Friday, August 27, 2010
Part of the fun of having a blog is you can write about anything you want. Although this has basically turned out to be an anti-Christie blog, I often write about other things as well in between my attacks on the governor. It gets a little tiring just writing about the governor and I'm sure the people who follow me get sick of reading about nothing else but him.
Today I am writing about my tastes in automobiles. As you can probably guess from the picture of the Packard at the beginning of this entry, I like them big, powerful and well equipped. A Smart or a Toyota Prius is not my idea of a daily driver. Neither is a Lexus or even a Nissan Sentra. To me, if they are not rear wheel drive, American made and V-8 powered, they're not worth considering. Yes, a 1956 Packard would turn me on, but so do Lincoln Town Cars and real wheel drive Cadillacs.
They do not have to be old. The car I currently drive is a 2008 Mercury Grand Marquis LS. I bought it new in July 2008 back when gas was $4.50 per gallon. So when I say I don't care about gas mileage, I really mean it. The LS is the top of the line model and mine came with all the bells and whistles like leather seats, a decent stereo, heated seats and pedals which can be adjusted to fit the driver. Needless to say it has the most important features of all - a V-8 motor and a real wheel drive power train.
See, I don't drive like a grandpa. Mounted on my windshield is a Valentine 1 Radar Detector. Top of the line, lust like the car, the Valentine 1 sells for $500 and is unique in that it tells you where the radar source is located. That's important if you got a lead foot.
The car's trip computer indicates that I am getting 15.5 mpg, pretty damn good if you consider that my way of getting on Route 1 from the Mercer Mall and the other stores in Lawrenceville and West Windsor is to drop the hammer. In other words, I look for a the first gap of about 30 feet or so and just floor the thing. You'll be up to 50 in about 5 seconds, so it just doesn't matter what's coming up behind you.
If you think my job comes with a state-issued car, just forggetaboutit. State cars exist in Hollywood and in the imaginations of the writers of the Trentonian, not in the real world of working stiffs. On my job I get to go on the road about three or four times a month so I can meet with the people at the one stops and get to see what is going on across South Jersey. When I'm out, I drive about 5 or 6 hours each day and log between 120 and 150 miles. The big Merc allows me to travel in comfort even though it costs a bit more to operate than the 32 cents per mile that the state reimburses me.
To understand why I like big gas hogs, you need to know a little about me as well at the vehicles I've driven throughout the years. The big car fetish is the easy part. A lot of that has to do with being 6 feet one inch tall and having a weight of 270 pounds. When you're that big, you want a car to match especially if you spend a lot of time in it. The American made and rear wheel drive part has a lot to do with being middle aged, that's what I grew up with.
I know all about the modern writing style. The experts say that people today have short attention spans especially when online, so keep it brief and to the point. Don't worry however, I like to break rules, so I will stay to form and write a book as usual. Like I said in the begining, I am going to keep going and discuss some of the cars I had years ago.
I was born and raised in and around Trenton. My father worked at the American Standard pottery and my mom was an industrial nurse. In other words, she worked in various factories throughout her career and took care of employees injured on the job. We were working class. Forget about Packards or even V-8s. My parents usually bought used stripped down 6 cylinder vehicles.
The low-end cars of the 1950s and 1960s were of a type no longer sold today. In that era, most cars were "standard size" meaning big - but not enormous affairs capable of comfortably carrying 6 adults. For anybody under 50, sedans that can carry 6 adults in comfort are an unknown commodity. Hell, my Grand Marquis even can't do that. But a 1960 Chevrolet Bel Air could. More about the Bel Air later. Then, what do I mean by not being enormous. Well that class of vehicle - the truly enormous, was made up of behemoths like the Packard pictured at the start of this story or the Cadillac Fleetwood - hardly the kind of thing my family (or most families for that matter) could afford. The "rest of us" had to made due with Chevys, Fords, Dodges, Plymouths and the like. And my family drove stripped down versions of this babies.
Just like "smaller car" had quite another meaning in the 1950s than now, so did the term "stripped down". Today that means the absence of a navigation system or a heated steering wheel, but certainly includes factory air conditioning, power steering, power brakes and an AM-FM stereo. Well stripped in the 1950s meant the cars were lacking things like heaters, oil filters or AM radios. You got a rubber floor.(carpet was an option), a 3 on the tree manual transmission and an in-line six cylinder engine barely big enough to get the car up to 60 miles per hour on level ground and that was pretty much it. The brakes were manual (remember to stomp hard), the steering was manual and turning the wheel was like steering a ship, something like 2 complete turns from lock to lock. Some cars even had a manual choke. You had to pull the thing out to start the car and push it in once it started. Not that a manual choke was not a bad thing, the automatic chokes of the day absolutely positively sucked. My parents normally kept a screwdriver in the glove box. You used it to start the car. To start the car, you take the air filter cover off and shove a screwdriver down the butterflies. Once the car warmed up, you'd remove the screwdriver and replace the air cleaner.
Nope, driving these things was not something out of American Graffiti. It was more like the Opie and Andy Show.
Here are some of the cars I remember that my parents had when I was a kid. We had a 1954 Dodge. I don't remember anything special about it except that when I was 4, I put it in neutral and had it rolling down from the Hilltop Shops in Bordentown and almost took it into Rt. 206. My mom chased it and managed to stop it in time. I guess if she wasn't successful, you wouldn't be reading this. We had my grandmother's old 1952 Chevy. It came with a 2-speed Hydromatic transmission which meant it jerked unbelievably hard when going from low to high gear. That model was equipped with after-market turn signals. (in 52 turn signals were optional). Then there was the 1952 Chevy pickup with a hole in the cab floor. That had a manual choke and a throttle. Throttle was the cruise control of the day. Strictly manual like everything else. You pulled a button out that fed the truck more gas. Since that was all there was to it, it wasn't much good if you were on a hill because the truck would slow down going up and speed up going down hill. One more honorable mention was the 1958 Olds 98 my dad bought in a bar in the late 1960s. That was the exception to the rule because it was equipped with everything including a real automatic transmission and a powerful V-8. It didn't stay at the house long. When my mom saw it, she said "it's an 8. It will use too much gas. Get that bomb out of here." That was the first and last time I saw it.
There was one car we had in childhood that deserves more than a fleeting mention. That was the "king of the lemons", a 1961 Rambler Classic station wagon. No doubt, if you know anything at all about 1960's classic cars, you heard of the "lay down Rambler". That meant that all the seats folded down flat to form a bed. This was a vestige of a long-standing feature of Nash Ambassador automobiles. Some Ambassador wagons were even equipped at one time with a real mattress so you could use it as a camper. That was in the late 1940s. Then, you could get screens as an option so you could leave the windows open at night and keep out the bugs.
We got the Rambler in 1962 as a used car. I remember going to Reedman's with my parents and sat in the room when they were talking with the salesman. I remember they were looking at a new Chevy at first, but my mom thought it was too much money. The salesman said he had a real sharp machine that was only a year old that was a lot cheaper than the Chevy. It was the Rambler.
My mom loved it at first sight. It was white. "easier to keep clean and cooler in the summer". Of course, it had no air conditioning, so the white paint job was seen as a plus on hot summer days. It was a 9-passenger model, which meant it came with a fold-down third seat in the far rear. My sister and I loved it, because it faced rearward and we loved riding back there. It was like we had the car to ourselves because we didn't have to look at our parents. Another feature was that the tailgate swung out to the side, rather than opening down flat. "Makes it easier for the kids to get in and out." Lastly it had modern "Captive Air" run-flat tires. These had an inner core which stayed pressurized if the tire went flat. That way you could keep driving and reach the gas station and have the thing fixed without changing it. See, back in the day, tires were much less reliable than now and flats were a common occurrence.
Other neat things about the wagon was that it had a push button automatic transmission. Rather than a shifter on the steering column it had buttons on the dash. The dash had lots of push buttons and chrome.
My parents got slip covers for it at Rayco on Broad Street in Hamilton. They were meant to protect the upholstery, which was much less durable than modern seat coverings.. Yes, the Classic even came with things like carpet, a radio and a heater with defrosters. (A real redneck Caddy, you think!)
The Classic was an intermediate-sized car, in between the full-sized Ambassador and the compact American. By 1961, the micro-sized Nash Metropolitan was extinct.
Now comes the lemon part. My first bad memory of the "car from hell" was from the time our family went to see my mother's sister at her farm in Illinois. Her sister married a soldier from Ft. Dix in the 1950s. He was a farmer, so she got to be a mid west farmer's wife after growing up in Bordentown as the daughter of an employee of Roebling Steel. What did the 1,200 mile each way trip do to our lovely Rambler. Well, the engine boiled over at regular intervals. I remember my dad getting sprayed with boiling hot water when he took off the radiator cap.
The overheating problem persisted the whole time we had the thing. Going to Seaside was a real treat. You had to take a few gallons of water with you for the car. Sometime after you passed Allentown, you had to pull over and add water. The same thing going home.
Another nasty habit this junk heap had was loosing the passenger-side front wheel. Several times over the four years we had it, the wheel fell off. Once we went to the school to pick up my sister and I said something about the wheel falling off. Speak of the devil, the wheel came off when we stopped at the school.
One feature of the vehicle was that it was equipped with an aluminum head. The car had my mother's favorite engine configuration, a straight six. The aluminum head was nothing but problems and the car got several valve jobs. It rocked and knocked like a sewing machine.
Finally, in 1966 my father sold the car at the bar for $50.00. That's right, a lay down Rambler for a General Grant. Good Riddance.
I was going to write more, but I think I did enough for today. Perhaps another time, I'll tell you about my experiences with my first car, a 1960 Chevrolet Bel Air formerly owned by my stepfather. It came with a 235 cubic inch straight six. It had no radio, a rubber floor and no oil filter. Unlike Ford, Chevrolet took mercy on their base-model purchasers and threw in a heater and defroster at no extra charge. Of course it cam with manual "captain" steering, "stomp 'em" 4-wheel manual drum brakes, and a 3 on the tree manual transmission complete with a clutch with a throw as long as a Mack truck.
That was what I learned to drive on. My experiences with the Chevy enabled me to get a chauffeur's license a couple years latter. I kept this car for the beginning of my college career and made many a trip from Iowa State University in Ames to Trenton and back. It was during those trips I proved it can carry six adults in perfect comfort.
That's enough for a taste of what may come in a future post.
From what I told you so far, you can now understand why I love big luxury model V-8 highway cruisers. Of course, I had more of my fill of base-model "lead sleds" and have grown to appreciate the finer things in motoring life.
So leave saving gas and driving rice grinder Camrys to the schmucks. For me, for now anyway, I'm proud to say that if you don't drive at least a Panther-Class Ford Motor Co. product, then your car has no class.
Photo: The Detroit NewsIn its heyday, the mighty Packard Motor Cars. Co. factory in Detroit was advertised as the most modern auto manufacturing facility in the world. Today, it is the nation's largest abandoned factory. The 3.5 million square-foot. facility runs along Concord Street for a full half mile and contains over three times the total square footage of the Quakerbridge Mall.. When it was operational, no doubt it was one of Detroit's crown jewels. Today, it still stands as a ruin of monumental proportions. The vacant plant is a magnet for homeless people, drug users, scrap collectors, and of course, photographers and urban explorers interested in seeing industrial ruins.
Posted by trentonbutcherboy at 12:44 PM
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Basically, we're generalists. In other words, we are the regular guys who get to explain to the rest of the world what products we have available, where to find them and what they are useful for. We also keep track of the economy in out assigned area and put out newsletters and other publications which explain labor market and demographic trends. While my official job title is not "economist", that's basically what I do. I only needed a bachelor's degree to get my job, while while a "research economist" needs an advanced degree.
While the type of work I do basically involves common sense and little in the way of understanding of advanced statistics or detailed economic research, the job still requires a broad level of skills and knowledge as well as interpersonal skills, public speaking and writing ability. While people who do my job can learn basic skills necessary on the job, such as computer skills, basic economics, statistics and technical writing from school course work, much of what we do can only be learned on the job. It takes on the average six months for a new worker to develop minimal competence to work independently and about a year or two to get proficient at it.
You can probably guess this is probably not the easiest job in the world to get. No, you won't see any ads that say "Labor Market Analysts Wanted, No Experience Necessary. Apply today and start tomorrow." However, the entry requirements are not as steep as you might imagine, at least under Civil Service rules for filling the position.
In the past, if we hired someone off the street, we would go looking for a Labor Market Analyst Trainee or a Labor Market Analyst IV. Both jobs require at least 20 college credits of economics and three credits each of math and statistics. The job also requires a bachelor's degree, however work experience in economic research can be substituted for the degree, but not the credits in economics, math and statistics.
No work experience is required for the trainee position. The Labor Market Analyst IV requires one year of work experience in economic research with writing experience. The trainee job is a range 17 and starts at about $40,000. The Labor Market Analyst IV job is a range 19 and starts at about $45,000.
Usually we hired people in the past by posting the position as a promotional opportunity open to employees throughout the labor department. People who take the job usually come from jobs in disability or unemployment, which hire people off the street. Oftentimes, people take entry-level jobs working on unemployment or disability claims to get their foot in the door, and the promotion gives them the opportunity to get a more interesting job with the prospect of eventual promotion to higher level positions within our division.
Since the McGrevey years, our shop has been loosing workers. During the first Whitman administration, there was a hiring freeze and it was difficult to get promoted. Once she was reelected, the money began to flow like wine. We were able to fill about three or four slots and had more analysts than we had any time since I started in 1994. Promotions became common. Everybody got new computers. So much for Republican austerity. Once McGreevey came in, the usual cycle where an incoming governor cries poverty repeated itself and the hiring freeze was re instituted and it was never really taken off. As people retired, we were able to get replacements for some of the people by raiding other shops on the floor. We also got a man for the Commerce Commission, which Corzine abolished. (He abolished the Commission, but not most of the actual jobs or the work that the commission did. That was transferred to other agencies like ours.)
Well, we recently had a worker retire and needed a new body. With a good nine years of hiring freezes, the rest of the floor has also been getting a little thin. My supervisor suggested to the assistant commissioner to hire a trainee because we wouldn't have to worry about finding someone with research and writing experience willing to start at the princely sum of $45,000 per year.
Like I said earlier, my job involves reading newspapers and I get to see the gripes from the public on the letters to the editor page. Many of those letters go like this. I am a senior citizen. I worked hard all my life and all I have to live off of now is Social Security and my investments, which got chewed up by the recession. I really don't understand why we put up with this expensive civil service system, where you have to lay off workers by seniority (keeping the most expensive older workers on the payroll and letting go the less expensive, but more energetic new people.) and where people get annual pay raises just for warming up the seats of their desks and get pensions when they retire which they keep getting no matter how bad the stock market gets. I don't know why the governor doesn't run the thing like a private company. He should be able to hire who he wants without following silly civil service rules with tests and all that nonsense. He should be able to start them at what he wants and give raises on what they are worth rather than just because they stay on the job for a certain amount of time. And if they want retirement income, they should have to save for it like I did and not get a taxpayer subsidized pension. I can't afford more property taxes to pay for these deadbeats and goldbrickers."
Well, these grandpas probably think that by bypassing civil service rules the public will be able to hire workers at lower wages, give them less frequent and less generous wages and save the state money. Of course, this system will insure that raises would be given solely on merit and not seniority. It would give the government the flexibility to fire incompetent workers at will and trim the fat out of the workforce without too much fuss.
The only problem is it really doesn't work that way in the real world.
Perhaps finding a way around civil service would enable the Motor Vehicle Commission or unemployment office to hire clerks off the street at lower pay. But on higher level and more desirable positions like in my shop it would probably cost the public more and result in a less fair system of hiring workers.
How do I know this? Because it has already been done. We got our new analyst this week. Except the new person was neither a trainee or labor market analyst 4. Instead, his title was Government Service Representative. He was not a civil service employee, but instead is a unclassified employee. He was hired outside of the civil service system and serves at the pleasure of the governor. In other words, he can be dismissed on a moment's notice.
We already had an unclassified employee, a graduate student finishing up his schooling who was brought in by the old assistant director under Corzine. He worked basically as a research economist helping out the director as well as doing some more routine work that our unit now gets. He was dismissed just before July 1, by someone over at the Economic Development Authority who paid part of his salary. The dismissal was part of a mass layoff of unclassified workers by Governor Christie as a cost saving measure.
The new guy will also be doing work for the folks on our executive row. We never filled the director job. It is now being done by our assistant commissioner who has a PhD in economics. The new guy will assist him on his research as well as help us out by covering the labor area handled by the person who recently retired.
You may wonder what kind of background the new guy has. Remember that when we hired career service workers through the civil service system, we normally got people with little experience who would start at less than $50,000 per year. The new guy worked for several years for Wall Street investment houses, first as a commodities broker then as an analyst. You've heard of the slogan Trenton Makes, The World Takes." Well I guess the flip side is "What Wall Street Refuses, Trenton Uses."
To be fair, I haven't worked with the man long enough to know how good he will be on the job. He's only been there a day. I know that no matter where we get people, whether they come in from unemployment or disability or we get them from other sections on the floor, it takes a long time to get them trained. Some people can do the job well, others never get the hang of it. The new guy has as good a shot of catching on as anybody.
I have several problems though with the way he was hired. First, since he came in as an unclassified person, his salary his not set by the union contract. Basically, it can be whatever the people who got him on want it to be. It is probably north of $70,000 and might even be $90,000. Since he is new, he is not on the Courier-Post's Data Universe which lists the salaries and titles of all state employees. No doubt, an analyst from Wall Street will be more expensive than a new hire from the street. However, at least in his role as an analyst covering a labor area, I doubt he would be able to do the job any better than a new hire or someone we could get from elsewhere on the floor.
This begs the question, Why hire him? Here is where the element of unfairness comes in. At this level, it is highly unlikely he walked into the lobby of the Labor Building and randomly asked for a job application. More likely, he had connections with someone high up in the state who got him hired. I believe he was out of work from his Wall Street job for a while before before getting hired. Lots of names on Christie's donor list have Wall Street connections. Perhaps the new guy is some out-of-work Republican who needed a job and knew the right people to get him hired. Kind of like New York in the good old days of Tammany Hall.
Another good question is why not bring back the last unclassified guy that got laid off. You know, the one that was let go just before July 1. The new guy is doing some of what he did. Perhaps the difference is that the old guy was hired by people from Corzine's administration and the new guy was hired by Christie's people. The decision to fire the old unclassified guy and bring on a new one may have had more to due with political loyalty and personal connections than it with the ability to do the job. Precisely, just like old Tammany Hall.
Don't let anyone fool you. Perhaps Christie's plans to ditch Civil Service in favor of an employment at will policy has more to do with politics than you think. Perhaps it will bring us back to the good old days when all government employees will have plenty to fear when power changes hands in the governor's mansion. Because, back in the good old days, people in ordinary non-policy making jobs were regularly replaced with loyalists to the new leader when a new governor or mayor took over.
The civil service system is essential for maintaining a professional non-political workforce. Dedicated professionals willing and able to work their whole careers for a governmental agency are good for the public. A professional workforce has the skills and the continuity necessary to provide a consistent level of service to the public. This is something you will not have if hiring decisions become based on cronyism and political loyalty.
Posted by trentonbutcherboy at 10:29 PM
Sunday, August 1, 2010
|At least some of the houses in Trenton are still occupied. This is a shot of "The Land of the Damned" in South Camden.|
This is is a picture I ripped from Google Images. Yeah, I sometimes cheat, but at least I tell you when I do. I don't know for certain, but I believe it is from South Camden off of Broadway near the South Jersey Port Authority Broadway Terminal, which at one time was the home of the New York Shipbuilding Co. where the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk and many another proud American warship were built over a period of more than half a century. These homes no doubt were occupied by workers from New York Ship or by other nearby manufacturing concerns.
New York Ship, Campbell's Soup and RCA were the big three manufacturing powerhouses in the city. The were to that city what Roebling Steel, American Steel and Trenton Pottery were to our city. Well all good things must eventually come to an end and after the Kitty Hawk was completed in 1961, no more large ships were built there. Finally, in 1967, New York Ship folded. And so the rest of the neighborhood began to go after that. And it of course did not help matters when it was discovered that a nearby abandoned dress factory on the corner of Jefferson and Broadway was found to be heavily contaminated with radioactive thorium. Seems that prior to becoming a garment mill the building in question was the General Gas Mantle plant which manufactured lamp mantles or the cloth bags that used to go over the outlet pipes on gas lamps. When the gas was turned on and the mantle lit, it would produce a glow and emit light like a modern light bulb. The "secret ingredient" in the mantle that made it an effective light emitter was thorium, which came from sand brought to the plant for processing..
For more about New York Shipbuilding Co., see http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/facility/camden.htm.
For more information on General Gas Mantle see http://www.epa.gov/superfund/eparecovery/welsbach.html
and http://www.state.nj.us/health/eoh/hhazweb/hhw_no_3.pdf and http://www.dvrbs.com/camden-streets/camdennj-streets-arlingtonstreet.htm
Over the years, the workers took the sand home with them and used it in children's sandboxes and to mix concrete. Some put it in the soil of their gardens to make it lighter. In the process, the whole neighborhood was contaminated with radioactive radiation and the housing was abandoned. Most has since been torn down.
I decided to write about Camden today because my job brought me there last Thursday and I got to ride down Broadway all the way from the Roman Catholic Cathedral downtown to Fairview Avenue which lies just past New York Ship. This drive takes you through the city's Combat Zone, a netherworld of hookers, junkies, drunks and busted up buildings.
Posted by trentonbutcherboy at 12:40 PM