Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Free Checking? Don’t Bank On It

So why did my bank do away with free checking accounts?

Simple: greed.

I now have to maintain a balance of $100 every month or be nailed a $10 fee. Of course, while my bank holds my funds, it does give me some interest back, like .00000000001 per cent.

Actually, it isn’t “my” bank. It’s Their Bank, the corporation that recently bought it out. The bank has gone through a number of name changes over the years as it’s been sold and re-sold and sold again. Each new owner wants to maximize profits.

And one way to do that is to hire a couple of TV personalities to shill for your company, drawing in more customers. Have them hold up green lollipops with the company logo printed on them in big newspaper display ads. Great symbolism. Switch your account to our bank, you suckers.

TV personalities and ads don’t come cheap. The company has to cough up the money to buy that kind of promotion.

So that’s why I and a lot of other people with “sensitive incomes” (to use the latest euphemism) have to keep a minimum of $100 in our accounts or take a $10 hit each month. To some of you readers, a ten spot isn’t much. But you’re not income sensitive, are you?

But you might be if the banking system keeps heading towards self-destruction, lured by greed while ignoring the terminal signs.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Time Capsule Doing Time

1976. Altona, NY. As a class project the sixth grade at the elementary school bury a time capsule near the flagpole. One item included in the cache is a Boston Bruins lunchbox.

1982. Students involved in the sixth grade time capsule project graduate from high school.

2002. A few months before their 20th year high school reunion, a few students get together and the topic of the time capsule is brought up. It should be dug up but there’s a problem.

The Altona Elementary School closed down years ago. Later, it was converted into a medium security state prison. For obvious reasons the property is tightly restricted and controlled.

Some of the former students approach the warden at the Altona prison. They explain the situation with their time capsule. He looks at them as if they’re insane. No digging on the grounds at his prison.

Maybe the time capsule still lies there near the flagpole. It might’ve been dug up and tossed away during the conversion from school to prison. Who knows? Thanks to bureaucracy, the mystery won’t be solved.

But since the prisoners need something to do while finishing their sentences, maybe they could do some digging around the flagpole. Good exercise.

Most likely the time capsule is still there. That Boston Bruins lunchbox keeps going up in value. Maybe history in a way will repeat itself and the Altona prison will close down like the school before it.

Then that innocent time capsule can finally be free.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Stan Ransom: Spanning Generations With Music And Tales

What are these kids doing here?

The thought of a middle-aged blogger sitting in the audience during a performance by Stan Ransom at the Plattsburgh Public Library.

Stan, known as the Connecticut Peddler, sings with a somewhat plain but effectively folksy voice that’s perfect for the traditional works he was collected over the years. After all, it’s doubtful the rough-and-ready men who drove logs down the Saranac River back in the 1800s had well-trained dynamic voices that could fill an opera house.

Stan has also written original works, songs about the Lake Champlain monster and the 1998 ice storm that devastated the North Country. His program is varied: he switches between acoustic guitar and hammered dulcimer, throwing in some tall tales along the way.

The second floor room where he performed yesterday evening, the Helen Ianelli Gallery, was roughly divided into two sections of folding chairs. Facing the performer, most of the people to the right of the support column were around my age, the gray-haired types.

But that section didn’t offer me a good view to take photos. So I found myself on the left side, sitting in a section predominantly composed of listeners in the high school – college age range (AKA “kids”). One would expect that the young crowd would be more interested in hardcore/punk than the traditional songs and stories offered by Stan.

Maybe there were here for a school project, some to do with folklore and history. But this is July and school is out of session.

A study in contrasts. The oldsters: semi-casually dressed, pants, slacks, nice shoes. The youngsters: a bit more casually dressed, loose t-shirts and shorts, sandals, tattoos and iPhones. (Me, I fitted in better with the latter crowd, baggy shorts and a t-shirt, a clean but comfortably clothed slob. But no tats or cellphone.)

The younger crowd was just as attentive as the older one. They even knew the lyrics to Stan’s songs, at one point joining in and singing the chorus to one of his originals. One “young adult” (to use the formal designation) even requested a song during the break. Stan played along on his guitar as a few of his young fans tried to remember the lyrics.

After his performance the young fans spoke with Stan, asking for autographs. A rock star moment. While his works today are available on CDs, Stan’s first compilation was recorded on that ancient technology called a "cassette tape" back in 1991. One young fan had the cover to that tape autographed.

After all these years with his works in circulation, a new generation has discovered his efforts. Another generation that will keep alive the tunes and tales of long ago.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

City Hall: Litter Magnet

Hate litter? Sit on it!

"Hey, Sammy D - wanna soda?"

"What's this brown stuff sticking to my sandal?"

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Like A Bad Penny

They say that a bad penny always comes back. And like the proverbial bad penny, more stuff from the archives of my old website has been added to writog.com . Shots of shot coins, here, there, and over there.

Friday, July 17, 2009


From the police officer’s POV it’s an unusual sight. A man kneeling down, head low with his butt in the air, as if in prayer in a Tibetan temple. Maybe the guy is drunk, fell, and can’t get up. Or maybe he’s another victim of a psychological problem.

When it’s dark out, those are reasonable assumptions.

But I had a good reason to be in that position, even with my butt up and head down.

I’m walking home. A rainy night. The lighting is dim beneath the overhang to an empty storefront. Despite the weak illumination provided by a streetlight, I noticed something huddled up against the wall. A toad. With all the rain this summer, even he wants to get out of the wet.

I set down my umbrella and get out my compact camera. I take a couple of shots while standing over him with the flash but I don’t like flash shots as a rule. And I don’t like blinding some poor critter with a lightburst.

Time to get down and close. I turn off the flash, activate the macro setting. I set the shutter for 3 – 4 seconds. I get down in a position that doesn’t make my back problem flare up as much. Even with the camera set on the sidewalk and carefully pressing the shutter, my shots on the preview screen are blurred.

Ok, I’ll try the timer, a 2 second delay. Still blurry. Set the timer for 10 seconds. Got it.

The toad doesn’t move that much. The pre-focusing lamp and the blinking timer light seem to hypnotize him.

But this takes time. The longer I take, the greater the chance is that someone will spot me and wonder what the hell is going on. It’s happened before.

At one point a car stops on the other side of the street. I wasn’t surprised. I look up to see a black-and-white unit of the Plattsburgh PD. The police officer rolls down the window.

“What’s going on?” he asks.

“I’m photographing a toad,” I explain.

“Cool.” And the officer drives away.

That was easy.

The way it should be.

Sidewalk Or Bike Path?

Yesterday I'm walking from the post office. Approaching me is a man with a baby in a stroller and a dog on a leash. He shortened the dog's leash, leaving me enough room to pass by, even though the sidewalk was wide. He wasn't hogging it.

Some clown on a bicycle comes up from behind me, squeezing by this man on the other side, too impatient to wait until there was more room. The clown makes some snide comment about us causing a crash.

"Don't ride your bicycle on the sidewalk," the man calmly told the passing clown.

A valid point. But the bicycle clown made another snide comment as he pedaled away, acting as if pedestrians should walk in the street and stay off his bike path.

The law: adult bicyclists in the street, not on sidewalks. Of course calling that rude clown an “adult” would be stretching it.

Yes, I’ve broken that law. With all the inattentive people driving cars out there on the road, I bike on the sidewalk when traffic is crazy.

When I do it, I don’t race down the sidewalk, barreling past someone within inches. When I see a pedestrian, I get off the sidewalk, giving the right-of-way to the person on foot. I even get off my bike and walk it, making way for someone with a baby stroller.

It’s called courtesy.

And when I’m walking, I’ve seen a few bicyclists do the same. Unfortunately it’s the idiots that ruin it for everyone. That’s why there’s the law against bikes on sidewalks.

Yet somehow the police are never around to write tickets. A cliché but true.

One time a woman I know, a senior citizen, was in a crosswalk in downtown Plattsburgh when a kid on a bike slammed into her. He just got up and took off. Luckily she wasn’t seriously injured.

Somebody's going to get hurt. And when it happens, I hope the jerk on the bike gets the max penalty.

But knowing how things work, the courteous cyclist will get a ticket while the rude jerk just speeds away, knocking people over with his two-wheel weapon.

Mayor’s Cup Fireworks 2009

I always wanted to find a good spot where I could photograph fireworks over the lake, getting the colors reflected in the water. Also, I wanted a spot where no one else was around so I could shoot away without any distractions. No kids running around, almost knocking over my tripod. A place with a clear view of the pyrotechnics.

Well, I’ve found that spot. I didn’t even have to worry about a patrol car pulling up and the officer asking me what I was doing there.

Where’s the spot? Sorry, it’s a secret.

It had been raining and it looked like the display would be canceled. But the storm clouds drifted apart that evening, ending the wet weather for a while. Sometimes lightning flashes would light up behind the clouds in the distance, giving an eerie touch to the scene.

Monday, July 13, 2009

It’s The Thought, Not Scale, That Counts

I’m guessing a kid who had attended the 4th of July parade left this patriotic mini-installation on Margaret Street.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Parade Of Boats

On a whim I decided to check out the Parade of Boats held last night. All I had was my small Canon digi-widget camera, no tripod. I pushed my camera to the limit while using a lakeside railing for support. No great shots, certainly nothing to be blown up to an 8x10, but OK for a blog like this.

(Click on each image for larger view.)

Cover Up

A while ago in Speak Out – the Press-Republican’s comment/rant feature – someone made an observation entitled “Steps” about the glob of dumped cement left over after the front entrance to the Public Library had finally been refurbished. (Speak Out: June 28, 2009) It’s been sitting there for untold months in the median strip between the Oak Street curb and the sidewalk.

The Speak Out contributor wondered with the fix-up being done with the streets and sidewalks in the area, maybe the city could finally remove that hideous hunk of concrete marking up the lawn.

So far all that has been done is this:

It looks so much better, eh?

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Car Accident: Margaret And Elm

Thursday, around 6:23 PM. I heard some sirens while walking down Miller Street and noticed that something was going on at the intersection of Margaret and Elm streets.

I ended up near some bystanders checking out the scene. Two cars were bashed but it seemed no one was seriously injured. Off the street near the sidewalk there was a baby in a child safety seat, not crying. Next to the child seat a woman was being interviewed by a police officer. I stayed out of the way and didn't get any details about what had happened. (Sometimes the Plattsburgh PD acts as if it's illegal for me to keep back and take a few shots with my camera.)

One bystander said there had been more accidents at that intersection since the city took out the stoplight. He said a few people were used to the stoplight and would forget it was no longer there.

Some time ago the city in its infinite wisdom replaced the stoplight with stop signs only for the Elm Street traffic. During the busy times I had seen how people on Elm Street would get stuck, waiting for an open spot in the Margaret Street traffic. The worse time was in the afternoon when Oak Street School was in session, the school buses and cars with parents picking up their kids.

Also, no stoplight made it a bit trickier for anyone traveling on foot. And without a stoplight people who enjoyed speeding had a straight shot down Margaret Street, especially with the school zone.

The bystander made a comment that the city was trying to save money by taking out the stoplight.

If it's true that more accidents are happening at Margaret and Elm, then the city is losing money every time police cars, ambulances, and fire trucks are sent to the scene.

Time to undo the mistake. Replace the stoplight before someone is killed.