Hamilton Square, New Jersey

This is where I went to grammar school. I lost the 6th grade spelling bee to Tom Stackhouse here. I couldn't spell "colonel" and he could.

Hamilton Square School

There is a big difference between city life and country life.  I’ve lived in the country and I’ve lived in a crowded suburb and I’ve hardly moved more than a mile.  You can keep the traffic and the traffic lights.  Give me an open field or some woods any day.

I grew up on Fleetwood Drive in Hamilton Square, New Jersey, when it was still a rural area with lots of working farms.  There was a small farm behind my family’s house where my brother and sisters and I played all summer.  The farmer would plow his field several times a year.  In the early summer he went through his field on his combine and left behind straw cuttings that we would use to build little clubhouses.  We walked through the field pushing the straw with our legs.  When we had a bundle, we would pick it up in our arms and take it to the building site.  We organized secret clubs, played army and generally had a great time in our little forts.  I can still smell the fresh straw.

Somewhere in Guy Foy’s house there is an old movie that his father took of us playing army in the forts.  I saw it once, many years ago.  In part of the field there were five apple trees standing in a row.  We used to climb the trees for hours, picking the apples and having apple fights.  They weren’t any good to eat because they were sour, although we tried a bite every now and then.

When we grew older and were too big to play baseball in Billy McManimon’s backyard, we made a baseball diamond in the farmer’s field.  If you hit a ground ball you were out because nobody could field a grounder with all the tire ruts, straw stems and rocks on the uneven ground.  Billy, who was a few years older than the rest of us, liked to bat left-handed here.  He was a natural right-hand batter but because the right field “fence” was close, he liked to try and hit the ball onto Mercer Street.  The “fence” was a row of pine trees about twenty feet tall.  There was no center field or left field fence.

My mother used to send me on my bicycle to Hooper-McCabe, a small grocery store in the heart of Hamilton Square. Once, when my mother sent me to get a head of lettuce, I came back with a stalk of celery. (Hooper-McCabe became Heinz’s Market in the mid 1960s and then it became the Cookie Cottage). It was located about one mile from my house on Fleetwood Drive, where Mercer Street meets Nottingham Way.  I went past the Nottingham firehouse and Mercer Rubber Company mill to get there. (The red brick building that was the rubber mill is no longer there.)

Rose Ann, my first love, at age six, lived on Mercer Street. To get to her house, I walked through the field about 100 yards and crossed the street.  She had sheep, rams and probably other animals in her backyard and I was fascinated by them.  We often went out to watch them.  Rose Ann was in my first grade class at Hamilton Square School and it broke my heart when she moved away.

Just near the end of Mercer Street on Line Road was the Schilling Farm.  When we went there for fresh eggs, Mrs. Schilling  sometimes went right to the chicken coop to get them.  There is no comparison between a Schilling egg and one that is store bought.  Line Road is a dead end now, just past Mercer Street. You can still fish from the old bridge though and people do.

I used to ride my bike to Nottingham Little League games all the time.  There wasn’t much traffic then and my mother didn’t have a car.  When I got to the field, I just propped my bike against the fence and nobody ever bothered it. They used to play the 1959 Johnny Horton song “Battle of New Orleans” all the time before the games.

Sometimes, my next door neighbor, Bob Holcombe, would let my brother and me go along when he took Lady, his black Labrador retriever for a walk.  We would usually go to the woods at the end of Mercer Street and Miry Brook Road.  Bob used to tell us stories while we walked.  There was a small concrete boundary marker in the woods.  Bob told us that Chief Rain-in-the-Face was buried there.  We believed him.  Bob grew the best tomatoes that I have ever tasted. When I was a little older, I went camping in those same woods with kids from the neighborhood.  We didn’t have tents.  We just threw our sleeping bags on the ground. All of the woods are gone and houses are there now.

When my family had just moved to Hamilton Square, farmer Tindall put up a sign for free potato picking.  The field was too wet for a heavy tractor so Mr. Tindall let us dig up the potatoes by hand.  I can still remember being in that field on a rainy day and walking in all the mud.  The potatoes were a little mushy.

I live in Mercerville now, the next town over from Hamilton Square.  You really can’t tell where one town starts now and the other ends because the land has been filled in with houses.  But every day I drive past the old Flock Farm where my mother used to buy corn and peaches.  The farm was sold years ago to the developer who built University Heights.

The intersection nearest my home, Sloan and Quakerbridge, used to be a quiet corner with a stop sign.  Now it’s a major four lane intersection that’s always busy.  There’s a Burger King on one corner and on the opposite side, where there was once a small shack that sold pork roll sandwiches, there is a large modern Exxon gas station.  Hughes Drive, where I once delivered newspapers on my bicycle, is now so busy that I hope an adult does the route.  I remember when the Five Points had only stop signs.  If they didn’t have traffic lights at the intersection today, they would have to build a hospital right on the corner.

Even Hamilton Square has a traffic jam every day now.  They had to move the old War Memorial a few years ago to make room for a traffic light.  For years it had stood in the middle of the road.  They put the monument in Foley Park near the intersection.  The park was made when they knocked down the old luncheonette where Tommy Baumeister’s father once bought me a chocolate milkshake after a ball game. There used to be a barber shop near where the monument is today. My brother and I used to ride our bikes to the shop and pay a quarter for a hair cut.

About thirty yards from the park, my father used to operate the Nottingham Bookstore.   He was there about twenty years in the basement of the old Grange building.  The Grange building was sold about 20 years ago. The old farmers were dying off and those that were left were having trouble getting up the stairs.  I used to see old farmer Tindall go in there. My father’s store used to be the Post Office many years ago.  I remember going there as a little kid.  Across the street and a little to the left is where the library used to be.  I used to like a book called “Fierce John” when I was little. I read it a lot. Both the library and the Post office are now large modern buildings that serve thousands of people.

I guess what I dislike the most about Hamilton Square today is the traffic.  I liked it when there wasn’t a traffic light at every intersection.  I used to tell my wife that if they put up one more light we were leaving.  I stopped saying that years ago.  I liked it when you could ride your bike safely anywhere.  I liked the apple trees and corn fields.  I’ve been tempted to pack up and move.  I’m not sure exactly what stops me.  I guess it’s fear of the unknown.  Hamilton Square may not be the same, but it’s familiar.  It bothers me that my son will never have a field like I did to play in.  My field is now a housing development and my apple trees are long gone.  I hardly ever see kids playing baseball today except in an organized game with adults.  And forty years ago nobody ever gave you the finger from a passing car.

In my first grade reading book, the book after “Dick and Jane”, were two boys who lived in a rural community.  They played in fields and apple trees just like I did.  At the end of the book they are grown up and have children of their own.  The book ends when they take their kids to see the apple trees and a highway has been built around the trees.  I was crushed and felt so sad for them.  I had no idea at the time that my apple trees were also doomed.

Note: In 2005 I finally did move away. I now live in Washington County, New York, just outside the village of Schuylerville. There is a fifteen acre field behind my house that is planted every other year with feed corn or soybeans. There are woods across the street and beyond the trees, I can see the Hudson River.

I wrote this article for an English class at Mercer County Community College. My college professor thought one of the local weekly papers might be interested in it. It was eventually published in the Hamilton Observer. I think it was in the late 80’s or early 90’s. I could probably figure it out if I wanted to, but let’s just say it is over twenty years old. I have made some changes to clarify some things, but the basic story is the same.

Comments are always welcome and appreciated.

Christmas As Usual

The  commercials on television this year for Christmas 2009 have already started. They seem especially odd to me this year. It seems that it is business as usual. It’s as if nothing has changed in this country from previous years. The ads ignore the horrible financial disaster that many Americans are going through. The ads ignore the ridiculously high unemployment rate in this country. The ads ignore the suffering. It’s like nothing happened. How can that be? Has it been like this for years and I just didn’t notice it? Or, has what happened over the past year in this country really changed things?

The “too big to fail” banks have been bailed out and they are making money again. They are giving out billions of dollars in bonuses to their employees. The wall street firms are doing the same. ( I refuse to capitalize “wall street” anymore. They don’t deserve it.) The incompetent, greedy idiots on wall street who brought this country to its financial knees, still think so highly of themselves that they actually believe they are worth the ridiculous bonuses that they get. They think that by creating, marketing and selling trillions of dollars of worthless derivatives they are actually contributing something of value to this country and should be proud of themselves. They are not.

I know that stores like Walmart, Target, Kmart, Kohls, J.C.Penney, Macys, etc., have to sell as much stuff as they can. That’s what they do. That’s how they survive. Besides, if they don’t sell lots of stuff, and we don’t buy it, millions of people in China will lose their jobs. But  the ads just strike me as very odd this year. I can’t exactly put my finger on it. I guess in a way, it’s just like pretending that things are the same as they always were. It isn’t. I never liked Christmas marketing prior to the Thanksgiving holiday anyway. Is Christmas shopping just one more fraud that is being perpetrated on this country? Do we really need this insane shopping period between now and December 25th every year?

Is there a better way to celebrate this holiday without all of the credit card debt and other spending that a lot of people can’t afford anyway? Since the credit card companies, owned by the banks that the American people just bailed out, have raised interest rates on many accounts to a mind boggling 30%, will people be falling off their chairs in January when they get their credit card bills, hurting themselves in the process and needing to go to the emergency room at the nearest hospital? (At least the ones that are left that still have health insurance?) Will the health care insurance companies be raising their rates again because of all of this? You bet they will. It’s a vicious cycle. Maybe congress should have put some rate limits in the Credit Card Reform Act of 2009. Duh.

I know a lot of people who are unemployed, under employed or at best, living on the edge of economic oblivion and struggling to survive. They are one paycheck, one illness or one accident  from financial ruin. And yet nobody talks about it. There are people like Bob Herbert, Paul Krugman and Charles Blow in the New York Times that write columns about it, but the people who are experiencing the real pain and suffering don’t talk about it. At least not to me. They suffer in silence.

Do you think the clowns in Washington, D.C. who supposedly represent us are worried about any of this? They have spent all summer and fall trying to reform health care in this country. The final bill that came out of the House of Representatives should be titled, “How I spent my summer vacation.” They threw commonsense out the window when they began the debate and were never able to find it again. The bill that passed may be progress and it does fix some problems, but it is totally lacking in commonsense and much more complicated and stupid than it needs to be. Are these the people who are going to put people back to work so that they can spend a lot of money on Christmas 2010?

I’m very disappointed. Our new president and his party are squandering an opportunity to really make a difference. It reminds me of the Newt Gingrich days in the ’90s when the Republicans won control of Congress and were going to do all these amazing things. They didn’t. I supported Obama for president.  I still have his bumper sticker on my car. I want him to succeed. But he obviously doesn’t get it or he would have done something by now to stimulate employment.

He has had over a year to try and put the economy back on track for working Americans. It seems that it is the last thing on his agenda. We need some sort of incentive for businesses of all kinds and sizes in this country to stop sending jobs to China. We need to start doing things here in America again. Where are the green jobs that the president talks about? They are needed now. Today. Not two years from now. Our roads, bridges, underground infrastructure, and railroads etc. are falling apart. Millions of jobs could be created by fixing these problems. If more people need to be trained, and they do, let’s train them.

There is no reason in the world for so many people to be unemployed when there is so much that needs to be done.

What are we waiting for? Everyday that goes by is another day wasted. Let us seize the day. The Great Recession will not end until Americans can go back to work at jobs that pay a living wage.

A few days ago, I found a 1946 Roosevelt dime in my pocket change. I was very surprised because most of the 90% silver coins went out of circulation in this country years ago. Where is Franklin Delano Roosevelt when you need him?

What do you think? Does Christmas 2009 seem a little different to you?

Why not change the world?

“Why not change the world?” is a Service Mark of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)  in Troy, New York. I think it is a great slogan and they do good things there.

In 2000 I bought a t-shirt at the RPI bookstore that had “Why Not Change the World?” printed on it. At the time, I was working in Troy providing computer tech support for Verizon. They had a central office on Fourth Street that was just down the hill from RPI. I visited their bookstore, saw the slogan on a t-shirt, liked the sound of it, and bought one. I wore it a lot and it became unwearable after several years. I went back to the bookstore to get another one at least five years ago and there were none available.

I would still like to get another one, but they don’t sell them anymore. I’ve called and emailed the bookstore on several occasions over a couple of years, but the answer is always, “we just don’t sell them anymore” or something like that.

They do sell a glass mug with the slogan, but I already have a favorite Barnes and Noble coffee cup with a picture of James Michener on it. You can’t buy them anymore either. Barnes and Noble stopped selling them years ago. I never see the cups anywhere else. You would think that one would show up on ebay or at a yard sale. I keep looking for one, but so far nothing. Am I the only person to buy and own a coffee cup with a picture of James Michener on it?

So, I think that if the slogan “why not change the world?” is at the top right hand corner of their home page and they have an interesting video on the home page called, “Why Not Change The World?”, they should bring back the t-shirt with the slogan on it. (I’m an XXL in case anyone is interested, hoping to go back to being an XL in the near future.)

Am I asking too much?  Are there any RPI students or alumni out there that would like to have a “why not change the world?” t-shirt too? If enough people called or emailed the RPI bookstore perhaps they would change their mind and have a few t-shirts printed. You can find the phone number and email address on the RPI webpage.

What do you think? Did you ever own a t-shirt from RPI with, “why not change the world?” on it?

Here is a wikpedia explanation of the Service Mark symbol: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Service_mark

Thank you. Comments are appreciated.

My Northway Commute

What a nightmare. I drove to work on I-87, the Adirondack Northway, last week. I got on at exit 14 in Saratoga Springs and got off at exit 6 near the Albany airport.  I was working at a company on British-American Boulevard off of Route 7 in Latham.

I haven’t had to use the Northway to commute to work in quite a few years. In fact, the last time I used it to get to work was in 2000 when I lived near exit 8 and worked for Verizon at 158 State Street in Albany, across from the State Capitol.

I was amazed at how many cars had only one person in them. In the five days that I drove on the Northway, I only saw one car with two people or more in it on the way to work. Doesn’t anybody carpool? With the price of gasoline so high and the Great Recession gripping the country for the past year, I didn’t expect to find traffic as usual on the Northway. Now, I didn’t look into every car going by. I was too busy keeping an eye on the car in front of me, but in the cars going by that I could see into safely, I only saw one car with more than one person. That just seems pretty ridiculous to me.

I think I saw one bus too. I know that there must be more buses somewhere, but I only saw one. Maybe it was just the time I was commuting. I left my house around 6:55 am to be at work in Latham by 8:00 am.

There has got to be a better way. I still can’t understand how the Northway comes to a complete halt around exits 9, 8A and 8. I know that there are a lot of cars entering the roadway at 9, 8A and 8, but they are entering the right hand lane. Why doesn’t the left lane and center lane keep moving?

I’m assuming that since I am stopped and all the cars that I can see in front of me are stopped, that some car ahead of me that I can’t see and is “leading the pack” down the Northway, has come to a complete stop. Why? How can that be?

There are no traffic lights, stop signs, yield signs, pedestrian crossings, or anything else to cause a car to come to a complete stop. It just doesn’t make sense.

I would love to spend a morning in a helicopter and look down on “the mess.” Maybe then I could get a better understanding of what is happening. I have heard that the twin bridges crossing the Mohawk river present some sort of an optical illusion to some drivers. That could explain some of the slow down. I also know from experience that there is a hill after crossing the Mohawk and that most cars lose speed going up the hill because their drivers fail to accelerate to compensate.

I have come to the conclusion that it is just incompetent drivers causing the problem. People who, among a lot of other things, won’t keep right and pass left. Some will just sit in the left hand lane, not passing anyone and clogging traffic. People who can’t be bothered to use a turn signal. People who still talk on their cell phones while driving.

Here is a link to the website of the Car Talk guys that you have probably heard on the radio. Their website has a wealth of information about why you should not talk on the phone, hands-free or not, while you are driving a car. It’s incredibly dangerous.

I was also surpised at how fast people were driving.  The speed limit is 65. If you drive 65, even in the right hand lane, people are whizzing by you at 75, 80 or 85 miles an hour. What’s the rush? Seventy is a nice comfortable speed. Your chance of having an accident at 75 and 80 miles per hour is greater and the higher speed makes the results of the accident deadlier. Slow down and live.

I thought by now, near the end of the first decade of the 21st century, that more employers would allow more employees to work from home. If people could work from home two days a week, that would cut down on traffic on the Northway by 40% on any given day.  No more painfully slow, stressful commute.

There would be less stress, less accidents and theoretically, cheaper insurance rates because you are driving your car fewer miles. You would spend a lot less money on gasoline and wear and tear on cars. Even if the price of gasoline is high, you won’t need to buy as much. I drive an old Honda Accord. My commute was 39 miles each way. I burned quite a bit of fuel to get back and forth. The job that I was doing was hands on. I was physically connecting and disconnecting equipment. It wasn’t something that I could do from home.

Many people work on a computer when they get to work. With broadband cable or DSL, inexpensive computers and cheap phone calls, you should be able to do the same job working from home. Everybody wins. If you want, for $50 you can setup a camera on your computer so your boss can actually see and talk to you when it is necessary.

If you are carpooling to work, I would love to hear how you got started.

If you are working from home a few days a week instead of going into an office everyday, I would love to hear about how you got started doing that.

If you are taking the bus, I’d like to hear about your experience too. Maybe your story can inspire someone else to carpool, work from home, or take the bus to work..

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