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Just some random notes I took while on a trip to New York City for a two-day conference at the United Nations, followed by an overnight stay at my parent’s place on the way back.

• I rode the quiet car on Amtrak up to NYC – did not listen to music or use headphones at all, just to the quiet murmur of the train moving along the tracks. Restful. Reminds me a little of listening to the Delaware-New Jersey ferry’s wake while on board, a constant, soothing sound always in the background
• Near Philadelphia, saw many remnants of the rowhouses that once dominated the housing in the area. They’re all gradually being replaced with townhouses and detached singles, as the rowhomes deteriorate and are demolished one by one.
• Interesting to watch the architecture change as we go north. Its subtle, and may not be noticeable if you didn’t grow up here, but its there. Also interesting to think that I must have looked on these very same buildings at least once before in my life, taking the train, but have no memory of any of them; they all blend into one anonymous mass. I wonder how many people are the same way, people we get to know later who we passed unknowingly amidst a crowd years before?
• Hah! Just recognized the turn we had to make in Bristol when we used to drive this way to get to my Grandmom’s house on the shore, over two decades past now. The turn is by a large lake, which is why it stood out. Rohm and Hass, my Dad’s old company, has a chemical plant nearby, which we could always recognize by its intense chemical smell before sight. Dad used to come home smelling the same way, before he transferred to another part of the company.
• Every time I see the new One World Trade Center tower, I suspect my initial thought will always be “there’s supposed to be two.”
• My hotel in New York City has a bomb sniffing dog at the entrance.
* Was feeling very alone, tired, and lonely upon getting in Wednesday night. Took a short nap, exercised at the hotel gym, and went out to a local church for evening Mass, just to get out among people. That helped, a little.
• I am not a big fan of hotels that have one light sheet and a thick comforter as the only coverings for the bed. Makes it nearly impossible to get comfortable at night; either too cold with just the sheet, or too warm with the comforter as well. Am also glad I brought earplugs, as the heater/AC does not have an “off” setting.
• As I suspected, having a Kindle is very useful when on a trip. Much easier than carrying around physical books.
• The United Nations is a technocracy. Throughout the conference, there was a strong underlying assumption that if we could just find the right policy mix and apply it, then there’d be an almost alchemical reaction which would solve the problems in question. Almost universally, the UN folks I met seemed smart, educated, cosmopolitan, and well-intentioned. I don’t know that I share their faith in policy as an instrument, but I suppose it beats just throwing up one’s hands and not even trying.
* Didn't get to a number of places I was hoping to in NYC, like the Strand bookstore, the Met museum, or Times Square. Just too little time, and too cold weather.
* The AMTRAK boarding procedure at Penn Station is basically to announce the gate, then try to get a mass of humanity to funnel into a single-file line while an agent tries to check tickets. Even airports do a better job than this. In fairness, the boarding at Union Station (DC) and in Philadelphia was orderly and calm, so it may be simply that the station is too crowded and doesn't have enough space in the passenger area for the number of trains it services, hence the stampede.
• Riding the SEPTA train up to my parents place was somewhat surreal. From the time I moved to Ohio for grad school (early '90s) to when we moved back East for my job in 2006, every time I flew into Philadelphia I'd take the regional rail train to Market East (now Jefferson Station), then transfer over to the train that went to the northern suburbs where my folks live. I got really familiar with doing this, down to knowing where to buy soft pretzels and what bathrooms were preferable to others. But since moving to Maryland there's been no reason to fly in or out of Philly, so this is a little like walking down an old dead lane that used to be familiar, but where my feet don't tread anymore.
• Looking out at the Temple University stop on the SEPTA train. This used to be one of the more dangerous neighborhoods, and stops, on the line. There's an old joke that you could either get robbed by going to Temple (and getting mugged) or by going to Villanova (and paying huge amounts of tuition). Well. Now there's large tracks of nice looking apartments and a modern athletic facility, from what one sees from the train, I expect the area closer to the university is even nicer. That's a change.
• Wow. Ok. Where the Gwynedd Valley Nursery used to be, now its all a housing development. Just...wow.
• On seeing my brother again, I reflect that I know at least three people - my brother, my niece, and an online friend – who are all into gaming in a big way, are all into anime and magna, and all read a lot of scifi and fantasy, yet their tastes in any of those hardly seem to overlap. Small world, yet large communities, I suppose.
* Glad to be home.


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May 2017

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