Sunday, August 9, 2020

Lessons from 60 Years of Living

     My wife and I Facetimed with my daughter and her husband and our baby granddaughter the other day. They're busy starting a family, moving to a different city, getting a new job, buying a house. It's great to see them, talk to them, but I had to bite my tongue because all I wanted to do is give them advice -- and they really don't need my advice.

     Nevertheless, I've been on this earth a long time and have learned a few things, although as my wife often reminds me -- ha, you don't know everything. So if you can add anything to these lessons, please, be my guest.

     So some lessons, learned the hard way:

     The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. I learned this in high-school geometry. The principle goes well beyond mathematics and applies to everything from mapping out a trip to planning out a career

      Look to see what's coming. This comes from driver's education. Look both ways, and anticipate what the other drivers are going to do. This is especially important if you (as I did) learned to drive a stick shift, to avoid excessive shifting, excessive braking, and just generally knowing what's about to happen so you don't get blindsided. In driving, as in life, you don't want to get blindsided -- whether it's by a divorce, a layoff, a sudden accident or mishap that could have been foreseen and thus avoided.

     Don't piss into the wind. I learned this at Boy Scout camp. But aside from not getting yourself wet, the message is: don't buck the trend, whether it's the prevailing opinion at work or the prevailing opinion among your friends -- unless you want to lose your job or your friends. So . . . go with the flow.

     Know when to break the rules. Of course, there are always exceptions to the previous piece of advice. Sometimes the rules make so sense; they're holding you back, and you need to break out of the box. I learned this in my first job, when I broke some rules and catapulted myself into a promotion. But, I realized later, I was lucky. Because make no mistake. Most of the time you'll be opposed by the hidebound, the people with a vested interest, the people who can't see over the horizon.

     Stay on your toes. I learned this one in Little League. I played second base because while I was not afraid of ground balls, I had no arm and couldn't make the throw from shortstop or third base. But playing the infield, the ball comes at you pretty fast. You have to be ready. The coach would tell us, "Stay on your toes."

     How to make a decision. Some people make a list of pros and cons. Others flip a coin -- and know the answer when the coin is in the air and they're hoping for a particular result. But I learned the concept of "expected value" in business school. Suppose you have one die. It costs you a dollar to roll the die. You pick a number, and if your number comes up you win $10. Should you play? The answer is yes, because on average it will cost $6 to win $10. If you're expected value of an action is positive, then you should take the action. It works in business but also in other aspects of life including your love life. It also works in gambling. Or as Kenny Rogers told us: "You gotta know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em."

     Pick your fights. I learned this from my older sister. We used to fight all the time when we were little kids and I would always lose -- until one day when I got a bigger, I finally got on top of her and pinned her against a rock. We never fought again, because my sister was smart enough to know she wasn't going to win anymore. I learned it again later in life when I stood up to my boss when he was doing something wrong. He backed down, because he had to, but it wasn't long before I found myself with an early retirement package.  

     Go down swinging. Sometimes you have to fight even if you think you might lose -- if it's a matter of principle, or justice, or desperation. If that's the case, don't give up. You never know. You might surprise them. But if you do lose, lose with honor. So maybe if I hadn't picked that fight with my boss I'd have a more generous pension today -- but at least I can live with myself. 

     Get out of your rut. I learned this from tennis. It's easy when you're playing tennis to fall into the habit of hitting the ball back to your opponent. He's standing right there. So sometimes you have to remind yourself:  Hit the ball to the other side of the court! Make him run! Similarly, in life sometimes you have to shake things up -- to make people notice, to catch competitors off balance, to change the pace -- whether it's a career, a relationship, a vacation, an investment. Don't always just hit the ball back.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Is This Really Urban Renewal?

     I mentioned that my wife and I took a day trip up to Bethlehem, PA, to catch a sight of the so-called Steel Stacks. So here's what we saw as we turned into the parking lot.

     Pretty amazing, huh? We arrived the afternoon that Musikfest was to begin, held annually at the beginning of August. Gates open at 5 p.m., the music starts at 6 p.m. Below is a picture of the main stage, hard up against the Steel Stacks,. Usually Musikfest attracts thousands of young people -- it's located just down the hill from Lehigh University --  but this year crowds are limited, so the main stage is not being used.

      Instead the bands are playing at a secondary stage, across the street in front of the ArtsQuest center. The crowd is limited to 250 people in the main area, and another 250 in this secondary area. Foods tents have been set up in one of the parking lots. Again, only 250 people are allowed into the food area at one time -- all arranged around a one-way pathway. Take-out only. 

     We were not there for the music. We just wanted to see what this was all about. Musikfest is held at the site of the old Bethlehem Steel Company, founded in 1863 to make iron rails for the railroad. The plant was a major manufacturer during both World Wars and went on to produce steel used in modern bridges and skyscrapers. After the plant closed in 1995, it was left to the elements. But in recent years the site has slowly been renovated as an urban chic destination for tourists, music lovers . . . and gamblers. 

     Down the street, behind an abandoned building, we could glimpse Wind Creek casino, which in my mind illustrates the change in our economy from manufacturing (steel making) to services (games of chance). The casino, here since 2009, closed in March and re-opened in June to a Covid-limited audience. We didn't walk all the way to the casino. Instead, we circled back around the other way and found . . . a Roman ruin?

     No, just another post-industrial American ruin.. And beyond that, another one . . . 

     and yet another, whose falling-apart roof lends itself to a more abstract view.

     So as you can see, they have a ways to go in the renovations. Still, there are economic green shoots growing out of these old ruins. There's an industrial museum buried among these buildings. A community college has claimed one corner of an old building. Then, of course, there's always tourism, the great American pastime. 

     The Visitor Center was closed -- it was opening later in the day for Musikfest -- but we probably wouldn't go in anyway. We don't even use public restrooms these days. So we left for home, wondering all the way: Is the new American economy really better than the old one?

Sunday, August 2, 2020

"Oh, My God!"

     Laurie Stone woke up an hour later than usual. "Oh my God," she thought. "Where's Rocky?" Her kitty always roused her at the crack of dawn with his loud Meoooowww!

     A sense of dread rose as she got out of bed. She'd heard about older pets dying quietly in the night. She called for him as she looked around the bedroom. She walked through the living room, through the dining room, to the kitchen . . . .

     For the rest of  the story, you have to go over to The Morning the Cat Didn't Wake Me. And after you've done that, we can run down the posts of some other bloggers -- bloggers who are mostly staying home, sometimes sleeping late, but also venturing out, one way or another, to ponder different points on the compass.

      As for me, I've had to cancel several vacations due to Covid. Instead, my wife and I have been making day trips. We drove over to Princeton, NJ, and walked around the beautiful college campus. We traveled up to Bethlehem, PA, and took a tour around the old steel furnaces. We followed the Delaware River down to Bristol, PA, where the river meets up with the canal that once was used to haul coal from the mountains to the city.

     But other than these short journeys (okay, a secret -- we can't go for more than three hours total, because we don't want to "go" in a public restroom), we've been staying close to home.

Back home for Carol. But where is it?
     Carol Cassara, blogging at Heart, Mind, Soul, suggests that the pull toward "home" seems stronger than ever in our senior years. She left home when she was 21 and made a life for herself in California. But now something has shifted. She and her husband have been spending more time back home with family and old friends . . . all of which has led to a life-changing decision that she explains in Can You Really Go Home Again?

     Rebecca Olkowski with felt a pull toward another kind of home. As she tells us in Escape to Tempe, AZ, she was invited on a virtual tour of the city, where both her mother and brother once lived. The city has changed a lot, she reports, and now offers festivals, fine dining, major sports events. But with temperatures currently hitting 118 degrees, and Covid running rampant (Arizona is averaging about 2,500 cases a day) it might be best to stick to wide-open outdoor activities like hiking, kayaking and golf . . . at least for now.

     Meryl Baer reminds us that the political hype continues to escalate as election day nears. By the way, did you know? Meryl Baer has a new blog called Beach Boomer Bulletin. Check it out -- it may be the only chance you get to go to the beach this summer.

     Anyway, Baer certainly echoes my feelings when she says that most of us can't wait until November 4 when the craziness ends. (Wishful thinking!) But political madness is not a new phenomenon. To give us all some perspective, she reviews in Political Scandals to Ponder a variety of scandals that caught the nation's attention over the years.

     To bring things up-to-date, Rita R. Robison, consumer journalist, offers us news and reviews of Trump's Four Executive Orders on Prescription Drugs. According to Peter Maybarduk of Public Citizen's Access to Medicines Program, she reports, the half-measures are weak and will make only small changes in some drug prices to some people.

     Finally, whether you're at home pondering politics, or taking care of aging pets -- or finding a way to travel in these treacherous times -- Jennifer Koshak has a simple message: Remember to laugh, don't be afraid of being silly, and Never Stop Having Fun

Sunday, July 26, 2020

We've All Canceled Plans

     My wife and I were supposed to leave for Wisconsin today, on a two-week trip to visit my daughter and grandchild. Instead, we decided to stay home.

     We'd booked the trip back in May, when Covid cases were going down from an average of 30,000 a day to 20,000 a day. The virus was supposed to take the summer off, with the experts only worried about a second wave that might come in the fall.

     So we booked an airbnb, and I told my daughter: "We've got reservations, and we'll be there ...  you know, unless the Coronavirus makes a big comeback and stops us from traveling."

     We carved out the time on our calendar and looked forward to a Wisconsin vacation -- we'd never been to Wisconsin. We were doubly excited because we'd already had two trips canceled because of Covid. We were going to take a long weekend back home in New York at the end of April, but the event got canceled, and we were wary of traveling anyway, so we didn't go. Airbnb was good to us -- it gave us a full refund.

     Then our summer trip to Cape Cod was canceled. We had signed up for a week in July, but the woman who rents us her house called us and said they'd decided not to rent at all during the summer.

     We found out later, from a friend who lives on the Cape, that a lot of Bostonians and New Yorkers who have summer places on the Cape have moved there for the duration. The Cape is pretty crowded -- not with tourists, but with second homeowners.

     B read that on nearby Martha's Vineyard, where the rich and famous summer, they're experiencing a surge in fall school registrations. A number of second homeowners intend to spend the next year there, working from home and sending their kids to the local school.

     Anyway, we had two trips canceled. But I bet we're not alone. I'd guess a lot of us have had to cancel travel plans because of Covid.

     Still, we were looking forward to the trip to Wisconsin. And we prepared. We checked with our airbnb host to make sure she cleaned and disinfected. We made reservations at a hotel along the way with a "CleanStay" program. We stocked up on disinfectants and masks, and even researched how we could avoid public restrooms on the highway.

Not going to Wisconsin
     But there was no way around it. Instead of going down, the cases of Covid began to rise again. Big time.

     On May 17 new cases were down to 13,000 a day nationwide. There were several other days at the end of May when new cases came in under 20,000. But then they began to go up again -- 21,000, 23,000, 25,000. They crested 30,000 again on June 19. They hit 40,000 on June 25. They climbed to over 50,000 by July 1. And over 60,000 by July 8.

     This was making us nervous. The virus was supposed to go to sleep for the summer; instead, it was raging back. I began to drill down, looking at the cases in Wisconsin -- and in Ohio where we'd have to spend a night in the hotel. In July, Wisconsin went from 500 cases a day to 700 cases a day, to 900 cases a day. On Friday new cases in Wisconsin numbered 1,058. Ohio was worse. The state has suffered over 1,000 cases every day since the beginning of July, hitting 1,560 on Friday.

     The numbers at home have also been going up. But more gently. Pennsylvania currently has about 800 cases a day. So we finally decided it would be foolish to drive into the teeth of the epidemic.  Even if we're careful, we realized, we'd have more contact when we're away and on the road, exposing ourselves to more public touch points.

     So it's back to stay-at-home, self-isolation, talking to people on Zoom. But that's better than contracting Covid, maybe ending up in the hospital, or worse, and possibly giving it to my daughter and her family.

     So this morning I woke up. And my first thought was: What about Thanksgiving? Maybe we could go to Wisconsin for Thanksgiving! And then there's our winter trip ...

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Do You Know Your Geography?

     We've been planning a trip to Wisconsin for a couple of months now, to see my daughter who moved there in the spring. So I've been spending a lot of time hunched over maps, drawing routes on google, checking out the states we will drive through -- Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin.

     It's still up in the air about whether we will actually hazard this trip, considering the rise in Covid-19. But for all the aching back I've suffered in the planning, I have come across a few geographic surprises. I thought I'd share them with you, in the form of a quiz. So how much do you know about these United States of ours? Answers are at the bottom of the page.

     1. I used to live in New York State which is larger in area than Pennsylvania. But is New York larger than Wisconsin? So you tell me, which covers a larger area, New York or Wisconsin?

     2. Then which of these states is larger -- Pennsylvania or Ohio?

     3. Going farther afield (and out of my way), how about Florida or Idaho -- which is larger, area-wise?

     4. Now to population. Which state has more people, Wisconsin or Indiana?

     5. How about Pennsylvania vs. Illinois? Which one has the larger population?

     6. Okay, back to Idaho. Which state has a larger population, Idaho or Hawaii?

     7. Do you know the capital of Wisconsin -- is it Madison or Milwaukee?

     8.  Like I said, I used to live in New York. But when I did, I actually lived closer to the capital of Connecticut than I did to the capital of New York. The capital of New York is Albany. What's the capital of Connecticut?

     9. Now live in Pennsylvania. But I live closer to the capital of New Jersey than the capital of Pennsylvania. The capital of Pennsylvania is Harrisburg. What's the capital of New Jersey?

     10. The other place I like to visit is South Carolina. Is the capital Charleston or Columbia?

     Bonus:  I'm sorry I had to research this question. But it turns out that Wisconsin has twice the rate of Covid-19 as Pennsylvania -- just as many cases, with half the population. Which state currently has the most cases of Covid: California, Florida or Texas?


     1. Wisconsin at 65 thousand square miles compared to New York's 55 thousand. 2. Pennsylvania edges out Ohio, with 46 thousand sq. mi. compared to Ohio at a little less than 45 thousand. 3. Idaho. This one surprised me. Idaho is larger than Florida, with 84 thousand sq. mi. compared to 66 thousand 4. Indiana at 6.7 million people compared to Wisconsin's 5.8 million. 5. Pennsylvania wins at 12.8 million compared to 12.7 for Illinois -- Illinois used to be more populous but it is one of the few states that has lost population in recent years. 6. Idaho wins again, with 1.8 million compared to Hawaii's 1.4 million. 7. Madison. 8. Hartford. 9. Trenton. 10. Columbia. Bonus: Florida, with a seven-day average of over 11,000 new cases; Texas is averaging 10,000 a day and California 9,000. Pennsylvania has fewer than 1,000 cases a day.