Author Archives: Rob

On Gravity

Wednesday was the perfect day for a visit to Thacher Park, but not if you wanted to walk along the Indiian Ladder trail. The trail is closed and it’s not clear when — or if — it will reopen.

The iconic Indian Ladder trail is one of the most popular spots in the Capital Region. It was shut down last summer when a boulder came loose from the cliff above and struck a local woman, leaving her gravely injured. The sad story of how the accident left her permanently disabled was told in a recent Times Union story. Near the end of the story was this sentence:

The family has retained an attorney, who has filed a lawsuit alleging negligence on the part of state parks officials and seeking undisclosed damages.

OK. I’m not a lawyer and I don’t know all that much about cliffs and such, but I’m struggling to understand the negligence part. I’ve been on that trail more than I can remember, and there wasn’t a single time when I didn’t think of what would happen if boulders started tumbling down. I’ve stood under huge outcroppings of rock on the trail and pondered being squished. All this rock will fall some day. Hope I’m not the one standing here when it happens.

Did the park officials know rocks might fall? I don’t know, but anyone who’s ever been there can see there are huge boulders scattered around near the trail. They didn’t get there by rolling up the hill.

Now, in other parts of the park, I’ve seen where huge trees came down across trails. Fortunately, they haven’t hit anyone. I can’t say whether they made a sound, but I can say this: outdoor activities involve risk, even in a tame place like Thacher Park, bad things can happen.

I don’t know what we expect the park to do, send teams of climbers up and down the cliff looking for boulders that might break free? Is that even possible to detect? Then we can have teams that roam the woods looking for dangerous trees. And of course, there will be dozens of signs warning people that the trails may be dangerous.

Or maybe something else will happen: they’ll shut down the Indian Ladder trail forever, and that would be a damn shame.

Cat Tale

A reader asks:

Hi Rob,

I was thinking about starting up a cat rental business. How did that go for you? Did you run into problems?

Thanks,
Tim

Yes, more than nine years later, people are still inquiring about my fictitious cat rental business.

It all started with a goofy blog post in 2010 about offering my cats up for rent to control mice. It was just a joke: why go through the trouble of owning a cat when you can rent one to de-mouse your house? We had three cats at the time, which if you ask me, is two cats too many — but it would be great if they could bring in some income. Suddenly the litter boxes, vet visits, and pricey food seem more tolerable. OK, maybe not ha-ha funny.

All this time later, people still leave comments on the blog post and send emails about cat rental. Another comment came in today:

Maybe I’m just being played here, but if you search “cat rental mice,” the post does turn up high in the results.

Who knows. By the way, Mia — the last remaining cat of the three — has been a bit of a disappointment in the mousing department. She’s certainly not worth $100 per week.

Rude Folks

English folk singer Martin Carthy was at Old Songs on Sunday night, playing a delightful set whose topics included betrayal, beheadings, vengeful ghosts, imprisoned maidens, losing one’s pants, and a wife beating her drunken husband. Such is the world of British traditional music — and it was a great to see this legendary figure in such an intimate setting.

The crowd at an Old Songs show is what you’d expect: like the bus to the co-op collided with a bus full of WAMC fund drive volunteers. They were a receptive and gracious audience — except perhaps for the two characters sitting in front of us.

A man and a woman — presumably a married couple — raised their phones every time Carthy named the song he was about to play and began pecking away. It turns out they were pulling up the lyrics, and heads bent, they would follow along as he sang, their faces bathed in a blue glow.

Where do I start?

First, if you are so keen on the lyrics, maybe you should pay attention to that man on stage twenty feet away. He’s about to sing them to you.

Second, your glowing phone is in my field of view and very distracting. There’s a reason they dim the lights for the audience: it’s to focus your attention on the performer.

Third, and most important, it’s incredibly disrespectful. Old Songs is a small venue, and to sit a few feet from a performer and mess around with your phone while he’s singing is outrageous.

A woman down the aisle asked the people to put away the phones. They didn’t. My wife did the same later, aided by a few cross words from me. This worked somewhat better, but the husband would not relent with his phone. They looked to be pushing 60, but acted like a pair of 14-year-olds.

Look, I get that a there’s a scholarly element to folk music, and the origin and lineage of the work is sometimes as interesting as the songs themselves. But if you want to look up the lyrics or song facts, how about you do it after the show, not during?

Otherwise, I wish on you a fate like that which befalls those in British folk songs. Perhaps having your thumbs lopped off or being transformed into weasels would be fittingly folky.

Anyway, about Martin Carthy. This was one of the memorable songs he performed solo on Sunday, an updated take on a tale of your son going off to war.

Still Waiting

How many people woke up to Carl Kasell? To public radio nerds, like me, Kassel was royalty, not just because of his years doing the news on Morning Edition, but for his quirky turn as announcer on Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me.

Years ago, I appeared as a contestant on Wait Wait — so long ago that WAMC didn’t even air the show at the time. It was 2001, and though streaming was still a crude and unreliable technology, I’d manage to hear the show online. Anyway, I called the toll free number and within a few weeks I was playing Bluff the Listener.

The show aired that weekend. My segment was heavily edited — which I managed not to take personally — and like most contestants, I won.

The story of not collecting on the prize, Carl Kasell’s voice on my answering machine message, is more complicated.

As it happened, this episode of Wait Wait aired on the weekend right before September 11. Most of us were stunned by that day, and in a lot of cases, trivial things suddenly seemed a lot less important. Getting my prize just fell off the radar.

It’s a tiny thing, of course, but interesting how the shock and horror of that day affected people.

It felt like that was the week when news stopped being funny, but thank God we were all wrong. Wait Wait and other shows help us deal with difficult times, now more than ever.

I like to think that Carl Kassel may be standing next to St. Peter when (if?) I make it upstairs. He’ll offer up a wry remark in that sonorous voice of his, and maybe I can still get him to record my voice mail message.

Just Breathe

So there I was, sitting on a pillow in a quiet room, meditating. Well, trying to meditate. The instructor told us that we may find it hard at first, quieting our busy minds. He was right. We could expect to drift in and out. If something distracts us. Just go back to it. It’s OK.

He knew we all wanted a trick of some sort, a gimmick to push it along. He described that approach as aggressive. Hmm. Forcing your mind to do something is aggressive. That is… interesting.

Now If you’re my age, you hear meditation, and think of the Beatles sitting on a rug with a bearded yogi. Sitars, incense, chanting mantras — you get the idea. So I’m not sure what put the idea in my head to give it a try.

Maybe because the workday routine was rubbing me raw.

Oh, I could have talked to my doctor. That’s the advice you hear in so many drug commercials, and there’s a pill for everything these days.

But instead, I went to Albany’s Shambhala Meditation Center and took an introductory class for $5.

It’s more than a month now, and I’ve come to crave the time out that meditation brings to a busy day. It’s a discipline that will take time to develop, but it seems to be make a difference. It may all be in my head, though I suppose that’s the point.

Quieting the busy mind ain’t easy. Just ask Don Draper.

Slice of Life

Local TV news descended on Gloversville last week when word went out about a standoff police described as “armed barricade involving an emotionally disturbed person”  The situation concluded when the man was discovered dead in an apartment. A rough time for all involved — but not so bad for reporters, because they got to have a pizza party.

I’m curious what the man’s friends and family would make of this tweet. What happened Friday was a big deal to them — it may have been one of the worst days they’ve ever had. And there are the reporters, enjoying a slice between their live shots.

TV stations are drawn by the spectacle of cops and armored vehicles. Stuff like this makes for good video, and good video is the name of the game. Stories about complicated things? Boring and hard to do. Fires, standoffs, accidents, murders? Easy peasy.

So, there you have it. An isolated event a small town ends tragically — but how about that pizza?

Fake Promo

By now, you’ve all seen this amazing montage of the “fake news” promo that Sinclair Broadcast forced its local affiliates to record and air. It’s especially interesting around here because WRGB’s Liz Bishop is prominently featured reading the Trump-inspired propaganda.

A lot of people are angry at the local stations over this crap, but as much as I dislike WRGB, I can’t say I blame them. When your boss sends you a script and says he wants it on the air, you do it. And Liz Bishop? She’s got bills to pay, just like you and me — but I bet now she wishes that she made Greg Floyd do it.

Everybody walks away looking bad here, but mostly Sinclair. Are they really so stupid that they didn’t realize that this would blow up in their faces? Yes, I suppose they are.

Getting Baked

There was something wrong with my soda bread.

Over the course of a week, after baking about ten loaves, it was obvious we had a problem. Not to get all technical, but it didn’t have the usual oven spring and the crumb structure was denser than it should have been. It was still delicious, but not quite right in its texture.

Was it the oven temperature, the kneading, the water? Maybe I was not paying enough attention to detail. Perhaps I’d just lost my knack — or it could be something darker. I joked last year of using Lucky Charms in the recipe — and this may have stirred the fairies or little people, who in turn cursed my baking.

But as it turns out, it was the baking soda.

I don’t know how old a can of baking soda must be to be beyond the sell-by date, but my can was expired. Does baking soda actually go bad? Yes — and it was confirmed by a simple test I found online.

A number of factors can ruin baking soda, and generally, it should be kept in a cool, dry place. The cabinet above my stove certainly gets warm — and the steam from cooking can’t be helpful.

I baked a final loaf Sunday night with a newly opened container of baking soda and the results were back to normal. Mystery solved — but just in case, never take any chances with the fairies and little people.

Click It Or Stick It

Late one night a little over year ago, a BMW sailed off the road in Saratoga County and hit a fire hydrant and a tree. Three of the car’s occupants walked away — and one suffred a back injury that left her a paragalegic. Now, the driver is on trial facing charges that include DWI, vehicular assault, and reckless driving.

Killing or injuring a friend or family member in an accident is not uncommon, and it adds another layer of tragedy to a terrible, life changing event.

But here’s the thing: According to a story in the Daily Gazette, the victim testified that she was in the back seat and not wearing a safety belt.

In New York, the law does not require backseat passengers to wear a seat belt, but regardless of the law, my opinion on this is black and white: If you don’t wear a seat belt in the backseat, you’re a moron. Driving? Then it’s your responsibility make all the passengers wear their seat belts. If they won’t wear it, tell them they can get out and walk.

Unrestrained passengers are more likely to be killed or injured in an accident — and they’re also more likely to injure you as they bounce around your car.

No, sometimes a seat belt won’t help, but is that a gamble you’re willing to take? If so, ride with someone else.