Life on the Hudson River: 7 joys

 

 

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By Caitlin Kelly

I grew up in Toronto, a city that has managed, except for a few exceptions at its most eastern and western edges, to cut off easy access to Lake Ontario.

So it’s been a tremendous joy to spend decades living on the eastern edge of the Hudson River, with terrific views from our every window.

Some of our many riparian pleasures include:

 

 

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The new bridge

 

It’s gorgeous! The old one, in use between 1955-2017, was desperately overdue for replacement and finally was torn down and replaced with this stunning new version spanning the Hudson. It glows at night in lavender. Details here.

 

Sunsets and sunrises

 

We have a gloriously clear view from our bedroom window of the exact moment the rising sun hits all the windows of homes across the river, high on its opposite shore, lighting them up in a stunning, brief blaze of red. I call it the ruby moment and love to track how that time changes with the seasons.

Sunsets are always spectacular, whether streaks of orange and purple or a single red ball dropping over the horizon.

River traffic

It’s very much a working river, with plenty of big barges being shoved ahead by small, powerful tugboats. There is some sailing, kayaking and canoeing as well, with boat clubs up and down the river.

 

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Boscobel

 

Swoon! It’s embarrassing to admit that only this year, thanks to a discount ticket and a musical I had longed to see — Into the Woods — did I finally drive 45 minutes north to this exquisite early 19th century estate that holds an annual Shakespeare Festival on the grounds. The house, painted mustard, is gorgeous from the outside (I intend to go back for a tour), and the theater was a hoot. It’s like a circus big top, with seats on 3 sides, and a sand-filled stage with three exits.

 

 

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People arrived a few hours before the Broadway show, which debuted in 1986, spreading out picnic blankets on the lawn, enjoying the sunshine and spectacular river views, and starting their meals with bottles of wine and friends.

 

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The performance I saw was fantastic, prompting a standing ovation well-deserved.

Olana

 

Built in 1872, this spectacular hilltop mansion — with stunning views — was the home of legendary painter Frederic Church. It’s filled with fantastic, high Victorian art and architecture.

Cold Spring

 

I was married there, the first time, in May 1992, in a lovely and austere chapel right at the river’s edge — shown in period engravings — built in 1833 and abandoned in 1906. It has no electricity, just a huge chandelier lit by candles. Our Lady of Restoration is now non-denominational. From its website:

 

the first Catholic church north of Manhattan.

Its designer was another immigrant, a 19-year-old from England, Thomas Kelah Wharton. Built in 1833 of locally made red brick covered with stucco, the chapel was in the Greek Revival style, then in vogue. Its columns were of the Tuscan order, a simple, unfluted version of the Doric, whose supreme expression is the Parthenon in Athens..

Contemporary press describes a festive dedication, September 21, 1834, with people arriving by boat. A large choir performed, along with a band from West Point, “whose notes might be heard in the recesses of the mountains,” for dignitaries of church and state.

The town is a fun easy day trip from Manhattan, 50 miles north, easily accessible by commuter train.

It’s also a spot where the river is very narrow and the landscape feels timeless, like you’ve been whisked back to 1773 or 1842.

Metro-North’s Hudson Line

A paean to a commuter train line?

Yes.

It’s almost always on-time, with cars that are usually clean and always air-conditioned.

Its tracks — most compellingly — run parallel to, and very close to, the Hudson River.

As the train heads north from Grand Central Terminal, it skirts the Harlem River before turning north. If you sit in the window seat on the river-facing side, you’re always guaranteed one of the prettiest rail commutes in the U.S.

Who exactly is “middle class” in the U.S.?

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Can you afford a house? We can’t. Not anywhere near where we live….Maybe this is why I enjoy reading about others’.

 

By Caitlin Kelly

And, another hate read from The New York Times, somehow insisting that an annual income of $100,000 to $200,000, even $400,000 (!) or more means “middle class”:

This is the introduction, while the story focuses on seven families, with only one single man.

Being middle class in America used to come with a certain amount of leisure and economic security. Today it involves an endless series of trade-offs and creative workarounds, career reinventions and an inescapable sense of dread.

We asked readers to tell us what it’s like, and more than 500 people, with widely varied incomes, submitted responses. They described not just their financial worries but also he texture of daily life. Even those with very good incomes expressed fears of instability. They have seen their wages and bargaining power stagnate and wealth spiral to the top, while they struggle to acquire the markers of middle-class life — a college education, health care, the deed to a home.

As one reader, Kristin DePue, put it, “There is an extraordinary burden on my generation to fund our own retirement and also afford college costs for our children.” Indeed, “middle-class life is now 30 percent more expensive than it was 20 years ago,” the journalist Alissa Quart writes in “Squeezed: Why Our Families Can’t Afford America.” And yet, for all the talk of “everyday Americans” among the presidential candidates, politicians do not seem to understand what it takes to get through the day, or what would really help.

 

 

Georgetown

Georgetown, DC. Pricey but lovely

A few thoughts:

 

— No American — unlike some Britons who will proudly say they are “working class” — will use that language to describe oneself, even if it’s true. There are so many euphemisms for poor: broke, impoverished, low-income, underprivileged, each of which is vague and subjective. One man’s “broke” is another man’s notion of luxury.

— Many factors affect how far one can stretch a budget: housing, health insurance (if you’re on Medicare or Medicaid, free), educational costs, number of children, etc. If you’ve chosen to raise a child, or many children, that’s an assumed cost bringing many additional costs with it: food, clothing, medical care, etc. Plus childcare!

— Some areas of the country are brutally and punitively expensive for housing and if, for reasons of employment, health and/or reliable family support you can’t leave, that cost alone is going skew what you need to survive.

— If you have multiple children and every one of them attends a private university or college, let alone graduate or professional school, it will cost a fortune. Yet it remains a very loaded and un-American idea to suggest trade school or vocational training instead, even though many such workers, unionized, make very good incomes, have plenty of work life-long and tremendous pride in their skills.

— This story generated 1,358 comments (that’s a lot for the Times), as “class” is a loaded word for Americans, raised from birth on the “American dream” of social mobility.

Here’s one of them:

The median household income is $59,000 per year. All of these people in the article are far above that, but they are still struggling to afford basic things like education for their children because life is very expensive. Imagine what a family making $25,000 is going through, trying to send children to college. Everyone that is thinking about this election needs to realize that the real middle of the country is hurting. All of our security has been turned to risk, and the billionaires pay themselves as if they carry the risk, instead of us. The corporate establishment “center” has completely discredited itself, by telling us how great the economic numbers are, how “free trade” has really been great, and that there “is no money,” for the things that most people need, because, according to the owners of capital and the media they own, the only way for capitalism to work is for their corporations to get fat, no-bid, cost-plus contracts, while those same corporations have their taxes cut to zero.

Jose and I live in a suburb of New York City, in a one-bedroom apartment. Our monthly housing cost is $2,000, health insurance $1,700, various other insurances another $400+. Add food, gas, the $95 cost of a 10-trip off-peak train trip into New York City for work or pleasure, parking, dental, etc.

In our good years, we make just over six figures, as full-time freelancers — i.e. wholly self-employed; in bad years, we have had to tap our retirement savings (and thank heaven we have some.)

That, for many people, is a fortune!

But our combined income can also disappear at any moment without warning if one of our clients cuts their budget or management changes. We have no paid time off or paid sick leave.

At this point, effectively shut out of any full-time job (that would cut $20,000 a year in costs with job-supplied health insurance) by age discrimination, we are OK, partly because we have no children or dependents, and have stayed in this home for decades, driving a 20 year old vehicle.

 

How about you?

 

Where do you fit?

Valles Caldera; NM’s gorgeous national preserve

 

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By Caitlin Kelly

The silence!

Only broken by….the squeaks of dozens of prairie dogs, the first time I’d ever seen one.

 

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A caldera is the bowl-like depression in the landscape after a volcanic eruption — in this case 1.25 millions years ago, 300 times larger than Mount St. Helens in 1980. Valles Caldera is one of the world’s best examples of an intact volcanic caldera.

 

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Since then, of course, the land was inhabited by natives and later (after 1500) by Spanish settlers.

 

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The site contains a few log cabins, from 1915 to 1963, but no one is allowed to stay in the park overnight although hiking and skiing in winter are allowed.

 

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It’s a stunning place in its scale and also gave me my first sightings of wild iris and elk — we could only see a large herd of elk thanks to a telescope offered by the park rangers.

The caldera is about a 90 minute drive northwest of Santa Fe.

 

 

A fab week in Santa Fe, NM

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By Caitlin Kelly

It had been 20 years since my last visit — a 10-day trip with my husband Jose, then a very new boyfriend eager to show off his hometown. His late father was the minister of a small downtown Baptist church and he regaled me with happy memories of riding his bike down Johnson Street, where the Georgia O’Keefe Museum now houses her artwork in the shell of that original adobe building.

Santa Fe has a low, intimate building scale, since most buildings are made of brown adobe — curved, smooth, rounded forms made from a mixture of straw and earth, a visual uniformity unique to this small and ancient city.

Santa Fe is the state capital, founded in 1610, at 7,199 feet altitude, the oldest state capital, and the highest, in the U.S. — the 2012 census puts its population at 69,204.

It draws many tourists and celebrities; Game of Thrones author, and local, George R.R. Martin donated $1 million to create the arts center Meow Wolf.

On this visit, we stayed the first four days with one of Jose’s oldest friends, then at the Hilton, whose public spaces are filled with beautiful, large-scale original art, the city center a two or three block stroll away.

One weird caveat — the city has no taxis! There is a car service but $30 (!) is a fortune to travel a few blocks. I do not use Uber or Lyft and both are available.

Also, NB: the city’s altitude and strong sun mean plenty of water and sunscreen.

 

Some highlights:

 

Shopping

 

 

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I love Mexican embroidery!

I love Santa Fe style — elegant bohemian — a look more difficult to find at home in New York, where the official color is black. There is a lot of tie-dye and embroidery and insane amounts of Native American jewelry on offer, but if you like ethnic textiles from places like India, Mexico, Laos and Guatemala, you will find a lot of choice.

The city attracts some very wealthy visitors and homeowners, so some prices are eye-watering, but there are more moderate offerings:

Passementrie is a treasure trove if you, like me, love textiles — cotton, silk, linen, in pillow covers, throws, scarves and clothing.

 

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A selection of cowboy boots at Nathalie

 

Nathalie, on Canyon Road, has been in business since 1995, owned and run by its namesake, a former French Vogue editor, bien sur! A stylish mix of clothing, cowboy boots, antique and new home objects.

 

Spirit, downtown, is amazing, but spendy-y, as is Corsini, the men’s store next to it. But a great selection of floaty dresses, knitted leather handbags, basic T-shirts, wallets, jewelry. The men’s store has gorgeous cotton jeans in all those weathered Southwestern colors, $225 a pair.

 

Check out all the local food offerings to take home, from blue corn for pancakes to chile powder to posole.

 

Every day, local natives bring their handmade silver and copper jewelry for sale in front of the Palace of the Governors. Lots of choices! Many local stores also sell native jewelry, both current and vintage; Ortega’s has a huge selection.

 

If you’re interested in pottery and contemporary art, wander along Canyon Road, lined with galleries.

 

Collected Works is a fantastic 40-year-old indie bookstore with a cafe attached.

 

Act 2 is a consignment shop on Paseo de Peralta, with a wide selection of women’s clothes, shoes, accessories — including sizes large and extra-large. Not the Chanel-Gucci kind of store but lots of linen and cotton. I scored two handbags and a linen shirt.

Dining

 

Such great food!

 

La Choza

A classic since 1983, ever popular, in the Railyard neighborhood. We ate there twice: lots of margaritas and Southwestern food like frito pie (ground meat and trimmings), chalupas, enchiladas and served in a former adobe home.

 

 

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Cafe Pasqual’s

With only 50 seats, bright green wooden chairs and Mexican tiled walls, this cafe offers a long menu and delicious food, from breakfast on.

 

Izanami

This was one of the best meals I’ve eaten anywhere, sort of Japanese tapas, with a huge choice of sake and wine. The dining room is beautiful and the deck offers fantastic views of the wooded canyon. We ate soba noodles, shrimp and oyster tempura, asparagus tempura, pork ribs and gyoza, plus a glass of red wine and one of sake; $105. This is the restaurant at Ten Thousand Waves, out of town, so you’ll need a car to get there.

The Teahouse

This lovely restaurant on Canyon Road serves food all day and has an amazingly long list of teas, hot or iced. The quiet and intimate rooms are filled with black and white photos or you can sit outside under an umbrella in the shade.

Day Trips

 

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Ten Thousand Waves is a must! This spa, lodging, restaurant combination has been in business since 1981, Japanese in design. Private hot tubs, massages and dinner available. A few caveats: the women’s locker room is cramped, with only 2 showers and one toilet, while the place is very busy. It’s also at the top of a steep hill and I saw no access for those with mobility issues. The massages were excellent as was the private hot tub.

Taos

A 90-minute drive north into rugged countryside. Much smaller and quieter than Santa Fe. Worth it! Population 5,668.

 

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The Santuario

 

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There are two reasons to make the drive, the gorgeous early Mission church, the Santuario de Chimayo (built 1813 to 1816) and the 50-year-old restaurant Rancho de Chimayo, with delicious food, shaded patios and very reasonable prices. Their sopaipillas are heavenly — and don’t forget to dip them in the pot of honey on the table; they come with almost every meal.

Los Alamos

Where the atomic bomb was developed!

Santa Fe National Forest

A short drive from town, this thick forest of pine and aspen has picnic sites, campsites and hiking trails.

Valles Caldera

Gorgeous! I’m doing tbe next blog post about this National Park, a 57 mile drive northwest of Santa Fe.

 

 

Did Boomers destroy the world?

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By Caitlin Kelly

Here we go again…

How Americans of the Baby Boom generations — born between 1946 and 1964 — have totally screwed everyone younger.

True?

From The Atlantic:

 

Below, I show a reasonable projection of the share of national income that will have to be spent paying for these obligations in the future if there is no substantial restructuring of liabilities. It’s based on consensus forecasts from groups such as the Congressional Budget Office and the Office of Management and Budget for economic growth and for programs such as Social Security and Medicare where such forecasts are available—but in some cases, such as state debts and pensions, no such forecast was available, and so I developed a simple one.

Making these payments will require fiscal austerity, through either higher taxes or lower alternative spending. Younger Americans will bear the burdens of the Baby Boomer generation, whether in smaller take-home pay or more potholes and worse schools.

Furthermore, the basic demographic balance sheet is getting worse all the time, increasing the relative burden on young people. Working-age Americans are dying off in alarming numbers.

As someone in this cohort, I have a real problem with this.

I would never argue that younger workers and voters don’t face tremendous headwinds, economically and politically. They do!

I look at the current cost of American university education and find it absurd that schools you have never heard of are demanding $40,000 to $60,000 a year to educate their students. Get real! Nor do many state schools offer a much less expensive alternative.

I paid all of $660 a year to attend University of Toronto — the annual fee for an equivalent course of study is now 10 times as much. But it’s $6,000, not $60,000.

That’s also a nation with different political and economic values, more interested in the common good (yes, higher tax rates) than individual wealth-building.

 

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Blaming Boomers for every impediment to financial progress is so appealing. Intergenerational warfare is such a shiny little distraction from the heavy hand of capitalism, forever demanding “shareholder value” (i.e. return on institutional investments) instead of recognizing everyone’s need to save and invest and hope for a better financial future.

I know many many people in this cohort who are struggling mightily financially — hardly sitting on their thrones of gold, their private jet awaiting their flight to their fourth home. The truly wealthy are so rich it’s beyond comprehension at this point, leaving the rest of us to beat the hell out of one another.

Many people in their 50s and beyond who do not have a well-paid or secure full-time job, let alone one that offers a pension, are scared and desperate, facing:

 

— a possible next recession, having barely recovered from the 2007-2009 recession

— the costs of paying their children’s college

— having their adult children (and grandchildren) needing to return home for food and housing.

— the costs of paying their parents’ health care aides or nursing home

— the fear of those enormous costs for themselves

— facing widespread, rampant and illegal age discrimination, leaving them/us financially impotent to earn, save and invest for all of the above if we are shut out of decent, full-time employment with (in the U.S.) the subsidized health insurance everyone needs.

 

Some alternate facts:

 

Half of Americans over the age of 48 have no money saved for retirement.

 

From Bloomberg Businessweek:

 

“Social Security provides most of the income for about half of households age 65 and older,” the GAO said.

The Employee Benefit Research Institute estimated earlier this month that 41 percent of U.S. households headed by someone age 35 to 64 are likely to run out of money in retirement. That’s down 1.7 percentage points since 2014.

EBRI found these Americans face a combined retirement deficit of $3.83 trillion.

 

 

 

 

A cautionary tale about border crossing

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By Caitlin Kelly

Horrifying story about Customs and Border Patrol from The Intercept:

In retrospect, I was naive about the kind of agency CBP has become in the Trump era. Though I’ve reported several magazine stories in Mexico, none have been about immigration. Of course, I knew these were the guys putting kids in cages, separating refugee children from their parents, and that Trump’s whole shtick is vilifying immigrants, leading to many sad and ugly scenes at the border, including the farcical deployment of U.S. troops. But I complacently assumed that wouldn’t affect me directly, least of all in Austin. Later, I did remember reading a report in February about CBP targeting journalists, activists, and lawyers for scrutiny at ports of entry south of California, but I had never had a problem before, not in a lifetime of crossing the Texas-Mexico border scores of times on foot, by car, by plane, in a canoe, even swimming. This was the first time CBP had ever pulled me aside….

Cooperation didn’t earn me any leniency. Next up was a thorough search of my suitcase, down to unscrewing the tops of my toiletries. That much I expected. But then a third officer, whose name was Villarreal, carefully read every page of my 2019 journal, including copious notes to self on work, relationships, friends, family, and all sorts of private reflections I had happened to write down. I told him, “Sir, I know there’s nothing I can do to stop you, but I want to tell you, as one human being to another, that you’re invading my privacy right now, and I don’t appreciate it.” Villarreal acknowledged the statement and went back to reading.

That was just the beginning. The real abuse of power was a warrantless search of my phone and laptop. This is the part that affects everyone, not just reporters and people who keep journals…

Around the three-hour mark, I became completely passive. Confinement in a blank room is a soft form of torture, especially if you suffer from a crippling caffeine addiction, as I do. They were “fresh out” when I demeaned myself by meekly requesting coffee. For a long time, I sat slumped in the chair with a mounting headache while Moncivias finished typing up his report on me. He would pause, carefully consult something on my phone, and then go back to typing. This went on for another hour.

It was around 4 p.m. when Moncivias finally finished up and informed me, anticlimactically, that I was free to go. I couldn’t wait to get outside because the detention area was freezing. No wonder Spanish-speaking migrants call CBP detention la hielera — the icebox. I took my phone and laptop and silently packed up my luggage, which still lay disemboweled on the desk, underwear and all. Pomeroy was gone by this time. As I was walking out, I said to Moncivias and Villarreal, “It’s funny, of all the countries I’ve been to, the border guards have never treated me worse than here, in the one country I’m a citizen of, in the town where I was born.”

“Welcome back to the USA,” Moncivias said.

 

If you care about press freedom — hell, any civil rights — make time to read all of Seth Harp’s story.

It is chilling.

Oh, a rodeo!

 

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By Caitlin Kelly

It’s a pretty American way to spend a summer evening — and, despite years of living in the U.S., albeit in the Northeast — I had never been to a rodeo.

It is, I discovered, a huge sport, with its own governing body and men kept loping past us bearing huge golden and engraved belt buckles, evidence of their earlier prowess.

The idea is to showcase, competitively, so many of the skills that ranchers and cowboys, men and women, use in their daily life.

 

 

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So Jose, who was born and raised in Santa Fe, New Mexico, bought us box seat tickets, which meant  two battered bare metal folding chairs in the shaded section, at the front ($27 each) and took me to my first rodeo.

I knew, intellectually, competitors could get badly injured and hoped they would not, and only one man limped out of the ring.

 

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The first event had very small children — ages four or five, each wearing a helmet — each trying to stay on top of a large sheep for as long as possible, clinging to as much muddy and matted wool as possible. Most lasted about a second!

 

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Then men came out on bucking broncos and here’s a video of what that’s like! They have to stay on the horse for eight seconds to qualify and each are scored.

More men came out, racing, to lasso a steer, jump off their horse and lash three of the steer’s legs together, fast.

Then men came out in pairs to do the same job.

There was a rodeo clown.

 

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The rodeo clown, a legend in his field                            photo: Jose R. Lopez

 

There was only one official photographer in the ring, a man in a pink dress shirt; it was very difficult (as you can tell from my cellphone images here!) to get good photos as only cellphones were allowed for the crowd to use to take pictures.

The rodeo queen and princess thundered by on their horses, with gorgeous turquoise chaps.

Women rode around the ring with large flapping flags of each local advertiser.

 

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Could she possibly be more badass?!

 

Then a woman came out — of course — riding atop two racing horses at once. Then jumped through flames.

 

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The winner!         photo: Jose R. Lopez

 

The barrel racing was my absolute favorite, with women competing to gallop into the ring, round three large barrels at top speed without knocking one over (a loss of five points for each accident) and gallop back out; the fastest, of course, was a 10-year-old girl who did it in barely 17 seconds.

It was so much fun!

It began at 7:00 pm and was done about 8:30 as all the kids went next door to the visiting carnival to enjoy the small Ferris wheel and other rides.

 

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There were corn dogs and tacos and soft-serve ice cream and (!) deep-fried Twinkies and we had a great chat with a woman who — of course — had lived in Toronto when I did, and a woman named Stephanie, wearing layers and layers of spectacular Navajo jewelry (some of which she was selling), who had hoped to barrel race her horse, Teller (she showed us his picture on her cellphone) but registered too late. She was, for sure, in her 50s, maybe beyond.

There were little boys in chaps, old men in cowboy hats, women in mini-skirts and weathered cowboy boots. The sun set over the Sangre de Cristo mountains and the sky became a watercolor wash of violet.

 

 

 

 

Taking a breather

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By Caitlin Kelly

People fantasize about freelance life — no boss! no meetings! no cubicle! no commute!

All true.

Also — no steady income! no security! no workday!

One great pleasure, though, is disappearing when we can find the time and money to do so.

So we’re off to Jose’s hometown, Santa Fe, New Mexico, my first visit there in 20 years, right after we met.

We’ll visit childhood friends, hike, get a massage at 10,000 Waves, play golf.

Relax.

Jose just finished photo editing for the U.S. Open, held in Pebble Beach, California — sitting in the hallway of our one-bedroom New York apartment. His workday stretched from 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. for a solid week. I don’t know where he gets the stamina!

I’ve spent the past week pitching a lot of stories, all of them to new-to-me markets, and now await (I hope) a few assignments to come back to.

In American life, workers feel lucky to even get two weeks’ paid vacation, while Europeans are accustomed to five. Working freelance, we generally take five or six weeks, although three-at-once is the most we can do because of Jose’s work.

So ready to recharge!

No laughing matter

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Want to write for one of these? Good luck, kids!

 

By Caitlin Kelly

Hey, what’s more fun than punching down?

Apparently, nothing, thanks to the appalling lack of judgment by executives at Netflix who have ordered eight episodes of a TV series to — wait for it — “prank” job-seekers.

You know, like yanking away the cat toy just as it pounces.

Gaten Matarazzo, a child actor starring in Stranger Things and way too many commercials, signed up for this steaming pile of garbage.

A reaction from Inc.com :

You know him as one of the kids dealing with the Upside Down on Netflix’s Stranger Things, but if you see him coming now–you should be the one to run. Gaten Matarazzo is producing and starring in a new prank show, Prank Encounters, and Netflix just ordered eight episodes. Deadline describes it as follows:

Each episode of this terrifying and hilarious prank show takes two complete strangers who each think they’re starting their first day at a new job. It’s business as usual until their paths collide and these part-time jobs turn into full-time nightmares.

Do you know what I have to say to this? No, no, no, and no.

Sure, we love to laugh at people’s misfortune–America’s Funniest Home Videos–made a fortune off people falling off step ladders and tripping over the dog. But, there’s a key difference here: people in that show submitted their own videos–they were laughing at themselves. This show sets people up for public entertainment with unasked for humiliation.

And it does it in a very vulnerable time of life–job hunting.

 

Looking for a job, or part-time work, or freelance work, is emotionally and intellectually exhausting — certainly if you are over 40, 50 or beyond when age discrimination already severely limits options for many people.

Just cancel the whole thing.

And, while we’re at it, for anyone interested in the brutal and absurd economics of freelance writing — witness the endless virtue-signaling, wagon-circling and knife-sharpening of late over an American magazine writer, now on staff at The New York Times Magazine (basically writers’ Everest, the coveted and unattainable peak of pay and prestige) and her crazy pay scale.

Some people have leaped to her defense — she works so hard! — while others simply wonder how so many other hard-working and talented writers are now, instead, desperately grateful to get paid even 25 percent of what she said she earns.

 

It’s a madhouse.

 

Work truly can be a four-letter word.

How I got my latest NYT story

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The poor kids! It poured rain all day….but they went out anyway!

 

By Caitlin Kelly

So, I have no kids and I don’t live in Brooklyn and I’ve never attended school in New York nor visited a middle school here.

Yet I found this terrific story for The New York Times about an after-school program for students who, in their classroom, build a wooden boat by hand from scratch — then set sail on an inlet of the East River, with huge boats passing and the skyscrapers of Manhattan as a backdrop.

How?

Jeopardy.

I watch the game show often and, a year or so ago, a contestant said he volunteered with Brooklyn Boatworks, a non-profit program founded by two naval architects.

As a lifelong sailor, I was immediately intrigued — when you think of Brooklyn, you don’t necessarily think first of boats or sailing.

So I did some digging and contacted the program’s executive director and asked her enough questions to pitch the idea, which was accepted. I do this a lot with my potential stories, pre-reporting them enough to create a compelling pitch — that means persuading people to talk to me even though I don’t yet have a definite assignment.

I knew I had to watch a team of students working on the boat so I visited MS (Middle School) 88 on February 14 for two hours and again for two more hours on April 18, the length of each week’s building session. I observed, listened, eavesdropped and took far more notes than I would ever be able to use — I was only allowed a maximum of 1,500 words for the story.

How would I be able to encapsulate this amazing adventure?

I took photos with my phone for later reference and interviewed several students and their two teachers. The students were friendly and easy to talk to. It was great to watch their teamwork and self-confidence easily handling tools as they built a boat together, my favorite being two young Muslim girls in hijab working with cordless drills.

 

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The boats are seven foot, six inches — those buoyancy bags help keep them afloat!

 

Few of the students had ever even been on a sailboat before and, likely, none as tiny as the Optimist, aka Opti. It all seemed like some sort of dream. Would it ever really be a boat? Was it possible? Would it sink?!

 

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Students wrapped in plastic tried to stay dry while cheering on their team-mates. That’s the Brooklyn Bridge in the background. The orange thing in the photo is a PFD, a personal flotation device every sailor needs to wear in case of capsize.

 

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Program director Marjorie Schulman was the soul of patience for the many, many emails and calls I needed to report the story. This was June 10, the day of “graduation” when every student who participated got a certificate and public recognition of their months of hard work.

 

Launch day was June 10 — a day of non-stop rain!

The event was held at Pier 2 at Brooklyn Bridge Park, with speeches beforehand and a few special guests. I met the freelance photographer there for the Times and introduced her to some of the people I needed her to focus on; typical of my freelance work, I had never met her before yet we would have to work well together quickly and under uncomfortable conditions.

That’s journalism!

 

Here’s the story, and an excerpt:

Dana Garcia, a sixth-grader, said she really enjoyed building the boat. “I sawed many pieces of it and we got to use epoxy, which my parents thought was pretty cool,” she said. “Sawing is actually pretty hard. You have to practice a lot. You have to be safety conscious and patient. We wear gloves so we don’t get cut and safety glasses so no sawdust gets into our eyes.”

Students also had the opportunity to use math and science in the workshop. “When it came to our measurements, we were always trying to get everything right and we had a lesson in the science of sailing, how to use the wind,” Dana said.

Dana, it seems, has caught the building bug. “I’d like to do a sculpture or another boat or a treehouse,” she said.

Other students felt empowered from the experience, too.

“I love learning new stuff,” Karla Miranda, a seventh-grader, said. “Before I was just doing basic girl things —- I’d watch TV, go outside, do homework. I got more comfortable using tools and how to control them,” she continued. “I didn’t know I could do all this.”