31 December 2008

Economic Slowdown

I am writing this on December 31, 2008. Not physically writing, just working it out in my head. It is 6:30 p.m. and I am standing on the checkout line at Kohl's.

I have plenty of time.

The Kohl's checkout is the most maddening of all queues. The reason being that the whole cashier setup has such promise. It really should be a breeze - pay and go - with two complete checkout areas, each employing five cashiers. There's no reason this experience shouldn't be the equivalent of the old barbershop "two chairs, no waiting".

It's not that I expect supermarket swiftness. But when the line snakes all the way back to the men's footwear, I would appreciate a little urgency - on the part of the customers as well as the clerks.

On this new year's eve I can't help but think it took Dick Clark less time to recover from his stroke than it will take me to get to the front of this line.

Is it 2009 yet?

30 December 2008

Take This Snow and Shovel It!

Snow. Looks nice coming down and piling up all around - but what then? Personally, I can take it or leave it. Except that you can't really do either. Take it or leave it, that is. All you can do is push it to the side.

Every few years the subject of what to do about sidewalk snow comes up. In my neighborhood the answer is simple - shovel a path or blow it away. Nearly everyone around here follows through with that unwritten social contract - up to 4 or 6 or even 8 inches. After that, it's every aching back for himself.

And that's probably how it should be. I know I don't want any of my neighbors killing themselves to clear their sidewalk after a blizzard. If they can get their drive done that's good enough. The sidewalk can wait.

A little snow is a wonderful thing. A foot of snow - or two inches of ice! - is an act of God. And not one of those kindly acts, like a rainbow after a summer shower or the Jets making the playoffs.

Let common sense prevail. Make a reasonable effort to keep your sidewalk clear, but be careful out there.

29 December 2008

Zip It!

Christopher Cusack's mission was instigated by two words: "zip it!" That's what the Hillsborough 2nd grader's mom told him to do with his coat on the way to the bus stop a year ago. "You're lucky to have a good winter coat - there are lots of kids in New Jersey who aren't so fortunate."

Since then, Chris has been collecting gently used coats for the Jersey Cares coat drive. The Courier News reported this week that he has collected 483 so far - on his way to a goal of 1000, which he hopes to reach by December 2011.

There's no reason to think this determined seven-year-old won't make it - and maybe even finish early.

Maybe we can encourage him towards a career in the New Jersey DOT!

27 December 2008

Shadow Hill Farm

One of the nice things about having the Christmas tree in the family room - in the corner between the fireplace and the T.V. - instead of the living room where we used to put it, is that we are able to enjoy it more. And not just during the commercials!

As I have been sitting here looking at the tree, it occurs to me that in the last several years, we've never had a bad one. I can't remember one scrawny, needle dropping, flimsy limbed fir in at least the last ten years.

The reason must be that we always choose and cut our tree at the Shadow Hill Farm on Grandview Road in Skillman. I can only think of maybe two years since the mid 90s when we purchased a tree elsewhere - and in at least one of those years I believe it was because the farm didn't open!

The setting - at the top a hill at the edge of the Sourlands - is gorgeous and serene, the proprietors are friendly and helpful, and the trees are top-notch!

But, of course, as I sit here and look at the tree - all trimmed out, and tricked out, with ornaments and lights - I don't really see the Christmas tree at all.









25 December 2008

Santa Grande Vitesse

How does he do it? Rudolph's red nose notwithstanding, even Santa Claus must get grounded by bad weather once in a while. So how does he manage to get to all those homes on a single snowy night?

In France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and China the answer is simple - Santa takes the train. That's because all of those countries have high speed railroads - trains with top speeds of 175 mph or greater. France's TGV broke the speed record last year for a train running on conventional rails - 356 mph!

The fastest train in the US, Amtrak's Acela Express, tops out at just 150 mph - and the twists and turns of the Northeast Corridor rail line mean that the average speed for a trip from Boston to Washington is much less than that.

So why can't we have some of those fast trains here? U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Mary Peters recently asked for proposals for a new high speed rail line between New York and Washington D.C. Unlike the Acela project, which was designed to run over existing tracks on a route that was laid out in the 19th century, a new high speed line would need an entirely new route - eliminating curves and grade crossings - and a completely new infrastructure.

And of course, it would have to pass through New Jersey, preferably avoiding the urban areas in favor of the open spaces in the western part of our state.

Uh oh!

24 December 2008

Curb My Enthusiasm

This happens every time. We break out the DVDs and watch a few episodes of HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm, and I start to have these "Larry David" moments.

Mr. David, the creator of Seinfeld, plays himself in the series - or, more accurately, a heightened version of himself. Larry has a unique take on everyday life, which basically boils down to his questioning of most of the social conventions that we take for granted.

In one episode, his acupuncturist sends him, for no apparent reason, a large flower arrangement. Larry can't get over it, and spends the rest of the show asking people why this professional man would send him flowers.

About two weeks ago, we went out with the kids and stopped into a restaurant in Lambertville. We had a pleasant lunch, and I thought nothing else about it. Until this week when I received a postcard from the waiter who served us that day! "It was a pleasure serving you, please visit again" - that type of thing. Handwritten by the waiter.

Anyone else ever hear of something like this?

23 December 2008

Road to Somewhere!

During this campaign season we heard a lot about "bridges to nowhere". In 2009, Hillsborough could very well see construction begin on our very own "highway to nowhere" - the Route 206 bypass. The planned road will take northbound motorists from Montgomery Township and points south on a parallel course east of the old Route 206, around Hillsborough's "downtown", and link back up with the current highway near Old Somerville Road.

Anyone who has tried to travel north out of Hillsborough during rush hour knows that traffic doesn't get bad until AFTER Old Somerville Road! The real snarl begins at Triangle Road, and continues to Brown Avenue. This is the section of Route 206 that needs to be improved - with or without the bypass.

It is encouraging to see that at least some of our leaders have now acknowledged the importance of this section of highway. Last week Mayor Ferrera called on New Jersey's US Senators to include the widening of Route 206 between Old Somerville Road and Brown Avenue in any new economic stimulus package.

This $108 million project is the only part of the 206 bypass plan that could actually stand on its own - without the CSX bridge reconfiguration in Belle Mead or the bypass itself - yet it is the only part of the plan that has had no funds allocated thus far. Amazing!

Mayor Ferrera, keep the pressure on. Let's make sure the 206 bypass becomes a "road to somewhere".

Somewhere other than the world's largest traffic jam, that is.

21 December 2008

Post Office Hours

I always know when it's the holiday season, or tax time, because so many visitors reach Gillette on Hillsborough by searching for local post office information.

You can find a lot of this information at www.usps.com, and you can even search for all the post offices in a given radius, like I did here.

Here are the business hours for all of the area post offices as given by the USPS web site.

HILLSBOROUGH Mon-Fri 10:00-5:00pm Sat 9:00-2:00pm

BELLE MEAD Mon-Fri 8:00-7:00pm Sat 8:30-4:00pm

FLAGTOWN Mon-Fri 7:00-4:30pm Sat 7:00-12:00pm

NESHANIC STATION Mon-Fri 8:30-4:45pm Sat 8:30-12:00pm

SKILLMAN Mon-Fri 7:00-4:00pm Sat 7:00-12:00pm

BLAWENBURG Mon-Fri 7:15-12:00pm and 2:00-4:30pm Sat 9:00-12:00pm

EAST MILLSTONE Mon-Fri 8:30-12:30pm and 2:30-5:00 pm Sat closed

ROCKY HILL Mon-Fri 8:00-4:30pm Sat 9:00-12:00pm

MANVILLE Mon-Fri 9:30-7:00pm Sat 10:00-4:00pm

RARITAN Mon-Fri 9:00-7:00pm Sat 9:00-4:00pm

SOMERVILLE Mon-Fri 8:30-7:00pm Sat 9:00-4:00pm

20 December 2008

Appointed Rounds

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.

Did you know that Ira Schnapp, the artist who as a young man personally designed and engraved the famous inscription on the James Farley General Post Office in New York also designed the logos for Action Comics, and many other DC Comics such as Flash and Green Lantern?

18 December 2008

Postmaster to Hillsborough: "Stay Home"

In a recent letter to the editor of one of our local newspapers, the Hillsborough postmaster urged customers to stay home this holiday season. Instead of visiting the 08844 post office on Amwell Road, he suggested they should buy stamps by mail, or make use of the USPS web site.

I have to agree! I wrote about my own post office woes in 2007, and a year later, I'm not sure anything has changed. The post office is slow, slow, slow.

It seems as if the postmaster has given up trying to speed things up in there. Maybe he doesn't have the resources, or maybe the lethargy is so entrenched there is no way out. In any case, his letter to the editor is clearly a letter of surrender.

We accept, unconditionally!

16 December 2008

The Rehearsal of the Reenactment of the...

We spent Sunday afternoon on the other side of the Delaware River at Washington Crossing Historic Park - but unlike "George Washington" and the many dozens of committed reenactors, we actually made it back to New Jersey before nightfall!

Sunday was the dress rehearsal of the reenactment of Washington's famous Christmas Day crossing - 2400 Americans crossed the Delaware and marched a few miles south to launch a surprise attack on Hessian troops in Trenton.

We enjoyed meeting the colonial blacksmith....

...and the colonial woman roasting almonds using an 18th century recipe.

And everyone jeered appropriately as a captured Hessian was paraded through the small historic village.

But what we were really waiting for was the Crossing!

Oarsmen gathered by the river's edge, standing quietly with the tools of their trade in a vertical salute as we anticipated the arrival of General Washington and his officers.

Alas, it was not to be. Washington addressed his troops, quoted Thomas Paine, and then turned glumly and headed in the other direction as a voice from the public address system informed the assembled that the river was too dangerous to cross today!

The reenactors were just as disappointed as the overflowing crowd of onlookers - but still, we were left with an even greater appreciation of what was accomplished on December 25, 1776.

Oh, and my kids loved the cannon, which was fired half a dozen times at New Jersey, and was VERY loud!

Do you think they were aiming at the State House?

13 December 2008

Brown's Yard Santa Train

Santa Claus arrived in my hometown of Freehold Saturday courtesy of Conrail and the Freehold Boro PBA. I posted some pictures of Santa's arrival last year, and in fact I have been attending this wonderful event each year since 2005.

The trek to downtown Freehold has become an annual ritual for myself and my six-year-old son - which also includes getting a haircut at the old barbershop I went to as a kid, a stop at Toys R Us to point out everything on our wish lists, and lunch at the area's best hot dog and ice cream joint, Jersey Freeze.

Photos 2005 - 2008

P.S. No mommies and sisters allowed!

12 December 2008

Top Billing

It's lonely at the top - the top of the food chain, that is. And it's about to get a bit lonelier now that Hillsborough Township has proposed allowing the taking of coyote and fox during the township's deer season. Hunters have been asking about other game, and this proposed ordinance will make it possible to add these predators, and others that are already approved for hunting by the state Division of Fish and Wildlife.

It was just about a year and a half ago that I wrote about Hillsborough's changes to its deer hunting season and the booming deer population. White-tailed deer are not the only species that have staged a remarkable comeback in New Jersey. The coyote population, which numbered about 100 just three decades ago, is now at 3000. Of course that is nothing compared to the hundreds of thousands of deer that now reside in our state, but it is far from extinction.

While coyote and fox both pose threats to livestock, spread mange, and carry rabies, they pose much less threat to humans and our property than deer. What the increased population of coyote and fox does accomplish is that it makes recreational hunting of these animals sustainable.

And, of course, that ensures we humans remain at the top of the bill!

10 December 2008

Credit Crunch

I was listening to one of the talk-radio stations the other day, and the discussion was all about surviving this financial crisis - getting through the recession. Listeners called in and spoke about how they were "upside down" in their mortgages, and how they had credit card debt they couldn't pay.

The experts on the radio advised callers to seek help directly from the mortgage and credit card companies. "These companies don't want you to file bankruptcy - they will work with you to lower your rates and get you through the crisis".

Interesting. In the mail that same day I received a letter from one of those caring credit companies. "These tough economic times have forced us to raise the interest rate on your account".

What a joke!

07 December 2008

"Merry Christmas"?

We went to the annual tree lighting sponsored by the Women's Club of Hillsborough on the grounds of the municipal building Friday night. Of course, the highlight of the evening was the arrival of Santa Claus - brought to us courtesy of the Flagtown Fire Department.

The kids were so excited about meeting Santa that they didn't even appear to feel the cold. Meanwhile, moms and dads were absolutely freezing! I hope Santa's little red cottage was heated!

After giving Santa Claus our Christmas wish lists, we headed inside to listen to the Hillsborough High School wind ensemble play a selection of holiday tunes.

The mayor made a point of telling the assembled residents that we in Hillsborough were proud to call our tree a "Christmas Tree" - not a holiday tree, or some other politically correct euphemism - and that the town would also be lighting a menorah in the coming weeks.

I appreciate the sentiment - it's a good effort. I am as fed up with political correctness as everyone else. But I'm not sure what any of this has to do with Christmas. Is political correctness so ingrained, are we such timid sheep, that lighting up a "Christmas" tree and rolling out Santa Claus is now considered a victory?

After all, it wasn't Jesus on that firetruck.

04 December 2008

Me Too!

Congratulations are due Mayor Anthony Ferrera for receiving the Somerset County Freeholders' 2008 Disability Advocate Award. Mr. Ferrera has been a volunteer in the special needs community for nearly thirty years and serves as a regional director for the Organization for Autism Research. As a member of the Hillsborough Township Committee, and as mayor, he has been a driving force behind inclusive recreation programs and Hillsborough's award winning Camp HEART, an inclusive summer camp for children with developmental disabilities.

I have been a proponent and supporter of inclusive recreation programs in Hillsborough since their inception over two years ago. While our efforts here have been laudable, and have served as a model for other communities, I am sure Mayor Ferrera would agree that our programs can always be improved and expanded.

From the beginning, I have felt that our specific inclusive recreation programs should be used as a tool to learn how to make ALL of our recreation programs more accessible to children and adults with disabilities. A better understanding of the recreational needs and requirements of people in the special needs community can be obtained through observation of inclusive recreation.

The ultimate goal is to achieve a barrier free community, where individuals with mental or physical disabilities can participate in activities of their choosing.

Thank you Mayor Ferrera for your efforts in making this possible.

03 December 2008

Made My Day!

At the risk of having to spend the next ten years driving 35 miles per hour between Hillsborough and Princeton, I must admit I found the Montgomery Township Police standoff with the cardboard cut-out at the PNC Bank in Skillman pretty funny. I would bet even most police officers got a chuckle out of this story.

Why is it o.k. to laugh about what could have been a very dangerous situation - shadowy figure inside closed bank, SWAT team outside at the ready? First of all, no one got hurt. That's very important. But what really makes it all right to have a giggle is that the Montgomery Township Police essentially did nothing wrong. An alarm is tripped, there is a figure in darkened room of a closed bank. Who knows how many others could be out of sight in other parts of the bank? The correct steps were taken - it turned out to be just "one of those things". It really could happen to anyone, and those kinds of incidents are always worth a chuckle.

And. of course, we can be thankful Montgomery doesn't have a wax museum. (Just kidding!)

02 December 2008

COAH Glass Half Empty

Hillsborough Township's affordable housing consultant will present Hillsborough's new COAH plan at a meeting of the Planning Board on December 4. The plan, by using previous development, rental units, and other options, reduces Hillsborough's affordable housing requirement by more than 50% - from 650 units down to 296. The plan also reduces market rate units from a potential high of 2600 units down to just 437!

These reductions are a significant achievement and should be applauded. Even more significant is the fact that the plan designates three development projects on the table right now - two on Amwell Road and one on Route 206 - that will fulfill all of the 296 units of the affordable housing requirement.

Overall, the COAH plan was completed on time, with significant reductions to our obligations, and with a realistic goal for completing the building requirements by the 2018 deadline. So why am I still pessimistic - why does a 50% reduction in affordable housing leave the COAH glass half empty instead of half full?

I agree with Mayor Ferrera and the Township Committee that COAH is broken. It is unfair to municipalities both in its methods of calculation and in its overall philosophy - which forces a town like Hillsborough, with a huge variety of housing options in place, to build more unnecessary housing in contradiction to our Master Plan.

Hillsborough should continue to participate in the League of Municipalities lawsuit to overturn the COAH rules, while only taking baby sips from the COAH cup.

01 December 2008

Paper Sun

The Hillsborough Township Committee heard a presentation last week by a company proposing to install solar panels on the roof of the municipal complex. This would allow the township to derive a portion of the electricity needed at the complex from a clean energy source - the sun - and also reduce energy costs overall. Maybe.

The problem is that this plan does not yet make sense, either practically, or on paper. In order for the solar company to guarantee savings, a combination of government incentives and credits would be used for the installation, and Hillsborough would be guaranteed a fixed cost on its energy bill.

Sounds good so far, but to make this scheme work the solar company needs to generally have a 20 year contract - or at least a 15 year contract - in order to spread their costs out over time. Hillsborough can only enter into contracts of this type for a maximum of 10 years - thus making the plan unworkable on paper.

Still, sustainable energy from the sun is clearly in our future. And like most succesful plans, it needs to start in our homes and in our town, where we control what it will look like - even if right now it's only a paper sun!