Monthly Archives: December 2013

A Walk in the Park

We went down to the City this weekend and stayed in our old apartment, currently inhabited by my father, for a night. In the morning, I walked to get a latte at Indian Road, our old favorite brunch place, and then wandered through the park to the Isham Road Farmers’ Market, where I bought us muffins–corn raspberry and pumpkin cranberry.

Inwood Hill Park in the snow. Just out of frame: a few families sledding.

Inwood Hill Park in the snow. Just out of frame: a few families sledding.

Strolling through Inwood Hill Park on a snowy day

Strolling through Inwood Hill Park on a snowy day

Inwood is an amazing neighborhood, and when I’m there, I feel the way I used to feel about the Upper West Side, and the way I imagine most people used to feel about the city as a whole. Inwood is a perfect little neighborhood that just happens to be part of one of the biggest, most famous cities in the world; it makes the city feel small and kind and like a patchwork of important places.

See? Inwood is adorable. And, also, has solid priorities.

See? Inwood is adorable. And, also, has solid priorities.

When we were moving from Albany to NYC (not to be confused with when we more recently moved from NYC to Albany), we had no idea what neighborhood we should live in, and had never really heard of Inwood. We decided we would take one Saturday and travel down the A/1 corridor until we found the neighborhood that suited us best. Within thirty seconds of starting the journey, we were sold. We emerged from the Dyckman Street A stop and were confronted with a temporary closure of Broadway for a Little League parade. There were people cheering on the kids from both sides of the street.

We wandered over to Payson Avenue, which runs along and the base of a long hill (Inwood Hill?) and Inwood Hill Park, and declared it the Most Darling Street In the World. And, though we were already in love, nothing could have sealed the deal more than what happened next: we turned a corner and ran into the Isham Farmers’ Market, which runs throughout the year on Saturdays. The first farm stand we saw belonged to Samascott Orchards, one of the two primary orchards from my home town of Kinderhook. Subsequent farm stands belonged to Our Daily Bread, Ronnybrook Farms, and Hawthorne Valley. It was as if the whole of Columbia County had brought their wares down to this one specific, geographically convenient market.

Apples from the farmers' market

Apples from the farmers’ market

The first view I had of the Isham Farmers' Market, only much snowier.

The first view I had of the Isham Farmers’ Market, excepting the snow.

Later, when we lived there and I was bringing our dog to a playgroup in Isham Park, I learned that many in the neighborhood refer to Inwood as “Upstate Manhattan,” which is just about right.

Exciting Business Opportunity

I flat out do not understand why Albany has such a horrible taxi culture. Coming home from the train station this afternoon, we were forced to share a minivan “cab” with four other people. The two of us, traveling the shortest distance and as a “group,” were charged $18.50 for the grand service of a 2.5 mile ride in a shared car after waiting around for ten minutes in the cold to round up more passengers. Three passengers traveling to Albany Med were being charged $13.50 each. The final passenger was traveling up to an address near St. Peter’s, and, I’m sure, paid at least $15 for the pleasure.

So, to review: the cab company made over $70 for about twenty minutes of driving. Obviously, I understand why they are successful: there is no alternative, so this is an amazing business model. What I don’t understand is why some entrepreneurial 22 year old isn’t taking an Uber-like approach to taxi service in and around Albany. If cabs here are going to be mortifyingly expensive, the very least they could do is also be private and direct. Since that is the point of cabs. 

So, three take aways:

  1. I will support the pants off of any cab driver or company that is reliable and seems to actually value my service/dollars. Others would too. Why isn’t someone making money off of this?
  2. In my compulsive Vietnam research, I’ve read a lot of narratives from people who have had bad experiences with the country because they feel like they are constantly being unfairly scammed; those same people connect that experience to the relatively low rate of return travelers Vietnam gets comparatively to other Southeast Asian countries, like Thailand. Similarly, I do not think there is any way our taxi culture speaks well for us as a city or region. We deserve better, and we deserve to show our guests (the other four passengers in our cab tonight, for example) that we’re not a bunch of hooligans content to scam tourists in a way that is more reminiscent of a developing country than the capital of one of the biggest and best states in the country. My point being: governments and/or Chambers of Commerce and/or Visitors Bureaus, get on this.
  3. Speaking of: while I’m sure the CDTA has its reasons (Ross?) for its meh-at-best bus service between Albany and the train station, I am going to pre-emptively put out there that I think that those reasons are inadequate. There should be a bus waiting (or, at least, arriving) at the train station ten minutes after every NYC train gets in, at a minimum. Furthermore, that bus should run at least as far as South Allen or so on one of the major traffic arteries. The 114 would be fine for this if it ran at all on Sundays. (Does Madison Avenue stop existing on Sundays? It still seems like it’s there, but maybe it’s just an illusion.) Also, if it seemed like the bus schedules had anything to do with the train schedules. And, finally, if there was clear signage indicating what bus to take to get to downtown Albany, and where it picked up. (Right now, you have to be lucky, an extremely good sleuth, or have a friend who manages CDTA routes, to deduce the ridiculous and counter-intuitive fact that the 114 to Albany picks up on the same side of the street that the 114 from Albany drops off.)

If all these factors were in place, there is no way ridership between Albany and the train station wouldn’t pick up. Consistently taking the bus to and from the train station right now is really only an option for those extremely dedicated to the concept of public transportation, whether through financial necessity or ideological commitment. Make it something the public can really use, and we’ll use it. And, oh my gosh please, then we’ll also stop using those horrendous so-called-taxis.

X of the Week, Entry Four

I LOVE AMY POEHLER.

Guys, it’s a Christmas miracle. The only other thing on the Internet that I think is worth sharing this week is ALSO AMY POEHLER. This one is even BETTER. I have rewatched it five times already.

OK, fine, there’s this amazing article about homelessness and kids and NYC and schools and everything, too. Way to harsh my Amy Poehler buzz, reality.

But wait! Reality rewards: TRIFECTA OF AMY POEHLER, WITH BONUS TINA FEY. 

The Stupidity of Exorbitant Shipping Charges

We do most of our Christmas shopping online. I would love to be someone who strolled around cute neighborhoods curating gifts for my loved ones as I went along, but the truth of the matter is that I’m more of a Googler and credit-card number enterer. It’s convenient and it guarantees me that I’ll find the gift I’m looking for.

One of the most frustrating and obnoxious things about this is the exorbitant shipping and handling charges some companies have started to charge . . . and, because I am a supporter of capitalism, I am mainly frustrated because I think it hurts the business of the companies in question more than it hurts me. Two examples from today:

I wanted to buy a somewhat generic item for my mother, and came up with two options. Option A cost $35, but only had half the capacity of Option B. For this particular gift, capacity is not particularly key. Option A is a company that I’ve been aware of and thought of purchasing from for quite awhile, and is clearly the start-up of some kid in Brooklyn who took a woodworking class and decided to make a go of it. (Just looked it up: Chicago, not Brooklyn, but other than that, nailed it.) Option B cost $59, and was a slightly less appealing style, but did have twice the capacity. Option B is made by a more established company that may have family roots but is clearly now owned by a bigger corporation. (Just looked it up: Over 150 years old, private family owned–but possibly not operated, since they don’t talk about it on their website–corporation.)

Now, remember, capacity didn’t really matter to me, so I was set to buy Option A. However, when I started checking out, I saw that the shipping charge was $10 (or, to put it another way, almost 30%). The item in question is not particularly heavy or large. I wouldn’t have balked at $3, 4, 5, or even $6, but $10 clearly indicates to me a level of arbitrary decision making. An internet-based business should have the “handling” portion of shipping and handling built into their price, since they have no other way to move their item.

Annoyed by the $10 charge and unable to find any sort of compensating coupon, I did a quick search for a coupon for the $59 Option B, and came up with a 15% off and free shipping promotion. So, factoring in shipping, my choices were actually $45 for Option A, or $50 for twice-the-capacity Option B.

I went with Option B, and Option A’s company lost a sale.

Another example from today: I wanted to buy five Mast Brothers (fancy!) chocolate bars as a gift. My ideal purveyor was, once again, a smaller store; once again, the shipping charge was ridiculous. In this case, the shipping was going to be $9.50. For five chocolate bars. So I Googled around and found the same chocolate available at Crate and Barrel, for less money and free shipping. Guess where I bought from?

I’m willing–and I suspect many others are willing–to pay a little extra to buy from a smaller shop. I recognize that there economies of scale in play, and that there is a real cost to shipping and handling that these stores might not be able to fully absorb. I am willing to pay that cost and I am willing to pay an upcharge on the product itself. What I am not willing to do is buy into a weird fantasy where I pretend to agree, in an open market, that it is reasonable to pay ten dollars to ship something that takes no more than five minutes to package and five dollars to ship. (Particularly when I think that a less generous and more accurate estimate is two minutes and three-four dollars.)

Every Christmas, I hope that the next year will bring companies around to understanding that gouging their customers on shipping is not worth the extra $5 it brings in when they don’t scare business away. So maybe next year . . .

Ten Reasons I’m Glad to Live in Albany This Week

  1. Attended a performance of the Messiah at The Cathedral of All Saints
  2. Put up two Christmas trees and helped make three different types of Christmas candy
  3. Hosted a West Wing/wine and cheese party at our apartment
  4. Victorian Strolled in Troy, complete with spiked hot chocolate, apple cider donuts, kettle corn, and an impromptu jazzy performance at the Confectionery
  5. Went for a walk with a good friend and my dog down a cold and beautiful country road
  6. Discovered a new and great restaurant in my neighborhood
  7. Owl Prowled at the Pine Bush
  8. Watched the first snowstorm over downtown Albany from my apartment during a quiet day of telecommuting
  9. Saw a late showing of the Hunger Games with friends in a near-empty theater at Crossgates
  10.  Took my dog and her best friend to play in Washington Park after dark, surrounded by the light display