Author Archives: Carl

The Other Side of Summer

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Last light on the tracks 2Well, it’s that time of year again: the time when the days are growing longer and longer, heading toward a luxurious apex of extended sunlight, after which I panic that the days are shortening and the summer waning before I’ve even started to enjoy it. Even in years when I was relatively unencumbered, workwise, I came up on the end of June with a gnawing sense that I hadn’t made the most of the hours of daylight afforded me. Maybe it’s just something internal to me. But every year I pledge that I will find ways to get out and enjoy the longer days before that balancing point of summer solstice comes, that I will appreciate the gift of light that lasts past eight, just sit out and marvel at it.

And every year it doesn’t happen, and somehow I always forget why. It’s the extensive rains – we had five inches ( allow me to scream that: FIVE INCHES!!!) of rain around here last week, one useable day on a holiday weekend, followed by a tornado that decided to visit my sister’s house. It’s the travel – it’s a busy time of year for me, and some of these pre-summer evenings, such as this one, I’m having to appreciate the long, low light over the Hudson from the windows of an Amtrak train. It’s the academic schedule, with school this night and school that night, tests to prepare for and projects to make sure are done.

This weekend, we’ve got the SAT and the Freihofer’s run in the same morning, followed by a dance recital that will take up all of the next day. Still it’s not that we haven’t enjoyed what we’ve had so far. We’ve eaten dinner outside a number of times already, and have found several excuses for consuming Mac’s homemade ice cream in Watervliet. While the rain has made kayaking the rivers less than enticing, we’ve gotten out on bikes as a family a bunch of times and swallowed every kind of bug the bike path has to offer. And after a nearly year-long massive construction project, my front porch is, while not nearly finished, at least a place where we can sit of an evening and stare into the westering sun (without feeling the heat; the former porch was something of a greenhouse).

So to some extent I’m writing this to remind myself: the days are long, and I am noticing them. Summer is not over at the solstice. Calm down and enjoy. There’s still time before you’re on the other side of summer.

My favorite spam in ages

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So speaking of what’s in my email, today I received this gem. It’s from “Apple:”

Dear Apple Customer, Account has been temporarily disabled.

Then log on to your Apple device carries your account information

For this reason, and limited access to your account

Please make sure your account information so that you can shop from Apple successfully.

Verify Now >

Note: Please confirm your account to verify ownership of your information Apple

We appreciate your understanding for this reason .

Thank you for your cooperation with us
Apple service

C’mon, spammers, it’s like you’re not even trying.

Why I rarely check my email

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There was a lot of controversy about eliminating Saturday mail, the elimination of which would not have bothered me at all. Once my younger one is off to the college of her choice, we’ll receive just about no mail every day. The annoyance of junk mail has been replaced almost entirely by the annoyance of junk e-mail and spam. I may go days without opening my personal email inbox, and rarely miss anything. What I learned from my email inbox today:

  • Alert! Someone has written about the videogame character that shares my name! A lot. And someone else with my name died. It’s sad.
  • There are many discussions on LinkedIn. Not one of them has ever led to anything productive.
  • Funds were left yesterday with a diplomat. Funds for me. It may involve a will.
  • I could get a bachelor’s degree, or train to be a nurse, in less time than I think.
  • Someone wants to date me, sight unseen.
  • Many people want photographs from many local cemeteries. This is a thing I do sometimes, but it is really hard to find a particular headstone in a cemetery, so many people’s wants will go unmet.
  • I could get an extended vehicle warranty at a significant reduction! I’m sure they’re dying to cover two vehicles with 125,000 miles each.
  • I could become a Mystery Shopper!
  • General ADAMS PETERSON would like me to kindly reply urgently.
  • My email doppelganger, someone local who listed my email address as her own, has been shopping at Kmart again. I get her receipts. They depress me.

Need to actually get ahold of me? Better tweet me.

They shouldn’t be called bike paths

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It’s that time of year again, when it is finally warm, the body is finally working, and it’s time to get some serious miles under my wheels. And because I often have to be in downtown Albany on certain afternoons and weekends, it makes sense to just take off on the bike path for the first few kilometers of my ride — there’s convenient parking, a porta-potty and a flat path out of town. Which is great in the off-season, but by this time of year, the path is simply overrun with people, and trying to bike on it in good weather is just an exercise in frustration. This is meant less as a complaint than an explanation. People often ask if I ride the bike path, and I say that I try to avoid it whenever possible. I’m not being snobbish, I’m just trying to have a good fast ride, and that’s hard to come by on the bike path. Here’s why:

  • The people I’m coming up behind are generally oblivious and/or unable to hear. They’ve got headphones or cell phones, or they’re just tuning out. Calling out “on your left” is useless. Ringing my bell (yes, there’s a bell on my commuter, as required by law) is similarly useless. Or worse than useless, as 90% of the population doesn’t appear to know which side is its left, or thinks that I’m commanding them to make a sudden jump to the left, and directly into my path.
  • People take as much space as is available. Two people or twelve, they will spread out as wide as possible, pay no attention to whether anyone is coming from ahead or behind, and often act indignant or surprised when they need to move aside.
  • Dogs. I love dogs, and in fact most of the dogs I come across on the path are under good control. But my greatest fear on the path is hurting someone’s dog, so if I come up on one that is unleashed and not under control, I’ve got to slow way down to make sure we’re not going to have a bad interaction.
  • Kids. People say kids are unpredictable. That’s crazy. I predict that every single one of them will put himself or herself right where you don’t want them to be, and I’m right 90% of the time. It’s not their fault — they’re kids. Most parents try to get them in line on the path, but they’re slippery little devils.

There are some sections of bike path around here that are unavoidable, often because it’s vastly safer than the nearby road alternative (such as much of Rosendale Road in Niskayuna). And the newly paved section running from Aqueduct to downtown Schenectady is a delight, and no longer feels dangerous and abandoned (imagine that: they made something nice and nice people started using it). But in general, once the paths are clogged up with people doing things other than biking, you’ll see me on the road.

In some parts of the country there is acknowledgement that paths with a lot of use really need to separate the cyclists from the rest of the multi-users. Maybe someday that attitude will have some effect here, but in a region where money spent on something other than the automobile is generally derided as pure waste, I don’t hold out a lot of hope. The $18 million that was spent on the Fuller Road debacle sure could have paved a lot of bike paths for a very long time.

Seek alternate routes

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I’ve come to think of routine as a tremendous aid in every day life. While you want to avoid getting into a rut, some routines just make life easier. I get up at pretty much the same time every day. I eat the same breakfast almost every day. I buy the same soaps and shampoos. There’s great efficiency in not having to work through those problems every time.

But there is one area of my life where I have never been able to abide routine: moving from Point A to Point B. From the earliest age at which I was getting myself from one place to another on my own, I was seeking out alternate routes. Although I lived a block and a half from my elementary school, I would sometimes go around the school’s block, just to see different scenery. Going to junior high, I found as many different ways to get there as possible. In high school, I’d rarely go up the same streets two days in a row. Once I was driving back and forth to college, this hyperlocal wanderlust extended to long-distance travel; I couldn’t abide always taking the Thruway between Schenectady and Syracuse, and was instead always getting onto Route 5, or 5S, or even 20 for at least part of the way to break up the terrible monotony of the highway.

This especially extends to bicycling. Some people are able to settle into a circuit or two that they do every day, and that’s a good thing. They get to build power and speed and judge themselves against a known course. But if I had to do that I’d go out of my mind, or at least get off my bike. I can’t even stand to do circuits; the second time around just bores me stiff. And the chance that I’d ride the same route twice in a week is slim indeed.

Once we get further into the season, I can stand a little repetition in my rides. For the sake of going farther and faster I have to use some common roads just to get out of my neighborhood, and I get okay with that. And there are definitely some favorite country roads around here that I enjoy riding a couple of times a month; whenever my daughters want to visit a school friend who lives out in the boonies, they’re sure to hear me say that I bike past that house all the time.

But at this time of year, I tend to stick to the cities (at least in part for the flatness), and use my hatred of geographical routine to discover parts of the Capital District that I’ve never seen despite having lived here for so many decades. Just last week I ventured into a section of Albany I’d never seen before, and found new side streets that somehow I’d never been down, and some passable alternatives to Washington and Western. I’ve been finding hidden pieces of Troy (it seems as if there are a lot of them), and trying to ride most streets in Watervliet.

The upside is that I’m never bored. The downside is that whenever we’re going somewhere by car, my family has to put up with my cries of, “But wait! There’s a better way!”

A moment of St. Patrick’s Day grace

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When it comes to St. Patrick’s Day, I’m a bit of a humbug. Partly, that’s because I don’t drink and view most of the festivities as focused on amateur drunkenness and hooliganism. Partly it’s because my daughter was born on that day, and without any Irish heritage, she views the holiday as a major intrusion on her ability to go out for dinner on her birthday, ever. (This is, of course, her fault. She could have been born on the 15th, but nooooo.) There’s also an element of resenting the feeling that it’s not a safe day to be out on a bicycle because of all the drunk drivers, when for me it’s always a date by which I like to be out doing spring rides.

Saturday (when our cities observed the festivities, paradewise), I found myself with the challenge of having to pick up a daughter from her dance class, one block from ground zero of Albany Irishness, where the vomitorium had already been erected out front, right at the time things would really be getting underway. The only sensible option was to park nearby when I dropped her off and get on my bike for a ride; then when it was time to go, I could drive around the craziness, rather than having to drive through it to get to her.

So I got on my bike and enjoyed a pleasant, sunny ride along the river to Troy. When I got there, there was a duo called “Emerald Dawn” playing Irish music at one corner of Monument Square, entertaining a very small crowd. I wheeled around the block to get a cup of coffee, then came back to swell the ranks and enjoy the sun and music for a few minutes before heading back.

As the musicians played, a woman who likely lives in the public housing at the end of the square wandered up. She was carrying a framed jigsaw puzzle in the shape of a shamrock, with an Irish pastoral scene depicted, thatched hut and all. She danced a bit to the music and then offered to show everyone a real Irish picture. Everyone looked at it admiringly for her as the music played on. When the musicians announced they were almost done, she asked if they could play “Danny Boy,” saying that it had been her mother’s favorite. The duo obliged with a slow, sweet version, and she stood there with her eyes closed, mouthing the words, transfixed. And there, with just a song, they gifted her with a moment of grace on that chilly winter morning. It was such a beautiful thing that I even thought it might get me over my distaste for St. Patrick’s Day.

And so I rode back to Albany in the sun, and even the proliferation of drunken hooligans that were already making travel less than pleasant wasn’t enough to spoil the day.

First Spring Ride: What I Always Forget

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  • First Ride 2013 DSC_1079.jpgGetting back on a nice, sleek road bike after months and months of riding a laden-down, upright commuter festooned with mirrors, bells, lights and cargo bags is like getting into a race car after months of driving a minivan.
  • My commuter shoes clip in way, way easier than my road shoes. Not sure why that is.
  • I get a swig of salt and sand with every drink of water. Free!
  • My new Garmin vest is sweet, and timely, because I’m not sure wearing a Postal vest is considered correct any more.
  • Almost-spring sun and 50 degrees feels really, really good.
  • That’s not surprisingly good form, you idiot. It’s a tailwind. As you’ll find out when you turn around.

Another one I forgot

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Another sign I’m not of this culture? I have never owned a video camera. There are not endless hours of video of my kids making sand angels and mud forts. There ARE plenty of photographs, though, and if later in life they feel deprived of a motion picture record of their youth, perhaps they can string the frames together into a GIF. Sorry, best I can do.

(That said, I have actually taken video in the past year with an iPad, and my new D7000 has some video capabilities. But that doesn’t mean that video isn’t the devil’s medium, because it is.)

Not of this culture

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The past few weeks have been filled with cultural events that often make me think I’m not of this culture:

  • I have never seen a single “Star Wars” movie. Considering how much the fans say they hate most of them, I can’t understand why anyone would. I’ve seen enough snippets of the first one, and all of “Spaceballs,” to know I don’t need to see any more.
  • Other movies I have never seen: The Godfather, Titanic, The Sound of Music, any Rocky movie. I know what happens in them. I wouldn’t enjoy them.
  • I don’t watch awards shows. I don’t even understand why anyone would. Is there some chance that the Grammys are suddenly going to recognize good music? That might be worth watching. It will not happen, however. ¬†Am I going to receive an award? Also unlikely.
  • I love Superbowl Sunday only because it means the grocery store is absolutely empty (of both people and potato chips). Football’s not my thing, but I get why some people are into it. What I don’t get is why tens of millions more people are into it for one game, the Superbowl, or how this has become some kind of cultural event.
  • I bike to work. I haven’t always, and it’s a huge pain in the ass, but it’s still less of a huge pain in the ass than driving to work, circling for parking spots, waiting in lines to get out of garages, wondering where you’ve left your car, having to gas up before you go. ¬†Biking to work, even though I have to deal with traffic, never produces that anxiety, that rushed feeling that leads to so much road rage. But biking to work often gets reactions normally reserved in our culture for the homeless and/or the insane.
  • I don’t drink. There’s a lot of history, genetic and otherwise, that goes into that decision. It is wearying trying to raise kids in a culture that sometimes seems to be about nothing other than drinking, and in a city where every new business is strictly about making and imbibing alcohol. I’d blame the Dutch, but it seems wider-spread than that.
  • I think tattoos are ridiculous defacements of the human body. All of them, no matter how innocuous or personally meaningful. Scars tell a much more interesting story.