Archive for January, 2012

The Quagmire We Call Toll Rates

Excuse my logic, but sometimes I really do get it right.  Those of you who follow this blog may recall my November 1, 2011 post that called into question the necessity of continuous toll increases at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey run Hudson River crossings.  Only a couple weeks after that posting media reports began surfacing about questionably high salary add-ons for Port Authority Executives and other administrative staff. I am not saying that my blog was the catalyst for this surge in demand for Port Authority accountability. I am only saying I am good at sniffing out things that don’t always make sense.

However let’s cut to the chase.  This post is about another bizarre and annoying aspect of many toll roads in the northeast and I suspect other parts of theUnited Statesas well.

About ten years ago in the middle of the summer on a Sunday evening, I was travelling home from theNew Jersey Shore.  I was using the New Jersey Turnpike northbound.  Traffic had been refreshingly light for a Sunday afternoon and I was in good spirits about that fact.  However as I approached the toll plaza for exit 18 my good spirits flew right out the window faster than the spreading of a rumor about Bon Jovi’s death.  Traffic had come to a complete standstill about three miles before the toll.  I took note of the time on my car clock.  Then I waited. Waited. Waaaaited.  By the time I reached the toll booth and paid my toll, one and a half  hours had elapsed. I was absolutely pissed off. 

A couple of days later as I was still lamenting the inefficiency of the NJ Turnpike Authority at handling large volumes of traffic at their tolls, I hatched an idea and jotted off a letter to the governor of New Jersey.  What I suggested was a revamping of the toll rates.  Instead of having tolls in amounts such as $2.35, $1.65, or $3.85, I proposed rounding all tolls to easy to make change for figures – for example, $1.00, $1.50, $2.00, $2.50.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist and thank God because I am not one, to figure out that toll collectors can make change faster for toll rates with a zero at the end of them than with a 5. There is less calculation required on their part and the handling of less actual coinage. 

Did I just mention calculation?  Just today, I telephoned the New Jersey Turnpike Authority and asked an executive there if toll collectors are equipped inside their booth with a device that calculates the change due each customer.  The answer was no.  Toll collectors must manually calculate the change due for each customer.  Now at the beginning of a shift this may or may not be relatively easy for experienced toll takers.  However, as the hapless toll collector begins counting change for 500, 1,000 and maybe 2,000 cars during his shift this can become very mind numbing.  Logically, he may begin to slow down the pace at which he handles transactions.  That translates to longer and longer waits at the toll booth. 

A pricing scale as outdated as this photo

 

I know for a fact that the New York State Thruway also operates this antiquated schedule of toll rates.  So does the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Just to confirm that the Pa. Turnpike does this too, I went to the toll calculator on their website, entered a point of entry (Exit 359 -Delaware River Bridge) and then several different points of exit (Exit 339 for Fort Washington and Exit 326 forValley Forge).  The rates came back $3.20 and $4.75. This confirms my theory that they have umpteen different prices for their huge inventory of exits. 

As the population on this planet continues to explode along with the amount of cars on the roads, the people in charge of the super highways need to streamline their operations into efficiently-run enterprises. It is interesting to note that the Garden State Parkway in New Jersey just changed their toll rates and in most cases the tolls end in a “0” cents rate.  (In a few cases tolls are $.75).

I am not saying there shouldn’t be tolls.  However, I think it is nervy to make people wait on tiresome long lines and then ask them to spend money at the end of the wait.  This is especially aggravating for people who have just had a hard day at the office, or the construction site.

Let’s revamp toll prices to speed up what is currently a system that can best be described as archaic.  Keep America rolling, not crawling.

  

Copyright 2011; Greg S.

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Fighting Back Against Sucide

This post doesn’t start out with the catchphrase “excuse my logic,” for it is not meant to poke fun at anyone, minimize anyone or in any way make light of the subject at hand.  Suicide is not a subject to be taken lightly and I hope this post offers some insight to anyone who is either considering this action themselves or know of someone who is.

Furthermore lest it be said that I don’t have any experience that would qualify me to address this issue I would like to point out that I have lost two dear relatives to suicide.

The first loss came when I was in my early twenties. My very favorite uncle, Rudy, was living with his two brothers (one of whom was my grandfather) and another uncle who was paranoid schizophrenic and quite simply off the wall more often than not. The schizophrenic uncle was much younger than Rudy and had a penchant for tormenting Rudy to the point where Rudy felt like a prisoner trapped in a hopeless existence.  While it was never documented that Rudy killed himself (no autopsy was done) my parents tell me that a bottle of sleeping pills half full was found next to his body on the night table.  There is another indication that he killed himself in that the night before he died he called up my Dad and asked him out of the blue to make a McDonald’s run (Rudy loved McDonalds but usually never wanted to put anyone out to drive him there).   We believe this was Rudy’s metaphorical “Last Supper.”

The other relative I lost to suicide was a more clear-cut case.  My cousin, in his late teens,  blew his head off with a shotgun.  Here there had been issues of a recent breakup with a girl, divorced parents and as my one aunt observed just a life too filled with rejection.

This brings me to the insight I wish to offer the reader.  I was listening to a religious recording and the speaker cited an informal study that had been conducted on the subject of suicide.  This clergy man didn’t harp on that old adage taught to us that if you kill yourself you’ll go straight to hell.  What he did observe was an offshoot of that adage but one that is more believable and contemporary than the threat of going to hell and burning up in the proverbial fire.

According to the study, a number of people who had attempted suicide and “crossed over” to the other side briefly, before being brought back to life vis-à-vis EMS workers or others, reported eye-opening experiences.  There was a common thread to these experiences.  These people who had near death experiences all reported that when they temporarily entered their afterlife, whatever problem they were trying to escape by killing themselves was still waiting for them on the other side only ten, twenty or even a hundred times worse!

I think this is a very powerful idea and one with practical applications.  Suicide you see is often fear driven.  The person is afraid of losing their job, their family, their home, their position in the community etc.  Their fear overrides their sense of logic and they decide that the best way out is to take their life. They reason that if they kill themselves they will no longer have to suffer the humiliation, rejection or grief that they are feeling while alive.  So you see, if you know someone who is contemplating suicide and you tell them that the problem they are facing here is going to be ten times worse after death my thinking is that you will fight fear with fear.  Then it becomes a question of which fear is greater.  If you want to stop a person who fears this life from ending their life, you must instill an even greater fear into that person of what lies ahead.  If the person contemplating suicide be it you or a loved one, has any sense of reason left at all they may start to rethink their intentions.

I speak from experience on this front too.  About ten years ago, I passed on the information about the crossing over study to a coworker of mine who was intent on killing himself.  He was addicted to drugs, felt misunderstood and completely alone in the world.   Several weeks after I told him of the study he approached me and thanked me.  He gave me his word that he would never think of killing himself again and I believe from that point forward he began turning his life around.

We're all in this life together.

Suicide claims victims of all ages, religions, and socioeconomic status.  How often have we heard someone exclaim about a victim of suicide “Oh he had everything to live for.”?  That’s what makes suicide so insidious.   Some people will exhibit all the textbook signs of depression and suicidal tendencies before actually killing themselves.  Other people who kill themselves leave us gaping open mouthed wondering how in the world it got to that point.

The above information is not meant to be a substitute for professional mental health counseling.  Rather it can be used as an adjunct in conjunction with the services of a mental health expert.   These are tough times.  Many people are disillusioned and/or scared.  If this post even succeeds in stopping one suicide, then it will have served its purpose.  They say that a person who is really hell bent on killing themselves can’t be stopped.  However, the least we can do is make the effort.

 

Copyright 2011; Greg S.

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Has the Postal Service Lost Its Zip?

Excuse my logic but it’s not surprising that the United States Postal Service has been forced to close many facilities recently.  Don’t misunderstand this blog. I am not gloating.  As a kid I greatly enjoyed collecting plate blocks of commemorative stamps and also First Day covers, which were special editions of new issues mounted on decorative envelopes.  My memories of collecting stamps with my father and grandfather are cherished.

Yes, I think it is sad that just like newspapers, the venerable Postal Service may be put out to pasture.  Yet, in many ways it has only itself to blame.

True, the advent of Email, Pay pal and other electronic methods of transmitting information has greatly dug into the Postal Service business and it can’t be blamed for something it had no control over.

However, there are glaring problems with the Postal Service that it does have control over yet continues to ignore.

It has huge overhead to pay because of gargantuan pensions it must pay former employees.  From the mid 1900s until recent years, everyone wanted a postal job because they knew how lucrative the retirement package was.  These former workers are living longer putting a drain on the already cash strapped agency. 

Second, my own experience with the Postal Service on many occasions has shown me that it is not as reliable as it once was (unless when I was a child all this was going on even then and I just didn’t realize).  People call printed mail “snail mail,” and oft times for good reason. 

Here are some cases in point.

One time I walked out of my side door and past my front lawn and there was a large stack of mail (about 20-30 pieces) lying on my grass.  It wasn’t mine. It didn’t even belong to anyone on my street. It had just been dropped there very carelessly.

I am constantly (I mean at least once every two weeks) getting mail delivered to my house that is not mine.  Sometimes it has a completely different address which makes it ludicrous.  Yet even when it has my address but is for someone other than my name I find it rather curious. You see when I mark this kind of mail “return to Sender” and re-mail it at my post office often times it comes back to me two or three times.  Can’t these people read?! 

Is this eagle an endangered species?

 

Then I can recall how I lost a great deal of business thanks to USPS.  My Dad and I were under contract with a textiles company to get them government contracts.  We needed to get at least $500,000 worth of business for this company in our first year in order to be renewed.  There was this state government bid we were going after.  It was in one of the southeastern states as I recall.  We put our bid package together and I brought it to the Post Office.  I clearly asked the clerk if using express mail when it would arrive at the bid room.  He guaranteed two days. I only needed it to arrive in three.  It arrived in FOUR.  We were disqualified. The most upsetting thing was when they tallied the bids, our bid would have been the lowest.  It was a $240,000 contract.  Because we lost that contract, we didn’t make our quota with the textile company and it ended what could have been a successful business partnership.

Did I mention that my postman always seems to be talking on a blue tooth when delivering my mail? Shouldn’t his mind be on his work? Maybe that’s why I keep getting other peoples’ mail as mentioned before.

Then there are the lines at many post offices.  This is not the poor postal clerk’s fault. It’s management’s.  Be that as it may, when you make working people wait twenty, or twenty five minutes to be served, they’re going to become disenchanted with your business.  If you ever want to hear a wide array of muttered curses and catcalls, just go to your post office during lunch hour. If it’s one of the crowded ones you’ll get what I mean.

This cranky old blogger’s last gripe concerns something that took place about 15 years ago.  I was driving my relatively new minivan down a side street and suddenly a postal vehicle just pulls out of its parking spot and side swipes me.  I mean the driver couldn’t have possibly looked out her side view mirror for she would have seen me.  I called the police. They came and I said I thought I smelled alcohol on her breath but they refused to issue a breath test.  They acknowledged that it could have been her fault. Here’s the kicker though.  At least at that time, under some provision of Title 19 from the Code of Federal Regulations, the Postal Service vehicle was not liable for damages caused by an accident, even if it was the postal worker’s fault.  So I had to shell out nearly $1,800 for repairs.

Through it all, I hope the Postal Service survives.  However, I hope they get their act together or it may be a short lived encore.

 

Copyright 2011; Greg S.

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