A Hazy Shade of Winter


I don’t know who is in charge of naming things, but the 7 feet of snow that is screwing with Western New York needs a better name than “Knife” for supposedly cutting through the area. Given this fine line that lake effect weather wore, I would have thought “Bi-Polar Vortex” would have surfaced at some point. A good friend of mine offered up “Flakenstein” which I’ve added on to resulting in Flakenstein’s Monster.

It seems appropriate. There are thousands of images floating up that remind you of the fierceness of the weather.

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Driving south from Niagara County, you could see this incredibly solid shroud hanging over the southern half of the city and the surrounding suburbs, like a black hole from cheesy sci fi flicks. If you needed a reminder of the severity, red cross commercials during sunday football broadcasts highlighted the work of the red cross in such places, like Buffalo. I’m looking through my facebook feed and saw the story of the woman who was writing a good bye note because she was trapped in her car for that long.

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Fortunately, her story had a happy ending. With there being a body count, I guess you can say it’s a lucky thing that it wasn’t higher all things being equal. I don’t know of another city where 400 plus would rally to…shovel.

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Literally the story of two regions. During the “surprise storm” of October 2006, my dad lamented that the worst part of being out of town during a Western New York weather event is that you didn’t get your own story, but you got to hear everybody else’s. The entire north half of Western New York is like that, but we were home.

Like any Western New Yorker of any time frame, I’ve seen ten foot high snow piles before, but they usually take a little longer that a day to build.

It’s not the most reverent thing in the world, but I think humor helps in dealing with the unfathomable or when a public official lectures citizens before checking facts. Althought I was proud when the county executive told the NFL off.  They might not have needed it in this case, but it was good to know priorities.

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Because you never know when the next one might hit.

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But the tone of the people during this, the people who live here make you forget that this can be a place where the wind can hurt your face and just be glad that this is home.

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Travelin’ Band


My work related travel took a big increase with my current posting and that is a good thing to get that kind of experience. It can a bit of stretch at times however, but you try to find some fun along with the myriad of long security lines and barely made connections.

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You have to be amused a little at the human condition, but especially at the times of air travel. The announcement of boarding makes everybody mill about like we are Black Friday shoppers waiting for Walmart to open. I’ve noticed a big of a swagger among some travelers.

There is no greater locale for people watching as all sorts come through airports. My most recent travels took me from Buffalo to Boston to Philadelphia in what might have been the longest 30 hours in recent memory. It was a pretty convoluted itinerary, but it’s what you do when you are told on Monday that you have to be someplace on a Friday morning, and that someplace is across the next state.

And the next thing you know, you are watching four women in full berkas cueing up at Checkers for some quick take out (or one going up many times quickly).

But, it’s not without its moments where you can’t help by laugh a little, like the Boston security guard watching me make my late arriving connection from Philadelphia to the other end of the c terminal to get to the Buffalo bound plane on time. His cheer of “Go, OJ, go” was pretty funny. Their placement of gate c29 away from c21 was not, but lesson learned: 35 minutes between flights is shaving it pretty close.

And never count on the booking site to be accurate with telling you where you’ll actually stop

 

Drive, he said


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There was an article published recently that talked of how lousy western New York drivers take to the roads.

That came into my mind over a recent errand into Canada for work. It’s a different world for border crossings in recent years obviously enough and the worst thing to do is get unnecessarily worked up as that solves little. In returning from the errand via the rainbow bridge, a predictably long line filled the bridge and the near by side streets. It was a nice day and little to do but roll down the windows and be patient. Most folk took that in spirit, people let each other in, except one grouch in a Lexus, who cut people off, changed lanes like it was important that he and he alone make it to America with his purchases. For his trouble, he got an extended chat with the good folks in customs,

This popped back into my mind this morning negotiating the highways that envelope Toronto. This is not for the squeamish. A lot of things happen, all at 75 to 90 miles an hour. There’s a reason the Canadians go slower on Buffalo roadways as the pressure is off. My gps couldn’t draw the directions quick enough to keep up with the vicissitudes of the 401 to 400 to 427 highway exchange,

That said, driving isn’t the mad max movie that is Wny highways. While walking from my hotel just now, I did see the aftermath of an accident where the participants said a rare thing to each other

“Soory”

Ride, Captain, Ride


I was sitting in O’hare Airport when I laid eyes upon the ride home. It was one of those smaller planes that my dad and brother could quote the model on sight. I walked down a seemingly very long jet way to see a door way that required I fold my six foot two frame to fit in without inducing head trauma. Once in, I didn’t mind as there were two seats on one side of the aisle and singles to the other. That mean a window seat and I had a camera. I liked little planes…for the moment.

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And then we landed…was too busy watching the brakes work to get a picture of that.

Flight Plan


It’s funny. I don’t travel for work often, but there appears to be common threads to those instances. Perhaps it’s the destinations, employers sending me, what have you, but the “adventure” is lost on this casual traveler.

It doesn’t always go like that, but any excitement about a trip seems to have been snake bitten.

One thing that jumps out at me is the plane. Despite modern advances, improvements in technology, and the like, I am consistently on a vehicle that most likely has Wrong Way Feldman in the captain’s chair. If that reference escapes you, think of a flying hoopty. If that reference escapes you, google it. And if that reference escapes you, get out more. And today wasn’t really different, with my being placed on the United version of a minvan. Some of these folks are crafty. Most airlines charge to check bags these days, but some of these folks brought large bags only to surrender them on the jetway, beating the charge. It gives one pause, but not on that jetway, a rickety looking structure ever there was.

The whole morning surrounding the pretty short flight time is a great festival of people watching, starting as the folks assemble in Buffalo. The airport wi-fi got interrupted momentarily and one goof who was plugged into the charging tour acted like his world collapsed, personifying the spoiled brat in Louis C.K.’s “Everything is amazing and nobody’s happy.”

I arrived in baggage claim at the same time my bag did, not bad considering it got a ride.

Anyway, here I sit at 32000 feet with the jamoke behind me kicking my chair repeatedly as I stare out the window waiting for the clouds over Michigan to break up so we can see what kind of day it actually is here in the central time zone. The captain was good enough to trace the route for us. “We’ll be flying over London, Ontario, down along the lakes, into Michigan, and finally into Chicago land.” While that was nice to know, it didn’t mean anything as there was no discernible difference from the canadian clouds to the michigan clouds to the Illinois clouds (Except those were an hour later). So, you couldn’t see much, dig?

I was actually disappointed to see no sky mall catalog in my seatback, but given how old the plane is, it would all have to be in black and white.

But it gives one pause. The folks at the terminal outward bound were downright pleasant, security was a breeze. If your only downside in the arrival point is that I knew where I was going better than the cab driver, that’s doing okay.

“I’m sorry, Sir, I can seem to find it”

As he was parked under the sign of my destination.

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Office Spaced


Linked in is nagging me with the fact that I haven’t written in sometime. It’s not that there aren’t things going on, just a lot to digest. The main one for me is a transition. I’ve relocate professionally from a revered nonprofit and a great job to the great unknown. While there are enticing challenges that lie ahead, it’s a little bittersweet. The last time I joined a big corporation with serious buying power, the president was taken away in handcuffs fairly quickly thereafter. This, friends, was not a good omen. But on my second last day at the nonprofit, I got to pet a rhino. That sort of thing happens at the new gig, that might be an issue.

But I have reason for optimism. This is my first job change in sometime and certainly unusual in that I’m leaving one great experience and moving to another, with chances to incorporate and actually build on what I’ve developed over the past 7 years. While it’s a little weird for me to see my pending vacancy online while I’m still in the chair, I’m glad and proud at what I’ve been able to do. That’s said, it’s exciting to start thinking about what’s next, writing the “new book” as Jed Bartlett used to say on “the West Wing.”

I started this particular entry some time ago and it’s been sitting unfinished as I have jumped into my new job and settling into something of a routine. Your day starts a little earlier. Your commute takes longer than playing “Stairway to Heaven” on the car stereo. You’re getting the lay of the land at the new place both on the physical finding the coffee and the bathroom levels and on the are we cool with the group that runs the new shop. And just how glad are they to see you.

It’s funny the little things that change with a new work culture. For years, the bridges that linked Buffalo to Niagara Falls were a sore spot with me, hate em. The ongoing construction project nature made me really dislike going over them, but after hitting them twice a day for two weeks now, I’m taking them like a road warrior, changing lanes and doing what you got to do.

It’s the little things. With any kind of work, it takes time to find your voice and where you can chime in and I’ve always been a little bit impatient with that process, but writing it here is a good reminder to breath, and if the traffic gets like that scene in the opening credits of Office Space, where the guy with the walker is making better time, turn up the tunes and smile, smile, smile

 

The Beaten Path


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is kind of overrated. If there is a more spiritually soothing way to shut the world out for a bit, it’s a walk by the water. While the beaches aren’t ready for swimming just yet, (hell, it snowed not too long ago), it was very therapeutic to get close to the water. Two workers were literally combing the sand for the sunseekers to come. There were a couple of us who couldn’t wait.

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The endless winter did leave a few interesting carvings behind.

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It was good to be outside, in the sunshine, and with no particular place to go, so the beach at Woodlawn State Park and the areas in the Outer Harbor were a good place to walk, and put into practice how good it can feel to not have a shoe on.

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There’s a little beauty everywhere

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It’s just in knowing where to look

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Wandering…it was good for this soul.

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“After school is over…”


Education is the silver bullet. Schools should be palaces. Teachers ought to be making six figures salaries”

That was part of a pretty high minded speech from one of the admittedly high minded characters on the West Wing. It was one of the shows that I admittedly had a problem, never missed it. But that piece of dialogue had a point.  I got myself over and made sure I voted in the school board elections in the City of Buffalo on Tuesday. I don’t pretend to know all the answers by any stretch of the imagination, but the school board has some issues that could spill over into volumes.  With one child still in the system, I’m keeping my eyes peeled for sure. He’s in a good school that is working and his mother and I are grateful for that. But the world is a different place than when our eldest entered the system 20 years ago. I don’t know how many parents remembered the magnet system and it seems to have slipped the minds of a lot of the board folks. I am not philosophically aligned with some of the more public folks screaming for reform, but you got to admit, they have a point. This thing isn’t working. There are teachers doing incredible work against staggering odds and the winds aren’t going to start blowing in their favor anytime soon. That is a tragedy. Because that is where things matter.

Perhaps it is getting looked at “behind the scenes” but there doesn’t seem to be much urgency in fixing what is failing. The rush to transfer has created another problem in the whole “where do you transfer them to?” I mean let’s fix stuff too, not just relocate problems.

Voter turnouts are always low and that’s too bad, because I don’t think folks realize what all that means. If the schools have a lousy reputation, the district run by the keystone kops, the ramifications are huge. If a business is trying to recruit talent, “what are the schools like?” is a question that enters into any discussion. If the answer is “a mess with administrative infighting over every little thing,” getting folks to come to anyplace to work and live is that much tougher.

When the town I grew up in had a bit of a fit about a proposed school tax increase last year, a tax increase that would have been resulted in a rate that is still among the lowest in the region. Cuts funds and something has to give. As usual it was stuff for the kids.  Nobody likes increases but stuff does cost monies. We all want to see those funds spent well. A quality school system is good for the town or city that it covers. Lord knows the abuses that have come to light and will come to light in the months ahead. I have friends teaching in the system and they have to cope with the effects of “No child Left behind,” twisted evaluative systems, kids that come from homes that might not have school as a priority.

So, I don’t know what exactly to make of the Buffalo elections last night, but the winners are correct in that there is a lot of work to do, a lot of words being spoken about how they got to do right for the kids.

Hope they mean it.

 

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Powering down…


I spent some time in the early 2000s as a “reboot monkey,” helping folks with their then new high speed internet connections. As jobs go, it was what it was, a way of keeping the bills paid. It popped back into my mind last evening, specifically this one guy who called and wanted to scream about all this stuff in the computer and “what your man put in the computer.” It turned out the computer was fresh out of the box and was loaded with all sorts of goodies for the new owner. The internet connection just opened the door to all these things. After he yelled at me for the requisite amount of time to feel manly,  we got things squared away, shut some things down, and he was online.

It came to mind last night as I am in day 4 of new phone ownerhood. The previous phone logged a couple of busy years and it was one of those windows I could afford to spoil me.  After 3 days of electroshock therapy from it flipping like a dead fish, and making a schmuck out of me, I was becoming one of those people, instead of periodically looking to see if it was a kid calling, it was anything and it was ridiculous and I apologize to anybody and everybody during that period. The almost ten year old reboot story came to mind and provided me with a sense of direction as I stripped the phone of the preloaded nonsense, quitting foursquare, yelp, aboutme in the process. There wasn’t anything come from it, just imagined connections, that haven’t mattered and weren’t going to, and were insulting to anybody who was actually there in the now.

So, notifications are off, as they were making me an idiot.

As they don’t matter, never mattered, all that it accomplished is that phantom buzz in your calf from where the phone was unnecessarily buzzing in your pocket. I thought I had this largely beat, having beaten my previous device into semi-silent submission, but sometimes you have to go that extra step to remember what is important and admit that you might just have an issue.

I don’t know if that stuff stems from uncertainty if you matter and getting too needy or social inept to make real connections, you take on whatever one you can get.

But as the noted philosopher Bill Murray once noted (in the climatic scene to the classic “Meatballs“), it just “doesn’t matter.” In this case, it’s the 4square check in, fb post that caused annoying buzzing.

I was asked if I got a tweet at lunch today, and it was actually good to say “No.”

Step one…

 

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Used Cars


So, I just completed that daunting task, that least liked yet most desired of consumer transactions, the buying of a car.

I think people generally like the experience of acquiring a new car, but everybody is wary of what goes into that point before you get to drive away. It should be simpler. It really should. You shouldn’t have that sense of dread or just how much can I keep from getting screwed mentality. It should be easier to get to that point where you can relax a bit instead of being on guard, on edge against the haggling on an epic scale mentality.

Purchasing should be less gimmicky and less prone to nonsense.

Now, I got a nice car and a good deal, and a warranty to boot, but the stuff you have to go through to get there is pretty ridiculous.

I left my key so my 2005 Corolla could be appraised and was taken on a nonsensical tour of all the service bays and other rooms that accomplished nothing. We came back and I asked for my key for my car. “Well, Mike, let’s look at the deal…”  By this point I had told them what I could afford for the car I was interested in, and asked for my key again. The manager comes down to talk to me (Without my friggen key) and wants to talk more. I’m fine with talking but enough of the foolishness and faux ransom. I told him one more time what I could afford. If he could do that, we got a deal. Because the theatrics took so long, it went dark and there was no longer anybody for him to talk to, and as result, he tells me he will contact me in the morning and on the FOURTH request surrenders my key.

I head home and begin the next day at my office, morning goes by, nothing.  2pm and the guy who was going to call me “in the morning” didn’t specify as to which one he was referring to is off, but he told the guy who is on duty.

Yeah, sure.

The original sales rep calls up with an offer. It bares no passing resemblance to what was discussed the night before. I, by this time, have no problem being every bit the snide jerk back to them and in my best angry dad voice, remind them of where my line in the sand stood, the previous night’s best offer. The salesman, who had no idea about the car, say he’ll try “to work that miracle for me.”

“if I can complete that Hail Mary, can I call you?”

Yeah, sure, especially since we agreed to that LAST NIGHT!!

Now, he didn’t know the car, and that’s fine, you got a lot of em, it’s a lot to keep track of, but a little honesty. If you don’t know something, say so, don’t keep talking and let your voice trail off with every sentence. I’m not a rocket scientist, but my bullshit detector is running pretty high. I mean I’m a parent, I can tell when a tale is being woven, nearly told the guy to ask his mother.

Done, and done, but wait, there’s more.

We have to go talk about “accessories.” Again, don’t switch off the bullshit detector. Deal is done, but they want to know if I want an overpriced aftermarket remote starter, floormats, serial number etchings, etc.

No.

Then I get to fill out the customer survey. I couldn’t do it without laughing. If you looked around the dealership, I expected to hear the Yakity Sax music from Benny Hill playing.

A good car and ultimately a good deal, but good thing the nonsense was affordable as there was lots of it.

It’s no wonder we all like cars, but nobody likes buying em.

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