Sunday, March 31, 2013

A Letter to the Governor of New York

On a recent Saturday night, I wrote a bunch of letters to politicians in New York, starting with this one to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.  I received a form letter reply from the governor's office about two weeks later.

16 March 2013
The Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo
Governor of New York State
NYS State Capitol Building
Albany, NY 12224

Dear Governor Cuomo:

Though we moved to New York in July of 2011, I still consider myself to be a brand new New Yorker. I am proud of the leadership you showed getting marriage equality for New Yorkers, and admire your ability to get the budget passed with bi-partisan cooperation.  

I recently read the story of William Blake, a prisoner in administrative segregation at Elmira Correctional Facility who has been in solitary confinement for nearly 26 years.

I am terribly sad to learn that William Blake is but one of many prisoners in extreme isolation in New York State; a cruel and de-humanizing practice, extended periods of solitary confinement exacts physical and psychological harm on prisoners, prison staff and their families (according to investigations by the New York Civil Liberties Union).  I have also learned that prisoners are locked up for 23 hours a day and separated from meaningful human contact or mental stimulation for breaking minor prison rules.

I sincerely hope you join me in supporting reforms to end the common use of this inhumane practice. New York needs to establish strict criteria to ensure that inmates are separate only in limited and legitimate circumstances for the briefest period and under humane conditions and perform an audit of the current population in isolation.

Effective and fair criminal justice maintains public safety and honors our state’s commitment to basic human dignity. Please, help restore New York’s reputation as a progressive leader for the nation. Please, make me proud to be the brand new New Yorker. 

Form letter from Gov. Cuomo

Saturday, March 30, 2013

The good, the bad, and the ugly of Fresh Direct

People like to say that you can get anything delivered in Manhattan. I think they say this to avoid saying something more important: getting stuff into your apartment is a huge pan in the ass.
My car (beloved replacement of a previous car) lives in a near-ish garage, rides up an elevator to a grubby and cramped parking spot, and costs as much to keep in the city as anyone might pay for an apartment in someplace less ridiculous. Driving anywhere around here is almost always unnecessary, and almost always fraught with peril, so I see my car once a week or less, when I go to the country to ride horses. For the purposes of running errands, I schlepp like other New Yorkers and I buy things and have them delivered.
I can carry four very full bags of groceries if I can pack them myself in canvas bags and use my folding luggage cart. Grocery checkers in New York City realize that those of us who come with bags and carts of our own expect to pack ourselves, so the smart ones stand back and let us do it. The walk home is tricky, though, since there are so many kinds of pavement in my neighborhood (cracked, smooth, asphalt, granite, old granite, cobblestones) and then there are all the manholes. Finally there is a high curb on my block that must be navigated. Usually, I have the whole thing tip over at some point.
One expensive grocery store will deliver everything except the frozen food for a minor fee, though they often have a five hour backlog, which requires planning ahead by half a day. If I can plan ahead by a bit more, I can order my groceries from, and they will be delivered to the counter of my kitchen for the same fee and will arrive within a pre-arranged window of my choosing, about 1 ½ hours long.
The good things about Fresh Direct are centered on the convenience of it.  You can work from a list; you can search on an item by name from the comfort of your chair.  They remember that you like Newman’s Own Pink Lemonade and show it to you whenever you ask for lemonade. When eggs arrive broken, you send an email and they give you credit immediately. They have most of the staples you might need, and many of the cleaning supplies.
The bad things about Fresh Direct are many little things.  Because you do not choose your produce, your eight yams may range in size and shape making them hard to peel and handle.  A couple of your pears will be misshapen and unappealing. They choose huge bananas, and you can’t ask for smaller ones.  Since you do not actually see the items you are buying, the packages of bacon may be just the sort of all-white, fatty, broken slices that you would set aside while you looked for pink ones.  Quantities are sometimes not apparent, so when you casually click on four non-fat vanilla yogurts, they might be 32 ounce containers instead of the expected 8 ounce containers.  How many jalapenos is ¼ pound? Fragile things like bananas come carefully wrapped in a layer of plastic foam packing material which was probably never intended for use on food and certainly doesn’t protect from bruising. Once you’ve bought something a couple of times, the site calls it your “fave” and highlights it with a star, even if it really isn’t your “fave.” Eggs are more expensive and often arrive broken.  FreshDirect doesn’t have everything I want (rooibos tea, Shout Color-Catching sheets, organic buttermilk), and while I can request as many items as I want with their handy form, I feel like I’m shouting into a well. Everything comes in cardboard boxes that must be broken down and recycled. 
Things get downright ugly when items are suddenly not available and so are not delivered, leaving you without any Italian sausage when you are making marinara. You do get an email telling you that you will receive credit for the missing items, but at that point you might be so peeved that you have to go out and buy a replacement that you come close to sending an all-caps reply. One night I got an email saying that “due to a power outage your order was cancelled,” and went on to describe the simple steps for placing the same order. As it was, I was leaving town the next day and could not get a new delivery window, so I did fire off an angry email. For my trouble I got a hefty discount.
My biggest problem with shopping for groceries online is that there is no store to walk through, so I consistently forget things I would ordinarily not miss. I want a 3D store, with a tiny 3D shopping-me who can walk the aisles, see the cauliflower and the Rice Chex, and hold the orange juice carton in her hand. 

Thursday, March 28, 2013


Despite the mounted NYPD officers who house their horses at a facility in Chelsea and the carriage horses in Central Park, there are no horses in Manhattan. As a horse owner, this meant that moving to New York City was a compromise for me. I drive a long way upstate to ride these days, so I ride less, and this is yet another reason to add to my growing list of things I hate about New York.
No doubt the first humans to ride horses did so without much tack, if any at all. I envision a clever tribe of hunter-gatherers realizing that the nearby horse herd had a few slightly more docile individuals, and though delicious to eat, those slightly more docile individuals made suitable mounts, opening up wondrous new hunting possibilities for the primitive people. Once enlisted to carry home huge carcasses, the domesticated horse made the great leap forward from food to engine. Today, modern America has few true working horses, but not none. Most American horses are kept (at great expense) for the pleasure of their owners.
To ride even casually requires an initial investment in a helmet and boots, so many new riders, like me, go to a tack store before they even take their first horseback riding lesson. What this means is that before even going to the barn the new rider goes shopping. In rural areas, you can find a helmet and riding boots at a feed store. But in a fancy suburb, you can go to a real, fancy tack store.
Back in Seattle, this was Olson’s. You walk in and are immersed in the whole horsey lifestyle. They have all the stuff for horse care (from hoof picks and vet-wrap to pitchforks), but also everything for the rider (attire, boots, and saddles).
Olson’s sold us our first helmets and boots.    Within a few weeks we had also bought breeches (riding pants) and half chaps there.   Even before we were known regulars we were greeted enthusiastically. Eventually we found ourselves treated like very important customers.   Everyone knew our names.
When I bought my first horse, I went with my trainer to Olson’s and she showed me everything I needed to buy; it was a long list.  Later, I would go there for a bottle of hoof oil and leave with a bottle of hoof oil and new clogs.  When a store cultivates a relationship with the customer, you go back for little things, and you order special things from them when you could just as easily go online.
One of the surprising things about moving to North Dreadful last year was discovering a large fancy tack store there. Today, on my way back from the barn, I stopped in for a couple of things. I have been to this tack store a few times; I have made major purchases there. I am never greeted by name.  I don’t think they even notice when I walk in; I always have to ask for help. I usually leave without everything I was looking for, and I never, ever buy anything on impulse.  This store makes me very sad, because it isn’t Olson’s. I miss Olson’s.
Because I had stopped at the tack store, I hit rush hour traffic coming into Manhattan and added another hour to my commute. Next time, I’ll buy whatever I need online.