Thursday, May 18, 2017

Was Driving Ever Fun?

Cocooning at home avoids lots of the hassles of modern life - crowds and traffic high on the list. Hub and I spent the past few weeks cocooning, but now begin another travel adventure. And it starts with car travel. Driving. 

Driving almost anywhere anytime nowadays can be anything but a pleasant experience.

Decades ago a Sunday drive was a family adventure, a time to explore nature, enjoy a picnic, visit friends and relatives. Enjoyable, bucolic, fun...but was it really?

Looking back I realize it was not, at least for my family, all fun. My sister and I fought a lot in the car, and I am sure we drove my parents crazy. Luxury cars, or at least comfortable cruising vehicles, were not in my family's budget. Our cars were purchased for the lowest price, travel amenities not a priority. 

Too many people discovered the joys of escaping home. Roads clogged with eager vacationers anxious to reach their destination. Cities and states could not keep up with the demand for roads and sometimes new ones were jam-packed immediately upon opening.

Fast forward to the 21st century. The driving situation in many parts of the country has not improved. 

Hub and I took a short road trip a couple of days ago. Our saga of road obstruction is a sad one:

Ten minutes from home and before getting on the highway we were rerouted because of road construction. Creeping forward between orange triangles and flags, we lost time before finally entering the highway miles away at a different entrance.

Approaching the bridge into the city, moving trafffic slowed to a crawl. On the bridge I said to hub, "It's weird. I don't see any cars going in the other direction."

"Maybe nobody wants to go to Jersey today," was his response.

"Wait, I see a couple of cars..." and then spied the problem - an accident. Cars on our side of the bridge slowed to ogle the scene. Once past the accident, we were up to speed once again.

Stop and go traffic through the city is to be expected. Finally a sign appeared, 'Lancaster County,' and we breathed a sigh of relief. Almost at our destination. No more traffic.

I was wrong.  Like much of the country, Lancaster County PA is growing. More houses, more people, more cars, more commercial development, more retail stores, but no more roads. Suddenly an orange sign in the middle of the road announces: Incident Ahead. Then another sign: Detour Ahead. Road closed.

What the...?

Two accidents on a beautiful sunny day. No rain, no wet roads.

We inched our way through the countryside, although we could not see much because of the BFTs (trucks) in front of us. So much for pristine countryside.

And so our travels begin. 

Saturday, May 13, 2017

About Diners

Sitting in a window booth facing a friend, perusing a menu, I marveled at the variety of dishes available. The menu continued for pages – breakfast, lunch and dinner, senior specials, kid specials, daily specials, desserts, drinks. Whatever your pleasure if you searched hard enough you would probably find it on the menu.

How do they do it?

I have no idea and cannot begin to speculate.

I simply sit back, unwind, order and enjoy the atmosphere. Diner food is very good, sometimes good, rarely bad-but it does happen. A lot of offerings are old-fashioned, home-style food, although entrée-size salads and healthy options are now common. Prices are (usually) reasonable, even inexpensive, important to budget-conscious seniors. Actually, important to budget-conscious folks of all ages.

Another criteria diners are known for are large portions. Customers leaving with plastic containers of food are a frequent sight.

The first diner (shortened from train dining cars) is attributed to a horse-drawn food wagon operated by Walter Scott in Providence, Rhode Island. A few years later (1887) Thomas Buckley began mass-producing lunch wagons, and the wagons soon morphed into permanent structures.

Train-designed diners gained popularity after World War I. Production halted, however, in 1942 when the country geared up for World War II.

As the economy thrived during the 1950s, diners became a viable small business opportunity, and the eateries flourished in the burgeoning suburbs surrounding the country’s cities.

By the 1970s fast food and casual restaurants hurt diners, and many closed. But in certain parts of the country – predominantly New England and the Mid-Atlantic states – diners prospered.

Old style diners with long counters, booths and minimal decor have been superseded by establishments with large dining rooms furnished with tables as well as booths, chandeliers, decorative ceilings and wallpaper, carpeting, and bars. Diners in major population areas typically remain open 24 hours a day.

Growing up on Long Island I remember diners owned by Greek-Americans, and today menu items such as Greek salads, souvlaki, gyros and moussaka attest to that history. Depending on an area’s population diner owners are often immigrants, whether Italian, Jewish, Eastern European, and more recently Latino.

It took several minutes to decide what to order. Too many selections can make decision-making more difficult than choosing among limited options. Were we in the mood for breakfast or lunch foods? A diet special or should we splurge? An item from the main menu or senior special selections? How about a daily special?

I like to try something different, or something not eaten often, when dining out. Not wildly different – what if I do not like the dish? I would still have to pay for it. I opted for a Portobello Benedict – Portobello mushroom, eggs, hollandaise sauce, with a side of sliced tomatoes (instead of potatoes, a nod to my sort-of diet and healthy eating regimen. NO SARCASTIC COMMENTS about diet and the hollandaise sauce please!)

My friend and I enjoyed brunch, relaxing and savoring our meal, and getting some work done (the excuse for dining out – a working meal!). In the interest of full disclosure, however, I must admit my criteria for a wonderful meal is not high, especially when I am not the one cooking. I like to cook, but not all the time.

On our arrival mid-morning the diner was not busy and the waitress attentive, but by the time we left the lunch crowd began populating tables and the wait staff hustled.

Time to get home and think about preparing dinner. 

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Not Unhappy to be Uncool, Unhip and Definitely Untrendy

Most of the time I am happy to be myself, a regular person on the boring side of the bell curve, not chic or stylish or cool in any way. I do not keep up with the latest fashion styles. I have never heard of most celebrities under 30, a very few between 30 and 50, and a handful over 50 but not yet Medicare eligible. Never into cars and not impressed by brand names and glitzy ads with skinny women wearing almost nothing, I barely remember the make of my own car. I rarely see the plays, TV shows or movies my friends discuss soon after release, eventually viewing weeks or months later. The same with food fads, hot vacation spots, kitchen gadgets, video games, and the list goes on…

This lack of up-to-date information on cultural trivia usually does not bother me. When I visit the grandkids, however, I feel as if I live in a time warp. I exist in the 20th century or maybe the early years of the 21st, moving ahead like the tortoise while the kids are hares, proceeding speedily into the 21st century. The gap widens. Often we do not meet on common ground. We are apples and oranges, a generational divide the equivalent of Venus and Mars.

Why am I thinking about this now? Because in a couple of weeks hub and I begin several weeks visiting, babysitting, and traveling with the kids. Rather than browse travel brochures, scour maps and research tourist attractions, I probably should read People and/or Us magazines, watch Entertainment Tonight, download video games on my phone, find out about the latest teen idols and listen to their music, and the list goes on…

But of course I will not. I cannot concentrate on that stuff. It is as if my brain aged and no longer tolerates the rap, rock, electronic or whatever music that blares in my sensitive ears, the vapid celebrity gossip (unless it’s about politicians), most junk food and the continuous flashing lights and whine of video games. Oh, wait, the kids whine. The games ping or ring or clatter.

On the other hand I cannot wait. I will pack sweaters for Vermont, return home and choose shorts for Florida, but probably need the shorts in Vermont and a raincoat in Florida. I have a knack of not packing what is needed as weather-wise it turns out to be colder than normal, an unusual hot spell, more humid than ever before, wet in a dry season, or find accommodations with no working air conditioning in a heat wave or no heat during an ice storm.

This past weekend I travelled out of town for a bridal shower. I checked the weather report while packing, but made the mistake of believing the report.

I dressed Sunday morning in a spring outfit and sandals and walked out the door. The weather was cloudy and cold for a May spring day, in the 40s warming to the 50s.

I had a shawl for warmth, but my feet felt ice cold within minutes. The only other shoes I had with me were sneakers. Luckily a shopping center was close by. I drove to Target and bought a pair of socks and flats, both on sale. Not my first choice, but I was in a hurry, it was Sunday morning, a lot of stores were closed, and the price was right.

Comfort before style.

I remain unhip, uncool and definitely not trendy. But before beginning my travels I think I will stop by my hair salon and browse through a copy of People magazine. 

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Toilet Paper Predicament

Articles in newspapers, online, and TV news and commentary nowadays overflow with political content. I am interested in current events – to an extent. At this time, however, my mind is overburdened with politinonsense (my made up word for the syndrome).  So it is with relief when stories about other topics, besides sports and weather, catch my eye.

One particular story made me smile. Summarizing the article:

Who: Patrons of public rest room facilities
Bureaucrats responsible for maintaining services within budget.

What: Toilet paper (TP)

Where: China, specifically a public park in Beijing.

When: Recently

Why: Two reasons: People used too much TP, and toilet paper burglars were stealing more than 30 rolls of TP every day.
Something had to be done!

How (the solution): Facial recognition software was installed and is now used to allocate specific quantities of TP (a certain number of sheets) to each patron.

A rather unique solution to a worldwide problem facing modern industrialized countries. I doubt places where the toilet paper is scratchy and rough face this dilemma. As modern technology catches up with consumer demands and TP becomes softer, smoother and kinder to the skin, this issue turns into a major problem costing individuals, companies, and countries millions, if not billions and eventually trillions of dollars.

Using more than needed in rest rooms is probably common, although I have not yet taken a survey to validate my conclusion. I can say without a doubt that countless children use a lot more than necessary, finding amusement in streaming TP rolls all over rest room stalls.

Introducing machines that electronically dispense a certain amount of TP is an interesting concept. The Chinese devices are programmed so that it is not easy eliciting more TP if necessary or desired. The machines will not issue additional TP to the same person for nine minutes after the first distribution. In case of emergency extra TP may be requested from park personnel.

The machines have received mixed reviews. Not enough TP is issued to satisfy many users. Currently one-ply tissue is used; the park plans on upgrading to two-ply, which may satisfy most consumers. Critics worry the machines may be used for more ominous purposes, such as detecting dissidents, illegal aliens, students playing hooky from school, employees ducking out of work, and uncovering other deviants.

I am not advocating utilizing similar machines in public rest rooms throughout the United States, but there are advantages: domestic manufacturers would hire lots of workers to make the machines, additional workers would be employed to install, restock and maintain the devices, and staff would be needed to dispense additional TP when necessary. A new job-creating industry demanded by consumers!

Another advantage embraces environmental benefits. All those trees saved!

A service used by every man, woman, and child regardless of age, height, weight, gender, political persuasion or any other classification. A concern everyone everywhere can rally behind.

The one tissue issue which might, finally, unite our nation.

Of course there is the question of cost – who will pay for the machines and where will the money for maintenance come from? If places providing rest room amenities such as companies, recreational areas, government facilities, retail stores and restaurants, schools, etc. install machines, the companies and organizations paying for the TP today would save lots of money. The savings could cover the cost of the machines and on-going maintenance expenses.

I might consider installing a machine in my home. Before the summer. Before the grandkids arrive…

A final note on the subject from the cast of Seinfeld in this YouTube clip Can you Spare a Square?