Archive for January, 2017

Service of Luck IV: Watch Where You’re Going

Monday, January 30th, 2017

Luck

I’ve had a spate of good luck recently. Within a few weeks I found two MetroCards on the ground, each with money on them, one, $9+ and the other, all you could use and good for three more weeks. It was worth at least $115 if you take only two rides a day back and forth from work and to run errands on weekends. 

A few days later, walking by the 99 cent pizza shop on 43rd Street adjacent to St. Agnes Catholic Church, I saw $10 on the ground very near to a young man munching a slice. As I swept down to pick it up I noticed he hadn’t treated himself to a soda, plus it was a freezing day so I determined he wasn’t Mr. Moneybags as he’d be eating his lunch indoors. I asked him if the bill was his. He said “yes,” and it probably was.

A few weeks after that, walking home along Second Avenue, I found a wallet in the street with everything in it: Credit wallet on the streetand insurance cards, cash, receipts. Fortunately, along with an appointment card for a Chicago dentist, there was a business card with a name that matched the plastic. I called, the woman was visiting her daughter in NYC and within a few minutes, she and her daughter were in the lobby of my apartment. She’d just arrived from Chicago and her wallet had fallen out of her tote bag as she exited from a cab. We hugged and her daughter said “See Mom? I told you not to worry. There are many nice people in New York.” The next day she sent the most glorious bouquet of flowers [photo below].

That wasn’t all. My husband couldn’t find a credit card and he refused to call the company. He said nobody had charged anything to it and wasn’t worried. I scoured our apartment and house, even checking inside the washer [he thought it was in the pocket of a shirt I’d washed and ironed]. We’ve had a few snowfalls upstate and a company that clears the snow disrupts the gravel in the driveway. I noticed something unexpected sticking out of a pile and there was his blue/gray Visa card. Whew!

Do you keep an eye on the ground where treasures might be found? Any luck lately?

Flowers for wallet

 

Service of a Sleeper Brand: Morton Williams Shines Bright

Thursday, January 26th, 2017

morton williams supermarket fruits

I live in an area that doesn’t have the better known and oft-touted grocery stores Whole Foods, Fairway or Trader Joe’s nearby. I travel to these when I want something they sell but I’ve discovered that a neighborhood grocery chain—Morton Williams Supermarket–without the fame, media coverage and advertising budget of the others nevertheless offers a remarkable variety of high quality options at fair prices. [This wasn't so when the brand that preceeded it filled the space on Second Avenue in the 40s. It pays to check back.]

My apartment is sandwiched between two branches. Both occupy typical NYC modest spaces–microscopic by out of town standards. Nevertheless, this grocer often carries what I can’t find elsewhere–such as bright red current jelly [for cookies] or Siggi’s liquid yogurt, just two of many examples. I’ve complimented the manager at the 908 Second Avenue branch, Bob Siefring, on this accomplishment. Vegetables and fruits are fresh. When they have a sale, it’s a good one. [I wrote about one in a June 2016 post.]

Speaking of Siggi’s, I dropped by at a time an employee was filling Siggis Yogurtrefrigerator shelves  and asked if he had any of the blueberry flavor [the best]. He left his post, walked briskly to the storage area and brought out a bottle. Another time I couldn’t find mushrooms and the young man neatening the onion display stopped and walked with me to the spot when he could easily have pointed me in the right direction.

We live above a grocery store that bears a well known name in the city and apart from milk, water and seltzer; it rarely has what I am looking for. In spite of sky-high prices, it doesn’t carry fresh cider bottled locally. Morton Williams does. [There was a time you could only buy this cider from the farmer’s market or a specialty food store.]

Do you have a local grocery store—or any establishment—that’s a diamond in the rough, one that surprises you because it’s so much better than you might expect it to be?

morton williams supermarket logo

Service of the Comfort of Vintage

Monday, January 23rd, 2017

La la Land movie poster

Whatever “vintage” means to you—if you’re 20, 1980s films, fashion and décor might describe it while if you’re 50, it could be all things 1950. For some there’s comfort and perhaps a soothing visual to live with a grandparent’s furnishings; for others, reminiscences shared with an uncle while watching Audrey Hepburn on Turner Classic Movies brings smiles.

I thought of this after seeing “La La Land,” a movie I enjoyed. The writer/director Damien Chazelle is 31 yet he picked the 1940s/1950s romantic musical genre for the setting of his story. He added zero pyrotechnics, violence or gore and none were missed. The film set a record at the Golden Globe Awards winning seven including recognition for best motion picture—musical or comedy—performance by an actor and actress, director, screenplay, original score and original song.

Elle.com ran a article about what’s in or out in fashion. Nikkitight jeans Ogunnaike reported we should “anticipate a shift toward contrast denim styles in vintage silhouettes.” [This look is in contrast to skin- tight jeans popular today.]

I’d saved a December, 2016 section of The Wall Street Journal‘s “Off Duty,” because of its cover story, “Presents with a Past,” that featured 50 nostalgic gifts “whose origins date back decades and beyond.” The subhead continued that the gifts will “conjure a simpler time when the holidays were lower-voltage, but just as bright.”

Sidney Garber bracelet

Sidney Garber bracelet

Speaking of voltage, most of the suggestions would burn a hole in most wallets. There was a gold bracelet by Sidney Garber reminiscent of flexible metal coils first popular in the 1930s for $12,200; a 3-day slumber party at a historic English country estate @ $15,600/night for 16; Prada’s jewel encrusted mules for $1,150; a $685 pair of retro headphones; a mink stole for $5,500 and a chauffer to drive you from Paris to Versailles in a period Citroen starting at $370.

I don’t spend that kind of money for the loved ones on my list. The Wall Street Journal editors chose a few things under $100 too. There was a box of Turkish delight [$35]; a rubber band-propelled toy car [$25]; an apron [$47]; a ‘70s popular fondue pot [$95]; traditional Belgian speculoos cookies [$20]; a Mickey Mouse wall clock featuring a 1930s style rodent [$65], and an Italian knit necktie [[$90].

The J. Peterman Company catalog seems to be going strong with its focus on vintage-inspired men and women’s fashion.

Have you noticed vintage influences creeping back more now than in recent years? Do you welcome them or consider them old fashioned and therefore not worthy of your attention? Do you think that in turbulent times people look back to what they recall or think may have been a calmer period?

 Belgian Speculoos cookies

Service of Marketing that Hits a Sour Note: Details and the Devil

Thursday, January 19th, 2017

New Yorker circ photo

I bought some items online during an after Christmas sale and almost three weeks later got a notice from the store that one of the items wasn’t available. OK. That happens. “LET US MAKE IT UP TO YOU,” came a proposal for a “gift”–$10 off a $100 purchase. This hit a sour note: It sounded like “heads they win; tails I lose.” Otherwise I like the store.

The next two examples are courtesy of the circulation departments of a magazine and newspaper considered top of the line in their categories. I subscribe to and admire both. However, they appear to be trying to save money by selecting under par fulfillment and promotion partners at just the time they need to excel.

  • The magazine has been nagging me to renew my subscription months early and if I do, I’ll get a free subscription as a gift. [Always suspicious, I envision losing the months I’ve already paid for, between now and the end of the original subscription, and I don’t want to waste time untangling this potential glitch.] Fine writing and elegance are just two of the magazine’s selling points and the subscription is costly. That’s why I didn’t expect to see a typo in the first word of the third line ["your"] printed on a piece of cheap scrap paper enclosed in their correspondence seeking my business. [See photo above.]
  • The newspaper didn’t deliver its weekend and Monday issues last week. I called customer service on Tuesday making clear that we didn’t want the credit, we wanted the newspapers. The operator [from a far-off land] said he understood. On Wednesday we received a second copy of the Tuesday issue. I called back and was told they would have to mail us the weekend and Monday copies and that this would take from seven to 10 days. I had already spent far too much time on this mistake and snapped “fine, do that,” and hung up. Still waiting.
  • All this reminds me of a restaurant we went to in the Berkshires years ago that served remarkable food in an enchanting setting with a terrible hostess who ran the room like a general during a military operation readiness inspection {ORI}. The tension her approach achieved added a false note to an otherwise pleasant experience. We learned later that her husband was the chef. Nevertheless, she ruined the evening.

Do you have other examples of an irritating detail that conflicted with the otherwise high quality of a product or service?

$10 off $100 turned

Service of a US Inauguration: Traditional Passing of the Baton or is it Different This Year?

Monday, January 16th, 2017

Marching band 1

I’ve been weighing for a while what I heard about Marist College in Poughkeepsie, NY. I drive by often so my ears perked up when the college was in the news a few weeks ago—and not about the results of one of its well-regarded polls.

After applying previously with no success, the college’s 30 year old band was chosen this year to march down Pennsylvania Avenue to celebrate the inauguration. The application was submitted in the spring of 2016, long before the election. Even so, some in the Marist College community squawked loudly.

David Yellen, the college’s president, wrote them a memo. An excerpt: “Some critics of the President-Elect, pointing to his controversial or inflammatory statements and policy proposals, view Marist’s participation in his inauguration as either a political statement in support of Mr. Trump, or an ethical lapse for not speaking out against him.”

Noting the college hosted a campaign event for Bernie Sanders, which also didn’t constitute an endorsement, he wrote: “I believe [these concerns] are based on a misunderstanding of the role of a college in a free society….A college community….holding a wide range of political views cannot itself be a political actor by staking a claim to any one position.” He wrote that the college will support students whether or not they participate.

Yellen’s point that–“…participating in the ritual of the United States’ peaceful transition of power [does not] constitute a political statement”–was also made by two other Marching band 2university presidents whose communities objected to their participation in the parade. On insidehighered.com, Scott Jaschik observed that this year is different from others, where before “students and their institutions have boasted about being selected to march in the parade.”

The colleges, some of whose constituents also objected, are Olivet Nazarene University, Bourbonnais Ill. and Talladega College, Talladega, Ala. No Washington DC-based high school band nor Howard University will participate this year. “Several other colleges and universities will also be participating, but are not drawing criticism.” reported Jaschik.

According to him, Billy Hawkins, president of Talladega College, a traditionally black institution, wrote: “We respect and appreciate how our students and alumni feel about our participation in this parade. As many of those who chose to participate in the parade have said, we feel the inauguration of a new president is not a political event but a civil ceremony celebrating the transfer of power.”

Those who were in favor of marching made hay.  According to Paul Resnikoff, in “All-Black Talladega Marching Band Raises $320,000 to Play Trump Inauguration,” they made more than enough to pay all expenses to attend via a Gofundme page.

Marching band 3More than 900 people signed a petition urging Olivet Nazarene to withdraw. “Sadly, President-elect Trump has consistently articulated and advocated policies that undermine the Christian commitments of communities like Olivet,” the petition began, noting sexism, alliances with white supremacists, hostility towards immigrants and refugees as “just a few positions incompatible with Christian teachings in general and the Nazarene message of holiness in particular.” The college president, John Bowling, made the same point as the other two presidents. The parade is “a civic ceremony that provides the students with the opportunity to visit Washington and observe the process of transition firsthand.”

If you were in one of the college bands, would you attend this inauguration? Do you think that the protestors have good reason or don’t they understand the point of the inauguration according to the college presidents? Are you planning to watch the ceremony on TV?

Marching band 4

Service of Interpretation: Cartier, the One Percent vs. Everyone Else

Thursday, January 12th, 2017

Cartier window January 2017 turned

Funny how one image can cause two people to come to such different conclusions.

I was walking by Cartier’s windows on a recent Sunday and after I’d passed by I backed up to take the photo [above] because something was so clearly missing: Jewelry.

I showed the shot to my husband Homer Byington and said “How sad. Look where we’ve come. The jeweler can’t display a thing in its windows on a Sunday when it’s closed for fear that someone will steal rings, necklaces and pins. Imagine the rent paid yet the store can’t take advantage of this marketing tool to showcase its wares.”

Homer replied “I think Cartier didn’t display its jewelry to signify to the one percent how valuable and expensive their pieces are—far too precious and priceless for a window display. The store isn’t interested in whether the 99 percent can see what it can’t afford to buy anyway.”

What do you think? In addition, should a brand with this stature think of a clever way to decorate its windows for the times it doesn’t show product for whatever reason?

Service of a Wet Blanket–Much Ado About Little: the New Second Avenue Subway

Monday, January 9th, 2017

Second Avenue subway tracks

I finally had a reason to try the new 2nd Avenue subway in NYC. It’s not new, just an extension of the Q train. I got on at 2nd Avenue and 86th Street.

My destination, 51st and Lexington Avenue.

That was my mistake–thinking I could conveniently go anywhere on the East side below 63rd Street using this east side train. Forget it also if you’re hoping to get to Grand Central Station or Union Square in a reasonable amount of time.

I exited at 63rd Street–where I took three long escalators to reach the street–and followed instructions to transfer to the Lexington Avenue subway at 59th street. I could have walked to 51st Street but I wanted to test the system.

It failed.

For one thing, I had to pay another fare. For another, had the weather been stormy, freezing or sweltering or had I been lugging anything, the clumsy four block walk would irk. And the clock was ticking—what a waste of time.

Speaking of time, I waited over 20 ++ minutes for the Lexington Avenue local. OK–it was a Sunday. But really. This is Manhattan for goodness sakes. And last—and this is a frivolous complaint. With all the talk about the new subway I’d expected to travel in a new train. It wasn’t.

The subway extension is super for some:  People coming from Coney Island, Brooklyn to the upper east-east side [as far as 96th Street for now], or for those who live way east and are going to theatre. After 63rd, the train heads west and stops at Times Square on its way south.

There are engineering reasons, no doubt, that the train doesn’t connect to the Lexington Avenue subway, but this is 2017–we can do anything, no? Oops! I forgot: It took almost 100 years to get this far. We don’t want to rush things.

wet blanketI’m more the cheerleader type and dislike being a wet blanket. I love this city. But we haven’t been getting much right of late. Returning home in the snowstorm on Saturday afternoon I heard the welcome scraping noise of a snow plough. Where was it? Not where the cars are on First Avenue but on the bicycle lane. With two inches of frozen slush and more snow coming down, who made that decision? Granted the subway extension is a state project and the city cleanup belongs to the local sanitation department but the impact of poorly thought through decisions hit citizens equally.

Do you love the “new” Second Avenue subway? Can you point to an infrastructure or other major project about which much is made with disappointing impact? Do I have unrealistic expectations?

Much ado about nothing

Service of Pitch Perfect Marketing

Thursday, January 5th, 2017

Hudson, NY

Hudson, NY

We visited Hudson, N.Y. over the holidays, a charming town in Columbia County that gets better every trip. I also had an exemplary retail experience in NYC.

India on the Hudson

We especially like the shops and restaurants on Warren Street and discovered a new one [for us]—Les Indiennes—with alluring merchandising that tempted as it exhibited textiles and ready-made tablecloths, pillow and bed covers, as well as clothing and furniture expertly upholstered in the fabrics also sold by the yard.

Les IndiennesI wish I could sew. Patterns were refreshing, crisp and appealing in a range of colors and the lighting showcased it all to advantage [Photo right]. A testament: My husband despises shopping and usually, regardless of weather, hangs out on the street while I reconnoiter. But he lingered in this shop, even drawn to the back to see what was there.

We also appreciated the smart move the town of Hudson made to encourage visitors and holiday shoppers to feast at the restaurants and patisserie—as well as their eyes: It wrapped parking meters like gifts up and down Warren Street, [Photo at the top.]

In the Pink in NYC

In a different but also heartening instance, I returned a blouse that I had ordered online from Thomas Pink, to the store on Madison Avenue and 53rd Street. I wanted the same blouse in a different size. Gerald, the first sales associate I saw, immediately stopped what he was doing to help me. I didn’t see the women’s section from where I stood and he insisted on dashing up the stairs to make the exchange for me. I’m inured to do-it-yourself-shopping in most stores these days, discount or not, so I was quite taken aback by his efficiency and helpful approach. We chatted while he placed the shirt in a protective sleeve [I passed on a shopping bag as I had a large tote]; he confirmed the amount remaining on my gift card and asked if I wanted water or to visit the ladies’ room. Gold star service from a luxury brand–the exception to the rule I fear and have experienced.

What a joy when a store, retail staff and a chamber of commerce get it so right. Can you share similar examples?

Thomas Pink box

Service of Selfish Redux

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2017

Selfish 1

Service of Selfish Redux

Here are some new instances to add to the rest previously covered in this blog.

Reflect on This

When I got to the house a few Fridays ago, all four reflective markers astride the two entrances to our driveway were missing. There are so many more expensive things to steal from a property I couldn’t imagine why anyone would take our markers. [They cost less than $3 each.] I mentioned this puzzle to the man at Home Depot in Poughkeepsie who directed me to the markers aisle and he suggested, “You saved someone from making the trip here to get them like you had to.” Markers are essential on our country road as no streetlights alert a driver to the driveway that has a 6-foot high wood fence on either side.

Reflective markersWho knows if he guessed right but gosh, it rang so possible these days and so quickly popped out of his mouth he must have known of other instances of petty theft like this. I hadn’t thought of it. [As the ground is frozen, I had to hammer a screwdriver in it to make a hole to hold each marker.]

Hit and Run

The Home Depot cashier told me what just happened to her daughter’s fiancé. He was driving her daughter’s car, an old one that had taken her years of savings to overhaul when a car slammed into him making him, in turn, crash into the car ahead. The car was totaled. Meanwhile the car that caused the mess dashed away, a hit and run.

Hit and Run–but Stopped

Another cashier, a young woman at Trader Joe’s in Manhattan, told me that she’d been run into by a car in the city and that she was nevertheless lucky on several counts. On impact she flew in the air and first landed on the hood of the car which was softer than the street where she eventually toppled. This driver started to run but witnesses jumped into action. An imposing Puerto Rican man, she said, stood in front of the car with his hands in the air indicating “STOP” which prevented the driver from moving forward while others called the police. [Better news: She said that these days her injured back only twinges once in a while.]

“What’s yours is mine,” is nothing new to those who turn to theft for a living or because they don’t have time to buy what you own and they need. As for the drivers in the hit and run instances, I can imagine how frightened they must have been, especially the man who ran into the young girl. How might we dust off and refresh the Golden Rule to help people override natural tendencies?

Selfish 2

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