Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Swim, Baby, Swim

My 12 year old grandson lived in New Orleans for a while. He grew very fond of the Dry Dock restaurant on the Westbank. We'd bike to the Ferry building, get on the boat, go have a bite to eat, then ride back home. He is growing fast, is a smart kid (my personal bias aside) and rocks English vocabulary. He's coming for a visit this summer and when asked what he wanted to eat, one of his requests was a visit to the Dry Dock. I told him yeah, we'd better do that because next time he comes there might not be a Ferry anymore. He was silent for a minute then said, “What morons decided to implement THAT idea? Don't they know the Ferry is important?” After I finished laughing I asked if I could quote him, and so from the mouths of babes and all that. . . . .

We actually wound up talking about it for about half an hour. He's convinced the Bridge will collapse with all the extra cars. I told him not likely immediately but that one day it might need some extra bolstering. We talked about traffic jams and closed entrance/exit ramps. We talked about the impossibility of riding a bike over that bridge, forget about the extra riding distance to get to it. A 12 year old. He was appalled. What about people with no cars, he asked. Did I tell you he's just 12?

So some people want the toll booths gone and don't like paying the single greenback (or the .60 I think it is with a bridge pass) and if the toll goes, there go some entrances, some exits, probably maintenance, landscaping, policing and possibly lights on the Bridge. And probably adios to the Ferries. Probably gone unless privatized some way. (Hey wait a minute, doesn't the City of New Orleans need some bucks? Judging from the outrageous traffic/parking ticket extortion, I'm thinking it does. Can we work out something here?) And jobs: toll booth folks, maintenance folks, CCC police, Ferry employees, and lots more that I can't name. (CORRECTION: It's been brought to my attention by several people, including that guy that lives in my house, that it's .40 with a bridge pass. I should have known that since the pass still resides on our windshield.)

Jobs will also be an issue for the good Westbank dwellers who work on the Eastbank and rely on the Ferry to get them there. Income will be an issue for some Westbank landlords who will lose tenants who can no longer get to their jobs. (This I know first hand. I lived on the Westbank prior to the storm. The Ferry didn't start running again for a while and then not reliably. With both of us working in the Quarter and commuting by bicycle, it became untenable to continue living there so we moved. To the Eastbank.) Once those people start making their Westbank exodus the Eastbank rents, already ridiculous, will rise even higher. Or if they decide to stay on the Westbank and buy a car, there will be that many more cars to contend with on the Eastbank. Fun, any way you look at it.

As of now it's one dollar coming from Westbank to Eastbank by Bridge or by Ferry if you drive your car onto the boat. Pedestrians or bicyclists are free inbound and out. I've always thought everyone should pay, but then I also thought the Ferry should run longer hours as well. I'm evidently in the minority on both points.

Loss of the Ferry would increase (and this is just me making a guess) DUI's, and we'd probably see more traffic accidents, more injuries, more fatalities. I've seen folks stagger onto that Ferry who most assuredly shouldn't have been driving. They get off the Ferry and go home, all in one piece. I can count myself among that group on a couple of occasions.

One buck.

The Mississippi River is a fact of life here in New Orleans and it's gotta be crossed now and then. It's not going anywhere.

I have made the acquaintance of many a Ferry: New York, San Francisco, Seattle. All are used as a form of mass transit by commuters and visitors alike. I've also crossed bridges in those areas, because like the Mississippi, people have to cross the Hudson River, the East River, the San Francisco Bay and the various waterways in the Northwest, as none of those are going to disappear either.

The fact that anyone is complaining over one dollar is ludicrous in light of what other cities are charging for ferries or bridge crossings. Here are some samplings:

George Washington Bridge: Paid inbound not outbound $12 cash. Multi-pass cost $9.50 during peak hours, $7.50 off peak. Multi-axle vehicles $22-$78 bucks depending on what you're driving. (I didn't look but as I recall, the Lincoln Tunnel is the same rate. Either way people are getting from New Jersey to Manhattan in cars via one of these routes. I think the Brooklyn Bridge might be the same. I didn't check that or the Triboro or any of the other bridges in the area. I also found an article saying something about these rates being raised soon. I haven't checked that out yet.)

Ferries from New Jersey side of the Hudson to Midtown (there are several that I saw in my quick search: Hudson River, East River and Belford). I chose the Hoboken to Midtown for rates. First know that it is drop off only. No cars. Unless you want to pay to park which is another monthly fee not included in your crossing. So, no cars on the boats. However the fee structure is incredible. Pedestrians $9 (inbound to the City only), kids 6-12 $6, a 10 trip card will run you $76. Or you can buy monthly for $272. Want to take your bike? See above fees and add a $1.25 surcharge, or buy a $310 bike/ferry pass for the month. I believe there are senior and student rates, but I just grabbed up some numbers.

Here in New Orleans, Crescent City Connection or Ferry: ONE BUCK.

Let's go to the San Francisco now. The Bay is a longer commute. I did it for a short time many years ago. If you miss the Ferry from Sausalito to the City, you're gonna wait a long while for the next one. How much are those folks paying?

Golden Gate Bridge: Paid inbound only. $6 cash. Monthly pass $5. Multi-axle vehicles $18-42. I didn't check the Bay Bridge or the cost of BART from San Francisco to Berkeley or Oakland.

Sausalito Ferry paid inbound only $9.25 cash. Senior or child 6-18 $4.50. Multi-pass fare $4.85. No cars (so drop off/pickup or possibly parking fees. Not sure and can't remember since I didn't have a car and used mass transit exclusively then.) There are ferries that run from Larkspur, and there are special runs for Giants games (reservations recommended for the Giants game ferries. Yes. I'm serious.) Bikes are allowed based on the class of boat being used. Some of them can take 750 passengers/200 bikes, others can only take 15 bikes, still others can take 100 bikes. That said, it's first come first served, so if you happen to be bicycle number 201 on the big boat, you'll be waiting for the next Ferry.

Seattle area has at least 8 different Ferry routes connecting various islands to the city. At least that's what I counted but I'm betting island to island there are even more. I took one once a long time ago. It was a long ride, but people regularly use them to commute in that area. Since I have friends who live on Bainbridge Island and commute to Seattle daily, I decided to use that one for the rates. The crossing is about 9.7 miles and takes about half an hour. Looks like there might be a bridge there too but I didn't check that. Ferry rates from Bainbridge Island to Seattle paid inbound only are $7.70 cash, Senior $3.85, Children 6-18 $6.25. Remember, these are pedestrians. A 10 ride ticket is $62.10, monthly ticket $99.40, Bike surcharge $1.00. (It must be godawful to have to make change for these rates every day.) A two axle car is $13.25, with rates for multi-axle going higher still, as with the other examples, however, on this ferry there's a catch: Vehicles pay BOTH ways, so a round trip ticket with your car is $26.50. You can purchase tickets one way or round trip, along with various multi-pass options.

Let's review. Ferry in New Orleans Westbank to Eastbank, free for pedestrians, free for bikes, $1 for cars. Bridge, no pedestrians that I've ever seen, or bikes for that matter, and $1 one way for a two axle vehicle.

I will no doubt upset someone's apple cart, but I think the idea of eliminating the toll is completely nuts, nevermind short-sighted. I would propose that we raise them. On the CCC, on the Ferries, all of it. Treat these arteries like the commuter lifelines they are and let the commuters pay their way like in every other metropolis on the list of world class cities. (We do consider ourselves that don't we? I hear it a lot in any case.) Make the pedestrians and bicyclists pay to use the Ferry. Most of us wouldn't mind, and those who do can take a bus or drive if they really want to get pissy about it. Raise the tolls on the Bridge too.

We have to view those ferries as part of a mass transportation system. Greener for sure, vital for many, we have to keep them. More cars in town, higher rents on the Eastbank, loss of income on the Westbank, closure of entrance/exits—I'm just not seeing how any of those possible outcomes are good things.

I haven't finished reading the CCC report which can be found at Keepthetolls.org . I will attempt to do that as no doubt I am overlooking something. I just wanted to get it out there that our lousy one buck toll pales in comparison to other fees in other cities. Cities that understand that there are commuters and that bridges and traffic patterns can only stand so much. That anyone is complaining about that one dollar is baffling to me, when in my view the tolls should be increased.

I know I can't be the only one who thinks eliminating the tolls is ridiculous. I mean, my 12 year old grandson realized it immediately upon hearing it. How can grownups even be considering it, he wondered? From his point of view it's moronic, his word not mine, and I'm inclined to agree. Unless, of course, we all decide to start swimming across.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Stabat Mater Dolorosa on Mother's Day

A 17-year-old has been arrested in the shooting of a 13-year-old boy who was caught in crossfire Wednesday evening shortly after he stepped off a school bus. . .

17 years old. 13 years old. Babies.

8th grade girl's bullet ridden body. Girlfriend of the 8th grade boy shot the day before. Possibly for shooting hoops (not bullets) in the wrong neighborhood.

And a woman is summoned to the morgue. She stands behind a window. The shades are drawn and lifted. On a shiny metal slab is a body. The body of her son. Of her daughter. Her knees give out. She drops to the floor. She keens. She wails. She cries. She tried her best and yet, there is her child. In the morgue. Nothing but a statistic in the ongoing gun battle. When another boy died the day before, in New Orleans East, the gunman shot a dog. A pitbull named Spartacus. A great dog. Protected the family. Wonderful dog. A fund is quickly formed to pay for the surgery needed for the dog. The humans have to figure out the funeral and the grieving themselves. A senseless tragedy.

Across town another woman quakes in the sterile halls of a hospital. The child whose eyes she sheltered as the pediatrician administered the well baby shots now has needles attached to tubes in both arms. The doctor tells her that her son might not walk again as the bullet nicked the spinal cord. The doctor tells her that her daughter might not see as the bullet might have caused some irreversible nerve damage. She cries silently and only outside the room. Her knees can't buckle. She'll have to be strong to help her child through this. She'll have to figure out the hospital bills and the rehabilitation and the permanent changes to her house and life that this injury will cause. She'll have to figure it out herself. A senseless tragedy.

In another part of town, a woman watches as the son she held up by both hands as he learned to walk takes his last steps as a free person. He is held on both arms now, by uniformed officers and there are chains around the ankles she delighted in seeing wobble uncertainly 16 years earlier. She may never get a chance to speak to her child except through glass again. He's still so young but his life is over. She doesn't understand why he picked up a gun and pulled the trigger. She tried so hard to keep him from that. She will blame herself. She will cry into her pillow alone in the dark, wishing she could hear his step in her house once more. She'll get little if any support in her loss. She'll keen and she'll wail and she'll notice the averted eyes of her neighbors and hear them clucking behind their drawn shades. She'll obsess over what she did wrong, mentally analyzing every minute of those 17 years. She'll never figure it out herself. A senseless tragedy.

A week from now is Mother's Day. We send candy, flowers, fruit with chocolate covering. We send whatever we think Mom would like.

These mom's would like nothing more than to have their kids bitch about the curfew they imposed, or hear their kids complain about the spaghetti they're eating when they wanted something else. They won't get that. They will get silence. They'll be trying to decide where to put the memorial card. They'll be trying to figure out how to pay the mortgage or the rent after ante-ing up the cost of the funeral, or the hospital bill, or the payment to the lawyer or bondsman. They'll be staring into a closet filled with the clothes that their kids cared about. Wow. She loved that red skirt. Wow. He was so proud of that Saint's jersey. And she'll stand at the closet, and she'll stand at the door, and she'll jump at the sound of the phone. Then she'll turn around and realize that he or she isn't coming home. Then she'll stare into a casket, or a hospital bed, or a prison visitor booth looking at her child, the one she carried, the one she taught to walk, the one she taught the alphabet to, in that red skirt or that Saint's jersey, not looking like she remembered as he or she vaulted out the door laughing at her overprotectiveness.

These are kids. Our kids. Their kids. OUR kids.

The blood is running down the streets like water after a rainstorm. The cop shop says isn't it terrible. The DA files a case against the accused. We all jump with glee that the asshole that did the shooting is caught.

And the mothers keen. And the mothers will never recover. And the family is broken beyond repair. And the mothers keen.

Why are we not looking at the societal issues that cause a 17 year old kid to feel that shooting a gun is the only way to settle a debt, or a moment of disrespect, or to make them a man? Why are guns so easily bought? Are we entering an entirely Darwinian age? Those who are the strongest by virtue of the weapons they carry are the winners? Really? Why are we not furious at this situation?

Why are we not raging at the idiots who rail in newspaper comments' sections that we don't need more and better schools, or after school programs, or more teachers, or more mentors. What we need, they say, is more prisons, harsher prison sentences, more locks and keys. More cemeteries perhaps? Certainly more guns, in my purse, in my pocket, strapped to my ankle, hey, come to the coffee shop for a conceal carry class. It's free.


I frankly don't think the “Framers” had this in mind when they wrote the second amendment. Do ya really think they envisioned “that a Glock is due to all?” I think the NRA and their big bucks lobbying is part of the problem, not the solution. Call me a commie. Call me a socialist. Call me whatever you want. Are you really that cold that you can't imagine for one minute what being in the place of one of those mothers would feel like? Seriously? Without the guns the kids would have a fist fight, you know, like the old days, and the mom would pull out the iodine and the bandaids. Without the guns the mom would have to explain that sometimes leaving the fight is the better choice. Without the guns the mother would be able to make pancakes for their kid on Mother's Day while bitching that they should have made them for her.

Ah. I see. Y'all are reading this thinking to yourselves that these Mom's are all, oh, I dunno, crack whores, welfare queens, certainly baby mama's that didn't think ahead. Certainly some are, and you bet there's some really bad parenting going on, but you'd be overwhelmingly wrong on one count. Statistics show that most welfare moms are white. But hell, why should a fact interfere with your pre-conceived notion of the world? I mean, really? You have your ideas, and thems the facts regardless of proof to the opposite.

Nevermind your latent (or not so latent) racism. Yeah. I know. You're not a racist. You have a black friend. Maybe. Okay, not a friend exactly but a black person you work with. And that let's you skate. In your mind. How is it that you assume that the children mentioned above are black? Why not Hispanic or Asian? Oh yeah. Asians are good at math. Nevermind the Asian gangs. Or the Hispanic gangs. Or the WHITE gangs. Think Aryan Brotherhood. Or Neo Nazi's. What the hell is that about? We have a wife of a North Carolina (I think) senator talking about how some proposition before a vote that is mostly about gay marriage will somehow protect the “Caucasians”. No. I couldn't make that up. All of them have guns, possibly even that Senator's wife. (Hey, Second Amendment sez we can, you stupid liberal bitch. I can have a whole bushel of them, and I can't help it if those project people, or the barrio people, or the trailer park people, or the Chinese alley people have them too. I need MINE to protect myself from them, so stow it.)

You are also probably assuming, along with the fact that all these tragedies are only found within black communities, that the Moms we're talking about are single and unemployed. Nice indictment of an entire segment of our society—easy, bumper sticker thinking: Teen mother, on welfare, lives in project, no husband. While certainly that tidy little stereotype exists, it cannot be applied to everyone. We gotta stop that. Besides, it is really insulting to all those dads out there who are holding up their buckling wives.

In New Mexico the blood is running too. Only there the commenters say: “Yeah well the vatos are shooting each other. Probably illegals anyway.” Every major metropolitan area has the blood of children running in the streets, it's not just us. This is a nationwide problem that more prisons and more cemeteries won't fix.

It comes down to what kind of country do you want.

One where every one is armed and we assume the “other” is dangerous? Those kinds of assumptions get people killed. Ask Trayvon Martin's family.

Or how about one where everyone is scared to death of the police they should be able to turn to when there is a real danger? An over-amped paramilitary crew with itchy trigger fingers and only rare and lengthy (let's get past a couple of news cycles and it'll fade away) accountability?

Or one where we take an entire generation of kids and just consider them lost to the streets? Even that choice would require that some pre-emptive and positive action be taken for the tiny ones. Things like daycare options, education that's meaningful to them, and I dunno, FOOD. Wouldn't be a bad thing to add some healthcare options in there. Mental health care, the red headed step-child, as well.

It's easy to say the P word if it's prison. Not so easy if it's poverty.

By now, if you're still reading this, you are either arguing with me, agreeing (maybe only in part) with me, or tossing your sandwich at the monitor hollering “Apologist!” I never once said that the shooters should go unpunished, I only decried the loss of a young person's life to an irrevocably bad choice in pulling that trigger. What I am saying is that we, as a nation, as a city, as a neighborhood, need to figure out why so many make that choice. We need to decide if we're going to be a reactionary, Darwinian society where the bigger bullet wins, and the blood runs down the streets, and the children are carted away in hearses and ambulances and cop cars and prison vans, and we're okay with that. Or are we going to take a long hard look at this seemingly intractable problem of violence, and a really good look at ourselves in the mirror under the harshest light we can find. In doing that we'll have to face some hard truths: some of us run to the easy fear, the easy stereotype, the easy racism, the easy .38. Our shoulders have to start cramping up from all the fucking shrugging we do at some point. Our necks will seize up if we keep shaking our heads upon hearing the news. Our tears must give way to outrage. Once that happens we have to find a way to listen to each other and not shout each other down as we look for solutions. There are no quick fixes, but we can't just throw up our hands and throw these kids away.

These are kids. Our kids. Their kids. OUR kids.

And the sound you hear next Sunday emanating from houses all over this country won't be back up singers for your favorite band. They'll be mothers. Wailing. Keening. The Stabat Mater Dolorosa rising in sorrow. Inconsolable.

As we should be.