Sunday, February 20, 2011

It's My Nature To Be A Skeptic.

I'm intrigued by John Fetterman. You might know who he is, He's the mayor of the town of Braddock, Pennsylvania. Braddock is distressed town located near Pittsburgh that like many rust belt towns, has seen better days and is dying a slow death and needing a revival.

John Fetterman thinks he has a way of improving Braddock's fortunes and is doing whatever he can to do so. He's part Robert Moses, Part Father Flannagan and Part Donald Trump. He's an impressive physical specimen, Standing 6 foot 8, He looks like the Hulked-Out version of Anton LaVey, The founder of the Church of Satan.

He uses his appearance to attract attention to the plight of his town, Trying to generate investment in a town where property can be bought really cheap, Arts Festivals are hyped, and beauty can be found if you know where to look.

He brings his gospel to the mass media with appearances on The Colbert Report, articles in the New York Times and an pretty moving Levis commercial which states "There's Work To Be Done", a mantra he's trying to adopt for the town of Braddock.

Fetterman is big on bringing green technology to the town. He's set up community gardens in vacant lots around town, He set up several youth centers in town using some of his family's foundation money.

So I'm rooting for the guy, Actually I'm rooting for what he stands for and hope he succeeds, But being a skeptic I don't allow myself to buy into what he is hook, line and sinker. There must be something about what he's doing that's not kosher, something that might might work as intended. I need something that tells both sides of the story.

Thankfully, The New York Times did a profile on John Fetterman that had some critics of his work. The problem is his critics are poor examples to counter his approach to solving the problems with the town of Braddock.

First up is the town's city council. They felt that he would take a back door approach in getting things done. He used his family's foundation to build youth centers. The council thought it would be nice if John would say he had some money and asked the council how to spend it. Well, Let's just say that both sides of the political aisle would like to tell the city council to stick it. Unless, Fetterman wants to do something harmful, It shouldn't matter what does with his money.

The second person profiled critical of Fetterman is a woman who moved to Braddock in 2008 after reading about Fetterman and his plans for the town of Braddock. She paid 125,000 dollars for a "colossal" bank building. she didn't know what she was going to do with it but she said it didn't matter. She figured the vibe of Braddock would move her. But the building sprang a leak that overwhelmed her. However, It seems trivial in light of the fact she dropped six figures buying a building she had no idea what she was going to do with and she did it on her own and was overwhelmed with the responsibility. Poor planning and impulse thinking isn't Fetterman's fault. She still got a sweet deal and she will be able to sell it on a profit if she waits a little time.

And there is this couple from Alaska who moved to Braddock after scouting it out beforehand. They thought they had a good deal when they bought a $5,000 dollar fixer upper. It had been declared uninhabitable so they had to spend nearly 60 grand before they fixed up a place to be livable. The house they live in is one of the more crime ridden streets of the town. Still, I don't feel bad for them. They understood through the friends they knew that it takes a lot of money and effort to fix up their cheap place and in my opinion got off easy with it being less than 60 grand. Even in a bad town, That's a great deal in this century.

Then there was this self described "straight-edge vegan punk rocker" and occasional model. He's 25 years old. And he pooled resources with six other people to create an inexpensive "live-work" space where they can play music, write and build bikes. It cost them only 6 thousand dollars. Sure it was run down but it was a perfect place to pursue your muse without worrying about high rent or messing up the place. Then this person states his goal is to build himself a life that meets his needs most effectively and somehow that involves him qualifying for food stamps. Not exactly building up on the opportunity giving back in return for cheap housing.

There was one person whose criticism of John Fetterman resonated with me. A man in his early 30s who had grown up in the town and saw it go from being a dying town into a dead town. He struggles to get enough employment to get by and he isn't benefiting from the improvements of the town. The Farmers Market in town was to expensive and the jobs created weren't in his skill level. He thinks John Fetternman is doing a good job particularly wit the kids but feels resigned in his own fate.

I'm hoping that Braddock'a success story is enduring and becomes a blueprint for other struggling Rust Belt cities large and small that have struggled after the captains of industry abandoned them after draining the towns of all its resources. It will do more to build up our strength than our current method of trying to appease the elitists (with tax cuts and bail outs) who have done nothing to build back America's strength.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

I'm Starting To Come Out Of It....

The other day I was in court in Eatontown, New Jersey to straighten out some legal problems I was blindsided by when I got pulled over by the police on January 15th.

It all started because I was bored and a little depressed. It was Saturday night and I was in the mood for karaoke. There are no places close to me in Union that does it on Saturday. One of my favorite KJs does it Saturdays but I had to go down to Monmouth County at a place I hadn't been to yet. It was cold that night and still we were dealing with the poor cleanup of the recent snow storms of the previous weeks.

Still, I was committed, I needed to go out I wanted to sing some of the more obscure songs that my man Vince has on his playlist. I used to go to Vince's shows at the Mad Hatter's in Long Branch when I lived down by the shore AND when I had Tuesday nights off. Since I moved up to Union and found a good show in Jersey City I hadn't gone down there much. Besides, the last time I went down to Monmouth I got pulled over by the police for having a tail light out, Another time I had a flat tire when I paid a visit.

Vince hosts different places in the Monmouth county area. One I had not been to was the Sheraton in the town of Eatontown. I trudged through its parking lot to find myself in a rather nice hotel bar that had only one problem.


Now I like kids, I can relate to them, But when I'm drinking beer, I want no kids to be near me, ESPECIALLY when I''m doing karaoke. Interestingly, There is a policy (The bar's I assume) against swearing when singing. That's not a problem with me because there is so few songs I sing with any swearing and I'm not one to embellish songs such as "Total Eclipse Of the Heart" with "witty" F words. I enjoyed myself with the set up there, Sang pretty good but when I finished my second beer I thought it would be a good idea to leave, I made my point in trying to make things happen but other than Vince, I didn't know anyone and the rest of the group wasn't my type. Plus, I wanted to make sure I was totally okay to drive.

Well.....It didn't matter, I was driving along on rt. 35 in Eatontown when sure enough I get pulled over. Why? Well, The policeman asked me if I knew.

Well, I wasn't speeding, Everyone else on the road was passing me, I wasn't drunk, legally or otherwise, As far as I knew I had no lights out so I had no clue, Besides let the officer TELL me why I were pulled over.

Oh, He told me, He said a traffic light set-up had taken a picture of my car and took note of my license plate which revealed that my car AND driver license had been suspended for not having my insurance paid up. Well, Since I was able to produce everything necessary to show an officer when you get pulled over, it was erroneous.

Still, He would not allow me to drive home. I was stuck, I had to call someone to pick me up. So here I was, A day after turning 44 calling my DAD to pick me up At one o'clock in the morning. Shades of high school, If I had been a troublemaker in high school.

Well, It was fun trying to explain to my Dad what went on without seeming like I was a lying piece of shit. Since it was really cold and I didn't want to burden my Dad into driving me to my place and head all the way back to his at this time of the morning, I opted to just go back to my parents place and crash for the night.

The next day My Dad (curiously enough) was able to drive MY car back to my place while I was a passenger with my Mom driving me to my place. Anyway, My parents didn't stick around. So, Now I wasn't able to drive until I got myself straightened out with the Motor Vehicle Bureau. That meant I had to take off from work to do so, since Monday was MLK Day and I had to wait until Tuesday to resolve my issues.

Oh, By the way, It turns out that the Motor Vehicle Bureau sent me a notice that yes indeed they had suspended my license. The problem is it was without cause. I have this bad habit of not opening my mail immediately and since my registrations wasn't due til February there was no desperate need to open it right away.

Okay, That Tuesday I called in sick, It was the day it was sleeting heavy on top of the foot and a half snow already on the ground... and I had to the Motor Vehicle Bureau of Springfield. It was a long walk, About two miles in slushy, wet snow compounded by the occasional splash back from passing cars and trucks.

It took an hour,and I was soaked from the waist down. But I finally arrived at the Springfield Motor Vehicle Bureau. Too bad they don't do re-instated licenses there.

Crap! Now what? Well, She gave me a list of places that did it. The closest was in Newark. That was quite far away and the weather was getting worse. I trudged through snow, slush and water through streets that got less cleared as I moved along. I had the address but no map so I had to do a little guessing in pursuing the best route. I lost one umbrella , Found another and lost the second one, I was now soaked from head to toe.

I made a few detours but after nearly three hours I finally got to the Newark Motor Vehicle Bureau. I had to take a number, They said it would take four hours before my turn would come up. Well, I was cold, wet and it would take two hours to get back home. I was staying, hoping she was high balling the amount of time it would take to have my turn. I did not want to take another day off from work or worse, Call a co-worker to drive me to work. I was going to see this through.

So, I stood around aimlessly for about a half hour, Got lucky and found a discarded New York Times to keep me occupied while I was slowly getting dry. It took 3 hours and 45 minutes but I finally had my number called and was able, in less than two minutes to get myself in "good standing" in regards to getting my licenses restored. No money necessary because I had my insurance proof.

Still, It was another two hours or so in the cold, thankfully the water ceased to fall from the sky but the air grew colder threatening to turn the water into ice as the sun went down. Oh, Did I mention that I really didn't know the best way to get home and I was in NEWARK?

I tried to walk in what I thought was the right direction but soon detoured myself out of fear and stupidity. I ended up tracing back most of the route I took to get to the DMV. It was arduous but I took a shortcut I knew and after a stop for the best coffee I had in years (Only because of how wiped out I was) I got home, Took off my wet clothes, put on my 'jamas and breathed a sigh of relief. I was able to legally drive, avoided having to pay lots of money to do so. I only had to contend with the tickets I received. My court date was for the 27th of January. I wasn't sure what would entail but Monmouth County is infamous for giving tickets for lesser offenses than they say they pulled you over for, So it looks like I was gonna be out some money regardless.

Hoo boy.

So I had to take the day off of work to appear in court. No problem. However,

On the 27th of January I woke up and saw that a foot of snow covered everything in sight. I woke up quite early, I am an insomniac these days. I went about the task of shoveling the snow, Even though it was still snowing. It only takes a half hour to do the essential shoveling,(By hand, I ain't no pussy) but my street had not been plowed and the snow was more than a foot deep for the whole length of the street.

My court appointment said I needed to be there by 9AM. It was 730 AM and I was panicking. There was no way I can drive through the snow (I have A Huydai Elantra) and I wasn't into the idea of driving an hour on the Parkweay to get to Eatontown.

So I looked at my ticket to see what number I needed to call and was horrified to read on the back of the ticket that I needed to call them at least 8 days in advance to let them know if I intend to plead "Not Guilty".

What is it in my psyche that makes me overlook vital information when I try to read official notices????!!!??? Anyway I tried to call thinking since it;'s local government that they weren't in the 21st century yet. No answer, No transfer of my call.

crap crap crap crap crap crap crap crap crap crap crap crap crap crap crap crap crap!

I looked up the web address, Put in my ticket number and was relieved to find that it was postponed for two weeks. Whew! Well, That left me to shovel up the snow but now I had to take ANOTHER day off form work. And this was vacation time.

Anyway, This time I made sure to call and plead "Not Guilty" on the phone 10 days before my court room appearance. Another sleepless night preceded the day I had to appear in court. I drove down to Eatontown and entered a 70s era building within two blocks of where I got pulled over. I walked in having no clue where I need to go and what I need to do. This is the first time in my life I ever had to appear in court for ANYTHING.

With no receptionist I had to figure out for myself what I needed to do. I saw the courtroom assuming that was where I need to go. A few people were there and I figured I'd hang out with them. Was 9AM the actual time I would be called? (Give or Take a few minutes) Or was it just a start time for us to be there?

It turns out that I needed to go upstairs, Wait in line to see the prosecutor before I would meet up with the judge. I get to the Prosecutor, And he told me that I would only have to worry about the lesser charge, Oookay,But I was trying to get it all knocked off since I did nothing wrong. I got the proof from the DMV. So after more waiting and a second exchange with the prosecutor, It was straightened out but I still needed to talk to the judge downstairs in the court room.

Things were in full swing in the court room, I caught a glimpse of our justice system at work. The judge was amiable in his approach to the defendants. He gave everyone a chance to speak and when he gave his verdict, He gave a short speech about the judicial process, Explaining how things work in concise terms. It bugged two people behind me because they felt it took too much time out of the day. The funny thing is that both of them were in a heap of trouble and didn't have their situation resolved that day. One couldn't pay 60 dollars (Really?) and the guy needed a lawyer to continue.

Most of the situations involved traffic citations, a few involved victims. Some had lawyers present. Some had their parents there. It was amusing hearing about this girl who was told she wasn't allowed at Johnny Rockets because she created a scene of obscenity that got out of hand. Less funny was a guy who was told he had to stay away from the mother of his child unless he treated her with respect. He actually told the judge the didn't understand what it meant.

I was really getting into the scene, I kinda wanted it to continue but it was my turn to face the judge and it took all of five seconds to say that I was fully cleared. I was stunned because I thought at least I needed to show more documentation. Did I need to pay court fees? Are you sure I don't have to pay fines? Any points on my license? Increased insurance rates? I dunno it seem too quick to resolve itself to me, They looked at me incredulously, But man I've been punished so much recently for overlooking minor things.

But then again, I had to suffer the embarrassment of calling my Dad to pick me up and drive my car back to my place, I had to wait two days without driving before I was able to go to the DMV, I walked 6 plus miles in sleety snow while getting splashed by passing cars and waiting 4 hours in soaked clothes, I had to use TWO vacation days to straighten out my situation.

All because I neglected to open my mail to see that my license was revoked. I could have resolved it quicker.

Any why did I get my license suspended in the first place? I guess it was because I had switched insurance companies. And the gecko was seeking revenge.