Sunday, November 24, 2019

build a bridge to bring both sides together

Every day — twice a day — I pass the Lower Trenton Toll-Supported Bridge, that straddles the Delaware River between Trenton, New Jersey and Morrisville, Pennsylvania. No toll is collected from drivers crossing the bridge, making it one of just a handful of toll-free bridges leading out of the Garden State. Officially, the Lower Trenton Toll Supported Bridge is designated as part of US 1 - Business Route, however, US 1 - Business Route doesn't really cross the bridge. It's actually Route 32, but not until you are in Pennsylvania. The Lower Trenton Toll Supported Bridge has even been featured in a few movies, including 1954's Human Desire and 1988's Stealing Home. The real claim to fame for the Lower Trenton Toll-Supported Bridge comes from the somewhat arrogant slogan that adorns the southside span in seven-foot high neon letters. It reads "Trenton Makes The World Takes" and it is renowned (and even reviled) by those all over the Greater Philadelphia and surrounding area.

The Lower Trenton Toll Supported Bridge, which is known colloquially as the "Trenton Makes Bridge," opened on January 30, 1806, exclusively as a railroad bridge. It was the first railroad bridge in the United States to be used for interstate rail traffic. To keep up with the growing demands of railroad traffic, the bridge was rebuilt and reinforced four times over the years. 

In the spring of 1918, the Pennsylvania Railroad sold the bridge to state government of New Jersey and the tolls were removed. It was again rebuilt in 1928, after it was designated as an automobile traffic bridge for US Route 1. 

In 1910, the Trenton Chamber of Commerce ran a contest for a city slogan. Trenton, at the time, was a leading manufacturer of a multitude of goods, most notably steel, rubber, wire rope, linoleum and ceramics. New Jersey Senator and local businessman S. Roy Heath submitted the slogan "Trenton Makes The World Takes" and it was chosen as the winner. It appeared in brochures and on other printed material promoting the city of Trenton. In 1911, the slogan was affixed to the side of the Lower Trenton Toll Supported Bridge in large metallic letters. In 1917, the slogan was enlarged and illuminated with 24,000 incandescent lamps. In 1928, the sign and lights were removed and the bridge remained dark until an even bigger version was installed in 1935, this time the letters shone in bright glowing neon.

The sign and bridge, like much of the city of Trenton, fell into a dreadful state of disrepair. However, in the early 1980s, as part of a citywide revitalization, the sign was once again replaced with the biggest version yet In 2005, the sign received additional upgrades to lighting technology, including LED lights and multiple changing colors. More upgrades are scheduled as well.

Yet, as folks (like me) cross the adjacent Trenton-Morrisville Bridge (on the actual Route 1, where the toll is a buck), we still silently scoff at the boastful claim that the Lower Trenton Toll Supported Bridge makes on behalf of a once proud city. Because we are Philadelphians and that's what we do.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

all I want is a proper cup of coffee

Many years ago, Mrs. Pincus and I purchased a Keurig coffee maker and it was one of the best purchases we ever made. I love having a cup of coffee every morning, but brewing it in a coffee pot is time-consuming. The Keurig is easy to operate and very convenient. Sure, it's not exactly environmentally friendly. Actually, the single-serving patented K-cups are not recyclable. But, we are hoping that one day, they'll figure out a way to recycle them. (Honestly, Mrs. Pincus is more concerned about the future of recyclable K-cups. I don't really care.)

curse ya! curse ya! curse ya!
Recently, we had been finding a small puddle on our kitchen counter near the water reservoir of our Keurig. Thinking it was just an errant spill, it was sopped up with a paper towel. But, everyday there was a puddle again and, some days, the puddle was bigger that the day before. So, we started looking at new models of Keurig coffee makers to replace our current one, which obviously had seen better days. It still worked, but age had gotten the better of it.

Through some creative finances, including cashback incentives, reward points and discounts, Mrs. P managed a terrific deal on a brand new Keurig coffee maker. When she brought the new one home, I unpacked it and set it up in the spot on our kitchen counter, previously occupied by our old, leaky Keurig. I read over the new instructions, noting a few new features. The old Keuring sat on the counter, off to the side, its power cord coiled behind it like a dead snake. It silently awaited its fate. The ever-enterprising Mrs. P first suggested that it be stored with a collection of odds and ends on our back porch, waiting for the first nice day next spring, when it could be offered for second-hand purchase at our annual yard sale. But, Mrs. Pincus came up with another idea. She took a bunch of pictures of our old Keurig and offered it for sale on a few local "Facebook Yard Sale" pages. A brand new Keurig can run upwards of one-hundred-plus dollars. My wife put a twenty dollar price tag on it, with full disclosure of the water leak and she accompanied the post with a number of pictures showing our once-loyal Keurig from every possible angle, as though it was on a coffee maker "Wanted" poster.

...with diamond legs and handles
On Saturday, just a few days after Mrs. P placed the listing for our Keurig, she got a message from an interested potential buyer. The first thing the "buyer" asked was "Will you take ten dollars for it?" Mrs. Pincus frowned. "No, I will not.," she thought. These things are over a hundred bucks and this still works with a slight inconvenience. Hell, we were just using it last week. A quick swipe with a paper towel and your problems were solved. We began emptying the reservoir and only filling it with enough water to make a single cup of coffee. So.... twenty dollars was pretty reasonable. And from the pictures, one could tell it was in really good condition. The "buyer" countered at fifteen dollars. Not wanting appear as "the jerk," my wife sighed and consented to fifteen dollars. She then began making arrangements to meet the "buyer" on Sunday for the exchange. The "buyer" lives in Glenside, a small community not too far from our own small community. Mrs. P suggested the parking lot of a 7-11 that was midway between our two houses. The "buyer" agreed and a time a bit after noon was agreed upon. I loaded the Keurig into the back of my wife's car and she drove off to meet her "buyer."

A little over twenty minutes later, she pulled her car into our driveway. She had a look of vexed disgust on her face.

"What?," I asked, my single word inquiry covering the entire realm of my curiosity. I spotted the Keurig in the back of the car, in nearly the same spot I had placed it.

Mrs. P explained, "I got out of the car. I opened the back door and took out the Keurig. I turned around, holding it in my hands. The guy looks at it and says 'That's not what I want.' I turned around, put it back in the car and drove away."

Then she added, "I don't have time for this shit."

Sunday, November 10, 2019

see the man with the stagefright

* * * * * * WARNING * * * * * *
This blog post contains personal opinions. My personal opinions, as a matter of fact. You may not agree with them and that's okay. Just understand that I am very opinionated and I have resigned myself to the fact that my opinions are in the overwhelming minority. Perhaps this disclaimer should begin every one of my blog posts...

I dislike Broadway musicals. I like some movie musicals — Singing in the Rain, Oklahoma!, The Music Man and any number of gala spectacles from the Golden Age of Hollywood. But there is something about musical productions on the live stage that just rubs me the wrong way.

When I was in sixth grade, my mother took me to a matinee performance of Hair!, the hippie culture musical that was as popular as it was controversial. I had the soundtrack album and I used to play it endlessly. I knew every word to every song, even if I didn't understand what a lot of them meant. (I'm sure my mom was a bit on edge to hear her ten-year old singing "Sodomy.") I remember my mom being scolded by a group of protestors outside of the theater for bringing an impressionable youngster to this "smut" as one angry woman with a picket sign deemed it. My mom, in typical "Josh Pincus's mom" fashion, stood her ground, telling that lady to "mind her own business" (in so many words) as we marched through the theater doors. I remember liking the show, but I can't remember too many details aside from the infamous nude scene occurred at an unexpected time and under the camouflage of bright strobe lights.

In later years, I saw Grease! (eh! it was okay), Beatlemania (it was an incredible simulation, he said sarcastically) and The Phantom of the Opera (I hated it). After that, I have pretty much avoided the theater. It's weird because I love going to concerts and seeing live music performed. But there's just something about musical theater....

That said...

Back in 2013, network television began the experiment of bringing live Broadway musicals to the small screen. Although, I don't like Broadway musicals, I do love me some television. So, I watched one of the first ones that was broadcast. This was an over-hyped production of The Sound of Music starring Carrie Underwood. I am not familiar with Ms. Underwood's career, aside from knowing that she was a winner on American Idol, a show that despite having never seen, I have already formed an opinion about.... and it is not a favorable one. I was familiar, however, with the film version of The Sound of Music, but not the stage version, which this particular production would mimic. It was, at best, uneven. Carrie Underwood appeared overwhelmed and not up to the role's demands. Broadway powerhouse Audra McDonald, as "Mother Abess," overshadowed her fellow cast members with her stellar vocals. The rest of the production was highly forgettable (remember... my opinion).

In spite of lukewarm reviews, NBC stuck it out and, a year later almost to the day, presented Peter Pan Live! — a shit show if there ever was one. Allison Williams, in the title role, appeared uncomfortable, displaying a "deer-in-the-headlights" expression for the duration of the show. She was featured alongside a slightly out-of-it Christopher Walken, who seemed to have lost interest midway into the second act.

These two misguided presentations were followed by even more attempts from NBC, (Hairspray! and The Wiz) standing firm as though they were going to continue with this until they got it right (and so far, they haven't). Fox, feeling they had a better handle on things, joined in with Grease! (jumping on the "titles that include an exclamation point" bandwagon), A Christmas Story and The Passion (a musical tale of Jesus's last days, which no one recalls watching).

I actually watched Fox's take on The Rocky Horror Picture Show, touted as an "event," a week before Halloween in 2016. I loved The Rocky Horror Picture Show when I was in high school, having seen well over one hundred audience-participatory showings. This ill-conceived presentation was doomed from the start. Of course, it would suffer from endless comparisons to the now-beloved low-budget (if somewhat dated) original film. The television version played out like Rocky Horror karaoke. The ensemble was obviously talented, albeit miscast (remember... my opinion). Their delivery of the songs, while certainly strong and loud, was soulless, passionless and — more importantly — lacking any attachment to the source material. The casting of Laverne Cox as "Dr. Frank N Furter," was an obvious grab for attention, but, in my opinion, it missed the mark (remember... my opinion). No disrespect to Ms. Cox. She is indeed a powerful presence with a dynamic voice, but having this character played by a woman misses a joke that is important to the campy nature of the plot (remember... my opinion).

Ever the glutton for punishment, I settled down last night to watch yet another one of these "live musicals for television." This time, the mighty marketing department at Disney threw its magical hat in the ring, as they presented The Little Mermaid as an amalgam of the original animated film and new sequences featuring a politically-aware, racially-diverse cast parading around on a freeform stage before an interactive live audience. The production itself was, for the most part, beautiful. It was chock full of the type of theme park "magic" that makes Disney Disney. However, those who have experienced the "Voyage of the Little Mermaid" attraction at Disney's Hollywood Studios in Florida may have felt a twinge of déjà vu. The staging was very reminiscent of that show. Very reminiscent. On the plus side, the cast was very talented. "Ariel" was portrayed (on stage) by 18-year old Auliʻi Cravalho, who previously voiced the titular character in Moana. She was a formidable successor to the now-adult Jodi Benson who voiced the character in the original 1989 animated feature. Ms. Cravalho possesses the voice, appearance and persona that fits perfectly into the cookie-cutter mold of the current trend in Disney Princesses. Graham Phillips, looking fresh from the set of any Hallmark Channel Christmas movie, fit nicely into the part of hunky "Prince Eric." Single-named Jamaican singer Shaggy seemed unfamiliar with the role of stuffy crustacean chaperone "Sebastian." However, he turned in acceptable recitations of "Under The Sea" and "Kiss The Girl," employing his signature growl in each. (Subsequent reviews chided him for not wearing the "claws" of his animated counterpart.) Evil sea witch "Ursula" was played to the villainous hilt by Queen Latifah. From the moment she hit the stage, decked out in a white fright wig and patent leather tentacles, she was determined to steal this show right out from under everyone involved. TV staple John Stamos, as the real-life incarnation of cartoonish "Chef Louie," was determined to upstage even Queen Latifah's over-the-top performance. At times, the entire production seemed like filler between an onslaught of promos for "Disney +," the entertainment giant's new streaming service that launches in a week.

However, there was something missing.

The staging was clever and innovative. The cast was talented. The story was classic. And everything was dripping in Disney magic. Yet something was missing.



Sound familiar?

The Little Mermaid Live! suffered from the same thing as The Rocky Horror Picture Show Live! It was dead. Lifeless. Cold. Emotionless. It was Little Mermaid karaoke. They were singing the songs. Singing the words to the correct music, but it was... as the kids say... "meh." (Remember... my opinion). Twenty minutes into the first act, I caught Mrs. Pincus — a true lover of lavish musicals — fiddling with her phone, the unmistakable electronic "beeps" betraying her lack of attention.

"I lost interest." she stated after I nudged her to look at a particularly inventive effect. Those three words spoke volumes.

Shared opinion.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

down on the farm

I started a new job in August and my morning commute takes me on a lot of highway driving. When September rolled around, I noted that the billboards began to sport colors of browns, reds and golds, mimicking the changing leaves on the surrounding trees. The advertising had taken a noticeable slant towards autumn marketing, with ads for television shows debuting for fall, Thanksgiving offerings available at local supermarkets and pumpkin spice everything at local coffee outlets.

Most of the advertising is pretty standard and predictable, although I really wish the one for Dunkin Donuts read "Pumpkin at Dumpkin." That would make me happy, but I'm not about to pull off to the side of I-195 for a little bit of impromptu vandalism. That's just not me.

There is one billboard that has intrigued me since I saw it rise above the horizon just past the Big Bear Natural Foods store near the Route 13 exit, a few miles from the Pennsylvania-New Jersey border. I silently stare at it as I approach from the Northbound lane and I continue to contemplate its content long after I pass by, when I should be concentrating on the volume of traffic that surrounds me. The object of my — dare I say — obsession is a billboard for something called "Bloodshed Farms." As the Halloween season approaches, many so-called "haunted attractions" spring up in the area. Most of them have fright-inducing names like "Jason's Woods," which evokes the menacing killer from the Friday the 13th film franchise. (I don't think it's a reference to Jason Alexander, although that would be pretty intriguing, too.) "Bloodshed Farms," however, made me think — obviously. The words "Bloodshed Farms" filled my imagination with thoughts of a demented Green Acres of sorts. It makes me laugh to myself every morning. I found it funny enough to want to share it via Instagram. Because I pass the billboard most mornings at around 60 miles per hour, I cannot take a photo. Instead, I searched for a suitable graphic of Bloodshed Farms to post on Instagram along with a suitably "Josh Pincus" comment.... the kind you've come to expect from the Internet's favorite red-headed stepchild.

You see, Philadelphia is surrounded by a lot of rural farmland. There are several actual farms in the area that cheerfully offer tours for those curious about how milk, cheese and other dairy products end up on your kitchen table. When I was a kid, I visited a large orchard on class trips, where apples were grown and they produced apple-centric products right there on the premises. We often took my son to a nearby dairy farm, where he'd run through their annual "corn maze" and later we'd purchase fresh milk and cookies from their small convenience store. That's the type of dichotomy that "Bloodshed Farms" brought to my skewed sense of humor. So, I certainly couldn't keep that to myself!

In my search, I also found an ad for Bloodshed Farms offering their services to accommodate your private event, like birthdays, anniversaries and the like. This gave me more fodder for an even "smart-assier" Instagram post. So, I posted....
It reads: "Aside from a few weeks out of the years [sic], was it a wise business decision to choose "Bloodshed Farms" for the name of your establishment?  Is this the kind of place you'd expect families to bring their kids to see cows and horses? Do you expect schools to plan class trips to see how a working farm operates? Am I buying milk and cheese from "Bloodshed Farms?" And private parties and special events? C'mon guys..."
I tagged the Bloodshed Farms Instagram account in post... just for good measure. And then I went about my day.

Almost immediately, I started getting "likes" on the post, as well as a few comments including one from @jasperdyne, an art school pal of mine, who noted that the name stems from "Ol' Zeke, who got caught in the combine back in '86" and my son, whose claim of getting butter and eggs from Bloodshed Farms is suspect, especially when they're delivered by a hockey-masked driver. Mrs. Pincus had an entirely different take, explaining that she assumed Bloodshed Farms was a summer camp for pubescent girls. Bottom line.... everyone got the joke.

Except for Bloodshed Farms.

Later in the day, I was alerted of a new comment on this Instagram post. It was from Bloodshed Farms.... and they didn't seem too pleased with my making light of their serious business of seasonal fright. They countered my levity with this:
"No. This is NOT the kind of place we expect families to bring their kids to see cows and horses. We do NOT expect schools to bring children and see how a working farm operates. Do we advertise this? No. But we do get buses of kids from Lenape High School every year as well as trips by soccer and baseball teams, dance teams, and more. We even host groups from Bancroft earlier in the day before we officially open. You should really give us a try! :)"
They started off strong and indignant, making vague references to a local high school and then a special-needs facility. Their tone grew a bit softer as they signed off with a smile and half-hearted invitation for me to experience their brand of "farm living." I'm not sure that Bloodshed Farms fully understood that I was joking. But, if you operate an establishment that produces either dairy products or blood-curdling screams (at this point, it's still unclear), do you really possess the most sharpened sense of humor?
Maybe I'll ask this guy. He left the comment: "SMH....." (shaking my head)

Though he doesn't look like a farmer to me.