Tuesday, July 25, 2006

California obsession

Whenever I travel, I find it funny how California/Los Angeles-obsessed people seem to be. It's definitely the case here. We have "L.A. Weight Loss," "California Sun Daze," "California Fitness," "California Grill" - all of which I can understand, but "California Hair Crimpers"?? That one has me stumped.

Not sure what "California" has to do with that ugly hair style, so I'm going to chalk it up to my initial premise: that people are obsessed with all things California and it doesn't matter that there's no connection.

"California Plumbing & Heating" . . . "California Bee Removal" . . . "Cakes by California" . . . damn, I'm good.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

LAPD: Its infamy knows no borders

This baby is the companion piece to the I Hate Binghamton one below. Who knew that the LAPD was so famous?

However, now that I think about it, I tend to think that the "author" of this message is a big fat liar, because NO ONE around here travels much, it seems, and you have to be really fancy to make it as far as Los Angeles.

That said, I was reading a newspaper article from the 1980s (don't ask) about train-riding hoboes, and this grafitti WAS at the local train yards, so maybe an itinerant vagabond was one of the few Binghamtonians to stradle the East Coast/West Coast divide and return to give a cautionary message to his train-hopping bretheren?

(That started out as a joke but I actually think I might not be too far off base!)

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Sometimes, a picture truly is worth a thousand words . . .

We shot this little gem at the railroad tracks just outside of Downtown Binghamton. I love that these words are scrawled on a surface that so perfectly describes WHY young people hate it here: the rusty, crusty, railroad trestle is such a powerful statement about this Rust Belt city, what it used to be and what it has become.

I was at a meeting where the city was trying to come up with a good slogan or something for the city's key gateways, something that would give visitors a sense of place. A neighboring village, Johnson City, has big 1920s-era concrete arches that say "Gateway to the Square Deal Towns."

Not helpful for you, the casual visitor, right? It is actually a reference to Endicott-Johnson Shoe Company, which was just about the biggest shoe manufacturer in the world for the first half of the 20th century, churning out 50,000 pairs of shoes per day and outfitting virtually every soldier in WWI and WWII. After bringing in generations of European immigrants to work in the tanneries, and building loads of housing, parks, hospitals, theaters, and other public buildings, the company fizzled out as manufacturing moved overseas in the 1960s and 70s.

The much-revered founder, Harry L. Johnson (or just "George F" and "Harry L" as they - and seemingly 1/2 of the streets, parks, museums, etc. are called locally) believed in the "square deal"- that is, an honest day's work for an honest day's pay, I think.

Anyway, it's not "Home of the Square Deal," it's even 1 removed from that- it's the GATEWAY to the (even lamer) Square Deal towns.

OK, so back to the meeting where they were thinking of a slogan for Binghamton's gateways, and all I could think was, "Welcome to Binghamton: Gateway to the Rust Belt" or "Welcome to Binghamton: Northern Gateway to Appalachia."

Damn, I'm good. I should be in marketing.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Peregrine Party Platter

As you'll recall, I have written before about the rare and very cool Peregrine Falcons that have a nest on the top of my office building (which is just about the tallest building in the county and region, so these cliff-dwelling birds like to call it home.) Most days, I notice a little wing or leg or other pigeon-part on the sidewalk outside the front door, below the nest. Lately, I've noticed that the birds are really loud (my window is just below the nest, so I have a bird's eye view of their activities) and exceptionally active.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation ranger told me that there were some fledglings getting ready to leave the nest, and there are presently six birds in it, four of them basically hungry teenagers. Well, I can attest to that much . . .

On Saturday, I stopped by my office to pick something up, and was greeted by a scene straight out of a horror movie. WHOLE BLOODY PIGEON CARCASSES spread all over the place. I mean, it was just a pair of intact, fluffy wings still attached to a headless torso that had been totally picked clean! Added to the whole carcasses were the normal bits and pieces, but MAN were these things gross! And EVERYWHERE!

Yes, you can imagine that I was quite lucky that this was on a Saturday when no one was around, becuase I definitely looked like a huge freak putting my cellphone/camera right up to the fly-infested remnants. Lucky readers, you are!!!

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Tijuana Smoked Turkey Wrap?? Not even if it were free . . .

I captured this priceless shot on my cellphone camera at lunch in the cafeteria in my office building (yes, people thought I was crazy when I shoved my phone under the "sneeze guard" to take the shot).

There is such a fascination with all places "warmer" than here, that they really don't discriminate. All they know is that Tijuana is in Mexico, and that sounds a hell of a lot warmer and more exotic than Binghamton.

Clearly, whoever named this not-so-tasty-sounding lunch item either a) has never been to TJ and doesn't know that you don't want to eat anything fish-related there, least of all TUNA, or b) doesn't know that there's no such thing as "Tijuana smoked" anything (other than pot and crack) or c) was smoking something himself when he thought of this name. At least they spelled "Tijuana" correctly, which is a huge achievement and not to go unappreciated.

The misleading "100 year flood" terminology

A "one hundred year flood" is not defined as "a great flood, the probability of which will only happen once every century" (or something like that). A "one hundred year flood plain" is an area, as mapped by the federal government, in which there is approximately a 1% chance of flooding every year.

This means that, over the 30-year life of a mortgage, there is actually a 24% chance of flooding. Very generally speaking, the same home has a 9% chance of fire damage over the same period, yet who doesn't buy fire insurance? Something about people's visceral fear of fire, and abstract fear of some "100 year flood," to be sure.

The reason I go into this explanation is because words are powerful (I guess I did learn something from my time in politics) and I believe that this misleading terminology is part of the reason that so few people carry flood insurance (there were only 74 residential flood policies in place in the City of Binghamton, in a city of 45,000 people).

Like fire insurance, flood damage is not covered under general homeowner's insurance and must be purchased separately. It is easy to see why so many (already pretty low income) poeple would skip buying a policy for something that is only supposed to happen every 100 years.

I want people to know that these are not a bunch of dumb hicks who should have known they needed flood insurance. With all the buzz about global warming, I have a feeling it's going to be a bumper-crop year for flood insurance, both here and around the nation. Hey, there must be some money to be made in that observation . . .

Muddy waters rise fast

Sorry, but the flood is all anyone can talk about around here. I've learned some interesting things that I thought it would be good to share: first, I cannot emphasize enough that people here had virtually NO WARNING that there was going to be flooding of this magnitude. I am a news junkie and when we took off from Binghamton on Wednesday morning, I had read that day's paper and I had no good indication that there was going to be flooding, except for a passing reference to historic rainfall and possible flooding (in a very vague sense). The day before we left, the area had the most rainfall in recorded history! But still, what did that really mean?

A friend of mine works in the Planning Department in City Hall, and she learned from the morning news that there was a state of emergency and that non-essential travel was prohibited. Even a city hall staffer wasn't "in the know," so how could anyone else be?

Also, it is the worst flooding since at least 1936, so there is simply no reference point for what happened here. People who lived through some bad flooding in 1972 thought their houses were safe and were shocked to see the devastation to their neighborhoods.

It is interesting that I was going for precisely the duration of the flood drama. It serves as yet another example of me being an "outsider" to the people here. I actually feel guilty that I missed such a defining "Binghamtonian" experience, but, I guess it doesn't matter since I won't be staying anyway.

More flood drama

I thought this photo was so dramatic that it deserved its own blog entry. This is the interstate near our house, and I believe it's also the site where 2 truck drivers died early Wednesday morning (the first day of the trouble, and also the exact time we took off on a plane to Los Angeles) when their rigs plowed into the newly opened crevasse.

I guess one can analogize this disaster to the 1994 Los Angeles earthquake (where the 10 freeway collapsed and 44 people died) except that I think the trauma is felt more deeply here because it is such a small, tight knit community and everyone knows someone who lost everything.

Even me- I've been here only a few months, but my boss' secretary, who lives over the border in Pennsylvania, apparently got hit very hard. Although, I can't tell you for sure because she hasn't been to work since the floods. We are taking donations at work for things like "size 7 women's shoes"- for our own employees. That also really hit home for me, or, at least, as close to "home" as anything can hit me here.

Flood Fallout

We returned to Binghamton on the 4th of July and even though it was midnight and I had to work the next morning, we spent an hour driving around the city, looking at the fallout from the floods. Thanks to warm, dry weather, the water had totally receded, but we definitely saw lots of mud and silt in places that have no business being mucky (like 5 feet up on the windows of businesses).

Although the place didn't look, on its face, as flood-ravaged as I had thought it might, there was definitely evidence that a disaster had hit certain houses. The saddest thing was seeing houses with mountains of brown undifferentiated masses of household items. There were many homes with multiple mattresses, couches, and loads of personal effects just dumped on the curb, sometimes a 5-foot-high stack that ran for 20 feet. You couldn't even see the houses for the mounds of junk (many of which were formerly family heirlooms, to be sure).

And the floods didn't discrimate- although there were definitely lots of trailer parks that got hit particularly hard, many of the most elegant, historic homes sit along the river near our house. It was sort of surreal to see people sitting outside of their stately homes in lawn chairs, surrounded by mud and their own junk. I guess mother nature doesn't care how fancy your antiques are.