Bronx 1934

I binged four seasons of Boardwalk Empire recently. It has all the usual gangster stuff I enjoy, but there’s also a profound sadness to the show. Tragedy lurks around every corner, and as you get involved with the characters, you feel their pain.

I liked it a lot, but as the body count mounted from season to season, a nagging thought began to gnaw at me: these crime dramas  rarely show the devastating effect that death can have on a family, sometimes lasting for generations.

I know this because murder touched my own family many years ago.

I never met my grandfather, because in 1934 he was shot in a Bronx pool hall. The two men accused in his murder, described by the NY Times as a “minor politician” and a “former pugilist” were acquitted at trial.

In the movies, that would be the end of the end of the story, but in real life, he left behind my grandmother and six children. My father was seven-years-old.

Those were tough years and losing the head of the household couldn’t have helped. It changed the trajectory of the family in ways we’ll never know.

The next time you watch a scene of carnage in some gangster shoot-em-up think how each minor figure is connected to so many other lives. It moves the plot in one direction, but shifts the world in another.

Click This

Baby Eaten by Snake!
Police Shoot Man in Dunkin Donuts!
Adorable Kitten Watches Olympics!

You’ve seen the sensational headlines your local TV station or newspaper post on social media. Local news has learned that Facebook and Twitter are a great way to drive traffic to their websites — and they do so in a way that’s quietly sneaky and subversive.

How’s that? They conveniently forget to tell you where things happened in the social media posts. You see, by omitting the dateline, a reader might think the eaten babies, donut eaters and kittens are right here in the Capital Region. And you click.

Then you’re somewhat disappointed to learn that the snake ate a baby in Florida. Yes, of course — that’s Florida for you.

I consider myself a savvy news consumer and they trick me with these posts all the time. Shame on me, but who can resist those headlines? I’m only human, so crazy stories, picture galleries, inane polls — sometimes I can’t help myself but to click.

Finally, some homework. You must watch  John Oliver’s commentary on the state of journalism — and pay particular attention to the Spotlight parody.

Gliding

I’ve been on a few hikes lately exploring the trails in the north section of Thacher Park. Over the weekend we took the dogs and set off for the much discussed scenic overlook of Hang Glider Cliff.

And scenic it is.

The girls take in the view.

From the edge you see Altamont and the fairgrounds, apple orchards, dozens of water towers and the distant Green Mountains and Adirondacks. The absence of any railings make it more interesting, as well.

As we were heading away, several vehicles came down the narrow path. Yes, the hang gliders were arriving at Hang Glider Cliff.

The long list of chores at home would have to wait.

Hang gliders are a friendly bunch who love to chat about their flying. As they set up their gear, they explained the ins and outs of the sport. Nobody goes off the edge on a whim. Among the group were two men taking their first flights from a cliff, only after many hours of training to prepare them for the real thing.

Waiting for the wind to pick up.

One guy asked, “So, when are you going to start your lessons?” I looked back to where my wife sat with the dogs. “I’m probably not getting approval on that one.”

After some waiting for the wind to pick up, it was time to fly.

Pretty cool — not just for the spectacle of seeing these guys fly from the cliff, but also because of the great spirit and enthusiasm the flyers have for gliding.

Take a walk up the trail and maybe you’ll get to see them soaring. Like a lot of things, it depends on which way the wind is blowing.

The Irish Goodbye: Summer Edition

I once offered some tips to help you pull off an Irish goodbye, the art of slipping away unnoticed from a social gathering. Well, summer’s here and it’s time for a few seasonal variations on the disappearing act that saves you from tedious protracted farewells.

  • Bringing beer? Leave the cooler at home. There should be a way to keep it cool at the party — and by the way, if you need a cooler, maybe you’re not drinking fast enough.
  • Bringing a dish like Beans, Beans, Beans? Put it in an aluminum, tray, tray, tray. Yeah, leave the CorningWare at home and put your food in a container you don’t care about. Always try to avoid that awkward ‘I’m taking my dirty dish and heading home now’ moment.
  • Cell phones are a curse, but they’re also a blessing. People think you’re being polite when you step away from the crowd to take a call. Just step away from the backyard with your phone to your ear — and keep stepping away until you get to your car.

One note: these strategies work best for events with moderate to large groups. I can’t help you escape from dinner with your family.

All Aboard the Albany Gondola

“If there were a museum of stupid ideas, the Albany gondola  would deserve its own wing.”

That’s what a friend of mine had to say about  the proposal to build an aerial tram to carry people from the Rensselaer train station to downtown Albany.

He’s clearly being short-sighted, for who hasn’t craved a better way to get across the river from the train station? Driving is so — old-fashioned, and most people would rather swim across the Hudson than get into one of the filthy cabs that prey on arriving Amtrak passengers.

The gondola would have stations at the new convention center and the Empire State Plaza, but what if that’s not your destination? Well, people going to other places, like the Albany Hilton, could just walk over from the gondola and drag their suitcase behind them — or get a cab when they get off the gondola, of course.

What about some other transportation options?

  • Rickshaws could work. Naturally, you would need all-weather rickshaws for the winter, but rickshaws are inherently fun and eco-friendly.
  • We might bring back the Aqua Duck boats. Imagine how thrilling it would to leave the train station and then plunge into the river — or drive across the river in the winter, if the river ever freezes again.
  • Or perhaps a moving walkway in a climate controlled tube? A tubeway, if you will. This would be like a giant Habitrail that would stretch up from Rensselaer and arc across the river.

At any rate, I would suggest that they add additional downtown stops into the plan to make the gondola more convenient. They might even have a stop at the museum of stupid ideas.

Look, Up in the Sky

The great thing about picking cherries and blueberries is that there’s no bending over. Yes, strawberries are wonderful, but the stooping down makes them so tedious to gather.

Last weekend at Samascott Orchards, the fruit was mostly at eye level, but up in the sky was something much more interesting.

High above the farm a biplane was lazily cruising along and performing loops and rolls as it made its way westward. It’s surprising enough to see a biplane, but the stunt flying made it a truly extraordinary sight.

My wife called out to two boys picking cherries from a nearby tree and pointed out the plane. They shrugged and went back to the picking. Their mother, said, “They are not little boys any more.” This surprised me, because actually, the were little boys — and what sort of little boys would not be thrilled by such a thing?

It could be that the stimulation of phones and video games are making real things seem mundane to some kids. In a world where you have endless action at your fingertips, something like an airplane performing acrobatics might not merit even a moment of interest. God, I hope I’m wrong.

Scenic Flights

Driving into Greene County on Route 32 always brings on the nostalgia.

I was at an event in Freehold the other night, not far from places where I’d visited as a child. My parents took us on a number of family trips at resorts in the area; it seems so odd that we used to vacation at places so close to where I live now.

The Borscht Belt may be better known, but the northern Catskills were just as vibrant, with pockets of resorts catering to throngs of downstate Irish, Italians and Germans escaping to the mountains.

You don’t have to look far to see the history. There are a handful of resorts still operating and others have been re-purposed, some by religious groups. Here and there you see abandoned resort buildings making their last stand against decay.

The attractions we’d visit, like the Catskill Game Farm and Carson City, are no more. We never went to the Mystery Spot, but I’m pretty sure that’s gone, too. Also absent is the sense that you were in the middle of nowhere.

One thing I’ll never forget are the signs for Freehold Airport offering “Scenic Flights.” I’d see these signs as we drove from place to place and imagine how incredible that would be, going up in an airplane and seeing it all from the sky. I never dared to ask my father if we could do it, because “Scenic Flights” seemed like something so… extravagant.

My father’s been gone now for more than 25 years. I have nothing but fond memories of him and certainly harbor no regrets, but there is one thing: I really wish I’d asked about those “Scenic Flights.” Maybe he would have surprised me and turned down the road to the airport. I love to imagine being up in the plane, just him and me and the pilot, soaring together over the Catskills.

Foto Friday

Don’t Die Like My Brother

Interesting story in the New York Times about the upcoming retirement of Garrison Keillor after his last Praire Home Companion show. I’ve listened for many years — even when it tried my patience — and I’ll miss Keillor.

The show’s future is uncertain. They’ve named mandolin virtuoso Chris Thiele to take over hosting duties, but that will account for just 13 new shows during the next year and the rest will be repeats of Keillor programs.

Then another public radio item caught my eye: WHYY in Philadelphia has dropped Car Talk from its schedule. The long-time public radio staple has been in “best of” mode since 2012, and co-host Tom Magliozzi died two years ago. I still listen and laugh and I’m sure it still makes money, but you can’t go on like that forever.

When you take away Car Talk and Prairie Home Companion, the list of big public radio shows is pretty short. When’s the last time they had a new show as popular as This American Life or Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me?

Maybe public radio doesn’t need a next big thing, but popular shows have great power to bring a lot of new listeners to the table. At a time when NPR and its affiliates are losing audience, they’re going to need something.