Tuesday, November 27

I wish I had taken the train

Yesterday I took the train to the day’s worksite even though it would have made more sense to have driven.  Today was quite the opposite – I drove, but wish I hadn’t.  The worksite was in central Brooklyn, just off Flatbush Avenue. To get there by train I could have taken the LIRR to the Flatbush Avenue terminal (now known as Atlantic Terminal, but I still think of it by its old name), and then the B or Q subway to Church Avenue.  I decided to drive, however, because the location didn’t look too far from the end of the Jackie Robinson Parkway, and also because I’d have a fairly long walk once I got off the subway.

Suffice to say I made a very wrong decision.  While traffic on the Northern State Parkway wasn’t too bad, once I crossed the city line and the road became the Grand Central Parkway, traffic got just plain horrible.  It was stop and go for the next several miles, with the “stop” portions well outnumbering the “go” portions.  I had left home at 6:15 am intending to get to the worksite by 8, but by the time I made it to the Jackie Robinson Parkway it was already 8:10.  Traffic got better at that point, though I still had to contend with a few million red lights on the city streets in Brooklyn.  It was 8:45 when I made it to the worksite, thankfully my hours are fairly flexible.

The return trip was almost as bad, clocking in at about two and a half hours.  It differed from the morning’s trip in that there wasn’t really one particularly bad point, instead it consisted of sluggish traffic for most of the way.  It was raining with occasional wet snow, which only made things worse.  By the time I got home, all I could think of is how stupid I had been for not taking the train!

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Published in: on November 30, 2012 at 3:41 pm  Leave a Comment  

Monday, November 26

A roundabout railroad ramble

My work assignment for today was in Arverne, on the Rockaway Peninsula in Queens.  It was the sort of location that could be reached either by driving or by the train. Normally I would have driven, but I was a bit gun-shy about doing so because Arverne isn’t far from Inwood, and I have very un-fond memories of driving to and from Inwood a couple of weeks ago.  There’s another factor, however, one related to the recent storm.  Subway service in the Rockaways is normally provided by the A train, whose terminal in Far Rockaway is a few blocks from the LIRR’s Far Rockaway terminal.  It all used to be one line, run by the LIRR, but in the 1950’s the LIRR stopped its service beyond the current Far Rockaway terminal and the subway took over the remaining trackage.

In any event, the A train’s long trestle over Jamaica Bay was heavily damaged in the storm, cutting off the line on the Rockaway peninsula from the rest of the system.  It may be several months before the trestle will be back in service.  As a stopgap measure, the transit authority loaded several subway cars onto flatbed trucks and brought them to the Rockaways, and they run as a free shuttle known as the H train between Far Rockaway and Beach 116th Street.  At Far Rockaway, there are free shuttle buses to the nearest operable A train station, at Howard Beach right by the airport.

What I figured is that if I took the LIRR to Far Rockaway, and then took the H train to Beach 67th Street, I’d be able to ride the only subway line I haven’t already ridden (well duh, considering it didn’t exist until a couple weeks ago) and have to unusual experience of riding the subway for free.  Combined with my dislike of driving in the area, this lead to my decision to take the train, even though taking the LIRR to Far Rockaway would be a rather roundabout journey with backtracking through Jamaica.  I got the 5:29 (ugh!) from Ronkonkoma, parking much closer to the platforms than would have been the case with a train at a more civilized hour.  It was much more crowded than I would have expected for such a early train, with my mid-consist car being more than half full by the time we left Rononkoma and SRO by Wyandanch, the last stop before Jamaica.  A somewhat chubby non-SCA man sat next to me at Deer Park, it was tolerable but would have been much worse had he been 20 pounds heavier.

It was barely dawn when I got to Jamaica around 6:20.  My train to Far Rockaway wasn’t leaving until 6:58, which left me with more time on my hands than I would have preferred to have, Jamaica Station not being the most interesting of places.  It also was very cold on the platforms, fortunately there was a donut shop with seating in the heated Air Train waiting area.  When the Far Rockaway train finally arrived, it was quite the change from the jammed Ronkonkoma train.  I sat in the head car, that being the most convenient when I got to Far Rockaway, and there couldn’t have been more than 15 or 20 passengers by the time we left.  The train took the Locust Manor routing to Valley Stream, as opposed to the nearby St. Albans route that Babylon trains usually take, and even though it made all the stops to Far Rockaway the ride took only about 40 minutes.  One thing I didn’t realize, not having ridden that line in many years, is just how close some of the station are to each other.  Inwood and Far Rockaway in particular are right on top of one another.

Once at Far Rockaway, I made the undeniably grim walk to the A – okay, H – train station a few blocks away.  Far Rockaway, at least this part of it, is NOT the high rent district.  It was an odd but pleasant sensation to be able to walk right through the  open service gate without paying.   I had to wait about ten minutes for the next train, as far as I know there are only two trainsets operating on the line.  The cars are R38’s R32’s, the oldest cars currently in use on the subway.  Although they’re almost 50 years old they are famous for their reliability and durability. The ride to my stop at Beach 67th took only about five minutes, and when I got there I was most impressed at the changes in Arverne.  The last time I saw the area, at least ten years ago, it was basically a wasteland of empty lots, today it has been fully redeveloped and looks quite nice.

I had been hoping to finish up work in time to get the 3:36 from Far Rockaway to Jamaica, and when I left the worksite around 3:15 it looked as if my hopes would come true.  Well, not quite; when I ascended the stairs to the elevated subway platform I was treated to the unwelcome sight of a train pulling out of the station.  It was literally a matter of being ten seconds too late.  Given the long headways on the H there was no chance of making the 3:36.  I resigned myself to taking the 4:38 instead, which meant that with the backtracking through Jamaica I wouldn’t be getting to Ronkonkoma until 6:20.  That’s a long day.

What did not occur to me until way too late is that I could have taken advantage of the delay to ride the H to the other end of the line and back.  Had I done so, I would have been able to ride on the “Hammels Wye,” a short stretch of track that’s very rarely used for passenger service.  All is not necessarily lost, as I may be back in Arverne in a couple of weeks, and even if I drive I’ll have time to ride on the Wye during my lunch break.  At any rate, I hung around a McDonald’s in Far Rockaway for a half-hour, which probably is the finest dining establishment in that bedraggled ‘hood, and then poked around the utterly deserted LIRR station until the doors to a train finally opened and I boarded it.

The train to Jamaica was somewhat more crowded than the morning’s counterpart, with quite a few people boarding at Lawrence and Cedarhurst.  My wait at Jamaica was shorter than in the morning, though when the 5:23 to Ronkonoma arrived I was more than a little dismayed to see that it was a cattle train.  Not only were all the seats taken, but the standees filled the vestibules and spilled over into the aisles.  It also made every stop from New Hyde Park to Ronkonkoma.  I figured that seats would become available at some point, and I finally snagged one at Westbury or Hicksville, I forget which.  We actually got into Ronkonkoma about ten minutes late, though it had been such a long day it didn’t really matter.  Even so, I don’t regret my decision to take the train, not having to worry about traffic follies.

Published in: on November 28, 2012 at 3:34 am  Comments (2)  

Saturday, November 24 – Sunday, November 25

Not too bad of a weekend in gym terms.  On Saturday, I did some back work,  T-bar rows: 5 x 8 x 135.  Life Fitness lower back extensions: 4 x 10 x 225.  Sunday I did benching, though by no means anything record-setting: 6 x 135, 6 x 185, 2 x 4 x 225, 8 x 185, 10 x 135.

Published in: on November 28, 2012 at 2:06 am  Leave a Comment  

Thursday, November 22 – Friday, November 23

Thanksgiving dinner was a success.  Especially my Ritz Cracker apple-less apple pie, which everyone agreed tasted like real apple pie.  Everything else came out well, and of course we have ample leftovers.  I had planned to go to the gym on Friday, but it was such a low energy day – not surprising, after the busy Thanksgiving – that I ended up doing a whole lot of nothing.

Published in: on November 25, 2012 at 10:27 pm  Leave a Comment  

Monday, November 19 – Wednesday, November 21

I’m just not crazy about time off

Having time off from work is one of those things that sounds better in the abstract than in reality.  I have all of Thanksgiving week off, which is standard in my line of work.  As best I can recall, in the last six months I’ve only had six weekdays off, two days for the hurricane and four single days, one of which was Labor Day.  While this week could be viewed as a nice rest from my busy work schedule, by Tuesday I was quite bored.  Though it did give the the opportunity to start some preparation work for Thanksgiving dinner, including the Wednesday evening baking of my much-anticipated Ritz Cracker apple-less apple pie.

I had pretty good gym sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday.  Tuesday was for upper-body work.  Bench press: 6 x 135, 6 x 185, 3 x 5 x 225, 8 x 185, 10 x 135.  Seated dumbbell overhead press: 3 x 8 x 40/40.  Skull crushers: 4 x 8 x 70.  On Wednesday I ellipted for 35 minutes, at a higher resistance level than last time.

Published in: on November 23, 2012 at 2:56 pm  Leave a Comment  

Saturday, November 17 – Sunday, November 18

Gas rationing in Nassau and Suffolk counties officially ended at midnight Friday.  I say “officially” because it hadn’t been enforced since about Tuesday, once gas supplies returned to normal and most stations reopened.  All in all, the program was a success, even though it did overstay its welcome a bit.  Had there been no rationing, the massive gas lines would have continued another three or four days.  Perhaps longer, as with people still in a panic-buying mode there might have been lines even with supplies returning to normal.  One thing is crystal clear: our society is completely dependent on ample gasoline supplies, and whenever there’s a supply interruption – or even a perceived supply interruption – chaos ensues.

This was definitely a low-energy weekend for me, though I did buy the Thanksgiving turkey (Bell & Evans, $2.99 a pound at Stop & Shop) and a few other supplies.  I’m going to be doing the baking this year, and I’ve decided to make a Basque pumpkin bread, out of my vintage Breads of France cookbook, and a very special creation that I’ve wanted to make for years: a Ritz Cracker apple pie without the apples.  As I understand it, the idea behind the latter is that when you eat (real) apple pie, what you really taste is the cinnamon and lemon, not so much the apples.  The Ritz Cracker version has cinnamon and lemon, and therefore you don’t notice that it has no apples.  In theory.

On a different note, I managed to haul my lazy carcass to the gym on Sunday and ellipted for 30 minutes, at a fairly decent pace.

Published in: on November 21, 2012 at 2:14 am  Leave a Comment  

Thusday, November 15 – Friday, November 16

A pleasant relic of a bygone era

Thursday had me going to a worksite in central Queens, not far from Monday’s location.  Being a bit gun-shy after Wednesday’s horror show, I got an early start, which paid off because the drive was relatively uneventful.  About the only bad stretch was the Grand Central Parkway from about the city line to the exit for the Van Wyck.  Even with this delay, I made it to the worksite with ample time to spare.

What made the trip especially interesting is that I drove for a few miles on the Jackie Robinson Parkway.  Built in the 1930’s as the Interboro Parkway, this 5-mile road is like a trip back in time, transportationally speaking.  It is narrow and winding, far short of current standards for limited-access highways, but it’s an enjoyable drive.  As much of the route goes through parks (and cemeteries) it doesn’t even seem like an urban thoroughfare.  Many years ago, before my time, the similar-vintage Merritt Parkway in Connecticut was not too dissimilar in character, but it’s been widened and straightened over the decades and today is pretty much your generic highway.

In very sharp contrast to yesterday, the drive home was pretty easy, under 1:30 even with a Diet Pepsi stop in Nassau.  There was no significant traffic on the Grand Central, and the Long Island Expressway was only moderately busy in the usual spots.  I’m starting to think that the Southern State Parkway is an especially evil road that must be avoided during rush hour.

Friday was a day off.  In fact, I’ll have all of next week off, a standard practice in my industry.  The week after Thanksgiving I’m scheduled to go to worksites in Queens and Brooklyn, and I can assure you I won’t be taking the Southern State!

Published in: on November 18, 2012 at 10:38 pm  Leave a Comment  

Monday, November 12 – Wednesday, November 14

If I only knew on Monday …

This week began my foray into working one-day assignments at various worksites in Nassau and Queens.  Following a break for the week of Thanksgiving, I’ll be doing the same sort of work for the next two weeks, the one change being that I’ll have a couple of assignments in Brooklyn in addition to Nassau and Queens.

Working on these one-day assignments isn’t a bad thing.  Not that the sort of work varies too much from my normal stuff, but being in a new location each day adds a bit of variety to things.  When I headed into my Queens location on Monday, it was especially nice because traffic was the comparative breeze.  There were no tie-ups on the Long Island Expressway all the way into the Woodhaven Boulevard exit in central Queens, which was especially remarkable in that I was traveling closer to the heart of rush hour than usual due to a later starting time.  Getting home was just as easy.

What did not cross my mind until later is that the light traffic was likely a result of the fact that Monday was the official celebration of Veterans’ Day given that the actual holiday fell on a Sunday.  If I had any doubts over this matter they were settled once and for all on Tuesday morning.  Getting to a different Queens location took almost two hours, though in fairness (if the word “fairness” has any application whatsoever to traffic jams) a crash near Exit 41 made things worse.  Mostly, though, it was just heavy volume.  As also proved to be the case on my trip home, which was a bit better though still difficult.

The real horror show, however, awaited me on Wednesday.  My assignment for the day was in Inwood, a mostly industrial and commercial town in the extreme southwest corner of Nassau County near Kennedy Airport.  My plan was to get there via the Southern State Parkway to the Belt Parkway, though getting from the Belt to Inwood would require a bit of backtracking through Queens given the way the roads run.  What I was not planning on was the horrendously slow traffic on the Southern State.  I took me an hour to cover just 25 miles.  The very occasional stretch of free-flowing traffic always turned into a huge disappointment, for surely as the Sun rises in the east there’d be a sea of brake lights just around the next curve.  My total trip to Inwood, totaling about 50 miles, was over two hours.

It gets worse.  Getting home, once again a 50-mile trip, took two and a half hours.  That’s a “speed” of 20 mph for a journey that was mostly on limited-access roads.  Few things were as frustrating as seeing a sign for an exit from the Southern State, figuring that maybe traffic would clear after the exit, only to find that it actually got worse.  The Southern State remained a horror show to the very end, where there was a huge line of cars waiting to exit onto the Sunrise Highway.

I’m at a loss for trying to explain why things were so bad.  It’s unlikely that aftereffects of the storm could be to blame, as all roads in Nassau and Suffolk have reopened, except for the lightly used Ocean Parkway.  Do people get some sort of fetish about driving during rush hour traffic?  I really have no idea, all I can say is that I’m thankful Inwood was just a one-day deal.

Published in: on November 16, 2012 at 10:18 pm  Leave a Comment  

Friday, November 9 – Sunday, November 11

Amazing.  It actually worked.

Gasoline rationing, that is.  Starting at 6 on Friday morning odd-even rationing began in Nassau and Suffolk counties and in the city.  A few hours later, I headed out to my one-day worksite in western Suffolk, curious to see how well rationing would work.  As my routing would be taking me down several busy commercial streets past many gas stations, I’d have a good opportunity to see for myself.  I’ll have to admit, I was quite cynical, notwithstanding the reports out of New Jersey which said that a similar rationing scheme was working well.

My cynicism proved entirely misplaced.  What I had figured is that rationing would at best cut the huge gas lines in half.  In fact, the lines at the open stations were barely lines at all, ten cars or fewer in every case.  And it wasn’t that the supply shortages had eased, as only about a third of the stations I passed were open. My best guess is that because people know the government is trying to do something about the gas situation, panic buying has lessened, and in turn the lines are almost gone.  Actually, that itself leads to a cynical conclusion itself, namely that the huge lines of the past week were mostly the product of human idiocy, namely in the guise of panic buying.

In any event, my workday went well, though on the drive home I had some concerns as to whether I’d have enough gas to make it.  What with my license plate ending in an even number I wouldn’t be able to get gas until Saturday.  But I made it home, and got gas on Saturday morning at an almost line-less station.   That’s about all I did all weekend, it was a very lazy time.  Next week I’ll be going to a different worksite each day, all in Nassau or Queens.  At least gas shouldn’t be an issue.

Published in: on November 14, 2012 at 12:43 am  Comments (1)  

Monday, November 5 – Thursday, November 8

Braving the lines

I spent these four days working on a special project, related to storm recovery, at a customer’s location about 15 miles from me.  I could have gone back to the project in Connecticut, but that would have been most inadvisable (to say the least) because the gasoline shortage has gotten worse and worse.  By the time I got back from the worksite on Monday I was just above empty, and had no choice but to wait in a gas line.  For an hour and fifteen minutes.  Thankfully I was able to fill my car and would be set for the rest of the week, which most assuredly would not have been the case had I been going to Connecticut.

As for my shortened daily drive to work, it’s noteworthy mostly because I drive the length of the Sunken Meadow Parkway.  Except for the very short stretch connecting the Northern State Parkway with the Long Island Expressway, I’ve very seldom been on the Sunken Meadow, so for the first couple of days at least it was almost like driving on a road for the first time.  The gas lines, meanwhile, have just been getting worse and worse.  Cars in gas lines were impeding the flow of traffic on the narrow main street of the town in which my temporary worksite is located.  On Thursday, the state announced that odd-even gas rationing will start in Long Island on Friday.  Cars whose license plates end in odd numbers or in letters can get gas on odd-numbered days, while those with plates ending in even numbers (like mine) can get gas on even-numbered days.  New Jersey enacted this plan last weekend and from all reports it’s working very well.  It remains to be seen if it will do equally well here.

Published in: on November 9, 2012 at 9:11 pm  Leave a Comment