Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Philadelphia Weekly Interview with Deputy Mayor Richard Negrin

Hi everyone, just wanted to give our the link for the version of the Interview with Philly's Deputy Mayor Richard Negrin that appeared in this week's edition of Philadelphia Weekly.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Interview with Philadelphia Deputy Mayor Richard Negrin

Daniel Rackley: I’m here with Philadelphia Deputy Mayor and Managing Director Richard Negrin.  I’d like to thank you for sitting down with me today.

Richard Negrin:  You’re welcome.  It’s a pleasure.

DR:  Now this may be a well known fact or not depending what circle you run in; but you had a short stint in the National Football League.  What do you think prompted you the most to make the jump from professional sports to becoming an attorney?

RN:  I learned a lot of things while I was playing football.  I don’t think people realize the amount of dedication and work that it takes, especially at the professional level.  Sometimes, it was a seventeen or eighteen hour day.  Starting with early meetings, film study, playbook study.  Meetings with your teammates, meetings with your position coach.  Double practice sessions.  So it was both mentally and physically grueling.  So I think you learn a lot of things.  I think you learn a lot about your work ethic, a lot of what you’re made of in terms of character.  In terms of setting a goal and working really hard.  And you learn a lot of stamina; a lot of mental and physical stamina as well.  Which is grueling.  I think at the end of a training camp you’re just emotionally and mentally and physically exhausted.  Where all you want to do is sleep.  And you have one of those classic nights where it feels like you just went to sleep and your alarm goes off; and it’s 6am and you’ve got a meeting in an hour.  So there’s a lot of great things.  It’s one of the reasons why I encourage my kids to play sports.  That you can learn a lot of things by being part of a great team activity like that.  And I think football served that for me.

DR:  Great answer.  Well to follow up, what lessons from your time in the NFL do you think benefitted you the most in your current position?

RN:  One of the things I think I learned a great deal; is that we used to videotape everything we did.  Whether it was practice or games or scrimmages.  Or drills; the concept of unvarnished self reflection around how you are doing and sort of that thought of continuous improvement is something I try to summon every single day.  We look at how we’re doing things in the city when we look at our PhillyStat program, which is our performance management program here in the city.  I want PhillyStat to be that sort of a mechanism.  And I think that comes right out of football.  I become comfortable evaluating every single thing I did on a regular basis.  Because if I missed a block, and it was embarrassing I became embarrassed in front of my teammates and everyone else.  And I would learn from it.  It was always done in a positive sense, and it was sort of that always striving to get better every single day mentality.  It’s something I think I try to apply every single day when it comes to this job.

DR:  Going to ask you a couple of things about the Philly 311 system.  Where do you think the city has benefited the most in terms of this program handling citizen’s individual issues?

RN:  I think in the past, navigating the city; the city is a complex structure.  With lots of employees and it can be confusing in terms of who you go to for what.  One of the biggest values that I think 311 has is that it’s that single point of contact.  Which as the citizens learn where do you reach out to, 311 kind of eliminates that confusion.  If you don’t know who to call.  If you’re not sure exactly what you need but you have a problem, or you are just looking for information; 311 is the resource for that.  So that in and of itself is an incredibly important function.  In the past, there was this concept that you had to know somebody to get something you need is really antiquated.  And 311 helps do away with that. 

DR:  In follow up to that, recently City Controller Alan Butkovitz referred to the 311 system as a “glorified answering service that is nothing but a waste of money.”  Now do you think he’s looking too much at the short term financial cost and not lot looking at the fact that the city needs time to fully develop the service.

RN:  Yes.  I think that’s exactly right.  I think he has failed to realize the obvious.  Which is 311 is still in its beginning phase of development.  So if you look at cities like New York and Baltimore, they’ve had 311 running for almost ten to fifteen years.  Here, we’re really two and a half years in.  Systems like this take time, and I think the Controller has failed to grasp the fact that this is a fledging department.  When’s the last time we created a department that performed a function as important as 311?  Nobody can remember that, because it was so long ago.  You’re talking about a department that was not there two and a half years ago, and it now there providing an incredibly valuable service.  One of the things that he Controller also did that I do not think made any kind of sense; is he criticized the department for the call center piece.  Which one of the parts that the public likes the most.  They want to be able to go somewhere and actually ask for information, instead of just doing a service request.  The fact that 311 has been there to answer those questions on seventy percent of their calls where there’s first call resolution.  Where somebody has a question and they answer it.  What a lot of calls that 311 gets that a lot of folks don’t know is court information.  That’s valuable to people.  They want to know what’s happening with their cases.  What’s happening with their cousin’s case or with this matter or that matter.  That’s a valuable service and I think the Controller discounted that inappropriately.

DR:  Absolutely.  There’s several obvious cases on the news, especially during inclement weather where the 311 system has been a great aid to people who normally wouldn’t be able to get rapid help from the city.

RN:  And that’s an important point that I want to make.  Even though the hours around 311 have been reduced, where it’s not open twenty four hours a day; it’s open from 8am to 8pm.  So we get people after normal work hours usually.  Whenever we do have something like a snowstorm or the hurricane, we take a special emphasis to be open twenty four hours during those times.  So that we’re there when people need us the most.  So that’s something that is important to mention and I’m glad you mentioned it.

DR:  You spent several years working as a pro bono counsel for the FSMA.  Do you think that more elected officials would benefit from working extensively for nonprofit organizations?

RN:  I do.  You know, I started that work for very personal reasons.  My daughter was afflicted with a terrible disease called spinal muscular atrophy.  And she lost her battle with that disease just four years ago.  And we learned when we got involved there were just thirty eight families whose children were afflicted with this terrible disease.  This disease is the number one genetic killer of children under the age of two.  When your kids are diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy, and type one which is the most severe; it is highly unlikely they are going to make it to their second birthday.  We were very lucky because we had Children’s Hospital right here.  And my wife who was a trained attorney in child abuse and a rape prosecutor dedicated her life to keeping our daughter alive during the years she was fighting the disease while I went off to work.  So my daughter was able to live past the age of five; which at the time was the longest living child that was being treated for the disease at CHOP.  That’s something we were very proud of.  The disease is horrible.  You know, whether it’s SMA or breast cancer or pancreatic cancer or domestic violence; I think that attorneys and folks in both the public and private sector should get involved.  I don’t think you have to be a public servant to do that.  My wife with the walks and fundraisers she has done has raised over five hundred thousand dollars.  All of which has gone to research to help combat that disease.  And that’s a great place to put your energy; is to try and make a difference around something as terrible as that.

DR:  This past August I interviewed Councilman Bill Green and it was on the subject of flash mobs and youth violence.  Now he stated in the interview that the measures that Mayor Nutter had put into place that although they were a good start; they were not nearly enough.  Now even after the past couple of weeks where the curfew bill was passed through city council; would you agree with Councilman Green on his statement?

RN:  No.  I think we’ve heard some criticism the other way recently, that the curfew is not the solution.  It’s interesting to hear Councilman Green say that it wasn’t enough.  It’s also important to realize that the curfew is not the only thing we did around flash mobs.  Folks need to understand that.  What we did around the flash mob piece was brilliant on the part of our mayor.  First of all he used very strong leadership.  He used the bully pulpit of the mayor’s office to make a very strong statement.  From a pulpit, literally.  On a vein of personal responsibility.  Of appealing to parents in terms of tone and what we we’re going to tolerate as a city.  Then the curfew worked hand in hand with that.  The increased police presence is another piece that is beyond the curfew.  The engagement of the community.  It’s one of the first times where I can remember we engaged the nonprofit and the community like town watches and the others.  Now those folks were out marching, keeping tracks of areas where there had been flash mobs in the past.  So it was a comprehensive plan, both in terms of communication and personal responsibility.  In terms of the police and the community to really have a holistic approach to the entire flash mob issue.

DR:  You recently sent written testimony to the Pennsylvania state legislature regarding House Bill 738; which would essentially be a mirror of the legislation currently in place in Arizona.  If you could, elaborate as to what was contained in that testimony and what your stance on the bill exactly is.

RN:  It’s not just that bill.  There’s twenty some odd bills in Harrisburg that I would characterize as being not immigrant friendly.  I’m going to resist any attempt by the state legislature to turn Pennsylvania into Arizona.  There’s a reason why I think Philadelphia grew for the first time in sixty years.  A lot of that growth came from our Hispanic and Latino community.  There’s a reason why we overtook Phoenix to take the spot as the fifth most populated city in the country.  I think we’re being shortsighted as a government if we send out the message that we are not friendly to people from other countries.  So I think when you do things like the English Only law; English is not at risk in America.  When you feel like you have to pass a law that is based on intolerance; it sends a clear message to folks that want to come to the United States.  That they are not welcome.  And when you do that, it’s less about tolerance and the core values of our country.  We’re a nation founded by immigrants.  Philadelphia has a rich immigrant history.  A hundred years ago it was the Italians and the Irish.  Now, it’s the Dominicans and the Latinos.  That doesn’t mean that a hundred years from now there won’t be some other group.  And the truth is, the American Dream is still alive here.  We did a naturalization ceremony a few weeks ago in front of Independence Mall.  And you should see the faces of those people.  Around thirty folks becoming American citizens.  And it’s one of the favorite things I get to do; to watch those people raise their right hands and take the oath of citizenship.  That dream is still alive and we need to encourage folks to make Philadelphia a great international destination city.  That’s the vision that Mayor Nutter has for Philadelphia, to be known as a progressive inviting city.  That is about business growth and international growth.  And when you have legislation like the one you mentioned, I think it’s counterproductive to everything we are trying to do from a global perspective.

DR:  What do you think that Mayor Nutter could do to make his second term more successful than his first?

RN:  That is a great question.  Because we think of that a lot around here.  The mayor and I have talked about this a great deal.  One of the things we want to do is something about illegal guns in Philadelphia.  We want to spend time on violence here.  What we recognize is that we’ve done a great job with the homicide rate.  It’s dropped somewhere between eighteen and twenty two percent since the mayor took office.  Overall homicides and the number of violent crimes are down.  We’re doing a fantastic job there but it’s not good enough.  One is too many and this mayor gets that.  With all the economic hardships that we have, how do we change the culture around violence in Philadelphia?  I lost my father to a MAC-10 submachine gun that you can still buy in the internet today.  So I care deeply about the gun issue and I care deeply about violence.  It’s one of the reasons why I went into public service and law school.  I was there and watched my father die and held him in my arms as he passed away.  There’s kids just like me out there in the streets of Philadelphia watching their loved ones die.  I was able to break that chain through faith, football and family.  Not every kid in Philadelphia has that support network that I was lucky to have.  We have to figure out what kind of cultural change we can do so kids aren’t picking up guns to resolve their problems instead of good conflict resolution.  So those kids that are victims of crime don’t act out and have revenge.  The no snitching culture which we are starting to fight back on now needs to be replaced by a culture that embraces the kids that goes strongly against the belief that you can solve your issues with a gun.  And that means things for them to do.  We need a holistic perspective that engages the community; the faith based community.  The nonprofit community, the police.  We all need to work together to make it so that it’s really uncool to have a gun and make those kids put those guns down.  This isn’t about gun control, guns are already here.  It’s about getting folks to take responsibility and put those guns down.  So that’s something we are going to spend time on in the next couple of years.  Because when you decide to take violence into your hands, you not only destroy your own life, not just the person you were violent towards.  There’s a lost generation there.  You are more likely to get shot if you are an African American male than you are to die any other way.  And that needs to stop.

DR:  If you would have had to step into Mayor Nutter’s position in the past four years, what decisions did he make that you would have made different?

RN:  Great question.  One of the reasons I’m here is because I believe in this man and what he does.  I agree with him almost a hundred percent of the time, which is a good thing.  So I wouldn’t know how to answer that.

DR:  A few weeks ago, you posted a picture from your office window of some of the members of the Occupy Philly movement.  Does being so close to the protesters inspire you to work harder for reform on the municipal side of things?

RN:  I don’t think a whole lot of folks understand how I feel generally about them.  I take very seriously my responsibility, every single day to make sure that they are safe.  I don’t think some people understand that.  Some folks have a tendency to see it as an us against them  mentality.  And that’s not how we feel at all.  When we have our meetings and we talk about Occupy Philly; it’s never about us and them.  One of the things I like about them is that they are Philadelphians.  So there aren’t a whole lot of folks that are coming from other places.  So whether or not you like or agree with what they stand for; it’s almost irrelevant.  Because they are citizens of Philadelphia and they deserve my best every single day just like everyone else.  The concerns around the sanitation issues and the graffiti issues and other ones that I have had with them are issues that directly impact their safety and well being.  To prevent disease and to have good cleanliness.  And that’s something you can’t lose sight of.  When they see us giving them a hard time or asking them about these other issues like we did in our letter; it’s not because we’re trying to give them a hard time.  It’s because we want to keep them safe.  And we believe that we have a moral obligation as part of what we do to make sure that we treat them just as well as we would treat anybody else.  That the homeless and the folks that are in that encampment and the Occupiers that are there simply there to exercise their free speech can do in a manner that doesn’t impact public safety.  I’m concerned about the possibility of things like a fire.  There are people down there with medical conditions.  So I think being close to them and being able to see them keeps that in my head all the time.  That’s what keeps me up at night is to make sure that something terrible doesn’t happen.  That there’s no catastrophic event that occurs and no loss of life or harm on either side.  And I think that’s something we’ve continued to do well.  We have to continue to talk and communicate.  But that’s the big concern is that something was to go wrong.  If we go to code blue, which is when it gets so cold that conditions outside are life threatening.  I’m really concerned about what happens; because I think the last thing they want is a homeless person dying in a tent because of the temperature. 

DR:  What do you think that the city hopes to accomplish between city officials and members of the Occupy Philly movement?

RN:  Just an open communication.  You know, the conditions change there on almost a daily basis.  As we talk about temperature changes.  As we talk about the possibility of them moving to a different location because of the City Hall project that’s coming.  As we work through those issues, I’d love to have a forum where we don’t have to wait weeks to sit down and talk.  We have a mechanism in place when both sides sit down where they can address issues on their side; and we can on ours.  And then things can be taken to the General Assembly to be voted on in due course in a manner that is fairly efficient. 

DR:  With the recent arrests the past couple of weeks that were made on the Occupy Philly protesters; how do you think other cities that are dealing with Occupy movements of their own could learn from what was done here in Philadelphia?

RN:  I think our approach has been interesting.  The day before they started setting up, we met with some of their leaders and the mayor’s office.  To my knowledge, no other city had done that.  So we started to set up a line of communication early on.  As the movement developed, we’ve worked very hard not to create unnecessary conflict with the police.  So when they do marches or sit ins, we only use the amount of force required to fulfill what’s absolutely legally necessary.  So when they blocked the street in front of the police administration building, we waited as long as we could possibly wait.  We have them every single opportunity and those folks were clearly determined to get arrested.  And I asked them that question when I showed up and they looked at me and it was pretty clear that’s why they went there.  I think the incident at the Comcast building is a good example of that.  I think those people went there determined to get arrested.  And that’s ok.  I think those folks see that as their way of making a statement.  There are a lot of different ways to make a statement.  You can write, you can blog, some can film and be a documentary filmmaker.  Some feel like that have to shout from the rooftops; some feel like they have to get arrested.  I don’t prefer that latter part because I feel that it’s confrontational and it can lead to problems.  Whenever you have interaction with the police I always worry about somebody resisting and acting in a way that causes the officer to have to escalate the amount of force they have to use.  And then it becomes a very thorny situation.  So you want to avoid direct confrontation with the police as much as possible.  So I think here we’ve made a decision that we are going to try to do everything possible to treat folks with respect.  To only use the amount of force that’s absolutely required.  And I think the arrests at the Comcast building were an example of that.  They were peaceful.  I heard from the police that some of the protesters were thanking them for their professional and courteous manner while they were being arrested.  Which is pretty interesting.  Because all you need is one person acting irrationally on either side and you could have a very different situation.  I don’t like having arrests, but if it is going to happen I’m proud of the way they are occurring.

DR:  Now, on the other side of the coin; what do you think protesters in other cities could learn from the ones here in Philadelphia?

RN:  That communication is important.  These folks have figured out a way to do that.  So now we are working through their legal collective in a way that I think is positive.  The use of social media and our ability to interact on social media on both sides has been a positive thing in terms of having lines of communication.  I think that’s something they could learn.  The more that other protesters see that you can come here and make your point without destroying property.  Without disrupting the citizenry.  I think that the movement would rapidly lose support if they started to block traffic on a regular basis.  So I think these folks have done a decent job making sure they are not doing that.  So the public outcry against them hasn’t been there. 

DR:  Do you think that the Occupy Philly movement is going to benefit the city in the long run even though there’s been expenditures in the tens of thousands daily to cover police overtime pay?

RN:  I think that depends on what comes out of all this.  A year from now and we’ll see the Occupy movement having a more defined role.  I think they are still figuring out who they are.  Whether this becomes about poverty, the shrinking middle class, homelessness or what’s happening with CEO pay.  I think that’s something that the city cares a lot about.  It’s something that Mayor Nutter cares a lot about.  One of the mayor’s top goals is for us to be the greenest city in the country.  So if it’s about those issues, those are all issues that we as a city appreciate the emphasis on.  It’s consistent with everything that we are trying to do as an administration and not necessarily consistent with the thinking in Harrisburg and Washington.  So to the extent that it helps highlight some of the things that we talk about; they are issues that Mayor Nutter has been beating the drum on for some time.  It’s about jobs, it’s about poverty.  It’s about what’s happening in the inner city and education.  If that lines up with whatever ends up being the Occupy movement’s main platform is, then I think that’ll be a positive thing.

I would like to thank Deputy Mayor Richard Negrin for taking time out of his busy schedule to sit down and conduct this interview.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Why Wasn't Jack The Cat Found Earlier?

After sixty one days, Jack The Cat has finally been found.  For those that haven’t been following the story, two months ago Karen Pascoe boarded a flight from JFK airport in New York bound for San Francisco with her two cats Jack and Barry stored in the cargo hold of the airplane.  But before the plane had taken off, she was shocked to learn that one of her cats, Jack, had somehow not made it on the plane.  But how did this happen?  And where was he?

At first it seemed like American Airlines was going to be extremely cooperative with Karen in the finding of the cat.  But if you look at it a little more closely, it seems that any cooperation they gave towards helping finding Jack was done to not tarnish their image in the public eye more than it was to actually finding the cat.
When people began deluging the American Airlines Facebook page expressing their disdain for how something like losing a cat could have happened, they began selectively deleting posts that were expressing any sentiment against the airline.  But at their credit, they set food out in the airport and set traps in the hopes of catching Jack if he was wandering around.  Also, they handed out fliers and organized search parties.

The search for Jack was done also through private people just trying to help out.  They searched the airport high and low, but didn’t turn up any results.  Part of this was due to the fact that American Airlines prohibited members of Jack the Cat search parties from searching certain areas of the airport.  Seemed like AA wanted to  sweep this whole thing under the rug as silently as possible; while carrying about the public image that their own private search was still on.  They weren’t exactly forthcoming in their cooperativeness.

Which brings me to this week.  Jack the Cat was found after he fell through a ceiling tile at JFK airport in an office for the Department of Customs and Border Protection.  In the same terminal he was lost in.  I sure hope that American Airlines doesn’t take any credit in finding Jack.  He kinda found himself.  Now, this is more evidence that points the finger at AA for not doing as thorough of a search as they could have.
They clearly don’t take the advice they give us when we fly.  The cat fell out of a ceiling tile.  It never occurred to them to check the ceiling.  Isn’t this the same business that employs people to specifically tell us to look in the overhead bins to make sure we didn’t lose anything?  They tell us this to make sure we didn’t lost an umbrella or an Ipad.  Well, they lost a whole cat and they didn’t even bother looking above their own eyebrows.  They could have found him weeks ago if they would have just gotten a ladder and a flashlight.

Right now, Jack is sitting in critical condition in a vet’s office in New York due to fatty liver disease, which is caused by malnutrition.  They are giving a 50/50 chance on if he will actually survive.  But he could have been found earlier if American Airlines just used their heads and looked above their own.

Who knows if any legal action will result from this directed toward American Airlines.  But it definitely should raise some concerns towards every major airline in the way they handle pets in cargo holds.  Both of Karen Pascoe’s cats were apparently stacked on top of each other and Jack got loose.  There should be an across the board reform in the handling of pets on airplanes because of this case.  It’s not the first time it’s happened, and it will not be the last until the airlines realize that the beloved family pet should be treated with a little bit more care than a Samsonite bag.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Wildwood NJ: Memories That Will Last A Lifetime

When you go on a vacation when you are a child, you get nothing but the bells and whistles that go along with it.  But when you take your family on vacation, you get the added bonus of seeing your children react to all of the bells and whistles.  It is an amazing feeling that you honestly cannot compare it to.
My wife and I take our son to Wildwood, NJ every year for a few days.  This past year our son got one of his friends to come along with him.  That’s always good for him, because adding one more just makes things more fun; plus there is a much more all important purpose.  If you look on the Morey’s Piers website, there is a great variety of rides for people of all ages to partake in.  There are also several of those which require at some point in the operation of the amusement where my rear end would have to be over my head.  This is not something that is in the cards for me.  I try to stay away from these contraptions as much as humanly possible.  Besides, I would rather sit there with the video camera filming the boys while they scream as they suddenly realize that their butts are over their heads and they are moving in a direction not normally meant for humans.

The highlight of the trip would have to have been the water park.  The one we went to, Ocean Oasis, was a particularly large outdoor water park right on the beach.  You couldn’t throw a rock without hitting a waterslide.  There were slides of every variety and for every level of daredevil.  You want one that brings you down to the water at a nice soft poof?  You got it.  Want one where the slide suddenly ends and you drop ten feet into a pool as if you are being pushed out of a helicopter in the middle of the ocean?  They got that too.  Oh and if for some reason you want to walk a set of stairs that rivals the Empire State Building, then go down a slide at almost a straight drop splashing you down unexpectedly making you think you should have gotten your affairs in order on the drive down; they got that too.  The kids enjoyed that as well.  Oddly enough, what they enjoyed the most was the simplest thing in the park.  The Lazy River.

The Lazy River is an eleven hundred foot long man made stream.  All you do is hop on an inner tube and float.  That’s it.  No tossing you off the side of a building, no putting your butt over your head, and it was the agreed upon best thing in the water park.  I remarked to my wife that I would have set up a tray to put a sandwich on if not for fear of the inner tube tipping over.   For its simplicity, it’s possibly the most enjoyable thing about the park.
One of the great things about the Ocean Oasis park is that there is access directly to the beach.  Don’t have to walk all the way down to the end of the pier.  Just go through this little access point and you’re on your way to the Atlantic Ocean.  Word of warning, wear sandals.  On a hot day, the sand is warm enough to strip paint off the Statue Of Liberty.  Don’t say anyone did not warn you.  While you are there make sure to go down to the beach.  It’s the original water park.  Except for the seaweed.   In an effort to give my wife a little bit of a scare I went under the water and swam toward her.  I came up to the surface ready to yell “boo”, when I suddenly realized my entire upper body was covered in seaweed.  I looked like an old timey Universal movie monster.  If you go into the water, you will get covered in seaweed.  But nothing beats trying to jump the waves as they come at you.

If there were no amusement rides in Wildwood, NJ to speak of; two things would still cause people to flock to the little shore town by the millions every summer.  Food, and the SightSeer TramCar.  Both are available in very plentiful amounts.  Think of this, you have a few mile long boardwalk where there is a place to eat every four feet or so.  And if you are tuckered out from the day’s events, you have these wonderful contraptions called TramCars.  It’s a little electric train that goes down the boardwalk at a leisurely pace.  A great way to help you get where you want to go, because this place is spread out and there are things to do the entire length of the boardwalk.  But be sure if you are in the path of one, don’t be surprised if you hear a stern yet friendly voice advising you to “Watch The TramCar Please!”

The food, like I said is extremely plentiful.  There is something for you no matter what palate you have.  The pizza places are to absolutely die for.  Most of them have been around longer than time itself and still use the original recipes.  You can walk right in to any of them and see a pizza made the exact same way it was fifty years ago.  We’re a Mack’s Pizza family, in all fairness to the great pizza shops in Wildwood.  Not a trip goes by where our last stop before heading home is to Mack’s to pick up a pie to eat when we get back.

Saltwater Taffy and Fudge is abound here also.  Much like many of the pizza shops, these are businesses that have  been around for decades so you know you are going to get nothing but quality.
The amusement rides, like I said previously are some of the best in the world.  Morey’s Piers has more rides than DisneyLand.  They have amazing stuff like the IT, which is prime butt over head territory.  Several great roller coasters and classics amusement rides that people have been enjoying for decades.  One of their newest creations is the recently unveiled Ghost Ship.  Opened in 2010, this is not like any haunted house you have ever been in.  It is a several minute long journey through a haunted World War Two naval vessel.  If you want a nomination for best money’s worth for a ride, the Ghost Ship is it.  Just let yourself suspend disbelief for a few moments, and you will feel like you are in a zombie movie.  That’s about all the description I will give, I don’t want to spoil it.

I lived in Michigan for the majority of my life, and had not heard of Wildwood, NJ until a few years ago.  On our first trip I saw the light in my wife’s eyes as she would tell me about the boardwalk and the rides and all that came with it.  I didn’t truly understand until I stepped foot on the boardwalk for the first time.  We all wish sometimes that we could enjoy things the same way we did when we were kids.  Wildwood, NJ is one of those places that lets you do that.  If you’ve got children, be sure to take them.  When it’s all said and done, memories are what we have.  And Wildwood will give them a lifetime of memories.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

In A Zombie Apocalypse, Sam's Club Has Got You Covered!

Something uplifting and funny for you all.  It’s Sam’s Club time for our family, and we all fully prepared and ready to head out into the cavernous wasteland that is Sam’s Club.  Now, every once in a while we’ll look at the Sam ‘s website to see what interesting little things are available online that you cannot normally find at the store.  Well, we finally found something that really takes the cake.  A copany called Augason Farms is selling a product that is essentially a year’s supply of food.  All in these giant cans like you might be used to be seeing if you look on the other side of a salad bar at a buffet.  Yes, these giant color coded cans will provide enough sustenance for a family of four for at least one year.  And this is something that is a top seller.
There can only be two reasons for this being such a top seller.  The first one, people are really getting nervous about a zombie/nuclear apocalypse and want to be prepared.  Or the second one, and scarier; that people are getting so lazy that they only want to leave the house once a year to buy food.  Which seeing as how this product that costs around three thousand dollars it is available for shopping on the Sam’s website, you do not even have to leave the house to get it.  All you have to do I suppose is when the delivery person shows up is signal for the guards to raise the portcullis and allow them into your impregnable fortress to drop off your provisions.  Well two delivery people, this shipment of supplies contains eighty five separate cans.  Oh and you also get a wheat grinder.  Since you are going to have to make your own bread now that the zombies are coming.  But this will require a great deal of space to store all of this; which can only mean one thing.  Sam’s is in negotiations as we speak to start selling a two bedroom survival bunker; which you will soon be able to pick up at the store along with your year’s worth of rations. Razor wire and electrified fencing sold separately.
So whether you are an agoraphobic that only wants to leave the house once a year, or if you are readying for the zombie apocalypse(and it will happen); check out the Augason Farms Food Storage One Year Kit.  You’ll be so full of powdered eggs and dehydrated bananas you won’t know what to do with yourself.  But if you want other things like hot sauce or ketchup, you’re shit out of luck.  Looks like you’ll have to go to Amazon for that.

Friday, April 22, 2011

How An MRI Can Turn Out To Be Fun

So today I went in for a root canal and got an MRI by mistake.  Well not really, but you get the picture.  As some of you have read before, I have occasional appointments at our local VA hospital.  I had been scheduled today, or so I thought for a simple root canal.  Apparently I looked at my calendar wrong.  The receptionist cheerfully informed me at the dental department that I had no appointment scheduled with them today.  By cheerfully, I mean looked at like I had three heads for wasting their time.  But after calling home and looking at my appointment sheet my wife informs me that I in fact had an MRI.  You know, where they put you inside a giant magnet to take really fancy pictures of your innards?  Yep, that MRI.  No big deal I thought, I’m just trading one moment of discomfort for the other.  Shouldn’t be too big a deal.  I can lie down for a half hour.  That I’m an expert at.
So I saunter on over to the MRI reception desk on the other side of the hospital.  I’m thinking that I’ll be met with a few minutes of waiting and then a trip through a giant magnet.  Nope, apparently they need to take blood from you.  So I get the ever so happy task of sitting in the phlebotomy waiting room for a complete stranger to stick a needle in me.  But at least it didn’t take too long and didn’t feel a thing.  Oh who am I kidding?  I can’t stand needles and I wanted to pee on myself.  But somehow I managed to survive the poking and prodding and walk back to the MRI lab.  Arm sore and upset over the lack of band-aids with cartoon characters on them.  Last thing I want to see in a veterans hospital is camouflage bandages.
But I go back and sit until I’m called in.  The procedure itself was simple enough.  They wave you with a metal detector wand like at the airport.  Because the last thing you want when sitting in a giant magnet is for metal to come flying out of your body.  I can’t imagine it is very pleasant.  But for having to sit with your face four inches away from the top wall of an MRI machine for an hour, it was actually rather pleasant.  The guy running the machine couldn’t have been cooler given my slight claustrophobia.  They had a local rock station, WMMR rigged into a headset so you didn’t have the complete feeling like you were inside a washing machine.  Which is what it feels like.  Being stuck in a washing machine.  Little tip, time your breathing to the constant buzzing and humming and you’ll do fine.  But for being stuck in a giant tube, listening to Pierre Robert’s Work Force Block is the way to go.
So, I went in for a root canal and came out the recipient of an MRI.  Apparently my innards are fine.  Turns out the root canal is next.  Which means they get to numb my mouth up.  Whoppee!  What the hell is it with me getting stuck with a needle every time I go to the VA?

Monday, April 18, 2011

How I Ended Up On The Field During AWhite Sox Game

It’s not all that often that I actually sit down and tell stories about my time in the military.  Some of them I have honestly forgot.  Others are actually a little too painful to put in print yet.  I’d like to think that my contribution to the Michael Moore book “Will They Ever Trust Us Again?” encapsulates my feelings on the war in Iraq and things about the military in general.  But those are stories for another time.
However, there are a few tales here and there that are of an extremely positive and memorable nature.  Take for instance something happened when I was in basic training.  The division that I was placed in upon my arrival at RTC Great Lakes was what was called a 900 division.  To quickly explain it, we performed ancillary duties around the base and performed ceremonial tasks during presentations and special events.  So if you have ever been to a military pass in review ceremony, we were the people holding the flags and marching really straight.  Every other day we would rehearse these extremely choreographed marching patterns.  We had to be really on the ball with this stuff, because every week when there was some sort of special event we would be pressed into service.  Marching around with the flags and standing still for long periods of time.
 People thought we kind of had it easy, because they thought we got special treatment.  For the most part, this was completely untrue.  When most of the other recruits on the base would be sitting doing nothing on a Sunday, we would be rehearsing for hours at a time.  Because when it came down to our own graduation, we would be performing the flag movements for our own graduation.  Talk about pressure.
But for the special treatment, every once in a great while we would have something come up that would require us to go off base.  For someone that had spent the past couple of months where their entire world was this couple of acres forty miles north of Chicago, the opportunity to go off base was a very big deal.  Our occasion to go out into the real world was that the Chicago White Sox were sponsoring a basic training division.  And they were going to be swearing them in at Comiskey Park before a game.  Coupled with the fact that we were going to be standing in for the national anthem, we were pretty psyched.  Some of the folks in our group had probably never seen a patch of grass as big as that ball field.  We were now all going to be standing on an honest to god major league ballfield.
The ceremony itself was pretty short.  They marched the sponsored White Sox division right up to home plate, had them do the swearing in, and ushered them off before anyone really noticed anything different.  Then the rest of us formed along the warning track while they played the national anthem.  As a baseball fan, being part of the national anthem during a pro baseball game was a pretty awesome experience.  I remember that the wind was blowing pretty heavy that night.  Must have made for a very awesome visual.  If that’s the only time I ever step foot on a major league ballpark, that ten minutes was worth the other four years I was in the navy.  Due to the start time of the game, and the fact that we had to be back on base by ten pm, we had to rush back on the bus before the first pitch was thrown.  We had done our job and we were back on our way to Great Lakes.  I did take a couple of steps onto the centerfield grass right on the edge of the warning track.  Pretty damn cool.
About a third of the way back to the base, our RDC(drill instructor) realized that by the time we got back it would be way past chow time.  And seeing as how we all did such a wonderful job, there was no way he was going to settle with just giving us warmed over sack lunches.  That and he was hungry as hell.  So he makes the announcement that as long as we don’t act like total fools, he was having the bus driver stop at a McDonalds and we had forty five minutes to gorge ourselves.  Now imagine this, we had all, sixty or so of us been stuck on the base for a couple of months.  We were being told on ten minutes notice we were pulling into a McDonalds.  I swear to you there were people miracling money right out of thin air.  Somehow I managed through sheer force of will conjured up forty dollars.  I can only imagine the shock of the people behind the counter when we pulled up.  Sixty people all in dress white Navy uniforms pulling up to the McDonalds counter.  I think that day was the single largest of consumption of fast food in the history of fast food.  I remember personally consuming two Big Macs, one 20 piece, a large chocolate shake and a bag of fries.  Quite literally, a whole bag.  A whole field of Idaho potatoes gave their lives just for this one serving of French fries.  But an hour or so later the illusion was split and we were back on the base.   But at the very least, that evening gave me a positive story that I can tell people for the rest of my live.  Like when I knocked Oliver North into a wall by accident.  But that’s another story for another time.

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Official Results Of The Green Death Hot Sauce Challenge!

Well folks, now that I got that off my chest...time for the results of the Green Death Hot Sauce Challenge.  We finally got around to it last night seeing as how I recovered from our latest excursion to Golden Corral earlier in the week.  Sorry for all the delays but that place will knock you silly.  We arranged everything to coincide with our normal dinner time.  The wings in question were pre cooked buffalo wings bought from a Sam’s Warehouse.  They cook up easily and taste great even when you don’t put anything on them.  So we had the implements of my potential downfall at hand.  As per the rules of the contest, my wife was in charge of putting the sauce on the wings.  Here is a picture of the sauce in question…

The Green Death itself, El Yucateco.  This stuff will rip the chrome off a trailer hitch.  As you will see in the pictures it almost glows in the dark.  Bright green.  But I gotta say outright, we go through a bottle a month of this stuff.  For a period, we would put it on everything under the sun.  To provide you with an exact account of what sort of nemesis I dealt with, after about twenty minutes in the cooker my wife proceeded with laying on the sauce.  For six wings, there was a full tablespoon of sauce each.  Which turned out to be roughly a third of the bottle.  It was then let to congeal on the wings to ensure maximum spice penetration once the wings hit my mouth.  A glass of water was placed to my left.  One sip from the glass would constitute submission and I would have lost the challenge.  There was no time limit.  Just go until you cannot go anymore.  My wife placed the finished wings in front of me and the challenge was on!

Here are a couple of shots of me as I was plowing my way through the potentially lethal half dozen.  The trick to any hot sauce challenge is to get through them as fast as possible.  Once the sauce hits your taste buds, it will take effect and quick.  The sensation will hit you like a ton of bricks.  So you gotta get out of the blocks early before the peppers overcome you.

Around wing three or four, the sauce achieved maximum burn and I almost threw in the towel.  But I had been shooting my mouth off for the whole week saying I was going to do it.  So I bravely and painfully bit into the last two wings, eyeballing the glass of water like it was the keys to Fort Knox.  After two minutes and thirty three seconds, the last bit of habanero covered chicken was downed.  I had completed the Green Death Hot Sauce Challenge. 

As you can see from the pictures, I paid a little bit of a price.  The look on my face can only be described as one that knows I just completed a test of my will and endurance.  I probably drank a gallon of milk afterward to make sure my eyes didn’t pop out of my head.  But I am not done.  Soon there will be another mountain to climb.  Scotch Bonnet peppers.  Multiple times hotter than El Yucateco.  Higher degree of difficulty.  Time to go on Amazon and order the fifty gallon drum of Maalox.  And wherever you can find it, look for El Yucateco Sauces if you love anything spicy.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Did Dan Complete the Green Death Challenge?

Yes, I did complete the Green Death Hot Sauce Challenge.  There will be more information to follow tomorrow after I have given myself time to reflect on what I just put my body through.  That and I need to go on Amazon and order a bottle of Maalox big enough to fill a swimming pool with.  Thanks for reading.  The full report on the Green Death Challenge will be here tomorrow!  Don't forget to donate and thanks to El Yucateco for making the hottest thing I have ever far.

The Green Death Challenge Is Upon Us!

Right now, I am busy preparing myself mentally for one of my greatest challenges to date, the Green Death Hot Sauce Challenge.  To bring those of you that are new up to speed, I made an agreement with my wife that the first week of April I would attempt to ingest a half dozen chicken wings covered in a green habanero sauce called El Yucateco.  I may have bitten off a little more than I can chew on this one.  I used to eat this stuff with great regularity, but it has been some time since I have gone anywhere near it.  I took a long, well deserved break from eating ultra spicy foods and now I am making my comeback.  But I am not starting off small, I am going all out on this one.  If I make it through this, then possibly next month I will attempt a higher level of difficulty challenge.  Scotch Bonnet peppers.  From what I hear, these things are intensely hotter than the Green Death Sauce.  This stuff glows bright orange.  But that’s for another time.
So, in a few hours, I will be settling down at our dinner table.  My wife will put a plate of chicken wings in front of me covered in the hottest sauce I have eaten to date.  There will be no water or milk anywhere near me.  If I ask for a single drop of either to sooth my potentially scorched mouth, I will have not passed the challenge.  Since this was part of a wager, no doubt I will have to perform some form of humiliating task.  God only knows what is in store for me if I lose.  So stay tuned, If I pass this one, I am onto the Scotch Bonnet Deathtrap!  Oh, and there will be pictures!  Please donate to The Dan Experiment if you want to see me execute this challenge!