Saturday, July 22, 2023

Retaining Walls and Building Repairs


How would you like to live in a building where its retaining wall has failed?  Well, this is the type of issue co-op boards should feel are their highest priorities.  And my board considers issues like this our highest priority, 

Yet, things get in the way of boards doing their right thing by their shareholders.  For example, the Surfside Condominium's collapse could have been prevented had its Homeowners Association (HOA) both maintained the building properly and repaired it as soon as signs of possible failure were detected.  However, many buildings constructed during a building boom are often shoddily built.  In the case of this building, it was doomed to collapse from the day it was built.

Could Surfside have been saved?  Maybe.  It would have taken a strong HOA and willing owners to supply the funds needed for the needed repairs. But this was not the case.  People balk when presented with a high repair bill.  If they can avoid it, smart people sell out early, leaving other "fools" to pay the bills for repairs - but they can't always sell out.  Currently, as a result of the Surfside collapse, many buildings in Florida are going through mandatory inspections and expensive defect remediation.

So I go back to the failed retaining wall in the picture.  If you were thinking of buying an apartment in the building adjacent to the wall, would you do so?  I wouldn't. Instead, I'd wait until the wall has been repaired, and be sure that all assessments for repairs have been made and collected.  Luckily, this is not my building and not my retaining wall....

Friday, July 21, 2023

A trip to lower manhattan that achieved nothing

The Oculus.  It's a beautiful work of architectural art.  But it was an enormous waste of money to many people, costing over $4,000,000,000 to build.  Supposedly, it is a transit hub.  Yes, you can reach many of New York City's subway lines here, as well as the PATH tubes.  But it is more of a shopping mall than it is anything else.

If you look closely at the above picture, the Oculus is more of an upscale shopping mall than anything else.  When one enters the building from one of the subway stations that reach its corners,  one can't help but notice the beauty of the place.  It is attractive.  But then one notices how many stores are located in this building.

But why did I end up going here today?

To start, I've wanted to go to the 9/11 memorial and museum for a long while.  But I refuse to pay full rate to go there, when I could go there for free after 5:30 pm on Mondays. So I tried to get tickets for today (I'm writing this on a Monday) and found that I was locked out.  Thinking that it was first come, first serve (such as MoMA was on Friday Evenings before the pandemic), I decided to try to go to the museum.  


To start, the Northern half of Metro North's Hudson line was impassable due to damage from abnormally heavy rains.  Although I could take the train from Croton-Harmon station, I had no idea of the operational confusion that would exist when I returned to Grand Central Terminal.  All I knew was that I was on a train which would make all local stops on the way to Grand Central - I'd make it to the memorial by 5:30 pm.

Arriving in Manhattan, I couldn't help but notice the heat.  And it felt worse as soon as I entered the subway.  As planned, I made it to the memorial shortly after 5:30, and found out that I had to get my tickets in advance.  They went "on sale" at 7:30 am, and were "sold out" shortly afterward.  This explains why I couldn't  get tickets via the online portal.

My next stop was the Oculus.  It looked sterile compared to the rest of the city's infrastructure.  Did I mind being there?  No.  But I wouldn't go out of my way to see this place or to shop there.  There was nothing there that I would buy, and most of the people I saw there were on their way to go to other places.

Finally, it was time for me to go home.  When I reached Grand Central, I found out that trains running on both the Hudson and Harlem lines were affected by washouts. And again, I ended up on a train making all local stops.  Arriving at Croton-Harmon, I considered myself lucky.  All I had to do was walk to my car.  Others had to get on buses like this to go to stations in Cortlandt, Peekskill, Beacon, and Poughkeepsie.  No one knows when the tracks will be restored enough to support daily commuter travel to/from New York City.

Reaching my car, I noticed that the weather was now perfect for being outside.  This was a perfect time to be wearing a nice flowing dress (which I was) and wish the daylight could have lasted a bit longer, so that I could finally enjoy some time outdoors.  No one can control when the sun sets - and that is a good thing for us.

Thursday, July 20, 2023

Sinkholes and other headaches


This is the view of a road across the river from me.  I often used this road to return home from my (then) girlfriend's place before I was married. So I'm very surprised that this road would fail in this way.  Yet, I shouldn't be surprised, given the rain we've had lately.  Some TV weather reporter noted that our area received as much rain in one July day as we normally do for the whole month of July.  

Could this excessive rain be related to global warming?  To me, I can't be sure.  But when one mentions Global Warming in some circles, people become irate  A recent article in Fortune reports that many meteorologists are experiencing extreme reactions from the public because they choose to report weather related news honestly mentioning how climate change may be affecting local weather.  Even the weather has become politicized!

What about reports of global warming is so bad?  As I see it, they expose the possibility a given class of people are willingly ignorant of a demonstrable truth, and refuse to see their part (if not responsibility) in causing a global problem.  No one likes to admit that they are wrong.  And when a person's survival depends on being wrong, how can they afford to believe an inconvenient truth?

- - - - - -

In the past 5 years, we've seen excessively hot temperatures in the Pacific Northwest.  People living in homes which never needed air conditioning, now swelter during parts of the summer.  Wildfires in Quebec are producing particulates that result in this year's summer smog in New York, Chicago, Toronto and Montreal.  The world is changing around us, and global warming can explain it.

You'll note that I am not making any prescriptions on what society should do about this problem.  Instead, the first step to a solution (as I learned from a therapist) is to recognize what the problem is. And that's where I am annoyed.  Although I say that global warming is a theory, it is the one with the best evidence to support it.  It's a theory we should take seriously, as the risk factor is great.  We shouldn't be pointing fingers, labeling people as evil.  Many people still depend on the industries (e.g. coal mining) that have caused our problems.  We can't solve the problem unless we can give these people a way to both survive and prosper while retiring these industries.

So where does this leave us?  I don't know.  I have my doubts that the worst offenders will want to see how their actions have made things worse.  And yet, these are the same people who must be involved in the changes we need.  Somehow we must separate their past actions from their future actions, and allow them to move forward without feeling they should feel guilt about a past they couldn't control....

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

A short weekend with RQS as Marian

Even though RQS and I were going to spend less time together than what has become usual, this was going to turn out to be a special weekend - we would be getting pedicures together.  Finally, a whole weekend together where I'd be in Marian Mode!

- - - - - -

Unlike the past few weekends that RQS came to visit, she had things to do before getting on the Northbound train to Croton.  Arriving at dinnertime, RQS said that she wanted to eat either Mexican, Indian, or Japanese (Sushi) cuisines.  And the first place I could think of was near the Walmart in Mohegan Lake - Wild Fusion Asian Sushi Bar & Grill.  

Arriving at the restaurant around 6:00 pm, we found that the restaurant was almost empty.  Shortly after being seated, our orders were taken - and then we were forgotten about for a while. Things had changed since I was last here with FCP several years ago.  While waiting, I noticed that the seating area which once existed in front of the sushi bar was now a staging area for to-go and delivery orders. RQS noticed that the restaurant had filled up in the time between our orders were taken and the time our dishes reached the table.  Although we enjoyed the food and would normally eat there again, the slow and inadequate service turned us off from going back anytime soon.

Our next stop was the above mentioned Walmart.  I had lost (or misplaced) my set of keys to RQS's place, and needed a replacement set.  So, I figured that we could stop by the Key cutting kiosk there, and be out in 5 minutes.  Well, RQS forgot her login code for the machine, and we had to recut replacement keys from scratch.  (This time, I saved the key info under my email address, just in case I lose the keys again.) 10 minutes later, we were off to the supermarket to pick up goodies for the next night's dinner.  After our supermarket visit, RQS looked at her seat and noticed something unexpected - the missing set of keys.  At least, I now have 3 sets of keys to her place, one of them on Mario's key chain.  That should be the last time I misplace keys to her place....

- - - - - -

Saturday came, and we took our time before going out to get our nails done.  Since RQS has pottery class this coming week, she chose to only get a pedicure.  I chose to get a mani-pedi, and was now committed to going out in the world as Marian for the next week or so. For the next hour or so, we enjoyed being pampered by the ladies at the nail salon.  

Our next stop would bring us across the river, and down to Paramus, NJ.  I wanted to have RQS look at a dress I was interested in, as I wanted to be able to wear it on my upcoming cruise to the Bahamas;  RQS wanted to look at some clothes that would help her refresh her wardrobe.  So, I tried to find the dress that had been in plentiful supply at the Lane Bryant in Pelham, NY, while RQS browsed the store for things she was interested in.  Although I found the dress in an out of the way nook of the store, it was not in my size.  RQS said that she liked the dress, and I made a note to buy it online when it hit my net price point.  RQS found two tops that fit her well.  This was a very productive trip.

And then, it was time to go home for the evening.

- - - - - -

When we got up, RQS said that she was taking me out for brunch.  It was nice to be treated for a change. But neither of us had much energy, and we didn't get to the diner until 1:30 pm.  As we arrived, the heavens opened up, and we waited a little before dashing inside to eat.  Luckily, the rain had eased off by the time we left the diner, and it was back to my apartment to pick up RQS's bags for her return home.  A few minutes later, it was time to go - and this was fortuitous, as there was a (unscheduled?) train waiting to take RQS into Grand Central.  (Later, I'd find that there were floods on the line North of Croton-Harmon.)  Although RQS would get home later than expected, I'll bet that her cat wouldn't leave her alone once she opened the door to her apartment.

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Cancelling one cruise and getting ready to book another.


The above is the cruise we were planning to take in February.  Looks like a good itinerary for a 7-day cruise, doesn't it?  But we had a very good reason for cancelling this cruise. The cost of getting to Tampa, staying a couple of days before and after (to see relatives and friends), and what we might spend in shore excursions caused us to rethink our plans, and change where and when we'll be cruising. 

Instead, we decided that the above 12-Day Norwegian Fjord cruise was a better value for us.  Yes, we may spend a little more money on this trip.  But we will see sights that will be closed off to most cruise ships in 2025.

Am I a bit apprehensive about this trip?  Yes.  It'll be the first time I've traveled outside of North America in my life (save for Hawaii, which I'll treat as North America, as well as islands in the Caribbean.).  But it is something that places me a little bit out of my comfort zone, and will help me grow as a person.

With this being said, I am a little sad that I will not be able to take this cruise in my female presentation. However, it will give RQS some uninterrupted time with Mario - something I know she needs very much.  And I'm glad to give it to her, as my need to present as Marian is not as strong as my desire for a healthy romance.

Luckily, my passport has another 4 years on it, which means that I won't be traveling outside the US during the first half of 2027.  Therefore, I have a lot of traveling to do in the next 3 ½ years, and then I'll have to take a break until my passport is renewed.  (This might be a good time to take another cruise on the Pride of America, as it never leaver Hawaii.)  

Do you have any bucket list trips that are worth taking?  Please let me know in a comment.

Monday, July 17, 2023

A trip to the store and dinner with Maria


I've been hemming and hawing about buying this set of frivolity.  The colors attracted me to this sleep set, and I felt that it might look strange on me.  But once I wore it for the first time, I can say that it is comfortable - and I may just wear it when RQS is not around.

But first....

Today's weather forecast was for heat and humidity.  It was not a day to go outside, nor was it a day to do anything strenuous.  So I used the already-present summer excuse, and skipped doing the laundry again.  (I'll have to do it tomorrow, as RQS will be here on Friday.)  However, I eventually got moving, as I wanted to see the above sleep set before buying it with cash.  (All my credit cards now have a zero balance, and I want to keep it that way for a while.)  So, I drove down to Lane Bryant at 3:00, and was examining the garments one last time by 3:45.  Shortly afterward, the garments were in the car, and I was on the way home.

There is one more garment that I want to buy.  But I'm not sure if I want to buy it without RQS looking at it. I wouldn't have much use for it right now.  Yet, it would be nice to have in my closet for a special occasion, such as gala night on a cruise ship.  I figure that the above dress could be dressed up a little by the use of the correct jewelry, and I think it would look good on me.  So I think RQS and I will be making a trip to the store over the weekend, weather permitting.

Rush hour starts around 4:00 pm around here, and I took a slightly convoluted way home.  Although I had just enough time to do the laundry, I left this for one of the tasks I'll do tomorrow.  Instead of laundry, I took a needed nap until it was time to meet Maria.  (In retrospect, I should have done laundry, as Maria left for the restaurant 30 minutes later than planned, giving me the extra time that would have been needed to take care of this task.) At 7:10, I left for El Coyote.  I've never had a bad meal here, and it is one of my Mexican standbys.  When I got to the restaurant, I found out that my cell phone could not connect to any service there.  (It's a common problem when indoors in some places.  I may need to buy a new phone which can work with more frequencies.  But I digress.)  So I was out of reach until I left the place.

Around 8:00, Maria finally arrived, and we both ordered Paella.  Yum!  Hopefully, the leftovers will taste at least half as good as when they were first served.  We talked for a couple of hours, and could have gone on longer.  Too bad that there was no one else in the place.  We decided to leave, though we weren't being rushed out.  Why should anyone stay late because of us.

All too soon, Maria and I parted.  Hopefully, I'll be able to introduce her to RQS soon.

Sunday, July 16, 2023

Some comments about Alaska cruises


One of the things I hate about cruising these days is the scheduling of time in port.  Specifically, I would have considered taking an Alaska cruise this year, but substandard schedules sealed my decision not to take advantage of cruise line sales to this destination.

In the example above, I see little reason for the ship to make only a 6-hour stop in Ketchikan, and a 3-hour stop in Victoria.  Both places deserve more time to explore.  And in the case of Victoria, there is little reason to get off the ship with only 3 hours in port.  But why does this happen?  Although I can't say much about the Ketchikan port stop, I can say something about the Victoria stop.

The United States has two laws that force cruise lines to make a stop in Canada when sailing an Alaska cruise:

  1. The Jones Act
  2. The Passenger Vessel Services Act
Together, these laws prohibit foreign flagged cruise ships from transporting passengers between United States Ports.  If the foreign flagged ship makes at least one stop in a foreign port before returning to a United States port, then many of the provisions of these laws do not apply.  Yet, things can be a little tricky when scheduling cruises.  For example, one cruiser attempted to book a "back to back" cruise on a Royal Caribbean ship as follows:
  1. Cruise from Hawaii to Vancouver, BC.
  2. Cruise from Vancouver, BC to Whittier, AK.

If the cruiser had removed his/her bags from the first ship (from Hawaii) and booked passage on a second ship going to Alaska, there would have been no violation of United States laws, and there would have been no problems.  However, the cruiser booked a ""back to back" on the same ship, and could have caused the cruise line to break the law.  Instead of paying the US Government $850/pp in fines, the cruise line cancelled the second leg of this trip.

Yet, there are ways that foreign flagged ships can transport passengers between United States ports.  Panama Canal cruises are perfect examples of this:

In the case of the above itinerary, I would guess that although the cruise is sold as one booking, to the US Government, it is a series of two (or more) itineraries.  It confuses me as to why the Hawaii to Vancouver to Alaska connections were prohibited and that the Panama Canal itinerary is allowed. 

- - - - - -

As I write this, the British Columbia Longshoreman's Union has decided to strike.  If they decided to take action against cruise ships flying "flags of convenience", it would have scuttled the remainder of the 2023 cruise season.  Luckily, this dis not happen.  The longshoremen realize that if they scuttle the remainder of the 2023 cruise season, the United States may enact permanent exceptions to the Jones Act and the Passenger Vessel Services Act to allow foreign flagged ships to make their Alaska runs. If this were to happen, there would no longer be a need to stop in either Vancouver or Victoria.  This would be a shame, as I think that both cities are well worth a full-day visit, and not the ridiculous 3-hour stop in Victoria as made in the first itinerary.

An early dinner with a friend

  Last night, I mentioned to Pat that I wish I could have been born a cisgender female who looked like this when younger.  If I were younger...