Friday, July 24, 2009

Searching for a Retreat Center

What do you look for when searching for a location for a private, quiet, spiritual retreat? If you have already found what you are looking for, what is it like and where is it?

I live in New York City, in many respects an urban paradise. A person can find almost anything they might want in New York City. Even though there are numerous religious institutions and spiritual organizations throughout the city, I have yet to find a retreat center where I can spend a few quiet days at minimal cost.

I am not looking for five star amenities. I desire a simple but clean room with a single bed (I am even willing to bring my own linens), a writing desk, comfortable chair, a good reading light, a window with some natural light, and preferably a comfortable reading chair. I do not need or want a television, a clock radio, or internet access. With access to a small kitchen I am willing to fix my own meals. A small garden or courtyard with plants and a statue or two would be a plus.

Access to a small library of biblical and spiritual writings would also be nice, as would a small meditation area with perhaps candles, an icon or two, and stained glass.

Oh, I also want to be able to get there via public transportation such as subway, train or bus. I do not want to have to drive or take a cab. I would not mind walking up to a mile from the closest station or stop.

Internet searches have returned numerous Buddhist and other eastern spiritual centers but I am a Christian. Several years ago I spent a full day meditating at The Bhāvanā Society. The hospitality was outstanding. The vegetarian food was tasty and fulfilling. The spiritual energy was discernable. I missed observable Christian symbolism, however. There were no crosses, icons, or biblical scenes anywhere.

At present I am considering Kirkridge but wonder how I can take with me all my food for a few days while still using public transportation. This is not an insurmountable problem especially if I eat simply and take nonperishable food.

In my profile I say that “My dream job is to manage and provide spiritual direction at a retreat center with easy access to water for kayaking and rock for climbing. A small progressive worshipping community or church associated with the retreat center would be a plus.” Maybe access to rock for climbing and water for kayaking is too much to ask for. Perhaps a small community of progressives worshipping together is a reach. Right now I would settle for a few single rooms set aside for people on retreat, a small library, courtyard or garden, prayer chapel, and easy access to public transportation. Any suggestions? Any offers?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

2 – The End (Continued)

I am now standing across the street from Ken’s home. What am I doing here? What am I about to walk into? Who are these strangers that have invited me into their home?

I walk across the street, see two doorbells and press the appropriate button. I hear sounds.

It has been a surreal chain of events that has brought me to this moment. Three weeks earlier on June 14, 2009 I was driving south on Queens’s Van Wyck Expressway when a few minutes after 5:00 PM I happened upon the aftermath of a single motorcycle accident in the north bound lanes. I stopped to offer any assistance I could. Though I did not know his identity at the time, I approached Ken Ragbir’s lifeless body lying face down in the road, his head covered by a shirt or towel.

That evening I searched the internet and watched the local TV news to learn more about what happened. I learned nothing. I blogged about what I saw and experienced, in part as a way of processing my experience.

Ken’s family was also trying to find more information about the accident. Ken’s relative Nadira stumbled upon my blog and alerted other family and friends to my post. Eventually total strangers also discovered my post as they were looking for news about the accident they happened to pass by. They, as well as Ken’s family and friends, started commenting on my post. I have since learned that my post about Ken’s motorcycle accident was the only news and the only semi-eyewitness account Ken’s family and friends had of Ken’s accident.

After reading my post, exchanging emails, and conversing over the phone, Ken’s family invited me to come to their home in the Bronx to meet with them and talk with them about what I saw that afternoon. That is what brought me too the end of the MTA 2 Line and to be standing outside their door.

The sounds I hear are the footfalls of a young and attractive female who opens the door and introduces herself as Nadira (fourth photo right), one of Ken’s family members. She and I have exchanged emails and talked over the phone. She invites me in and escorts me through a hallway into a living room where some of Ken’s other family and friends are gathered. She introduces me to Ken’s father Joe (top photo right), to Ken’s mother Lila (second photo right), to his ex-wife Julie (third photo right, person on right) and their beautiful sixteen year old daughter Ashley (Third photo right, person on left), to his girlfriend Lalita (bottom photo right), and to many other friends and family members.

Following introductions Lila, Nadira, Julie, Ashley and I head into the dining room where I am offered refreshment. Lilia asks what I saw that day three weeks earlier. I try to remember and describe the scene the best I can. Providing a firsthand eyewitness account of the scene of the accident, but not the events of the accident, seems to somehow bring some closure and comfort to the family.
As we talk I learn that Ken was forty-four years old, an only child, and raised by his grandmother in Trinidad. His parents brought him to America when he was twelve. Raised a Hindu by his Indian family (like many people of his generation raised as Christian), at age twenty-five he lost interest in the faith he was raised in and more or less embraced secularism. I am thinking that even across cultures and religions people from the same generation have more in common with each other than they do their parents and grandparents.

Lila shows me copies of the police report and tells me about her and Julia going to the hospital to identify Ken’s body. She narrates how the funeral home was packed for Ken’s viewing. She, Julie and Nadira share with me a touching poem written by Jimmy Seenath on behalf of the R&M Ambulette Crew in loving memory of Ken. I am shown a memorial booklet with pictures of Ken, information about his life, including a poem by Bengalie poet Rabindrath Tagore, and more tributes. After a while we move back into the living room where on the monitor of a desktop computer I view digital photographs of Ken while he was alive as well as photos taken at his Hindu memorial service.

After his divorce from Julie, Ken cam to live with his mother, taking a room in the basemeny. Lila tells me that Ken often said, especially lately “Mom, I want to die before you, because if you die before me I am going to throw myself into your grave.” Ken got his wish. Before his wish was granted, however, he lived everyday as if it were his last, displaying the true meaning of living for the minute. Ken’s last day was June 14, 2009, and his last minute was probably a few minutes if not seconds after 5:00 PM.

As nearly three hours slip by I come to know not only the identity of the lifeless stranger I encountered following a motorcycle accident on Queens’ Van Wyck Expressway on June 14, 2009 but also come to know many of his family and friends. As I stand in the kitchen eating homemade Indian food I feel like I am no longer in the home of strangers or even friends but at home with family. This Indian and Hindu family, an extended family that came to the United States via several generations in Trinidad, has welcomed me, a total stranger, not only into their home but also into their lives, even into their grief and sorrow. I am blessed by their hospitality.
As we prepare to say our goodbyes we talk about how our encounter is atypical for New York City, where for years people may ride the same subway car or bus and pass by each other as they walk the same streets in the same neighborhood but never talk or even say hello, usually avoiding eye contact. Yet for us a chance encounter made possible by telecommunications has broken down barriers of culture, ethnicity and religion.

As we talk I further learn that Nadira works in a building where I often attend meetings and so it is possible that we have passed in the hall or have been in the same elevator. She and I also discover that we share a common colleague and work associate. The world, and New York City, has just become a lot smaller.

As it turns out my ride to the end of New York Subway’s 2 line is a one way trip. A couple of Ken’s relatives and friends, one of them having recently moved to the city from Canada, offer me a ride home in a car with Canadian plates. I accept. Here I am, in the nation’s largest city, being driven home in a car with people I did not even know three hours ago. The journey gives us more time to talk, especially as we pass by the accident scene and try to identify the exact spot where Ken died.

We pull up in front of my house. I open the door, climb out of the back seat, say thank you and goodbye. I open the front door to my home and walk inside, wondering if my journey is now over, or just beginning.

I am certain that eventually I will blog about the afternoon, and sooner or later past some sort of memorial tribute to Ken Rabgir.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

A Sunday on Jamaica Bay

My wife Vicki (that is her in the photo at right, heading back to Sebago, with the Empire State Buidling above her head in the background) and I finally had some free time at the same time (a rarity these past few months) that coincided with some good weather so we headed down to the Sebago Canoe Club and took our sit-on-top kayaks out into Jamaica Bay. It was the first time I had been kayaking in two months. It had been even longer since Vicki and I kayaked together.

We had intended to head to The Raunt but after paddling for two hours into a strong wind opted to beach on Ruffle Bar instead. As we approached closer to Ruffle Bar we saw a couple other kayakers that ended up also being from Sebago. We beached, dragged our boats up on shore, and aet the lunch we had intended to eat on the Raunt. We broke out our Subway subs and a couple cans of Cherry Coke and enjoyed our lunch out of the wind but under the sun. As the tide came in and lapped against our boats we packed up and headed back to Sebago. With the wind at our backs and surfing a few waves our return trip seemed to take half as long and was twice as enjoyable as our paddle out had been frustrating.

Back at Sebago, as we were taking our boats up to the wash racks, we met Bonnie. She had returned just ten minutes earlier from her paddle all the way from Governor’s Island. We congratulated her on the accomplishment and then rinsed our boats, packed up our gear, and headed home.

All in all it was a good afternoon on Jamaica Bay. The water was warm. The sky was blue with a few high clouds. Power boat traffic was minimal.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Farewell and Godspeed, Charles

I and six other Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Ministers of the Word and Sacrament recently gathered for lunch at the home of colleague in ministry and friend Charles Brewster (photo right) to say farewell and which him Godspeed. Charlie recently retired as the Pastor of the multicultural First Presbyterian Church of Forest Hills and he will soon be moving to Dallas, Texas, where he plans to eventually move into a Presbyterian retirement facility.

Several of us would usually gather at Charlie’s home once a month for fellowship and lunch. Our time together would usually focus on catching up with one another’s lives and ministries, talking about national as well as New York State and City politics, talking shop (theology), and commiserating about our dysfunctional New York City Presbytery. After an hour or so up conversation we would move from the living room to the dining room to enjoy a light lunch. Then we would all go on our way.

Until recently Charlie and I served together on New York City’s Committee on Ministry and would regularly sit next to each other at committee meetings, sharing notes, ideas, and impressions as the meeting progressed. Since he has a long history in the Presbytery and I am a newcomer, Charlie has been instrumental in helping me make entry. His command of Biblical Greek has been legendary, evidenced by his nearly constantly carrying a Greek New Testament around with him wherever he went. Since his retirement he has also filled in at the pulpit of North Church Queens a few times when I was away.

Charlie has truly been a valued colleague in ministry and I will miss his local presence. Farewell and Godspeed, Charlie.

NOLS Alumni Gather at the Delancey

About a dozen NOLS Alumni in the New York City area and their friends gathered in the beauty outdoor rooftop garden of The Delancey Monday evening, July 13, 2009. With people coming and going throughout the evening it was a little difficult keeping track of how many of us were there at any one time. Most enjoyed the $5 rooftop hamburger and hot dog barbecue as well as various brews. Chris was congratulated on his engagement and upcoming wedding. Tobey shared some amazing stories from his week volunteering on the Clearwater, including calling on his emergency medical training to provide first aid to a crew member experiencing anaphylactic shock after being exposed to onions, to which she is highly allergic. Elizabeth is still looking for employment in the field of higher education. Lori is anticipating a new roommate moving in. Gint is looking for an apartment of his own. We also heard about he bachelor beaver which has apparently set up housekeeping on the Bronx River.

As always, Tobey, Lori and Gint demonstrated their group leadership skills by arranging for the evening, including reserving tables and making sure we all got the word.

The next gathering may be planned for the Boat Basin Café, an outdoor venue which was rained out last month.

On August 22 we are planning to float the Bronx River on a private trip with the Bronx River Alliance.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Pin the Beard on Calvin: Happy Belated Birthday John C.

Yesterday, July 10, 2009, was Humanist, Philosopher and Theologian John Calvin’s 500th birthday. Members of North Church Queens and the First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone and a few others gathered at North Church’s Studio North, festively decorated with balloons and paper streamers, to celebrate. After singing happy birthday to the absent birthday boy we enjoyed cake, ice cream and coffee while watching and a fifty minute documentary about Calvin’s legacy. Afterward we sang the hymn I Greet Thee Who My Sure Redeemer Art.

Knowing that no birthday party would be complete with out at least one party game, but not wanting to resort to a juvenile game like pin the tail on the donkey, we opted for something more decent and in order: pin the beard on Calvin! A portrait of John was hung on the wall, partiers were blindfolded, turned around three times (Presbyterians are, after all, Trinitarian), and with paper beard with tape on the top in hand, were pointed toward the portrait (photo at right).

Today, Saturday, July 11, 2009, Summit to Shore wishes John Calvin a belated 500th birthday.

July 10, 2009 Sebago Canoe Club Youth Paddle

One of the things I like about being a member of the Sebago Canoe Club is the expectation that the club and its members will give back to the community. One way we do this is by sponsoring youth paddles. I volunteered to help with a youth paddle last summer but the youth never showed up. After waiting around an hour or two most of us who had shown up to help went paddling on our own. Willing to give it another try, and responding to a desperate e-mail plea from a Sebago member, I volunteered to help with the paddle last Friday, July 10, 2009.

The youth and an adult leader from the 68th Precinct (Park Slope) arrived a little late but still with plenty of time to get out on the water. Once all the youth and Sebago helpers were on the water we paddled out under the Belt Parkway Bridge, beached for a break, and then paddled back to Sebago. Back at the club we washed boats, put gear away, played volleyball, ate lots of hamburgers and hot dogs, celebrated birthdays with a cake, and said goodbye.

All in all it was a good day. The weather and the water were nearly perfect. I am glad I volunteered. I had the opportunity to paddle and catch a few rays, meet some great young people, reconnect with Sebago members, and meet a few members I had not met or paddled with before. I have posted photos from the paddle at Picasa.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Reverend Chad Miller, 34, Dies in Kayaking Accident

Here is a story from the Presbyterian News Service of interest to both Presbyterians as well as Kayakers.

July 10, 2009
by Jerry L. Van Marter
Presbyterian News Service

NEWARK, DE — New Castle Presbytery continues to mourn the loss of the Rev. Chad Miller, 34, who died in a kayaking accident along with his brother, Chris, 28, on June 9.

Miller was associate pastor for mission at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, DE, the presbytery’s largest congregation. A memorial service was held at the church June 14 in lieu of the regular Sunday liturgy. The service was led by Westminster’s other two pastors, the Rev. Greg Jones and the Rev. Anne Ledbetter.

More than 1,000 persons crowded the Westminster sanctuary for the service. Every standing-room spot also was filled. Two choirs and a quartet provided music at various times.

Approximately 20 ministers and elders in New Castle Presbytery who were unable to attend the memorial service gathered at Westminster June 24 for a service of remembrance.

In his weekly column for the New Castle Web site after the tragedy, Executive Presbyter James L. Moseley penned these words:

In a church which begs for the energy and idealism of younger adults the loss of a bright, talented and often testy spirit such as Chad Miller is a double tragedy.

Chad and his brother, Chris, drowned when their kayaks were pulled under by the rising waters of the Brandywine River spilling over a low water dam. This all took place early last Tuesday afternoon. The news media and local papers have documented at length the events of the day as described by witness at the site.

Chad was having a ball. After days of overcast skies the sun had finally broken through. The river current was accelerated by the recent rain fall and he was relishing the company his brother who had driven down from New York for the day.

As a former camp director and frequent paddler I know the rush of a perfect day on the water. Part of the thrill is to challenge oneself to negotiate more and more difficult passages and rapids and spill ways.

Chad loved to challenge himself and he challenged just about anybody with whom he had any contact. He certainly challenged me.

One Sunday when he was filling the pulpit, the opening lines of his sermon began by bemoaning the fact that he had, on the previous day, wasted a perfectly good Saturday attending a meeting of the presbytery. He proceeded to note how long the meeting had been and how long winded were the speakers. I suspect I was one of them.

His pronouncement got under my skin right away, and I had to struggle mightily to hear him out in order to discover what point he intended to make. Though I don’t remember the particulars of the exegesis I do recall the impression he left with me that day. It’s one worthy to share with any who love the church and long for its renewal in a time when it seems unable to break out of old patterns of church business.

Beneath the obvious irritations about boring meetings, I believe Chad was expressing a deeply felt though diminishing hope that the Church of Jesus Christ might one day live up to its calling to love the world into a new reality… A reality where healing and justice and goodness and godliness and loving kindness would overshadow all other concerns of propriety, paychecks and church politics. The urgency in his preaching and restlessness in his demeanor seemed to reflect such frustrations.

What Chad may not have realized is that all of us who love and serve in the Body of Christ have the same hopes and experience many of the same frustrations.

Chad was one of those young whippersnappers we hope will push the institution to do more and be more than it has ever done before. It is a lot to ask.

Whatever it is we admired about Chad, whatever we hope for from the other young clergy, must be something we find inside ourselves.

No one keeps us from living fervently and from hoping and praying and working for a radical, Jesus loving, people serving church. We dare not place such hopes on the generations following. It is our work.

If we wish to honor young hearts and minds such as Chad Miller's we need to make more room for their voices in the assemblies of our church. And, as they sound off, we need to listen for what is fearful and fresh.

Chad, thank you for challenging us to want more and to expect more from ourselves as those who follow the path of the one whose extravagant love redeems us all.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

2 – The End

It is a Sunday afternoon around 3 PM. I am on the subway platform at the 14th Street Station waiting for the 2, the 7th Avenue Express through Manhattan and a local in the Bronx. I do not ride the 2 often, maybe once or twice a month, and usually between 14th Street and 96th Street. The farthest north I have ever taken the 2 is Gunn Hill Road in the Bronx.

My ringing cell phone surprises me because I usually do not have reception underground. It is Nadira. She wants to know if I am still coming, if have the address, and if I need any directions. Nadira and I have never met (as far as we know) but have exchanged emails and talked over the phone. I am on the way to meet her and her family, all of whom I have never met, not at her home but at the home of Ken Ragbir. This is not a blind date arranged by E-Harmony but a follow up to a couple of my posts to my blog Summit to Shore. It is amazing where the internet can take a person and I am wondering how this journey will change me.

The 2 pulls up, doors open and I walk into the front, northernmost car. There are fifteen others in the car. At first I think of my surroundings as a “blue Delta” car because the plastic seats are blue and the Delta Airlines advertisements (photo top right) near the top and on the side wall across from me are blue. I eventually realize that the ads on my side of the car are red Verizon ads (photo middle right). Depending on which side of the car one is sitting on can affect perception. Perhaps life and death are only matters of perception as well, but there is very little communication across the great divide between the living and the dead.

At Penn Station more passengers board than leave. At Times Square enough people enter the car to make it standing room only and at least a dozen people are standing as we leave the station.

There is a mass exodus at the 96th Street station. As the train continues north from the platform there are now only eighteen passengers left in the car.

Somewhere between 135th Street and the 149th Street we leave Manhattan, pass under the Harlem River, and enter the Bronx.

Between 3rd Avenue and Jackson Avenue we leave the dark subterranean world of subway tunnels for the light of day of an elevated track. Plato would have welcomed the transition. Sometimes the shadows of the valley of death feal more familiar, however, than the light of goodness and mercy.

As the 2 pulls out of the Gunn Hill Road Station, the farthest north I ever been, there are only seven of us still in the car. I am now exploring new horizons. I have no idea what lies ahead and where the tracks are taking me other than the colors, lines and words on an MTA New York City Subway map. Some journeys are not related to geographic reference points, however. After five more stops I will be walking toward and eventually into Ken’s home. No map made of paper and ink could orient me for that.

The train halts just yards away from the Wakefield-241st Street Station and sits motionless as we wait for another train to clear the platform. There are now only three of us left in the car. The woman across from me has been on the car since when I got on at 14th Street. We have been sitting across from one another for 227 blocks and 60 minutes. I am not sure we ever made eye contact. I certainly do not know her name. I wonder where she is going and who she will be meeting. I am not sure about the woman at the very end of the car. Was she in the car when I boarded or did she get on later?

Finally we pull ahead into the station (photo bottom right) and the end of the 2 line. According to the MTA map I am at the northernmost station in the New York Subway system and farther north in the Bronx that I have ever been before. As I leave the car, step onto the platform and enter the station, it looks and feels other than what I was expecting. I am impressed by how new and clean it appears, especially in comparison to some of the Manhattan and Queens stations. I was expecting something more run down, rougher, and dirtier. I do not even see any graffiti on the walls or litter on the floor.

Climbing down the stairs from the elevated station to street level I am again impressed, this time by the neighborhood. I am no longer in Ridgewood. This is not Fort Apache. I am certainly no longer in Kansas, but it is not Oz either. I am in the midst of generally well kept single family homes rather than the row houses I am more familiar with. I pass by a closed Lutheran Church, a for sale sign adorning its front fence. I think its location, so close to the subway, might make it a good location for a retreat center. I wonder what it looks like inside.

As I walk the few blocks up to Ken’s home I see small yards with grass, most well cared for. I smell burning charcoal and hamburgers being grilled. I hear music and conversations emanating from open windows. In the midst of death there is life. In the midst of mourning people still talk, listen, cook and eat. I wonder how many times Ken rode his motorcycle up and down this street.

I am now standing across the street from Ken’s home. What am I doing here? What am I about to walk into? I cross the street, see two doorbells and press the appropriate button. I hear sounds.

( . . . to be continued . . . )

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Six Months and Counting

Summit to Shore premiered and I first entered the blogosphere on January 5, 2009. My first post was entitled ex nihilo and the first photo I published on Summit to Shore appears top right. That was 112 posts ago. Since then I have been averaging eighteen to nineteen posts a month or about one post every other day.

According to Google Analytics, which I did not start using until January 27th; Summit to Shore has logged visitors from forty-six countries and territories other than the United States, the most coming from Canada. Visitors from every state other than Montana and South Dakota have logged in, including the District of Columbia. If you know anyone in either or both South Dakota and/or Montana, please send them a link and invite them to be the first from their state to visit Summit to Shore. Most US visits, 1,420, have come from New York. California has sent the second most number of visitors with 140. The most viewed page, with 436 page views, has been Death on the Van Wyck. The second most viewed page, with 235 page views, has been 45 Reasons to Learn How To Sail.

According to sitemeter, which I did not start using until February 1st; there have been 2,664 visitors to Summit to Shore since February 1st, an average of eleven per day, with the average visitor staying four minutes and 25 seconds.

My Presbyterian Bloggers colleague Jody Harrington, who usually blogs at Quotidian Grace, notes on Presbyterian Bloggers that “many blogs are abandoned within a few weeks of being created”. I guess that means I have stayed the course (so far) and passed the first milestone. So what might the future hold for Summit to Shore? As eclectic as this blog is, that is hard to tell. My hunch is that there will be some upcoming posts about kayaking and hiking as well as a memorial tribute to Ken Ragbir and possibly a reflection of a Subway Ride. I plan some future installments of my series Welcome to my Neighborhood and possibly some rants and raves about our dysfunctional New York State Senate if it does not soon get its act together.

Stay tuned. Log in/on often. Tell your friends about Summit to Shore. Rate my blog (top far right column). Post a comment or two about articles you read, like and do not like. Link to Summit to Shore. Send me ideas for future posts.

And the Rocket’s Red Glare

According to an article in the online edition of the New York Times, New York’s July 4th fireworks display was the largest in the country. Vicki and I watched the pyrotechnics from near the western end of Pier 54 jutting out into the Hudson toward New Jersey. A crowd filled in behind us 9pictured top right). We arrived around 8:15 PM expecting the show to begin at 9:20. The fireworks actually began around 9:25 and lasted for at least thirty minutes.

This was only the second time I have watched New York’s July 4th Fireworks. The first and only other NYC fireworks I watched were a few years ago before we had moved to the city and were visiting friends here. It was a chilly and wet July 4th and a down pour preceded the fireworks, softening to a drizzle as the show began. While the fireworks were impressive the setting on the FDR drive was not.

As we walked out onto Pier 54 I was particularly impressed by the NYPD’s crowd control. Ditto for after the fireworks display (pictured bottom right). The crowd itself seemed more relaxed and congenial than I was expecting. Perhaps the Obama administration, or the recession, or the dysfunction in Albany has softened normally gruff, pushing and shoving New Yorkers.

I was also impressed with how the six barges of fireworks were synchronized and coordinated. Surely there was some computerized control involved. If our State Senators could only be as coordinated as the fireworks and congenial with each other as Saturday night’s crowd, we would not have the mess in Albany that we have.

At the conclusion of the display it seemed like every ship in the Vicinity, from yachts to sailboats to small craft blew their fog horns. The crowd then erupted in applause.

Thanks, Macy’s, for another memorable Fourth of July fireworks display.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

July 4th Memories and Plans

What are some of your memorable July 4ths? Are there any special places, events or people you associate with the day? What are you planning for today? A Picnic? Fireworks? A day at the beach? Reading the and/or reciting the Declaration of Independence?

As I look back over previous July 4ths, three come to mind.

1976 was the summer between high school and college. On the day of our nation’s bicentennial I was travelling with three other West Virginia teenagers from our home state to Wilmington, Delaware. We flew into DC where we caught a train to Wilmington. We had a couple hours between the time our flight landed and catching the train so the four of us did the tourist thing in our nation’s capital on July 4, 1976. We wlaked around the Mall and into a museum or two. Unfortunately our train left before the fireworks display. Where were you, who where you with, and what were you doing on July 4, 1976 (if you were born before then)?

A year later I was enjoying a long weekend from a summer factory job. After getting off work on Friday, July 1, I hitch hiked to Seneca Rocks, WV. At Seneca I hooked up with a climbing buddy named Greg and we spent the July 4th long weekend climbing during the day, hiking in the evenings, including hiking around the summit of Spruce Knob, and partying with other climbers at night on July 2nd and 3rd. On Monday, July 4th, Greg and I scouted out Church Rocks and then I headed back home. What I remember most about that long July 4th weekend is sun, rock and blue sky without a drop of rain or a worry in the world.

In 1984 I was pulling resident chaplain duty in a Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) program at a hospital in Northern New Jersey. The chaplain supervisor and the five other CPE Students had the day off. I got stuck spending all 24 hours of the July 4th holiday in the hospital. Not only was I NOT paid time and half for working on a holiday, I was actually paying the hospital to do what I was doing. Go figure. Needless to say, this is not my happiest recollection of a July 4th. The only thing that redeemed that July 4th was my wife coming to the hospital to have dinner with me. We watched nearby fireworks out the windo near the top os a stairwell. Do you have any memories of July 4 you would rather forget?

Today I will be working at Eastern Mountain Sport in SoHo. My wife will meet me after work and we will hang out in Manhattan and probably head over to the Hudson to view the fireworks. The day promises to be seasonable, and dry, almost perfect Juky 4th weather. I’d rather be kayaking, climbing or backpacking than working, but all in all I think this will be a good Fourth of July.

What are you planning for today?

In the grand scheme of things, celebrate that in the Unites States of America we have the freedom to make our our plans, the freedom to choose how we will spend the day, and the freedom to decide whether or not we even want to mark this day.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Welcome to My Neighborhood: Subway

Sometimes I ride the Subway and sometimes I eat Subway. I usually do not eat national brand fast food. One of the few exceptions is Subway. Even before Jared lost all his weight I appreciated both the speed at which a Subway can prepare its subs as well as the fresh baked rolls from which those subs are made.

Being a creature of habit my tastes do not very much. I used to prefer the BMT on white bread but after becoming a little more health and weight conscious I now prefer a six-inch roast beef on honey oat, no toast, no cheese, with lettuce, tomatoes, green peppers, black olives, banana peppers, black pepper, oregano, and a little sweet onion dressing (one swipe). My wife’s favorite is a six inch turkey on hearty Italian, no toast, no cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, onion, green pepper, black pepper, cucumbers, spinach, jalapeño peppers, oregano, parmesan cheese and vinegar. We usually get the meal deal with baked chips and soda (half Diet Coke, half Cherry Coke).

I regularly frequent three Subways. One is near where I work in Flushing. One is near where we kayak in Canarsie. The other is in Ridgewood, near where we live. Let me introduce you to the Subway in our neighborhood.

When my wife and I first moved to Ridgewood almost two years ago we frequented our local Subway franchise at 56-53 Myrtle Avenue (front view pictured top right) daily as we were unpacking. We went there so often our first few weeks and months in the neighborhood that some of the people that work there not only came to recognize us but remembered what we always ordered. They now miss us when we do not go there and when I show up by myself they ask about my wife.

The Subway at the corner of Myrtle Avenue and Seneca Avenue (corner view pictured middle right) in Ridgewood has been owned and managed for the past fourteen years by George. His wife Rose is his constant helper. Rose and George came to America from India twenty or twenty-five years ago. Felix, a young and recent hire, was also in the shop the most recent time I was there. That is Rose and Felix pictured bottom right. George was camera shy.

While I was in Subway a recent Sunday afternoon I witnessed a steady stream of customers effectively served by Rose and Felix taking the orders and making the sandwiches and George working the register. Perhaps those customers were drawn into the establishment by the aroma of the fresh baked bread, an enticing bouquet I could smell and appreciate from across the street as I approached. George and Rose provide five tables for eat-in customers and so can handle about twenty people in the corner shop, plus take-outs.

What George likes most about being in business in Ridgewood is that, in his words, Ridgewood is a “decent, peaceful, clean place where the people are nice.” He said he has had only one problem in his fourteen years in business but did not elaborate and I did not pursue with further questions.

When I asked him about his business philosophy, George replied “My business philosophy is similar to my philosophy of life. Open on time. Keep the shop spotlessly clean. Do your best. Leave the deserts to God.” As George spoke in clear, thoughtful, well articulated but slightly accented English about his business philosophy and philosophy of life, comments spiced with religious and spiritual morsels of wisdom, I could almost imagine that I was sitting across the table conversing with a slightly older Deepak Chopra.

When I asked George how the current recession was affecting his business he sounded like a British economist bullish on America, citing unemployment trends and putting a positive spin on them. He sees the current recession as a passing storm, a storm we will weather, and a storm that will clear by the end of the year if not in the near future. While his shop’s profitability is down he has not noticed a reduction in customer traffic.

If George could communicate one thing to potential customers that are not acquainted with Subway in general or his Subway franchise in particular, it is that the food is fresh, non fattening and that “tasting is believing”. I’ll eat to that!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

About July's Header Photo

If you have just recently discovered Summit to Shore you may not know that I change the header photo every month. During odd numbered months the header photo is of a shore scene and during even numbered months the photo is of a summit scene. If this is July, this must a shore photo month.

July’s header photo features the lighthouse at Fire Island National Sea Shore as seen from the west. I shot the photo on September 19, 2008 from a kayak in the Great South Basin.

I was on a Sebago Canoe Club kayaking trip at the time. We put in at Captree State Park and paddled across the basin to Fire Island. Unfortunately we arrived at Fire Island too late to climb up to the top of the light house but I still managed to get a few good photographs as we approached.