Monday, August 31, 2020

Mea Culpa

As my friend Terry Thompson emailed this morning, “Something happened on the way to the internet.” the app that publishes my blog has changed its Post Editor so that I’m unable to write and publish a post the way I have for some 735 weeks. Right now, when the email you receive appears as normal text the actual blog looks horrible. And if the actual blog appears as it should the email will have white text on a black blocks. Neither is acceptable. I will work diligently to figure it out. In the meantime, my apologies.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

City or Not Here I Come

I recently read an editorial in the New York Times that referred to the ghost town that Manhattan has become because of the pandemic. Then Thursday morning I read about downtown Los Angeles that has suffered the same fate. I had driven to Albuquerque Wednesday for a doctor’s appointment and, since I was early, I walked and photographed along Central Avenue, the main drag in the Duke City’s nominal city center. Albuquerque has a pathetic downtown. It is tepid in boom times and during the pandemic it is barren and hollow. In the half hour that I walked I saw 11 people, eight men and three women. Of the first five men that I saw only one was wearing a mask. Of the women, two wore masks and the homeless women with the borrowed shopping cart did not wear one. 

Never having had a robust city center means that Albuquerque hasn’t lost much. The real cities, New York and Los Angeles have withered during the lockdown brought about by COVID-19. Albuquerque has nothing to bounce back to. 

In the Tuesday, August 5, New York Times, Juliana Kim’s article Is New York “Over” addresses the specter of New York’s demise. She refers to a report last month by the business group, the Partnership for New York City. The group’s report estimates that as many as one-third of the city’s small businesses may never reopen. Another recent study by the city said that about 1,200 restaurants had permanently closed since March. It will be much worse than that.

On August 13 social media influencer James Altucher wrote, “NYC IS DEAD FOREVER. HERE’S WHY” In his diatribe he said, “I love NYC. When I first moved to NYC it was a dream come true. Every corner was like a theater production happening right in front of me. So much personality, so many stories. 

Every subculture I loved was in NYC. I could play chess all day and night. I could go to comedy clubs. I could start any type of business. I could meet people. I had family, friends, opportunities. No matter what happened to me, NYC was a net I could fall back on and bounce back up. 

Now it's completely dead.”

Then Monday in a Times op-ed, the comedian Jerry Seinfeld responded, “Real, live, inspiring human energy exists when we coagulate together in crazy places like New York City,” he wrote. “Feeling sorry for yourself because you can’t go to the theater for a while is not the essential element of character that made New York the brilliant diamond of activity it will one day be again.”

And Michael Wilson, a New York Times reporter who has documented the mood of the city during the virus crisis wrote, “I see so many New Yorkers doubling down and riding this out. New York is over when New Yorkers collectively agree it’s over, which is why it will never happen.”

But the realities suggest that the ominous forecasting has a strong foundation. The Sunday NYT article New Yorkers Are Fleeing to the Suburbs: “The Demand Is Insane” by Matthew Haag added to my angst. The subhead was “The pandemic is spurring home sales as prosperous city residents seek more space. One listing had 97 showings and received 24 offers.”

It’s much more than space, Matthew. It’s cost. It’s schools. It’s backyards and easier living.

And the offers are often way above asking. The East Orange, NJ home with three bedrooms referenced above went under contract for 21% over the asking price of $285,000. Try to find that kind of property in Brooklyn for three times that price.

The real estate market in New York City suburbs has exploded. Sales in the suburban counties are up 44% over 2019. Westchester County which abuts the Bronx is up 112 percent and Fairfield County where we lived in the mid-70s is up 73 percent.

Meanwhile Manhattan sales fell 56 percent.

The genie is out of the bottle. Workers and companies alike have found that working from home is a viable and less expensive option for housing or office space at New York prices. Already companies are signaling that employees will continue to work remotely after the pandemic has passed. With fewer workers in the city there will be reduced demand for residential and commercial real estate, office space will remain empty and there will fewer humans on restaurant seats and barstools. That, in and of itself, is depressing to a life-long restaurant guy who operated establishments in Manhattan and Queens through much of the 1970s and 1980s. Already 1,200 NYC restaurants have closed for good. That’s the tip of the iceberg.

And that’s just New York. The same sad song is being played in Los Angeles with a downtown that has been reborn over the last ten years. After decades as workday destination and a slow drive to and from Sherman Oaks people started to live downtown. Once dark and derelict after cocktail hour, new construction of upscale condos and apartments lured 90,000 new residents to a revitalized 24/7 boom town. While that’s the population of a few square blocks in Manhattan the influx gave birth to a thriving Arts District, the Fashion District, and the Theatre District. The Historic District drew residents to its Beaux Arts heritage. From China Town to USC and from the 110 Freeway to the Los Angeles River, Downtown LA rode a hip, happening wave.

Then came the pandemic and, like New York, people contracted COVID-19, offices emptied, restaurants and bars closed, and Downtown LA finds itself in a tailspin which it may not survive.

Architect Michael Maltzan writes, “Much of the development in downtown has been happening at a furious and relentless pace with very little time to reflect on some of what has been made. Maybe it takes a moment like this to hit the pause button so that we can adjust our thinking in a more precise way.”

Historian D. J.  Waldie offers that Downtown Los Angeles had developed “a sense of place.” And that “At this point in the pandemic and the economic shock that the pandemic brought it is hard to see how that efflorescence, entrepreneurial creativity and growth will survive.” It is hard to see. And I submit that Downtown LA was only starting to achieve a sense of place. It doesn’t have a fully formed identity. It hasn’t yet, in my opinion, become truly livable. It’s hard edged, superficial, and feels temporary. Only time creates a real city. That kind of identity is many decades in the making.

What was built in the last ten years has been turned upside down in six months. The pinnacle of Downtown’s remarkable upmarket resurgence has been toppled by an insidious disease, economic collapse, and uncertainty. The only thing thriving its empty Downtown is the growing homeless population. And yet when we visit our son in suburban Los Angeles the place I want to be is Downtown. 

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Live Free or Die. The state slogan of New Hampshire

Poster Boy. Bandanna, Oakleys, camo and and an NRA sticker. This dude gave me the stink eye when he caught me taking his picture.
When our son arrived in Taos after driving from Los Angeles, he took tour of town and ran a couple of errands before coming to the house. He reported that he was impressed by the widespread compliance to our governor’s mask requirement. We told him that Governor Lujan-Grisham had battened down the hatches early and had gotten a handle on the pandemic from the get-go. We’re proud of her efforts and the level of cooperation New Mexicans have exhibited. Our little burg declared war on the virus early and went beyond the governor's guidelines. We, the operative word, enacted our own mask ordinance that provides for $500 fines for those who don't care about others. However, we told Garrett, not every town takes the mandate seriously. In fact, we’d taken a driving tour of the Enchanted Circle the week before. When we drove through Red River, a summer vacation destination for Texans, almost no one was wearing a mask. Not that it was a surprise. Texans, I opine, would rather give COVID-19 to the redneck on the next barstool than sacrifice personal freedom. “You can’t tell me what to do,” they seem to say.

“Stay the hell in Texas,” is my retort.

The family that stays together.

Not a care in the world

Leading by example in Red River
Then Monday Peggy, Garrett and I drove to Buena Vista, Colorado to pick up her custom picture frames. On the way back I drove us through buzzy Salida so he could see the bustling tourist town on the Arkansas River. Salida is among my favorite small towns in the Mountain West. It’s got an outdoor sports vibe and burgeoning art scene. It has classic mining town architecture. Think Aspen, Telluride and Ouray. It also sits in a so-called banana belt with a temperate climate. The thing it does not have is masks.

Garrett loves coffee and I love locally owned coffee purveyors. To me every worthy small town has at least one clever, convivial coffee seller. So, my mission was three-fold; see charming Salida, stroll along the shaded river and grab a fresh brew for the road. I found the coffee shop I’d patronized on other visits. We parked next door and walked to the tiny establishment on the corner. All of us are careful about masking and social distancing to the point of phobia. I noticed an unmasked twenty something couple concentrating on their Mac Book Pros. At that moment the woman rose from her chair and pulled her mask over her nose and mouth. A good sign it seemed to me. While we were hesitant to enter, we followed her into the place only to find that neither of the two baristas nor the cook were wearing masks. We looked at each other as if to say, “Let’s blow this joint.”

We began to walk back to the parking lot when we saw two portly couples entering the lot to retrieve their pick-up trucks with gun racks. The men were Central Casting hayseeds, wide-bodied with beards, ball caps and Oakleys. The women were just fat.

We were desperate to get out of Salida, but I did a brisk drive-through of Salida’s energetic downtown and river front. Nary a mask to be seen.

We exited Salida as if we were escaping a burning building. I hadn’t driven six blocks when I saw blinking blue lights in my rearview mirror. “Shit!” I thought. I turned the corner and parked in front of somebody’s driveway. The officer ambled to our vehicle. I rolled down the window while Peggy extracted my registration and proof of insurance from the glovebox.

When officer Holbrook came alongside, I said. “I have no idea what I did.”

He responded. “You were doing 41 in a 25-mph zone.”

I explained, “We were really was lost and just wanted to get back to Highway 50. We just picked up picture frames in Buena Vista and we’re headed back to Taos.”

"So, you're just going up and back.", he confirmed. 

He told me to continue straight ahead and I'd come US 50, to turn right and it would take me to US 285 where we could drive south to New Mexico.

He took my documents back to his cruiser, ran them through the system, and returned to the car. He gave me his business card on which he wrote 41 in a 25 zone.

“Thank you, officer. Thanks for your understanding.”

Once we had completed out transaction I said, “I have a question. We were just downtown, and we noticed almost nobody was wearing a mask. Why is that?”

A little defensive, he answered, “Well, we have a statewide mask mandate but we’re not enforcing it. If we did that’s all we would do.”

I told him. “I wasn’t being critical. I was just surprised. Thanks for your courtesy, Officer Holbrook.

What I didn’t but wanted to say was, “So you’ve calculated that the danger of someone driving 41 in a 25-mph zone is greater than 5,000 unmasked yahoos on the street, in bars and restaurants and riverfront park.”

Red River made the same calculation.

I love Salida but won’t return till the pandemic has run its course or there’s a vaccine. And I hate Red River and all that it says about half of America. Still I’m driving there right this minute to get some photographs that will illustrate its stance. After all Red River’s mayor has declared that “I disagree with the governor’s mask mandate and we won’t be enforcing it in our town.”

Let’s reflect on some American’s unwillingness to accept the facts about curbing the pandemic. It is widely held by the medical and scientific communities that if all our citizens would wear masks for three weeks, we’d have this monster under control. Yet many Americans still refuse to do the right thing. Imagine, please, that we had all united in that effort four months ago. There would be tens of thousands fewer deaths and our economy would be functioning at a semblance of normalcy right now. Schools would have safely reopened. Denial, delaying and obfuscation have led us to this place. A dearth of leadership has made America a pathetic shell of what it was. We are no longer a beacon. We’re a punchline. We’re an example all right, an example of how not to act during a crisis. Teamwork is for wimps.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

This and that

San Antonio de Padua, Dixon, NM.

The rear of San Antonio de Padua

A week ago today we drove back from a medical appointment in Santa Fe with a photo stop in charming Dixon, NM about 25 miles south of Taos. It was our second stop in Dixon in two weeks. First, it’s on the way and, second, it’s a dependable photography locale that Peggy and I know very well.

Embudo Presbyterian, Dixon, NM.
You’ll find this post short on text since, one, I’m taking a short break from talking (much) about my maladies and recovery from a broken hip, and, two, our son Garrett has been visiting the last week and I’ve been luxuriating in his wise, caring and funny presence. I will update you on my progress to this extent. I started using hiking poles Wednesday at PT, went for a 30 minute pole assisted walk with Peggy and Garrett that evening and later scrapped the poles and walked around the house sin bastones, with nothing but one foot in front of the other. Today Garrett and walked for an hour on the trails at the junction of the Rio Grande and Rio Pueblo. Nothing to it. I used the poles as a just in case. but my right leg was fully loaded the whole time.

Corrugated roof and eaves, Nuestra Señora de La Asunción, Placita, NM

Eaves, Nuestra de La Asunción
As to the images included herein, they are of San Antonio de Padua and Embudo Presbyterian in Dixon and Nuestra Señora de la Asunción in tiny Placita, NM.

That’s all folks.

Sunday, August 09, 2020

Use it or lose it

Photographing San Antonio de Padua Church in Dixon, NM.

The results thereof
As you can imagine I’ve given a good deal of thought to physical health, fitness, and longevity over the past seven months. And, in the midst of the Covid-19 onslaught, these contemplations have taken a more expansive turn. I’m seeing the confluence of my own setbacks with that of an entire nation and world. It’s been instructive to say the least.

Entering Elizabethtown Cemetery during a photo safari on The Enchanted Circle.
Since December 24, 2019 I’ve had two falls, each of which resulted in a serious injury. When I did a face plant while running in LA, I tore my rotator cuff. When I crashed my road bike on June 10, I broke my hip. As my osteoporosis doctor told me “I can’t wrap you in bubble wrap.” This from the guy who told me “Don’t fall” six years ago. That was Tuesday. Then Thursday our dermatologist asked my naked self, “What the heck happened to you?” I gave him the sad story of my self-inflicted, back to back injuries and he warned. “Maybe your body is trying to tell you something.” I scoff in your general direction, Dr. Auerbach.

In the case of the rotator cuff, which like the hip did not require surgery, I am doubly blessed by that good fortune, I really didn’t skip a beat. I never stopped running and was lifting weights and doing push-ups and pull-ups inside two weeks. The fractured hip has been more of an impediment. I sure the hell haven’t been running. But I was back to lifting from the seated position in a couple of weeks. That and the roster of leg exercises prescribed by my physical therapist have kept me connected to my corporeal self and have left me with a modicum of fitness. Except for cardiovascular exercise which has been nil. When I complete my 12-week sentence on September 10, I will have had no cardio for three months, marking the second longest dry spell in 44 years. My spare tire bears witness.

Last Wednesday at PT I performed a battery of tests. Katherine, my therapist, exclaimed, “I can’t believe how you’ve maintained muscle mass in your quadricep. Most people have a really hard time bouncing back from a broken hip.” It made me remember Peggy’s dire report at the beginning of this ordeal, the one that said 30% of old people who break a hip die from it or a related condition. I filed that in the hidden reaches of my mind. It's not something you want to dwell on.Then last week I read that 40% of geriatrics die within two years of the injury. Jesus. It’s chilling statistic than mutes my self-congratulations. Besides if I pat myself on the back too hard, I’ll probably break my arm.

Slightly embarrassed by Katharine’s accolades but not a little proud, I explained, “It’s because I’ve faithfully done the exercises you gave me.” Simple as that.

She replied “Yes. I’m sure that helped, but it’s really because you were strong when the injury happened.”

Which leads me to the gospel of taking care of the body which is allegedly our temple. We are drowning in news about the preexisting conditions that lead to serious Covid-19 related illnesses and deaths. First among those preexisting conditions is obesity, this in a nation where 42% of the population is overweight and 30% is obese. It’s obscene. And we’re led by a yellow haired doughboy that thinks McDonalds serves gourmet cuisine.

Almost everybody follows this blog is north of 65. I don’t know what that says about my posts. But I do know how important it is to protect your physical health, to maintain a strong heart and lungs, to stay trim and to maintain muscle mass. Do you know that after 60 we cannot build new muscle? The best we can do is to keep and strengthen the muscle we already have. “Use it or lose it” is the timeworn but most apt adage.

I’ve been considered compulsive by some for my commitment to fitness. After this episode that commitment has only strengthened. Whether I’m able to run again, and I think I will, or must choose another pursuit I will attack it with even more vigor than before. I’m standing on two legs today because I paid my dues yesterday.

Katharine instructed me to bring hiking poles to PT Wednesday. I think there may be an fully loaded walking step in store.

My three-month orthopedic follow-up with Dr. Marvil is September 2.

She said, “You’ll be walking into that meeting.”

I asked, “Without a walker?”

She nodded, “Yup.”

So, please take care of your body so that your loved ones don’t have to take care of you too soon. Keep on doing what you do. Many years ago, the writer Jeff Jerome wrote that, “We exercise to preserve function.” He was right.

I told Katharine, “Americans are so willful. Why don’t we take care of ourselves? Why do we die so young? We have the only declining life expectancy in the First World. Infant mortality is about 30th in the world. We have 4% of the world’s population and 30% of its COVID cases. Is that the American exceptionalism we’re so proud of?

We have a strain of independence that’s says that no one can tell us what to do. And we don’t have enough respect for the common good. Some have called that a “frontier mentality.” I appreciate individual liberties as much as the next guy, but where does caring about the others enter the equation?

Sunday, August 02, 2020

Rainy Day

It’s fitting to share a bevy of rainy-day shots since we’ve finally been blessed by a late monsoon season the last the last couple of weeks. Not only are the summer rains a gift to the earth but a much-needed tonic for a flagging spirit. I could wax rhapsodic about these torrents but will let the images tell the tale. I don’t claim that all of these are from recent days, but each captures the thick, sound dampening atmosphere of a hard rain.

The first paragraph and the words “rainy day” led to a distant memory, one that’s almost 61 years in the making. When I began writing the post and I had no inkling that I’d be reflecting on the lyrics of the song Rainy Day that I wrote in 1959. It was written across from the socked in beach in Santa Barbara during Christmas while on vacation from college. This was a classic case of the story leading me where it wanted me to go. My sophomoric ballad was a misty miss my girlfriend ode to Toby Hager who had captured my 18-year-old heart in the first semester of my freshman year at the University of Arizona. Toby, it should be stressed, was out of my league in every conceivable way so my pining was more about the idea of Toby Hager than for her flesh and blonde self. Though there was some of that, too. Coming out of high school I was absolutely retarded when it came to women. To use a sports analogy, I should have been redshirted so my body and mind could catch up with my chronological age. I was a boy on a man’s errand. Awestruck, gob smacked and head over heels for an unattainable creature from another planet.
I wrote this, my newly purchased Martin 000-18 guitar in my hands.

Rainy day, Cold outside
Rainy day, it’s almost snowing
Rainy day. It always rains when your lover has gone away

It’s only been half a year
And I still have to shed a tear
‘cause when you’re lost and all alone
It’s a rainy, rainy day

There’s more but you get the idea. It may not have been good, but it was heartfelt.
One time Toby came to a gig my singing partner John Ellsworth and I were doing at a small theatre on North 6th Avenue. After the performance we strolled back to campus hand in hand. I spent the whole time trying to impress her with my glib repartee. Finally, she put her index finger to my lips and told me. “You don’t need to talk to be with somebody.” She was telling me not to try so hard.
Another time we were at a house party. We were slow dancing to Dream by the Everly Brothers. I’m sure I sang it in her ear since John and I covered all the Everly’s songs. Boy, we could harmonize. As we held each other Toby looked me in the eyes and kissed me lightly. She whispered, “Why dance, Steve?” I did not consider my options.
Toby transferred to UC Berkeley for the spring semester. We spoke once, threatened to get together. And didn’t.
Meanwhile John, who has since become a best-selling novelist, wrote real lyrics.  This is Once Upon a Time.

One upon a time, as the tale begins
Flowers bloomed and trees sang, touched by the wind
Time stood still, not passing by
We wandered beneath an azure sky
In our timeless paradise
Once upon a time

Faster ticks the clock
Our love begins to fade
Surely as the twilight’s end comes to a leafy glade

If I could forget her,
If the book would close
Each day would bring a new love
With the spark of you.

Eternity, infinity
Where time is never known
Slips away at the break of day
And I am left alone
With emptiness and pages bare

Once upon a time

The guy was 18 going on 30 when he wrote those lyrics. I was 18 going on 14. Forgive me, John, if I muffed a word or two. I'm doing this from memory.
Blogger had changed its posting mechanism and it not publishing the images fully or in the correct aspect ratio. It's a good thing this post is about the story and the photographs are just to support the text. I'll try to get it sorted about. But not tonight.