Sunday, September 11, 2011



I had an idea for a story that I was going to call Uprooted. I was going to use the first photograph below for it.

It was going to be a 9/11 story. A man and a woman who worked together would be walking to the Twin Towers, and they'd be pretty close when the first plane hit, and they'd experience some details of the event, and it would shake them out of their ordinary routines. They'd walk away silently, and then they'd start talking about how they felt about work and life and everything. It might turn into a love story. I never worked out exactly where it was going to go. I was starting to throw every stray idea I had into it and losing focus. I was starting to think maybe they should not even be at the event. It was too big to comprehend. They could be stuck somewhere else by the shut-down of transportation on that day. But then it didn't need to be 9/11. It could be a hurricane. Maybe it was Key Largo. I gave up.

So I'm not doing a 9/11 post this year. The media are overselling it enough this time around anyway. Maybe next year.

If you want to read something, let me direct you to a good article that was in the Star Ledger a few days ago, a rare interview with George Tabeek, who designed and implemented the extensive building security measures implemented at the WTC after the 1993 bombing. By 2001 he described the results of his work with satisfaction as "99 percent locked down", and when asked what the one percent was, he said, "a plane". Go read it. Tabeek was on the bridge over West Street when the bridge collapsed as the north tower came down. He was there. And he still feels bad that he couldn't cover that last security hole.

And back to the home front...

You're looking at the nearest tree fall to my house during Hurricane Irene. We're a few steps outside my property, which starts at the power lines (second photo), and my house is off frame to the left. The tree was tall but thin, and the winds were kind enough to make it fall parallel to the power lines where it damaged only some other trees.

These asters were bent down by the hurricane rains, but now they're among the first to flower.

The feverfew in the crack of soil next to the house has expanded.

Look, another red tomato! We haven't had to buy cherry tomatoes in quite a while.

The jungle out front.

I took a day off Friday to recover from the last two weekends. I was going to do one good deed: drive Megan to Newark Penn Station in late morning. She was going to meet some friends so they could all drive to Bethesda for the Small Press Expo. They're sharing a table. Megan has the small first printing of the School of World book (larger printing to follow).

I drove Helen to work in Newark early and came back home. My plan was to drive to Newark a second time with Megan, but then leave the car in the university lot for Helen to drive home later, and I would come back on the train and get in a little walking. That way I'd only have to make one and a half round trips driving instead of three. This would be a treat for me and help me to relax.

It turned into a thing. First Megan heard that there was a delay, so we shouldn't leave when we had planned. Not long after, we heard that they were ready to go, so I drove into Newark, and right about when we got there, came word that there was something wrong with the car they were going to use, and they'd have to get use of another one, so we should probably stay home for a few hours. Back to S O. About an hour after we got home we learned the car was OK after all. The Check Engine light had come on, but the car had been brought to a shop and was quickly taken care of, and now the car was home and all was well, and they could use it. I drove to Newark again and let her off. Now I drove the car to the lot.

So, two and a half round trips. It is still less than three round trips. Now I could relax.

I walked over to the Warren St station of the City Subway Newark Light Rail and took an outbound car. I wanted to get a look at the underside of the Central Avenue bridge to see whether I was right about the structure. The car was too crowded for me to get to a window, but I knew I could take care of that problem by riding out near the end of the line and then staking out a window position on an incoming car. I had to come back anyway.

They did a ticket check at Orange Street station. Everyone had a valid ticket, including the woman who could not remember where her pass was, and took an eternity to check every compartment of her bag and clothing until she found it. I guess they don't check too often.

I rode out to Silver Lake, one of the two new stations on the 2002 extension. I never got off there before. I walked back to the next stop. After all the upgrades of the light rail system, I found a familiar old sight at Branch Brook Park station. The little street they use as a bus loop, Ropes Place, is still paved with cobblestones as I remember it from decades ago. The street that Newark forgot? It's just across the park from the Old Road to Bloomfield, and even that has been paved within my lifetime.

Check. The underside of Central Avenue bridge bears out what I wrote. Good. Notice I did not bring a camera. If you need proof, you'll have to get out there yourself.

When I got to Penn Station, I stayed on the car and rode around the loop for the first time. It is a measure of railfan geekdom to collect rare mileage, or at least new-to-me mileage. I took the other light rail line from there to Broad Street station. The little Broad Street line, a mile long, opened in 2006.

What a boondoggle it is. With its tight curves and street crossings, there are so many speed restrictions that it has no speed advantage over bus routes. And the distance is so short that it does not attract much ridership. It now runs every 30 minutes— 30!— outside of rush hours, further discouraging riders who can find much more frequent service by bus. The car I took around three in the afternoon had four passengers. The stations (except Riverfront Stadium) are elaborate structures that would have helped far more passengers if they'd been placed at downtown bus stops. And they built a ramp for it into the subway! Even granting that the underground junction was already there, all it gets you is one block of subway running and use of the subway terminal loop. How much is that worth?

Total cost for construction: 207 million dollars. I was trying to find ridership figures, but all I can find is combined ridership for the two lines. They're probably embarrassed to publish separate figures. The old former City Subway still looks strong. There were people standing in both directions, with ten-minute headways. My spot observation in midday is that the ratio is 3 full cars with standees on the old line to 4 people on the Broad Street. That's awful. The NJ Transit page even exaggerates the frequency to Broad St as 15 minutes instead of 30, a claim easily disproved by looking at the full timetable (linked from that page).

For some reason it wasn't till I got to Broad Street that I remembered the cutbacks of a couple of years ago on the Morris and Essex mainline. All-day 30-minute frequency? What was I thinking? Well, I was lucky. It could have been worse. I only had to kill 25 minutes looking at the historical images in the station until a train would come. It was more time than I needed really, but it was a nice day and I was being calm.

When I got home I went to sleep. If you've been trying to read this, you've done that already. I'll do better next time.


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