Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Staten Island Ferry

New Yorkers, except maybe once on their prom night, have ever had the pleasure of riding the Staten Island Ferry. The ferry operates 24/7 between the Whitehall Terminal in lower Manhattan and the St. George terminal on Staten Island. The New York harbor crossing is about 5 miles long and takes about 25 minutes. The DOT oversees a fleet of nine vessels that provide a vital transportation link for approximately 60,000 commuters and tourists each weekday. Ferry service has been in place since the 1700s. The fare for the crossing, established in 1897, was five cents for many years. In 1972 it rose to ten cents, and reached fifty cents in 1990. Then, in 1997, the fare for pedestrians was eliminated, creating one of the best bargains to be found in New York City.

There have been mishaps over the years. (Data courtesy of the Staten Island Ferry website):
  • On July 30, 1871 at about 1:30 pm the ferry boat Westfield II experienced a catastrophic boiler explosion while in the slip at Whitehall. Several days after the disaster it was revealed that at least 85 people had lost their lives. Several more were added to the death toll weeks later.     
  • June 14th, 1901 the ferryboat Northfield was leaving Whitehall when it was struck by a Jersey Central Ferry the Mauch Chaunk and sank immediately. Out of 995 passengers aboard the Northfield only 5 ended up missing. This accident was one of the major reasons that private operations of the ferries were ended and the City of New York took control.
  • In 1978, the American Legion crashed into the concrete seawall near the Statue of Liberty ferry port during a dense fog. 173 were injured.
  • On April 12th, 1995 The Ferry boat Barberi plowed into #4 slip in St. George due to a mechanical malfunction, injuring a handful of passengers. The doors on the saloon deck were crushed by the aprons. The accident would have been much worse if not for the heroic actions of the bridge man who remained on station and lowered the bridge to the right height to help stop the boat. 
  • October 15, 2003 at about 5:30 pm the ferry boat Andrew J. Barberi slammed into a maintenance pier on Staten Island. The impact of the crash snapped the pilings at the seaward corner of the pier like toothpicks. 10 people died that day and an 11th person died two months later from injuries from the accident.
After the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center the Staten Island Ferry transported tens of thousands of people out of lower Manhattan to safety on Staten Island. The captains docked the ferries under zero visibility as the smoke and debris from the collapses filled the sky. The following days passengers were not allowed on the ferries. The fleet was being used to transport emergency personnel and equipment to and from lower Manhattan. In addition to the emergency personnel and equipment the ferries were also being used to transport military personnel and equipment to Governors Island and lower Manhattan. Included in this were U.S. Army tanks. Since that day the Staten Island Ferry no longer carries cars.

People watchers are in heaven riding the ferry. If it exists in the world, sooner or later you will see it on the boat. One of the greatest benefits of riding the ferry is the up-close and spectacular view it affords of the Statue of Liberty. On the Staten Island bound trip, the boat glides by Lady Liberty gleaming in the bright sunshine or bathed in light at night. Tourists armed with cameras can be seen rushing to the statue side of the boat and excitedly pointing out that beacon of freedom to their children in a hundred different languages. If ever we needed reminding that the Unites States is still the world's model for democracy and freedom, I challenge you to witness this spectacle and say it isn't so.

The Staten Island Ferry connects to another transportation system little known off the Island, the highly reliable Staten Island Rapid Transit train. The ferry has been a part of our lives since we moved here in 1971. Whether it was just decompressing on deck with a beer after work, or shepherding a gang of Cub Scouts to see the Lady of the Harbor, I never fail to get a lump in my throat each time we pass her by. May God bless America with the strength and resolve to uphold the ideals contained in the immortal words
of poet Emma Lazarus:  "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"  Wow.


Children's Craniofacial Association

Friday, September 16, 2011


The Miriam-Webster dictionary defines Serendipity as: the faculty or phenemon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for. Today, serendipity smiled on me. Jasmine and I visited the historic Richmondtown complex here on Staten Island, home to a restored Colonial village and a museum. We planned to see an exhibit about the Negro Baseball Leagues and their place in New York Yankee history. When we arrived, it seemed the exhibit was shut down  because a one-hour class in portrait photography was being held in the same space. The man teaching the class came in to the room where we were waiting. Since only one registered student showed up for his class, he asked us if we would like to sit in for free. And that is how we met Al Efron.

We chatted for a while and Al explained how he had a passion for photography since he was a boy. Being a child of the post depression years (Al is 81) he learned early to hustle a buck. He and his friend would take the subway up to the Harlem dance halls, which were numerous in the 1940s, and offer to take group shots of people's tables for a dollar. They later augmented their small income by running a hatcheck operation and splitting the take with the dance hall owner. This is how people learned to depend on themselves back in the days before welfare removed all incentive to work. But I digress.

After he got married and had kids, Al found he could not support his family as a photographer. For a period of eight years, including a three-year internship, he studied to become an architect. After passing his State certification exams, he and three friends started their own firm. By the time he retired, the firm employed 75 architects. After retirement, Al returned to his first love, photography, but found things had changed so much that he knew virtually nothing about modern cameras. Rather than be content to just buy a digital camera and point and click like the rest of us, he threw himself into learning. He attended schools given by Nikon, and also several week-long Photoshop classes out West where he has a house in Tuscon.

As you have guessed by now, Al liked to chat, since we found out all this and more about him in an hour. He talked about a trip recently to San Diego that required climbing slippery cliffs in  in the pre-dawn darkness so the light would be just right for the birds they were photographing. Not bad for an 81 year-old guy! He also told us he refuses to sell his work although he exhibits it frequently. If someone likes a picture, he gives it to them, frame and all. We sat through his class and Al taught us about how to use light and shadow to create more interesting portraits. He talked about the best times of day to shoot, and also how to make a photo composition more interesting. We saw some of his portraits on his Apple I-pad, and they were very good.

Sometimes life's little unlooked-for surprises can make your day. Al proved to be as interesting and energetic a guy as I have met in a long while. He inspired me to get out and take some pictures, which I did at Great Kills beach immediately on returning home. (See sample above.) By the way, Al's class was in the same room as the Negro Leagues exhibit, so we got to see that too. All in all, a good day.


Children's Craniofacial Association

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Law and Order

I just read in today's paper that the Bronx District Attorney's office throws out twice the number of arrests than the NYC average for the other boroughs. Police are frustrated to see arrests they work very hard to make either plea bargained down to ridiculously lenient charges or dismissed altogether. Even Assistant D.A.s in that office want to push harder for prosecutions, but claim their hands are tied by "top down" policies. In defense of his policies, Robert Johnson, Bronx D.A., was quoted as saying: "We take the deprivation of an individual's liberties very seriously." Guess what Bobby: the people of the Bronx take crimes committed against them very seriously too, and put you in office to protect them!

Every lawyer or cop show I watch makes it clear that prosecution of criminals to the fullest extent of the law is no longer anybody's priority. Costs drive our justice system now. Criminals know this and the deterrent of punishment no longer gives them pause before committing a crime. WIth a haircut, a clean suit and a good lawyer, any crook it seems can get his or her sentence plea bargained down without even going to trial. This wasn't always the case in New York. Tough prosecutors like Robert Morgenthau, backed up by tough judges put a lot of bad people away. Organized criminal enterprises like the Mafia (get over it my fellow Italians, it does exist) were cut down and nearly eliminated. This was accomplished by courageous men and women unafraid of threats or reprisals, not by cowards like Robert Johnson who forget what side of the law they are on.

Ever since the Miranda Law was passed, the rights of criminals seem more important to our society than the rights of victims. I detest police brutality, but I also detest the idea of tying the hands of our cops so that they are afraid to do their jobs. This not only jeopardizes their safety, but ours as well. High-minded Liberal legislators pass these laws protecting criminals because it's not their asses in that dark alley trying to collar some drug-crazed felon who is probably armed than they are. Every time a cop fires his or her weapon, the wheels of the bureaucracy begin to turn; reams of forms must be filled out and the lynch mobs start the investigations, led by dirt bags like Al Sharpton. I refuse to refer to him as "Reverend." We are a society of laws, but some common sense must prevail or we will surely lose to the bad guys.

Even those cases that make it to trial are at the mercy of juries so dumb that it beggars belief. Defense attorneys have become expert at choosing jurors who will sympathize with their clients for whatever reason. All it takes is one vote to hang a jury. There should be more to jury duty given all that is at stake. If you are too stupid to understand the evidence that is put before you, or unwilling to convict no matter the preponderance of evidence, then you should be excused. Every defendant is entitled to a fair trial, but we the people should be entitled to some protection too. It's not right that a murderer like O.J. Simpson should be set free among us because of biased jurors, aided and abeted by incompetent prosecutors, a highly unqualified judge, and evidence-cooking cops. We deserve a better system.

I wonder how long before we learn that the Bronx D.A. is on the take. District Attorneys are supposed to prosecute crimes, not dismiss them. Here's my solution: We need more dedicated and courageous prosecutors with the mandate to take cases to trial; justice is not served by plea bargaining and it should be reduced to an absolute minimum; finally, bring back the death penalty and use it.


Children's Craniofacial Association  

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Oh Little Town of Bethlehem

No, not the Bethlehem where Jesus was born, but the steel town in Pennsylvania where the new Sands Casino now sits on a site once occupied by Bethlehem Steel and its 18,000 employees. The company began in 1861, producing mainly track for America's rapidly expanding railway system, and steel armor plate for U.S. Naval ships. By the end of the century, Bethlehem Steel ascended to national prominence in American industry and branched out into ship building, rolled sheet steel for skyscrapers, railroad freight cars, and was the world's largest supplier to the construction sector. The five brick chimneys of its blast furnaces could be seen in the sky from miles around, and still stand today as a reminder of this country's decline as a world manufacturing leader.

In its heyday, America's manufacturing capacity was second to none. The steel industry operated with little foreign competition. Eventually, the foreign firms were rebuilt with modern techniques such as continuous casting, while profitable (and arrogant) U.S. companies resisted modernization. Meanwhile, U.S. steelworkers were given rising benefits due to the intervention of greedy unions whose lack of vision would soon doom America's leadership position, not only in the steel industry, but across the manufacturing sector. By the 1970s, imported foreign steel was generally cheaper than domestically produced steel. In 1982, Bethlehem reported a loss of $1.5 billion and shut down many of its operations.

Inexpensive steel imports and the failure of management to innovate, embrace technology, and improve labor conditions contributed to Bethlehem's demise. Also hampering America's ability to compete with foreign steel producers were ill-conceived protectionist steel trade policies that shielded domestic steel producers like Bethlehem from foreign competition by quotas and voluntary export restraints. A country that once prided itself on its genius for manufacturing innovation, state-of-the-art factories and efficient, hard-working people had lost its way. Starting in the 1970s, manufacturing activities in the United States drastically declined as industry after industry moved overseas, taking millions of American jobs with them.

America did its best to compensate. For example, despite the closing of its local operations, Bethlehem Steel tried to reduce the impact on the Lehigh Valley area with plans to revitalize the south side of Bethlehem. It hired consultants to develop conceptual plans on the reuse of the massive property. The consensus was to rename the 163-acre site Bethlehem Works and to use the land for cultural, recreational, educational, entertainment and retail development. The National Museum of Industrial History, in association with the Smithsonian Institution and the Bethlehem Commerce Center, consisting of 1,600 acres of prime industrial property, would be erected on the site along with a casino and large retail and entertainment complex.

America shifted from a manufacturing to a service economy. We looked down our noses at factory workers, and decided that every kid should get a college degree, whether they had the brains or not. Academic standards were lowered to accommodate marginal students at the same time trade schools were being closed since there were no longer factories to employ their graduates. We now live with a substandard school system and no manufacturing jobs for manual workers. This country was built on the backs of people who worked with their hands, men who carried lunch pails and were proud of doing a day's work for a day's pay. We made a mistake. We forgot what got us where we were, and abandoned an important economic sector for greener pastures that turned brown when the bubble burst.

As we drove into Bethlehem, Pa. to make a donation at the Sands Casino, one could only imagine the bustle in that town when Bethlehem Steel was at the height of its greatness. You could almost hear the sound of the whistles from the factories that gave people living there an honorable way to support their families. I only hope America can recover from its error. Judging from the current state of the economy, the roulette table at the Sands might be a better bet.

(Some source information taken from Wikipedia.)


Children's Craniofacial Association