Sunday, August 30, 2020

crawling from the wreckage

Well, here we go again.

Way back in 2016, I wrote this story about a co-op that opened in my neighborhood and how I predicted its imminent demise. And sadly, two years later, I wrote this story about the closing of the co-op, just as I had predicted. Before you start calling me names, let me make it clear that I sincerely hoped that the co-op would succeed. I really did. But the folks that ran the co-op and made its business decisions were the main obstacle that kept the co-op from being a success.

Well for nearly two years, the building that housed to co-op sat vacant. My wife and I would stroll past the locked building on our daily walks. We'd sometimes stop and peer into the darkened windows, only to see the same empty store fixtures in the same positions as the last time we stopped for a curious look. Early in 2020, well into the throes of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, we noticed a flurry of activity within the walls of the former co-op building. We spotted a man carrying a toolbox walking in through the usually-locked automatic sliding doors. One time, we saw a couple of guys toting some wooden planks — possibly a disassembled shelving unit — to the waiting bed of a pickup truck. It appeared that something was happening in the co-op building, but there were no physical signs announcing a new business. My wife monitors a neighborhood Facebook page, but only posts of speculation offered any clue. And there was plenty of speculation mixed with suggestions and wish lists concerning the next inhabitants of the co-op's former site. Some hoped for something akin to a mall food court, offering a variety of international and eclectic cuisines. Others requested a marijuana dispensary (You know who you are!) Still others proposed — in all earnest — odd combinations of brewpub/dry cleaner or music store/concert venue/Mexican restaurant. My neighbors are obviously nuts... and the last thing some of them need is a marijuana dispensary.

As the weeks moved on, the activity behind the closed doors of the co-op building increased. A light would glow late at night and we could see the shadows of busy workers doing something constructive. Then, one day, we noticed that the large sign above the door read differently. It looked the same, but upon closer inspection, it was, indeed, a different sign. The large "Creekside" logo remained the same, but underneath, the words "co-op" now read "Market and Tap." Ah ha! A clue!

As July became August, Creekside Market and Tap opened for business with little to no fanfare. It was the most unspectacular opening of a new business that I had ever witnessed... or not witnessed. A few times, in the final week of July, as Mrs. Pincus and I passed by the usually-locked front doors, they swung open — unleashing a shock of air-conditioned breath that took us by surprise. But they closed just as quickly, leading us to believe that the controlling mechanism was mistakenly left in the ON position. On the first of August, however, when the doors again opened, a man with a face mask stretched under his chin greeted us with a minimally friendly "Come on in! We're open!" My wife and I, our face masks properly protecting our noses and mouths, stepped back from the man and his offer and waved him off. We politely answered, "No thank you." from behind our cloth barriers. The man, by this time, had wandered away. During the pandemic, my wife and I have put limits on unnecessary visits to businesses. We don't "browse" like we did in the "pre-COVID" days. However, the man didn't seem to care if we entered the business or didn't.

There is a small, plain banner that reads "NOW OPEN" that is suspended from the far end of the front overhang about twenty feet from the main entrance. There are no other indications that the place is open for business, let alone a grand opening. Aside from tiny signs printed from a home computer that are taped to the inside of the dark tinted glass windows, Creekside Market and Tap looks about the same as it did when Creekside Co-op closed for good. There is one neon sign that glows in a side window and advertises a local brand of deli meats, but that's it. Also, the former raised outdoor seating area appears to have been converted to an "employees only" cigarette break area, as betrayed by the apron-clad folks congregating at two tables and the prevailing cloud of secondhand smoke floating heavily above them. Not the most welcoming of sights.

Proudly closed!
A little internet investigation revealed that the Creekside Market and Tap is home to four individual businesses — all with different operating hours. They are: Dave’s Backyard Farms, Creekside Restaurant & Deli, Cheshire Brewing Company and Herrcastle farms — all fine business, I'm sure. As a resident of Elkins Park for nearly forty years, I have seen business come and go. One thing I have observed is that when someone opens a new business in Elkins Park, the first thing they decide — immediately upon signing the lease on the space — is what days they will be closed. It is a consistent bone of contention I have with every single business I have seen open and close within the confines of the tiny business district that occupies the one-block stretch opposite the train station. The co-op followed this pattern and the new occupants of the co-op building appear to be carrying on the tradition. Just a mere three weeks after proclaiming their "Grand Opening," they have struck Mondays off of their list of days they will be welcoming customers. And they made the announcement with an odd posting to their Facebook page. "In order to serve the community better?" How is closing a method of serving the customer better?

Penn's Woods.... sort of.
Speaking of hours.... When they are open, the hours vary greatly among the four vendors. Only the deli is open every day that the building is open. The two produce vendors operate towards the end opf the week with Herrcastle offering an additional day over Dave’s Backyard Farms. The Cheshire Brewing Company is open Thursday through Sunday with nearly different hours on each of those days. My wife's parents operated a business within the confines of a huge, multi-vendor farmers market for over thirty years. The rule of the market was: if the building is open, your business is open. Period. No exceptions. It is both confusing for and off-putting to your potential customer when they see a business that is "roped off," denying access for purchases for shoppers who are there right now, as well as being an embarrassment to those vendors that are open. Customers don't know who owns what and they don't care. It really isn't the customer's concern. It is up to the business owners to make their wares as accessible as possible to the customer. That's just plain good business sense. Also, try to spell the name of the state you're in correctly on your website.

Not so fast there...
So, Creekside Market and Tap is not yet open a full month. They have four vendors with erratic hours and they have altered their overall hours of operation to eliminate a day of business. Not off to a winning start. Though, based on comments on a community Facebook page, a smattering of customers were very disappointed by some of the business practices. There were issues of attention and friendliness by employees. As recent as five days ago, a customer stated they were told that the deli stops slicing meat an hour before the posted closing time. There were comments regarding product selection. Most distressing were the comments about employees failure to wear proper face protection while working around food. These comments are met with little to no response. Although, those that were acknowledged, received a response that was downright defensive and confrontational.

Look, I understand that opening a business is a stressful thing. Sure, there is added stress with the cloud of a pandemic hanging above. I know that all new businesses suffer from "growing pains" at the beginning while they work out the kinks. I have seen a few strides Creekside Market and Tap have taken towards enhancements. The beautiful natural wood picnic tables out front are a nice, welcoming touch. I think it might be a good idea to clean up the spotted lantern fly carcasses that are strewn about the sidewalk surrounding those beautiful tables.

Again, I wish Creekside Market and Tap all the luck in the world as their business begins. I hope it grows and expands to include additional vendors and I sincerely hope it is successful. I just hope they don't fall into the same downward pattern that befell the previous tenants.

Unfortunately, it doesn't look good.

Sunday, August 23, 2020


Yesterday, my wife and I went on our (almost) daily afternoon walk. We take nearly the same route everyday, circumnavigating the same streets that surround our suburban Philadelphia home. Our neighborhood is comprised of a diverse mix of housing. There are twin homes (like ours, called "duplexes" in some parts of the country, although a "duplex" means something else in our area). There are apartment buildings and townhouses and there are huge, sprawling, multi-floor structures situated on expansive plots of land and featuring additional out buildings like guest houses and multi-car garages. Around the corner from our house is one such property. It is a corner lot, surrounded by a low concrete wall and a connected ornate wrought-iron fence. We have only seen the family that lives there on rare occasions. In summer months, we can hear them splashing in their hidden pool. Sometimes we catch a glimpse of them closing the front door after retrieving a package from the cobblestone walkway that runs parallel to the main entrance.

Yesterday, as we walked alongside the property's outer wall, we could hear a loud, repeating "clicking" sound emanating from their yard behind a cluster of trees. I mentioned to my wife that it sounded like a giant stapler, perhaps the industrial hammer-type used to apply roofing shingles. As we grew nearer and the the trees no longer impaired our sight lines, we discovered the actual source of the sound.

And it was chilling.

The family, as revealed by the distinctive way they dress, are Orthodox Jews. We have seen small children playing in the large yard. The boys sporting kippot (head coverings) securely attached to the crown of their skulls, their tzitzit (fringes on their prayer shawls) flopping at their hips. The girls clad in plain, nearly shapeless dresses. Sometimes we spot a woman watching the children. She is dressed in a similar, fashionless frock, an awkward sheitel (wig) perched upon her head.

Today, we saw a father in a plain white shirt and black tie with his pre-teen son — both wearing a customary kippot atop their respective heads. The "clicking," we discovered, was made by the pump action of two pretty imposing looking rifles — the kind I've seen countless gangsters in countless movies use to carve out an escape path from a precarious crime scene. Father and son were, apparently, cleaning their weapons outside in the cool evening temperatures.

My wife and I watched in disbelief, as every stereotype we ever had forced upon us shattered as though the victim of a well-aimed shotgun blast.

Don't be fooled by throngs of tattooed, shaved-head, camouflage-clad "rednecks," waving their Confederate flags, screaming about their God-given rights and the Second Amendment. Am I stereotyping? 


Maybe I'm stereotyping a couple of times.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

sea change

Before everything went to shit due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, Mrs. Pincus and I had a cruise booked for the final week of October 2020. I had scheduled for the time off from work (a new job I had started full-time in February). At the end of the work day on March 13, my employer informed everyone to take home their desk computers and instructions on how to log on to the company network were distributed via email. After six weeks of "working from home," my entire department (as well as others) was dissolved and every employee — save for a skeleton crew — was let go. 

Industries across the country were shutting down, having employees work from home where applicable. Businesses that operated with patrons in close proximity — amusement parks, movie theaters, concert and sports venues — were shuttered. And all cruise lines discontinued all scheduled cruises for a few months. Our October cruise was nearly paid-in-full. With no regular income — except for my meager unemployment insurance payment — the price of a cruise is money that we could use for other, more essential needs. The problem is, if we canceled the trip, we would be penalized. We would stand to lose a portion of our deposit that we could not afford to lose. So, we would have to wait.... patiently. When you are stuck in your house for eleventy thousand weeks with no job, patience is not very easy to come by.

As the weeks of quarantine turned into months of quarantine, cruise lines were regularly assessing the safety and logistics of re-starting business. Mrs. Pincus and I closely followed the proposed scenarios and alternate procedures being suggested by cruise lines. We weren't too pleased with the solutions and how temporary or permanent they'd need to be.

Well, in a cavalcade of mixed feelings, our October cruise was canceled by Carnival. We, of course, were disappointed that we would not be going on a cruise. We were relieved, however, that we would not have to make what could possibly be a life-or-death decision about taking a cruise. Carnival made that decision for us. And we were offered a full refund of everything we had paid to date... which was, indeed, everything.

My wife and I began to assess the future of cruising. Since our first cruise seven years ago, my wife and I have become very enthusiastic about going on cruises. We like what we like about cruising. I assume that everyone who takes a cruise likes it for specific activities, even if they are different from the ones we like. We have a great time, which, based on my feelings before my first cruise, is very surprising to me. Sure, nearly every cruise we have taken was identical, but that's the experience we enjoy. We like to play trivia games. We like to go to the buffet. (I really like to go to the buffet!) We like the kitschy entertainment. We like meeting new people that we probably will never see again — but, thanks to the magic of the internet, can maintain a friendship as though they lived right next door. But, under the current circumstances as defined by the malevolent coronavirus, all the things we love about cruising will have to change. And that's the part we are wrestling with. Do we really want to take a cruise that is a completely different experience than our previous cruises? 

Well, the buffets would have to be eliminated to cut down on so many different people handling plates and serving utensils... not to mention those travelers who just handle the actual food with their hands.

Showrooms would have to reconfigure seating to allow for social distancing. Heck, the entire ship would have difficulty maintaining social distancing, from the narrow corridors, to the cramped, but mandatory muster drills, to the closeness of seating in the main dining rooms, sometimes with total strangers.

Our beloved trivia games would need to keep participants six feet apart, leading to players taking up huge areas of lounges and forcing the activity's host to speak even louder, repeating questions and stretching play time way past the time allotted for the event. Multiply that by every on-board activity for the entire week and I see a lot of disappointed passengers. Plus, there is the intimacy of bars and discos and swimming and water slides and sports.... ecchhh! it's a mess. Then there's the issue of other people not following the rules. And people on cruises love to not follow the rules. I don't think I want to spend the money for a cruise and not get the cruise I am used to. Until I am sure the cruise industry will go back to the way it was — the way I'm used to — Mrs. Pincus and I will have to pass, albeit reluctantly.

When this is all over (when ever that is), will we define our life timeline as BC (Before COVID-19) and AC (After COVID-19)? 

Sunday, August 9, 2020

the anniversary waltz

There once was a boy
named Pierre
eBay, the famed internet auction, is celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary in 2020. It's hard to believe 28 year-old computer programmer Pierre Omidyar sat in his apartment on Labor Day Weekend 1995 and wrote the code for an online auction, just so he could sell off a few duplicate Pez dispensers he had in his little collection. Or so he says in the company's press release. Actually, that story about eBay's humble beginnings that Pierre has been telling for a quarter-century is total bullshit. But it sure makes the internet auction powerhouse sound... um..... human?

My wife has been selling on eBay for nearly as long as there has been an eBay to sell on. (No, she won't sell your stuff.) Starting off as a supplement to running her parents' general merchandise store, Mrs. P has built her eBay business into just that — a business. She buys, lists, packs and ships merchandise in a regular routine and does it all herself. (I said 'No!,' she will not sell your stuff. Let it go!)

Way back in 2003, when my in-law's store was still operating, Mrs. P was maintaining her eBay business just a few days per week. Still, she was selling a good amount of merchandise. One day, while going through her email, answering questions from potential buyers and sending "end-of-auction" messages to customers, she received an announcement from eBay's headquarters — or so it appeared. She often received bogus emails claiming to be eBay and alerting her to some discrepancy in her account or a similar issue which needed immediate attention. This particular email congratulated her as the winner of a trip to the annual eBay Live! convention being held in Orlando, Florida. She perceived this email as no different from a number of scam offers and announcements she received on a daily basis — so she deleted it. A few days later, she received the same email again. And, again, she deleted it. A third email arrived. This one she read to me and we were treated to a good laugh before this email met the same fate as the previous two.

Then, a week or so later, instead of an email allegedly from eBay, Mrs. P received a phone call from eBay. The nice man on the phone asked my wife why she had not responded to the email about winning the trip to eBay Live! Mrs Pincus laughed and questioned his claim of truly being a representative of eBay. The man on the phone chuckled and said, "Well, I can end all of your auctions, if that'll convince you." She was convinced from the statement alone. He re-sent the email and we read it more carefully this time.

Apparently, because of Mrs. P's stellar selling record, she was awarded "Power Seller" status. All "Power Sellers" would be treated to a two-night stay at the ritzy Peabody Orlando Resort and full admission to the eBay Live! event at the Orlando Convention Center, a three-day celebration of all things eBay, including workshops, seminars and slew of other informative programs we weren't the least bit interested in. The convention also featured a trade show-like presentation floor, where hundreds of eBay associated businesses would be giving away all the logo-emblazoned tchotchkes we could carry. In addition, eBay would pick up the cost of airfare for the two of us. It sounded great, but we really weren't certain this was legit.

We received an official-looking information packet in the mail — allegedly from eBay — including several different release forms — all of which needed to be notarized. We took these forms to a local notary and then sent them back via registered mail. I said, "If this is a scam, at least we're only out the cost of a notary seal and postage."

In a few weeks, we received a bigger packet from eBay that included airline tickets, a hotel voucher and admission credentials for the convention itself. We still weren't convinced. As our departure date drew closer, we packed as though we were actually going on this trip. On the actual day printed on the so-called airplane boarding passes, we drove to the airport, proceeded to the proper gate and, eventually, boarded an Orlando-bound plane. The plane taxied and achieved an airborne state. Mrs P and I looked at each other and decided that we would finally be convinced once we checked in to the hotel.

Well, we landed in Orlando and were shuttled to the beautiful Peabody Hotel. We checked in without a hitch and soon found ourselves smack in the middle of the eBay Live! marketplace. We met and spoke with dozens of eBay representatives and collected free enamel pins to commemorate the event. We were invited to watch then-eBay CEO Meg Whitman deliver her keynote speech — a rousing motivational address that seemed to only be missing a cheerleading squad. When Ms. Whitman completed her oration, the stage was overtaken by the one-and-only Weird Al Yankovic who serenaded the faithful with an eBay parody set to the timely tune of the Backstreet Boys' "I Want It That Way."

The final day of the convention was capped off with an old-fashioned block party, where the inside of the Orlando Convention Center was transformed into a picket-fenced and green-lawned locale of Anytown USA. Grilled hot dogs, fresh popcorn and big, ice-filled tubs of soda were available for all conventioneers. As we strolled about the faux twilight-flecked neighborhood that the good folks at eBay meticulously created, Mrs. Pincus and I were finally convinced that this was on the level.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

everybody is a star

I have two blogs to which I regularly contribute. I am active on Twitter, Instagram and, now (unfortunately) Facebook. My posts across all social media platforms bear a certain similarity. There are unusual things I see, unusual things I seek out, screenshots of old television shows and an inordinate amount of death references. Over the years, I have had a few people (fans? followers? inmates?) suggest that I do a podcast, focusing on my specific interests. Now, my son makes his living as part of the broadcast field. He is very qualified to do a podcast, from both the content side and the technology side of things. The idea has been suggested to him countless times - waaaay more times than I have received those suggestions. He does not do a podcast. Of any kind. On any subject.

The internet and easy-to-learn, easy-to-access technology has made it possible for anyone — literally anyone — to create a podcast. That doesn't mean that everyone should create a podcast. And If you have listened to a sampling of the plethora of podcasts flooding various podcast outlets, you will soon discover that a lot of these folks should have those microphones wrenched out of their hands and their access to upload immediately cut off. An overwhelming number of podcasts are unscripted with no real focus on a coherent subject. The improvised commentary is fraught with "umms" and "ahhs" and "errs," along with incessant laughing (usually at something that isn't funny). Don't get me wrong. There are some podcasts that are enjoyable, but one has to weed through hours and hours of amateurish tedium to find them.

Which brings me to You Tube, the original "do-it-yourself" production platform for those frustrated documentarians whose stories must be told... even if they really don't have much of a story. I humbly admit that I used to contribute to my own YouTube channel. I would post videos from concerts I went to. After 150 videos, I realized that I wasn't watching them. No one on the internet was watching them and I was impeding on my own enjoyment of the concert. So, I stopped (although the videos are still there).

Like most people, I have watched a lot of YouTube content. I learned how to accomplish some techniques in Photoshop. I have watched full concerts and live broadcasts from some of my favorite bands. I have watched some funny clips from comedians and informative pieces on subjects in which I am interested. But — like podcasts — just because you can make a YouTube video doesn't mean you should make a YouTube video.

With my current situation of having a lot of time on my hands, I have been watching more that my fair share of YouTube videos. I have found there is something for every interest — so matter how obscure. If you are interested in something... anything, someone (often more than one person) has made a video about it. I don't have to remind you of my interest in all things Disney, so I often look for videos about Disney Parks. I also look for content dealing with the area surrounding Walt Disney World. I was in Central Florida for the first time in the early 80s. On later trips, I have driven around looking for changes, improvements and additions to the area — new attractions, closed attractions and other alterations to the Orlando area landscape. Now, I can do that from the comfort of my own home via YouTube. Usually.

Mystery Fun House
In 1980 and '81 (my first trips to Orlando), my friends and I went to a local attraction called "Mystery Fun House." True to its name, Mystery Fun House boasted hours of fun in the form of a walk-thru, multi-room fun house with a hall of mirrors, a disorienting odd perspective room and many standard examples of carnival-level amusement. There was also an arcade and a pizza restaurant. The facade was notable for the giant fiberglass wizard character that spanned the entrance way and loomed high over entering guests. Mystery Fun House shut its doors for good in early 2001 after declining popularity in the shadow of Walt Disney World and Universal Studios. It was used as a Welcome Center for a time-share company until it was converted to its current role as one of many discount ticket centers to entice tourists. Curiously, I am not the only person interested in the path and eventual fate of the attraction.

YouTuber A and YouTuber B
This week, I found not one but two videos on YouTube, surprisingly, dealing with the same arcane subject. Both videos are part of a series by two different so-called YouTubers, each of whom have been posting videos to the site for nearly a decade. These two guys' videos employ nearly identical motifs. They both work alone, using their cellphone to shoot their video and later, do their own editing on a most-likely free piece of software. The videos appear choppy, jumpy, unscripted, unprofessional and poorly thought out. Both hosts seem unfamiliar with the subject on which they are reporting, using off-the-top-of-their-head commentary instead of actual research. Neither host appears to have crossed paths with a bar of soap or a bottle of shampoo since the Carter Administration. I suppose this is a good time to point out that they boast 14,800 and 502,000 subscribers respectively. (I have purposely blurred their identities.)

YouTuber A shoots a lot of scenes through the windshield of his RV. From what I understand, this is his trademark "thing." His narration is unfocused stream-of consciousness, often stumbling over his words while he gathers his thoughts. He also peppers his speech with a distracting amount of "cool" catchphrases that feel awkward and more suited to a person half his age. He injects more personal anecdotes than pertinent information regarding his various subjects. He is the star rather than the topic of the particular video. I found his inarticulate delivery to be both distracting and irritating. A dangerous combination. I can't figure out why he doesn't edit out and re-shoot some of his flubs and missteps. He obviously has the capabilities. I watched one of his videos that included him running to avoid a bee, with footage from his perspective accompanied by shrieks.

Yes... I know... there were windows right here.
I watched YouTuber B's video entitled "What Remains From Mystery Fun House." The eight-and-a-half minute piece consists of the host wandering the empty parking lot, wondering aloud if he will be asked to leave by employees in the building. Then, he films and points at the building from several different angles, noting the former location of the wizard figure as well as several windows that have been covered up. He repeats this in its entirety with each angle adjustment. A full five minutes in, he ventures up to a Plexiglas-covered sign left from the attraction's early days. He focuses on the sign for a very, very long time. He goes back to pointing out the former window locations again before wrapping things up when he is spotted by a suspicious ticket center employee.

Both videos were torture to watch, like that guy at a party who won't shut up about a movie that no one cares about and interrupts you when you attempt to change the subject. They are both in-your-face and are in possession of a face that you really don't want in yours.

I'm sure there is good and enjoyable content on YouTube. I have actually viewed some. I just have to remember where I left it.

And I won't be doing a podcast any time soon.