Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Old Apple Tree

I've been meaning to photograph a neigborhood apple tree through the seasons. It might take me several years to do it, though. The time just seems to fly by. I noticed that the tree was budding and made a note to myself to photograph it soon. But by the time I finally did it, the buds were full-blown blossoms. I guess I'll have to try again next year.

The tree is a Cortland, a remnant of the apple farm that used to be here before they paved paradise and put up a parking lot.

Yes, people do pick and eat the apples, which are quite tasty, if a bit wormy (since nobody applies pesticides or otherwise tends the tree).

Here's the tree last fall:

Clearly, it's past "peak apples," as indicated by the fact that the low-hanging fruit has been picked, and by the clear evidence of high-tech production methods.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Gas Prices

I don't drive much. I put maybe five gallons in my gas tank every month, maybe every other month. I do remember that I used to be able to fill up my old mid-size Ford Taurus for the same amount of money that fills half the tank of my compact Toyota Corolla, but I just don't buy enough gas for it to be a big deal.

So it was a real shock when I got the bill for the gas I bought on my trip to Florida. I charged it, of course. Pay at the pump is the only way to go these days, and I refuse to use a debit card, which offers you a lot less protection from fraud and such than a credit card. It didn't seem like I was spending that much.

But then I got the bill. It's $350. Christ on a cracker! I know I drove to Florida, but still. That's a lot of dough. I feel sorry for people who have to drive a lot every day, and those who have a bigger car than a Corolla to feed.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Big Apple

Grand Central Terminal

I went to NYC yesterday, to meet a friend who was coming from Pittsburgh. She's a fan of American Idol, I'm a fan of Monty Python, so we planned to see Clay Aiken as Brave Sir Robin in Monty Python's Spamalot.

I used to take the train to work in the city every day, but haven't been there for years. I was surprised at how crowded the train was on Saturday. I remember it as being pretty dead on Saturdays, especially that early (8am). Trains used to run every two hours, and mostly empty. But now the trains leave every hour, and are pretty full. Fuller than I remember the rush hour commuter trains being (though not as many people boarded along the way). Apparently, ridership has tripled as oil prices have risen. It's caused a bit of a problem, because so many of the newbie riders don't know how to read a train schedule, find the right track, or buy a ticket.

Parking is free at the station on Saturdays, and a lot of people take the train in for a day of shopping.

I met my friend at Grand Central, where we bought day passes that let you ride the subways and buses as much as you want. I think they were $7. We had originally hoped to tour Yankee Stadium before it's demolished. But the tour was sold out. Instead, we took the subway to Brooklyn to see the botanical garden there.

I saw some hybrid electric buses, though most were regular buses.

There were also a lot of pedicabs - bicycle taxis. A lot more than I remember, though not many people seemed to be using them.

The weather forecast for the day was awful. (One drawback with public transportation.) It was supposed to be very windy and rainy. But we lucked out. It was cloudy with occasional light rain, but nothing too bad. Cloudy days make for the best photography, so I didn't mind.

The Brooklyn Botanical Garden was gorgeous. I especially liked the Japanese garden.

All the trees were in bloom. Many different kinds of cherry blossoms, forests of magnolias in many sizes and colors. Here's a pink camellia:

Then it was time to head back to Manhattan for the play. We ate a quick Japanese bento lunch, then got in a truly immense line for Spamalot. I've been to a lot of Broadway plays, and some on the West End, too, and never been in a line like that. The only thing I can figure is that they only let people in through one door to force them to pass the counter where they were selling Clay Aiken merchandise. And a lot of people were stopping to look and buy, which is why the line was so slow.

The play was terrific. (I heard Clay didn't think it was funny when he first saw it. That boy ain't right.) We laughed so hard we cried. Particularly liked the "French taunting" scene.

After the play, we took a bus to the New York Public Library. My friend had just seen The Day After Tomorrow (a global warming disaster movie), and lot of the scenes were filmed at the library. Manhattan gets inundated with rising sea water, and some of the characters take refuse in the library. Chased up the stairs by a huge wave, of course.

One of the famous library lions:

It was a great day. We both had so much fun that we want to do it again. I'm under orders to keep my eyes peeled for other plays that might be interesting.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Florida Fantasies

I loved Florida. More than I expected to. People warned me that Sarasota was strip mall hell, and they were right...but as an American, I'm used to strip mall hell. It's much more convenient than, say, Providence, Rhode Island, or Boston, Massachusetts, or New York City. Plenty of stores and restaurants, all easy to find, easy to drive to, with lots of parking available.

I really felt at home in Florida, probably because I grew up in a touristy tropical seaside-type place. A place where people will be fishing from every bridge, unless it's specifically posted "no fishing." Except that Sarasota felt much less crowded than Hawai`i, which was really nice.

People were fishing everywhere. Old and young, male and female, black, white, Hispanic, Asian. Kids with their parents, little old lades in prim dresses and wheelchairs, groups of teens, old married couples. I haven't fished since leaving Hawai`i, but there's a universal bond among fishermen that I instantly recognized. (No, I didn't go fishing myself. I didn't have a license, and I didn't know what the rules were. But I was tempted!)

Signs of the real estate bust were everywhere. Literally. On every corner, there was a sign offering distressed homeowners help with their mortages. "I pay cash for homes!" "Walk away, save stress!"

Still...I really liked Florida. To the point that if sustainability weren't an issue, I'd be tempted to move there. As it is, though...I don't want to live somewhere that may be underwater in 20 years.

Someone at The Oil Drum asked me if my road trip left me more or less optimistic. Neither, really. It just reinforced my existing views.

There are a lot of things I like about public transportation; I've used it extensively in cities like New York, Boston, and San Francisco. I don't mind walking, either. (The ballpark ushers seemed astonished that I preferred the stairs to the elevator.)

And yet...there's no denying that cars are a hell of lot more convenient. When the weather is bad, when you have a lot of stuff to lug, when you're going off the beaten path or traveling at odd hours. Nothing beats a car. And a big, powerful car is much more comfortable and easy to drive than a small, fuel-efficient car - especially for long trips. (I'd kind of forgotten that, since I don't drive very much.) We'll pry people's cars from their cold, dead fingers, and I can't really blame them.

Driving across the country was kind of like watching Koyaanisqatsi: it left me both horrified at the way we're living, and awestruck at the sheer magnitude of our works. It's not sustainable. And yet, it's not going to go away overnight, either. We have too much invested in our current way of life. The collapse, when it comes, will be a catabolic one.