Archive for July, 2013

CURSE NJ ROADS? TRY TEXAS

Posted: July 30, 2013 in Uncategorized

Attachment-1Not a day goes by when driving in New Jersey that I don’t spit out new and unusual curse words.
Between the signs, or lack of, the sheer number of drivers and potholes the width of the Passaic River and depth of political corruption, driving in the Garden State leaves no guessing to why we possess some of the most expensive insurance rates in the US.
The other day I was so tense, I left impressions in the steering wheel, yelled at an old lady and felt my heart stop when a deer appeared behind me. And when I left my driveway, it got worse.
But NJ has nothing on The Lone Star State….

CURSE NJ ROADS? TRY TEXAS

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CHEAP GENE KICKS IN.

Posted: July 24, 2013 in Uncategorized

NJ19704442i1Adios Garden State Parkway: Toll hike triggers cheap gene

TUESDAY, 10 JANUARY 2012 11:2

 

BY FRANK SCANDALE

COMMENTARY

It’s about 77 miles from my house in Bergen County to Yardley, PA, my destination this day.

Mapquest says 1 hour and 42 minutes, but 30 miles of it involves the Garden State Parkway.

And we all know by now what that means: more money for the same ride.

I’m not paying it.

I’d rather drink the Passaic River water. The section below the dam that feeds into the Newark Bay. Where the PCBs await.

I’d rather watch “Jersey Shore” re-runs. With commercials.

I’d rather cover New Year’s Day municipal re-organization meetings at 9 a.m. As if in the 30 years since I covered my first such meeting anything has gotten organized.

Big talk. I still have to get to my meeting in under two hours. And I hadn’t really thought this through.

The truth is I had forgotten about the hike until I came to my first toll on the parkway at exit 150 southbound in Essex County and the new sign said $1.50, up a half a buck since the last time I drove this road on Christmas Day.

Like every other resident of New Jersey, I cursed the continued chiseling.

Then the cheap genes kicked in. I come from a long line of penny-pinchers, Depression-era babies who no matter how much money they made in their lives, still think tomorrow is bankrupt city. They say some traits skip a generation but not the cheap gene this time around.

My father was so crafty at circumventing the tolls in and out of New York from New Jersey that side streets in the Bowery are named after him. The only toll he paid was to the squeegie guys down there. By the time he finished driving the family back and forth to Long Island from Jersey, the Port Authority OWED him $3.

Those glory days memories rattled around as I let my E-ZPass take the first hit of the new toll hike year and vowed to make that my last toll of the day. This could add up over the year as Karen Rouse, a transportation writer with The Record (Bergen County, N.J.) wrote. From top to bottom on the GSP, the freight would be $6.75 up $2.25 from 2011 rates. The NJ Turnpike would be worse at $13.85 for the length, up $9. But paying more money to ride the turnpike would seem to be the least of your worries based on the horror show that goes on that highway.

Muttering down the parkway another 20 miles until Mapquest’s recommendation of Route 1, I gratefully enter the road that during my college years at Glassboro State College looked more like an Amish country buggy wagon-only lane. Today, it’s a carnival. You can buy a car at every light, see a movie, eat a fast meal, outfit your walk-in closet, worship in several languages, fill up your tank from any oil company you like and visit the Rutgers Law Center. They erected stop lights every four feet just so you don’t miss any purchasing opportunities.

Route 1 plugged nicely into I-95, then PA 332 and in an hour and 45 minutes was cruising into a small business park perched adjacent to a field just waiting to be plowed.

Now what to do on the return, was the question. Did I want to eat the toll at Union County’s line for another $1.50 and then again at exit 160 for Bergen?

Stop it. Does Gov. Chris Christie take guff from hecklers at political events?

Page 2 of 2

I reversed the ride through Princetonia, sliced the Brunswicks, waved to Rutgers, popped over the Raritan River – fished there, did not eat the catch – and then like a beacon, 287 presented itself. The most perplexing road in N.J., 287 is either a north and south road if you are in New Jersey or an East and West road if you are in New York. How can you not love a road that is that versatile? I love every inch of it and don’t mind the extra 23 miles this day.

(Yes, I know, about $3.15 cents in gas) and about 22 minutes. But I feel exhilarated cutting through Somerset and Morris counties, catching sight of nature’s road kill menu against the woodlands, past Mountain Lakes, (I glower in its direction ever since they beat us in the Group I finals at Giants Stadium a few years earlier) past the Towaco, (You can say the name instead of cursing at tolls from now on) exit where my in-laws live, bend around onto 208 for the home stretch and into town in about two hours.

What a heady experience. Sweat gleamed on my trembling hands. Over 100 miles and not a toll paid. Giddy? I passed giddy 50 miles ago. I took my pulse, wiped my brow. Medic!

Patents on navigation systems with “I have your toll booth right here” route options?

Highway- free holidays? The shore on weekends without the Driscoll Bridge backup? Why not?

From the north, Routes 20 and 21 funnel you into Newark and onto 1-9 (Once classified by a college friend as the only road in the state that gets worse no matter which direction you drive) Then it’s a smorgasbord of options – Route 18 to 34 to 88 and bam, you are smooching with Snooki at Jenkins’ before you know it. Or slide off of route 9 onto 35 or 36 to the nude beaches of Sandy Hook or one of the best beaches in N.J., Presidents Beach in Long Branch.

I needed oxygen. My head was spinning with Mapquest options. Click and drag routes from the Meadowlands to the Pinelands. Jersey would soon be Freedonia. The parkway and turnpike would demand to be free for all, like the Internet.

My father would be proud. Get the squeegies ready.

 

A dog with a list of things eaten longer than Tim Tebow’s Twitter following

SATURDAY, 31 MARCH 2012 20:20

 

 

BY FRANK SCANDALE

COMMENTARY

If dog is man’s best friend, why would he eat his best friend’s couch?

His wall. His socks. Lots of socks. The good leather shoes. A frisbee. His work to-do list. His daughter’s…er…undergarments. The firewood. Baseballs. The “Welcome” mat. Plastic bags.

A bird.

Surely the only character traits of a growing puppy are not his teething and eating habits, but they do stand out at the moment, and are worth discussing.

Ever since this one particular day, I knew our lives would never be the same. It was perhaps the best omnivore moment. While riding in the car with my son one day, Chester cruised in the back seat, checking out the lady canines presumably.

“Hey, John, have you seen my Bluetooth?”

“I think Chester has it,” he said.

“Why do you think that?” I asked.

“Because there’s a blue light in his mouth,” he said.

 

 

Sob.

The number of ingested items is already longer than Tim Tebow’s Twitter follower list, and we are only seven months into ownership. At this rate, he’ll make Jaws look like he was on a hunger strike that summer.

The only list longer than Chester’s inanimate object meal plan would be the things nobody ever tells you about owning a dog, and specifically owning a Labrador retriever.

Read the book “The Art of Racing in the Rain” for a clue into the mind of a lab mix. The main character in the book is a dog named Enzo. He knows his mother was a lab and thinks his father was a terrier. At one point he explains:

“Everyone knows that shepherds and poodles aren’t especially smart. They’re responders and reactors, not independent thinkers….They don’t think outside the box; they are all about convention.”

Uh-oh.

Convention is not the first word that comes to mind when I think of Chester and his ilk.

Take walking. Nobody told us that walking a lab puppy is akin to strapping on a rocket and a pair of crampons to dig in. All the dogs you see walking calmly with their owners, sniffing a little here, whizzing a little there, sitting on command at the crosswalks. Fantasyland for me and Chester.

At the mere sight of the leash, he basically leaps into the door, like Mike Connors in an old Mannix episode. Once the door is open, he goes through it as if you told him there were a sea of unchristened fire hydrants outside.

 

 

 

 

Once outside, Chester runs downfield like Barry Sanders, zigging onto a lawn, zagging onto the curb, reversing direction better than a politician caught in a lie. Every well-intentioned dog expert will tell you to get a harness, a spiked collar, a choke collar, watch “The Dog Whisperer” in Spanish, bring treats, teach him who is boss, hold him close, fall into a ball…no, wait, that’s when a grizzly attacks.

I’m thinking something along the lines of a gladiator metal net and a trident.

One time when my daughter took him for a walk, we looked up from dinner to see her outstretched horizontally about 3 feet off the ground with the wind blowing her hair back and one arm attached to the leash which was attached to a streaking yellow missile.

We did not enter this dog ownership thing lightly. Oh, no. Quite the opposite.

The search started sometime in 1995 when we had two kids and a suburban backyard in Colorado. Both my wife and I had dogs growing up. We thought the kids should have one too. But it was never quite the right time. Two working adults. Two small kids. Why not just eat dynamite, swallow matches and be done with it.

Then we moved to New Jersey, and we were told that a dog came with the house, but you had to pay a tax. Just kidding.  Still, not the right time. Two busier jobs now. Three busier kids. We barely remembered to feed the latter, attend the former or take ourselves out for a

 

 

walk, much less look after Fido.

However, the moment came when my older son was preparing to go to college, and my wife  thought this was the time to get a dog.

“Oh, great. So you’re replacing me with a dog,” son quipped.

“No worries. He’ll move back into his crate when you come home,” father rejoined.

We picked him out – Chester, not the older son – from a group of five. He seemed to have the most even disposition of the lot and the damned cutest face you ever saw. Look up dog in the dictionary and the photo you will see will be Chester.

They tell you that the first few weeks might be rough at night when they cry. They didn’t say you would have to sleep in the crate and sing lullabies.

They didn’t mention he would chew your hands off in the morning before breakfast, try to climb on the counter while you made lunches and chew your counter stools. They didn’t mention he’d dig more holes in your yard than a colony of prairie dogs. They didn’t mention if you locked him in a small room instead of his crate, he would try to eat his way out. Alcatraz could not hold this dog.

They didn’t mention the weekly food, chew stick, toy and accouterment bills, as well as the spackle and paint costs.

Nobody mentioned that he would try to tear up the grout in the tile floor, because he apparently liked the sound, slice open the screen door to alert you to a trespassing squirrel, scratch off all woodwork paint down to the raw wood or  manufacture enough fecal matter to fertilize Nebraska.

They didn’t mention you’d be traipsing around in the backyard ankle deep in slush, coaxing him to produce this imported material for Nebraska by saying the word “Poopie?” over and over again to the point that Mr. Rogers would have slapped you.

No. Little, if any, of this was mentioned.

As I was writing this, I paused to go up stairs and get something to eat, when I heard the familiar chomping sound.

Another casualty of Chester’s evolution – my wife’s slippers.

I half expected him to say, “Well, you left them here I thought they were for me.”

Sigh.

Oh, yes, they also didn’t mention he’d prostrate himself at your feet at night and then roll over for excessive belly rubbing. They didn’t explain that your children would pick him up like a sack of wheat and make him shake hands with everyone. Or that they would dance with him. They didn’t say anything about him licking your face while bending down to tie your shoe.

They didn’t explain the joy in your heart that comes from watching him race like a colt across a field with his canine buddies, or the camaraderie that evolves from wearing Denver Bronco baseball hats together on the front lawn.

No, they neglected to mention how you’d forgive his sins just because of the way he glanced at you with his tongue hanging out a foot and a half in a wry smile.

They didn’t say you’d fall madly in love with this creature and wonder what life was before him.

Frank Scandale, a veteran journalist, is the former editor of the Bergen Record.

 

scandaleFrank011012_optBY FRANK SCANDALE

Posted: July 24, 2013 in Uncategorized

Pinewood Derby Not for The Rookies

FRIDAY, 19 APRIL 2013 13:29
scandale_opt_copy_copy_copy_copy_copyBY FRANK SCANDALE
SPECIAL TO NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM
COMMENTARY

It’s 8:20 a.m. at a typical New Jersey suburban train station.

New York City-bound commuters go about their business – reading, staring at smartphone screens as if they bore the winning lottery numbers, sucking down coffee and then there’s the occasional dinosaur reading a newspaper.

It’s relatively calm and quiet when a pair of typical suburban father types wearing rain repellant gear and one a New York Yankees cap arrive in a small commotion usually reserved for backyard barbecue debates about should the Jets keep Tebow.

“Oh, S—!’’ cries the Yankee fan, scrambling to pull out his cell phone. “You have to take this call. I don’t know what I’m talking about,” he tells his buddy, whom I know socially from town and is not a panicky type.

Must be an early, big business call they forgot about. It happens. At least to me. In today’s 24/7, always electronically leashed, email heavy, text message happy business culture, a meeting at 4 a.m. under a street light in Hoboken is not out of the question. (a meeting on a trapeze in a Club Med in East Africa is not out of the question….or during a prayer service at a vow-of-silence monetary is not unheard of)

photo1_opt_copy_copy_copy_copyAs I braced for this hedge-fund type phone conference, my guy looks at me, grins, shrugs his shoulders as he takes the phone and says, “Pinewood Derby.”

Those two words should put fear in the hearts of accomplished fathers everywhere. From Wall Street darlings to pro football players, those two little words have the capacity to render grown men silly with trepidation.

Guys, you know what I’m talking about.

It seems that Yankee fan’s wife was in a bit of stir because she thought tomorrow was the last official weigh-in for the local race. They apparently were unprepared for such an event.

As this Saturday (April 20) looms, the Pinewood Derby district finals are upon cub scouts everywhere. For a scout and his parental unit, it doesn’t get any harrier than this.

I shuddered at the memory. Ah, for that event to be in my rearview mirror of parenthood was no small thing

The year was 1998 and my older son was doing the cub scout thing. All in all, it was a fun father-son operation, but having not been a scout growing up in Brooklyn, the Pinewood Derby to me was a lighthearted social event designed to foster camaraderie , good will toward all boys and have a few laughs.

Right. And a New Jersey gubernatorial election is free of mudslinging.

As directed, we picked up our kit consisting of a square piece of soft wood, a couple of axles, a few wheels and some assorted building materials. Some lead weights. Some glue. Some graphite that supposedly if sprinkled correctly on the car it can hit speeds of up to 90 mph, or the equivalent of such going down the track.

Let me first admit to this – craftsman skills skip every other generation in my family. My father once built an international space docking station out of a piece of plywood and a radiator. That spell it out for you?

But this was good father and son time. We chunked out a seat area with the dexterity of a backhoe on an egg and used some other blunt instruments to shape the rest of the wood . After what seemed like six years of effort, we had something that looked like it was made by Spanky and the Gang in Stymie’s backyard.

But man, it was red.

Father and son were pretty puffy around the chests, yes we were, and looked forward to the races the next day.

Like a lamb to a slaughter, we took our fine, fine automobile to the races on the opening round.

As we entered the school lobby where the last weigh-in was held, I got that same feeling that I had when I walked into Spanish I in 10th grade in Westfield after just having moved to town from Brooklyn. Everyone was already speaking like Ricky Ricardo.

We placed our car on the table to be weighed in front of a table of guys who could have sat on the Politburo. They peered at us over their reading glasses, as if we were in the wrong place. They placed our car on the scale and we were under weighted by like a pound. (cars’ maximum weight is 5 ounces)

“Need more weight,” one said, unsmiling.

“How do I do that,” I asked, noticing serious dads behind me who carried plastic drill and tool cases. I mean everyone had them. They looked like they worked at GM.

“Borrow it around the room. Quarters, too, will work. Tape them to the car,” he said.

So that’s what we did. By the time we were close to weight, our car looked like Jed Clampett’s truck pulling into Beverly Hills.

Proudly, we entered the first round. People snickered at our red speedster. While kids and dads murmured that they hoped they would win, I prayed the wheels would not fly off on the first run. Just let us finish.

Don’t ask me how, but our car won the first heat. I mean, it should have exploded upon impact, but somehow it slid past five other cars. Stunned silence from the crowd.

My son did a cartwheel. I said a novena. The officials thought about impounding the car.

We lost the next heat to the car that eventually won the local race. I didn’t care. As far as we knew, we were now Pinewood Pros.

Good luck, kids, this weekend. And dads, bring some tape and quarters.