Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Service of Being Stuck in Traffic

Monday, June 5th, 2017

George Washington Bridge midday traffic. Photo archive.northjersey.com

Manhattan doubles its population to 3.1 million people daily according to a 2013 census estimate. No surprise that as long as I can remember I’ve heard morning traffic reports. When my uncle commuted by car to the city from Westchester, and for years after, I thought of him when there was an accident holding up traffic on the Hutchinson River Parkway.

I feel for drivers who almost every day are faced with one hour waits to cross bridges and tunnels from NJ. According to citylab.com, “New Jersey workers…..seem to prefer cars more than most other areas.”

Long Island isn’t an easy place to commute from either and it may soon be getting worse. After 70 minutes waiting my turn in less than a mile outside the Midtown Tunnel one recent Saturday evening, I wondered aloud, “How do commuters do it?” I have to hand it to them.

Waiting so long to return to Manhattan from Long Island wasn’t bad enough: I had to fight off predator drivers who jumped the line which further slowed the process. Imagine a daily diet of such stress. This particular Saturday the bottleneck was caused by elimination of all but one lane in the tunnel giving Long Islanders access to the city due to ongoing repairs. I wondered why there were no traffic police to keep things civil and moving. And by the way: There were traffic slowdowns on various highways to and from our destination and it wasn’t weekday rush hour.

Queens Midtown Tunnel traffic. Photo: nbcnewyork.com

What happens to the citizens of Long Island who take the railroad to the beleaguered Penn Station that will be closing countless gates this summer to repair long-neglected tracks? How will they get to work? The exorbitant cost of parking aside, driving is clearly not an option unless you travel to the city at 4:00 a.m. and return home by 2:00 p.m.

What do people do to calm their nerves when faced with such daily drives that eke the energy they should apply to their jobs? When will politicians stop playing “hot potato” passing disaster on to the next administration and learn to routinely maintain their bridges, roads and tunnels? Citizens will pay the piper in time and money whenever it happens so it might as well be for quick patches rather than years-long major repairs.

Photo: atlantic.com

Service of When Technology Lets You Down—Or Is It The People Running It?

Tuesday, May 30th, 2017

Playing Bus Catch

I was depending on a bus to get me inches from our apartment one Saturday morning. The stops for the so-called First Avenue and 42nd Street Limited aka express bus and the local are almost a block apart and neither are on 42nd. An electronic sign reporting the whereabouts of upcoming busses [photo above] stands between them.

I ran away from the local stop to read the sign. Great: The local bus I’d hoped for was two stops away. When I turned around to walk back, the local was just pulling out of the stop. I whirled around and just then the sign changed from “2” to “0” stops. I’d missed the bus. So what was the point of the electronic sign?

Guessing at Travel Schedules

A day later I was upstate heading into the Metro North Dover Plains station’s parking area half an hour early. Two busses were leaving and I waved at one of the drivers who didn’t stop. Without advance notice [the day before there was nothing online about busses replacing trains on Sunday], the RR line substituted a bus for the first lap of the trip to NYC.

So what, you say? This switch makes a big difference to riders: when the 12:37 train changes to a bus, departure is at 12:03. The next bus? Two hours later at 2:03 according to an MTA employee who saw me and my car and the busses and sat like a lump in a white sedan with MTA logo.

I jumped out of my car where I’d stopped it to wave down the bus driver and rushed over to him asking if he could stop the bus. He shrugged. He didn’t even say “I’m sorry.”

[One of the other passengers noted that the online info on Sunday, when the MTA got around to posting the change, reported a 2:06 bus departure. If you’re on the wrong side of the 2:03, three minutes matter.]

Missing Adult & Information

In the course of that weekend, I was driving through Dutchess, Putnam and Westchester counties, the Bronx and Manhattan as well as around Long Island. I saw the same electronic sign on all the highways asking drivers to look for a “missing adult in a black Honda.” On Saturday the license plate number given was longer than any I’d ever seen: Clearly a mistake. By Sunday this was fixed. What didn’t change was the “adult” reference. Were they looking for a man or woman?

Can you share examples of where technology—or the person operating it–has let you or someone else down?

Service of Dress Codes

Monday, April 10th, 2017

Photo: vimeo.com

Photo: vimeo.com

I’m late to the discussion of whether or not the United Airlines gate agent was right or wrong to refuse two teens’ entrance to a flight because they wore leggings that were considered inappropriate dress. Nevertheless I still wanted to chime in. I wrote about a similar subject last September referencing a radio talk show host’s wish that airline crews would be more assertive in refusing entrance to passengers who were dressed in clothing with offensive messages, in outlandish décolleté and the like.

Regarding leggings, I see people out in public in NYC who shouldn’t be wearing them anywhere but the gym. They are easy to maintain and less expensive than some fashion alternatives which no doubt accounts for their popularity.  But would you wear your bathing suit on the street if you were going to the Y for a swim?

One woman on the subway with an unusually beautiful face and hair had thighs the size of wine casks—I’ve rarely seen such huge limbs–and she proudly wore lycra leggings with no jacket or shirt to cover an inch of them. 

Photo flagship.com

Photo flagship.com

Back to the gate agent: The airline had rules that if you were a “pass rider,” as the evicted teens were, you were subject to a certain dress code because you were given a deep dish discount thanks to your friend or family relationship to an employee.

In this case, I side with the airline: If you accept their gift, they hold the cards. Pay full price and dress as you like.

Children in uniformMy siding with the airlines happens for a lot of reasons. First, I believe in rules: you break them at your own risk. Second, I wore a uniform for grades 1 through 12 and we were told we represent the school when dressed in identifiable clothes. Although it’s impossible to tell who paid what for the ticket they hold, and therefore who represents the airline, United presented a similar argument in designing its regulation.

The good news: With rules like United’s at least a fraction of the travelers will be required to exhibit some kind of respectability. Who wants to be subjected to the repulsive appearance of fellow passengers while confined in the space of a plane? We appreciate our freedoms but people can’t be trusted to use common sense. I can hear a chorus of “Who determines what is and isn’t appropriate anyway?” My response, arrogant though it may sound, “if you have to ask, you’ll never understand.” Do you agree?

freedom

Service of So Many Vehicles and No Way to Get Anywhere

Wednesday, December 14th, 2016

Traffic jam in Paris

The first time I felt stranded in a city swarming with cars was in Teheran long ago. The feeling of frustration, helplessness and dread is always the same. I think: “How will I get where I need to be on time or at all?” We were miles from our hotel, there were no taxis, we spoke not a word of Farsi and had no clue about public transportation.

The next time this happened was in Paris years later and years ago. The trick then was to know the number of a responsible car service. This didn’t always work either even when the concierge of a well regarded hotel placed the call. At least Paris has a superb metro system though it’s not fun taking public transportation very late at night when you’re dressed up and in uncomfortable shoes.

Back in NYC last week we waited 45 minutes for the cross-town bus at traffic jam in nyc49th and First Avenue, a jaunt from a subway. It never came. Everyone at the stop when we arrived eventually gave up. Meanwhile countless busses raced along First Avenue.

We left frantic calls on our friend’s mobile phone to make alternate plans. He held the tickets to Radio City Music Hall‘s Christmas Show and was waiting for us outside. My phone went dead. It needed a charge. We walked to Second Avenue hoping for better luck and mercifully someone hopped out of a cab which we dashed into. The driver charged my phone; we were able to connect with our friend but gosh–the stress to get there dampened our enthusiasm.

Lucky the show was spectacular as that’s what we remember when we think of that evening.

“There are rideshare options in your city!” some readers are yelling at their computer screens. My response: “I don’t have access to apps to hire Uber, Lyft, Gett or Juno car services. Does everyone?” Why don’t I? I need to set aside 3 hours to wait my turn at the Apple Store to acquire a new password/Apple ID in order to download apps. Something happened with my old one. The daunting potential time waste has put me off.

Second avenue subwayThe city is strangled by traffic. In addition to the annual influx of holiday shoppers and tourists eager to see the tree at Rockefeller Center, the stroke in midtown traffic caused by security around the President-elect’s Fifth Avenue midtown office/home will ensure that for blocks we continue to suffer for four years. In addition, the Governor has promised to complete the first stretch of the Second Avenue subway [photo left] by year’s end. To satisfy his ego, he has workers at it 24/7 and the avenue shrinks to one lane around 72nd Street. This subway has been in the works for 70 years at least when the first bond issues were floated. So what’s a few more days?

A sidebar: To feed a MetroCard for access to busses in NYC a person needs access to the subway which is usually up or down flights of stairs. Doesn’t that eliminate people for whom stairs are an issue? Grand Central Station no longer sells the cards on the main floor. Maybe you can buy or feed a card in a convenient spot somewhere else in the city but I don’t know where.

So how should people plan on getting around in cities?

Lyft

Service of Time and Place: Is Something Still Funny with Kids in the Picture?

Thursday, September 29th, 2016

Kids in a frame

Todd Schnitt, co-host with Len Berman of the morning drive show on WOR 710 radio in NYC, deplored the slogan on a tee shirt that a young woman wore on the plane he, his wife and two kids were boarding recently. It promoted the F-word within a snarky comment. He was irritated that his kids had to see it.

He’d wished the crew had asked the woman to either wear her shirt inside out or buy another one at an airport shop as he’d read that other flight attendants had done the same. He also mentioned women boarding commercial flights in ridiculous décolleté who have been told either to cover up or leave.

boarding a planeSchnitt is no prude: He isn’t afraid of the racy story. He seems obsessed with Anthony Weiner and others caught in twisted situations of a perverted sexual nature. He reminds those who object—usually women–that his audience is young to middling-aged men.

chocolate cupcakesA day later an out of town friend told me that he was choosing some chocolate cupcakes for a five year old from a bakery often filled with kids buying treats. [He’d forgotten to recognize the child’s birthday and was seeing his dad and wanted a surprise at the ready.] “We call those Prozac cupcakes,” said the counterman. 

This friend doesn’t shock easily either, and even though he knew the baker picked what she thought was a clever name in an attempt at humor—as in desserts named “death by chocolate”–he wondered whether his choice was right for a chocolate-loving child and about the appropriateness of the name in the first place.

Do you think Todd and my friend are being prissy? Have we lost our compasses as to what’s funny–when–and in what context?

Compass

Service of Road Rage

Thursday, July 21st, 2016

Can't Speed Poster turned

I recently got a speeding ticket—my first–so I now follow limits to the letter, much to the irritation of drivers behind me. I want to print a sign for my rear window that explains that I must dawdle [an example above] as according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety survey, I’ll surely hear about it. “Gesturing, honking and yelling at other drivers were significantly more prevalent in the Northeast,” wrote Joan Lowy for the Associated Press.

road rageAccording to the 2,705 licensed drivers queried in 2014, [just published], in addition to yelling and honking, drivers said that they cut off others and the AAA Foundation reported that about 8 million did worse: “bumping or ramming a vehicle on purpose or getting out of their cars to confront another driver.” Lowy also wrote that 104 million—half of all drivers—tailgated and “about 1 in 4 drivers said they had purposely tried to block another driver from changing lanes, and nearly 12 percent reported they had cut off another vehicle on purpose.”

road rage 3An indication of aggressive driving, wrote Lowy, is speeding and running red lights, which the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports is involved in two-thirds of crash deaths, over 35,000 last year.

Jonathan Adkins, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association pointed out that people don’t yell or make angry gestures when walking behind a slow pedestrian but that somehow it’s OK in a the “relatively anonymous confines of our cars.”

Have you done any of these things or been the victim when others did them to you? Are you surprised people admitted to these actions? Why does it take two years to publish/promote results of such a survey?

road rage 2

 

Service of Why

Monday, June 27th, 2016

Why

I ask questions in every post and the question word also appears in a few titles. Today I share some unrelated observations and ask WHY:

  • Do you think a mother pushing a stroller gave her young child a tablet to stare at when there was plenty to look at on the street between the traffic, other pedestrians, store windows and dogs passing by?  The child was so little—around one–and the screen so large that he could hardly hold the device that was crammed in between his legs and the stroler. We weren’t near each other for very long but while we were, not a word passed between them.
  • Inside an elevatorDo I go to the right in some elevators and to the left in others to reach the floor control buttons and inevitably, my instinct sends me the wrong way? Why aren’t these buttons installed universally either left or right?
  • TelemarketerDo telemarketers hire people who mumble? I asked one last week—an American—to repeat what he’d said. The phone volume was fine, I clearly heard the end of his intro—“and how are you today?”—yet totally missed who he represented or the reason for his call. He slurred his words while repeating, at 200 mph, what he’d uttered countless times before. When I couldn’t decipher or isolate a single word on the second go-‘round, I hung up.
  • Do companies require their live operators/receptionists to answer the phone with a ridiculously long greeting—and not because the name of the firm is of the “Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith” variety–thus wasting everyone’s time?
  • 511 travel infoDo some general call-in numbers never work? Take 511. I access it to confirm train schedules and to learn if the railroad is running from upstate NY to NYC, and not a substitute bus. [If a bus, passengers must arrive at the station 40 minutes before scheduled departure time. Miss the bus and you wait two hours for the next one. And the website isn’t always accurate.] From upstate, the electronic voice on the phone announces I’ve reached information for the Hudson/Catskill region. So far, so good. After that, whether I respond to prompts with my voice or by punching numbers on the phone, I end up with Long Island bus or NYC subway schedules and for the life of me, I can’t reach an operator or information about the Harlem Line I take.

Do you have answers to any of these or questions you’d like to pose?

Why 2

Service of Two-Wheelers: Good for the NYC Orthopedic Business

Monday, October 26th, 2015

Bicycle Shots Oct 2015 003

I’ve written before about bicycles in NYC, the first time when the cycling program was announced in July 2012 and several times since. In a post a few months ago I described two near-miss crashes as I crossed the street with the light and bicycles ignored me.

A recent traffic alteration in my midtown Manhattan neighborhood inspired me to cover the subject again. It underscores my opinion that this city is not bicycle-appropriate and that bicycles are neither traffic nor pedestrian-friendly.

Bicycle Shots Oct 2015 004New to the East 50s on First Avenue is a bicycle lane next to the curb where cars have parked for decades. [See the photo above. That line of cars is parked!] Parked cars use up what had been a traffic lane [which should strangle the movement of vehicles on the Avenue]. Drivers backing up to park in one of these spaces will temporarily intrude on a third traffic lane slowing movement even more.

Crossing NYC Street 003 flipThis strategy, designed to protect bike riders, must have been made by a person who doesn’t walk the streets of New York or who isn’t observant. New Yorkers don’t stand on the sidewalk to wait for a green light to cross a street, they stand in the street. Potential BOOM! [The man in the photo at left isn’t even looking in the direction of oncoming traffic!] And when drivers push open their car doors to get out, how many will watch for zigzagging bicyclists? BOOM again with potential broken bones and work for auto body repair shops.

Yellow caution tapeThursday morning the city cordoned off all the First Avenue bike lanes with yellow caution tape from 49th to at least 54th Streets. I couldn’t see any reason for it and there was nobody to ask. Where did the bikers go? They were forced to squeeze into the traffic. Argh. [See the photo below.] By Friday morning the tape was still there, only on the ground, as were the toppled traffic cones they were taped to.

I’m not anti-bike; I’m increasingly not a fan of bicycles in midtown Manhattan where I don’t think they belong. I doubt they alleviate substantially the need for motor vehicles to justify their pride of place. And you?

 Bicycle Shots Oct 2015 006 flip

Service of No News is Not Good News

Thursday, June 25th, 2015

Photo: dot.gov

Photo: dot.gov

In the time it took us to get home on the 7:06 from upstate NY Sunday night [normally 2 hours], we could have been in London. I don’t blame Metro-North for the downed tree on the tracks. It is culpable of having no emergency plan, exhibiting inertia in extremis, and providing neither communications/information nor safety for its passengers. Goodness knows what they would do if they had to deal with injuries.

Photo: ewashtenaw.org

Photo: ewashtenaw.org

We were whisked off two trains with no explanation other than that only one track was in service. The first train we were on was jammed. Most passengers had suitcases, dogs, cats, bicycles, and packages or some combination.

After the first passenger dumping, when a second train arrived, a trainload of disconcerted people piled in the closest doors. We ran on the platform with our suitcases toward the back where the cars were emptier and we could sit. With many still on the platform—us included–the nasal beeping noise warning that the doors are about to close rang out at its standard time. But the numbers of passengers to embark was many times the usual. The warning was the only sound. Where was a conductor to say: “Please move along quickly but don’t worry, we’ll wait for you all to get in.” Nowhere.

Settled in the second train we were soon shocked when a conductor announced that we must all exit the train at Pleasantville and take a bus to North White Plains. Still nobody said why.

yellow school busThere must have been 1,000 people pouring out of the station on to the street. Eventually we saw three traditional yellow school busses. The scene reminded me of exiting the train station in Venice to access water transportation. In Italy it was also crowded and unnerving but we didn’t wait long and soon we, and our suitcases, were on board a vaporetto.

We confronted a very different situation in Pleasantville. Like Cinderella’s sisters—remember they tried to squeeze their huge feet into the diminutive slipper–hundreds surrounded each bus with hopes that they’d be one of the 45 adults to make it inside. It was survival of the fittest, strongest, pushiest and youngest. Friends who exited the station from a different place reported a woman pulled a man off a bus by yanking at his leg. One said, “I can still see a woman pushing her bicycle onto the bus. She was the first on and there was no room for the bike.”

Between our luggage and the ridiculous, frantic crowds we weren’t going near the mobs to try to get on. A vest like this--not this person. Photo: article.wn.com

I approached a man with a florescent orange vest with RR logo [like the vest in the photo from wn.com, at right–not this person] who was texting in the shadows behind the crowd. I asked what the backup plan was as clearly we weren’t fitting on a bus. He said there were four busses [we’d seen only three] and that it takes 25 minutes to drive to North White Plains. Half an hour later a fourth school bus arrived causing another riot scene. That one left with every inch of space filled with people—even in the aisles–which looked dangerous. The other drivers took the maximum permitted and didn’t leave the station until the aisles were empty. The crowd had become more frustrated by this time and this driver didn’t fight it. 

We spoke with the only police officer we saw. He knew—and did—nothing but said: “I’m here to make sure you don’t kill one another,” and then he walked away. He wasn’t near the mobs.

 vintage train setIn all this time not a chirp from Metro-North. We wanted to know if a crew was working to remove the tree, if someone was scouting up grownup busses with room in the belly for suitcases—anything official. Passengers continued to spill out of trains from up north to face scant transportation with us.

After an hour+ our friend John stormed into the station and down the stairs to the platform followed by Bob and us. He said it was clear that the only way we’d get back to the city was by train. Guess what we found: A train with people pouring out of it because it was changing direction and was now heading to Grand Central. There had been no announcement to alert the passengers upstairs.

I’ve enjoyed and depended on the railroad in many countries as well as here. I am fond of many of the conductors who take our tickets on the Harlem Line. Yet I feel ashamed that a major source of transportation in the NY metro area is as backward and unprepared as this line was on Sunday.

Why:

  • Would the RR accept more passengers from other stations when it couldn’t deal with those already waiting for busses in Pleasantville?
  • No megaphone or intercom updates from headquarters or the employee on location?
  • No local authorities to organize the passengers so we’d have a safe, fair way to get on a bus in a civilized manner?

And, how well could this crew handle a derailment with injuries or other emergency?

Photo: iridetheharlemline.com

Photo: iridetheharlemline.com

Service of What Were They Thinking II: Tour de France Spectators, Cross Training Flight Crews & Retail Missing its Target

Thursday, July 10th, 2014

tour de france 2014

This batch was far too easy to collect—a bad sign.

Selfish

“‘The worst thing is when people have got their backs to the peloton taking selfies,’ he said.” The he is professional racing cyclist Geraint Thomas; they are British spectators at the Tour de France in the stretch between York and Sheffield. According to guardian.com, Thomas continued, “‘I had a few of those and they don’t see us coming and are stood in the road and it is very dodgy.”

He “described the thousands of people attempting to take pictures of themselves as the peloton rode past as ‘the new pain in the arse’ for riders.”

Imagine being a cyclist who is derailed after all those years of training by bumping into a self-centered klutz taking photos of him/herself.

Train Crew to Move Air Passengers

airport checkinColleague David Reich boarded a flight from Austin to Dallas when passengers were asked to disembark while ground crew fixed a leak. He and many of those on board had a connection to catch. By the time he got out and saw one harried airline ticket agent and a daunting line of passengers looking to get out of Dodge…I mean Austin… he walked through the airport until he found an agent with no line.

He asked her why someone hadn’t assigned help for that agent in the boarding area outside the beached plane. Answer: Cutbacks. As airline management, wouldn’t you cross train flight crews so that while one helps passengers exit the plane the others might immediately pitch in to reroute them?

Lost in Transition

Paper napkins platesI scanned the aisles of my favorite discount store in search of the paper section that housed cards, wrapping, and party accessories until I found it. It had moved and the festive paper plates and napkins hadn’t journeyed with it. After an unsuccessful look in the sections housing food, cookware and tableware, I asked an associate hanging out in the paper area for help and she seemed so proud to say that she’d put them all in the checkout area. This bit of unrealistic creativity almost lost the place a large sale while gaining a frustrated customer.

Not on Target

Target foodTarget was such a fun place to shop—and then it wasn’t and its profits plummeted along with traffic and morale. Paul Xiobro and Serena Ng analyzed what happened in “Retailer Target Lost its Way Under Ousted CEO Gregg Steinhafel.” In digest form Steinhafel eliminated what made the company successful: He replaced creative leeway with “rigid performance metrics” and “mired [management] in a new thicket of bureaucracy.” He turned a company with hip image and cool products into a Wal*Mart wannabe.

They wrote that “‘the chain ‘lost a lot of what used to make it unique,’ says Barclays analyst Matthew McClintock. ‘There haven’t been exciting reasons to shop at Target in recent years.’”

In addition, according to the reporters, the store no longer took risks with new products—instead it increased food options–and rather than practicing its former visionary merchandising skills it sold the best shelf space to those who would pay most. It cut back worldwide trips by trendspotters and took years to implement essential initiatives such as store pickup of items ordered online. A test to add mannequins to the merchandising mix took months, wrote Xiobro and Ng.

Self-involved behavior and shortsighted, uncreative management decisions are formulas for a crash if not failure. What were they thinking?

Mr. Magoo 2

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