Saturday, December 22, 2012

Travel Help

So many of you know I enjoy travel.  Allyson and I have been to Budapest and Lima in the past year and a half, and we're going to Munich in February in Business Class, because you really can't beat 110,000 miles for lie flat across the pond.  Also see: Beer and Schnitzel.

My folks needed some assistance rebooking some flights they had cancelled several times, so I took care of that and even got them decent seats.  Its a United codeshare, so I needed to explain that.  See here for an interesting post that a guy named Brett wrote about the subject. Speaking of Brett, he operates a service called Cranky Concierge, which provides flight monitoring for people so they can rest easy knowing that their connections are being watched and the concierges will even call the airlines and rebook if you're cancelled.  I started working for him a month or so ago and now I'm watching flights for others.  If you're interested in stocking stuffers, you can buy credits to be used for monitoring or booking assistance.

But as I was helping my folks book their tickets, I was thinking about how I enjoyed it.  So in addition to the other 14 jobs I have, I thought I would start doing some booking and planning assistance.  And as I'm unemployed, I'd take donations.  Nothing crazy. Like a 6-pack if I helped you.  Some of these award booking services charge $150 or more for this, which can be worth it because it can take awhile to look through all the various places for the different airlines.  Clearly if you're booking your honeymoon trip or have questions, I wouldn't charge anything.  It can just be my gift.  (Note how I start this, after all my friends are married.  I'm no dummy.)

So if people have questions or need help choosing a credit card or a miles program, feel free to ask a question in the comments or call/email me.  I would say that you should sign up for AwardWallet, but in the past year AA, United and Delta have stopped allowing information to be shared, because they're idiots and don't understand technology.  Sign up anyway if you haven't.

If you need inspiration for miles collecting, check out this report by Ben on Emirates F on their Airbus 380.  The plane has two showers with heated floors.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Open Letter to Vassar 2: Electric Boogaloo

So my previous post about my issues with Vassar's engagement with alumni was well received by alums and friends and others.  It apparently raised eyebrows at the Vassar Alumni and Development Office.  About a day after the post, I received a call from Susan with their office to see if we could have a talk.

I had known Susan and she had been present at the planting of Erin's tree and I would usually try and meet her for coffee whenever she was in Boston or DC to meet with more lucrative donors. So I was happy to talk to her because we know each other, and it wasn't just some random person who called to appease me.

So some things I've learned from VC:

  • There are apparently already outlets for alumni who help Vassar with financial assistance: There's even a committee for Alumni House.  However, it's pretty non-transparent.  Also it appears you have to be an AAVC Trustee or something be on these committees, which is not what I was looking for.  So while it's great that some alums are helping, it's not enough.  
  • The school understands the issues with Alumni Interviews:  This shouldn't come as a surprise, but many folks who participate as alumni interviewers are often frustrated about a lack of feedback from the college or the fact that the interviews are informational and therefore don't seem like a good use of a busy alum's time, if they're not going to matter that much.  
  • Vassar says that alumni want to be engaged in all different ways:  This is true.  However, you can't use this as in "We can't be everything to everyone, so we'll just not do much." I explained that they need to do something, especially if the breakdown is as follows: 
    • 50% want to be left alone
    • 30% are content with that awesome book of trees
    • 20% want more active engagement.  
           They need to engage that last group.  Also, they need to recognize that this last group is going to         grow and continue to grow, and be loud about it.

  • Vassar sort of gets it, but they're nervous: Some at the college see this change happening.  They know that their donor base is becoming more diversified and therefore less eager to drop a check in the mail for thousands of dollars without explanation.  However, they're understandably nervous about moving to a new model, when the old model made them so much money.  I mean, if you sent out envelopes and got them back filled with cash, would you change?  
So Susan and I agreed to reconvene in January.  She wanted to talk to some people in the department about this and how it could be done.  That's cool.  And she also said that people in the office were taken aback and slightly hurt by my last post.  For that I'm sorry.  Understand that my words came from a place of love and passion and not anger.  I think the fact that I even am talking about this shows that I care.  

So I'll keep people updated.  But know this, I'm not letting this go.  This is the future of giving.  And Vassar should get out in front of this and not have to play catch up.  This isn't rocket science.  I was a cop.  I once had to watch a training video telling me to open the gas cap before fueling my car.  If I can figure this out, then clearly Vassar College can too.  

If you're with me, lets make some noise. 

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Open Letter to Vassar College

Dear Vassar, 

I graduated from your fine institution 14 years ago and to this day, some of the best friends in my life and greatest memories have come from those four years.  As a student, "in the bubble", I felt a strong connection to you.  As an alum, that connection has faded, as our relationship has become a financial one.  When my good friend Erin Schlather died unexpectedly and we worked with you to plant a tree in her name, that tree was removed for renovation of Swift Hall with no notice given to any of us.  

My good friend Montu recently wrote an email to the Dean of the College asking if we could be of any help to the college.  He is a hotelier and could offer some technical assistance for the college owned and operated Alumnae House.  I have worked on emergency planning and operations for most of my life and would be happy to review any plans or help create new ones.  Free.  As in, I can't give you $250, but my bill rate used to be $135 an hour, so I'm betting I can give you much more in sweat equity.  

This is the reply we got:

Dear Montu,

Thank you for your email.  I work with your class on class fundraising efforts and wanted to respond to your question directly.  

Unfortunately at the present time it is not part of the College's overall fundraising program to accept goods or services as in kind donations (currently we can only accept gifts of art as gifts in kind).  We do receive offers of services and requests quite frequently, so this is certainly on our radar.  I will keep your contact information and will be sure to update you if there are any changes or updates to the policy.

Again, thanks so much for the feedback.  Please don't hesitate to contact me with any other questions.


XXXXX (Development Person)

Alright VC, can we talk? Listen, as the 2008 elections have shown, the old white ladies that give you 8 Steinways in their will or priceless paintings are sadly passing away.  The fact that you know there are alums who want to help you and yet you still have nothing in place is pathetic.  Listen, I get it.  You want money.  Cold, hard and (most importantly) unrestricted cash.  Your nightmare is losing control of your money by people basically picking what kind of tree they want there or the colors of the dorm walls.  Trust me, I get it.  But, you're missing out on a whole generation.  Your fundraising still consists of the following model. 
  1. Mail out glossy catalog with pictures of trees and names of donors, with donation envelope enclosed
  2. Receive and deposit checks.  
  3. Repeat. 
Listen, that's awesome.  And simple.  And I understand why you don't want to give that up.  You want to ride that gravy train, until you hit a lump and derail.  But people give money because they feel connected.  And a glossy book and open bar on 2 Buck Chuck every five years does not a relationship make.  I feel used.  

You have incredibly talented alumni and you could involve them in lots of different ways.  I know a guy who looks like a killer in Brooklyn but has some dulcet pipes who could record your phone tree for you.  Montu could easily make you more money at Alumni House.  And I can make sure that when a dorm needs to be evacuated the school doesn't tell 250 students to "go find some friends." This really happened.  The Great Jewett Flood of 1997. I understand that there could be liability involved with volunteer work, but we're adults and went to a pretty decent college, so I'm sure we could figure it all out. 

Your alumni are changing and they're growing in a philanthropic world of Kickstarter and Donors Choose and Kiva (technically not a charity), and they're going to want a different relationship with you.  And you will need to offer that.  So why not get ahead of the curve?  Why not try something daring and new?  Why do you innovate in the sciences to bring in new students, but are behind the times in keeping them plugged in.  

Final Story: I attended a college fair in Brookline, MA as an alumni volunteer several years ago, and got paired up with Caitlin and JA, two charming and brilliant women who graduated 5 years after me.  And just talking to them, not even about college, made me again realize how special Vassar was and is.  And it made me donate more to the school because I felt that connection, even third party through these other women.  Help me help you make that connection.  

You are better than this.  Be better than this.   


Graham Campbell '99

P.S. Feel free to call me.  You have my number as you call me all the time to ask for money.  

P.P.S I wanted to say that I don't think Vassar is any worse at this than other colleges.  I think the relationship between alum and alma mater is flawed as the general rule where this type of fundraising happens. 

Monday, December 03, 2012

The Mileage Run

So I'm currently on my second mileage run and people think I'm crazy and so I wanted to take a little space to explain what the hell I'm doing and why.  First, here's what my flight path looks like for the past 48 hours.

This deep vein thrombosis party is netting me 11,534 US Airways miles.  Currently, US has a promo where if you use their credit card, they will double the PQM.  So that will be 23,058 miles.  Let me back up a bit and explain some basics.

So a mile is not a mile.  There are actually two different kinds of miles for airline purposes.  My friend Scott has a good rundown on this on his blog, but in short. An RDM, or redeemable mile. is a mile you get from flying, or from renting a car, or from using your airline credit card.  Almost all miles are RDMs.  They can be redeemed for travel or other stuff including TVs or other crap.  They are most valuable for flights in premium cabins. These miles stay in your account and often you need activity in a year to keep them.  Bear in mind that activity can be something like ordering a magazine with miles or checking in on FourSquare for 50 miles somewhere.  The easiest way is to use the airline's shopping portal.  US's is located here.  Buy anything, preferably cheap and then keep your miles safe for another year.

The other kind of mile is a Preferred Qualifying Mile (PQM) or Elite Qualifying Mile (EQM).  The clock for collecting these miles begin on Jan 1st and end on December 31st.  These miles must be flown.  Otherwise known as Butt In Seat (BIS) miles and these get you elite status.  What is elite status?  Well, let's look at what I got today from my elite status:

  • I got to use Pre-Check at DCA, which lets you keep your shoes and belt on, your liquids and your computer in your bag, and you only have to go through an old school metal detector.  It was like flying in 1985.  Free with my Gold Status on US.  
  • I got to choose 10F as my seat.  Not only is it an exit row, but it doesn't have a seat in front of it.  So I've got tons of legroom.  
  • I'm upgraded to first on my next flight, which means extra room, free booze, and more. 
  • I get to board the plane in the first group, which means plenty of space for my bag, which isn't a big deal today because I only have a backpack.  
Here's a chart from American to show what their benefits are.  The levels usually start at 25,000 flown miles in a year, and most top out at 100,000 EQM/PQMs for the top.  There are levels above that, but the numbers are small.  
Elite Status matters a lot, to me.  The ability to preselect the exit row alone is amazing.  On United, they have Economy Plus, which has rows of extra legroom, and people love that.  So I will make Platinum on US this year between my flights already and one more upcoming.  That puts me further up the list on upgrades and other benefits.  I'm contemplating buying up to Chairman's Preferred, which is the top level.  Seems nuts, but they give you vouchers that allow you to upgrade your coach seat to business when flying international, and so they are worth thousands of dollars.  

Again, I'll never pay for International Business or First, but I will choose to fly them as much as I can.  Matter of fact, the lady and I are going to Munich in February in seats that look like this.

And all it took was 50,000 miles per ticket.  Think about that next time you redeem a flight to LA for 35,000 miles in coach with a seat that doesn't become a bed.  If anyone has any questions about starting out in the miles game, either hit the comments or email me.  

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Playing Catch Up

So Sports Fans,

When we last talked, I was about to fly all around the globe in a week.  I did that.  It was done.  I actually was a guest blogger about the experience for a travel site.  You can read that here.  Basically it was a ton of fun, though expensive fun.  The best parts of the trip were easily, the people, the 787 and meeting the folks from LiveStrong.

So the people.  This wasn't my first time meeting real humans that I met on a web site.  I had been to the Chicago Seminars and also had been to a bunch of Yelp functions.  And my theory of "Online Thirds" was correct here as well.  When you meet people you only know as avatars and posts in real life, a third of them will be exactly as you imagined them.  Gregarious, funny, loud, what have you.  A third of them are super quiet online, but in person are really amazing and outgoing people.  And the final third are people that should only exist and interact in a virtual environment.  They're either creepy, close talkers, or incredibly socially awkward.  Like the guy who kept "shushing" people at a party in someone's room.  Dude, this isn't 5th grade.  And there's no point in preserving a party where you can't talk.  Or you're getting shushed at.

The 787 is an amazing plane.  Really.  More evolutionary than revolutionary, it just seemed more comfortable.  A lot has been made of the window shades, which are electronic and darken through electrical current.  I think the coolest thing was actually the size of the windows.  33% larger than regular windows.  Also, the seats even back in steerage seemed much more comfortable.  I look forward to flying to NRT on the inaugural flight from Denver in March.  Also, flying in a plane that only a few days old is pretty cool.

Finally, I met three wonderful folks from LiveStrong, the charity most known for the yellow bracelets that everyone and their brother wore a years ago.  They have taken a hit with the whole Lance Armstrong thing exploding. And admittedly I didn't really know what they did, besides fighting cancer.  Well, Jen, Renee and Colleen joined the trip in San Fran and stayed until Chicago.  I learned that Livestrong does really cool stuff like assign mentors to cancer victims to help them through their recovery.  And with Armstrong stepping down from the group that defined him as much as his yellow jerseys (Now confiscated), it helps to have some incredibly bright and caring people to share the organization and its mission.  I will totally support this charity, having cancer affect my family.  It's nice to be able to give back, even while drinking at 30,000 feet.

I will leave you with this video of my attempt at a safety demo at the United Flight Attendant Training Center outside Chicago. I'd like to thank the very lovely and patient Lauren Cyr, my flight attendant instructor who can be seen helping me with my life vest.  Stay tuned through the whole thing for the surprise ending.  Well, it was a surprise to me.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Wait, You're Doing What Next Week?

As I have mentioned in previous posts, I have a thing for traveling.  Well, not just traveling per se, but collecting miles or points and then using them to travel to cool places.  I'm one of the few people who likes air travel.

However, today I'm embarking on a trip that's weird even for me.  Weirder still, I'm going with about 200 other people who share the same hobby.  Here is my flight path for the next seven days.

I'm participating on this thing called the Star MegaDo 4.  Star because it's for the Star Alliance.  MegaDo, because it's a large Do (duh). And 4, well I'll let you figure that one out.  The International Portion which is only about 50 of us heads to Frankfurt to meet with Lufthansa for a few hours and then to Zurich to meet with Swiss Airlines for a day.  And then we're joining United on the three domestic cities.

Airlines love this because they get access to the most rabid travelers they have.  Literally a super-user group that knows more about the ins and out of their airline than many executives.  And flyers like it because they get to meet other people like them from all over the world and they get to do cool stuff like be on the tarmac at airports which still makes the kid in them smile. 

So I'll be blogging while on the trip.  Also, the trip itself has an actual blog, written by Randy Petersen who is well known for founding the two major frequent flyer blogs.  You can follow that here, if you're so inclined. 

Some might wonder why I'm doing this when I have no real income stream.  Well the tickets were paid for, so asides from food and the hotels I'm splitting and the money for charity, it was worth it to me.  I don't buy clothes, ask Allyson.  My main purchases are travel and video games.  Which while nerdy, is better than hookers and blow.  

Friday, November 02, 2012

No Way in Hell the NYC Marathon Should Go On. (Updated: It's not)

Updated: As I wrote this post, it was announced that the marathon was cancelled.  Clearly they knew that I was about to publish this post. Also, I changed the title of the post as it was unfair for the runners and the organizers should have borne the vitriol. 

Perhaps I'm cranky today.  Maybe it's Donald Trump being Donald Trump.  Or maybe its the fact that NYC got hit by a hurricane and everyone knew it was going to be serious and the news is filled with stories of horror that could have been avoided. Or maybe I just am tired of the election and the schizophrenic polling which is exhausting to follow.

However, the news that the NYC Marathon, one of the world's largest and preemient racing events, will be go on as scheduled really bothers me.

Mayor Bloomberg's Reasons For

He's quoted by Sports Illustrated as saying "has to show that we are here and we are going to recover'' and "give people something to cheer about in what's been a very dismal week for a lot of people.''

Let's talk about this for a second.  The Marathon is only exciting for one group of people, those running the marathon.  Very few New Yorkers look forward to a weekend day in November when driving and walking anywhere is impossible.  I remember sitting in traffic headed to work in 2000 for an hour and I moved a block.  A total nightmare.

Also, is there any doubt that NYC is going to recover?  New Yorkers have no doubt.  Sure there are some living near water that may relocate or move. But NYC is resilient, and you don't need to convince New Yorkers of that fact.  We went through 9/11.  We know what the city is made of.  So maybe you're trying to reassure tourists.  Well, two things on that.  First, a marathon isn't the event that's going to do it.  Second, tourists don't leave Manhattan below 59th St, and once the power comes back online, the city will be full of shoppers and morons staring at the big tree.  Don't worry about them.

Bloomberg also said, "You have to keep going and doing things,'' he said, "and you can grieve, you can cry and you can laugh all at the same time. That's what human beings are good at.''

Alright,we're not talking about cancelling the marathon because of the enormity and sadness of the storm.  We're talking about a simple logistical matter.  Rest assured that if 2 bombs went off at schools, killing over 40 children (approximate number of Sandy deaths in NYC so far), then the marathon would be cancelled in a national day of mourning.  But that's not what happened.  This is not about restoring New Yorkers faith in humanity or the city or America.  This storm should inspire a closer look at SLOSH maps by New Yorkers, but that's it.  We don't need time to grieve.  We need time to get to the Home Depot and buy some tarps and drywall, without miles of traffic caused by an unnecessary athletic event.

My Reasons Against
  • Staten Island: For those who don't know, Staten Island also known as Richmond County, is the oft forgotten borough.  Almost all residential, it is more conservative and whiter than any of the other boroughs.  Very popular for NYC employees who are from New Jersey but need to abide by the residency requirement.  They fit somewhat uncomfortably in the greater NYC.  Often talking of seceding.  Which if they ever did, would make them the second largest city in New York. The reason I bring up Staten Island is that it's the start of the marathon.  Right.  The place with the tanker on it, is where over 50,000 runners are arriving.  And taking over the only bridge to the rest of the city.  Right.  This makes sense. 
  • First Responders: So my many friends in the NYPD have been working 12-hour tours since the storm.  FDNY has done the same.  Walking up 25 flights of stairs to help those people who thought they were correctly safe from flooding, but sadly not the time it takes for medics to respond to your floor without an elevator.  The streets are usually watched by the National Guard and cops during the marathon.  Both groups are people that should either be working on the recovery or taking care of their lives.   Look, these cops live on Long Island and Queens and Staten Island too.  I know friends who have lost their childhood homes.  And these cops would work for days to help others.  But now you tell me that they have to work an optional sporting event, instead of taking care of their business or stocking their fridge?  Bullshit.  
Oh, and marathon runners, I'm not against you.  I've run 5Ks which I know is what you do in order to break a sweat.  I understand the mental importance of finishing NYC.  But do it another year.  New York asks you.  You love this marathon because you get to run through the greatest city in the world on a nationally televised race.  The people of that city are trying to put their lives back together and you're being here does not help.  Trust me.  

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Why Sandy Isn't Shocking

So I've been watching the news and following Twitter about the storm, and the stories are incredible.  The 6-alarm blaze that claimed over 50 houses in Breezy Point was particularly poignant because the photos didn't show water, but ash.  And the story of the hundreds of hospital employees and first responders who helped evacuate NYU Langone Medical Center by carrying adults and children down stairs and breathing for them using bag-valve masks, otherwise known as "bagging".

And there's tons of You Tube videos of people in Lower Manhattan astonished at the water flowing by their apartments.  I understand that it's not normal to see water pushing cars down 2nd Avenue, but its possible.  I looked up the SLOSH maps for part of NYC.  Slosh stands for Sea, Lake, Overland Surge due to Hurricanes and happens along all borders with lakes and other bodies of water. 

So the  yellow on the map is the surge from a Cat 1 storm, which is essentially what Sandy was.  Basically the storm is pushing the water onto land, but as the seafloor rises to meet the coast, that water has no place to go and gets pushed up into a larger wall of water.  This is why you can see surge heights of 3-5 feet easily.  Here's a great animation from the National Weather Service. 

Also, people seem to be shocked that the subway might stay closed for a week.  The subway is underground and runs on electricity.  These are two things that don't respond well to flooding.  There are currently 7 tunnels under the East River that are flooded, which will take time to pump out.  Even once all of the tracks are pumped out, they still need to determine what the state of the wiring is.  Juction boxes and track signals aren't meant to be underwater.  So give it some time.  Join the old people and get reacquainted with the joys of busing. 

New York City will bounce back from this, because it is a vibrant and resilient place that imparts its citizens with an attitude that doesn't take crap and makes the best of bad situations.  The message here is that this is nature and science and it doesn't care that you're not prepared or that your apartment is on the 28th floor.  If you have a heart attack, because you eat fatty foods, the EMTs will need to walk up 28 flights to get you.  And you'll be dead.  

As a born and raised New Yorker, my heart aches to see the city in harm.  But I also know that in this time of need, there are amazing acts of selflessness and heroism, like I saw during 9/11. Be safe, but more importantly, be aware.  I'm sure though that this storm has brought plenty of awareness for everyone. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Chicago Seminars

This past weekend I flew out to Chicago to attend a conference on frequent flying.  Yeah, it sounds crazy.  Most of you know my hobby and interest in transportation, from train travel to air travel.  I however am a young Luke Skywalker to other's Yoda.  Let's look at who else was there.

Steve Belkin, @Beaubo, the guy who hired unemployed and disabled Thai rice farmers to fly back and forth between two cities in Thailand because the fare was only $5, and he collected their miles.  Collected 5,000,000 miles.

Joshua Pickles, @TheMrPickles, a flier who bought over $800,000 in dollar coins from the US Mint with free shipping on a miles-earning credit card.  He then deposited them back in his account.  Which earned him miles for free.  You may have heard the story on NPR about how successful the Mint thought the program was until they realized that almost none of the coins were in circulation. 

And finally, David Phillips, also known as the Pudding Guy.  He bought $3,000 worth of pudding and then turned in the UPCs as part of a promotion for over 1,000,000 American miles.  He also donated the pudding and got a tax deduction.

So yeah.  I'm like an ant fart compared to these guys.  However one of the best things about this group of people is that they're almost all nice and willing to part with any information or tips they have.  As a whole, the group is a little nervous about the world knowing about these deals, only because with airlines cutting capacities everywhere, there are less of them out there.  

So a couple of things from the Seminars that people should be doing. 

  1. Get a credit card that gets you something.  When you're around people who travel a lot, using cash is like saying "Macbeth" in a theater. Its verboten.  Everything needs to go on a card.  And a card that gets points.  My friend just found that a Delta credit card allowed her to get into the plane quicker, meaning she actually found space for her bag in the overhead.  There's a great blogger named Lucky who has a list of all the best cards.
  2. Don't redeem your miles for domestic trips. Ever.  Please.  You make the Baby Jesus cry when you do that.  Unless of course its an emergency, like a funeral you have to get to and the fare is over $1000 for coach.  Then its acceptable.  But seriously.  Never otherwise.  Promise me.  
  3. Follow bloggers.  Most of the "tricks" and "secrets" can easily be found on the Google.  So here's a list of bloggers I enjoy and follow. 
    • View From The Wing: Written by Gary Leff, a legend among the bloggers.  He was the past President of Flyertalk, which is a huge bulletin board for frequent fliers.
    • Mommy Points, Summer started blogging about a year ago and she writes about traveling specifically with a little one. She's super nice.  
    • Frequent Miler, Greg writes about earning gobs of points through gift cards.  Really interesting and easy for those who don't fly.  
    • One Mile At A Time, Ben, or Lucky, as he's known is a nice guy just out of college who has already redeemed 250,000,000 miles in his lifetime.  Yes, you read that right.  a quarter of a billion miles.  
 More to come on travel.  I might be getting a few hours doing some travel assistance work with a concierge service. So that's good stuff, more soon. 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Stop, Question, and Frisk

So I was in my Car2Go on the way home and heard a piece on NPR's Tell Me More on New York City's Stop, Question and Frisk problem.  The host kept referring to this as an NYPD policy.  Let me be very clear about this.  This is not a policy.  It's policework and paperwork.

People getting stopped on the corners and patted down for weapons has been happening probably since humans carried anything sharp.  New York teaches a fair amount of restraint in their Academy.  For example, 911 call of a guy in a Chicken costume with a gun at 2AM.  You roll up and the only person there is in a chicken costume.  The caller is anonymous, which means you can't toss the guy.  That's the way you're taught.  I won't always say that's what happens.

But in LA, they frequently pull everyone out of cars on a traffic stop and search their pockets and car, which rarely happens in NYC.  At least we rarely did it in Harlem when I worked there.  Let me also explain the difference between a frisk, or "toss" in the vernacular, and a search.  A frisk is when you quickly check the person's waist, legs and groin area from outside the clothing, without going in the pockets.  If you feel something that could be considered a weapon, like a hard eyeglasses case, then you can check the pockets.  If you find drugs, then you're fine, because you were checking for a weapon.  If however you find drugs and all they had was tissues in their pocket, then your frisk won't  hold up.

But let's get back to this policy.  Looking for suspicious characters doing suspicious things is what police do.  They then get out of the car and toss the guys.  Nothing found, they send them on their way.  Maybe the guy runs and ends up tossing a weapon or drugs.  All good.  The technical term of Stop, Question and Frisk didn't come around until 2002 or so, with the introduction of a form called the UF-250. It's funny.  If you do a Google Image Search for this form or S,Q,F, you'll find photos of angry community members, marches and rallies and photos of people who have been stopped.  But they have no photos of this yellow rectangular form, which is the reason for this whole brouhaha.

So the job decides that it wants to know how many people they're stopping and the reason and the race of the people stopped.  Not sure whether this is for their own database or because they were required to share this information.  So what happens, cops go about their business as usual and begin to fill out these forms. Again, this is not a policy.  Just a piece of additional paperwork to document existing actions.  I'm not going to get into the issue of profiling in this post, because it's a large issue.

But if you've read my previous posts about CompStat, then you will understand, that soon these forms become a metric that is tracked, much like parking tickets or summonses for bad brakelights.  And this is where the story changes to what makes it look like a policy.  So crime is down and it starts going back up, because that's what crime does.  It's a cycle.  So one of the things that a Precinct C.O. can do to show that they're trying to combat this rise is to increase 250s.  You have armed robberies up by 15% from last year, and it looks good to say, "Yes Commissioner, but we stopped an additional 300 people over last year in looking for these suspects."

But let's explain what's going on.  The Precinct C.O., usually a Deputy Inspector or Captain is feeling the heat, and because we aren't in Minority Report, he can't predict where the next crime will happen.  So he leans on his Lieutenants who oversee each Platoon (12X8, 7X3,4X12) and they in turn lean on their three squad Sergeants.  And those bosses lean on their cops. 
So what happens is that, the Sgt ends up telling his cops that each car needs to get 5 250s for the shift.  And so if you have 5 sector cars working, that 25 people are going to get stopped in the next 8 hours.  Some would have gotten stopped anyway, because they are criminals and not good at hiding it.  But some are just people who are walking on the street and who have a good chance of not having warrants.

Oh yeah, you need to be careful when you do this, if you're just getting numbers, that one of these guys doesn't "pop" which means he has an active warrant.  Because that can be a pain in the ass, so you don't look for the mentally ill or homeless because they totally have warrants.  So you generally find people who look clean, which sounds like it defeats the purpose right?

So this issue of Stop, Question and Frisk being a systemic cancer of racial profiling is a falsehood.  It sounds good for the cameras.  But the reality is that its a numbers game and the only people who can stop it are the Commissioner and the Mayor, when they accept that crime does go down and up.

Comments or thoughts appreciated below...

Allow me to add that most of the places where these precinct commanders are feeling this heat are in precincts where the suspects in most of the crimes spiking are African-American and Latino.  But rest assured if there was a robbery pattern on the Upper East Side by guys in suits, all kinds of I-Bankers would be getting some groin massages by New York's Finest.  Numbers are numbers.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Job Applications

So it's been a little while since I applied to jobs the old fashioned way.  Most jobs I get at this point in my career are jobs that I'm guessing I have a 50% chance or better of getting.  Also it usually involves a resume emailed around and that's it. 

So imagine my surprise when submitting my resume to these companies and encountering the same process.  All of them want me to attach my resume.  Some of them also want me to copy and paste it.  You know what?  No problem.  But then it wants me to enter all of that information again, in text boxes.  And this takes forever. 

My beautiful recruiter girlfriend explains that it's all due to the backend of the recruiting software the companies are using.  So maybe its Taleo or ApplicantStack or Jobvite, or any of them.  All of them I'm sure display this information slightly differently.  However, I have a plea.  Can we adopt a standard platform?  Like the Common App for jobs?  Of course, now you fill out college applications online, but before there were literally checkboxes on the paper Common App that you would check to show what colleges you wanted to apply for. 

I want to be able to fill out this information in one place and then send it to all of these employers.  And yes, there's a security risk with having all of your info in one place, but it hackers really want to know my job duties and supervisor from my volunteer fire company, then they can go one with their bad selves. 

Personally, I think the data should be kept on Google or something, much like the current Google Wallet, where you could one click on an application and have all of it filled out.  I already trust them with too much of my life anyway.  Hear that Google, get on this shit. 

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

I am the 47%

So I'm currently sitting in Busboys and Poets, which is a really cool restaurant/cafe/bookstore, etc.  And I am unemployed, though I have a Macbook Pro, which makes me feel like i fit in over here.


This really isn't that exciting.  Basically due to some internal politics, I lost my hours on a project and not given any heads up, which caused me to go from 60-0.  I used my 4 weeks of overhead, which the company was quite gracious enough to give me.  And now I'm officially on Leave Without Pay.  LWOP.  I'm using vacation time, as I have a little over two weeks before I end eating out of the garbage.


I'm kidding of course.  I'm fine.  Well, as fine as one can be I suppose.  My girlfriend has a job she likes that allows her to help pay more of the rent than before.  And I've got some funds that I can tap into if I need to.  This is the first time I've been unemployed and I have to say that it's quite something.  I realize that this sounds quite naive, given that we have just been through a terrible recession.  But I've learned that I need to get up in the morning and get coffee, and then I've started coming here to work because there are less distractions.  And by work, I mean look for work.

I think I'll have a job soon, but I'm sure a lot of people thought they would have a job soon.  Losing your job does make you think about the value of work though.  At my last job, I made $105,000 as a consultant.  I'm not sure I deserved to make that much.  I didn't teach children in the inner city.  I didn't tar roofs in the summer or work construction in the winter.  I have soft skills, which is a nice way to say I'm good with people and can bullshit well but will be screwed during a zombie apocalypse.  Unless, they need consulting assistance.  And then I can bill the shit out of them.

I applied for unemployment insurance last night online through the great Commonwealth of Virginia, which was quite easy. I also enjoyed the fact that the fake check needed for direct deposit of benefits belonged to one Marty McFly.  Someone was very clever about 21 years ago when they needed a name for the check.  My weekly benefits which I assume will be the max come out to $378.  I hear about people not wanting to go back to work if they're going to clear less than they would in unemployment.  The last time I made this little, I carried a firearm and was right out of the Academy.  Kind of funny that I make the same on the dole that I did as a cop.

But that made me realize just how lucky I am to wonder how to make ends meet on $378 a week, when there are doubtless many people, some with children, who figure this out for even less.  It makes you really consider how fortunate you can be in the midst of your misfortune.  I'll find another job.  I'll get back on my feet.  But losing my job, especially in this incredibly partisan time, when people collecting benefits they paid for are labeled "mooches," makes me much more cognizant of what I have and what I'm given.

Oh, and if anyone is looking to pay someone to work in a climate-controlled office in a job that requires terms like "synergy" and "resilliancy" then I'm totally your man.  I'll even lower my rate by a few bucks an hour to help you out.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Transportation in Lima

So you're traveling to Lima, probably on your way to some guidebook paradise.  It's a big city.  How do you get around?

Well, you have a few options.

Yes, you can in fact walk.  Lima is not a walking city.  It's a place where the car is king and therefore its not always the most pedestrian friendly.  They give right of way to highways meaning you can lose a sidewalk here and there.  But fear not, because Lima has poor people and poor people walk. So when the sidewalk ends, just look for a goat path and there will be people who have blazed their own trail.  Oh, and get used to the smell of exhaust.  It's like the natural scent of the city.

These are buses.  They look like buses and there's a driver who takes your money.  They don't seem to be run by the city, so they're all different colors but usually have the destinations on the side so you can figure it out.  Good idea to have a map to point to so you can make sure the bus doesn't take any crazy turns.   


These are small buses.  And there's a lot more of them, and they're all private so there's some competition.  They have two employees.  One is a driver.   The other is the guy in the photo.  He is way too calm in this photo.  Basically as the Micro approaches a stop, which is where more than 1 person happens to be standing.  Even if they're only there because they had to fart and they were scared it might be a shart so they stopped to compose themselves.  As the Micro approaches 20 mph, the side door opens and this guy hangs out of it yelling and screaming random destinations and self-help slogans.

Honestly, I would pass on these.  I'm sure they transport thousands of Limenos safely to their destinations every day, but as someone who's Spanish isn't great, its a lot of pressure.  These things are wild.

El Metropolitano

As mentioned earlier, this is the brandy-new Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line in Lima.  And it's really popular and is able to bypass lots of traffic.  Which is good, because Lima has a lot of traffic.  You pay the fare at the above ground station and then walk down to the platform which is located in the median of the highway.  Some tips:
  • Have cash.  Preferably small bills.  No one like the guy in front of him at the Dunkin Donuts that pays with a $100.  These people don't either. 
  • The card costs 4.5 soles, so if you buy one with a 5 sole note, that means you only have .5 soles credit.  One of our guides lied and said that the card was 5 soles and came with 2 one-way rides.  Mentiroso! 
  • The ride is 1.5 soles each way.  So budget accordingly.  
But the bus goes from the city center through Miraflores and San Isidro to Barranco, which is where most people are going to spend their time.  So it's a good deal if you're there for a few days.


This is by far the most popular way to get around Lima.  The cabs are everywhere and some seem to just be personal cars.  But the important thing to know is that cabs in Lima do not use meters.  So you MUST decide the fare before you get in.  Cabs understand this and will actually queue behind each other while you discuss costs so they can try and make a better deal than the guy in front of them.  The general rule is 8-10 soles for most medium distances.  However, because traffic in Lima sucks they might charge more which makes sense.
This is a photo I took from my hotel balcony.  It's like a parking lot.  But that doesn't stop the horns.  A second on this.  Horns or Klaxons en espanol, in Lima are like an urban soundtrack.  People honk because they're angry, happy, or have gas.  There's really no rhyme or reason to it.  I recorded the noise to go with this photo, here. 

Peru is still viewed as a dangerous place, so Western hotels will take advantage of this and offer you the services of their taxis which can be nice Camrys or Audis.  These vehicles do not have turbo boost though and have to sit in the same traffic as the yellow deathbox shown above.  The hotels want 50 soles to take you to places that regular cabs will charge 8 soles for.  So here's the deal, never take the hotel cabs, unless you're a single female or wear suits of money.  The way I look at it, even if you get ripped off by your cab driver at 25 soles for the trip, you're still coming out ahead of the hotel gouging.

Oh, and you should look for these cabs as they're widely agreed by Limenos to be the most safe and reliable company.  


There's a subway in Lima, but it doesn't go anywhere that useful, and its not underground.  There is a second line being built underground, but the folks down there are skeptical what with the earthquakes and all.  So I'm not including it here because I didn't take it and it seems like I wasn't missing much.  

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Lima: It's Not Just a Layover

Allyson and I just returned from Lima, Peru.  And the number one question we got from people was, "Where are you going after?" See, most people only visit Lima as a stopover on their way to Cuzco and/or Machu Piccu. They don't see much use in visiting a city of 10 million people when there are Incan ruins and Andean mountains to visit in the same country.  I can understand that.  But to visit ruins is to visit a country in the past.  The way past.

I think that to understand a country, you need to visit it's cities. I'm an urban traveler, being a city kid myself.  I have nothing against sights outside cities.  But I find it odd that people would skip over a place they have to go through anyway.  It would be like not spending time in London, and proceeding straight to Stonehenge.

Lima is a city of 10 million people.  Larger than any US city.  Also wild when you realize that Lima had only 1.2 million people in 1960.  You can see that the city has had trouble building infrastructure to meet the demand.  They recently started a BRT system call El Metropolitano that takes you across the city in special lanes without any of the traffic.  They also have a subway, which isn't really a subway, but more of a light rail.

So why visit Lima?  Well, that can be answered quite easily.
Oh, and also....
So, food and drink is king in Lima.  And it's cheap.  Now, let me define cheap.  You can eat Pollo a la Brasa in Lima for around 10 soles.  That works out to be around $3.  But you can also pay more for a great dinner with incredibly fresh seafood for around 100 soles per person.  That works out to around $40 each, which might not seem cheap.

It's funny when you travel internationally to countries with a weaker currency than yours.  You end up comparing costs in their currency.  I was all "200 soles for dinner?  That's crazy!" but then I realized that $80 for wine and incredibly fresh seafood and dinner is a steal.  You hear that Americans! Stop trying to be cheap, because you'll end up eating stale churros and saving all your money to then spend double it in America.

People still think Peru is dangerous.  They remember the Shining Path, who were eliminated over 10 years ago.  While they were active, it was common for many people to hire private security for their homes or stores.  That tradition continues meaning that there are men in uniform all over the place, some armed and others not.  This sadly means that most tourists only stick to Miraflores and Barranco which are the two neighborhoods that all of the guidebooks recommend.  Lima is more than that.

I had the opportunity to take a tour with an outfit called Capital Culinaria run by a couple named Samantha and Lucas.  You pay $125 and spend about 5 hours eating food, trying new fruits and vegetables and also making cebiche and pisco sours.  It was awesome.  And highly recommended.  It really opened our eyes to the culinary destination that is Lima and helped shape our trip for the remainder.  Also, Sam and Lucas are really wonderful people and Allyson and I had dinner and wine with them the night after the tour.

That's really what travel is all about.  Building relationships.  I hope to post more specifically about different areas of Lima.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Ask A Cop: The Wire

So ever since I took the job as a cop, I've answered various questions about being a cop.  Many after current events, like police shootings.  So I thought it might be a decent idea to start a feature where people could ask questions and get them answered.  And in asking the good people of Twitter and Facebook for ideas for the feature, the leading question was, "Is the Wire realistic?"

For those not in the know, The Wire was a TV series that ran on HBO that centered on drug dealing and responses to it in Baltimore. It ran for 5 seasons and each season centered on a different area, like the docks or the schools, etc.  The most important thing about this show and its authenticity is where it came from.

The Wire was the creation of David Simon.  Simon grew up in Baltimore and covered the city for the Baltimore Sun, their daily paper.  Simon wrote a book about crime in Baltimore called Homicide: Life on The Killing Streets, which followed the Homicide Division of the Baltimore Police.  The book was then adapted to a show called Homicide: Life on The Streets which many people called "the greatest show nobody ever watched," Filmed on location in the Fells Point neighborhood of Baltimore, the set was so realistic that many people stopped in to file police reports, thinking it was real.  The show also challenged the notion that every murderer is captured in 45 minutes.  The cases spanned several episodes and sometimes seasons, and I'm not sure audiences had the patience for it.

Not having been a Baltimore cop/drug dealer/teacher/politician/reporter, I can't really say with absolute certainty whether the show was real.  But I will say it's one of the most realistic shows I've seen, along with Barney Miller and NYPD Blue. Sure, I've never waked a cop at a bar.  And I've never had sex with a prostitute to make a case.

But I have been the victim of COMPSTAT and of asshole bosses, and I've been really drunk with guys I worked with, and might have damaged my vehicle under the influence. I also recognized that some of the most important decisions of my police career were where to go to eat.  The Wire is not a procedural drama so its hard to compare to actual police work.  However, it is a character drama, and this is really where the comparison rings true.  Police officers, especially cops in large cities, are characters.  These are not the guys who were jocks in high school and pushed around the nerds and then became cops.  These were guys who were Elvis Impersonators, electricians, from all different nationalities.  Learning how to understand Jamaican or how to expertly curse in Spanish were very important parts of my law enforcement development

So yes, the Wire is realistic.  Not really for all the stuff that happens in it, but for the way it feels and the  ease in which the cops talk to each other and work together.  There are 1,000 Hercs in the NYPD and more than a few Bunks and McNultys.  And we have plenty of lesbians as well.

If people liked this, I'm happy to continue.  Feel free to put additional questions in the comments, if you have them.

Friday, August 31, 2012

The Probe has Returned

So, I heard from some of you that this whole gastrointestinal posting was a little too much information and I can understand that.  The experience really wasn't that bad, as compared to the prep, which reminded me of this oldie but a goodie from SNL.

Anyway, as I was leaving the doctor's office, he came up to me with this huge smile and said "You owe me some beers, man.  That polyp I removed was huge!" And he said it while laughing.  I'm guessing he's not concerned about this, which means I won't be concerned about this, which normally I'd be concerned about.  They're doing the biopsy now and I'll have the results in less than a week.  Turns out I have a history of colon cancer in the fam, so it's a good thing I went under.  My brother just made his appointment.  I told him to look at the guy's hands when he shakes them to judge the size of his fingers.

And the Mets suck.  That's all.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Oh Goodness

Apologies for not writing.  Given the fact I've been running to the can, its not been easy to blog.  I will say that the stuff you have to drink isn't terrible, but its thicker than water which makes it tough to keep chugging.  This isn't terrible actually, but my time in the bathroom has been most enlightening.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Sending a Camera to Uranus

So Monday I'm having a procedure that requires the following things.  Can anyone guess what it is?
  • TriLyte
  • Ducolax tablets
  • 2 Fleet enemas
Well, if you haven't already guessed what wonders of science I'm going to enjoy, I'll tell you.  I'm getting a colonoscopy!  That's right.  A giant Nigerian man is going to put a camera up my ass and snake that thing like a plumber.  And the above meds are all designed to have me completely empty my nether regions so its not like scuba diving in the Hudson.  That Trilyte is a gallon of solution and apparently tastes like ass, so there are flavor packets.

Some of you who know me may have heard my story about previous issues with my doctor in Boston and my rectal health.  Suffice it to say, its an in person story and not for eyes and ears of children.  But it was there I discovered I had hemorrhoids like the rest of America.  Some of you also may remember my other odd medical checks, like my mammogram.  I really believe in getting the most out of my healthcare.  

Anyway, I'm not expecting anything serious.  I have unexplained urgency sometimes which causes me to go from 0 to "Holy Shit I need to go" and that's not always convenient.  So my doctor, said aforementioned giant Nigerian, said this would be relatively simple.  Actually the words he used were "A monkey could do this," which made me laugh and then wonder if there actually was going to be a monkey doing this.  That would probably be the only thing Aetna would cover.  Humans doing the procedure is probably the higher tiered plan.

So tomorrow I do my flush and I'll be blogging about it, just for you dear readers.  Because you need to know what this is like.  I am all about public service clearly.  This also means I'm eating a lot of red meat today.  Just to pass it all tomorrow.  I feel like if I'm spending time on the can tomorrow, I might as well make it worth it, right?  

Friday, August 10, 2012

Travel Blogging

So this blog is many things, and therefore not much.  But I like the freedom it allows me and therefore I am fine with the fact that it will never be too popular because the format is varied.  But I have a strong interest in travel, specifically miles, and so I am going to be starting a travel segment with some tips and advice.

My Mom called me and asked about booking a flight and then asked if she should call the airline.  And this is when I knew that my advice might be helpful. Let's start with some simple areas for this first post.

  1. Always get the points.  Always.  
  2. You should choose a hotel chain and few airlines to fly.  
  3. Earn cheaply and burn expensively.
Let's start with the first one.  Everywhere you stay or airline you fly will have a rewards program.  Take the points.  Most of the airlines you will fly are part of an alliance, meaning you can earn your preferred miles no matter what carrier you fly.  For example, say you have American miles.  American is part of the OneWorld Alliance.  You find a great flight to Australia on Qantas, who is also part of the OW Alliance.  You can give your American Airlines Advantage number when booking your Qantas ticket, and your miles will automatically be deposited in your AA account.  

Secondly, try and stick to a few chains or airlines.  I understand that every once in awhile, you will find a fare that's way lower than others.  In that case, take the fare, but get the points.  However, a lot of times, you'll find that the flights are generally around the same amount.  In that case, you should book with your preferred airline.  Most people simply take the cheapest flight, even if the other airline is $12 more.  This is the reason that you don't get meals in flight anymore, or that your knees are in the back of the seat in front of you.  Spend the extra few bucks and get the miles, so you can sit in the front of the plane.  

The purpose of getting the miles or points is twofold.  First, to gain elite status, which all airlines and hotels have, and will usually get you upgrades to first as well as free checked bags, hotel suites, free internet and expedited security lanes at airports.  This last one is really a huge perk, especially if you fly out of a busy airport. These miles can only be earned by flying.  The second purpose of getting miles or hotel points is to spend them on flights or rooms.  And to really go all out.  

Never spend miles on a domestic flight.  Please Jesus.  

Unless that flight is for a funeral and is $700, then its okay, but if a flight to Detroit is 50,000 miles in coach and a flight to Amsterdam is 100,000 in first, then make the smart move and save for the great flights.  This is where credit cards come in handy.  We'll cover that later. 

I'm trying this out.  Feel free to leave comments or questions.  Next we'll look at how to find a flight or hotel.  

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Sheer Awesomeness

So I want to thank my friend Waka for reminding me about the Curiosity Rover landing tonight/tomorrow morning.  I had heard the Team Lead for the Entry, Descent, and Landing Team on NPR and he had a pretty cool story about how he wasn't a student at all in high school, but became fascinated that the planets moved in the sky from when he would see them in the day versus the night.

So, the mood in the country is pretty down.  The economy still isn't great.  Our "leaders" are squabbling over nonsense instead of fixing things, and we're being talked to like children about issues that effect us as adults.  I'm reminded of the 50's and Sputnik.  The Soviets got to space first, and this was a crushing blow to us, and people wanted answers.  And our funding for math and sciences ballooned, from an act of Congress.

And tonight or early tomorrow morning, depending on where you live in the US, one of the most impressive pieces of science and engineering are going to happen thousands of miles away.  Watch this video and I dare you not to get goosebumps.

They're using a freaking crane, people.  So I'll admit that I'm not a huge space junkie.  But I do love the balls on these NASA guys for their audacity.  I understand that money could have gone to school lunches or to bridges, which are important things.  But watching our best and brightest come up with incredibly complex solutions to near impossible problems is also a good use of money.  If I watch the news, I'm embarrased of our country.  But late tonight, around 1:30AM, watching my laptop, regardless of what happens, I'm going to be very, very proud.   

Friday, August 03, 2012

Open Condom Style

Not sure how 11,000,000 people have seen this and I never heard of it before.

It's Friday in my country.  And you should watch this video.  Dare you not to get pumped for the weekend.

New York Must-Sees

I wrote a list for a friend of mine who will be leaving New York soon of places they should see before they go.  This is more a list for people who hate NYC or are down on all the pretension and the bullshit and the rat race.  I acknowledge that I haven't lived there in 8 years, but that's alright because I'm not thinking any of the places that sprang up in the last 8 years are places you need to see anyway.

This is not a "Hot" list of in places.  This is a list I made of things that make me miss New York.  And my New York, the actual fabric of the city, that was there before I was born and will be there hopefully when I'm gone. They're in no particular order except the last one, which is my favorite.  The ones that are not in Manhattan I'll just say that transit or wheels is required. 

Eisenberg's: Eisenberg's is a lunch counter located on 5th Avenue between 23rd and 22nd, opposite the Flat Iron.  It is one of the few lunch counter places that used to be everywhere which provided NYC office denizens a chance to grab a stool and a quick lunch.  Your usual NYC favorites are amazing.  But I'll recommend the pastrami or tuna melt.  And if they have the matzoh ball soup, and you like it, then you should get it.  Matzoh ball as big as your head.  And it goes without saying, but only losers sit at tables, the counter is really where its at.  

Ziegfield Theater: Long before IMAX and fake IMAX and "squint your face with stupid glasses on" IMAX, there were movie houses.  And these theaters had one screen.  This was before owners decided to chop their one screen into 8 closet sized screens to maximize revenue.  The Ziegfield never changed.  It remains the largest screen in the city.  And as a fan of movies, if you haven't been there, you owe it to yourself to see NYC in the way it used to be.  Before even my old ass.  Currently Playing: Dark Knight Rises

Staten Island Ferry:  I'm sure you've probably done this, but it remains a great tour of the harbor and view of southern Manhattan for free.  Go over and come back, or sample some of St. George's culinary delights.  But its' a free boat operated by the City of New York, and that's pretty cool.  

Brennan and Carr's: Let me tell you how I found out about this place.  When I was in the Police Academy with Mahoney and Hightower, a guy named Frank Kolanovic (AKA Franky Yo-Yo, Frankie Beans) asked if I liked roast beef.  That question was followed by asking if I'd "ever had roast beef so good I creamed my pants?" I had to respectfully say I hadn't.  And then he took me here.  It's in the ass end of Brooklyn, near Marine Park.  But it's been there for years.  You gotta get the roast beef and the cheese fries.  The bun its on is soggy from the roast beef.  But more importantly it's Brooklyn, and not your kale eating, brown flip-fop wearing Brooklyn.  Speaking of Brookyn...

Coney Island:  Yeah, I know its cheesy and the amusement park feels like a training ground for grifters and pedophiles.  But Coney Island, is another example of NYC in its original weirdness, and not fake weird, or safe weird.  Home of the Mermaid Parade and the July 4th Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest, where NYers show up with sign saying "Tojo go home!" in awesome racist reference to the Japanese competitive eating giant, Kobayashi.  While here, ride the Cyclone.  Not because the coaster is amazing for a wooden roller coaster, but because its old.  And as you look at the Russian immigrants operating it and seeing the bolts rattling as you're climbing the first hill, you become scared.  As in, you could actually die.  A rite of passage for kids in the city.  And while we're still in Brooklyn...

L&B Spumoni Gardens: This is a place that's a tradition near Bensonhurst.  You've never seen so many actual Goombahs outside eating pizza.  The pizza comes in trays and it's like grandma pizza, which is pretty good if you've never tried it.  It's off the 86th St. stop on the N.  Real family place.  Great on a night that isn't blazing hot and you just want to be reminded that you're in NYC.  No kale chips sold here.  

McSorley's Ale House:  While they only began admitting women in the last 40 years, this is the oldest bar in the city. Sawdust on the floor and only two types of beer.  Light and dark.  They come in small glass half-pint mugs and you can either order light or dark and get two mugs each, or half and half.  Again, this place is special.  They have no food, and if you don't like beer, then you probably won't stay long, but it's worth the visit.  Careful, douchebags like this place sometimes.  Here's their location.

NYC Formal Gardens: Not sure if you like Central Park, but I grew up with it being my backyard.  But it wasn't until my parents showed me this gem near our apartment that I found it.  You'll have to fight the crowds of brides and grooms getting their photos taken on the weekends, but this is a really nice and quiet place to go and read or just see some really cool flowers in Central Park.  

And finally, if you do nothing else on this list, you must, must, no but seriously, must visit....

Empire State Building: Alright, this is the only really touristy thing on the menu.  But, there are qualifiers.  You need to go at night . No one cares about being able to see New Jersey.  Also, you need to go to the open observatory on the 80 something floor and not the higher one which is lame.  When I was living in NYC, I would go to the ESB every year.  At night, outside with the city unfolding in front of me, it felt like I owned that city.  It made me fall in love with it every time. Also, if you bring the Icelander, it's pretty romantic.  But more than that it is awesome, in the way that it is full of and inspiring awe.  

I realize that some of these are food related, and you might not hit all of them, but they're all things that remind me of why I love NYC.  Oh, and if you've never had a falafel at Mamoun's on McDougal. stop reading this right now and go get one.  

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The King Lives

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The King is alive!  I successfully rappelled down the side of a hotel and thankfully my friend Elizabeth was on hand to take some video.  Thanks to everyone for their support of the Special Olympics and me.  The only part I wish I had on video was after the jump when a woman walked up to me and asked if I was an Olympian.  I could understand her thinking that.

This video is of the interview I gave after my training jump.  (They make you rappel about 30 feet to get the hang of it)

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Tomorrow, Elvis Leaves the Building.

This is the Crystal City Hilton.  At 1PM EST tomorrow, I will rappel down the side of it.  Thanks to the generosity of my friends and family, and I really am so grateful, I raised over $1500 for the Special Olympics of Virginia.  And I ordered a special outfit just for the occasion. You can see it below.  I do this for you, my people.

I like to think that I'm going for the "Elvis right before death" with the pill popping and the heavy sweating.  Not so much the Aloha Elvis with the pelvis.  I want to note two things.  First, the jumpsuit is open to the navel.  Not my choice.  Second, I'm not sure if they'll let me take the scarf when I rappel.

Anyway, if you haven't donated and you feel bad because you too want to be a part of this very special occasion, you can still give by clicking on the banner to the left.  I went to the hotel tonight to pickup my shirt and goody bag before the event.  Though with the temp set to reach 100 degrees tomorrow, I'm probably not wearing anything under the jumpsuit.

I got to hear a girl who is a Special Olympian talk today about what it meant to compete.  And while I originally signed up for this because it gave me the opportunity to rappel down a hotel, it was really nice to see how important this money is for them. She had us stand and recite the SO oath.

Let me win, but if I do not win, let me be brave in the attempt.

So I'll post tomorrow, and have photos of my descent.  My friend suggested some Elvis songs for the descent. Like Heartbreak Hotel, or perhaps Can't Help Fallin' In Love.  

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Ain't no Party like a 28 Party....

Apologies for not blogging about this sooner.  I've been alternating heat and cold on my back for the past few days. On Thursday, June 10th, we held a 10-13 party for Natalie.  10-13 refers to the NYPD radio code for Officer Needs Assistance.  It's the most serious thing you can say over the radio, and in the macho culture of the Job usually never gets uttered.  Cops prefer to call a 10-85, or "an 85" which is supposed to be used for non-emergency requests.  And even then, most cops will call an "85 non-emergency) which means you're fighting but don't want to make a big deal out of it.  It's especially impressive when you're putting that out over the air and all you hear is screaming in the background.  A cop named Botta once told me when calling for help to "try and keep the bitch out of my voice" when I key the radio.  Sage words.  Thanks Tony.

However, 10-13 is also used to refer to parties and rackets where you raise money for a cop or a cop's family who are usually dealing with catastrophic medical bills.  This is the case for my friend George, who is taking care of his three sons without his wife.  So, I grabbed the Amtrak up to NYC in the morning, my partner Will picked me up.  He always picks me up, no matter where I come in. I'm not going to talk to much about it, because I'll jinx it.  But God bless that man.

We drove to the 28 up in Harlem.  And let me tell you, a lot has changed since I left there 8 years ago.  And when I say a lot, I mean white people.  Everywhere.  There's a new SPG hotel across from the precinct, which took the place of the slowest supermarket to ever make a sandwich and the only ghetto chinese place we would eat at.  Oh, and there's a gym for kids in a new building next to the precinct, literally a place for toddlers to work out.  Harlem is not Harlem any more, Toto.  I missed the old Harlem.

We then went up to Mount St. Michael's Academy which is a prestigious Catholic school in the Bronx.  Really nice.  Prior to that day, my only knowledge of that place was from my friend in college who went there, Pedro.  Back in the infancy of the internet, I went to the school's homepage and they allowed alumni to write in with updates.  So I wrote in as Pedro that I was married and studying chemical engineering and had a kid and life was good.  (None of this was true) His mother got the alumni magazine and had a heart attack and called him screaming.  Good times.

Anyway, there was a DJ (former 28 guy). 60 cases of beer. 50 cases of soda and water.  Enough trays of mac and cheese and chicken parm and baked ziti, that you could walk to Queens without touching water.  Banners and tables and chairs.  And it was all donated.  The local precinct sent guys to watch the cars parked out front.  It was a day that made me proud to be a cop.

Saw tons of people from the 28 and it was like a great family reunion.  The midnight lieutenant that no one likes was there, which earned him I'm sure a very begrudging respect.  My old XO (Executive Officer) was there.  He now works for a bank recovering ATM cards that people leave in the machine.  (Just kidding Kev.)  He's a bigwig, and it's awesome to call him Kev and he can't do anything about it.

George walked in and gave me a huge hug with tears in his eyes and thanked me profusely for everything.  Puh-leeze.  Seeing him smile while talking to guy's was the only thing I really wanted.  Besides, does he know how easy this is?  I got on a train to support a friend.  I stayed with Will and managed not to offend his wife by leaving my boxers in the kitchen like last time.  This is easy.  If being there brings him a shred of comfort, I'll never leave.

We're family George.  For better or worse.  I love you like a brother and Nat like a sister.  You need anything.  You want to take the kids to DC for a long weekend to get them out of the city, you call me, I hook it up.  I'll even pay for all the museums.  You can have my 1-bedroom and I'll crash with friends.  What's mine is yours.  Currently, that's a lot of Ikea furniture and beer, but I think you'll be fine.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Give because it's Tuesday!

So there are only a little over 1800 free Kiva loans left.

Click here and loan $25 to someone who needs it a lot more than you.  Well, I suppose you could use the $25, but you're probably not going to spend it on anything good for you.  Seriously, what can you buy with $25?  Fruit?  Well, okay that's pretty good for you.  But asides from fruit, you can probably only spend $25 on 2.4 minutes of mediocrity inside your car at the Hunts Point Market with "Sparkyles" (If she asks if you want it with hot sauce, I cannot explain how important it is that you say NO, in no uncertain terms)

So help someone on a Tuesday build a boat, or buy a cow.  And that cow doesn't require you to take a course of anti-biotics or apply topical creams anywhere.  Win win.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Disease of Statistics: Part 3

Apologies for it almost taking a month to finish my three-part series.  In the first two parts, we talked about how statistics and the brass have changed the job, making it less fun to do and more prone to arm-twisting and cop hating.  However all of these things, while terrible aren't going to actually hurt any cops.  Ironically, the biggest danger is other cops.

So there is a program called Operation Impact.  I first heard of it when white people started moving to Hamilton Heights.  This is a neighborhood that is between Morningside Heights to the south and Washington Heights.  This area was called Harlem, before the real estate brokers got ahold of it.  Anyway, they put cops on foot posts on every block to make sure white people didn't get hit over the head and get their shit taken.  Pretty simple work.  Actually, the drug dealers up there kept felony weight on them, so they were quite nice and responsive when asked to move along.

Impact proved successful and soon they had rookies from precincts all over the city doing Impact tours at crime hotspots in the city.  This started as a once or twice a week and then expanded.  Currently, rookies can get assigned directly to Impact from the Academy where they are assigned to a footpost.  They aren't allowed to handle radio runs, which is job parlance for the calls that come in from 911.  Handling jobs is how you learn to be a police officer.  Working in a radio car with another officer is how you grow as a cop.  And these officers are learning nothing about that.  They are simply ticket writing machines who are a police presence.  Much like the police car with the dummy at the bottom of the hill to dissuade speeders.

And these officers, who don't work out of a precinct and don't have the benefit of senior officers who treat them like crap but watch out for them and tell them when they're doing things wrong or right, they take promotional tests.  And they become Sergeants.  And as Sergeants, they don't have any idea of what they're doing.  They don't have the confidence or the backbone to make tough calls on the street, leaving the officer to hang in the wind.

Recently, I heard a story from a detective who I knew as a cop who said he showed up at the scene of an officer involved shooting.  The shooting was "good" meaning the cop was justified.  And a supervisor showed up to the scene and noticed that the officer was wearing exposed handcuffs and a nylon belt instead of the fake leather one.  The nylon belt is much lighter and more comfortable, but not approved by the Equipment Section probably because it isn't completely flammable like their other wares.  They gave the officer a 10-day hit, which is to say he loses 10 vacation days.  5 for the cuffs and 5 for the belt.  Allow me to remind you that this guy who now has less vacation shot and killed a man about 30 minutes before this jackass decided to discipline him.

This is my fear for the job.  That a rookie boss with no concept of police work, orders his or her cops to do something dangerous, like not waiting for other officers.  Or, worse, is cowardly and leads from behind in critical situations.  This issue though is not on the radar of the NYPD.  To the city, low morale isn't a problem, but higher crime is.  However, lower morale results in poor interactions with the public.  Also you get cops willing to lock up citizens for things like videotaping them or other legal actions.

There are days I miss the job terribly.  But then I remember that I kept the best parts, the people and the stories, and the City of New York can keep the rest which is not worth keeping.