Friday, March 27, 2015

A City Way, Way Down on Its Luck

People thought hub and I a bit nuts when we moved to the great state of New Jersey, a.k.a. Chris Christie's Kingdom. But we chose the shore area and it is, as our town slogan suggests, shorely the best.

Our town is next door to one of the country's most economically distressed cities – Atlantic City, a place where current events are more interesting than any fictional story.

The intrigues of financial magnates and petty politicians, with the help of a vast legal system eager to devour multitudinous legal fees, play out every day in America’s favorite playground, a city that cannot seem to bounce back from bad luck.

A sample of the latest machinations plaguing the city -

Wall Street financier Carl Icahn purchased the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City and proceeded to fight with the union (over pensions, layoffs, pay, healthcare), state politicians, and other casino barons (mine is bigger than yours – casino, bank account, bullying tactics…).

Another AC casino empire, Caesars, sold one of its properties, the Showboat. A provision of the sale specified the site could not be a casino in the future. Stockton University purchased the property, planning to develop it as an urban campus, and operate the hotel during the summer season.

Icahn’s Taj Mahal is next door to the Showboat. He now insists the Showboat property be reinvented as a “first-class casino hotel” as stated in a legal document dating to the 1980s.

Stockton was assured the covenant was immaterial.

Icahn insists it is very material.

Meanwhile the Trump Plaza, a dump in the middle of Casino Row, sits empty…the Atlantic Club on one end of the Boardwalk remains vacant…on the other end of the Boardwalk the Revel (a majestic casino hotel that never made a profit during its 2 ½ years in business) lies dark and empty next to the Showboat.

AC is the home of many closed establishments and bankrupt companies, past and present.

Currently –

Caesars’ parent company is in bankruptcy.

The Revel is in bankruptcy.

The Taj Majal is in bankruptcy.

See a pattern here?

A Florida developer wants to buy the Revel. The bankruptcy court said Go ahead! Then Revel tenants rebelled. They invested millions in their businesses (nightclubs and restaurants located in the hotel), and do not want to be evicted – which is what the Florida guy plans on doing.

Another developer wants to revamp a shopping mall on the Boardwalk. Caesars placed legal barriers in the way.

In AC nothing happens easily or quickly. Too often nothing happens. Except decay.

The city is in dire financial straits. No one wants to pay taxes. Casinos demand tax rebates, the numbers of unemployed laid off as casinos closed (8,000 in 2014) have no money, property values plummeted and city revenue suffered.

Can the decline be reversed?

Can AC morph into a dynamic center with cultural and educational amenities as well as hotels, casinos, entertainment and restaurants before global warming sinks the city?

Can businesses steer clear of bankruptcy?

Will gentlemen’s clubs and pawn shops be the only businesses to survive?

Atlantic City can't get a break.

Hasbro, the company that makes Monopoly, recently threw the city out the window. Two new versions of the game include one with American cities (excluding AC) and one with world cities.

Stay tuned for future developments as financiers and developers play with AC properties as if they really were plastic game pieces…

Monday, March 23, 2015

One Morning in the Life of a Procrastinator

Morning began with a 7:00 a.m. zumba class followed by a dash into the grocery store for a few food essentials. Then the plan was return home for a quick shower, a brief breakfast, and head off to a meeting.

My cell phone rang while grabbing groceries. I glanced at the name, the leader of the meeting I was to attend not too long after my food forage.

“Meryl, my street is in the process of being broken into pieces by the gas company. Workers set up cones at both ends of the street. I know you wouldn't have a problem parking a couple of blocks away and walking, but we have one person coming to the meeting recuperating from surgery. She can't walk far. So, “she continued breathlessly, “Can we meet at your house?”

“Sure, no problem,” I blurted.

“OK, I’ll tell the others and see you soon,” and hung up. The number of people, four or five, congregating in my cottage would not be a problem.

Then the real predicament hit me.


My house was a mess.

The public areas were not up to hosting visitors.

And the reason - I am a procrastinator.

This trait particularly manifests itself when it comes to the condition of my home. I do almost anything else before cleaning, the task always moving to the bottom of my to-do list or until it is imperative the work gets done. 

Which was suddenly NOW.

I raced to the cashier, checked out, drove home and burst into the house. Hub was just beginning to awaken and greet the day following a night of blissful slumber.

I rudely interrupted his leisurely schedule.

“I have to clean. The meeting was moved here. Have to take a shower,” and sprinted into the bathroom, slamming the door and discarding gym clothes simultaneously.

Following a record short shower, I dressed (no time for makeup) and returned to the public spaces demanding attention.

People were coming.


I frantically ran around the dining area, kitchen, family room and powder room – anywhere people might wander.

Meanwhile hub surreptitiously disappeared.

I vacuumed, put away an assortment of kitchen paraphernalia concealing counters, checked the bathroom, cleared (in other words, placed out of sight) an assortment of newspapers, books and other items scattered throughout.

I should learn. Do not leave these tasks until the very last minute.

But I am a born procrastinator. We procrastinators think about doing things, plan on doing things, prepare to do things – but somehow often do not actually get around to DOING certain things.

Especially activities not exactly relished.

By the time the doorbell rang the house (public spaces only) was presentable enough that I was not totally embarrassed.

A couple of hours later the meeting adjourned, people left, and I decided to tackle my bedroom.

But first lunch…and I had not yet checked today’s e-mail…or scanned the headlines…

My bedroom and the accumulated chaos could wait. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Officially Old…and Supporting the Economy

There is no denying or dodging, no circumventing or sidestepping the issue. I am officially old.

The stamp of irrefutability is on my forehead.

Today I applied for Social Security and Medicare.

The sign-up did not take long. The marvel of the Internet and my laptop allowed me to undertake the procedure from the comfort of my favorite chair. One screen followed another as I filled out basic name/address information and answered yes/no to a series of questions.

Review the information carefully the bold print commanded as all my data appeared on one screen. I dutifully complied. At the bottom of the screen a warning, again in bold, declared my information could not be changed after submitting my application.

I took a deep breath and hit submitIt was all over, my data now inscribed in the Cloud and the government’s computers forever.

The on-line process proved painless and trouble-free, yet somewhat mentally distressing. Or maybe depressing is a better word.

Although not real, I could see the big banner in the sky bearing a melancholy message in bright-colored flashing lights declaring, “You are old! No hiding it now! This is it! YOU ARE OFFICIALLY OLD.”

But there is a bright side. Soon money sent from the Social Security office of our esteemed government will be deposited directly into my bank account every month.

I will become a card-carrying member of the 47% of the population receiving a government entitlement (to which this loyal taxpayer contributed for decades as a member of the working crowd).

My money will almost immediately be moved into the accounts of companies waiting impatiently for my funds, like my local gas and electric company, Comcast (only because there are no good alternatives), the grocery store, convenience/gas station, the guy shoveling my sidewalk, the local coffee shop – the list goes on. And as time passes (I fear) medical establishments will receive a larger and larger chunk of my cash.

I contribute to the paychecks of younger folks working in these companies, providing needed services, supporting their families and their government by paying taxes.

I am proud to be part of a vast federal employment program, helping to create jobs.

Think about it. My money will be going right back where it came - Into the coffers of the U.S. Treasury for redistribution once again.

So, politicians out there ranting about cutting off my entitlements, my dollars will be widely spread around, helping to sustain and grow the economy.

Sure there is bloat in the budget and room for improvement. If I could make a suggestion – first round cuts should be the salaries of the politicians aiming for my entitlements.

Meanwhile I eagerly await my first government largesse.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Best of Boomers Offer a Quiz, Questions, and Consumer Alerts

This week our bloggers offer an interesting quiz, discuss two consumer actions, look back on a blogging career, and describe an evening out.
Tom Sightings asks you to consider Vice President Joe Biden. Do you know how old he is? Do you know whether he is older or younger than actor Joe Pesci? Take your stroller, or your walker, over to Who Is Older? at Sightings Over Sixty and take the quiz that will let you know if you've been keeping up with the ages.

On The Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide, Rita R. Robison writes about two actions that will help protect consumers.

DIRECTV didn’t give consumers full information about their offer for discounted service and a “free three month” deal for HBO and Showtime. Instead, their viewers got stuck with charges they didn’t know about or approve, the Federal Trade Commission charged in a lawsuit.

In a settlement with the New York Attorney General’s Office, the nation’s three leading credit reporting agencies – Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion – agreed to overhaul their practices for fixing errors and the treatment of medical debt on consumers’ reports.
How does one gracefully close out a blog after eight years? Laura Lee is thinking about this exact dilemma over at this week

What is a night out on the town the senior way? Meryl Baer of Six Decades and Counting recounts a night out that began in the afternoon and ended...well, read all about it in An Afternoon and Night Out On the Town (the Senior Way).

An Afternoon and Night Out on the Town (the Senior Way)

The night did not start as a night out. It began as an afternoon errand, not eagerly anticipated but a necessary task, which could no longer be ignored.

Sometime in the recent past some unknown person or persons stole one of our license plates – the front one. The back plate remained securely attached. We have no idea why the thieves did not steal both plates.

We needed replacement plates, requiring a trip to the nearest Motor Vehicle office. Hub detached the back license plate and we entered the hallowed halls of the rather chaotic New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission.

It was mid-afternoon and the place was bustling. Demographically the crowd skewed young, which makes sense since older folks already have licenses, and renewals and ordinary changes can be completed online nowadays.  

People wandered around everywhere. Folks sat at tables staring into space while others feverishly filled out forms. Children fidgeted and talked loudly, tugging at their parents’ sleeves or pants (depending on the height of the tyke), demanding drink/food/potty.

Lines meandered all over the place. We got on the end of the first line, positioned in front of the Reception Desk. The line moved quickly. We stated our case and were ushered to the front of a Customer Service window, returned our one license plate and were handed a form to complete.

I filled out the form and proceeded to the end of the line queued in front of windows A and B. Luckily the line moved swiftly once again. An employee scanned my form, initialed it, and then pointed to the next destination - Window C or D.

Once again we wandered through a fast moving line. Another state employee finally took the form and vigorously hit quite a few keys on her computer. She requested the $6 fee for a new set of plates (who said everything in Jersey is expensive!). We paid, received a new set of plates, the computer spit out a receipt, and we left.

The surprisingly smooth and thankfully expeditious process took less than an hour.

Walking out of the DMV office into a misty rain, hub asked, “Now what?”

I looked across the parking lot and said, “Let’s go to the movies. I want to see the second Marigold movie.”

And we did, arriving in time for a matinee (before 5:00 p.m.) at a reduced rate.

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, as numerous reviews have stated, was not as good as the first. But it was a relaxing, enjoyable couple of hours. Additions to the cast include a charmingly blue-suited Richard Gere. He does not have to say much or act well (he doesn’t in this particular movie), but is terrific eye candy.

Leaving the theater hub looked at the restaurant next door and said, “We haven’t been to the Outback in a long time. Let’s have dinner.”

And we did.

We arrived home following our afternoon of shopping (sort of, for new license plates) and evening’s entertainment about 8:30 p.m.

We enjoyed a night out the senior way.

Only one question remains concerning a night on the town for seniors of a certain age: During the summer, can we boast of spending a night out on the town when the night out ends before dark? 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Spring Has Almost, Just About, Boldly Sprung


Not that it is unusually late in the year for the first signs of spring, but the long, cold and dreary winter triggered doubts that spring would ever sprout.

Those doubts were cast aside yesterday.

The temperature topped 60 degrees. The sun shone bright and warm. With the extra hour of light, afternoon radiance lingered.

And perhaps best of all, our local ice cream shop is now open.

Shut tight the closing days of autumn, the storefront presented a dark presence in a line of retail shops on Main Street.

A few weeks ago signs began appearing on the store window. Opening in eight weeks…Opening in six weeks…and the anticipation grew.

Opening day was scheduled for last Friday, but snow on Thursday delayed deliveries.

The store opened its doors Saturday.

We were not one of the ice cream parlor’s first customers. We were out of town for the weekend, driving hours north into the cold tundra.
We got as far as Burlington, Vermont, spending the weekend with kids and granddaughter eating, reading stories, snowshoeing, and walking on a frozen Lake Champlain.
Lake Champlain (Burlington VT)
Walking on Lake Champlain, looking across the lake to New York state.
On the drive home we left frigid weather behind. We eagerly shed ski jackets, boots, gloves and hats, hopefully not to be worn again for months.

Monday dawned sunny and – dare I say it – warm! Relatively speaking, of course.

For the first time in months hub and I walked on the Boardwalk.

After dinner we strolled three blocks in the twilight to our neighborhood ice cream store and indulged.

Spring has sprung! 

Maybe these flowers - pictures taken previously in my yard
will reappear soon...

Friday, March 6, 2015

Fulfilling a Civic Responsibility – Jury Duty

I spent three days this week at the county courthouse fulfilling my civic duty. I was one of eight chosen to serve on a jury in a civil case.

Called a couple of years ago, I spent half a day waiting for something to happen, only to be discharged at lunchtime.

This time I got beyond the jury assembly room.

The process of choosing a jury began at 9:30 my second morning of service and concluded at 1:30 p.m. Over 50 men and women quietly filed into a real courtroom. The judge, two lawyers, the plaintiff and defendant, and about half a dozen security personnel and court clerks awaited our arrival.

Two people remained in the gallery when the judge finally announced, “We have our jury.” After answering a series of questions, the judge or one of the lawyers dismissed most of the prospective jurors. No lunch break – the judge wanted to complete jury selection and recess for the day.

The trial began the next day. Following the lawyers’ opening statements, the testimony of three witnesses, two short breaks and a one-hour lunch recess (not in that order), the trial adjourned for the day. Court was canceled Thursday due to snow and does not convene on Fridays.

Friday morning I received a call from the courthouse. The case settled.

My civic responsibility unceremoniously concluded. I do not have to serve again for three years.

Following years watching law-related TV shows from Perry Mason to Law and Order and The Good Wife, experiencing a real trial proved fascinating. It is also a plus NOT to encounter the process first-hand as either a plaintiff or defendant, but as an objective observer.

My three days of jury duty was noteworthy for a number of reasons.

I got to wear nice clothes that have been hanging in my closet, rarely worn since retiring; warm socks, sweats and comfy sweatshirt my usual winter attire (especially this cold winter).

…and new dress boots bought this summer (on sale, of course) and worn previously only a couple of times – until jury duty beckoned. My court outfit consisted of black jeans, a shirt or sweater and a blazer.

I met a group of interesting people, getting to know my fellow jurors. I will probably never see any of them again.

I earned some money – $5 a day (not a typo) for the first two days of service and $40 the third day. A substantial raise!

My vocabulary expanded. I will most likely forget the legal jargon quickly, but the concepts may remain in my head, building knowledge in an area that may someday prove useful, for instance at a cocktail party or during a trivia game.

I enjoyed a couple of delicious restaurant meals with hub. Working long hours, listening intently to proceedings, watching videos (the judge warning jurors not to fall asleep while the lights were out), and sitting silently, resulted in mental exhaustion with limited time or energy for mundane tasks such as food preparation.

I missed my weekday activities, and my body already suffers from a lack of exercise. But I had looked forward to returning next week for the completion of the trial. I do not like to leave things undone. And would like to know the particulars of the settlement.

Did the woman suing receive what she considered adequate compensation for her injuries?

Did the company prevail and refuse to pay anything?

Was there a compromise reluctantly accepted by both sides?

Will I miss my $40/day earned income?

Will I get to wear my dress boots again this winter?

Should I retire my blazers for the season and bring them to the cleaner?

Is hub willing to go out to dinner now that I no longer have an excuse NOT to cook?

Will I ever be called to serve again? I look forward to a criminal case, preferably a winter trial. I have the clothes to wear.

Seriously, I am glad for the opportunity to serve and experience an actual trial.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Riding the City Bus

The children’s song “The wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round, round and round, the wheels on the bus go round and round, all through the town…” played continually in my mind as I strolled to the bus stop.

It was a beautiful sunny day, the first in a long time. Spring was almost - not quite - but almost in the air. Everyone felt it. Moms and babies in strollers packed the sidewalk, along with old women dragging their grocery carts, men and women enjoying a few moments outdoors before scurrying back to work inside sterile interiors, plus a few drunks, homeless, and assorted odd fellows.

Riding the city bus is not part of my regular routine, but I was summoned for jury duty at the city Courthouse. Rather than maneuver traffic and parking problems, I opted for public transportation.

Boarding the bus homebound, I stuffed quarters in the coin box and looked around (“…the money on the bus goes clink, clink, clink…). The bus was crowded, but a couple of empty seats in the back beckoned (“…the driver on the bus says, ”Move on back…”). The bus started moving. I lurched forward and moved ahead. A woman picked up her purse, vacating a seat, and I sat down.

A girl of about four sat directly in front of me. Her grandmother spoke to her in Spanish (the Mommy on the bus says, ”shush. Shush, shush…”), and she responded in a singsong Spanglish. A heated discussion between the two involved the TV shows the girl would watch when they got home.

Everyone studiously ignored the disheveled man sitting in the middle of the back seat in his pajamas. He was silent, but must have noticed people eying him. He started talking in a low monotone. The hospital discharged him and he had no one to drive him home, and no money for a taxi. The hospital provided money for the bus trip home. Apparently he got sick in the middle of the night a couple of days earlier and had no other clothes with him.

A too loud voice behind me could not be ignored. Initially I thought a drunken passenger ranted senselessly, but quickly realized the man was regaling passengers with his busy week at the restaurant where he worked.

It was Restaurant Week, his place of employment fully booked, and he needed to get to work NOW. Unfortunately the bus plodded along, stopping at every traffic light and bus stop. People exited, others boarded (the people on the bus go up and down…) and the man kept talking, agonizing over being late unless the driver picked up speed.

After a few minutes listening I had to enter the almost one-sided conversation. I knew the restaurant of which he spoke, and cheerfully mentioned the place’s delicious Kobe burgers, salads, and Happy Hour specials.

A fairly obese woman (I am being polite) piped up, “I don’t eat meat.”

The man said, “We have the freshest fish and seafood. Right off the boat. Never fried.”

“I don’t eat fish either,” the woman stated.

“We have great pork chops and roast beef,” and before the man could continue the woman piped up, “Don’t eat pork or beef either.”

“How about chicken?” the man inquired. He was a cook and proud of his work.

“How is it prepared?”

“Half chicken rolled in a coating, baked, you would love it,” the man responded.

“How about desserts? Love desserts.”

Ah, now I understood the extra pounds on this non-meat, pork, or fish eater.

She was addicted to sugar.

The man smiled and said, “We are known for our desserts.”

I waxed poetic about the restaurant’s seasonal fresh fruit pies and gluten-free blueberry muffins.

Our plump friend was not satisfied, looking for sweeter concoctions.

The bus approached my stop. I exited (the door on the bus goes open and shut…), the man still continuing his monologue, now telling everyone about his wonderful boss and how he was going to be late because the driver was so slow….

My slice of city life ended, an eclectic group of people I will never see again riding down the highway.

The silly children’s song ceased echoing in my head.

I walked the last couple of blocks home in peaceful silence.