Saturday, January 27, 2018

Come From Away Mesmerizes

…and restores my faith in the goodness of humanity.

“On 9/11, the world stopped. On 9/12, their stories moved us all.”

The one-line sound bite from the play’s website sums up Broadway’s Come From Away. The United States closed its airspace immediately following the 9/11 attack. Planes heading towards the U.S. and aircraft in the country’s skies were ordered to touch down at the closest airport. Thirty-eight passenger jets landed in a small town, population less than 10,000, on the eastern edge of Canada – Gander, Newfoundland, nicknamed by locals “the rock.”

The musical Come From Away tells the story of how Gander, along with nearby fishing
villages, mobilized to house, feed, comfort, and entertain the sudden arrival of 6,759 reluctant passengers and airline crew members, plus 9 cats, 11 dogs, and a pair of endangered apes.

Performers, each portraying more than one character, relate the true stories of a handful of the stranded as well as the locals who hosted them. Funny, poignant, emotional, and at the same time heartbreaking and uplifting, the 100-minute production, presented with no intermission, finds the audience whooping and hollering, cheering and clapping, crying and laughing at the end.

The narrative of kindness, concern and helpfulness offers a beacon of hope in difficult times as our country faces assault from mean-spirited leaders. The story evokes our sense of the inherent goodness of most folks and the ability of people who may not agree on many things to come together, quite different from too many of our current political leaders who embrace a divide-and-conquer philosophy.

The passengers did not forget the thoughtfulness and care received in Gander once home again. Gander townsfolk refused any compensation. So, in a monumental pay-it-forward effort, passengers established a scholarship fund for Gander’s students. Beginning with initial donations of $15,000, the fund totals over $1.5 million. The first scholarships were awarded in 2002 and have been awarded every year since.

Hopefully I remember the feel-good story of Come From Away when listening to the news and talking heads and reading divisive, nasty criticism as the political situation unfolds in this election year and thereafter. 

Friday, January 26, 2018

Winter Escape to the Big Apple

Hub and I walked out of the Port Authority bus terminal onto the streets of Manhattan, the Big Apple, the city that never sleeps, 22.8 square miles crammed with museums, restaurants, theaters, tacky souvenir and gift shops, cafes, take-out food shops, a Starbucks on every other corner, inexpensive as well as exclusive shopping, skyscrapers, pubs, stop-and-barely-moving traffic, belching cars and trucks, bistros, and people. Lots and lots of people. Tourists, boomers and seniors, working people, people in Sesame Street, Star War and super hero costumes.

We hailed a cab. The mile-and-a-half ride ended over a half hour later at our hotel. Walking would have brought us to our destination sooner, but dragging a suitcase that distance through crowded streets and cold weather offered no appeal.

And while on the subject of crowds, they were everywhere. A few minutes after 5:00 p.m. the worst invasion occurred. Hordes of humans descended on the sidewalk, emerging from every building, everyone moving quickly as they headed home from work, making it difficult to maneuver between, around, and through the multitudes.

The impetus for our trip was a Travelzoo deal, a $99 a night (plus tax) offer too good to pass up. Our hotel room turned out to be impressively expansive for a Manhattan space. Except for the bathroom. A disclaimer should be posted: Individuals over a certain size cannot be accommodated.

We tried taking Lyft to the Lower East Side, but the mix of packed sidewalks, wide streets and traffic prevented car and customers from finding each other. We learned to order Lyft pickup on a side street.  

Our first stop - Russ & Daughters deli/restaurant. Over one hundred years ago newly arrived immigrant Joel Russ earned a few dollars hauling sacks of mushrooms on his back. He graduated to a pushcart, then opened a hole-in-the-wall retail store in 1914 selling appetizer-type foods (e.g.-smoked fish, herring, cheeses, salads). With no sons to take over the business, his three daughters stepped up. The store survives today. In 2014 the company (still family owned) opened the restaurant, stylish in a New York trendy way. Big bill, small plates.
My Russ & Daughters lunch. The green stuff between
the sprouts and the whitefish is wasabi-infused fish roe.
I did not like the fish roe.
Next stop the Tenement Museum. The 5-story building, built 1863, has been partially reconstructed, but part of the dwelling remains as it was when the apartments were abandoned in 1935. A tour (no wandering around on your own) offers a credible peek into the lives of generations of immigrants.

Before leaving the Lower East Side neighborhood we walked over to 192 Stanton Street, my mother-in-law’s home for the first ten years of her life. The picture of her building illustrates the redevelopment of old tenement buildings, today inhabited by the well-heeled.
192 Stanton Street, redeveloped and
We ventured further uptown and strolled through Eataly, a food hall chock full of Italian groceries, prepared foods and eateries. Pasta specials at $1 a box compete with specialty pastas selling for as much as $28 a box (not a mistype). We ate dinner at one restaurant. We shared a salad, hub ordered a glass of wine while I sipped tap water, and we each ordered a personal size pizza. The bill - $86. Yummy, but not that scrumptious…

The next morning we hiked two miles in cold, windy conditions, the objective the Times Square TKTS booth. We purchased tickets for a matinee performance of The Band’s Visit, about an Egyptian band arriving in a remote Israeli desert village by mistake.

The evening remained free. Friends gave high marks to the Broadway show Come from Away. We walked a couple of blocks to the theater box office to try our luck.

Hub and I entertain different ideas of what constitutes a reasonable price. He was willing to spend $79 a ticket. Plus tax. I was willing to pay more.

I started conversing with the man in front of me in the box office line. He clued me in to rush tickets, $38 tickets offered before show time. Unfortunately, no rush tickets were available for the evening performance. Or $79 tickets. Or $89, $99, or $100 tickets. At that moment hub prepared to depart ticket-less. I, however, did not want to leave. I handed over my credit card, received two tickets and walked out. Hub trailed behind, moping. How could I spend so much money? I calmly stated I wanted to see the show and since we were here, in the Big Apple, the heart and soul of theater, we might as well go. But it didn’t take hub long to cool down – it was quite cold outside.

Come from Away, a powerful viewing experience, deserves its own blog post. post. 

Sunday, January 21, 2018


1,017 Days (as of 1/21/18) to November 3, 2020

One year into the current Administration is an opportune time to look ahead to the next Presidential election less than three years hence. However, before November, 2020, we must endure midterm elections. Nine months from now every seat in the House of Representatives (435) and 34 Senate seats will be on ballots around the country.

Our legislators currently tackle a government shutdown the electorate does not want and (most of us) do not understand. Tackle is a fitting metaphor to describe the struggle Washington faces as decisions are made concerning constituents’ hard-earned tax dollars. This weekend two crucial football showdowns determined the last two teams standing this season. The two teams will face each other on February 4th in one of the all-time biggest TV events the universe will ever witness – Super Bowl LII (52). (Disclosure: I am not a football fan. But if I must choose between watching football or listening to endless news about the government shutdown, football wins hands down).

Why do I obsess over football? Because I live within the Philadelphia football field of influence. The
Eagles Underdog dominate discussions day and night. It beats the obsession over our current POTUS.

A lot of Philadelphia football fans, mostly women but some men, marched on Saturday, January 20 against many, many, many policies advocated by POTUS. Which brings us back to elections.

The current POTUS will run for re-election, barring unforeseen circumstances. For instance, outstanding health specimen that he is, unfortunate health issues may arise. Should such a situation occur, V-P Pence eagerly awaits a call to duty.

As for the opposition, anything can happen and anyone could run. Contenders that come to mind include Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren (almost too old, too female and too liberal for too many), New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, California Senator Kamala Harris, Oprah Winfrey (catch her speech at the Golden Globes?) – enough with the women, let’s move on - Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, old standbys Joseph Biden and Bernie Sanders, and speaking of old, California Governor Jerry Brown may be interested – he is almost 80.

And then the long shots – Caroline Kennedy, John Kerry, Julian Castro…celebrities, businessmen and women, maybe a scientist or how about an astronaut?

Or a football player.

2018 will be a fascinating election year. But before the ads and speeches and name-calling begins (or continues), the American people need a hiatus from politics and politicians. That’s where football comes in. It doesn’t matter if you like or understand the sport.  Immerse yourself in football for a couple of weeks. And eat comfort food.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Weekend Writing Getaway

I spent the Martin Luther King holiday weekend at the Poetry and Prose Getaway, my third endeavor into the realm of intensive workshops sponsored by Murphy Writing of Stockton University, a provocative, thought-provoking, exhausting, educational experience worth the investment in time and money.

The Seaview Hotel and Golf Club (no one played golf in freezing temperatures. In January. Golf not included in getaway package. But the golf shop was open.) is half an hour from home. Hub dropped me off at the entrance to the resort and drove off. I eagerly hauled my suitcase up the steps and checked in. You may wonder – why didn’t I commute? Three reasons, weak as they may be: January weather conditions can be brutal. I had a roommate to share room expenses. And I wanted the full immersion experience.

Participants sign up for a three-day workshop. Three hours in the morning, a lunch break, another three-hour afternoon session, one three-hour session day three. But I don’t want to give the impression it was all work. A Friday evening reception (the variety of foods satisfying most dietary preferences), happy hours, an early morning yoga class, surprisingly good cuisine. And an indoor pool, although I don't know if anyone took the plunge.

Photographers recorded the weekend – not every event, but a sampling – including the Sunday evening dinner, the banquet hall resplendent in dark blue sateen-like tablecloths, a cash bar (what’s a lovely dinner without wine?), a birthday cake celebrating the 25th year of the Getaway, and a drone. A picture-taking drone.

Here is a video thanks to my iPhone. Not a professional film, but you get the idea. The drone circled the hall snapping pictures.

The getaway ended on a somber note, a tribute to Martin Luther King. We listened to the speech Dr. King gave the night before he died. And the speech Robert Kennedy gave the following evening in Indianapolis disclosing Dr. King’s death. I end this post with excerpts from Kennedy’s speech. It is a sad commentary on our times that 49 years after the death of Martin Luther King, Charlottesville starkly demonstrated that violence and division continue to poison our country.

What we need in the United States is not division;
what we need in the United States is not hatred;
what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness,
but is love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another,
and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country,
whether they be white or whether they be black…
Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago:
to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.
Let us dedicate ourselves to that,
and say a prayer for our country and for our people.
            -Robert Kennedy

Monday, January 8, 2018

The Color Purple Rocks

In past years, I have come across announcements of the Color of the Year. Again this year I spotted a bulletin broadcasting the 2018 color selected by Pantone, manufacturer of color dyes used on everything – clothing, furniture, home and fashion accessories and more.

I am not planning to buy anything in this year’s Color in an attempt to be an up-to-date cool cat. The only reason I can think of for a Color of the Year is as a marketing device, an excuse to get people to spend money. And there are lots of folks who eagerly purchase the latest electronic gadgets or clothes fashions and announce to the world they are ‘in’ dudes.

I am happy to be out of the loop and don’t mind NOT being stylish, sophisticated, trendy. Ask anyone, my grandkids for example, and they will tell you I am as uncool as they come.

This year’s Color of the Year is Purple. A color with an interesting history. Reaching back thousands of years, purple represented wealth, power and royalty. The color was originally derived from a snail, an intensive, long and difficult process, therefore expensive and reserved for the rich and powerful.
Purple is popular for
costumes and uniforms-such as
this cheerleading uniform
modeled by my granddaughter.

Alexander the Great wore purple. Roman generals and magistrates donned purple. The royal families of the Byzantine, Holy Roman, and Japanese Empires embraced purple. Roman Catholic bishops chose purple for their vestments. Queen Elizabeth I allowed only members of the royal family to wear purple.

By the 20th century purple took on different meanings. In the early 20th century purple, green and white became the colors of the Women’s Suffrage Movement, and the 70’s feminist movement adopted purple. The color symbolized the rock and drug culture of the 1960s and 70s - remember Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Haze and Prince’s Purple Rain? More recently the color became associated with the LGBTQ movement.

Purple is the honored color in a favorite book of mine and children of all ages – Harold and The Purple Crayon.

The color purple rocks. 

But I am still not going to buy purple stuff. Right now the economy is doing just fine without my money.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

New Year New Computer New Problems

A series of issues occurred with my Mac over the past months. A visit to the Apple store fixed issues temporarily, but the genius working on my machine informed me the battery was dying and could not be replaced. Purchased in 2010, the machine was gradually failing. 

I persevered, transporting my baby home. Problems persisted. My Mac struggled, but I refused to pay attention to the signs of the machine’s demise, reluctant to spend the $$$.

One day I turned Mac on. It started to boot up but after a couple of minutes paused, paralyzed, then shut off. I tried again. Same scenario. And again. Know the saying: the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over hoping for a different result? That was me and my computer.

It was time to return to the Apple store, fix my old computer (again) and face the fact it was time for a new one.

Fast forward to my visit to the Apple store. I purchase a new machine and leave the old one for techies to transfer data from the old to my new computer. My Mac died, but the data remained intact.

A day later I pick up my new machine and return home, a happy customer.

I purchased Microsoft Office with the proviso I install it myself. Easy, I was told. Go to the website, key in the product code, download and install.

An agonizing couple of hours ensued. A few seconds after clicking install, a message appeared on the screen. Error. The program could not be installed. Call Microsoft.

I called the number indicated on the screen and a harrowing hour plus brought both hub and me ready to throw the computer out the window. Luckily temperatures in the single digits and high winds prevented us from opening windows or doors unnecessarily.

The technician on the other end of the phone line informed us my new machine was infected and the only cure was to spend $200 for a certified network engineer to get rid of the infection. We are not techies and did not understand most of what the technician told us. He got more aggressive as time passed and grew angry at our questions. Neither one of us wanted to spend the money on something we did not understand. We got irritated with the man attempting to talk us into moving forward.

We needed a second opinion. I hung up and called Apple. A pleasant speaking woman heard my pleas.

A half hour later Microsoft Office was installed on my new machine.

An online search discovered numerous entries about scammers doing exactly what the man on the phone tried to do - talk us into paying $200 to clean the machine. It is a mystery how a Microsoft Office install got sidetracked to scammers probably operating out of a warehouse in India.

A day later hub and I recovered from the stressful experience. My new computer works - so far - without a glitch.

New year, new computer, hopefully no more problems.