6-5-2005 (No planes) Trains, kayaks and bicycles

Those who can--do. Those who can’t--teach.--Smart-ass unknown.

I needed a bit of a break from this internet muckraking and such. Earlier this week, I was not in a very good frame of mind after being treated to haphazardly thought-out proposed bicycle bans and taxes being forgiven on collapsing buildings, but not on the very last of the downtown‘s most loyal retailers.

Someone who toils away as a journalist once advised me to never write anything in anger, so I took a few days off.

It probably didn’t help.

This is how I started my day earlier this morning. I got the Mr. Coffee thingy ready to roll, I lovingly and carefully split an English muffin before placing it in the cheesy two-slice toaster and turned on that whiz-bang incinerator. True to form, the imported incinerator did it’s job and then some. Before I realized what was what, my generic muffin caught on fire and despite repeated attempts at extricating said muffin, the damn toaster wouldn’t let go of the friggin’ thing. I used one of wifey’s smartly styled oven mitts to smother the flames and believe it or not, I ended up needing a pair of needle nose pliers to remove the inedible moon rocks that the muffin halves had been transformed into. I see the proverbial glass as half-full. With that sort of start, my day can only improve from here on out.

Although, if yesterday is to serve as an example of well-laid plans gone awry, maybe I should take my Party Animals column and head back to bed.

Wanted: A two-and-a-half man sea kayak.

I found out very late this week that Kayak Dude would not be paddling as part of Riverfest 2005 as he had much more important family obligations and such. No biggie. I could have rented a canoe or a smallish kayak at the launch point in West Pittston, but I decided against doing such a thing. Fact is, I like the Dude’s ‘yak. It’s longer than Howard Dean‘s nose, but much more importantly--it’s one stable platform. And while I’m not yet classified as being an expert ‘yakker, I’d wholeheartedly prefer to paddle downstream in something I feel comfortable with.

I have been researching the available boats on the market and wish to grab one of my own. But wifey caught wind of that plan and had a real problem with it. She claims we have nowhere to store an Iowa-class battleship. But what is really at hand here is the fact that I want to buy myself another pricey toy. Trust me, a new or used kayak will be moving into this structure soon enough. But first, I’ll have to lavish a few expensive goodies on wifey so that she’ll be forced to keep her yap shut when the U.S.S. Zorcong makes it’s first call on this waterless port.

Anyway, no exciting tales of derring-do on the Susquehanna, today. The plan was to outfit the aging Murray down in the basement with the rear-mount child seat that Gage outgrew and then Gage, Taylor and myself would head on over to Nesbitt Park on my bike to greet the paddlers as they arrived at the half-way point of their watery journey. Plus, my son Marque and Zach would ride along on the aging Murray. Five people on two bicycles! Not bad, heh? Do me a favor though. Don’t tell council, but we planned to extensively tour the downtown, too. Rebels all.

Ah, the aging Murray. It was buried in debris under the basement steps. Plus, it was covered with dust, dog hair and that weird stuff that somehow escapes from the dryer exhaust hose. Couldn’t we convert that muckity muck into fuel and fly all the way to Mars? One part muck and one part horse intestines? Hmmm. I don’t know. Anywho, how long could it possibly take to mount a stupid child seat on a cheap bicycle? Um…in this case, try two-plus thoroughly annoying hours.

First off, we neglected to remember that Zach didn’t own a bicycle helmet of his own. So, Marque would have to head down to Around Town Bicycles and buy one. But first, we’d mount the seat. Well, it fit alright, but the added girth of it’s braces made the bolt going through the seat tube too short to fasten it. So…MQ headed out for some nuts and bolts. Oh, and the helmet. While he was out, I decided to inflate the tires and check for dry-rotting. I pumped ‘em up and the rear tire deflated just as fast as it had been inflated. So I called the bike shop and told the dude on the phone to tell my kid we now needed a 24’ tube. There was no way I was going to patch a 15 year-old tube and then sit here like a dummy as the entire sticky patch and whatnot congealed. No way.

And the clock ticked onward and I got to wondering what happened to the boy. We was gone an awfully long time. So I decided to get the rear tire removed from the bike and take the old tube out. Much to my (F>ckin’ A!!!) dismay, the ever so tiny bolt that holds the derailleur in place just would not allow it’s Phillips head to be turned. And no matter what I tried while mumbling to myself--that microscopic bolt was simply not going to budge. And in the infuriating process--it got stripped all to hell. Thoroughly pissed, I went down to the tool bench, grabbed my drill and the appropriate drill bit, and drilled right through that obstructionist of a bolt. And democrats can’t understand why their stalling antics so upset those of us looking to press onwards with things. Any-funking-way, I got the damn tire off, but still no boy. Still no child bike helmet. And still no freaking nuts and bolts. And the clock continued to click away. You know, it should not take in excess of an hour to visit Main Hardware and Around Town Bicycles. It just shouldn’t. Now…I was getting annoyed with the AWOL boy.

Suddenly, there he was with a Home Depot bag in tow. The mystery was solved. He saved us some seven cents or thereabouts by heading in the belly of the unchecked sprawl beast, but it took him well over an hour to do so. And he was kicking himself in the ass for doing so. Sprawl: Yeah, you can save a few measly trinkets by visiting the biggest of the national category killers. But your kids will grow a half inch by the time you get yourself out of that unsightly sprawl maze.

So…we mounted the child seat. We replaced the tube and inflated the new one. We adjusted the ancient brakes and tweaked the Made In North Guam gear changer. And lo and behold, we were finally ready to do our day care center on bikes routine and it was only one o’clock. So much for visiting the festival atmosphere at Nesbitt Park. At that point we were pretty much reduced to heading downtown and running over innocent sidewalk pedestrians.

Again, don’t tell city council. I don’t want them banning grandchildren and their deranged grandfathers from visiting Public Square.

So, not that I can make an already long story short, the five of us enjoyed a two and a half hour bikeabout from one end of Wilkes-Barre to the other.

And we didn’t get arrested.

Six anyone?

If you’ve gotten this far, you’ve no doubt seen this flyer a certain mayor handed to me.

I ran into the guy about a week ago and he told me to pencil that date into my smallish planner. And as per usual, he would not divulge even the slightest clue as to what “unbelievable” thing or things await us. I have no idea what he intends to announce at Genetti’s. Not a friggin’ clue. Now, I could start banging away on cell phones looking to unlock this mystery, but I didn’t bother. Quite by chance, I ran into two of the mayor’s underlings and a guy not so removed from the Chamber of Commerce coffee klatch. Did I harangue them? Nope. Did I even ask? Not. Sure, I’m definitely curious as all heck as to what the mayor has hidden up his sleeve. But, the way I figure it, we’re in capable hands and whatever it is that he’s going to announce will be just fine by me.

Howbeit, just what the heck is he up to? “ Something unbelievable is about to happen in Wilkes-Barre. Is it me, or is the sky the limit on how we could get to speculating on that one? Unbelievable…lemme see. Bill Gates has decided to relocate his vast high-tech empire to Wilkes-Barre? Too lofty, you say? Unbelievable? Okay. How ‘bout something a bit more believable. I dunno. Someone of some great importance has gone and died and willed his entire fortune to good ole Wilkes-Barre? Got me, man. A home-grown professional athlete is going to pay for a complete makeover of the park where he honed his skills not so long ago? Who knows? Maybe Uncle Eddie in Harrisburg is gonna slap us upside the head with another one of his billboard sized checks. Heyna? No? Whatever, man.

I’ll see you at Genetti’s.

I snagged this baby from the Saturday edition of the Times Leader.

Can you say, “red flag?”

Posted on Sat, Jun. 04, 2005   Training days again? Exclusive

 Luzerne County expresses interest in purchasing the site for a proposed passenger rail line.

 By JENNIFER LEARN-ANDES jandes@leader.net

 The historic Market Street Square train station might be purchased by Luzerne County to be used again, perhaps someday, as a train station.

County commissioners are discussing the possibility of seeking a federal U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development loan to fund economic development projects, including the purchase and rehabilitation of the old train station, which has housed several bars.

Last year commissioners briefly talked about using the site for a visitors’ center, but commissioners are now more interested in exploring its reuse as a train station.

The station would be an ideal hub for a proposed passenger rail line that might run from Wilkes-Barre through the Poconos and New Jersey to New York City, said minority Commissioner Stephen A. Urban.

Urban and Commissioner Todd Vonderheid said it’s premature to talk about specifics, including a possible purchase price.

“I’m very supportive of restoring rail service to Luzerne County and Wilkes-Barre, and in order to do that we’d need a passenger rail station,” Urban said.

Vonderheid said he’s interested in exploring the train station concept.

“The lot is very important to the future of this region as it relates to passenger rail, and it’s important for us to always look at properties that have a strategic importance to improving the quality of life to this region,” Vonderheid said.

Commissioner Greg Skrepenak did not respond as of Friday afternoon to a message seeking his opinion on the purchase.

Passenger rail service could be almost 20 years away, if it ever returns to the area, published reports have indicated.

Thom Greco owns the Central Railroad of New Jersey station built in 1868 at Market Street and Wilkes-Barre Boulevard.

He won’t comment on his discussions with commissioners, but said he believes the site would be an asset to the county. Public entities could likely obtain renovation grants because the station is historic, he said.

“We have probably one of the most valuable pieces of land in the city,” Greco said. Additions have been constructed onto the old station, which most recently housed Banana Joe’s Bar. However, Greco said he has always taken pains to make sure that construction didn’t harm the old structure beneath.

“The historical structure is in pristine condition. Everything old was always preserved with the understanding that the real value of the building is in its historic integrity,” Greco said. “We’ve put a lot of money into maintaining the building. We’ve maintained it throughout.”

Commissioners might seek federal funding through HUD’s 108 Loan Guarantee Program.

Loan money must be used on programs that benefit the entire county. Such loans must be repaid, and if the county defaulted, payments would be deducted from the county’s annual HUD funding.

Luzerne, Lackawanna and Monroe counties are exploring the idea of creating a tri-county transportation authority to help in the process of getting federal money earmarked for the passenger rail project.

Commissioners might seek federal funding through HUD’s 108 Loan Guarantee Program.

Loan money must be used on programs that benefit the entire county. Such loans must be repaid, and if the county defaulted, payments would be deducted from the county’s annual HUD funding.

Yikes!!! Now, there are expenses, with some being needless and foolhardy. And then there are investments in our future. So where does the axe fall on this one? Is this an expense? Or is it an investment? Without hearing it explained further, I’m leaning towards calling it an unreasonable gamble, a clear risk, as it involves the county’s future HUD funding.

If this highly questionable trans-county rail initiative does not pan out, future block grants used as collateral for the railroad go to pay the loan off. In other words, next to nothing in our smaller municipalities gets fixed. Does this sound like an acceptable risk so as to allow a minimal number of folks to play choo-choo every once in a while? I am very, very skeptical.

Another thing. Is anyone interested in riding a train to Scranton, New Jersey or New York on a regular, or even a semi-regular basis? I highly doubt it. And don’t treat me to any bilge about how New Yorkers are chomping at the bit to get on a train headed for Wilkes-Barre. I‘m not buying any of that snake oil.

And exactly what part of left field did this scheme come out of, anyway? Don’t our county commissioners have enough high ticket items to deal with without taking on more pie-in-the-sky projects? What was the latest estimate for a new prison? Wasn’t it $75 million? And what of Valley Crest? Oh, and that 1,000-year, multi, multi, multi-million dollar deal they signed to house a few under-aged malcontents? Now they want to risk future HUD funding all for a fledgling railroad that right now leads to nowhere?

A railroad? Nah. No way. When I go to New York City to marvel at a few dozen dinosaur fossils, I’ll be cruising in an air conditioned bus and filling Nancy Kman’s ear all the way to the former Big Apple.

But what do I know? I’m but a mutated slug in the grand scheme of things, most of which are very, very expensive and being bandied about by the movers and shakers who are all too often trying to make a fast buck at our expense. I can’t even see the all too clear logic (for some) in protecting “historic facades” while the abandoned buildings they are stapled to collapse into the streets.

Like I said, what do I know?

From the e-mail inbox Nord End Dude,

I saw you crossing Carey ave yesterday. I do not know how you do it. What, with the weight of your bike, the accessories, the little guys bike, the little guys weight, the seat up front and your granddaughters weight, it looks grueling to me. What does all of that tip the scales at? I have a child seat on the tail of my bike and that plus my kids weight dogs my ass. Its no wonder there is not a speck of extra weight on your frame if that is what you call fun.

Anonymous from Parsons

I dunno. All of that weight was added on a gradual basis, so you kind of get used to it. Or, you just keel over. Stay tuned.

What did Blondie say?

“Die young…stay pretty.”

Later

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