Thursday, September 29, 2005

The Yuppie Scene

I spent last Shabbos in the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago. For the benefit of those of you from Out-of-Town, Lakeview is often compared to New York's Upper West Side- a location "in the city," populated with young professionals, often single. It was my first time venturing out there. Truth is, in the almost year since I've returned to Chicago, it was only my second time going out for Shabbos. And even though my brother lives in Lakeview (for three years already), I've only gone there to visit three times during the week. But I have a friend who bought a condo there in July, and I've been throwing around the promise of a Shabbos visit for quite some time now.

Truth is, I was a little hesitant to go out there and was probably looking for any excuse to push it off. I mean, there's nothing terrible about the place, but a) my home in the 'burbs is plenty cozy for me, and b) I never really liked the Upper West Side. All that fancy "action" and "things to do" that people rave about in the city just isn't for me. I'm the guy that went to bad last night at 8 PM. I'm not interested in going out.

And the whole "singles scene" kind of weirds me out. Don't get me wrong, a peer group is a nice thing to have. As friends, sure it's nice to have people at a similar stage in life to be around. But the dating overtones just make me uncomfortable. I was going to Lakeview to visit my friend; I hope nobody thought I was trolling for women.

Truth is, I had a wonderful Shabbos. We had group meals that really introduced me to the people of the community. And rather than feel like I was collaborating with a whole bunch of mid-twenty-something Yeshiva singles sowing their oats, I found a diverse crowd just eager to be able to find friendship. I found that Lakeview's "Modern" reputation was not like New York's. It felt more like a Midwestern college campus, with people from little to no Jewish background enjoying their traditions in connection with those from more religious upbringings (ok, there were only a handful of those that I met). In short, I felt like I was in a place of growth, not stagnation and regression.

I invited those I met to join me in Skokie for a Shabbos. I only hope I'll be able to show them a Shabbos as "Heimishe" as they showed me.

Monday, September 26, 2005


So they've gotten smart. They've blocked access to Blogger at work. A black screen pops up whenever you type in a address that makes you feel like you've just been busted for something illegal. I never wrote a post at work, but now I can't read them either. I'll have to find a new distraction. Although, I found that some blog sites still work, so maybe I'll just explore the alternative blog universe.

What are they trying to accomplish? Blogs aren't inappropriate by definition. And there will always be plenty of sites to kill time at work. But I guess it's a much easier solution than looking at the quality of management.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Rita and Katrina

I can't help but follow the irony of the refugees of the two twin hurricanes. They abandoned New Orleans in the face of one monster natural disaster, only to be evacuated from Houston once again as an even larger threat looms. The personal stories of people relocating their life only to be pushed out a second time reminded me eerily of the story of the prophet Jonah, which we will read in two weeks on Yom Kippur afternoon. In the story of Jonah, Gd invests the humble man with a divine mission. Jonah, fearful of his inability to carry it out, heads in the opposite direction. However, in successive disruptions of the natural world, Gd repeatedly forces him to keep moving, slowly directing him toward the path that He has laid out for His messenger.

I'm not making the comparison of the Mullah's and Mufti's, that these natural disasters are direct retribution for our sinful lifestyle. But I do agree that they have all the markings of the divine hand. Can you not help but think that the refugee repeatedly forced to move is not being nudged forward on their divine mission? Do we not all require numerous "pushes" towards accomplishing our mission in life?

Do we require repeated exile, like Jonah or the hurricane refugees in the Gulf Coast? Or do we heed the divine call, and move towards our devine service? While we can't ever know what Gd has in mind for us, we should always keep our hearts open to the small "signs" in life. It should never take a hurricane to wake us up to the reasons for living each day.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

...I Laugh

America loves positive reinforcement. You know, encouraging behavior by providing a reward after somebody performs a certain action. With this in mind, I've learned to take my travel disruptions in stride. After all, I've managed to make them quite profitable. My last flight into NY was slightly delayed, and my baggage arrived even slightly more delayed. I dashed off a two and a half page letter to United Airlines, and 6 weeks later, voila, a letter arrives in the mail. Basically, it said, we are sorry that we don't have time to read your letter or to respond in person, but please accept the enclosed $100 travel voucher for your inconvenience. Accept? I was giddy with excitement! It was even more than the $25 I had anticipated cashing in. Even better, two weeks later I receive another letter from the airlines, with a check for $13.26. They reimbursed me, based on their policy, for my cost of expenses while my luggage was delayed. However, as requested in my letter, they reimbursed me for 100% of my costs, unlike the maximum of 50% provided in their policy.

With that background in mind, you can see why I'm not upset over my latest travel woes. American Airlines and Dollar Rent a Car will make it worth my while.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Man Plans...

I've done it once again. It seems every time I rush off to New York, things get complicated. I had a full day of work today, so I was relieved when I found out that my flight wasn't until 5 (I've booked the last few for 4). My meeting ran over, letting me out at 3:50. The meeting was offsite, so I was worried about getting ripped off by the cabbie. It turned out that it wasn't too expensive. But the cab didn't end up arriving until 4:20. True, I could've pre-ordered it, but with the all day meeting, I barely had time to daven Mincha before running off to the airport. Despite tons of traffic and construction, the driver was still able to get me to the airport by 5. I got to the airport and saw tremendous lines at check-in. I've seen pretty long lines before, especially holiday weekends. But this was worse than all those times. Figuring I had no chance at making my flight, I picked up the red phone to speak to an agent. The agent answers, and I tell her my flight number, waiting for her to scold me for my late check-in. She says, "You're flight was cancelled, so we put you on the 7 o'clock tomorrow morning." That's all. No apology, no explanation, just have a nice night. I had just rushed to the airport, only to be shown the door. Not a huge deal. I called home, and arranged for a pickup.

After getting home, I called the airline to see if there were any other flights. Nope. I called the car rental agency, and they had cancelled my reservation. So to pick up the same car the next day and return it the same time (12 hours instead of 24 hours) was now going to cost me double. And they didn't have cars at LaGuardia. Newark, yes. It turned out that Newark was closer to my meeting tomorrow morning, which was great. But the only flight would get me in at 11, with my meeting window closing at noon. So it looks like I'll be going to the airport at 5:30 AM to see if I can go standby. With the car rental letting me rebook at the higher rate, and the airline checking with a supervisor to see if I can rebook to Newark, things are going smoothly. More fun ahead.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The World Isn't Flat?

The sky is falling. Pigs are flying. I have a car. And a cell phone. Not a normal week.

I have been holding off on joining the 21st century (actually, 20th) for as long as possible. But in 5 short days, I have become just another follower. Now, those who know me may think that my hesitation was related to cheapness. Am I looking forward to these new expenses? Certainly not. But ultimately, that wasn't what steered me away from these "technologies" for so long.

I'm just not so convinced of the benefits. Do I need to be answerable to a whiny pitched ringing noise everywhere I go? I sit right near a phone for a majority of the day. For the few minutes I'm away, I probably can't take a phone call. There's nothing wrong with leaving a message. I mean, it's great to be able to reach out and touch somebody on a whim, but cellular phones have made it so easy that sometimes we end up messing up our face-to-face relationships for silly, inconsiderate phone breaks.

And, especially at this time, do I really need to join the ranks of gas-guzzling, traffic-inducing Americans? I'm not a tree-hugger, but out of anybody, I would be one of the easier to move towards riding a bike to work. My commute involves 5 minutes through forest preserves.

America is all about personal freedom. That mantra is shoved down our throat every day. So it should be no surprise that I caved. Now I'll be able to pay $3 a gallon to go wherever I want, whenever I want. Now I can pay Verizon to talk to people that would be free from any land line.

The big test will be whether I can be responsible enough to keep these technologies only for when they are needed, or whether these luxuries become part of my daily breathing.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Forced Evacuations

I know everyone is pretty much Katrina'ed out. Just like we were Disengagement'ed out a few weeks before. So I thought what better angle than to combine two overdone issues? As word rose that New Orlean's officials intended to start forcefully evacuating hesitant residents, I couldn't help but recall those families torn from their Gaza homes. Some of you may recall that I wrote here that the government of Israel should not have forced anyone out. I said that they should have left the people to make their own (poor) decisions. So it may come as a surprise that I support the government's plan to extract all remaining people from the flood zone. Why not just let them live in filth? After all shouldn't that be their decision? Live or die, don't they have the right to choose the terms of their response?

The difference between New Orleans and Gaza has to do with the cost to the rest of society. In Gaza, the heavy costs were incurred by dragging everybody out. In New Orleans, greater costs will be associated by supporting those that remain. We can't just let people starve to death in their storm-torn homes. So that means we have to send food and medical care into these unsafe neighborhoods. It would be much cheaper to get these people to temporary shelter and care for them all there.

I'm not saying that we should reduce our assistance to the cheapest alternative. But I do believe that it is unfair for people to make choices selfishly, forcing society to subsidize their unsupportable decisions. And it makes it harder for us to just bulldoze the remainders of the accursed city to the ground.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Public Space

The City of Chicago rented out its flagship park, Millennium Park, to Toyota Co. for a corporate event Thursday for $800,000. The park, a prime tourist destination, was closed to the public for the entire day. As a response, General Motors showed up with 40 "courtesy cars" and shuttled disappointed tourists to other destinations at its own expense. I love "guerilla marketing." It's a lot of fun to watch. Now, all GM has to start doing is making cars that work and I might consider buying one.

The park being closed didn't upset me. This story in the Chicago Tribune did. Toyota made a large gift to the people of Chicago by supporting its park system. If the local newspapers are going to villainize every supporter of the park for getting some private time for their contribution, than who's going to keep writing the checks? A few million dollars a year in rental fees will go a long way towards keeping Chicago attractive. But if corporations are going to be thrown to the wolves for doing it, then they'll take their money elsewhere. Why get bad PR when you are just trying to help? And then who'll be stuck paying the bills? This definitely calls for a letter to the editor.

UPDATE: My letter was published on Friday, September 16th.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Kosher Ready House For Sale

What does Kosher Ready mean, in terms of a house? Is it like Kosher style, with all the look and feel of a frum home, but without all of the baggage? Does it mean that the phones come pre-programmed with Chinese take-out?

I may not know what it means, but there really is a house down the block, newly constructed, advertising just that.

I was thinking that it's kind of like a Jew. Every one of us is Kosher Ready. Some of us will keep Kosher, some of us won't. But just like a house is neutral, neither blessed or impure after construction, but becomes "Kosher" by virtue of the Jewish values that will be practiced within its walls, so too is the human being. We have an equal opportunity to embrace our heritage. We can sanctify the "walls" that make up our body. Or we can choose to "Treif" it up. Some may make choices out of ignorance, others out of conscience, but ultimately the difference between a Kosher Ready home and a Kosher Home is only how ready we are to accept responsibility for our own decisions.

I'm not saying a "Frum" person leads a better life than a "non-Frum" person. The "Frum" person can be guilty of ignorance and the "non-Frum" person may be acting on conscience. But we all start with the same potential, and have the opportunity to make the most out of our situation.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Cold Hearted

It's been a week since Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. My reaction hasn't really changed much. I still blame the victims. Now before you go accusing me of being insensitive and judgmental, allow me the following disclaimer: I do not think I am better than anyone that suffered in the tragedy. I do not know if I would have made different decisions than many of those affected. And I do feel the inexplicable shock of losing a life's work overnight. But in trying to understand what went wrong in this natural disaster, there is just too much working against those who lived in the area to place the blame elsewhere. When all the questions are asked about how could this have been avoided, all the answers come back to them.

1) Your city is built below sea-level. Natural disasters can happen anywhere, with little warning. But when you invest in building a city surrounded by water, don't come crying when you have to abandon it. If a tornado hits Chicago, or a massive fire hits Boston, nobody can expect it. But if you build your city 6 feet below the adjacent lake (or if you're in California, but that's a different story) don't ask the rest of the country to absorb all of the losses for you, and pay for you to rebuild...on the same cursed spot!

2) You had ample warning to leave. All you people stranded in the city knew that a hurricane was arriving at least two days in advance. A mandatory evacuation was made 24 hours before any damage came. And yet, even today, thousands of you remain in a "city" unsafe for any habitation. I'll admit that I don't know what means of evacuation was provided to the elderly and the poor, but for those of you with a fierce determination to stay in the place you call home, don't come begging for water and food. Or some rescue team to come bail you out. Or the fire department to put out the fire you started because you don't have electricity. You're forcing a lot of people to wear themselves out because you made a poor decision.

3) Your own civil disorder prevented immediate aid from arriving. Nobody told you to hop over to your local electronics store and take whatever you saw. Within 24 hours of the storm overwhelming all basic services, locals had started looting anything they could get their hands on. Let's put aside all of the looted electronics (not like you can even turn them on). How about beer? That sounds like a basic. Or shooting at police? With all due respect to those jumping to blame the government for its inadequate response, how about looking inwards at your own shameful behavior that caused the authorities to waste significant time and resources merely securing the city against its own citizens. It was a national embarrassment when starving people in Thailand can wait in line at distribution centers after a Tsunami, while those in our own relatively wealthy society regress into animals after less than 24 hours. My house has lost power in numerous storms. Sometimes for a few days. Never did I go rob the local Walmart to pick up a new wardrobe.

Sure, I'll be accused of many things for my comments. It's not that I specifically lack compassion. But in the aftermath of any tragedy, accusations inevitably start to fly. I think it's important that emotion not blind reason. Otherwise, we may feel like we are protecting the victims, but ultimately we are only enabling them to suffer again if we aren't honest with what needs to be corrected. Oh, and to prove that I'm not out to overlook the needs of the suffering, I will donate two dollars for every Comment(*) left on this post to Chabad's Hurricane Relief Fund. And of course, all my contributions will be matched dollar for dollar by my corporate sugar daddy, Big Tobacco.

(*)$200 maximum, before Corporate Matching program. Offer excludes my own comments. Maximum three comments per Blogger ID, and excludes all Anonymous comments, non-Blogger ID comments, and comments left by anyone other than the Blogger ID account holder. Only includes comments left by midnight, September 17th, 2005. A Comment must consist of at least one noun and one verb to qualify. Chabad's Hurricane Relief Fund has not been approved for Corporate Matching as of the date of this post. Another approved organization may be substituted at any time without prior announcement at my sole discretion. The entire terms of this offer shall be considered "Bli Neder," not bound by any obligation and may be cancelled or altered, in whole or part, at any time.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Mr. Invisible

I made it to New York...without my Palm Pilot. Boy, do I feel naked. I mean, it's liberating and all- one less thing clogging up my pocket, and I feel like I've left the burden of work behind. But I also left all my personal contact numbers behind. What I'm basically trying to say is that if you were expecting me to call when I got into town, I probably just forgot your number. Email me and I'll give you my contact info.

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