THE JOY OF HANGING OUT — MARILYN ARMSTRONG

Hanging out is a concept lost to modern youth, but the most fun times of my young years were spent hanging out. Too bad modern kids have lost it.

I was a teenager in college. Madly in love with my first boyfriend who was seriously into the “Village scene.” He brought me there for my first taste of cold chocolate at a MacDougal Street coffee shop. I took to the Village like the proverbial duck to water.

From the old Italian coffee houses that sold coffee along with a few other non-alcoholic drinks, to the tiny, dingy coffee houses where folk music was born, this was the Heart of Hip. Everything was a 15 cent subway ride from home.

The world was mine.

It wasn’t only the Village, either. A lot of New York was free back then.

Museums were free. The Metropolitan Museum of Art was a magical experience. For that matter, the huge New York Public Library behind the stone lions had basements full of original, ancient documents into which you could freely delve. You couldn’t take them out of the library, but they were free for you to absorb. (I have no idea if that’s true anymore.)

You could spend an afternoon at the Hayden Planetarium watching the stars. If you had just a little bit of money, afternoon plays on Broadway could be very cheap, especially if you could live with “standing room only.” In the afternoon, there were always seats available. A lot of things you pay big money, for now, weren’t expensive back when. This wasn’t just a matter of the change of the value of money through the years. It was a huge change in culture.

If you were a teenager, New York on your doorstep was heaven, but Greenwich Village in the 1960s on your doorstep? That was the stuff from which dreams came true.

From Bob Dylan and Tom Paxton to Pete Seeger and Judy Collins … they were all there. The famous, soon to be famous and a few infamous people. All young, making music and passing the basket.

Caffe Reggio — the place where cappuccino (in America) was born.

I’d take the subway and get off at Bleecker Street, alone or in the company of friends. It didn’t matter whether you brought company or went by yourself. There were always people to meet. You didn’t need much money — good because none of us had any. We were kids, mostly without jobs and in school. Those of us not still living with parents lived in apartments shared with other people so we could make the rent and maybe afford food too.

All I needed was subway fare — 30 cents round trip — and a few more cents for a hot (or cold) chocolate at the Reggio. For this pittance, I could spend an entire day and evening in the Village. Hanging out.

“What do you mean “hanging out?” asks my granddaughter.

“You bought a coffee or a hot chocolate and just sat around waiting to see what might happen. You could read or watch people coming and going. Hoping you’d see someone you knew — or maybe wanted to know.”

“That’s it? You just sat around?”

“Yup. Just sat around. And we didn’t sit around with our cell phones because there were no such things. We just sat around. Talking or thinking or reading. It was a quiet place until the music started. That was hanging out. No one told you to hurry — or told you to buy something or leave. It was cool to simply be there.”

Bleecker and MacDougalI often sat with a cup of coffee or chocolate for a whole day. No one pushed us out the door to make way for ‘the lunch crowd.’ No one bothered you unless you looked like you’d like some bothering.

When it got dark, you went to one of the places where people sang. There were usually no entry fees. Hopefully you had enough money to drop something in the basket for whoever was performing. It wasn’t particularly odd to have no money at all. A lot of us walked around with empty wallets. Without wallets, too. Rich was having exactly enough money to buy a coffee and subway tokens. It was okay in the 1960s. Poverty was cool.

Not only were there no cell phones. A lot of people had no phone. People rode bicycles with naked guitars strapped to their backs. Cars? I think most of us didn’t have driver’s licences. I know I didn’t. That was a decade in the future.

People were friendly, funny, and we were sure we were going to change the world. I think we did, though sometimes when I’m in a dour mood, I wonder if all we really did was make denim a fashion fabric.

Out near Hofstra in Hempstead, where I was occasionally attending school and getting far better grades than I deserved, I was a music major and one of the perks were free concert tickets to Carnegie Hall. There’s the “main room” — but there are also a number of “recital halls” where up and coming musicians perform. I’m hoping that’s still true.

Meanwhile, one of my soon-to-be husbands and his best friend decided to bring culture to Long Island. They opened the AbMaPHd (pronounced ab-ma-fid) coffee-house. It was a light-hearted reference to education — AB, MA, and Ph.D. Nobody got the joke.

They brought in the same people who were playing in the Village. Dave Van Ronk gave me my first good guitar strings. He even put them on the guitar for me.

Dave Van Ronk (back then)

What did I do there, in Hempstead? I hung out, of course. Sat around, meeting friends, drinking something, listening to music, meeting musicians. Hanging. I also played bridge upstairs in Memorial Hall instead of attending classes, but no one is perfect.

No one was texting, computing, or phoning. There was no electronic background noise (unless you count the squeal of feedback from the microphones). Nobody’s phone was beeping, dinging, or wailing. No one was going off into a corner to talk on the phone.

If you were going off into a corner, you were either making a date — remember dating? — or buying (or possibly selling) drugs.  All the noise was human. Talking, laughing, fighting, singing, discussing. Eating. Drinking.

It was an incredibly happy time for me, even though I thought I was deeply troubled, probably because I hadn’t really made the full breakaway from home to real life … and also because I’d read too many books about troubled youth and figured I must be one.

I know that whatever kids are doing today, they aren’t having nearly as much fun as we had. I feel sorry for them. We were adventurous, playful, willing to try anything at least once and most of us, more often. If I hadn’t been me during those years, I’d envy whoever had been the girl hanging out. If I miss anything of the “old days”? It’s hanging out. Just being there and doing nothing important.

Being there was enough.

MY DAY AT THE HOSPITAL – Marilyn Armstrong

After a day during which we got up early because I had a hospital appointment, the day after Bonnie quite literally barked all night, it made this into a very long day. Garry hadn’t driven in so long, we missed the turn into the hospital.

When we finally backtracked, they had the entire parking lot roped off and there are a lot of places you can’t go. Like the front door to the buildings. Since they won’t let the caretakers of people in, Garry had to wait in the car. It turned out he could have waited in the lobby, but when we asked, no one knew anything about anything.

One building was all COVID-19 cases — it used to be an extension of the daycare/heart unit and presumably will be again. I fell on my way in, really because those shoes have a ribbed sole that has a tendency to catch on cement. I scraped my knee, which was only a very small part of the problem. The rest of it was getting up from the ground. I can do it myself, but I need something to grab.

And suddenly, there were nurses and doctors and lawyers everywhere. “She fell on hospital grounds!” they said. I guess they assumed I was ready to call a lawyer.

I said, “If this is the most serious problem I have this week, it’ll be a great week.” They still had to check me out, realized when I said it was no big deal, I meant it really was no big deal. They cleaned it, didn’t bother to bandage it. Tomorrow everything will hurt, but in the meantime, they checked my battery (I sometimes sound like one of my electronic devices) and unlike the last time they checked it when I had maybe two years of battery left, this time I had 6-1/2 years left. I guess quarantine got me fully charged.

There wasn’t much traffic but there was more than I expected. A lot more.

The nurse explained that they aren’t worried about people who need help because basically, everything is closed. I pointed out that I didn’t hurry for this exam. They called me because it had been more than a year since I was checked. Which is a long time for someone following heart surgery, especially with so many implants.

She looked at my records and said, “Oh. yes. I can see.” She then pointed out that the mess they’d made at the hospital was way above her pay grade. And she reminded me that they have a building full of tests for Coronavirus, but they aren’t using the tests because they are saving them.

I didn’t even bother asking what they were saving them for because I already knew that was  WAY above her paygrade and maybe the head of the hospital’s paygrade.

Outbound road

They sent me the test results and I have to say I have no idea what they mean. None. The only thing I could say for sure is that there were no “flags” indicating a specific problem. So that battery works and there’s nothing terrible going on.

As we turned into the driveway, I asked Garry to stop so I could take pictures of the garden which has gone from a dead, muddy pile to something resembling a garden. Amazing what sunshine can do. I’m supposed to get a box soon, when our very backed up post office manages to hire a few more deliverers who can find their way around the Valley. It will — via Bluetooth — continuously interrogate my Pacemaker and send the information electronically. I may not have to go to the doctor more than once a year, but it is a bit creepy.

BRING ON THE FRUITS AND VEGGIES – RICH PASCHALL

Hungry Eyes, by Rich Paschall

My father knew all the best buffet restaurants and Swedish Smorgasbords. For a few years, it was a frequent weekend adventure to accompany my father and his wife to a buffet restaurant. There are not as many of these restaurants as there used to be in our area, and we hope the Covid-19 doesn’t kill off the ones that are left.

After we would go through the food line and start eating all the food we had claimed, my father would usually comment that our eyes were larger than our stomachs. This was because it always seemed like we took too much food. It was odd to have eaten so much that we could not go back to get one of the many desserts. That happened to me a number of times.

Apples and other fall fruits on display

It was the same when we went shopping. We were usually cautioned not to go to the supermarket when we were hungry. Our eyes would be bigger than our stomachs and we would put into the cart more things than we needed. This presented a particular problem when we picked up too many perishable products. According to my parents and grandparents, it was a bad thing not to eat the food on your plate or to buy things just to have to throw them away. “Don’t you know there are people starving in ________” (insert third world country here).

I get it. Those are really sad eyes when you have to throw food away. Yes, food has been abundant in this country and it is usually cheap, but no reason to toss it out.  And it may not remain inexpensive as we suffer through a global supply chain problem.

When you pick up those fruits and veggies at the supermarket, you may notice that they have colorful little stickers on them. They may indicate the company selling the goods (Dole, Del Monte, Chiquita, etc). They might have a Produce number to assist the checker when you reach the cash register. They also usually indicate where the item came from.

Your avocados likely came from Mexico. The bananas probably came from Guatemala, but may have come from Honduras or Ecuador. Yes, we do grow a lot of fruits and vegetables here, but how can fresh fruits and vegetables be in the stores year-round when the harvest season is short?  The rest of the year the goods come from other countries, mostly in South and Central America. In fact, more than half of the fruit sold here each year is imported.

Despite the ease of growing tomatoes, we imported 2.3 billion dollars worth from Mexico in 2018. We got them from other countries too. We do love tomatoes! We also got onions, peppers, cucumbers, and other fruits and vegetables from Mexico. Check your labels.

One-third of the vegetables are imported. Yes, we do export some fruits and vegetables, but we import three times as much. Now during this unique situation for global transportation, how do all of these goods get here? Yes, there are some airplane freighters flying to some countries, but that is nowhere near the amount of “lift” needed.

The major airlines of the world all have cargo divisions. Their small commuter planes may take small packages to their destination, but those large widebody passenger aircraft carry a large variety of goods. This is how many commodities move from country to country. What if the planes are not flying? There are not enough airline freighters in the world to move cargo around.

The passenger Boeing 777-300 cargo capacity is 24,000 kilos or 52,910 pounds for Americans. About two-thirds of the belly space is used for cargo on the widebody aircraft. Before Covid-19 a large number of air carriers were flying into every major city in the world. Some places now have no international flights, and some just a few. How do your fruits and vegetables get here? Without passengers, many airlines are not flying at all. A few maintain a limited schedule. Air Canada stated recently that they are flying at 5 percent capacity.

Some of the airlines are flying with just cargo. With no passenger revenue, they must charge a much higher rate to make the flight financially viable. Many places need to move their goods now but are reluctant to pay a significantly higher price. What is the market place to do?

If you are shipping a perishable commodity, you can not wait for prices to go down. You pay whatever rate will get your goods to market, or you let them spoil and throw them out. Plowing your crops into the ground is a sad alternative to paying higher transportation costs.

Colombian airline in bankruptcy

How will those South and Central American fruits and vegetables get to North America? Colombian airline Avianca, a major player in South America and carrier of goods and passengers to Miami, has declared bankruptcy.  The airline has not flown since mid-March. They hope to be in the air again soon, but what about the goods that need to fly now?

Some customers have arranged to sign a Blocked Space Agreement (BSA) and even pay an airline upfront to come into their city. This means they will pay for a certain amount of space on a flight whether they use it or not.  The airline can then attempt to sell the additional space, or space in the other direction in order to cover the remaining costs and turn a profit. What does this mean to you?

If the only alternative for our trading partners to sell their goods is to pay a higher price, then they will do it. The result of that will show up on the supermarket shelf soon.

Last week Air Canada ran an all-cargo flight to Avianca’s home town of Bogota. They will run another soon. They are also running a cargo flight to Buenos Aires and on to Santiago. There was also one to Punta Cana and Montego Bay this week. They will try to work with South American sales teams to maintain some of these routes. Other airlines are attempting all cargo runs as well. No one is offering to move things at pre-COVID-19 prices.


Air Canada has now removed the seats of 4 777-300s and will do the same for one more, plus 4 Airbus 330s.

Sources: “A Surprising Amount of Your Fresh Fruit Actually Comes from Outside the U.S.,” by Abbey White, Food & Wine, foodandwine.com March 14, 2018.
Top Imported Fruits Most Loved by Americans,” by Daniel Workman, World’s Top Experts, worldstopexpert.com April 18, 2020.
Our Fleet & ULDs,” Air Canada Cargo, aircanada.com
Some of the world’s airlines could go bankrupt because of the COVID-19 crisis, according to an aviation consultancy. See the carriers that have already collapsed because of the pandemic.” by David Slotnik, Business Insider, bussinesinsider.com May 12, 2020
See also: “The Global Supply Chain Disruption,” by Rich Paschall, SERENDIPITY, April 15, 2020.
Sending and Receiving Stuff,” by Rich Paschall, SERENDIPITY, May 9, 2020.
Note: I worked in freight forwarding for 35 years. I have worked for Air Canada Cargo for the past year.

FLOWERS OF THE DAY: WHAT’S BLOOMING IN THE GARDEN – Marilyn Armstrong

MAY 21 – THE GARDEN GROWS

Coming home, I had my camera and stayed out long enough to get some pictures.

I missed the big blooming of the columbine, but there are some new ones with buds. I missed the daffodils, but there were a bunch of narcissus on the other side of the driveway. I don’t know how they got there since I didn’t plant them. The roses ARE back. They are just very short, but I have a feeling that one of these days they are going to go crazy. June will be the month of tearing thorns.