Thoughts on the December 26, 2010 Blizzard in NYC/Long Island

While visiting my parents on eastern Long Island (LI) Christmas Day, I checked the weather for Sunday and Monday to determine my return home. To my surprise I found winter storm warnings suggesting 6 to 12 inches of snow in Philly and a broader range for LI (they weren’t sure yet). We did not hear of a major storm on Wednesday or on Saturday. (On a side note, I read a blog entry from a local meteorologist explaining the short notice We all agreed I could leave Christmas Night or check the weather early Sunday morning and leave then or Tuesday, after the storm ended late Monday afternoon. As I did not want to leave then I prepared for an early morning departure. On Sunday I inferred I would be driving into the full force of the storm and thus waited until Tuesday. Both my dad and stepmom Jeanne postponed their trip Monday to NY until Tuesday given the storm. (To briefly explain my acronyms, NY to refers to New York City and NYS to the State of New York.)

This blizzard had impressive wind gusts blowing snow horizontally, and I hypnotized myself watching the snow dart by the light emanating across the street. In watching I decided to observe more storms in the future, as watching nature’s roar supplies a cathartic effect. I refused to consider Monday’s great dig while utilizing this opportunity to savor the moment.

Monday I awoke to a pristine, blinding blanket of snow to spoil. In clearing the driveway of the accumulation of 10-12 inches (possibly 15 inches), I learned such winds heavily compress snow towards the bottom. Also, the snow goes EVERYWHERE. In clearing the porch we swept the snow from windows, the posts holding the roof, in corners, off furniture, etc. Usually only the horizontal areas toward the edge of the porch need cleaning. When clearing the driveway, My dad preferred making “igloo blocks” where he used the shovel to slice a cube in the snow and then removed the snow in two parts. I preferred shoveling the top half and breaking the bottom denser half into quarters, but I integrated the igloo blocks as the day progressed.

With the driveway sufficiently cleared Jeanne completed two errands. When she returned she told of the challenges in driving with everyone throwing snow from driveways onto the roads the plows continued clearing, forcing additional caution and anticipating roads in various states of being cleared. The post office did not have mail to deliver that day, and the grocery stores lacked large quantities of food. These aspects somewhat surprised us, but how could anyone drive or receive deliveries while the storm had made transportation impossible?

Stories throughout Monday indicated NY transportation came to a halt. Many of the subway lines emerging from underground outside of Manhattan were incapacitated; the Long Island (LIRR) and Metro North (Metro-North) Railroads could not run; major airports would not reopen until no earlier than 4 pm. People told of sitting in subway cars for six hours. Many subways, buses, ambulances, and cars were stranded throughout the city and on bridges because the roads had not been plowed; while the plow trucks could not clear major and side roads because of the vacated vehicles. The emergency system had been backed up for hours. Residents of Brooklyn and Queens were furious. Ironically, Broadway did not cancel any shows.

On Tuesday, we checked conditions for our trips. The majority of LIRR lines remained suspended, my dad’s line included. All major routes showed slow traffic due to slick conditions and plowing. Many of the subway lines remained out of commission in the outer boroughs, and people needed help getting dug out of the snow on the bridges. Many ambulances had been extracted from the snow but were once again stuck. Dad suggested leaving at 10 instead of 9 am, and I agreed given the challenging conditions and the expectation of a late rush hour.

Before I describe my adventure and observations, let me give you my preferred route. I first use the Northern State Parkway until reaching the Cross Island Parkway. The Northern State runs along the north half of Suffolk and Nassau Counties by the Long Island Expressway (LIE); in NYS, parkways are highways excluding commercial traffic. The Cross Island hugs the border between Queens and Nassau and delineates the Southern State Parkway from the Belt Parkway. The Southern State is similar to the Northern State but does not lie near the LIE (although it is not used today except as a reference to the Belt). The Belt continues the southern trek of Brooklyn and Queens to connect to the Verrazano Bridge (spanning between Staten Island and Brooklyn) while passing Kennedy Airport. After the Verrazano, I drive the Staten Island Expressway to State Route 440 for the Outerbridge Crossing, one of two bridges from Staten Island to New Jersey. Generally from 440 I use either the New Jersey Turnpike or US Route 1 until I change to the Pennsylvania Turnpike and finally Interstate 476, also known as the Blue Route. Typically my trip runs for 3.25 hours because I leave at odd hours.

While in Suffolk County, LI’s eastern-most county, the roads seemed navigable. Some stretches of road had additional layers of snow but were otherwise manageable. Snow blocked the shoulders, making entering and exiting roads difficult. Highway officials and the media warned drivers about less clear on- and off-ramps. However, Suffolk County had few challenges.

The next county west, Nassau County, foreboded a more awkward trip. While driving the LIE and the Northern State I found several right lanes partially or totally blocked; the two left-most lanes (and if there were an HOV lane) remained clear. Traffic slowed upon reaching these randomly-spaced stretches of inconsistent lengths. I started to understand the frustration of NY residents and why multiple cars still needed aid.

As I progressed from Brooklyn and Queens onto Staten Island, this pattern continued with seemingly greater frequency. At one point near Kennedy I noticed no cars heading eastbound on the Belt Parkway, while the westbound lanes crawled forward. I found all three lanes blocked by police and emergency crews to pull a truck off a steep incline. A few minutes later, traffic again slowed down. To my great shock this time only ONE lane was cleared. Sometimes the snow covered all or part of the left lane, requiring me to switch lanes. Only one of two lanes for the exit from the Belt to the Verrazano Bridge was cleared. The Staten Island Expressway also had a few points without a full third lane, but was otherwise better than the Belt.

I found the NJ Turnpike backed up close to the exit for US 1, therefore I switched roads. On the one hand, the NJ Turnpike was bound to have all lanes cleared throughout but is extremely popular; US 1 is less congested (and free) but is usually slower due to stop lights. At the beginning of that stretch of my journey US 1 compared to Queens and Staten Island, but as I moved SSW the snow amounts dropped. Finally I reached Pennsylvania, where the roads had little to no snow left to plow. My trip took over five hours. I discovered snow started around 2 pm in the Philadelphia area; therefore I would have made it home safely on Sunday morning.

While driving I heard Mayor Bloomberg’s press conference, accounting for the number of vehicles in use, how many buses were running, the strides to reduce the backlog of emergency responses, and the number of ambulances stuck. While this data provided actual statistics it did not clarify percentages of the number of vehicles normally used to clear the city. Meteorologists indicated this was the 6th worst storm on record for Central Park, but the 2nd worst had happened in February 2010. Therefore I understand the exasperation of NY’s residents. I did not visit in February, but I do not recall hearing how crippling this storm was for NY. To be fair, I was focused on how that storm impacted ME in the Philly area (actually, two storms accumulating more than two feet within five days of each other and the second storm pushing a tree over my car). However, from what I remember Dad and Jeanne had maintained a normal course, and they frequently go into NY (Dad goes at least once weekly).

Part of the trouble stems from the storm falling the day after Christmas as people start venturing home or vacation elsewhere, explaining the high frustration at the airports. However, why weren’t the airports or city efficiently cleared by Tuesday? No one would have expected the highways to have reduced lanes due to snow. NYC usually has most streets at least partially plowed if not mostly cleared except for slush. Did the city and airports give too many people vacation time? Had they decided to rely on private companies for these situations and these businesses let their employees take a vacation, resulting in an absence of manpower? Also, people had approximately 24 hours or less notice that the 26th would have a major winter storm, which gives the city and airports little notice to reach people selected to be on call or to otherwise prepare. Many people possibly did not learn about the storm until it hit, thus explaining the stranded vehicles. We should recognize that stranded vehicles make it difficult for the snow plows to complete their job.

With these questions as well as what others derive, the outcome of determining what happened to make this storm such a disaster should interest all city and airport managers, as well as residents of NY.

Posted in Life in General, New York | Leave a comment

Do Marriages Ending in Divorce Ever End?

Some decisions made during the process of divorce leave me flabbergasted. What was once thought to be love can often disintegrate into a spectacle of vengeful behavior. This fight has lasted through the centuries — in the most spectacular example of Medea by Euripides, when Jason (of the Argonauts) leaves Medea to marry a younger woman Medea poisons the woman and her father as well as murders her two sons from her life with Jason. She loves her children, but at that moment Medea’s anger over Jason’s betrayal blinds her to that love.

Fortunately most other divorces disclose more petty practices, which these otherwise regular people resist correcting after decades of having moved on in their lives. For example, the parents of my friend Kris have been divorced for 40 years. The father used to collect Life magazines while it was published, and during the divorce Kris’s mother swiped about six months of the collection. Once this man died, Kris discovered the missing period and mentioned it to her mother, only to discover her mother had taken those weeks. Kris asked if she could get those back so that she and her sisters could sell the collection, but her mother refused. Both parents had since remarried, they had grandchildren and no need to worry about their children’s education. Each had been happy in their new lives and seemed to have come to terms with that period in their lives. Kris’s parents had even spent time together in favorable manners. The husband never noticed these magazines were missing!

I admit I lack the personal experience to understand these actions or the resoluteness in clinging to this past. The spouse does ensure he or she remains with the other figuratively if not literally. This behavior is not limited to women; I know men have behaved in such a manner as well. What emotion or thinking leads to this action?

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Chinese Creation Myth

First, I may have to revise my opinion (a little, not entirely!) about Thoreau. However, I have confirmed the use of his writing as an effective insomnia cure once. The introduction also worked well.

Now I shall spread my blogging wings and provide you with a mythopoeic experience. (I admit I had to use my dictionary for that word while reading that Introduction I mentioned earlier.) In my readings I enjoyed a creation story from China and wanted to share this with others. The myth is taken from a book called Tales from China, by Cyril Birch, and published by Oxford University Press.

Heaven and Earth and Man

Earth with its mountains, rivers, and seas, Sky with its sun, moon, and stars: in the beginning all these were one, and the one was Chaos. Nothing had taken shape, all was a dark swirling confusion, over and under, round and round. For countless ages this was the way of the universe, unformed and unillumined, until from the midst of Chaos came P’an Ku. Slowly, slowly, he grew into being, feeding on the elements, eyes closed, sleeping a sleep of eighteen thousand years. At last the moment came when he woke from his sleeping. He opened his eyes: nothing could he see, nothing but darkness, nothing but confusion. In his anger he raised his great arm and struck out blindly in the face of the murk, and with one great crashing blow he scattered the elements of Chaos.

The swirling ceased, and in its place came a new kind of movement. No longer confined, all those things which were light in weight and pure in nature rose upwards: all those things which were heavy and gross sank down. With his one mighty blow P’an Ku had freed sky from earth.

Now P’an Ku stood with his feet on earth, and the sky rested on his head. So long as he stood between the two they could not come together again. And as he stood, the rising and sinking went on. With each day that passed earth grew thicker by ten feet and the sky rose higher by ten feet, thrust ever farther from the earth by P’an Ku’s body which daily grew in height by ten feet also. For eighteen thousand years more P’an Ku continued to grow until his own body was gigantic, and until the earth was formed of massive thickness and the sky had risen far above. Thousands of miles tall he stood, until the time when he could be sure that earth and sky were fixed and firm in their places.

When this time came P’an Ku, his task achieved, lay down on earth to rest, and resting died. And now he, who in his life had brought shape to the universe, by his death gave his body to make it rich and beautiful. He gave the breath from his body to form the winds and clouds, his voice to the rolling thunder, his two eyes to be the sun and moon, the hairs of his head and beard to be the stars, the sweat of his brow to be the rain and dew. To the earth he gave his body for the mountains and his hands and feet for the two poles and the extremes of east and west. His blood flowed as the rivers of earth and his veins ran as the roads which cover the land. His flesh became the soil of the fields and the hairs of his body grew on as the flowers and trees. As for his bones and teeth, these sank deep below the surface of earth to enrich it as precious metals.

And so P’an Ku brought out of Chaos the heavens in all their glory and the earth with all its splendors.

But although the earth could now present its lovely landscapes, although beasts ran in its forests and fish swam in its rivers, still it seemed to lack something, something which would make it less empty and dull for the gods who came down from Heaven to roam over its surface. One day the goddess Nü-kua, whose body was that of a dragon but whose head was of human form, grew weary of the loneliness of the earth. After long thought she stooped and took from the ground a lump of clay. From this she fashioned with her dragon claws a tiny creature. The head she shaped after the pattern of her own, but to the body she gave two arms and two legs. She set the little thing back on the ground: and the first human being came to life and danced and made sounds of joy to delight the eyes and ears of the goddess. Quickly she made many more of these charming humans, and felt lonely no longer as they danced together all about her.

Then, as she rested a while from her task and watched the sons and daughters of her own creation go off together across the earth, a new thought came to her. What would become of the world when all these humans she had made grew old and died? They were fine beings, well fitted to rule over the beasts of the earth; but they would not live for ever. To fill the earth with humans, then when these had gone to make more to take their place, this would mean an endless task for the goddess. And so to solve this problem Nü-kua brought together man and woman and taught them the ways of marriage. Now they could create for themselves their own sons and daughters, and these in turn could continue to people the earth throughout time.

After this gift of marriage from Nü-kua, further blessings came to man from her husband, the great god Fu-hsi. He again had a human head but the body of a dragon. He taught men how to weave ropes to make nets for fishing, and he made the lute from which men first drew music. His also was the priceless gift of fire. Men had seen and feared the fire which was struck from the forest trees by the passing of the Lord of the Thunderstorm. But Fu-hsi, who was the son of this same lord, taught men to drill wood against wood and make fire for their own use, for warmth and for cooking.

Already the creatures of Nü-kua’s making could speak their thoughts to one another, but Fu-hsi now drew for them the eight precious symbols with which they could begin to make records for those who were to come after. {omitted by me} With these eight powerful symbols man could begin to record all he observed of the world about him.

For long years men lived their lives in a world at peace. Then, suddenly, there spread from Heaven to earth a conflict which threatened to put an end to all creation. This was the battle between the Spirit of Water, Kung-kung, and the Spirit of Fire Chu-jung. Down to earth came the turbulent, wilful Kung-kung to whip up huge waves on river and lake and lead his scaly hordes against his arch-enemy, Fire. Chu-jung fought back with tongues of flame and scorching breath and halted rebel Water in his path. Kung-kung’s armies dispersed and he, their leader, turned and fled. But his flight brought with it a peril greater yet. For, dashing blindly off to the west, Kung-kung struck his head against the mountain Pu-chou-shan, which was none other than the pillar that in the western corner held up the sky.

Kung-kung made good his escape, but he left the world in a disastrous state. Great holes appeared in the sky, whilst the earth tilted up in the west. In that region deep cracks and fissures appeared which are still to be seen to this day. All the rivers and lakes spilled out their waters, which ran off and still run eastwards: off to the south-east, where the earth had slipped down low, ran the waters together to form a vast ocean there. Meanwhile, out of the shaken mountain forests fire still raged forth, and wild beasts of every kind left their lairs to maraud through the world of helpless, terrified men.

It was left to the goddess Nü-kua to bring back order to the world, to quell the fire and flood and tame the wandering beasts. She it was also who selected from the beds of rivers stones of the most perfect coloring. These she heated until they could be moulded, then with these stones, block by block, she patched the holes in the sky. Lastly, she killed a giant turtle, and cut off its powerful legs to make pillars between which the sky is firmly held over the earth, never again to fall.

So the peace of the world was restored. But the mountains still rise in the west, and it is to there that the sun, moon, and stars still run down the tilted sky; whilst to the east, the waters of the earth still gather into the restless ocean.

Posted in Books, Fine Arts, Mythology and Folklore | 2 Comments

Thoughts on Thoreau

I have to admit, I find Thoreau excruciating to read. I must start using his writings to assist me with my sleepless nights. When I start reading I ultimately scan the pages without absorbing anything. His writing proves him to be a pretentious jerk. I do admire Thoreau for his willingness to return to a simpler life. However, Thoreau’s writing indicates his interest in publishing seems ultimately to encourage us to admire his success rather than to learn from him.

In fact, I can see the possibility Thoreau would scoff if anyone else were to do the same – he’d lose that opportunity to judge us for living like everyone else. Case in point (sorry, I can’t actually reference the location of this snippet or quote it), there’s a moment where a man struggling to feed his family meets our protagonist and Thoreau takes him fishing. Rather than narrating how this man learned to fish, Thoreau takes great delight routing the man in a self-imposed fishing competition. Thoreau does suggest fishing will supplement the man’s livelihood, but Thoreau ultimately prefers the role of giving the man his fish rather than teaching him for posterity.

I’m not the only person to perceive this quality of Thoreau’s personality. Case in point, Robert Louis Stevenson had strong words about Thoreau’s writing. When I read Stevenson’s comments, I felt relieved that I am not the only one to dismiss Thoreau as a braggart. (I found this in a copy of Walden published by Barnes & Noble, which was originally published in Cornhill Magazine, June 1880.)

In one word, Thoreau was a skulker. He did not wish virtue to go out of him among his fellow-men, but slunk into a corner to hoard it for himself. He left all for the sake of certain virtuous self-indulgences. It is true that his tastes were noble; that his ruling passion was to keep himself unspotted from the world; and that his luxuries were all of the same healthy order as cold tubs and early rising. But a man may be both coldly cruel in the pursuit of goodness, and morbid even in the pursuit of health. I cannot lay my hands on the passage in which he explains his abstinence from tea and coffee, but I am sure I have the meaning correctly. It is this: He thought it bad economy and worthy of no true virtuoso to spoil the natural rapture of the morning with such muddy stimulants; let him but see the sun rise, and he was already sufficiently inspirited for the labors of the day. That may be reason good enough to abstain from tea; but when we go on to find the same man, on the same or similar grounds, abstain from nearly everything that his neighbors innocently and pleasurably use, and from the rubs and trials of human society itself into the bargain, we recognize that valetudinarian healthfulness which is more delicate than sickness itself. We need have no respect for a state of artificial training. True health is to be able to do without it. Shakespeare, we can imagine, might begin the day upon a quart of ale, and yet enjoy the sunrise to the full as much as Thoreau, and commemorate his enjoyment in vastly better verses. A man who must separate himself from his neighbors’ habits in order to be happy, is in much the same case with one who requires to take opium for the same purpose. What we want to see is one who can breast into the world, do a man’s work, and still preserve his first and pure enjoyment of existence.

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Longwood Gardens

Part of the spring bulb exhibit

One of my favorite places to visit here in the Philadelphia, PA area is Longwood Gardens. I especially enjoy visiting repeatedly during the early spring, as one of their beds is designated for spring bulbs. As time proceeds you see daffodils and jonquils in bloom, followed by tulips. They plan the garden to maintain a rainbow effect, with a exhibit of white flora on one end. Longwood has different beds dedicated to wisteria, tree peonies, and lilacs. If you are seeking a place to gather ideas for your own garden, they also have a location filled with different examples of flowers you can use, pottery, trellises, and so forth. Other spots include an arboretum, woodland gardening, several water gardens, and a wildflower section. The topiary garden has wonderful shapes as well as dogs, dragons, and birds. I have to admit, I haven’t found the spot they’ve designated for lilies, one of my favorites, at the appropriate time. Throughout the year they have special themes, such as treehouses, orchids, Christmas, and trains.

Longwood Gardens also has a huge conservatory filled with tropical and desert climate flowers. In the center is an indoor traditional English garden that continually delights viewers. Orchids run amok in the conservatory, with one not so small area filled from floor to ceiling with varieties of orchids. One section focuses on palm trees; another contains a row of bonsai trees, demonstrating these plants ages. The desert room is filled with tall and spiny cactii, and one room exists for hibiscus after hibiscus. My personal favorites are the Children’s Conservatory Garden and the Water Lily Garden.

Watch out for those talons!

The Children’s Conservatory Garden is a dream come true for my inner child. Water fountains abound with mystical and friendly creatures. Some of these fountains subtly demonstrate the effects of gravity and other natural aspects of life. A water fountain of a Chinese dragon is in a room where children are encouraged to paint on the walls with water from said fountain. Naturally plants and flowers surround the area, but the focus is on water and exploring. The imagination is easily captured with cheery glass windows, as well as the sign discussing the rules of play (which do include the opportunity to grab a towel if you get soaked). I’ve brought many people to see this garden, including my mom. Her response was definitely worth the effort!

One of the water lilies at Longwood Gardens

The Water Lily Garden is open during the summer and contains a wide variety of water plants. Longwood Gardens has a special black dye they place in the water to hide the mechanics of maintaining the ponds and to discourage algae from growing. Some of these liles are tiny, while others are large – all photograph beautifully on the black water. Sometimes you can find tiny fish in the water, and dragonflies regularly flit about looking to land on picturesque spots. They also grow lotus and papyrus in these ponds, which always amaze you because of the beauty of the flowers (but you must be there at the right time). One of my favorite plants to view is this lily pad that grows to about 8 feet in diameter. I often wish I could try to stand or lie on the pad, but I know I’d probably go under water and be asked to leave and not come back.

If you ever have the chance to visit, this link will give you information on visiting Longwood Gardens.

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What’s this?

Today I decided to start a blog, in order to encourage my brain from completely atrophying from a lack of intellectual discourse. As I am seeking long-term employment, I prefer to avoid any obvious discussion whatever may be potentially damaging to my ability to be hired (which includes politics).

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