The Great Cat Reunion and Christmas in Georgia

View from plane window.
The view from the plane window en route from New York City’s LGA to Atlanta’s Hartford Airport.

For the week of Christmas, my wife and I flew down to Georgia to visit relatives. It was the first time I’d been there in about two years. It was really nice to get out of the city, see my family and relax. Going around town, looking at the places I went to school, the places I used to hang out, and sharing those memories with my wife was a good experience for both of us. She left feeling like she knew me better and I came away from the trip feeling a bit more grounded. Going to college and taking heavy course-loads with only short breaks between (I’ve been cramming in Summer and Winter classes as well) had me feeling like I was mentally flying off the rails for a while there. I’m also not taking a class this Winter. That’s mostly because I have Grand Jury Duty but I don’t think I would have taken a course anyway. I just need time to let everything I’ve learned sink in, and time to just unwind.

Highway signs in Alabama. Some of my family lives over there too, right on the border with Georgia.
Highway signs in Alabama. Some of my family lives over there too, right on the border with Georgia.
The National Infantry Museum at Fort Benning Georgia.
The National Infantry Museum at Fort Benning Georgia.

While we were in Georgia, my wife and I visited Sand Hill on Fort Benning, where I did my basic combat training back in 1998. We also went to the National Infantry museum. I’ll be posting about those experiences over the next couple of days. I can’t believe how much Sand Hill has changed, or how nice the Infantry Museum turned out to be. I was expecting something, but not something that well put together. It’s the Army, after all!

Carting our cats over to my mom's apartment.
Carting our cats over to my mom’s apartment.

Anyway, before we left for Georgia, we had one small issue we had to take care of: the cats. Dapper and Thumper probably wouldn’t have wanted to fly with us to Georgia, even if it had been affordable, not to mention the fact that I don’t think my family would want cats running around their houses anyway. So, they had to stay at my mom’s place with their long-lost sister, Marble. They hadn’t seen each other in about six months and Thumper hasn’t gotten along with Marble since I left the Philippines with Marble instead of her back in 2010 and she had to sit there for a year waiting on me to bring her to NYC. I think she got jealous!

Marble, pissed off about unwanted house guests.
Marble, pissed off about unwanted house guests.
Dapper, taking up a position on the high ground.
Dapper, taking up a position on the high ground.
Thumper, in solitary confinement because she likes to fight.
Thumper, in solitary confinement because she likes to fight.

So, throwing them all back together for a week was probably not the best idea, but cat-sitting is so expensive these days, and I trust family more than I trust a pet-sitting service anyway. I figured they’d be ok. Everything seemed to have gone ok, anyway. Bringing them back was entertaining. We had to wrap the carrier up in blankets because it was about 24 degrees outside that night with a brisk wind. When we exited my mom’s building, one of our cats gave this horrified meow when she felt the breeze. Then she buried herself in blankets!

I hope everyone had as good a time over the holidays as we did, and that everyone’s year is off to a good start!

Singapore Ez-link Card Stickers

My wife and I were looking through some of our old photos together and we happened to see these:

Singapore ez-link card with a Papa Smurf sticker on it.
Singapore ez-link card with a Papa Smurf sticker on it.
Singapore ez-link card with a Garfield sticker on it.
Singapore ez-link card with a Garfield sticker on it.

They’re not just cards with pictures.  I know in the US you can get something like that as a sort of collectible, but these are actually stickers on top of ez-link cards from Singapore.  You see, in Singapore, they use a transit card that’s like a contactless debit card.  You just tap it against a reader and enter the train station or bus.  You don’t even have to take it out of your wallet or purse if you don’t want to, and, because there’s no strip to worry about and they’re not disposable, you can decorate them.  They’re simple and usually don’t expire, as far as I remember.  We wound up turning these in for new ones, when they upgraded their system so that ez-link cards could be used to pay tolls on toll roads in cars as well.  In fact, that might have been when we took these photos, just so we could remember our stickers.

I miss these things, and how much easier they were to use than the MetroCards we get in New York City.  MetroCards seem like a waste to me, because you get one, use it for a while and then it has to be thrown away.  Wouldn’t it be better to just use the same card until you wear it out?  It would definitely be more cost effective.  Of course, switching to a card like this would create a loss of work for whoever makes the current MetroCards.  That’s probably the reason they won’t upgrade.  I understand that it’s important for people to have jobs, but I just get tired of seeing it used as an excuse to halt progress, especially when the upgrade could make life easier and is better for the environment at the same time.

That Damn L-Train

Friday morning I had an adventure with the L-Train.  Sort of an adventure.  Well, mostly it was just a pain in the ass that made me late for class.  There was something wrong with the 7 train, so all of the people that normally take the 7 to get into Manhattan were taking the L.  I didn’t know this, of course, until after I was already in the station and on the platform.  I don’t have to take the L.  I could just take the bus from Avenue B to Union Square.  The L is usually a bit faster though.  Sometimes I’ve stood around for 20 minutes waiting on a bus, only to see three of them show up at the same time.  The L is usually more reliable.  Usually.  But when it fucks up, it really fucks up.

So, like I said, I swiped my card, walked through the turn-style and then down to the platform.  I stopped for a moment to take in the huge crowd of people.  They were packed in tight from the edge of the platform back, with barely enough space for people to squeeze through behind them.  That should have been my first indication that something was wrong, but I rarely ever take the train that early in the morning.  This was at 8:30 AM.  I have one class per week that starts in the morning and it only meets once per week.  Anyway, I took my position at the back of the crowd and waited.

About 10 minutes later, a train arrived.  The doors opened and people came flooding out, trying to push through the crowd.  Before they’d finished getting out, people were fighting to get in.  You know how it is.  The person running the train is playing the “Please stand clear of the closing doors” message before people even finish walking off the train.  Before I’d even managed to take one step forward, the people boarding were fighting to hold the doors open while they got onboard.  I got to the front and realized I couldn’t squeeze in, no matter how I tried, so the doors closed and the train left.

Ok.  That was disappointing, but I could just get the next train right?  Wrong.  About 10 minutes later another train approached the station.  Then it left the station, without even stopping.  Damn.  By this point, I was thinking I should have just taken the bus.  I’d have been at Union Square by then.  But I thought that by the time I got out of the subway and got to the bus stop, and rode the bus, another train would come and I’d waste even more time.  Besides, I wasn’t sure I could manage to get some sort of pass and I didn’t want to pay again.  I didn’t have an unlimited card.  So, I just waited.

15 minutes later another train finally showed up.  People streamed out of it, and then the crowd surged in.  I grabbed the pole in the middle of the train, between the doors and listened to a girl next to me screaming about some asshole who threatened her.  She had stepped off the train to let people out, and when she tried to get back on, someone stupid got confused and thought she didn’t have a right to get back on ahead of him.  Morons.

So, I was finally underway.  Maybe I wouldn’t be too late.  Or so I thought.

The train pulled into the next station, 3rd Avenue, and the conductor got on the intercom and told us that the train would be bypassing Union Square and not stopping until 8th Avenue. What the fuck?  So, I managed to get ONE station before having to get off the train and walk anyway.

When I got to Union Square I got in line at the ticket booth just in time to watch an old man scream at the guy for not letting him back into the train station for free after he had a problem with the L Train.  He screamed “Fuck you!” and then stomped over to the turn-style and paid again to get into the station.  That wasn’t very reassuring.  When I got up the counter, I presented my case, and for being courteous I was let into the station without having to pay again.  A small blessing.

So… to get from 1st Avenue to Union Square took me almost an hour Friday morning.  Thanks to the L train.  And the fun and games didn’t stop there.  By the time I got to the school I was thirsty, but all I had was a 20 dollar bill and the café and cafeteria wouldn’t give me change, so I had to leave the campus again, back the way I came, to go to a convenience store to get a drink.  What fun.

Luckily, when I got into the classroom, no great fuss was made about my being late.  Word of the 7 and L trains’ problems had preceded me.  I think from now on I’ll just take the bus, or walk, to Union Square.  The L train is too much of a pain in the ass to even bother with.

So, NYC Bus Drivers Only Stop When They Want To Now?

I went up to Target today with my mom to give her a hand with her bags.  On the way back, we got to 14th street just in time to see a bus pull off, so we walked from 2nd Avenue to 1st Avenue, and right as we got there a bus pulled into the stop.  My mom was tired, so we got on the bus and used our transfers.

About halfway between Avenue A and Avenue B, I pressed the strip to light up the ‘Stop Requested’ sign at the front of the bus.  Instead of slowing, the bus driver accelerated.  People yelled at him to stop, but he kept going anyway, right on past the bus stop.  I guess he just didn’t feel like stopping there tonight.

After everyone shouted at the driver to stop, and he ignored us, he got on the bus intercom and told everyone to hold still, because he was going to take our picture. Why was he taking our picture to start with? And why are buses equipped to take still photos of passengers in the first place? Isn’t video enough?  Does a bus driver have the authority to arbitrarily take photos of passengers?  And what systems are in place to prevent abuse?

The next stop was in a dark part of 14th street and would have left us having to cut through a back alley in the projects to get back to where we wanted to be, so we had to stay on the bus until it turned down Avenue D and stopped at 12th street.  That still left us having to cut through the projects, but at least the area was more lighted.  People have been shot and killed in that area fairly regularly over the last few years.

The driver wasn’t done being a jackass, either.  When he pulled into the stop at 12th street, he positioned the rear door so that a pole and a pile of snow were right in front of it.  Besides the fact that I was hauling a heavy cart out of the bus (which caused me to slip and almost fall on that snow, by the way), my mother has bad knees, so it created a very dangerous situation for her.  A guy in the bus was nice enough to hold the doors for my mom while I was struggling with the cart, since the bus driver tried to shut them on her while she was getting out.

We pay good money to ride these buses.  They’re constantly jacking the fare up.  Wouldn’t it be nice if they’d raised the level of courtesy and customer service they offer riders as well?  Or at least stop at designated bus stops when the ‘Stop Requested’ light is lit.

The NYC MTA bus that didn't bother to stop, even though the Stop Requested light was lit.

Luckily, there was a red light, so after getting out of the bus and onto the sidewalk, I took a photo of the back of the bus and then used the plate number and bus number to file a complaint with the MTA.  I wonder if I’ll even hear anything back on this?

Oh, and the kick in the ass of it all is that we wound up having to walk further than if we hadn’t gotten on the bus in the first place.

The Return of Spring, by Jack Beal (2001) Glass Mosaic at Times Square Train Station

The Return of Spring, Glass Mosaic by Jack Beal at Times Square subway station.

I happened to see this glass mosaic when I came up the stairs from the 1, 2, and 3 train platform, heading towards the N, Q, and R train platform.  I’m surprised I’ve never seen it before, but the place is usually packed with people, so that’s probably why I overlooked it.

Times Square station is surprisingly drab, with a lot of uninspiring colors and unadorned walls.  You’d figure the place would be better decorated, if only to drive more tourism.  The plainness of the station really made the bright colors of this mural stand out.

This is the accompanying plaque, which is located on a central pillar in the middle of the hallway the mosaic is in:

The information plaque for Jack Beal's glass mosaic at Times Square station.