minor. Especially when you consider people mourn the people they lost because of Sandy.

Others have lost their homes or are dealing with structural and mold problems on the homes and businesses that were saved. Some are still dealing with their insurance companies or FEMA.

In some areas, Sandy brought us new life, like on Rockaway Beach, where new businesses have replaced the old and there’s a feeling of renewal.

Beached. At Rockaway.

Beached. At Rockaway.

I look back on that scary night three years ago with a certain sense of awe. I was working at CBS, and like covering any big story, there was a feeling of excitement in our newsroom. But we didn’t really have time to take it all in — as what often happens while huge news stories unfold. Instead we dug in and worked the details of the story while we were in the cross hairs of it.

10:08pm: I am glad I am working and don’t have too much time to THINK about what’s facing us other than to react and do my job. If I weren’t I think I’d be freaking out about now.

We watched what seemed like unbelievable pictures pour into our newsroom. The Battery Tunnel submerged. People walking through waist-high water. Boats banging into each other. Fires. It was surreal.

Facebook reminded me this morning of how I was feeling on October 29, 2012. I posted there as I worked to get the story out while tamping down the rising personal fear I was feeling:

5:21pm: Letterman sends audience home, tapes show anyway with Denzel Washington.

5:21pm: AMTRAK suspends all service along NorthEast corridor for Tuesday.

5:35pm: OK. now it’s official: NYC’s Parker Meridien hotel being evacuated due to impending possible danger caused by snapped crane on W. 57th St.

5:51pm: ConEd will shut off power in lower Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn over next several hours. Several NYC bridges will close. Mayor urges everyone to stay inside. Use stairs, not elevators. Stay away from windows.

5:55pm: NYC subway/buses remain out of service through tomorrow morning…so far. Could change depending on storm surge and whether it affects subways. Worst is still yet to come to NYC.

7:08pm: 4 story apartment building collapses in Chelsea section of Manhattan (14th St. at 8th Ave)

7:43pm: Parts of Manhattan losing power. We just had a short outage/surge here. The building “thumped.”

8:07pm: Hiya Sandy:
…Post-tropical cyclone Sandy makes landfall along the coast of southern New Jersey…Summary of 800 PM EDT…0000 UTC…information———————————————-

location…39.4n 74.5w – about 5 mi…10 km SW of Atlantic City New Jersey – about 40 mi…65 km NE of Cape May New Jersey -maximum sustained winds…80 mph..

9:17pm: Water is gushing into lower Manhattan. Serious water. Battery tunnel is flooded.

9:33pm: 5 deaths in NYC attributed to Sandy.

9:44pm: RT @miller_stephen: Andrea Bernstein on @WNYC: Bowling Green 4/5 subway tunnel under 4 feet of water. Others TBD. Cops yelling on megaphones to folks on LES to get back inside to their apartments.

10pm: Queens Midtown tunnel flooded. Mayor asking all cabs and livery drivers to get off the roads.


10:07pm: More than 600,000 without power on Long Island. Mayor Bloomberg urging people to not call 911 unless it’s a real emergency. 5 confirmed deaths in NY state due to Sandy. And the water keeps pouring in.

11:09pm: It’s getting closer. All Nassau County roads (on Long Island) closed per County Executive. Water rushing down 25th street. It’s getting closer.

Done with work for tonight – Now I have to stop and think about reality…so I am heading back “out” into it. Hoping I can find a cab. Hoping I have electricity. Hoping I can sleep in my own bed. I hear there’s lots of water in my neighborhood. If it’s flooded or the power is out, I’m back at work to sleep here, hoping that’s just not the case. It’s been one heck of a day here in New York City. This is a story we’ll be covering for weeks and months to come. Thanks everybody for your kind words. They help. It’s been a scary, busy day.

Clicking my heels three times. Toto greeted me at the door. The lights are on. The elevators are out (ha ha hauled it all up 18 floors, but that’s no big deal considering what others are dealing with). Home to my own bed. Yay. Best of luck to my coworkers doing the hard work in the field Alan Suhonen Randall Pinkston Jane Chick Susan McGinnis Maria Ines Ferre Frank LoBuono Ken Kerbs Stephen Kanicka Phil Doyle Duarte Geraldino Vinita Nair … you guys are our heroes! Stay safe.

Power is out beginning only 9 blocks to my south…so I’m grateful. Mayor Bloomberg says NYC’s 911 was getting 10,000 calls per every half hour earlier tonight. Wow. The worst – the rainy, blowy part – is over. Now the cleanup begins and we have at least one more dangerous high tide to go. It’ll be interesting to see just how bad this all was in the light of day tomorrow.

Of course, we all know what we discovered in the light of that next day. Devastation in many places. Breezy Point was on fire. People were missing. Water was everywhere. And life as we knew it was changed forever. I like to think Sandy helped me become better prepared in the face of disaster. I’m honestly not sure I am.

Rockaway Beach

Rockaway Beach

Three years ago today Sandy roared into our lives to remind us we’re not in charge.




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A Floating Prison on New York Harbor

What a time for my stupid smartphone to run out of battery juice, because unless I have visual proof, you likely won’t believe my ferry ride home last night.

It was an awesome evening. Warm, just a hint of a breeze. An amazing moon — the kind you see on the Internet and are sure they’re Photo-shopped — hung low in the sky. Bright red. A perfect half, looking like a slice of a blood red tangerine right next to the Statue of Liberty. An iconic photo op if one ever existed. Except not for me on this night.

It was just after midnight. I whipped out my phone only to find it had lost its charge. Typical. I’m sure one day I will witness an Earth shattering, history making, amazing news event and I will find that whatever electronic device I have on me is out of battery power. I need Mr. Tesla. Or at least Elon Musk. Or a solar powered battery pack. Something.

Anyhow, back to this magnificent moon. On the ferry. Next to Lady Liberty. Amazing. I nudged the kid sitting next to me. He took off his headphones. He was excited by what I pointed out to him.

THEN…this roly poly guy with bleached red hair plops himself down right there in front of us. Hoists himself onto the ledge. Right in our direct line of sight of the moon. No, we couldn’t move to a better vantage point because the ferry was packed and I wasn’t about to go sit on a stranger’s lap.

The guys two rows back wanted to know what we were looking at. I said, “It’s the moon, take a look,” whereby one of the geniuses told me that it could not be the moon because the moon should be a lot higher in the sky and it shouldn’t be red. I told him the moon was setting (because, Dang it, it was — and it eventually did.)

The headphone kid next to me started to agree with the guy two rows back. He says “You know, it must be Mars because it’s red.”  Huh? Um. No. I told him the day we see Mars that close up is the day we’d all better hide.

So after a bit of discussing all of this, this other guy who’ve I’ve seen before on the boat sidles up to us and tries to sell us his self-published book about his life. No harm there. I’m all for writers and entrepeneurs. But this guy wouldn’t quit. I told him, “sorry, no cash-ola.” Yet he persisted. And persisted. And wouldn’t quit.

THEN, the gentleman who perched himself between my seatmate and the moon started singing. And singing and singing. Like a wounded animal. “I only want to love youuuuu.”

You could practically hear the eyes rolling back in the other passengers’ heads. Then he started praising the Lord, Allelujia (not Hallelujia, mind you). So far this wailing had gone on for a good five minutes.

So before you say I’m judging, really I’m not. I’m all for free speech. I am all for freedom of religion. If you want to praise the Lord, be my guest. Just please don’t do it right in my face when I can’t escape and don’t do it at maximum volume. I am all for having good manners.

I’m thinking to this guy: if you REALLY want to love me, you’ll stop singing. Like right now.

Then we got the message over the PA — garbled a bit through the singing because the kid would not stop. “The ferry couldn’t dock due to a technical problem. Sorry for the inconvenience.”


So there we floated. On New York Harbor. Serenaded by a man whose singing sounded more like an animal trying to chew its foot off to escape a metal trap.

I only want to love youuuuu… Allelujia. Praise God!

For the love of God, please stop singing. Like right now.

The attorney sitting on the other side of me was drinking a Coors out of a paper bag. He said he dreaded finally closing his eyes for the night because he’d hear and see the wailing man.

I only want to love youuuuu… Allelujia. Praise God!

And on we floated.

Apparently the folks in the terminal couldn’t get the pedestrian bridges down to meet the boat.

What is it about this boat? Just today another man was preaching the word of the Lord at the top of his lungs inside the ferry terminal while another guy wearing a New York Mets jersey and leggings was twirling? Yes. Twirling.

I only want to love youuuuu… Allelujia. Praise God!

And on we floated some more. Til they finally decided to just dock the boat and let us all off on the lower level. I mean, what else could they do? Send us back to Manhattan? Make us float around in the harbor all night? I think more than a few of us would have taken our chances and jumped overboard.

Finally we were all off the boat. Many actually ran away from it.

In the end, the delay probably wasn’t as long as it felt. It was just a little painful on the ears.

I was quite glad it was over.

Praise God.


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Getting lost on the side roads

I found myself in Buttzville.

On purpose.

I first got there by mistake when I was making my way back to Michigan a few weeks ago. It was early in the morning and I took a wrong turn in New Jersey because my GPS directed me over the Bayonne Bridge, which is always closed due to construction. I ended up on the Goethals. My GPS was confused. It took me to I-80 via 78 via 287 via 31 via 46.

Through Buttzville.

Buttzville, New Jersey.

Take me to Buttzville!

Take me to Buttzville!

I wonder how often the people who live here get teased. I know I did when I mentioned I not only visited this place but wanted to come back.

BUT…before you laugh, check it out for yourself. I happened to be in the area (that first time, by mistake) very early on a misty, foggy, pretty autumn morning while the little lazy New Jersey towns were still asleep. I didn’t fight the urge to find my way back to the “right” route because it was so peaceful right where I was.

I saw farm stands featuring Shoo-Fly pies, New Jersey tomatoes (yum), pumpkins, mums. Antique stores. Pretty bridges. Rocky brooks. Roads with names like Manukachunk (or Manuka Chunk, depending on which sign you read…I think I’m going to develop a “Manukachunk” cookie). I vowed to go back.

I ventured back this past Saturday. A solo road trip to Buttzville and beyond into nearby Pennsylvania. I wasn’t disappointed.

Buttzville is at the intersection of NJ-31 and US-46 near the Pequest River. I passed through towns called Glen Gardner, Oxford and Hampton. Spruce Run Recreation Area is along this route. I’d love to come back here to go camping.

Stop one: Hot Dog Johnny, where the locals laughed at me for asking what “birch” beer” is; for lamenting I only had $13 in cash for lunch; for asking why people drink straight buttermilk. Excuse me. I’m from New York. I live a sheltered life! Ha ha…but still WHY do people drink straight buttermilk?!

Hot Dog Johnny's. A great place to stop on a back-roads trip.

Hot Dog Johnny. A great place to stop on a back-roads trip.

Yep, people drink straight buttermilk. I can't imagine why though.

Yep, people drink straight buttermilk. I can’t imagine why though.

This man is

This man is “Hot Dog Johnny.”

I needn’t have worried. Lunch came out to a whopping $6.80, which included my two hot dogs — served with onions, mustard and a dill pickle spear, the way the locals like it — great crispy fries and a frosty mug of birch beer, which, to me at least, tastes an awful lot like root beer. I passed on the buttermilk. Maybe next time. No, I didn’t get a T-shirt.

That birch beer was pretty good. The frosty mug made it all the better.

That birch beer was pretty good. The frosty mug made it all the better.

Lots of people were here on this day because it was splendid weather for a road trip.

Next, I headed west, I think (I say I think because I am directionally challenged and I know when I go to Michigan I am heading west) toward the Delaware Water Gap. I’ve always wondered about this place. It’s a national recreation area.

Great little farm market just outside of Buttzville on the way to the Gap.

Great little farm market just outside of Buttzville on the way to the Gap.

Just outside Buttzville, I hit www.marshallsfarmmarket.com/ because it advertised “Shoo Fly” pies. I’ve never had that kind of pie. I was rather disappointed they only sold whole ones, as I wanted to give it a try. But from reading online, I learned its main ingredient is molasses.

As I continued along 46 toward the Gap, I found one of the areas to enter the famed Appalachian Trail. This renowned walking trail extends from Georgia to Maine and I’d love to walk it some day, albeit with years of conditioning to prepare because hiking this trail is not for the faint of heart. A lot of people were here.

The Appalacian Trail near the Delaware Water Gap. This is right off I-80.

The Appalachian Trail near the Delaware Water Gap. This is right off I-80.


The day I was here I noticed all the cool kids had walking sticks. What’s nice about the AT is that you can enter and hike as much or as little as you wish. I did not see any “through hikers” — the ones who hike straight through end to end.


Info center on the trail, the Gap, the local hiking trails. Free coffee, courtesy of the Cub Scouts.

Info center on the trail, the Gap, the local hiking trails. Free coffee, courtesy of the Cub Scouts.

The Kittaninny Point Information Center was closed on this day. But I did learn that there is actually a historic town called “Delaware Water Gap.” It’s off Exit 310 of I-80 just over the border in Pennsylvania. I decided to check it out.

Hobo Chic - a shop that has just about everything...

Hobo Chic – a shop that has just about everything…

It’s a tiny town but so quaint. On the main street in the Gap is this cool shop called Hobo Chic Curious Goods. I immediately traveled back in time to first grade because I saw my red plaid lunch box for sale.

...including an Indy car.

…including an Indy car.

Hobo Chic's nifty bottle collection.

Hobo Chic’s nifty bottle collection.

The Hobo is Chic!

The Hobo is Chic!

I had a nice chat with the owner of Hobo Chic, who said his store grows every year. He said every single person who walks through his doors is immediately transported back to childhood…and that most everyone gets this dreamy look on their face. There was SO much cool stuff. But all that browsing got me hungry. So…

The Village Farmer

The Village Farmer

…I ended up here at the The Village Farmer — a neat farm stand down the street with the usual cool stuff, like pies, jellies, knick knacks and produce. They were having a barbecue. I can’t even begin to tell you how good it smelled. The scent of roasting BBQ, burning leaves, camp fires, baking apple pies. Seriously.

One of their claims to fame is the “True Love” special. The pairing of a hot dog and a slice of homemade apple pie for $2.95.

True Love Special. Only $2.95.

True Love Special. Only $2.95.

I had half of the special, then some. (I had two hot dogs already. That was enough.)

Of course I did. You would too. Admit it.

Of course I did. You would too. Admit it.

That’s a pumpkin doughnut there, by the way.

This nattily attired young man served up my special. I have the impression he's not dressed for Halloween, either.

This nattily attired young man served up my special. I have the impression he’s not dressed for Halloween, either.

The pie was excellent. So was that pumpkin doughnut. They also have other wonderful pastries and homemade pies in a variety of flavors, including pumpkin, chocolate cream and lemon meringue. I also wanted to try one of their hot pot pies. This place really is a “must stop” if you find yourself in the town of Delaware Water Gap.

An abandoned bridge of Warren County, NJ.

An abandoned bridge in Warren County, NJ.

I took my time making my way back to NYC from the Gap along 46 — stopping off in “New Jersey’s Best Kept Secret” — the town of Belvedere, where I saw a convent — all the way into Denville then onto the Interstate. Before I reached the hustle and bustle of suburban surroundings I passed through the towns of Great Meadows, Hackettstown, Budd Lake, Rockaway, Mine Hill, Kenvil and Dover. Each had its own character. Lots of neat little restaurants, shops and ice cream places, too. The nice thing about this little jaunt is that the final destination was not more than two hours away from New York City, yet I felt like I was a million miles away.

I think New Jersey gets a bad rap. Parts of the “Garden State” are amazing. Too many people only know Jersey as the grimy, stinky, industrial crime ridden place they see on TV.

It was a splendid day to hit the road. I think I get my love of road tripping from my Dad, who always finds an excuse or a shortcut through the back roads. Granted, many of these side trips happened because we were lost, although my Dad would never admit it. But somehow they were always enjoyable because you never knew what you’d see or find…or where you’d end up.

I’m glad I inherited this sense of wanderlust. My Dad comes from a small town, so maybe he was always looking for something more interesting. I know I’m never alone out there. There are always nice people along the way. Plus, I really enjoy my own company.

Next trip, next semi-local adventure, I probably will explore the back roads in the Hudson Valley…or take a day trip to Philly via New Hope, PA…or wherever the road leads me.

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The Love Boat on New York Harbor

Love makes an appearance in the oddest of places.

She wore a black and white polka dot dress.  He wore navy blue slacks and a polo shirt, the uniform of the New York City Department of Transportation.  He seemed tall and lean.  She had long black hair.

Were they a couple? My mind wandered.

I found myself observing their romance play out on the midnight ferry to Staten Island one beautiful August night.

On this night, I decided to ride outside, on the back bench of the ferry John F. Kennedy watching the spectacular New York City skyline shrink into the distance. The breeze was warm, the sky was clear and it was, all in all, a splendid night for a boat ride.

Manhattan's beautiful skyline

Manhattan’s beautiful skyline

Leaving the terminal

As I sat on the bench, the woman plopped down next to me with her Smart phone. I figured, “oh, just another tourist taking pictures.” She was aiming toward the ferry slip that we were leaving. Then she waved. I thought, who is she waving to? There’s nobody left, we’re all on the boat. Then I saw. The man in navy blue. The DOT guy waving back. He was in a restricted area, so he was alone.

She took a photograph. He posed with his arms over his head. She took a few more. They waved some more as the boat drifted further and further away and the man became a tiny dot in the light.

He was in the slip on the far left

He was in the slip on the far left

She watched him and waved until it was impossible for them to see each other. Then she texted him and smiled. She gazed at the ferry terminal with a glazed look. I thought, this is what romantic love looks like.

I don’t know why I was caught up in their drama. My mind meandered. Do they really know each other? Was it just a “love at first sight” thing? Are they having an affair? Are they two people who just got used to seeing each other every day at the same time on the commute?

I once watched this great movie with Meryl Streep and Robert DeNiro called “Falling in Love.” It was about two people married to others who found themselves in the throes of romance on the daily commute on the Metro North train into New York City. They ended up falling in love. It was a beautiful movie.

I look for this pair when I’m on the late ferry…and I wonder.



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My NYC Adventures with Dave

It’s with such a heavy heart and complete and stunned disbelief and deep sadness that I have to bid farewell to my good friend Dave Barber. I don’t want to. Because doing so makes me acknowledge that my “pally” is gone. It’s taken me several days and thousands of tears to process all of this. I’m not sure I ever will.

The part that gets me is that he was only 60. He had so much more to offer, so much more to live for. I know he was with friends when he had his medical crisis. I can only hope he was laughing just before it happened. Part of me thinks he was. He was posting on FaceBook that very morning about his trip back “home” to Flint (you can take the boy out of Flint, but you can’t take Flint out of the boy) and how happy and anticipatory he was to see all his old cronies again.

For whatever reason, I really thought Dave would somehow find a way out of his coma and come back to us. He couldn’t. I know he’s in a better place, hopefully singing with Frank Sinatra, eating good food, chasing the ladies, zipping around on a Vespa, catching up with his parents and getting some good beach time.

Davis (Swank’s name for David), our friend Dee (Swank – that’s Dave’s nickname for “Swanky Dee”) and I had agreed sometime back we’d meet at least quarterly, either in New York City or Providence, to tear up the town. Sadly, work and life and crazy schedules got in the way for all of us and we were never able to follow through.

We did it at least twice though. And we made the most of the time we spent together.

Our first adventure took us to night court in New York City: a combination of comedy, tragedy and bizarre reality. I took David and Dee because I knew they’d love the spectacle. I wasn’t wrong. Dave enjoyed himself so much we nearly got arrested for contempt of court because he couldn’t stop laughing, commenting and sneaking in photos.  All major no-no’s in the court of law. The bailiff warned and yelled at him a few times. I figured, though, if we did get busted, there was nobody better than Dave to talk our way out of it.

Dave LOVED night court, so much so we almost became

Dave LOVED night court, so much so we almost became “perps” in contempt of court.

why me

Dave saw this on the bench next to us. Of course, it set him off in a fit of laughter. The bailiff was not pleased.

Of course, Dave, who makes friends with everybody everywhere he went, shucked and jived with the court’s heavily armed guards. He had everybody laughing when I hit the door late, letting them know that his “very important friend and CBS News producer” was now joining his party.

After not getting kicked out of night court (there are miracles in this world, because seriously, we were this close) we made our way to a local bar where Dave immediately made friends with an unusual couple sitting at the next table. The guy claimed he was a very wealthy Long Islander. The woman, we surmised, was his mistress. She went by the name “Lucky.” In true Dave form, he started to basically interrogate them after the guy got boastful and arrogant. We all left as friends when the night was over.

Next morning, we went to church at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  As Dave would say, “you know the joint,” THE St. Pat’s. Dave conducted himself as a complete gentleman. Let’s just say I was a little nervous going in. I mean Dave Barber in church? I could only imagine. I could see he was bursting with pride at simply worshiping there. Church probably wouldn’t have be in the itinerary, except that Swanky Dee sings in the St. Pat’s choir. So we get into our church pew and first things first: Dave whips out his camera phone and starts snapping pictures. Yes, we prayed a little in between, too. As I look back, I’m surprised Dave didn’t try to corner Bishop Dolan for some chitchat (they have similar personalities). I think Fr. Tim would have loved that.

Getting to church was…a trip. I had Dave screaming and yelling in my little red Smart Car the whole way as I wove through NYC traffic to get us to the church on time. You can’t really drive like Mario Andretti in a 3-cylinder Smart Car, but I made my best effort. We made it to church just in time, but not without a lot of passenger-side driving advice (ahem, lectures) and admonishments from Mr. Barber.

Another time, we strolled through Bergdorf Goodman, a place none of us could afford. Yet Dave being Dave engaged himself with the various clerks. Quizzing them about this or that. Asking if certain cologne combinations would make him more attractive to women, etc.  Posing bizarre questions just to see how they’d respond. And I remember lots of laughter. Dee and I just kind of stood back and watched with amused silence.

From there, to the Plaza Hotel, where we dropped in for some hot chocolate and to sort of crash someone’s wedding. What a nice afternoon we had. All three of us were just enjoying being together and hanging out in such beautiful surroundings. Then Dave decided we should start “touring” the premises. So of course, he’s making friends with the staff. Trading business cards, asking a million questions, getting them to sneak us into ballrooms and other places in the hotel that were closed to the public.deeand me

Then we’re off to one of those tourist electronics stores you see all over New York City, mostly near Times Square. Dave immediately engages with the sales clerk about this audio PA system that would allow him to sing at home. He’s crooning full blast in the store, talking a mile a minute, persuading this guy into thinking that he’s got a sure sale. Except he didn’t. But, quite honestly, these few years later, the guy is still probably waiting for Dave to come back.

We capped the evening with dinner at Patsy’s. THE Patsy’s, where Frank Sinatra held court. Dave had a special friendship with the owner, Sal Scognamillo, who is one hell of a chef. (Inserting a recommendation here: DAVE (and of course I) would encourage you to go to Patsy’s when you visit NYC. For the atmosphere, for the food and of course, for Sal and his family. You will NOT be disappointed. Patsy’s is on West 56th Street in NYC). Sal arranged for us to sit at Frank Sinatra’s favorite table. Dave was over the moon about it. Sal, as he always does, treated us very well and we had quite a night there. A several-hours long dinner interrupted by lots of laughter.

David wanted to see New York from high above, so he suggested we go to the top of the Empire State Building. It was his first time there, he was like a little kid. As I recall, the day was full of bright sunshine and a biting cold wind. Still, Dave was thrilled just to be there.

We ended the weekend with me driving Dave to Penn Station where he took the Amtrak home to Providence. We hugged and vowed to keep getting together because every time we did, we had a blast. I’m sorry we didn’t follow through, because hanging out with Dave was absolutely the best fun.

Dinner at Patsy's NYC. From left: Sal Scognamillo, Dave, Me, Dee and Sal's father. Oh what a night!

Dinner at Patsy’s NYC. From left: Sal Scognamillo, Dave, Me, Dee and Sal’s father. Oh what a night!

The guy always showed up dressed to the nines. No matter what the occasion. Calling Dave a snazzy dresser was like admitting Frank Sinatra sang a bit. No matter where we’d go, Dave would show up in a suit and tie and a starched white shirt. Perfect hair (like the Werewolf of London), beautifully manicured nails. The folks at night court thought he was one of the attorneys. I was afraid to encourage him, figuring he’d start to play the role right there in the courtroom to see how much he could get away with. One of the places we went people thought he was famous, seeing how he was dressed and how he carried himself. We played along and Dave ate it up.

I absolutely loved the guy, but it didn’t start out that way.

I knew OF Dave Barber beginning in high school in Grand Blanc when I’d babysit and he hosted some kind of late night public affairs show on Channel 25. I remember watching the show. Then fast forward several years later (I had moved away, then back to the market many years later) there was Dave on WFDF. Interviewing, yelling and challenging people on the radio. He terrified me (and I don’t scare that easily). I thought, “I never want to be on that guy’s bad side.”

But that was Dave. Always questioning, always challenging. He was an instigator extraordinaire and he got me going a time or two. He knew how to push my buttons to get me yelling at him at times. I think he did it just to see if he could. I didn’t know him really until just before I moved to New York in 2004. I ran into him at a few parties and had some nice, respectful conversations. I figured he couldn’t be all THAT bad. Time proved he definitely wasn’t.

Fast forward to 2006 or 2007 and Dave is calling me from Flint asking whether it was hard to go to a new city to start a new job at an advanced age in a place where you didn’t know anybody at all. He was considering a job at WPRO, Providence (and one of the northeast’s) most prolific talk radio stations. I had moved from Flushing, Michigan  to New York City. He was considering a move from Flint to Providence. I assured him it was a good move. He was worried about his age. I told him not to sweat it. If I could pull it off, so could he.

We had a few more heartfelt and emotional phone calls. I remember one specifically where he confided he needed my help and I reminded him I was always there for him. Always.

He took the job. I sent him a “congratulations” card at his new place of work and it apparently floored him because he called the day he got it to profusely thank me for thinking about him and to confide that he was on top of the world and “scared to death” at the same time. He said that he was “just a Flint kid” who didn’t belong with the big boys. I told him he was WAY wrong about that and, again, not to sweat it.

The job didn’t last, but it true Dave fashion, this man bounced back and better than ever into his last job at the Rhode Island legislature.

Always dapper.

Always dapper.

THIS is where he hit his stride, made the big time in his (and our) estimation. Dave told me about  a thousand times how much he absolutely loved his job interviewing the politicians and policymakers of Rhode Island. How much he enjoyed rubbing elbows with the famous folks who strolled through the halls of the state capitol building. Dave, at least as I knew and observed him, was never happier and I’m grateful that he had such loving, respectful and fun coworkers. His coworkers should know (and I’m sure they already do) that he had the utmost respect for them and that he appreciated and deeply loved them. He always talked about how honored he was to be allowed to work with them.

I am grateful to have had the privilege of spending time with Dave and getting to know him as I did. I’m thrilled he introduced me to Dee, who’s also a fellow transplant here in New York and we will always remain friends. All because of Dave.

Every year I’d receive a Christmas card from Dave with the envelope addressed in his exquisite handwriting and a little note. Boy will I miss that, too.

I have a big regret in that I was passing through Providence three weeks ago and I didn’t call him. Again, the schedule didn’t permit it. I figured I’d have a chance to catch up with him later this summer at his beach club at Bonnet Shores. Sadly, that won’t happen and I am deeply sorry about that.

That incident alone makes me reevaluate who I spend my time with and how I will relate to them in the future. Life is short. Dave drove that point home.

I loved Dave because he was so much fun and larger than life. We never had a dull moment together. He called ’em as he saw ’em and you always knew where you stood. Dave also could BS with the best of them. He was funny, gregarious, passionate, intelligent, respectful and just a thoroughly good person inside and out. The man had an enormous heart and soul. I’m glad I got past the intimidation I felt and let the true friendship flood in. I’m a very lucky woman. I wish I had more friends like Dave. True blue ones. The kind where you pick up right where you left off, regardless of your communication in between.

Dave was a character. He was like the goofy big brother I never had. He was a Teddy bear. He was self-deprecating. At times he was terribly insecure.

This Earth was better for having had Dave Barber as part of it.

I will miss him. I already do.

I still can’t believe it.

Thank you for being my friend.

Godspeed David.

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Bittersweet parting…One chapter ends, a new one begins.

Here I am in my tiny apartment in Hell’s Kitchen, getting all weepy about finally moving.

You see, I’ve lived here for nine years. One place, nine years. Leaving is difficult. I know. I stayed here way too long. It always was too easy to not leave. The old velvet handcuffs. I had no compelling reason to go.

I never tire of this view

I never tire of this view

I have never lived in any one spot this long in my life. I got quite attached to my humble little abode. I don’t think I’ve ever simply had time to get attached to anything ever before. Due to the transient nature of my upbringing and, later, my occupation, I’ve never stayed in one place for very long. So nine years is a LONG time.

photo 4

I love the layout of this tiny space that the rental agent assured me was 476 square feet. It seems so much smaller. And, like most people, I’ve acquired a lot of stuff over nine years. I decided three months ago to leave and the move has been looming large and heavy over my head like a big black cloud. It’s almost over.

photo 5

I adore my neighborhood. Hell’s Kitchen was still on the gritty side when I moved in here, nine years ago, on Halloween. Now it’s all gentrified, a dozen high rises have gone up around me, bringing thousands of new people into my neighborhood. It’s definitely not the same place it was when I moved here. But I’ve been fortunate to watch it grow up. On the downside, all of this new building took away my distant and twinkly view of the George Washington Bridge and the cruise port along the Hudson. Still, I never tired of the view.

In case you didn’t know, Hell’s Kitchen was once home of the The Westies, the notorious New York City Irish Gang. “West Side Story” is based on this very neighborhood. So there’s lots of history here. It’s always been known for its tough reputation. Hookers. Drugs. Homeless. Weirdos. There was a grisly murder in the high rise down the street long before I moved in. The guy who coined the “Club Kids” recently got out of prison for chopping up his roomate and leaving him to dissolve in acid in their bathtub during a frenzied, drug crazed crime spree. There was a heroin manufacturing factory in a brownstone a half block away a few years back.

My apartment is 14 short blocks away from work, 20 minutes on foot, including elevators. I love the convenience. I am so spoiled. I am about to become a commuter. Adding at least an hour to each direction of my daily commute. Am I crazy? Maybe.

So many sounds make up this place. Interestingly, I always needed the white noise of a fan to sleep before I moved to New York. Here, I have the sounds of the city to lull me into slumber. I have a hard time sleeping when it’s too quiet.

First, there’s the white noise, the din of the city. Then there are the sirens and car horns and the sounds of boats on the Hudson: everything from cruise ship horn blasts and their muster drills to pleasure and tour boats, water taxis and tugs…the one long and three short blasts of their horns as they back away from their piers into the river. Fleet Week always was centered on the pier closest to me — my Pier 84. I always vowed to take a cruise leaving that port, even so I could just say “I walked here to the cruise ship from home.” I just never got around to it.

The World...right outside my window

The World…right outside my window

One Sunday morning a few years back I was awakened waaay too early to the sound of Oprah Winfrey’s voice bellowing and ricocheting off the high rises. She was doing some kind of event near the Intrepid. I saw Chicago, Lionel Richie and Earth, Wind and Fire perform on the Intrepid. Plus countless fireworks shows that launched there, usually without warning, but always a pleasant surprise. During Super Bowl weekend, the Bud Light Hotel was parked at my dock. I had almost a front row seat for the Foo Fighters concert, from my bed. I actually sang along, the sound was so clear and so loud. (It was a great show).

I’ll also miss the boys next door at FDNY Rescue 1, as they go screaming out of their fire house on runs. It’s always been comforting to have them so near. They’re the best neighbors you could ever have.

I’ll miss the rumble of the Amtrak train as it passed under my building, always wondering about the stories of the travelers on the thousands of trains I’ve watched entering and exiting New York over these last nine years. Yes, the train drove me crazy at times. I used to work the night shift. But every morning at 7:25, that train would stop in its tracks, waiting to roll into Penn Station and would blast its horns. Really loudly. Sometimes, seemingly, loud enough to blast me right out of my bed.

I could hear the roar of the crowds in Times Square from my apartment — I live two blocks away. The city would literally vibrate on New Year’s Eve. I walked over there on New Year’s Eve once, as a regular person and fought the crowds and had an awful time. I went twice as a news producer and had the time of my life. I generally avoid Times Square, unless company wants to see it. It’s too congested, too expensive, too commercial.

Andy's first photo as "Andy" in Times Square

Andy’s first photo as “Andy” in Times Square

Each night around 1:30am, I hear the clip-clop of horses’ hooves. There’s at least one carriage that goes down my street, back home to its nearby barn after a very long day ferrying tourists around Central Park. A sound you just wouldn’t normally associate with urban living.

Hansom cabs in Hell's Kitchen

Hansom cabs in Hell’s Kitchen

I will miss an incredible view of the city’s skyline, especially at night. I have never gotten tired of my view, as you’ve probably gathered over the years from my numerous postings of photos. I’ve seen rainbows and spectacular lightning through these windows. I once witnessed a shooting in a parking lot, where a high rise now stands.

Beauty after the storm

Beauty after the storm

Every year I got a free preview of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade the night before, as the floats traveled up Tenth Avenue to their assembly spot. For a couple of summers I watched the Macy’s Fourth of July fireworks throw my window from the comfort of my sofa.

On nights I couldn’t sleep I’d gaze out the window from my bed and count the yellow taxicabs. I always told myself, once I hit 100 cabs, I should be well on my way to sleep. It usually worked. Not tonight. My last night here.

Other nights I’d watch the jetliners as they lined up, dots in the sky, either approaching Newark on the Jersey side of the Hudson, or I’d simply look up. On certain nights, the flight path to and from LaGuardia Airport goes directly over my building, along the Hudson. The planes fly quite low. Sometimes, I worried, too low. It was fun when I’d fly back to NYC when I could see my apartment roof and sometimes wondered if there’ll ever be a day we could just say “here” and parachute home.

The moon cast its own special glow over Manhattan from my point of view. I’d watch it rise, casting a surreal light over Midtown. On at least three occasions I watched the International Space Station fly over Manhattan under a clear, starry sky.

Lots of interesting things have happened to me over this last chapter, in this apartment, which in the truest sense, has been my haven. My last two precious dogs lived here with me. Their little nose prints still dot their favorite window. I never had the heart to clean those tiny prints off.

Little doggie nose prints. The dogs loved the view, too.

Little doggie nose prints. The dogs loved the view, too.

I was here when Superstorm Sandy hit two years ago. Feels like yesterday. The water rushed up my street, as I am in a flood/evacuation zone. But it didn’t get as far as my building, thankfully. I took my little dog Andy to look at the damage along the Hudson the next morning.  We checked out his dog park, it was okay. (Boy, I’ve missed that place, but since he passed, I can’t bear to go there. So many friends with dogs. Sometimes you know more dogs than people in your neighborhood through the friendships your dogs make). We were most fortunate. Just a few blocks to the south, Manhattan was shrouded in darkness for two weeks. Other places, as you know, were devastated.

I’ve seen TV shows and movies shot on my street. Actors wandering around. Photo shoots with models in front of some of the grittier buildings across the street. The President’s motorcade tore down my street once. Another time we were shut down because of a bomb threat. On September 10th of this year, THOUSANDS of motorcycles screamed down 43rd St. To honor those lost on 9/11. It was quite a site.

Stay inside or risk being on TV!

Stay inside or risk being on TV!

Back in January there was a horrific fire in the  high rise on the corner. One man died.

I witnessed the mighty New York Times move out of its building down my street to its new headquarters.

I’ve seen THREE (!!!???) bowling alleys pop up in my neighborhood, countless wine stores. I guess the new people moving here need to drink and bowl. I’ve watched restaurants and businesses come and go. Neighborhood characters, too. I’ve made quite a few friends in my apartment building.

For a while they shot “Project Runway” in my building. I just learned the other night that Patrick Ewing visits frequently, as he shares custody of his dog with his ex-wife. I’ll miss Ellen, the actress down the hall. She’s lived here longer than I have and she’s always been so nice. I also met a matchmaker who lived here, a medium, an agent for actors and an author. There’s a dog who’s lived down the hall longer than I’ve been here but I’ve never once seen. His owners never, ever take him out (that poor dog). Many of the people who work in this building have become friends who I will surely miss. So many interesting people. Lots of characters I’d see on the street, too. The homeless man who collects returnable bottles. I was startled to see him in another neighborhood once. The school crossing guard, Desiree, who always has a kind word. The man I nicknamed “Batman” because he had this miniature wooden bat he waves around in front of the corner bodega.

I’ve watched probably one hundred businesses turn over on Ninth Avenue over the past nine years. Again, the main reason, as I’ve spoken to business owners: The Rent is too Damn High. Seriously. My friend and former co-worker Matt once told me “you know you’re a real New Yorker when you can walk down a street and point to store fronts and say ‘this used to be…that used to be….'”

I’m going to have to reconfigure my routes to the airports. It was always so easy launching from the Port Authority two blocks away. The “A” train will always be my train. The M-11 is my bus. I have my favorite meat market and vegetable stand. My pizza joint. My Chinese place. The Little Pie Company.

So if it’s so great here, why am I going?

It’s time. Hard as it is. I stayed here way longer than I should have.

The rent is getting ridiculously high. The rent really is too damn high. I don’t know how people can afford to live here anymore. In fact, a new study came out today: NYC’s homeless population in every category — singles, families, children, blacks, whites — is on the rise. I’m not surprised. This city is becoming one of “haves.” I definitely can afford the $575 monthly rent hike, but why should I pay it? Enough is enough. I’m sad the neighborhood is changing so much, too. Change is a part of life. I get that. But this neighborhood is losing its character by the day.

I also haven’t slept too well for a few years due to all of the construction. Relentless jackhammering, yelling, blasting. I remember the day I moved in, I rushed to the warehouse across the street because the lettering on the building said “New York Public Library.” Voracious reader that I am, I was so excited. So I burst through the front door with my library card, only to be turned away. The building was owned by the library, but it was a central depository, meaning they brought books from all over the city to this warehouse, only to be redistributed among the libraries. So many books, yet none I could read. Two years ago they closed the depository and started tearing down walls and adding stories. That old warehouse now will house the new Beacon High School. That means, after all the construction and upheaval: teenagers! Yikes.

Yet another new building goes up in HK.

Yet another new building goes up in HK.

Not sure why I’m so sentimental over this place. I’d tell anyone else who wrote this tome that it’s time to grow up, to move on, to roll with the changes. Or as Taylor Swift would sing “Shake it Off.”

Hell’s Kitchen has a piece of me and I definitely have a piece of it in my heart and my psyche as I move forward. Starting a new chapter, a new adventure, a completely new and outside-my-comfort-zone living situation, a vastly different neighborhood, new people, new things to do, places to see.

Hell's Kitchen: Beautiful in all seasons!

Hell’s Kitchen: Beautiful in all seasons!

So November 1, I hit the reset button on my life in New York.

But for now, here on my very last night in my Hell’s Kitchen, I will listen to the clip-clop of the horses’ hooves as I do now at 1:44am and I count the taxi cabs, as a light mist seems to fall only over West 43rd Street, Hell’s Kitchen, NYC.




Posted in Apartment Living, How to Live in NYC, Manhattan, New York, Personal | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Rent Rant

The rent.

It’s too damn high.

Jimmy McMillan said it first. You remember Jimmy McMillan. He’s the guy who was running for New York governor when, during the 2010 debate, he had a little outburst: “THE RENT IS TOO DAMN HIGH!”

To be sure, that debate was bizarre, to say the least. Among the seven candidates, besides Jimmy, representing, of course “The Rent is Too Damn High Party,” we watched a convicted madam, a former Black Panther, and of course, current governor Andrew Cuomo, who, looking back, had to have been more than amused at the barbs flying back and forth. I must say, I was working that night and I’ve never been so entertained. McMillan has gone on to run for other various political offices. He is currently running for state comptroller, representing, of course, “The Rent is Too Damn High” party.Saturday Night Live did several parody sketches about him and his crusade. He always draws crowds wherever he goes. His mantra is catchy.

Crazy as it seems though, Jimmy McMillan had a point: the rent IS too damn high. I mean really, how can people afford to live in Manhattan anymore?

The rent is SO high that I’m moving. I have no idea where. Pains me to do so. I’ve happily lived in my Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood for nine years. The longest I’ve stayed in the same place ever. That’s saying a lot.

But it’s time to go. Plus, change is good, right?

I was thinking of going anyway. My apartment building owners gave me the nudge I needed to get moving. They’re raising my already-too-high rent by $325 a month for a one-year lease, $525 a month for a two-year lease.  Yeah, you read that correctly. Whoa. Really?

Oh, I can afford this, um, little blip, as my landlord put it. But why should I pay it? To get the same thing for so much more money? No way. I could downsize AND buy a place in Florida or wherever for what I pay in rent. I may just do that.

You’d gasp if you knew how much I shell out a year in rent. Recently a friend of mine from Michigan who has a pretty nice, big spread in Okemos told me he pays less for his mortgage and taxes a month than I pay in rent. Oh the price of living in the big city.

My neighborhood has drastically changed since I moved in. At least a dozen highrises have gone up around me, some obstructing my beautiful view. There’s a new high school under construction across the street. The noise level is ridiculous. Beginning at exactly at 7am, six days a week: banging, hammering, drilling, jackhammering, blasting, yelling. Consistent. Relentless. Deafening. And, for whatever reason, the construction workers have butterfingers. They can’t seem to hold onto their tools. So we hear loud clanging about every ten minutes. Dropped wrenches. Tipped-over dumpsters. Kicked-over buckets. Ugh. Yes, the noise is too damn loud. On top of that, once the school is completed, I’ll have teenagers lurking on my block. No thanks.

I never get tired of this view. I think I'll miss it more than anything else.

I never get tired of this view. I think I’ll miss it more than anything else.

My neighborhood is a changin’…the tourists are getting closer. Before, Hell’s Kitchen was just too far away from Times Square (two big city blocks). But since I’ve moved here, there are lots of new bars and great restaurants. Hence, more tourists.

I know I’ll miss the convenience of “The Kitchen.” My door-to-door-commute-including-elevators is 20 minutes. I’m spoiled. I’ll admit it. But I’m not crazy enough to pay ridiculously high rent anymore. My faucets need to be coated in gold to fetch what my landlord is asking. Ain’t gonna happen.

So…the search begins. And it’s not like searching for an apartment anywhere else. Where you live, you can search the want- pads, drive up to a complex and rent a space. Here, wheeling and dealing is involved. If I  use a broker — they seem to have the best buildings — I’ll pay a fee that feels like extortion — up to 15% of the year’s rent. This amounts to THOUSAND$ of dollars. I’ll have to do a lot of homework, but that’s okay too. It’s a great way to see the city. Do I have the gumption to look at the death notices to see who’s vacating their apartments? I don’t think so. But folks do do that. Do I have the desire to move to New Jersey? No way. This will be an interesting challenge for me and I have to have it figured out by October 1.

I have no idea where my search will take me. Gasp…maybe over a bridge or through a tunnel. A different borough. Yes, I admit it. I have Manhattan snobbery disease. Bad.


But…the rent is too damn high.

PS: the noise is too damn loud.


Posted in Apartment Living, How to Live in NYC, Manhattan, New York, Personal | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Racing to bring up the rear…

I wish I could say I’m jumping for joy after finishing the Manhattan Half Marathon.

Instead, I’m just here to say I finished. Period.


Ok, maybe feeling joy a bit, since I did finish. Don’t get me wrong. I FINISHED!

Ready, I thought, to run.

Ready, I thought, to run.

But, dammit, I know I could have and should have done better.

Brought up the rear — hey, somebody has to do it, right? I wasn’t dead last, there were many behind me. But I was definitely in that last pack of stragglers. I prefer to look at my placement as a community service to the other runners.

I wanted to throw-up for the entire race. I wanted to quit after mile 2. I had to pee through most of the race (note to self: limit the amount of coffee before a major race).

I carried on an interior dialogue that went something like this: “What the Hell am I doing here?” You’re running a half marathon. Why? Because you set a goal. Well, so much for that. I want to quit. Why? You’re not a quitter. Why start being a quitter now? Good point. I don’t quit. I had this conversation with myself for about three and a half hours. Yeah, 3.5 hours. I was getting tired of hearing myself.

1/13th of the way there...little did I realize how hard this would be.

1/13th of the way there…little did I realize how hard this would be.

I couldn’t find my stride. I never did, the whole race. It’s as if my muscles never warmed up. I couldn’t even feel my butt. Imagine a globe and all of Asia disappears. I didn’t feel happy like I did when I was running the Long Island Half Marathon eight months ago. I don’t know why, either.

I questioned my training. Truth be told, I could have been better prepared had I been more conscientious. I found a solid six-week training plan. But I took days off when I shouldn’t have. I got lazy. I paid for it.

Off and running.

Off and running.

After awhile, my internal conversation turned to the physical. My feet hurt. My torso wanted to disconnect from my body. My knees felt like disconnecting from my legs. I was cold. I was restricted in my movement because I probably had on too many layers. I also was carrying a heck of a lot more “junk in the trunk” since my last race. (note to self: empty that $%#@&^* trunk). That extra, um, “baggage” made a big difference — my joints took a major and much heavier pounding this time than the last race.

I'm buried under layers. Four on top, two on bottom. Too much, I guess.

I’m buried under layers. Four on top, two on bottom. Too much, I guess.

Finally I told myself to forget about what’s hurting and to just move forward. So I did. I tried to remember that I was running on a beautiful sunny (but very cold) day in my favorite place in the world to run. And it really was spectacular. Central Park is amazing. But maybe 5 degrees warmer minus the 20-mph wind would have made a difference. Or not. I don’t know.

My favorite place to run.

My favorite place to run.

The volunteers really made it a little easier for those of us who needed an extra push. Cheering all the way. Some spectators held signs  with the phrase “You Can Do It!” and other inspirational messages. Some runners had the phrase “Run Like Hell” emblazoned on the back of their jackets. I trotted behind another woman with my last name for awhile (it was on her shirt).

I cheered my fellow runners.  A group of slow runners that was “praying on it” eventually shuffled past me. A couple of walkers passed me. But it was okay, I was racing against myself, I’d wanted to finish better than I had in the LI Half. When it was evident I wouldn’t, just finishing was all I wanted. By now I was dreaming of a nice fat bagel and a hot bath.

I drank frozen water. I slurped slushy Gatorade. I plodded on. I cursed. I sang. I ran.

I finally had enough as I passed mile marker 13. That, my friends, is where the dam broke. I burst into tears, which froze on my face. Yeah, that freakin’ cold. I  headed for the finish line. Thank God.


The dam burst here.

Except it was gone.

Yes, the finish line was nowhere to be seen.

Gotta hand it to the New York Road Runners — they’re one efficient machine. They tore the whole shebang down. So as I’m running to where I think I should be going, I ask one of the guys loading up the finish line apparatus onto a truck “Where…the Hell…is the finish line?”

He pointed forward. Another guy said “you passed it. here’s your time 3:29:00, tell the people in that van.”

So I did. Officially — based on his watch — 3:29:00, though I was so far back in the pack, I didn’t pass the starting line until six minutes after the front of the pack. So my time was about 3:23:00 (ha ha, huge difference). Doesn’t matter anyway. I finished the race. The guy in the van told me because I completed, I can use the race as a marathon qualifier (as if).

But…no bagels. No bananas. No water. Nothing left at the end of the race. Nothing for the slow pokes, maybe the people who need it the most. Everything was gone, put away.

It’s okay. Run faster next time for the rewards at the end. I know now what I need to do to avoid this kind of disappointment in the future. Train better. Be more serious about it. Try harder. No problem.

But I can say I finished.

Yes, I finished the 2014 Manhattan Half Marathon.

I did it.

And I’m quite happy about that.

See you in May on Long Island.

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Happy Holidays NYC Style: Christmas on Steroids

I swear, the astronauts aboard the International Space Station can probably see Brooklyn, New York. Blazing in all its green, red and tinselly glory.

Clark Griswold, eat your heart out!

Clark Griswold, eat your heart out!

How could they not?

The good folks of Brooklyn celebrate Christmas like no place I’ve ever experienced. You know. New York-style.

I joined a group to take a walking tour of the Dyker Heights section — it’s between Bay Ridge and Bensonhurst — this past weekend.  Others arrived in buses for guided Christmas lights and Cannoli tours. Yes, that’s what we do here.

A spectacular display.

A spectacular display.

I kid you not. And why not?

These Brooklynites put Clark Griswold to shame. In a HUGE way.

I half expected Chevy Chase to emerge from somewhere behind all those glittery lights with a crazed look on his face, dragging miles upon miles of extension cords.

Some even hire professional companies to design, set-up, manage, take-down and store their motifs…to the tune of $30k a season. WHAT?

They do it all...plan, set up, take down, store...

They do it all…plan, set up, take down, store…

Displays range from tasteful and elegant to over-the-top and seizure-inducing. From the simple to the sublime. Something for every taste.

Blinking lights. Even an Eiffel Tower!

Blinking neon lights. Even an Eiffel Tower!

I seriously wonder what the combined wattage is beaming, or should I say BLASTING out of Dyker Heights. These people know how to do Christmas. And then some.

Baby Jesus in the spotlight. Santa is not far away, either.

Baby Jesus in the spotlight. Santa is not far away, either.

I remember as a kid we’d venture out in the car after Christmas dinner with my grandparents to see the pretty Christmas lights in our own neighborhood. Usually in Michigan. Sometimes in Wisconsin. But what we saw then couldn’t hold a candle to this. Wow. It’s like comparing birthday candles to sticks of dynamite.

Apparently Dyker Heights’ holiday-on-overloaded-circuits display got started about three decades ago when a woman decorated her house. Her neighbor tried to out-do her. (Surprise, surprise…) They engaged in that age-old suburban mine-is-better-than-yours warfare. Then others on the block got into the act. And before you knew it, the holiday decorating frenzy spread like, well, electrical current. And today’s modern-day spectacle is quite the sight to behold. Partly because it’s tradition. Partly because there are so many different choices for lighting. Strips. LEDs. Icicles. Traditional bulbs. Spotlights. And mostly because they got the professionals involved.

In fact, the original home where this all started — and is still going strong today — we are told, spends about $3,500 a month in electricity. Merry Christmas Consolidated Edison!

It all started right here, with this house, about 30 years ago. We're told the power bill is $3,500 a month.

It all started right here, with this house, about 30 years ago. We’re told the power bill is $3,500 a month.

The streets this past Saturday — the one right before Christmas — were crowded with hundreds, maybe thousands of people — don’t even try to drive through there — families, singles, people on dates spilled into the streets from the sidewalks. It is a festive atmosphere.  Electrifying. The NYPD directs traffic. It all gets underway right around Thanksgiving and continues until just after the New Year.

They come from near and far...

They come from near and far…

Everybody was on display: Jesus, Mary, Joseph, Santa, nutcrackers, wise men, elves, dancing snowmen, sugarplum fairies, pink nightmares. You name it. We saw it. Themes from religious to whimsical and everything in between. In all of its shimmery, sparkly, highly-illuminated gaudiness. And I use gaudy in the best way possible here. I mean think about it: it’s New York City, where we do everything bigger, better, faster, brighter, flashier. And by God, are we competitive or what?

Jesus, Mary, Joseph and Frosty.

Jesus, Mary, Joseph and Frosty.

Hey Look! It's Ralphie, the "Pink Nightmare!"

Hey Look! It’s Ralphie, the “Pink Nightmare!” from “A Christmas Story.”

Some exhibits are quite "fragile."

Some exhibits are quite “fragile.” Notice the “major prize” is just above the Virgin Mary. It’s all about juxtaposition, people, Juxtaposition!

And some of us got to wondering: what motivates particular displays and specific color schemes? How much planning goes into these elaborate displays? Do we go spiritual or secular? Or do we combine the themes? Is it plotted out on paper? Is it budgeted? Does neighbor trash talk fellow neighbor? And what about the folks who refuse to participate? Do they scoff? Do they feel left out? Do they care? Do they hide? I mean, in a competitive atmosphere like this one, if you were not participating, would you even want to show your face? Huh, Scrooge?

Bright as day and beautiful.

Bright as day and beautiful.

OK, I know other NYC neighborhoods also go all-out like this. One that comes quickly to mind is the Broad Channel neighborhood of Queens. I know there are countless others. But this one? Dyker Heights? It takes the fruitcake. For sure.

This was the "Make A Wish" display, where kids of all ages could sit on Santa's lap.

This was the “Make A Wish” display, where kids of all ages could sit on Santa’s lap.

If you find yourself in our fantastic city during your Christmas vacation, a walking tour of Dyker Heights has to be on your list of things to do and see. You really won’t regret it. Just channel the Griswolds and enjoy yourself as you walk down that holiday road.


***If you go: take the “R” train to 86th Street in Bay Ridge (86th St. and 4th Ave.), proceed across 86th to about 13th Avenue and go around the blocks…85th, 84th, 83rd…and bring your camera. And then plan to hit a pastry shop afterward for some truly wonderful dessert after your beautiful walk. I can’t believe it took me this long to do this…it’s now going to be an annual tradition. And it’s a gorgeous neighborhood.  I think I’ll be coming back for daytime walkabout one of these days soon.

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See Forever…from the Top of the World Trade Center

Look out world, the so-called Yankee Stadium of observation decks is opening in 2015!

That’s what the creators and sponsors of One World Observatory say about the space which will occupy the 100th, 101st and 102nd floors of One World Trade Center —  formerly known as The Freedom Tower — as it soars proudly over New York City.

2013-04-02 08.23.47

And what a place it will be. It offers us a view that hasn’t been seen since September 11, 2001.

I got a chance to go to the media preview back in April to see the plans for construction of this soon-to-be magnificent place to view New York City from a 360-degree radius. Not only that, you can see Jersey, the Ocean and…well, forever, or what seems like forever.

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The perch offers spectacular and breathtaking views of the greatest city in the world. And that’s just what you get when you look out of the huge windows. (Unlike the Empire State Building, this observation deck will be fully enclosed.) Once completed, the three-floor “experience” (which should take at least an hour or two) as the Port Authority touts it, will be a multimedia interactive extravaganza from the second you walk up to the front door until the moment you leave. Everything from the views to the minute-long “Skypod” elevator rides, to the displays about the history of the building and of NYC to the theatrical program to the tour “ambassadors.”

2013-04-02 09.48.06

There also will be restaurants and a gift shop and space for special events. Can you imagine having a wedding or party up there?2013-04-02 08.07.26

The Port Authority calls it “the one and only place to see all of New York.” In fact, Scott Rechler, the Vice Chairman of the Port Authority, calls One World Observatory the Yankee Stadium of observation decks. It can’t get much better than that!

On a clear day...you can see The Bronx!

On a clear day…you can see The Bronx!

Incidentally, the observatory will be run by Legends Hospitality, whose partners include the New York Yankees and the Dallas Cowboys and Checketts Partners Investment Fund.

Ticket prices haven’t been set yet, however we were told they’ll be in line with what similar attractions in the city charge.

100th Floor

100th Floor

As we made our way up to the 100th floor, I got a chance to glance around a bit at the construction going on inside the building. It really is remarkable. And it — the construction — continued through the press conference…in fact the Port Authority officials occasionally referred to the noise, reminding us of all the work that goes on in this building day and night. I don’t know about you, but I’m always fascinated by construction sites and this one surely doesn’t disappoint.

2013-04-02 10.19.28

I’ve watched this spectacular building “grow up” from Ground Zero and it’s been a fascinating process to witness. You can see it from many points in the city as you look down the Avenues heading south. I run past it — in fact, last time I did, I had to stop and just gaze up and marvel at it.

Once completed, One World Trade Center will be the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. It’s already the tallest building in the Big Apple.

2013-04-02 10.33.322013-04-02 10.19.532013-04-02 07.45.45I remember when I was a kid, standing on top of the World Trade Center observation deck on the south tower and seeing NYC on high for the first time ever. It was spectacular. I remember the building gently swayed, a sensation and view I’ll never forget. I got to see that view again today for the first time in decades and I can’t wait to come back.

One World Trade Center rises up...currently at 105 floors.

One World Trade Center rises up…currently at 105 floors.

Someone during the news conference referred to the building as “the most important building in the world.” David Checketts, the chairman and CEO of Legends Hospitality called it “the most significant destination in the world.” The press release referred to it as “a beacon of hope, a monumental icon of renewal and rebirth, an enduring testament to the resilience of the human spirit.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Stunning. Strong. Breathtaking. Soaring. Proud. New York.

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A “late bloomer” comes to life

I feel like a fish out of water, living here in the Southern California desert.

But check out Joe, my Christmas cactus, named after my late grandfather. It’s (he’s?) blooming like mad. For the FIRST TIME in DECADES.


Joe in full bloom

Grandpa Joe died in 1991. I claimed Joe-the-cactus as my own when we were cleaning out grandpa’s home in rural Wisconsin after he passed away. At that time Joe-the-plant was healthy and presumably happy. I moved him to Michigan, where he’d sporadically bloom for a few more years. But just one or two flowers here and there.

Then…nothing. For years. He went dormant on me, in a way.

Granted, this poor plant was likely stressed. We moved from East Lansing to Saginaw to Bay City to Lansing Township to Flushing. Then to the Upper East Side of New York City, to Hell’s Kitchen, NYC, Staten Island and Rockaway Beach (2 apartments). I finally packed poor Joe into my Smart Car for the cross-country voyage to Southern California.


It was a rather funny trip. My little car was packed to the ceiling, bursting with stuff I needed before the movers arrived from the East Coast. For five days and five nights Joe and I traveled the highways and by-ways of America. People would roll their eyes at gas stations. Every night I would take him out of the car and into my hotel room so he didn’t freeze. You should’ve seen the looks I got from the hotel desk people and other guests. I also can’t tell you how many times that poor plant got pieces of him slammed and broken off by the car door.

joe in car

Poor Joe, he got slammed in the car door from NYC to LA

He was the first thing I took out of my car when I arrived at my new apartment. I put him on my little patio and said, “OK, Joe, you’re here now, in your natural desert habitat. I leave it to you to sink or swim.”


Joe is special to me because he’s one of the last living things with a link to my grandfather. Grandpa Joe had a green thumb. He raised all kinds of plants in his back den. He also was one of my favorite people in the world, As a little girl I’d follow him everywhere. I’d sit in his basement workshop for hours watching him create things. I’d sit with him in the den as he yelled at the TV while watching the Cubs. I’d accompany him “to town” to pick up the newspaper or go to the hardware store. I always looked forward to his visits.


The original Joe and Grandma Edith

So after moving to Los Angeles, I continued to diligently water Joe-the-cactus at least once a week because it never rains here.

Imagine my surprise when I returned from NYC over Christmas to find Joe in full, magnificent bloom! I was overjoyed. Especially because I have not re-potted this plant in 28 years.3

I have no idea when Grandpa Joe got him. Joe-the-plant could be in that pot for a half century, for all I know. But I’ve been hesitant to take him from his Wisconsin dirt. God only knows how he’s survived. I’ve jammed a plant spike into the pot twice over the past 28 years. I’m afraid to try to re-pot him for fear of killing him. Maybe he’s getting his nutrients from the various water sources I’ve used.


All I know is I’m grateful he survived our adventure, late bloomer that he is. He certainly was beaten up along the way. I hope he continues to survive here in Southern California, and thrive…much as I’m counting on doing the same, myself. We’ll see, I guess.

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A Tad sad…

It’s the end of an era in New York City. As of early January, stick the fork in it: Tad’s Broiled Steaks is done. It will no longer exist here.


Tad’s, which boasts flame-broiled meats, steaks in specific, has been a staple in the Big Apple since 1960. At one point, there were at least eight locations scattered across the city. I think I’ve eaten at five of them.


So…what’s the big deal? Great question. The meat is…tough and cheap. The words “prime,” “choice” or “select” are not synonymous with Tad’s. Not in a million years. The joint’s design will never see the pages of Architectural Digest. The dining room decor is circa 1975-cheesy kitsch. Battle-worn carpet. Deep red walls displaying pictures of iconic NYC scenes, cheap sticky tables and chairs. Plastic Louis Comfort Tiffany ripoffs dangle from the ceiling. No table service. Fend for yourself. Nothing to write home about. Really.

But it’s that something…that you can’t identify (and maybe you’d be sorry if you did) that makes Tad’s special. The meat tastes really, really good. That flame broiling on that oh-so-old broiler. That grey cloud of grilled meat smoke that smacks you in the face and about knocks you over when you walk through the door. The wild collection of assorted customers from every corner of the Earth. The garlic bread (oh my God!!). The watery iceberg lettuce salad. Add tomatoes for another $1.19 (they raised the price in about 2007 when there was a tomato shortage. They never lowered it back). The baked potato that’s done in a real oven for just a tad too long so the skin is really yummy and the inside is that faint yellow color. The freakin’ LADLES upon ladles of butter all over the steak and the potato. You can also get chicken, fish and pork chops. But why would you?


Tad’s is / was cheap cafeteria food. On red plastic cafeteria trays. With 32-oz. red plastic tumblers of soda, thick white scuffed up oval plates and cheap plastic bowls for the mushy salad. The cheapest, flimsiest cutlery around. It’s wine in little goblets with Saran wrap covering the top. It’s AWESOME AND YUMMY AND, DARE I SAY, SUCCULENT.


Look at the char lines!

I had to visit one last time before the last Tad’s (the one on 50th St. at 7th Ave.) shuts its doors for good on January 5, 2020. Apparently there were 28 across the country at one point. These were big in the days Ponderosa and Bonanza Steak Houses were all the rage.


On the night I was there, earlier this week, some tourists (from God knows where) were in line behind me, asking a for a recommendation. I pointed them toward the $16.99 10-oz. “traditional” steak dinner. I couldn’t even begin to tell you the cut of the meat. They took my recommendation. I watched them gamely wrestle with sinewy, tough, gnarly, grisly meat as they held hands and drank their cheap wine. For whatever reason, for the only time in my life, MY steak was fork-tender. Just a teeny tiny bit of A-1. Used the garlic bread to sop up every molecule of steak juice and butter. Nirvana! A fitting end to my decade and a half of deliciousness.


cheap wine

Cheap Saran-wrapped wine

Poor Tad’s. (Who was Tad, anyway?) One of the last bastions of “Old New York” in Times Square. Rumor has it Tad’s is closing for economic reasons. Gentrification has gutted this city in the most horrible of ways, leaving visible scars. Walk around Times Square or on any other major street or avenue here and you’ll see dust collecting in long-empty storefronts. The rent is just too damn high. And corporate America has pushed the mom and pop establishments into oblivion.

In the grand scheme of iconic steak NYC houses, Tad’s ain’t one of them. Somebody on a “Yelp” review called it “Steak for Dummies.” It’s not Peter Luger. It’s definitely not Old Homestead. It’s a far cry from Wolfgang’s. You won’t find creamed spinach within a mile of this place. Tad’s is the cheapo chophouse for the common man.  I can’t even say what it was I liked best about the place except that I’ll miss it.

And I’m more than a tad sad that it’s shutting down for good.


**note: There is another Tad’s Steaks, supposedly in San Francisco, with different owners. I checked its web page. It’s been down awhile while the SF location allegedly “moves” to new digs. We’ll see.


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“A” good ride…

How strange. I’m sort of considered a tourist in New York City, now that I’ve relocated to Los Angeles.

I purposely did not come back here for nearly ten months after I left because, quite honestly, I didn’t think I’d return to LA. This city pulls me in like a magnet, always has, even when I was a tiny kid.

There’s something about the vibe, the energy here. Yes, NYC is pretty dirty, it’s turning more gentrified every day, there are too many people. The trains are too slow and full of oddballs. But really, there’s no better place on earth, at least to me.


The infamous A-Train at Broad Channel, Queens

Take just last night, Christmas night. I’m on the A-Train on a long ride back into Manhattan, after a pretty amazing Christmas dinner in Broad Channel. I mean, it’s WAY out there. Hopped onto the A, a man starts punching the sliding doors and ranting. I’m thinking, “ok, here we go…” Nothing out of the ordinary. There was a man deeper into the train car keeping watch over me to make sure the ranting whacko didn’t do anything violent to ME. No problem, he jumped off at Howard Beach — only to have two drunk guys jump on and sit next to me.


This guy was yelling, ranting and punching these sliding doors. Maybe Santa screwed him over?

They were plastered and carrying bags of presents and singing Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmas Time.” Turns out they worked at a dollar store where they heard the song 100 times a day. Which they hate, but couldn’t get it out of their heads. They started smoking on the train (BIG no no) and telling me their life story. How they were partners who visited one of their mothers for the first time in seven years, because “Moms” didn’t approve of the lifestyle, but seems to finally be coming around.

They said they “shook her down” for anything that wasn’t nailed down because they needed food and stuff for their apartment. Then they pulled out Dad’s homemade version of Nutcracker. (So far, I’ve seen no Nutcracker sellers this week). Let’s just say the more they drank, the funnier they became. At this point they started handing out cupcakes to everyone around them.

Then “Leonard” hopped onto the train somewhere in Bed-Stuy. He kept smiling at me and after a couple stops started talking to me. Nice man. Turns out he’s recruiting people to work for him in his financial franchise (he gave me his card) and wondered if I knew anybody who was breathing without a lengthy rap sheet who needed work.  We discussed the need for proper financial planning, etc.

Then “Guzman” joined the ride around Jay Street. My God was this man dressed nicely. Leonard told him so and we started chatting about Guzman’s background. He’s from Senegal, been in NYC for nine years and taught himself English by watching TV. Going to school for a double major in communications and fashion design.

We parted when I jumped off at Columbus Circle and sweet goodbyes and Merry Christmas and Happy New Year messages. Gotta say, it was one of the nicest rides I’ve ever had on the A-Train. All that chit-chat made the ride go much faster. And I don’t care what the “surveys” say. NYC really has some of the coolest people anywhere.

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See Forever…(and New Jersey!) from the Top of the World Trade Center

***Note: this was first published in May 2015.

Look out world, the so-called Yankee Stadium of observation decks is opening TODAY!

One World Observatory occupies the 100th, 101st and 102nd floors of One World Trade Center —  formerly known as The Freedom Tower — as it soars proudly over New York City — and now you can go up there and see it for yourself.

2013-04-02 08.23.47

For the first time since September, 11, 2001, you’ll get the view of New York City and surrounding areas very high above from a viewpoint similar to what you saw on top of the World Trade Center.

One World Trade is currently NYC’s tallest building.

It was a little more than a year ago I got a chance to see this place firsthand. My first impression: “Wow! What a view!” You’re up in the clouds. You can see for miles on end from a 360-degree radius. Not only that, you can see Jersey, the Ocean and…well, forever, or what seems like forever.

2013-04-02 09.39.44(1)

The perch offers spectacular and breathtaking views of the greatest city in the world. And that’s just what you get when you look out of the huge windows. (Unlike the Empire State Building, this observation deck is fully enclosed.) The three-floor “experience” (which should take at least an hour or two) as the Port Authority touts it, includes a multimedia interactive extravaganza from the second you walk up to the front door until the moment you leave. Everything from the views to the :48-second elevator ride — you get to see New York City grow up before your very eyes — to the displays about the history of the building and of NYC to the theatrical program to the tour “ambassadors.”

2013-04-02 09.48.06
2013-04-02 08.07.26

The Port Authority calls it “the one and only place to see all of New York.” In fact, Scott Rechler, the Vice Chairman of the Port Authority, calls One World Observatory the Yankee Stadium of observation decks. It can’t get much better than that!

On a clear day...you can see The Bronx!

On a clear day…you can see The Bronx!

Tickets are $32. That’s pretty much in line with what similar attractions in the city charge.

100th Floor

100th Floor

2013-04-02 10.19.28

I’ve watched this spectacular building “grow up” from Ground Zero and it’s been a fascinating process to witness. You can see it from many points in the city as you look down the Avenues heading south. I run past it — in fact, last time I did, I had to stop and just gaze up and marvel at it.

I took a bike ride past the building on Sunday. The building is striking against the blue sky.


2013-04-02 10.33.322013-04-02 10.19.532013-04-02 07.45.45I remember when I was a kid, standing on top of the World Trade Center observation deck on the south tower and seeing NYC on high for the first time ever. It was spectacular. I remember the building gently swayed, a sensation and view I’ll never forget.

One World Trade Center rises up...currently at 105 floors.

One World Trade Center in April, 2014.

Take a look for yourself.

The new building is Stunning. Strong. Breathtaking. Soaring. Proud. New York.

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I love you. I mean it. Now move.

I told a complete stranger that I loved him. I meant it. Then I asked him to move it…now.

Oh, the trials and tribulations of alternate side parking in New York City.

I had precariously parked my little car on the “Thursday” side of the street. But three inches of my behind were hanging over the curb onto a private driveway with a vicious “no parking here or we’re gonna tow your ass” sign. Ok, the sign didn’t have the word “ass” in it..but it may as well have.

Anyhow, I could chance it, leaving my back end hanging over the curb — chance getting a ticket — or worse, towed. But I really didn’t want to. Yet I had to, because I was about to be late for work.

When, voila, coming out of the shadows — or in this case a really nice townhouse — the man who parked in front of me, in a swanky Lexus with “Consulate” plates. He said to me “is that your car?” I said “yes, is there a problem?” and he said “no, but I’ll move my car for you.” What? What? WHAT?

That’s when I blurted those words of love.

Oh yes I did.

He smiled. Then he moved. Then I moved. Then a woman in little red VW Beetle told me she loved me…for moving.

Love. It’s all around us in New York City when things go our way, at least when it comes to alternate side parking.

Then she and I had a little conversation on the sidewalk after we were tucked away in our “safe” parking spots. Her story: she’s from Jersey. There was a problem with her car pool on the George Washington Bridge and her passengers bailed. She had to park on the street today. She was thrilled to find free parking, right behind me.

Oh the interesting conversations you can have with complete strangers who all share a common urgency to park for free on the street in the Big Apple.

The issue here, though, as always, is remember what day it is, remember how long you can stay in your spot, and remember where you left your car. Yep. I misplace my car, um, frequently. It’s a crazy choreography, the bizarre dance called alternate side parking. But I’m up for the tango. I just need to remember where I left my car. And I am happy to share the love…with complete strangers.

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Lost in “La-La-Land”

April 8, 2019

I’m here, now what?


Deep breath.

Heavy sigh.

No more tears. (OK, fewer tears).

I’m one month in as a Valley Girl, resident of Los Angeles, West Coaster, NON-NEW YORKER ( I can’t believe when I go back to NYC it will be as a…tourist!) I’m still at loose ends and that’s so unlike me. It astounds me.

I still feel like I’m on vacation, that any day now, I’m going back home to my safe beach oasis tucked into a seldom-thought-of pocket of New York City. I’m on a different planet here.

Oddly, my homesickness comes in waves. My New York friends PM me lots of pictures, Never in my life would I have predicted I’d feel this way. Just unchained, dazed, confused and lost just about all the time. I still need my GPS for the easiest of errands. LA is spread out and confusing. NYC is linear and, in its own weird way, orderly.

But I decided early on to stop comparing the two or I’d drive myself mad. NYC is the Big Apple. LA is a bag of oranges. I love both. I’m trying to reconcile my head.

Don’t get me wrong, I do like it here, a lot.

Since I arrived a month ago, I’ve:

Reconnected with my west coast co-workers and friends, who I love and adore. They’re my support system, concierges, advisers, party pals.

Reunited with old friends I haven’t seen in awhile and made new friends I hope to spend more time with.

Taken an epic tour of the area, which included stops at Venice Beach, Beverly Hills, The Hollywood Sign, along the OJ / AC White Bronco “escape” route, stalked a Hollywood Famous Homes tour and saw a breathtaking view of the city at night from an overlook on Mulholland.

Redondo Beach

Visited Santa Monica, Redondo, Manhattan and Long Beaches.

Saw the poppy super bloom.

Poppy super bloom


Cheered for the LA Dodgers (OMG, is this really me??)  as they beat the San Francisco Giants at Dodger Stadium.

My God, I am a YANKEE fan. Out of my element!

Watched movies with the guy who played John Lennon in “Forrest Gump.” (And saw his giant cactus (oh, and it’s real) — SHUT UP! — I know what you’re thinking…) 

My friend Pat and Joe’s Sugaro cactus

Found the Los Angeles chapter of the Michigan State University Alumni Club.

House/Dog-sat at an awesome mini mansion.

A dog-sitting weekend at the beach with a houseful of great people

Watched Billy Crystal sink into the concrete at the TCL Chinese Theater in Hollywood.

Billy celebrates going into the concrete

Been nearly run over by crews speeding props and prizes across the floor backstage at “The Price is Right” at CBS Television City while waiting to do an interview on the set of “The Bold and the Beautiful.” (where I interviewed Denise Richards, the show’s newest character).

So why am I so at loose ends? Beats me. This isn’t like me at all. Maybe — no I know — I’m very sleep deprived. I didn’t sleep well before I got here, and I’ve had some difficulty adjusting my sleep schedule to the west coast (READ: I do not sleep much). It’s just too quiet. I’m used to the noise of the city or the sound of ocean waves. Here, dead silence. I’m beginning to stay awake later and later. I wanted to go to sleep at 5pm when I got here, so there’s some progress. My body is also adjusting to life in a desert climate. I’m used to being at sea-level most of the time, breathing in humid, salty air.

I get lost…a lot. GPS helps, but when I don’t know where I’m headed in the first place, I end up in the strangest of places. And I’m rather freaked out that my car is pretty much my only option. If you dropped me somewhere, anywhere in LA and said “find your way,” I’d be spinning. In NYC, I’d navigate easily via subway or bus 24/7.

It’s only been in the last few days that I’ve really started unpacking my stuff. I honestly gave myself the option to cut and run if I needed to. When the movers delivered my boxes to my new apartment, they saw what they perceived as an abject look of terror on my face, that this is “final.” They weren’t wrong. They assured me I wouldn’t be the first person they moved here from NYC only to come back a few months later and move back to the east coast. I keep that in the back of mind. But then I snap back and repeat to myself “I’m all in here in Los Angeles.”

I came to LA for specific reasons. And at long last, about three weeks in (after I’ve hit many of the local  taco stands), I’ve started eating much better…exercising a lot more and taking time to get back in touch with myself. I’m used to rushing — literally RUNNING — here, there, everywhere. Not so much here. Life is a lot slower and laid back. It’s a weird environment for a chronic Type A personality. I need to learn how to relax, something that’s sort of a foreign concept to me.

I’ll let you know how it’s going in a few weeks.

PS: What do I do here? Do I rename my blog? I mean, my life in New York is over…or at least on hold.









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My stroll through Havana

***see related blog post about what you should know before you go to Cuba.

Havana reminds me of a once glamorous lady who’s reminiscing about the good old days while wearing her faded finest. You know, kind of like Lola, the showgirl… still in the dress she used to wear, faded feathers in her hair from the Barry Manilow song “Copacabana.”


Near El Capitolio. (Colors enhanced)

I got a chance to stroll through La Habana, Cuba. I wanted to see it before Raul Castro retires in April — before it could possibly become “Americanized.”

I was impressed and disheartened.

Cuba is a country of ultimate ironies. Beauty amid the decay. Staggering poverty.


It’s a land of haves and have nots. In a big way.

couple leaning

The residents live in staggering poverty. People are just hanging out. Sitting on stoops, walking around. I met a man who works in a government-run cigar factory. He was helping me find a store where I could buy some water. We walked past a few stores — buildings that looked like dank, dark garages with tables of rotten looking vegetables and piles of raw meat being bombarded by an air force of flies. He told me I was not allowed to shop there, it was only for Cubans.

anotherstreet scene

Then he went on to explain that Cubans are given monthly ration books for the very basics: rice, beans, vegetables, some meat. He said he only makes the equivalent of $20 US each month. After he pays for his utilities, he said he frequently doesn’t have enough money for food. I gave him a few bucks so he could feed his kids meat through the end of the month. He said he usually gets by if he can nick a few cigars from work and sell them to tourists. I believed his sincerity. Even if he was insincere, he still has far less than I and I had no problem sharing a few stray bills in my bag.

He lamented about the constant shortages of the most basic items we take for granted: soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes and other personal hygiene items.


He said his father, who he hasn’t seen in decades, lives in upstate New York. I asked him if he wanted to leave Cuba and he said no, that it’s his home, and that the pace of life is slow and relaxed, just the way he likes it. He said we Americans live at too much of a crazed pace. I couldn’t disagree.


Multiple families and some with sometimes two, three and four generations crowd into tiny apartments in faded pastel-colored buildings that are in serious disrepair, literally crumbling. The front doors are open, leading into dark foyers with stairs. The three- and four-story buildings are centuries old and amazing architectural masterpieces full of intricate detail. Except that they are falling apart. Dissolving. Disintegrating. It looks as if an earthquake hit some neighborhoods. Hurricane Irma caused great damage to the island. But honestly, in Havana, it’s hard to notice, given the general rundown condition of the city’s structures. Tourists are warned to use caution because chunks of buildings tend to fall without warning. Most buildings look like they have electricity — if a tangle of wires going every which way hanging off walls is any indication. At night, however, I noticed much of the city is in the dark.1RUINS

Our tour guide told us even though some buildings are past the point of no return, residents are not allowed to tear them down because of their architectural significance. New buildings are built adjacent to or behind the old structures.

into apt

This is the front door leading into a four-story apartment.


A closer look through the front door

Other parts of the city feature Russian architecture. Read: Ugly, boxy concrete buildings with absolutely no character. No color. Concrete boxes. The US Embassy, which is now largely deserted since our government told diplomats to leave, is one of the nicer structures along the Malecon — famous roadway along the seawall you often see on TV.


The US Embassy in Havana

During an organized tour of the city, our guide Jorge made sure to preface any remarks he made regarding the government as “what I am about to tell you is not a political opinion, it’s just history.” Either the government’s chilling effect is still at work — most likely — or people really love the Castro regime. Keep in mind, for anyone 59 years old and younger, there has been a Castro in office all their lives.

There are signs honoring Fidel Castro and “La Revolucion” all over the city. There is a rendering of Che Guevara adorning government buildings near Revolution Square. There is also a bust of Abraham Lincoln in one of the parks and a tribute bench for John Lennon.


My sister has a visit with John Lennon in, of all places, Havana


Jorge took us to the city’s Colon Cemetery, a point of pride for Cubans. It’s 140-acres and is the final resting place for nearly two million people. He explained the government pays for everyone’s funeral. The only thing mourners need to purchase is flowers. Those who can afford a permanent burial plot stay put once they pass. All others are buried in the cemetery for two years, then exhumed. Jorge did not tell us what happened to their remains. Many of the opulent crypts are empty. Many people who had bought one before the 1959 revolution fled Cuba, leaving what they thought would be their final resting places behind.


Colon Cemetery


Some of Colon Cemetery’s Crypts

Interestingly, the wealthy also left their mansions behind when they fled the country. Jorge told us if he were rich, he’d live on “Millionaires’ Row,” also known as Fifth Avenue or The Avenue of the Americas. It’s a boulevard with large, rundown homes that were once spectacular residences. He told us many of the rich hid their valuables inside the homes’ walls, planning to retrieve the goods when they eventually returned to Cuba. (The government seized just about everything during the revolution). But most never came back and he said every so often, the walls will crumble and the occupants will find “riches.”

The tourist trade is thriving in Havana. Those who have their little businesses — like ferrying tourists around in their souped-up 1950s cars (which now have Japanese engines in them, for the most part) can make up to $100 an hour. Our driver, Ignacio, charged us each $25 for a one-hour tour around the city. I noticed he had a late-model iPhone, so he must be doing well. It was a stark contrast in realities: the poor living in squalor, barely getting by, living next door to a United Colors of Benetton store or a fancy restaurant.

At the mercado — the tourist market near the cruise ship port — hundreds of booths feature trinkets, T-shirts, cigars and rum. Prices are comparable to what you’d pay in the US. T-shirts run between $15-$25. A single Cohiba cigar runs $15 US and it may very well be a bootleg. Rum is inexpensive.

An iconic picture that comes to mind when you say Havana is that of the 40s and 50s era automobiles. They’re everywhere and in varying conditions. Some of the cars look like they’d fall apart if you laid a finger on them. Others look showroom new, in blazing colors. Jorge said replacement parts now come mostly from Japan. I took a ride in a very roomy 1951 Chevy. The restored cars bring a nice flash of color in an otherwise faded and dusty landscape.


The people are very friendly and charming. Everyone we spoke with was polite. Most spoke English. The Castro regime boasts 95% of the island’s population is literate.

Speaking of education, the government funds education for everyone. All students wear uniforms, including those who attend the University of Havana and technical schools. Admission to the university is competitive. Only those with the best grades make it in. The campus includes the old Hilton Hotel that the Castros took over during the 1959 revolution, when they seized all foreign assets.


The University of Havana

Because the economy is strangled, many doctors and other professionals are giving up their jobs to become hotel bellboys and service workers where they can actually make more money in tips than their meager government salaries.

But as I looked around, I saw a lot of construction cranes. There’s a lot of foreign investment happening and new hotels are sprouting up in New Havana.

It will be interesting to see what happens to Cuba in the coming years. The Trump Administration is trying very hard to shut the door again to Americans, reversing most of the Obama Administration’s relaxing of some restrictions. The US embargo remains in effect.


Raul Castro is retiring as Cuba’s leader in April. It will be interesting to see who succeeds him and how the new regime will interact with the United States.

All I know is that I had a wonderful time during my short visit and I look forward to going back to Havana, sooner than later. There’s so much I didn’t see and so much I want to see. I also would like to travel within the island nation a bit.


And yes, that “Havana” song by Camila Cabello was playing in my head the whole time I was there.






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What you should know before you go to Havana

I recently spent some time in Cuba and wished I’d had some prior info before going ashore. I came into the city via cruise ship, which tends to be the easiest way to see this city.

Here are some things that may help you if you wish to visit, specifically for a DAY trip:

Before you go:

  • US travel to Cuba is still prohibited, despite the Obama Administration’s lifting of certain sanctions, however you still can go.
  • You must have a visa to visit. You can obtain this through the US Department of State, or, if traveling on a cruise ship, from the cruise company for about $75.
  • To receive a visa, you must meet certain criteria — there are a dozen categories and you likely will fall into at least one.
  • Give yourself plenty of time to obtain your visa before traveling.
  • Your visa is good for three months.
  • Make sure you have your passport and it’s up to date six months past the date of your trip.


  • Know the currency. Cuba operates on two different currencies: the Peso for Cubans, the Cuban Convertible Peso — CUC — for tourists. Know ahead of time the CUC is worth more than the US dollar in Cuba. When I was there, the dollar ran about 20-percent below the CUC. Plus the Cubans place a commission fee on the exchange — only for US currency. Things tend to be pricey in Cuba.  You can only exchange US currency for CUCs in Cuba.
  • 1PESO

    This is a CUC

  • You’re actually better off exchanging Euros or Canadian currency. You’ll get a much better rate.
  • You cannot use credit or debit cards in Cuba.
  • I did not see any ATMs in Havana.
  • Most businesses geared to tourists take US currency. Just expect to pay more. It’s easier to deal in CUCs so you don’t have to do math.  🙂

What to bring:

  • Bring toilet paper. Seriously. No explanation needed here. Bring your own.
  • In the same vein, bring sanitizing wipes or a small bottle of sanitizer.
  • Bring bottled water with you if  you’re just going for the day — on the island, bottled water runs anywhere from $1 to $5 — if you can find it — and it’s not always cold. You can also buy bottles of Coca Cola and other soft drinks, along with beer.
  • Food in restaurants is relatively inexpensive. We had lunch at a brewery just to the left of the port — Cuban Sandwiches!! ($4) and beer. Drinks vary in price. We went to the bar inside the Hotel Raquel and had Pina Coladas for $5. **This is a really neat place. The bar is in the lobby, bit you can take your drinks up to the roof for a nice view of the city. Then take a look inside the hotel. It’s an old fabric warehouse that was transformed into a hotel with 25 rooms.

    The rooftop of the Hotel Raquel

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    Hotel Raquel


  • Keep in mind rum and cigars are big items. Lots of them are bootleg. i.e., you may think you’re buying real Cohiba cigars and Havana Club rum, when in fact, you’re paying for cheap substitutes. You’re “guaranteed” the real stuff at the government-run stores, according to my tour guide Jorge. Americans are now allowed to bring Cuban cigars and rum home.
  • cigars
  • There’s a tourist mercado, similar to the Nassau Straw Market, right down the street from the cruise port. As you exit the port, the mercado is a few blocks to your left on the same side of the street. There are hundreds of booths and prices are not inexpensive. You’ll pay anywhere from $10 to $25 for a t-shirt. Other items vary in price. I bought some nifty magnets four for a dollar US. The market WILL take US currency…but if you’re fuzzy on math while trying to figure out exchange rates, trade in some US dollars for CUCs before you shop.
  • You can’t shop at just any Cuban grocery store. Some are for residents only. Also, most grocery type stores are not like typical bodegas or grocery stores in the US. They have very little inventory of just about everything.

Getting Around:  

  • You can hail a “cab” — a souped up 1950s-era car — at various places in Havana. The rate for an hour-long tour around Havana ranges from $20 to $50 per person. I paid $25 and my tour was pretty good. (Note: these are not licensed taxi cabs so you have to negotiate your rate before you get in). We went to the John Lennon memorial, rode around Old and New Havana, past the University of Havana, to Revolution Square, along the promenade near El Capitolio (the Capitol), along the famous Malecon. It helps if you speak Spanish. My driver, Ignacio, had a very heavy accent and limited English and my Spanish isn’t great. We communicated ok though.
  • car2
  • inmychevy
  • There also are legit taxis with meters. If you’re the “better safe than sorry” type, find one of these instead.
  • There’s a “hop-on-hop-off” Transtur tourist bus that stops in front of the cruise port that costs $10.
  • There are public buses, but they’re crowded and I’m not even sure tourists are allowed to ride.
  • Walking is a great way to see the city. Wear sensible shoes! But know this: the sidewalks are uneven and full of potholes (remember, this city is essentially falling apart). Many streets are cobblestone and if you’re clumsy, be extra careful.
  • Be cautious. Cuba is crumbling. It’s not unusual for chunks of buildings to fall. You travel on the streets at your own risk.

The people:

  • You may see “jineteras” and “jineteros” — prostitutes, hoping you will fall in love and whisk them away to a better life. Let the buyer beware.
  • Be respectful of where you are. Remember, Cuba is a communist country that doesn’t enjoy the same freedoms we’re guaranteed by the US Constitution. Freedom of Speech is not the norm there. If you’re going to talk politics, keep in mind, most people will be quite upset if you say anything negative about the Castro regime or the Revolution. It’s also a good idea to leave your fancy jewelry in your hotel room or on the ship.
  • Consider helping out some Cubans. This is a country where there is a shortage of just about every single thing we take for granted. Hit the dollar store before you go. Bring bars of soap, toothpaste, tooth brushes, floss, shampoo, feminine hygiene products, deodorant, personal grooming items, hair brushes, combs, scrunchies, barrettes, school supplies, medical supplies, baby supplies, toys for kids, even old shoes and eyeglasses. These goods are hard for Cubans to find, expensive and will be much appreciated.laundry
  • People are generally very friendly. They will engage with you in conversation. Some will seek you out and others will come right out and ask for money in exchange for leading you to a store or a restaurant or cigar seller. Just know before you accept an “escort”  that you’ll be asked to pony up a few bucks. (I had no problem doing this because these people have literally nothing.)pink
  • Bring your camera and prepare to take some wonderful pictures. But know it’s illegal to take photographs of police or military personnel. Our tour guide told us it’s also illegal to take pictures of military equipment. We saw a few old missiles and even the wing of an old US Air Force plane scattered around the city, especially near the La Cabana and Morro Castle area.

Odds and Ends:

  • Cuba has limited WiFi, but you may not be able to connect.


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