Friday, October 17, 2014

Surrendering to A Favorite American Pastime



People have purchased needed goods and services for thousands of years. American society has elevated shopping to the status of supreme leisure time activity. It is one of our most dubious practices, peculiarities, and cultural exports.

I recently made a short visit to my old hometown – not where I grew up, but where I lived for over thirty years. The area is growing, with the most noticeable change the increasing number of stores, restaurants, and other businesses cropping up everywhere, along with an increase in traffic. The county has not built major roads or widened current ones in decades. The only new roads are within housing developments and shopping centers. And a lot of paving is done creating parking lots.

My girlfriend and I spent a couple of hours in that time-honored pastime we love to hate – shopping. Not interested in traipsing through malls, we limited our outing to a favorite store – Chico’s.

Chico’s offers clothes that fit our boomer bodies. The store often has sale and clearance racks, and – most important of all –comfortable outfits with elastic waistbands and/or stretch material. We both walked out with a bag of new, comfy fitting garments.

Fast forward a couple of days and hub and I go luggage shopping. The handle on one old piece cannot be raised. The wheels on a second no longer roll, and a zipper on an outer pocket is broken. Both suitcases are shredding. And they are heavy. Airlines often weigh bags now, and the heavier the bag the fewer items can be stuffed inside.

A couple of department stores advertised sales, so we decided it was time to buy.

We drove to the mall and entered the alluring world of a three-story department store. It happened to be Macy’s. We rode the escalator to the third floor, home of the luggage section, and emerged into a winter wonderland.

Christmas arrives earlier every year in the retail world, but most stores in my neighborhood still display pumpkins, scarecrows, hay bales, and other fall items.

Walking off the escalator, hub and I looked at each other. We could not remember the last time we were in a department store. The mountains of merchandise, the variety of products, the glittery holiday decorations, were all overwhelming.

Locating luggage, we slowly made our way along the displays. There were too many choices. Soft side, duffle or hard side? Color? Sizes? Number of pockets inside? Outside?

We found three matching pieces in an odd blue color on sale, the last of a particular brand and style. We never buy black bags because they are too hard to identify coming off airline conveyor belts, or mixed with a collection thrown together on group trips.

No employee was available to assist us in luggage, so a sales clerk from another department checked us out.

We rolled our suitcases to the car and drove home.

At home we began tearing off sales tags, and immediately realized a security clasp had not been removed from one of the bags, the kind that, if attempting to remove, releases ink and an ugly mess. Or so we were told.

We drove twenty miles back to the mall and found the salesperson that checked us out. She apologized profusely, removed the tag, and we returned home.


Enough shopping for a while. We will not visit a mall again for a long time.


A postscript…Women might be from Venus but men inhabit an alternate universe. Proofreading this article, hub looked at me and said, “Holiday decorations? Really? I didn’t notice.” 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Trump May Attempt to Triumph Once Again

The Donald - Donald Trump
Donald Trump is a real-life character we love to watch, talk about, and relish hearing about, his escapades fodder for venues ranging from the staid Wall Street Journal to People magazine and late night talk shows.

Brazen, outspoken, a New Yorker born and bred, uber-wealthy, with serial wives, bad hair, a TV show, and real estate holdings around the country, the Trump name garners a wide variety of reactions. Some people envy him, others despise him, and quite a few believe he is more interested in self-aggrandizement and seeing his name and face in the news, on buildings, golf courses, and even stalls, than anything else.

Whatever Trump’s motives, the man makes a statement and demands attention.

Recently he swooped into the gambling mecca of Atlantic City, announcing the possibility that he could, if he decided to, save the city from a downward spiral into decay, obsolescence, poverty, and crime.

As the proud owner of three Atlantic City casinos, Trump’s name appeared large in lights on the marquee of three casinos – the Trump Plaza, the Trump Taj Mahal, and the Trump Marina, initially christened in typical Trump modesty Trump’s Castle – beginning in 1984.

Landry’s purchased the Trump Marina in 2011 (now the Golden Nugget). The Trump Plaza closed in September 2014, a decaying shell of a once glitzy gambling hotel. The Trump Taj Mahal pursued bankruptcy one week later, threatening to close in November unless employees agree to salary concessions, the state offers tax relief, and Carl Icahn (owner of much of Taj’s debt) provides an infusion of cash.

The Donald asserts Trump Entertainment Resorts Inc. has not lived up to their management contract, allowing the hotels to decay. Although the company contains the Trump name, The Donald currently owns just 9% of the business.

The irony is current management is following in The Donald’s footsteps, raking in profits and neglecting to plough money back into the properties.

During Trump’s tenure as major shareholder of Trump Entertainment Resorts, the hotels underwent bankruptcies in 1991, 1992, 2004, and 2009, at which point Trump departed Atlantic City.

Following recent negative publicity concerning the closing of the remaining Trump-named properties, he demanded the Trump name be removed from the hotels.
The Trump name is removed from the Trump Plaza after the hotel closed. 
A couple of days following the disheartening news of Taj’s impending doom, when all seemed hopeless, an object appeared in the sky above the sand and waters of Atlantic City, the machine’s loud motor and whirling rotors circling the city, focusing everyone’s eyes heavenward.

It was not a bird, nor a jet plane, but almost a Superman come to rescue the metropolis.

A helicopter hovered over the city, eventually alighting on the Taj roof. It belonged to a famous person, a celebrity and businessman well known in the Monopoly city. No one confirmed Trump himself deplaned, but the purpose of the ostentatious arrival of his aircraft seemed obvious.

The Donald now declares himself savior of the gambling city by the sea – should he choose to accept the assignment.

He may buy the two Trumps and resurrect them.

He wants to save Atlantic City, salvage jobs, and bring back visitors.

Or maybe he just likes the publicity.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Our Airbnb Experience

Scanning the news recently a titled piece mentioned airbnb. I immediately clicked on it, eager to read what the writer had to say. The article was not complimentary. Airbnb is a competitor of this woman’s traditional Bed & Breakfast establishment.

We have been airbnb hosts since June of this year.

The author believes airbnb cut into her sales. Airbnb is cheaper than most B&B’s and upscale hotels, although less expensive motels can be found in many areas.

Airbnb is an internet-based list of lodgings located around the world. Owners register their property, listing amenities, location information (distance from major tourist sites, stores, etc.), post pictures, and of course include price. Some people rent a room in their home. Others rent apartments or second homes owned, or guest cottages on their property.

Prices range from inexpensive to rather pricey. Accommodations can be anything from a rustic cabin in the woods to luxury digs at popular beach resorts to apartments in desirable cities like New York, Paris, and London.

We posted our apartment near Atlantic City. Taxes keep rising and maintenance costs are never-ending. Earning a few dollars when the place is vacant seemed a good way to subsidize costs. We do not rent full time because family members use the place throughout the summer and occasionally other times of the year. We blocked out times the apartment is unavailable.

We are not required to automatically accept a reservation request. We can carry on a virtual conversation with prospective guests, who prepay airbnb. At the conclusion of their stay the fee is deposited in our account.

Results have been positive. All parties treated our belongings well and left the apartment in good shape. So far nothing lost, stolen, or damaged.

Guests sometimes come for special events – weddings, family reunions, conventions, etc. Others want a get-away weekend, enjoying the beach, nearby restaurants and AC nightlife. Visitors like the convenience of a kitchen and a space to relax that is not also their bedroom.

Why not stay in local hotels, B&Bs or other accommodations?

AC weekend and holiday hotel rates are expensive, occasionally exorbitant – anywhere from $200-$400 or more a night. Prices are also high at area B&Bs and reputable non-casino hotels during the same time periods.

Bargains can be found weekdays, especially off-season, but a lot of people cannot take time off and take advantage of low midweek rates.

Airbnb has expanded travel opportunities and options and become very popular. As a result the fledgling industry has attracted the attention of established business competitors such as hotels and the owner of the B&B who wrote the newspaper article.

New ideas frequently bump up against traditional ways of doing things. But change is ingrained in our society and an essential part of our business culture, even though strong forces often fight innovative ideas and businesses threatening their domain.

But that is the American way.

Local governments are beginning to scrutinize airbnb and similar companies, eying a source of revenue and concerned about liability issues. Some regulation will probably be enacted in many municipalities to protect all parties involved in a transaction. Unfortunately governments may one day regulate airbnb out of existence, and/or demand mounds of paperwork a lot of part-time hosts will not, cannot, or may simply refuse to do, quietly delisting their property.

That would be a shame. The American entrepreneurial spirit should remain alive and well and thrive. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

2016 Presidential Campaign Update #9

763 Days until the 2016 Presidential Election

This series is supposed to be about the 2016 Presidential election, but the political scene sometimes presents non-Presidential-related events and personalities too interesting to overlook.

I loved reading about the recent trial in Virginia starring former Governor Bob McDonnell and his (most likely) soon-to-be ex-wife Maureen. It was better than any TV soap opera. The couple was accused of taking gifts and cash from a businessman in exchange for political favors.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, and his name is Jonnie Williams.

Only a very small number of people were lucky enough to be recipients of Mr. Williams’ largesse. Either the ex-governor and his wife, or only his wife (depending on whose story you believe), was fortunate enough to receive presents from Williams.

The couple arrived at the courthouse separately, with different legal teams. The marriage, whether at one time genuine or not, was apparently over, the public façade shattered.

Was the marriage in trouble? Or was the couple’s problems a charade to protect the governor’s reputation and make his wife the scapegoat? Probably only the lawyers know for sure…

Gifts lavished on a governor could be considered bribes and illegal. Gifts bestowed on a governor’s wife, who is not a public official, are not legally considered improper.

The political scandal morphed into a potential sex scandal. Allegations asserted the governor’s wife had sex with/wanted to have sex with/hallucinated about sex with Williams.

The prosecutor granted Williams immunity as a reward for testifying against the McDonnells.

The outcome of the trial: The Governor and his wife were convicted of conspiracy, bribery, and extortion, the Governor on eleven counts, Maureen on nine. Both face prison. Both are now appealing their convictions. Stay tuned…

Remember Mark Sanford, the ex-Governor of South Carolina currently representing a congressional district in the House of Representatives? While Governor, Sanford took a short vacation and went hiking on the Appalachian Trail - according to his office - but actually boarded a plane to Argentina to spend time with his mistress, leaving his wife and four sons home. Fast forward a couple of years, and, as Beyoncé sings:

… if you liked it, then you should have put a ring on it

If you liked it, then you shoulda put a ring on it

Don't be mad once you see that he want it

'Cause if you liked it,
then you shoulda put a ring on it

Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh

Apparently Sanford kept giving his mistress/fiancé excuses for not setting a wedding date. She left him in September.

Beyonce sings Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It), lyrics on screen.
(adding some fun to the serious subject of politics!)

In other political news…

Media attention currently focuses on the 2014 elections. All House seats are up for election, and a number of Senate seats are hotly contested, including Alaska, Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Iowa, and New Hampshire. This election will set the stage for 2016.

Republican contenders for a Presidential run in 2016 have not changed much over the past few months. The Republican Roster –

There are rumblings Romney might run again. How boring can a race get?...Senator Rand Paul and Rep. Paul Ryan are both considered frontrunners. A lot of influential party regulars consider Paul too libertarian, and Ryan is aligned with ultra-conservatives not too popular in polls…New Jersey’s Governor Chris Christie remains on the list, but is too liberal for a wide swath of the party. And he is from New Jersey (‘nuf said)…Jeb Bush is another name thrown around, but do we really want a third Bush in the White House?...Marco Rubio might attract Latino votes, but his pro-immigrant leanings are unpopular with conservatives…A hero of the right, Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin is mired in his own political campaign conspiracy scandal which involves coordinating ads from various supposedly independent non-profits. Not nearly as interesting as hiking the Appalachian Trail or outright bribery…Then there is Texan (not by birth) Senator Ted Cruz. Personally I favor setting Texas up as a separate country with Ted Cruz and Rick Perry (another contender) in charge…Ex-Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana keep popping up on talk shows…Dr. Ben Carson is an interesting candidate who has never held elected office.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton took time off to enjoy her first grandchild.

A wide-ranging list of Republican and Democratic 2016 Presidential candidates can be found on this website

Don’t wait until 2016 to cast your ballot!



Friday, October 3, 2014

TV Favorites of the Boomer Generation

A short trip down memory lane…

The type of TV in my house 1950s/early 60s.
The Boomers were the first generation to grow up watching TV. A small black and white box graced our living room – nowadays termed the family room. I cannot remember not having a TV in the house.  

Network TV started nationwide broadcasts in the late 50s.

Millions of boomers living throughout the country viewed the same programs at almost the same time (not exactly the same time due to time zone differences) where ever they lived and whatever their economic circumstances, religion, color, culture, or family situation. This commonality morphed into collective cultural memories influencing our generation, a phenomenon unprecedented in history.

I did not spend most days watching hours of TV or playing with electronics, as so many kids do today. I remember coming home from school, changing clothes – we had school clothes and play clothes – and going outside. Or sitting down with a book. I was a bookworm.

There was no TV before or immediately after school, at least not until my teen years. I enjoyed morning TV on Saturdays when cartoons and shows like Sky King aired…but I digress…

Recently I came across some TV-related trivia calling to mind fond memories of programs past.

Sixty years ago (ouch!), on October 3, 1954 - I was four years old – Father Knows Best premiered. I doubt I saw this first episode, but remember watching the show over the years. Youngest daughter Cathy was my favorite character, probably because I related to her the most. Betty was too old for me to have much in common.  

Father Knows Best cast:  Robert Young, Jane Wyatt, Elinor Donahue, 
Lauren Chapin, Billy Gray

The perfect American family, the Andersons, Mom, Dad and three children, a close-knit, loving clan, maneuvered life’s everyday ups and downs during the course of 203 episodes, ending in 1960.

One year later two shows that targeted young people debuted - Captain Kangaroo and The Mickey Mouse Club. Captain Kangaroo, along with his cohorts (remember Mr. Green Jeans?), aired for 30 years. Bob Keeshan, the original Clarabell the Clown on The Howdy Doody Show, starred. I only mention The Howdy Doody Show because it is my one claim to TV fame. As a kid – I cannot remember when, but must have been five or six – I was in The Howdy Doody Show Peanut Gallery. All I remember is sitting cross-legged on the floor in a party dress and clapping a lot.
The opening of the Captain Kangaroo show
The Mickey Mouse Club featured kids a little older than most of the show’s viewers. We sat engrossed in a children’s version of then-popular variety shows.  The roll call of Mousekeeters, wearing their ears, white tops and matching skirts or slacks, echoes in my mind.

I was curious about the color of the skirts and pants. Investigating online, a couple of colored photographs revealed the early Mouseketeers wearing blue and black. Apparently the group had more than one costume. It makes sense Mr. Disney could afford wardrobe variations.

Two years later – October 4, 1957 – another series destined for TV history premiered. The theoretically typical American middle-class suburban family was eminently portrayed in the sitcom Leave it to Beaver. We watched The Beaver and his older brother Wally maneuver through the trials and tribulations of growing up. The story lines provided a window into the mind of boys that girls rarely understood.

I marveled that June Cleaver was always immaculately attired in dresses and pearls, and wore heels while bustling around the kitchen. My Mom rarely donned heels, wearing comfortable shoes for her job as an elementary school librarian. She changed clothes before cooking.

Leave it to Beaver lasted until 1963, when the Beaver entered high school and Wally left for college.
 The introduction and music of one episode of Leave it to Beaver.

And now it’s time to say goodbye….
by the Mouseketeers.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A Little Black Dress

I never owned a little black dress. I might have when a little girl, but I doubt it. Little girls did not wear black dresses in the 1950s.

By the time I was old enough to own a little black dress, I was no longer little.

The idea of one ubiquitous dress hails back decades. Coco Chanel, an icon of women’s fashion, formalized and popularized the concept of the ideal dress that could go anywhere. The year was 1926.

The little black dress became a uniform women admired and duplicated. Accessorized with jewelry, shoes, an over garment – sweater, blazer, vest, jacket, shawl – the garment could be dressed up or down.

This child of the sixties moved into the seventies attending college, grad school, getting married and having two babies. My wardrobe tilted towards jeans rather than dresses. Jobs through the years required what is now termed casual business attire, and I favored pants and skirts.

This deliberation concerning dress and dresses is a result of getting ‘dressed up’ twice – two times! – last week. I cannot remember the last time I dressed up at all. Twice was tough. Perusing my closet for something to wear – suitable for the weather (it was very warm), with matching shoes that fit and did not hurt my feet when walking (a near-impossible task), that was not ridiculously out of style (eliminating some outfits), and actually fit (more outfits thrown into the Goodwill bag) – there was not much left to choose from.

I am at a stage in life when wisdom should override concerns of fashion and fads. I should not worry or care what hangs in my closet. But the agony of choosing when nothing seems appropriate proved an exercise in frustration.

To avoid future problems I need to buy myself a not-so-little black dress. Then I will have at least one outfit to whip out of the closet, regardless of the occasion.

I also need matching shoes. My black heels, ages old, beginning to wear, but more important, are too tough on my feet. Walking from the parking lot to my destination required time, patience, and tiny steps.

I am not really looking forward to shopping for a black dress sans little. Clothes shopping can be fun at times, but too often turns out to be frustrating, deflating, and hard on the pocketbook.
Shopping for the perfect little black dress...
Sometimes I enjoy clothes shopping. I like looking for sweatshirts, for instance. They are large, comfy, warm, and roomy.

While shopping I may as well buy a new pair of much-needed black jeans. 

Black jeans are part of my usual ‘dress up’ outfit. Comfortable, figure enhancing, matching any top any season of the year…Coco Chanel, where are you now? How about a stamp of approval on black jeans, the one garment that will take a woman (almost) anywhere… 
Who knew? Pinterest - the new fashion trend setter!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Pause to Remember

 The rural Pennsylvania landscape rolls by, green hills and valleys turning to deep reds and yellows.  The road passes a few small farmhouses and businesses - an auto repair shop, a farm-stand overflowing with pumpkins, a gas station and convenience store, a couple of abandoned buildings for sale.

Signs for the Flight 93 National Memorial are small, brown and rectangular, positioned low alongside the road, not easily seen unless looking for them. Eighteen miles off the Pennsylvania Turnpike Somerset exit, the site overlooks the countryside.

Turning off Highway 30, the road meanders 3.5 miles through a new federal park to Memorial Plaza. Young trees dot the landscape, the early stages of forty forest groves rising from the ruins of two debacles - decades of strip mining and the 9/11 plane crash - one grove for each Flight 93 victim, symbols of life and renewal.

Terrorists carefully planned the attacks, but could not control all factors. Flight 93 left Newark airport 25 minutes late.  The four terrorists aboard commandeered the plane. Passengers frantically contacted family and authorities on cell phones, and heard the horrifying news of the other planes that crashed into the Pentagon and the World Trade Centers Twin Towers.

I cannot imagine the fear, rage, and disbelief every individual on that plane felt. Ordinary citizens confronting extraordinary circumstances, they managed to come together - men and women, black and white, Republicans and Democrats (no doubt both parties were represented), maybe an Independent and Libertarian or two, young and old, probably the affluent and less so. Realizing time was short 18 minutes flying time to Washington, D.C. - they quickly formulated a plan and went into action.

The results, tragic for the victims, prevented a fourth plane from striking an American landmark in Washington, D.C., believed to be the Capitol building where the Senate and House were meeting.

I am surprised by the number of people at the Memorial Plaza on this weekday sunny, warm September afternoon. Two busloads plus a parking lot full of Pennsylvania plates, with a sprinkling of states near - Ohio, New Jersey, New York - and further afield - Illinois, Oklahoma, Michigan.

People wander around in groups of twos or threes, reading sign boards and walking along the path to the Memorial, a white marble wall inscribed with the names of the 40 victims. Muffled voices are heard, men shoot pictures with large mutli-lens cameras, and people linger, staring at the peaceful, bucolic fields surrounding the Plaza and the scenery beyond. The events of that day years ago seem surreal amidst this serene environment, but the names of the real victims stare at us, shining in the golden sunlight.

The Memorial is probably the closest our country comes to a national holy place.

Hub and I detoured to the Memorial on the way home from spending time with friends. We are lucky to lead busy lives, working, traveling, enjoying family and friends. The people on the 911 planes were busy leading their lives too, on business trips, looking forward to going on vacation or returning home from vacation or visiting family...but their lives were cut short, innocent victims of fanatics stirring up not only their world, but ours too.

It is difficult to put our Western-educated heads into those whose lives, history and culture are very different from ours. We find it difficult to understand a people governed by hate, who believe their hatred of a particular country and culture gives them permission to arbitrarily kill random people living in that nation.

A part of our world is plunging into a Dark Ages engineered by leaders who drag many of those close kicking and screaming into their sphere, while determined to annihilate perceived enemies near and far.

People who do not believe and do not understand the essence of our country's values  - life, liberty, pursuit of happiness - who kill the opposition and do not value anyone's life, who find liberty an idea threatening their existence and the pursuit of happiness a Western fantasy - win some battles, but will never win the war for our hearts and our minds.

I do not mean a war of traditional bombs and bullets, but a war of ideas and ideals, cultures and values and life.

Unfortunately it will be a long war, and we are war-weary.

But a visit to Shanksville gives us pause.

We remember and realize we have no choice.
Viewing flight 93 crash site from Memorial Plaza
The wall of names and
the new Visitor Center under construction.