Friday, September 21, 2007

Week 21: Village Green Preservation Society

Preserving the old ways from being abused
Protecting the new ways for me and for you
What more can we do?

I haven't been telling some of the good news, because it's so easy to be distracted by the bad. So here's some good news:

1.) My parents' vegetable garden has had a bumper crop. Tomatoes canned for the winter, peppers turned into pepper relish, beans frozen for the winter, etc. Ate the latest zucchini tonight while visiting for dinner. They even have two pumpkins that survived--pumpkins have never really done well in the past, usually only one that makes it.

2.) Lansdale recently created a farmers' market in town, so that folks didn't have to trek all the way to Skippack or take the train down to Glenside. It's been in the parking lot of the shopping center just west of the town center; I think by next year they're building a permanent space.

3.) On the back of the Lansdale Farmers Market, it sounds like the communities of Lansdale, North Wales, Montgomeryville and the northern part of Worcester are banding together. Now, this is actually a pretty wide area--maybe ten miles in diameter. They're talking about petitioning Septa to increase their routes (Worcester doesn't have any connection to Septa). There's talk of starting a wind-farm, and getting PECO in on it.

The funniest thing I heard was from a couple of bar owners who've complained about the lack of beer in the area; so they're working with the Keystone Brew Supply store to start a local brewery. I don't know how much they can do at this point--it's so late in the season--but by next fall I guess we'll have some local beer being produced.

4.) Horses. Worcester has at least three horse farms, probably more. (There's also at least one sheep farm, but that's another story.) Well, the local communities are looking into getting them to breed a lot more horses. Let's face it--if we're not going to be running a lot of cars, there's always the Amish Way.

5.) Speaking of the Amish, there's apparently a move to get some Amish up here from Lancaster to basically teach us how to do what they do--that is, live without modern convenience (more or less--that's a very simplistic way of thinking about the Amish, but I'm not getting into that now).

So yeah, some things are OK. We're holding onto the house, at least as of now. While there's been some layoffs at the company, they haven't chopped off our heads yet, so there's still hope.

As for my folks, they're safe. The looters haven't been around lately, in part because Worcester's started a volunteer police force. They're a more visible presence now; and a couple of my relative (nephews, cousins, etc.) have joined. So while I doubt everything's going to be nice and normal, at least things are a little safer.

I'm writing this on the Autumnal Equinox. It's been a long, scary summer, but maybe the autumn will be better. It's starting to feel that way. But at the same time, I have to remind myself that yeah--it's autumn now. It's getting cold, and soon it'll be winter. And it's going to be a hard winter.

But for now, I'm just going to look forward to harvest, to Halloween, and to the work ahead.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Week 20: More on the Sunoco Incident

It's been three days since the Sunoco Incident. They--that is, the state and city governments and thus the media--are saying it wasn't terrorism per se, but an attempt to steal the oil. At least, that's the story right now--who knows? But I swear to god, people are stupid--as baltpiker pointed out, the refineries have been under guard for months now. There was no way they'd get away with it. The identities of the thieves haven't been released, and that's making me suspicious. On the other hand, I guess if it was terrorism, they'd have struck at a time when they could get mass casualties, and not at five in the morning.

I went downtown today, in part because I'm a fool and in part because I'm an ex-journalism student. Den has a lot of work to get through, though, so he stayed behind.

So I hopped the R5 from Lansdale down to Market East. There was a huge backup getting off because in order to leave the platform you now have to go through metal detectors and pass bomb-sniffing dogs and whatnot. So even if the Sunoco job wasn't terrorism, the cops aren't taking any chances.

I hate to say it, I can't blame 'em.

There are National Guard troops in the city now; not just down at the refinery, but posted outside Independence Hall, outside (and in the courtyard of) City Hall, down at the Stock Exchange--you get the idea. Let's face it--if people are nuts enough to attack an oil refinery, what's to stop them from attacking anything else?

OK, I'm feeling a little paranoid these days.

As I said, some two hundred people died from the gas leak. The city's in mourning. This is my city--I grew up here as a kid, I lived here until the spring. My heart is still here. And maybe that's why I felt like I had to come down.

There was a tent set up in the park next to the Constitution Center. Volunteers I asked what they needed--"Anything. Put together food packages, first aid kits. Head down to Graduate [Hospital], they could use some volunteers."

"What about down in South Philly?"

"You don't wanna go down there. Besides, only the National Guard is going down there."


"Why the hell do you think? Look, you wanna help or not?"

"Yeah, I do. What can I do?"

So they set me to putting together food packages. Canned goods, mac & cheese, the usual food drive stuff. What amazes me--and encourages me--is that people, despite their resources being tight, are giving.

Around noon, they let us take a break, so I headed over to the Reading Terminal for some lunch. Normally (or at least normally being six months ago) the place is packed, every day of the week--but now, well, not so much. Oh, there were still folks getting lunch, mostly in suits, but the crowds definitely weren't there.

So anyway, I sat and had spinach pie at the Middle Eastern place, and a pretzel from the Amish pretzel guys. I knew I was spending a lot of money--money we need--but I was famished, and it'd been a long time since I'd had anything special like that. And, I don't know, I figure the sellers need the money too.

I also bought some fish and packed it in ice. I haven't had fresh fish in months--you just don't find it for a reasonable price up in the suburbs anymore. I admit, I'd packed a soft-vinyl cooler just for this. There's nothing wrong with killing two birds with one stone.

After lunch, I headed back to the volunteer station. Talked with some other people--a lot who lived in town, but a few from the suburbs who came down on the trains like me. (I'll get to what we talked about in another post.)

So anyway, I called it a day around 6:30 and tried to get on a train. Well, stupid move, because the station was packed, and I ended up sitting for an hour and a half waiting for a chance to get on a train. Den offered to pick me up in the car, but I told him not to waste the gas. I did call him when I was near the station, though, and he walked me home.

God, I'm exhausted. Anyway, this is a really abbreviated version of what happened. I'll post more later.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Week 20: Happiness is a Warm Gun

My stepfather was a marine in WWII. My mom is a retired nurse. Overall, I feel pretty fortunate. Though my stepfather is old, he's physically and mentally much younger--apparently it runs in his family.

I bring this up for two reasons. The first is that I don't know if we can keep the house here in Lansdale. Jesus, I hate even thinking about this, but it's getting too expensive, and I'm afraid the bank will foreclose. We didn't get a crazy subprime loan, we have a tradition, fixed-rate mortgage that back in May was only 31% of our income--which is about standard. But now, with gas being more expensive, food more expensive, electricity more expensive--you get the idea. The cost of the house hasn't gone up, but everything else has. And while we've still got our jobs, I don't know how long that will last--they've started laying off some of the lower-skilled and recently hired folks at the company; they had tried just using attrition, but it wasn't working fast enough--who wants to retire now?

So one of these days, the ax is gonna fall. And what'll we do then? Foreclosure, I guess.

Unless someone blows up the bank that holds our mortgage. I don't know if that would even work, but hey, a girl can dream, can't she?

So when that happens, we really have only one alternative--move back in with my parents. God, I never though I'd have to do that again...

But that's not the only reason I mention my parents. The other is that Worcester, where they live and where I grew up, isn't much of a town--I think it's technically a "township", which means it doesn't have much infrastructure. There aren't any local cops, the firehouse is all volunteer, and there isn't a public sewer or water system--everyone's on wells. So things are really isolated, and it's typical that people have several acres to themselves.

Well, a few days ago, they got a call from my stepbrother David, who lives down the road from them. His next door neighbors had been shot and the house ransacked. Now, we're talking about a town where the worst crimes were speeding and the occasional domestic disturbance. Not a place with a lot of murder or robberies. But the Johannsons were murdered. Valuables stolen. Dave doesn't know who did it, and really, who knows? Could be local, could be someone from Philly, or one of the near-by towns. No one knows anymore.

Anyway, so now my parents--who've always been cautious, and who already owned a few guns--are pretty much in a siege mentality. Hell, I am too. And now I wonder if Den and I should be living with them just to keep everyone safe.

I don't know. I don't know what'll happen next. But damn it, I don't want to lose my house.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Week 20: They've Finally Attacked Sunoco.

I don't know who remembers this, but six years ago this week was the terrorist attacks. You know, the ones people used to think of when you said "terrorism". I was in college at the time--a grad student, working for an MA in English because I didn't know what else to do with my time. Economic slump, no call for ex-English majors, not much call for anything. So I lived with my parents, worked at a Barnes & Noble, took classes at West Chester (where I'd just graduated), and tried to be a playwright in the Philly scene. To be honest, it was ideal, because I'm lazy and adverse to working in an office.

And then one day I was driving down to school--to think I used to drive from Worcester to West Chester, 30 miles each way, every day. And I heard about the first plane, and then as I listened to channel 6 on the radio, I heard Charlie Gibson suck in his breath when the second one hit.

Class was canceled, as was the night's Philly Fringe shows. As I drove home, the B&N I worked at was closed up and the parking lot empty. I just remember drinking a lot, because my parents were down the shore on vacation, and my sister was back in school up in Edinboro.

I guess where I'm going with this is that as messed up and terrifying as things seemed back then, it wasn't anything compared to what's happening now.

There was an attack on the Sunoco refinery down in South Philly this morning. No one's sure exactly what the story is--channel 6 says some low-level mafia trying to steal oil and sell it themselves and botching the job, while channel 10 puts in on more Muslim terrorists, like those guys at Fort Dix. What we do know is that there was a gunfight, two explosions, and a large leak of "anhydrous hydrogen fluoride"--thousands of gallons, they're saying. Hundreds of people are dead--refinary workers, folks asleep in bed. Anyone on I-95 seems to have gotten away in time, but maybe we just don't know about it yet.

Because this happened early in the morning, around 5 am, it wasn't as bad as it could've been--no one was at the Linc or a Phillies game, and while folks were on I-95 going to work, rush hour wasn't in full swing.

That's all I know. I don't think Kate's hurt--she's over in West Philly, and the wind doesn't blow west usually.

It's only ten o'clock, but damn it I need a drink.

I'll write more if I know what's going on.