Archive for January, 2018

Service of a Happy Ending: Coogan’s Stays Open in Washington Heights

Thursday, January 18th, 2018

Photo: amazon.com

I’m a sucker for happy endings and a recent one that hit the spot is about a 33 year old Washington Heights, NY restaurant/bar, Coogan’s, that was being forced to close when its lease ran out in spring because of a $40,000 rent increase–to $60,000/month–according to harlemworldmag.com.

Photo: phillymag.com

In two days Coogan’s gathered 18,000 signatures on a petition to save the Broadway and 169th Street hangout. Under pressure the landlord, New York Presbyterian Hospital, agreed to lower the rent increase and the owners, Peter Walsh, Dave Hunt and Tess McDade, are staying put.

Before the agreement, according to cbslocal.com, Walsh told the landlord: “’There’s community here, don’t build walls. Don’t pull a plug so fast on a person when they’re still breathing.’”

Harlemworld.com reported: “During the neighborhood’s dark days of the 80s and 90s — which were plagued by drug-related violence — the restaurant remained open, owners told the Manhattan Times. ‘When we opened, we were one of the first integrated bars in New York, and maybe the country,’ Walsh told the Manhattan Times. ‘We were Dominican, African-American, Irish, Jewish, and everyone got along. We embraced the neighborhood. It worked. But thirty-three years ago, you didn’t see that kind of thing.’”

Photo: airbnb.com

“‘We have served a very, very big part of the Washington Heights community in supplying that big living room that these apartments just don’t have,’ co-owner Dave Hunt told WCBS 880’s Mike Sugerman.

“‘Now the fact that Lin-Manuel Miranda tweeted out and said everybody should get onboard, that certainly helps,’ said Hunt.” WCBS also noted “‘Hamilton’ creator Lin-Manuel Miranda celebrated his birthdays there.”

It also doesn’t hurt when in addition to hefty neighborhood support your cause is picked up by local media such as The New York Times, harlemworldmag.com, nbcnewyork.com, cbslocal.com, manhattantimes.com and patch.com/new-york for starters.

The owners are good souls—another reason so many jumped on board their cause and why the story resonated with me. Before the agreement happened, Harlemworldmag.com quoted the New York Times that the “owners are using their connections to help the 40 restaurant employees find jobs.”

There’s a flagrant contrast between the approach of this small business and the big ones that in spite of their tax windfall from the December 2017 “reform” bill are nevertheless collectively laying off millions—AT&T, Wal*Mart, Comcast, Carrier Corp. and Pfizer, to name some. Maybe we should rename “trickle down”  “riches up.”

Might this David & Goliath story be a template for supporting other worthy small fries against the greedy big ‘uns? Can you point to  instances where an aggressive collaboration by concerned citizens, backed by a celebrity and media, helped achieve a happy ending for a beloved neighborhood business?

Photo: Coogans.com

Service of Anonymity in a City: People are Watching

Monday, January 15th, 2018

Photo: thedailystar.net

Even in a big city strangers may notice you and kismet happens.

Starch in History

I told you about the neighborhood Chinese laundry man who asked me “what happened to lots of starch?” I’d just said “no starch, please” when I’d handed him a pile of men’s shirts and I’d not been in for a year. That was long ago.

Banking Coin

Photo: youtube

There’s a Chase branch near our apartment where I dropped off what seemed like eight pounds of coins we’d collected, wrapped in penny, nickel, dime and quarter rolls. As I entered, a customer service staffer asked how she might help and I handed her the shopping bag as I wasn’t sure what she’d want me to do. I began to search for my Chase customer card as we discussed cash vs. depositing to my account and she waved the card away saying, “We haven’t seen you in a while. How are you?” I am embarrassed to say I didn’t recognize her.

Lucky Bus

A most unusual thing happened to me during the early January 2018 storm dubbed bomb cyclone due to the wind exacerbating frigid temperatures.

The storm hit Thursday. Although friends and family suggested I stay home, I wanted to pick stuff up at the office and keep my appointment at Apple repair—which I wrote about in the most recent post. I usually walk but that day was planning to take the subway to Grand Central because stretches of sidewalk weren’t yet maintained turning patches into ice rinks. Plus the wind made the cold cut through my layers.

Photo: youtube.com

On my way I saw a bus on Second Avenue and 54th Street. I was on 53rd. I started towards the bus on the slushy, icy street. The bus had already closed its doors and was moving forward. Nevertheless, the driver stopped where I stood and opened the door. I expressed my appreciation—most drivers don’t do that once they’ve cleared a stop. We chatted until I exited at 46th Street.

Two days later, the temperature still in single digits, I headed to Trader Joe’s in the 30s. My cheeks were already wind burned so I’d again planned to take a subway when I saw a bus at 2nd Avenue and 54th Street. I was stuck waiting for the light at 53rd and made a mad dash across and up the street as soon as I could although it was a lost cause as the bus was already moving south. But again, I lucked out. The driver stopped to pick me up.

I was wrapped in the same fur headband and warm scarf—a Christmas gift—and as I scrambled up the steps I heard, “You again?” It was the same driver as on Thursday! He asked: “Where are you going today? You got off at 46th Street last time.” What a memory! What a nice man.

The sad end to the story for 2nd Avenue bus customers is that last Saturday was his last day on that route. The good news for Manhattan 79, 86 and 96 Street crosstown riders is that you might meet him driving east and west.

Sometimes a city doesn’t feel like such a big place and if you are lucky, people get to know you even when you’re not paying attention. Do you have similar city stories to share?

Photo: pinterest.com

Service of a Rotten Apple: Disregard that Customers Line Up For

Thursday, January 11th, 2018

Photo: LinkedIn

My service hackles first stood up when a Long Island friend’s iPhone no longer took a charge one Friday. The first appointment she could get at the local Apple service store was the following Wednesday. How can anyone wait that long for the repair of such an essential device as a phone? She was leaving for Europe that Sunday. Did Apple expect her to buy a new phone? She bought no phone and depended on her husband’s.

Entrance at Apple in Grand Central on a glacial, nasty winter day

Keep reading as I am beginning to see an unsavory marketing pattern here. And while a profitable company like Apple, with millions of happy investors, is expected to push consumers to the limit, and it gleefully does, I don’t understand why millions of customers accept paying top dollar while being given so many run-arounds and wasting so very much time to get service. Do most have assistants to do the waiting for them?

So when my iPhone 6 abruptly began running out of a full charge after I’d sent only a few emails and texts—a first—my heart sank. I blamed myself. I dreaded having to change phones.

A few days later I learned that many iPhone owners reported similar phone behavior. Like them, I’d made the mistake of upgrading to a new version of IOS with one click, which seemed to accelerate the demise of what was left of the battery.

By explanation, after the fact and once a grumble began, Apple shared some technical mumbo-jumbo about how batteries work and why what they’d done was supposed to slow the batteries to help their longevity. The real purpose, thought the customers of the older phones badly affected by the so-called upgrade, was to scare us into buying new devices or batteries.

Line to make an appointment wound around a table.

Public outrage leading to bad PR and some class action lawsuits later, Apple apologized and long story short, offered to replace older batteries with a new one at a discount–$29 plus tax instead of $79.

Those who sued in NYC, according to theverge.com, felt bamboozled into buying new phones and were angry.

I wasn’t cheered by the so-called “largesse” of the $50 discount. When there’s a recall on my car, I pay $0 for the fix. I make an appointment, sit in a comfortable waiting room, take off my coat, sip a cup of coffee and I’m soon done. I’m in relative control of my time.

Turns out the battery replacement procedure was worse than the feeling of manipulation and an expense I was forced into. It involved four trips to Grand Central where the iPhone repair operation nearest my office is located.

  • On Day 1, I had to make an appointment. I had two choices: on another day OR I could expect an email within the next two hours and I’d have 10-15 minutes to get back to the store. The latter option made sense only if I worked at Grand Central. I don’t. And who has the time to hang around a place for two hours?
  • My appointment fell on the day of the snowstorm. I arrived early figuring I’d slip into a cancellation—everyone told me not to go out in the storm. I’m greeted with, “we’re closing in 15 minutes.” Seems they let “everyone know,” but they didn’t contact me. “Wait at that table.”  I do. I wait and wait. Nobody came to give my phone a diagnostic test that was a required part of the process. I was rescued by an Apple newbie who felt sorry for me—he was helping someone else at the table. Nobody else ever came. I had another choice to make: A) Leave my phone overnight or B) Drop it off the next morning. I chose option B.
  • I thought I’d be in and out but no, I waited 20 minutes for someone to take my phone. “Come back after 12:15,” he said. I did. The wait for my phone this visit was the time to look through the Business & Finance Section of The Wall Street Journal.

I have to give it to the Apple employees I encountered. All but two were gracious and tried to do their jobs. My grievances are not with them.

New Yorkers are used to lines and crowds because there are so many of us but we’re also impatient. Does Apple spray the place with a soporific? Nobody seemed upset. Could I be the only one who feels this way? Hundreds of people were testing the phones in one area; others buying parts in another. Don’t these people have other places to go? How does this company get away with it? Do folks get the same runaround with Samsung, LG and Sony?

 

Prospective customers at Apple in Grand Central on a frigid winter day.

Service of Calendars and Miracles

Monday, January 8th, 2018

Photo: mmica.com

 I have permission of Tom Clemmons, editor of The Pawling Record, to run the piece below from the December 29 issue. I wanted to share the enlightened message of the author, Lucille Grippo, former client turned friend, as well as to celebrate this woman whose story is as much a miracle as her never-give-up, optimistic outlook is exemplary. My heart leapt with joy when I saw her email last week. It’s been a year and a half.

Jacqueline Muller, licensed clinical social worker, clinical director and owner of Dynamic Intervention Wellness Solutions, Pawling, did not exaggerate in her introduction to the newspaper article: Lucille, a young mother, has come back from death’s door with flying colors.

When I first learned about her condition, around Christmas 2016, Lucille couldn’t see words on the computer nor could she drive as a result of cardiac arrest that came out of the blue one summer evening and wreaked havoc on her body. Recently, her doctor declared that her eyesight is fully back and she drives. We have a date for tea in NYC this spring.

This was the article in The Pawling Record:

Awakening

Jacqueline Muller, LCSW-R

As we launch into a new year many people are starting to make new year’s resolutions, and calendaring is a tool so many people use. This blog by Poughquag resident Lucille Grippo is a beautiful testimonial and confrontation regarding how we can over/underestimate the importance of the calendar. This remarkable woman, a mother of three, has literally come back from death’s door to tell us to make the most of our borrowed time.  (Get your tissues ready, and prepare to stretch your smile muscles.)

Why a Calendar Is So Important to Me

Photo: Polestar Calendars

January marks the start of a new year, and at every corner of the mall there are vendors hawking calendars, large, and small, monthly, daily as well as planners and themed. You name it, they sell it.

For some it marks events, meetings, and happy occasions. For others, it’s deadlines, flights to catch and work obligations. For me, a “calendar” means so much more. It symbolizes days to celebrate life. Borrowed time, so to speak. I used to check off the days on my calendar like a soldier checking his posts. That changed on June 15, 2016. That’s when my calendar stopped just as my heart did when it went into sudden cardiac arrest. For two months, dates on the calendar, time on the clock, and days of the week meant nothing to me. My cortical blindness prevented me from seeing the numbers and the days. My aphasia blocked the connections of what those strange symbols were and what they meant.

“What is today’s date?” the cheery doctor would ask on her daily rounds. Mostly I guessed and was way off.

“Do you know what month it is, Lucille?”

“May!” I would exclaim, so confident I was correct. For the last memory I had was of my daughter’s first communion in May. The doctor gently reminded me that it was July.

As the days and weeks ticked by, slowly it started to come back. The large whiteboard in front of my bed at rehab listed day, date, month, and year. I promised myself I would memorize the information when the doctor came. Alas, it was lost in my brain again.

Soon after, though, some things started connecting and making sense again. I began recognizing the symbols as numbers, and although I couldn’t retain the information for more than a few minutes, I still perceived it as progress. Some days were more frustrating than others, but with patience and determination it all came back.

I came home from rehab, and my trusty calendar felt like an old friend, warm and comforting. When I began writing and reading again, one of the first things I did with encouragement was to jot down my therapy and doctor appointments. I recognized how my calendar was packed with things that seemed so important at the time before my heart event, that had no meaning now in contrast to a near death experience. Instead of being a slave to my calendar, I now guard it and only the most important and precious things make it on there. Now I use it as a tool and one that will no longer rule my life. In fact, I may not be carrying it with me into 2018.

Note: Lucille Grippo is a marketing and public relations specialist. After surviving sudden cardiac arrest in June 2016, she found a new perspective on life. She resides in the Hudson Valley with her husband and three children and feels blessed everyday.

Do you know strong people, such as Lucille, who won’t give in or give up? Do you let your calendar drive your life or are you, like Lucille, in charge of your time?

 

Photo: modcloth.com

Service of Hugs: A Girl Scouts Warning

Thursday, January 4th, 2018

Photo: girlscouts.org

You may have missed, as I did, this story in November when the Girl Scouts of the USA warned parents about urging their kids to hug relatives over the holidays. I looked it up after hearing Rob Astorino mention it on the Len Berman Morning Show on WOR 710 radio where he was a guest host between Christmas and New Year’s. The holidays are long gone but I thought that the topic was worth discussion because I’m clearly missing something.

Photo: mamaslatinas.com

Katie Kindelan, on abcnews.go.com, quoted a post on the Girl Scouts website: “Think of it this way, telling your child that she owes someone a hug either just because she hasn’t seen this person in a while or because they gave her a gift can set the stage for her questioning whether she ‘owes’ another person any type of physical affection when they have bought her dinner or done something else seemingly nice for her later in life.”

I disliked groping grownups who stuck their faces in mine when I was a kid and have always waited for a baby or child to approach me with a hug and if they do, I’m happy. If they don’t, I get it. I can’t recall any parent telling their child that they owe me a hug because I dropped by or gave them a gift. Most kids were taught to say “thank you,” but if distracted or disappointed, sometimes they needed to be reminded. Hugs? No.

Photo: firstmet.com

Since the Dark Ages there’s been the dynamic between men and women–and countless movies and novels about the inflated expectations of some men after they’ve paid for a meal–but I see no connection between this and a child’s hug, except for using the word “owe.”

That’s the operative word. Do people really tell their children or their charges that a hug is owed? Do parents force children to hug others? If so, do you think a child would translate hugging grandpa or Uncle Frank to leaping into the arms of a boss who gave them a raise or bonus or into the bed of a date after a restaurant meal once they are grown?

Photo: tiphero.com

Service of Small Towns: Chaos and The 2017 Republican Tax Bill

Tuesday, January 2nd, 2018

Photo: fedsmith.com

 

We have yet to see the fallout caused by the Republican tax bill passed so close to year’s end. For one thing, citizens and communities were unprepared, making plenty of mistakes amid chaos especially for those trying to save a buck by prepaying local taxes in states with hefty ones.

In New York State, for example, the governor signed an executive order on December 22, permitting citizens to pre-pay state and local property taxes which many did because of the $10,000 cap that kicks in next year. But this order happened five days before Federal guidelines were posted and plenty of folks moved fast, as New Yorkers tend to do, to take tax advantage one last time so they may not have submitted what they needed so they wasted their time.

The guidelines stated that “those prepayments could be deducted only in limited circumstances, a decision that appeared to invalidate many taxpayers’ efforts and raised the prospect that local governments could come under pressure to refund millions of dollars,” according to Washington Post reporters Peter Jamison, Jeff Stein and Patricia Sullivan.

“‘This is not the way to do legislation that will massively impact the entire economy. It sets off a flurry of action from people trying to save money, and they act as rash as the legislators who pushed this thing through,’ said Philip Hackney, a tax expert at Louisiana State University.”

After the executive order but before the Federal guidelines, local news reported people waiting in the cold for over an hour in certain Long Island towns. When we called our town clerk an administrator gave us the amount and she asked us to get the check to the office by noon two days later, Friday, the last working day of 2017. We could not prepay any of the school tax and had to pay all of the rest [no option, as in some communities, to make a partial payment].

Gov. Cuomo

When we spoke, the administrator hadn’t yet been informed, and we didn’t yet know, that to count, we needed the 2018 assessment to accompany the check. We subsequently found that out, once reporters got wind of the guidelines, and in time. I posit that many sent or delivered a check without the bill. Others based the amount of their check on a previous assessment. No go.

The day after we called, we visited the clerk’s office. The staff of two had neat files and boxes filled with bills on tables. Their work hours are only 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday, and yet they were ready.

This city slicker was impressed at how buttoned up and prepared they were.

Normally, our property tax is paid by our mortgage company—it’s part of what we send them monthly—so we notified the company that we had prepaid. The town clerk’s office will also verify this and we expect the mortgage company will refund our payment. Fingers crossed.

Jamison, Stein and Sullivan wrote that Virginia counties don’t mail their assessments until February [and no doubt counties all over the country are in similar binds]. In addition, “The tax law explicitly states that the $10,000 deduction cap cannot be avoided by prepayment of 2018 income taxes but had left open the question of whether it applied to prepaid property taxes.”

So who knows if prepayment will eventually be disallowed? Think of the mess and confusion refunds and tax revisions would cause.

  • Will the fact that some have prepaid because they could and others can’t, for whatever reason, disqualify all who tried to save money?
  • Will a governor’s executive order count in the end?

This is one tiny example of the fallout from such a sweeping change followed by so little time to implement guidelines. Did those who voted for the bill realize the bedlam they were creating by their last minute vote simply to satisfy their egos to show they got something done in 2017?

In a country where big rules and is most admired, can you think of other instances where small works more efficiently?

 

Photo: community.aras.com

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