Friday, November 22, 2013

Where Were You...? JFK Edition

Some of my CTY students believed that, since I was born in the previous millennium, I was there for everything that occurred. I was not, in fact, present at the Battle of Hastings, nor was I aboard the Nina, the Pinta or the Santa Maria. I did, however, suggest to Thomas Jefferson that we buy Louisiana and kick out the French. ("We don't have much money, Bob." "I know, Tom, but they're busy fighting a war so make them a crazy offer and see what happens.") And, of course, there was the charge up San Juan Hill with Teddy Roosevelt.

I wasn't standing on the grassy knoll in Dallas fifty years ago. I was a seventh-grader eating my lunch in the Elmont High School cafeteria with a couple of my classmates. It was a Friday and the day that our first seventh-grade dance would take place after school. Admission was an item of non-perishable food for a drive the class was running; I had brought a can of green beans. Our big concerns were whether we would be forced to ask girls to dance and what we would do if a girl asked one of us.

The news was quite sketchy at first. I don't know whether it came from a student who was listening to a transistor radio or from a teacher who'd heard it in the teachers' lounge or the main office. This was long before smart-phones and the internet and 24/7 news broadcasts.

As word spread around the cafeteria, I recall someone scoffing, "Yeah? Who shot him? Caroline with a popgun?" When the bell rang, no further information was forthcoming, so we all proceeded to our next class.

For me, it was gym class. We changed into our gym clothes and went outside, where we did calisthenics and then started playing soccer. Not long into our game, someone came out and told the teacher to bring us all back inside. We got back to the locker room just in time to hear the principal making an announcement over the P.A. that President Kennedy had been assassinated.

The principal said that all after-school activities were being cancelled. Students who had brought items  for the food drive should drop them off but the dance would be rescheduled. He also advised us all to go straight home.

He didn't have to tell us why we should go straight home. This was the Cold War era. Nikita Khrushchev had promised to bury us. The Russians had tried to put nuclear missiles in Cuba, only to be stopped by our now-dead President Kennedy. The assassination could, in fact, be the start of World War III with the Commies, with mushroom clouds blossoming all around us. We should be home with our families if that was what happened.

I don't recall much more about the weekend, though I do remember that I was watching when Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald in front of all those Dallas cops and the TV cameras. That was, perhaps, more unbelievable than the assassination.

One other odd thing I remember: Channel 5 was showing reruns of The Untouchables on Wednesday nights at the time.  According to TV Guide, scheduled for the following week was the first half of the two-part "The Gun of Zangara." It was the story of the attempted assassination of President Franklin D. Roosevelt by Giuseppi Zangara that resulted in the death of Chicago mayor Anton Cermak. Not surprisingly, Channel 5 pulled the episode; I did not get to see it until the series was released on DVD decades later.

Despite the grave concerns of that weekend, World War III did not happen. Nikita Khrushchev didn't bury us; in fact, he was replaced as Soviet Premier the following year. Lyndon Johnson took over as President and our lives went back to normal. 

Our seventh-grade dance was never rescheduled. The great concern about having to dance with a girl was forgotten. I hope someone eventually got to eat the can of green beans.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Driving to Work (and Home Again)

My route to work includes a two-lane road that takes me past a stone-crushing facility. Not surprisingly, there are a number of large trucks coming in and out of its driveway. One did so this morning as I was coming up the road and it headed in the direction I was traveling.

A large sign on the back of the truck read "Construction Vehicle. Do Not Follow." I've seen this message on trucks before and wondered what it is supposed to mean, especially as I am driving on a winding road that has no passing lane nor any portion in which is is safe to cross over and pass said truck. Should we all just pull over and sit on the side of the road until the truck is out of sight, so as not to be accused of following it?

And just what is the penalty for following a construction vehicle? Other than, presumably, driving more slowly than you might if the truck was not in front of you? Are there Construction Vehicle Police who will magically appear and give you a ticket?


The speed limit on this same road is 40 mph, except for a short stretch in front of an elementary school, where the limit is 30 mph between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. on school days. As you approach the school from either direction, there is one of those speed-sensor signs that flashes and tells you what your speed is. (On the occasions that I ride my bicycle to work, I am amused to see that the sensor notices me and flashes that I am going about 11 m.p.h. This must baffle some of the drivers passing me.)

Unfortunately, when you approach from the north, the sensor seems to be aimed at some spot about a quarter mile up the road. More often than not, I'll be nearing the sign at a speed around the limit, but the sign will be flashing 42 or 45 or 47 or higher because it is registering someone who not yet within the speed zone. I suppose this doesn't really matter as long as there isn't a ticket-writing police officer sitting there using the sign as the basis for determining who is speeding.

Still, it's become a habit to check my speedometer and compare it to the flashing sign as I go by. It never seems to match.


The distance from home to the office is just over five miles. Along the way, I pass three 7-11 stores. There are no fast-food franchises and no gas stations along the route. It would seem obvious that there is a market for Slurpees, but none for Big Macs or five gallons of fuel.


According to Mapquest, it should take me thirteen minutes to drive to work. It's usually between fifteen and twenty, however, depending on how much traffic there is and how many of the traffic lights I hit driving through Farmingdale village.

The key, however, is to be ahead of the various school buses that make their way along the same route, rather than behind one because that adds ten minutes to the trip. And if it's a school bus that's behind a sanitation truck on garbage day? Might as well have another cup of coffee before leaving the house.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

"Patch" Me In

  Like many other communities around the country, Farmingdale has an edition of The Patch, the hyper-local online news-blog. From time to time, there are news items that I find interesting and/or informative, but more often there are days when it seems like they are grasping at straws to come up with anything important to report. Farmingdale is not a hotbed of crime or any other big news.
  In addition to a daily email with links to the news highlights,subscribers also receive "Breaking News" alerts from time to time. Alas, whoever is responsible for these seems to have an odd idea of what constitutes "Breaking News."
  To be fair, I do recall receiving one alert reporting that Route 109 was closed down because of a major fire. The alert came in the mid-afternoon and the firefighters were still on the scene when I passed by on my way home about an hour later.
  More recently, however, there's been a substantial time lag between when the event took place and when it is finally reported. Last Monday at 5:10 p.m. I received a Breaking News report about a 3-year-old boy who had been injured in a car accident... on Sunday just after noon. Not much of a scoop there, but a day or two time delay seemed to be the norm these days.
  But then on Wednesday I received an alert about cars being vandalized in Farmingdale. Something I might want to know about, especially since one of the cars was parked on a street not that far from my own. But the vandalism took place a full week earlier! How does this constitute "breaking news"? (Unless, of course, the "breaking" refers to the windshields involved.) And why has it taken them a week to report anything about it?

  For the past three days, work crews have been closing down and digging up portions of Main Street. As a result, I've had to take a detour route to get to work. It would have been nice to know about it in advance, so that I could have taken the alternate route from the start, rather than having to loop around to do it.
  Alas, there has been no report at all on The Patch about what is going on. I suppose, however, there might be a Breaking News alert sometime next week. Maybe even before all the work is completed!