Hopeful lessons from the colder north
President’s Day weekend has developed into a great family tradition of going to Mohonk Mountain House in New Paltz, New York, which is about an hour and a half drive north of New York City. People who live north of Albany may not consider that upstate but city dwellers have the right to call it “upstate” if it’s one inch north of the Five Boroughs.
Hiking and enjoying the outdoors should be done in all seasons. While it may be tempting to be house-bound during the colder months, too much time in doors will lead to a stifling madness and rotting sloth.
Among the activities there are guided hikes around the large Mohonk Preserve that surround the sprawling yet still rustic resort. Mohonk is surrounded by beautiful wooded mountains. My Father-in-Law and I went on a hike designed to track white-tailed deer. I thought maybe I could pick up some hunting tips that would serve me well later in the year.
We did see some deer tracks and learned a good bit about the eating habits and other behaviors of delicious deer, but there was a lot more to see. Our group’s guide, who is the official naturalist of Mohonk, gave us a lot more information that was useful and some that caught me by surprise. The one piece of information that struck me as particularly hopeful was this one:
When Mohonk was founded in 1869, the founders could look for miles in each direction and not see any trees. Almost all of the surrounding countryside had been clear cut. In the early 1900s, Daniel Smiley, from the family that founded Mohonk, noted the sighting of a porcupine on the surrounding woods, meaning that after 50 years of recovering, the forest was now healthy enough to support porcupines living there.
To see the surrounding countryside now one would think that it has been left in pristine condition since European settlers first came to these shores. But not so. The demands of a growing country took its toll on the natural beauty that we take for granted today, and the beauty of upstate New York is the result of a concerted effort of many years ago.
People fought to rebuild and restore these woods, many of them did so knowing that they would not live long enough to see the full benefits of their work. Today in New York State Adirondack Park is the largest publicly protected area in the contiguous United States, larger than Yellowstone, The Grand Canyon, and the Everglades combined.
It is a sign that with effort and time, we can recover and rebuild. That with enough planning and care, even a ravaged and abused land will recover if allowed. The Earth may be very troubled, but the Earth is also very resilient.
At a time when the country and world around us appears in total conflagration with unending violence and dysfunction, evidence of our ability to renew and improve our surroundings may appear to be in short supply. But the verdant areas not far outside our teeming metropolis is a point of evidence that people living in divisive times can still unite and do great things that will pay off for future generations.
The essential conundrum of Times Square
News came out this past week that the company I work for will be moving all of its New York offices to Times Square, where we already have a flashy facility. It will be a big to-do with renovation and creating an office of the future and I’m sure the office will live up to the hype and it will be great for the company.
There’s everything to love about it but it means having to work in Times Square, which is both a blessing and a curse.
Times Square has undergone a complete 180-degree transformation over the last two decades. In the mid-1990s, it was still famous for its crime and pornography. I remember walking through as a kid and marveling at the graphic photos advertising the pornographic films, the barely-censored photos of naked women you tried to look at while pretending to ignore.
Times Square today is a tourist mecca that glows with the false light of a thousand larger-than-life screens and signs. It is a backdrop to television shows, a center showpiece of a city that crawled its way out of the financial and social gutter to become a well-regarded metropolis of the future. It’s found a way to personify the state of the five boroughs within its blocks. When New York was in a state of decay, Times Square reflected that. Now that economic interests have invested for the future here, Times Square reflects that also. Whether you love it or hate it, it is our city’s barometer.
Like much of the conversation today surrounding questions of the changing character of New York City, the gritty past tends to get sugar-coated. While I prefer watching pornography to shopping for Disney trinkets, the Times Square of today is no doubt better for New York City and a proud measure of our progress over crime. (Keep in mind that the tremendous makeover never completely washes out the criminal element or the sub-strata of sleaze or grit. There are still plenty of con artists, prostitutes and drug dealers making money in the Times Square area.)
Times Square’s success as an attraction for visitors makes it less appealing for local residents. Slow-moving foot traffic is maddening for someone trying to get to work. Long lines of people at overpriced tourist traps do not make for suitable lunch spots. Friends who have worked in Times Square report that some of the potential upsides, such as going to the office to watch the ball drop on New Year’s Eve, are foiled by strict rules, often dictated by security concerns.
But as with the rest of life, working in Times Square will be an opportunity to adapt and overcome. I’ll find the good lunch spots to go to and I’ll figure out how to move in and out without being caught up in mobs of plodding tourists. Being a New Yorker means being able to find the right path through adversity and make inconvenience into something triumphant.
The midtown canyons of concrete and glass will be calling for me within a year’s time. It will be another chance to embrace the chaos of living in New York, and make a new path to life in the city.
Super Bowl Hype Has Run Aground
I had every intention of watching the Super Bowl this past Sunday but life got in the way.
Being a New York Jets fan, I have no real reason to watch the N.F.L., but believe it is a major current event that bears witnessing to be properly informed, not that one needs much of an excuse to sit and eat and watch TV. Also, in keeping with a tradition I had with my mother (RIP), my brother and I have decided to make a bet on the Super Bowl every year. My brother is a die-hard Patriots fan, so the bet was easy to make. I bet on the Philadelphia Eagles to win; the loser buys the other lunch.
As a New Yorker, I should despise both teams. The Patriots are cheating panty waists. They even cheated against my Jets, which is like cheating against people from the Special Olympics. Nonetheless, like the arrogant Dallas Cowboys of decades past, they have become the dominating franchise with numerous Super Bowl victories. The Philadelphia Eagles have been the hated rivals of New York football fans for decades. There’s something about Philadelphia fans absolute violent savagery and dedication that is endearing. They went into the game as underdogs.
Until I went to college, I could not see the use or interest in football. It is a slow game with rules that are not easy to comprehend (wait, they have to kick it again already, what happened?). Sports in general failed to arouse my interest as a kid. Why invest so much into a game when you could be out shooting bad guys or doing karate on people. I prowled around with toy guns, back when you were allowed to have realistic-looking toy guns, and pretended to hunt Russians or terrorists. I would rather practice being a bounty hunter or future warlord than try to remember a bunch of rules that made no sense. Sports seemed a poor substitute for real adventure in the world.
In college, sports made more sense. The athletes represented our school in the most primal, tribal way, and supporting the team was something that could bring even the most politically fractured college campus together.
So this Sunday came and I figured I would turn on the Super Bowl and it would be in the background while I had a regular Sunday with the family. The game was supposed to start at 6:30 p.m. Eastern time, and we knew that Pink was going to be singing the national anthem.
At the appointed time, we told our children that “Pirate Pink” would be singing on television soon. Our children know the singer as “Pirate Pink” from her appearance as a pirate on “Sponge Bob Square Pants.” But something went wrong. We turned in to the Super Bowl when it was supposed to start and they were actually starting to play football? What happened to the 45 minutes of bullshit before the actual game? The coin toss, the national anthem, the endless displays of hype and patriotism? We only have one TV in our home and I was banking on Pink’s appearance to make the transition from “Doc McStuffins” to football; no easy task.
As the actual Super Bowl got under way, my older children began to cry over missing “Pirate Pink” sing on television. I was the worst Dad ever. I made my chicken dip and enjoyed dinner with the family while watching “The Simpsons,” which is the only TV show we allow to run during meal times regularly.
I was glad to miss the game because I tend to jinx many teams that I watch on television. When the New York Yankees were in the World Series against the Atlanta Braves in 1996, I watched the first two games and the Yankees were crushed. I quit watching entirely and the Yankees won the next four games and reclaimed the crown as world champions once again.
Since then my not watching sports has helped my preferred teams. This year was a year I missed more Georgia Bulldogs games on TV than in recent memory, and they had their best year since 1980, making it all the way to the national championship game. Go Dawgs!
It was social media that informed me that my not-watching mojo had helped the Eagles win their first Super Bowl.
Congratulations Philadelphia. Please don’t burn your city to the ground.
The Anti-Wanderlust of Wintertime New York
There is a habit of New Yorkers to head South for the winter once they’ve reached a certain age or level of financial security. I can understand why but will fight to stay north for the winter as long as I can.
The deep chill of a January and February in New York can be no fun. The outdoors is windblown and desolate, and the normal stroll through the city that is normally a joy is an appointment with wincing pain. The chill combined with the dry air of the indoor heat stresses and fractures the skin, our eyes tear with windy cold, and we fumble for our gloves and try to find the way to both be agile of hand and not feel frostbitten.
But give me the most frozen winter on record and it will still be preferable to the constantly warmer climate of regions south. I can say this with certainty as I’ve had to go to Florida twice in the past three weeks for work and don’t wish to live in a perpetual spring and summer all year.
My first trip to the Fort Lauderdale area earlier in January was a suitable introduction to the tourist-fueled aquamarine madness of South Florida. Just because your company sends you someplace nice for work doesn’t mean that the real word stops, and it’s hard to enjoy the seaside camaraderie when you know a thousand emails are piling up on your laptop.
One of the more interesting parts of the trip was talking to the Uber drivers that ferried me about. In one evening I met a woman from Costa Rica who was an animal rights activist and got caught up in some controversy in her home country around money she raised for abused animals. Later on that night I had a driver whose full-time job was inspecting airplanes that were manufactured; he had been burned in a recent divorce settlement but was working his way back to fiscal and emotional health and had no problem telling a perfect stranger that (well, Uber passengers aren’t perfect strangers – the drivers arrive knowing your first name and have the right to charge your credit card; this may count as intimacy in this day and age).
My second trip to Florida was to attend a financial conference, the biggest of its kind for the investing niche it represents. It was so popular that I could not get a room at the hotel where the conference was held, and instead found shelter a few minutes’ drive away at the Margaritaville of Hollywood Florida.
As it sounds the Margaritaville is a hotel chain based on Jimmy Buffet’s tropical music. And despite this it’s actually a nice place. The room I had was nice with a balcony that had an ocean view. When I arrived, I thought the woman ahead of me at the check-in desk was wearing a pair of beige pants that made her look crudely exposed. But I was mistaken: my fellow hotel guest was speaking to the hotel clerk wearing nothing below the waist except a flimsy G-string bikini bottom and a pair of flip flops. This is what Floridians refer to as “business casual.”
Again, it was the cab drivers that wind up giving you a better flavor for the place. On my final day in Florida, I got to speak with a driver who had moved to Florida from New Jersey in 1973 (you meet very few native-born Floridians in Florida) and had seen it change tremendously. He liked it when it was less populated and he was younger. He had the easygoing manner of someone who had escaped the rat race years ago and could enjoy whatever life threw at him. He was a moderate liberal Yankee who was at ease with the easygoing ways of South Florida and could drink all afternoon with more right-wing friends and still go home friends. He maneuvered around the traffic islands and stoplights with an ease that escapes many of the ride-share drivers of today’s generation. It was a good way to begin my final day in the Sunshine State.
As the conference wound down, people were finishing up their business and making arrangements to get out of town. I managed to book an earlier flight and quickly caught a cab to the airport.
It was 75 degrees when I flew out of Fort Lauderdale and 39 degrees when I landed in New York. It was a strong slap in the face of cold air, but it felt like home.