The army blanket

My car is fourteen and one-half years old, give or take a few weeks. It has more than 142,000 miles on it.

I have since 2002 shared this car with my brother; when we bought it, we were both bachelors in Manhattan. These many years later, we still share it, transporting two families of four everywhere from Virginia to Maine, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts—and that was just in a one-month span earlier this summer.

The car drives younger than it is, thanks to an engine block replacement at 39,000 miles, and years of well-minded upkeep. Still, these last few months, the problems have been accumulating: a variety of leaks, vibrations, noises and odd smells that suggest the end is increasingly near.

It’s been a really good run, our time with this car. But it pales in comparison to the mainstay of the trunk: our father’s army blanket.

We have two such blankets, actually. They are remnants of Dad’s tenure in the Army Reserves in the late 1960s. Army green and heavy wool, with an unassuming “U.S.” on one side, they look and feel pretty much as you’d expect, and in true 20th-century American fashion, they were built to last.

For decades now, they’ve been part of our lives. I have distinct memories of the army blankets spread out on vacations and July Fourth fireworks displays as a kid. Nowadays they come in handy at the beach, and for the occasional picnic or event in the park. I’m not sure they’ve ever been washed in 50 years, but they’re so hardy, I suspect they don’t even need it.

Those uses suggest that the army blanket was often in the trunk of a car. So when I got my license as a teenager, I claimed one. It followed me to college, where it most memorably came in handy during a three-week deep freeze, where my car, literally iced into its parking space, finally found some traction with the blanket wedged between a rear tire and the compacted snow beneath.

From there, the army blanket took up more or less permanent residence in my car. For awhile, my brother and I each had a car, and a low-grade, three-way trunk tussle ensued between the two of us and our parents. “Do you have the army blanket?” “I need the blanket.” “Where’s the other blanket?”

We stumbled onto a perfect solution when we decided to share a car. Got the keys, figured out the stereo, threw the army blanket in the trunk, and away we went. We only use it a handful of times each year, but at this point, it just belongs there.

When our car finally goes, my brother and I are considering each getting our own. It’s time. Yet I’m going to miss sharing with him, for a host of reasons, including the efficiency of the situation (I don’t need a car full-time) and the many, many conversations that have started with the email subject, “Car.” And we’re going to have a heck of a time figuring out whose trunk gets blessed with our army blanket’s presence.

My iPhone SE

This Sunday I activated my latest iPhone, a space-gray 64GB iPhone SE.

I’ve actually been hanging onto my old phone for an uncommonly long time. It was an iPhone 5, with scratches on the glass and a connector that was losing its ability to connect, making every night’s charging a dicey proposition. But I’d held out for one important, fundamental reason: size.

I’ll admit what Donald Trump won’t—I have fairly small hands. Specifically, I have a wider hand with compact digits, what the golf glove industry calls “cadet” dimensions (which always makes me feel like I’m 14 when I buy a new glove, but oh well).

Golf glove sizing, from footjoy.com

You can guess what someone with hands like the one on the right might feel about an oversized smartphone. I didn’t even like it when the iPhone graduated to 4″ from 3.5″, because it became somewhat hard for my thumbs to reach the top row of icons. I regularly use my device one-handed, so the iPhone 6 and 6S were not what I wanted.

The SE, on the other, um, hand, is exactly what I wanted. Updated hardware, updated features, and still the compact size that I could palm with ease. The design may not be as slim as the 6, and its longevity makes it feel a little bit dated, but it’s also a near-perfect design execution, and not at all something I mind re-upping.

And, of course, the SE delivers: fast, easy, familiar performance that embodies a good upgrade. The battery life is phenomenal, too—I’m on an every-other-day charge cycle so far, which I haven’t achieved since, I think, my iPhone 3GS. Hanging onto my phone far past the standard replacement cycle makes me appreciate it that much more.

It’s been a great buy for me, and I’m glad Apple saw fit to release it.

I also picked up a Ringke Snug-Fit case for the SE. I need a case—my kids are clumsy, and so am I—but as a pocket-carrying user, I need a slim one. The Ringke is nearly identical to my previous Case-Mate Barely There, but it’s actually a little smaller (albeit lacking the shock absorption that the Case-Mate includes). By making my new phone just a touch thinner, my phone feels that much newer, and for all of $9.99. So make that two happy purchases, not one.

On baseball, parenting and memory

I have a bit of a thing for father-son baseball experiences. So when I saw that Justin Verlander was pitching for Detroit this weekend against the Yankees, my mind immediately flashed back to a Friday night last spring.

Alex Rodriguez sat at 2,999 hits on a Friday morning with Verlander taking the mound. A-Rod hits Verlander hard: .344 in 32 career at-bats with five home runs. So on a few hours’ notice I bought two tickets for the game, mostly for my son, Nathan, who despite his father’s repeated exhortations loves A-Rod. (“Well, Jeter’s my favorite Yankee, but since he doesn’t play anymore, A-Rod is my favorite. He cheated but he learned his lesson and now he’s a really nice guy.” Sigh. How about Gardy?) Our anticipation was that by being opportunistic we might be able to see a bit of history.

What we hadn’t quite anticipated was barely having settled into our seats when Rodriguez turned on a first-pitch fastball and blasted a home run for hit number 3,000.

The hit came in the bottom of the first inning. (That’s Rodriguez at the plate behind Nate in the photo above, seconds before Verlander’s pitch.) It was what the crowd had come to see, and it made for an early peak to the game: the two men next to us literally said goodnight and left, their plans fulfilled. Nate and I stayed for the whole game, though, and even found some friends in the bleachers in the late innings. I brought home our souvenir popcorn bucket and affixed a ticket (a real one, picked up at will call) to the underside as a memento.

I still don’t like Alex Rodriguez, but I love having constructed this memory–from the hit to the homer to the very late night for a seven-year-old at the Stadium. So we’re good. Even if Nate still thinks A-Rod has three thousand homers, not hits. Go Yankees.

A simple step to customer satisfaction: databases with long memories

I’m flying United Airlines later this month for the first time since 2004. A few days ago, United emailed me: “Don’t miss out on award miles on your trip.” The email encouraged me to sign up for MileagePlus, United’s customer loyalty program.

I’m no United regular, but as I actually have three flight legs booked with them through April, I figured they had a point.

But I decided to do them one better. Digging around old text files, I found my old Continental OnePass number.

I pulled up my flight details and dropped in the old OnePass number. United recognized the account instantly and added it to my itinerary.

Pleasantly surprised, I proceeded to log into my account, using the same number and the decade-old PIN I had on file. United.com had no trouble pulling my account together, listing my lifetime miles flown while simultaneously updating my address to the one I entered for my upcoming travel.

This is what all customer loyalty programs should look like. With the right investment in database architecture, companies can have information about their customers readily available, and utilize that to surprise and delight even the most passive of patrons. Like me, the once-every-twelve-years infrequent flier, now pleasantly blogging about a company I once publicly rebuked.

I recently had an unsatisfying discussion with Hyatt via Twitter where I challenged their policy of expiring accounts. Seems they are deleting my Gold Passport account next month because of lack of use—not expiring my points, but wiping out my ID entirely. Why? I asked. I got back a corporate version of ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ and a suggestion I buy some points to stay in their good graces.

Compare Hyatt’s attitude with United, where any customer stickiness remains part of my lifetime value, regardless of frequency. Or AMC Theatres, where my Moviewatcher account worked for roughly 20 years, despite being forgotten for a good 15 of them between uses, when I lived out of reach of one of their locations.

AMC welcomed me back with open arms (and I’m now a highly satisfied Stubs customer, too). United has now done the same, and suddenly I’m looking forward to my flight.

Assessing the importance of North American cities by their major league sports presence, revisited

A few years ago, I dissected what a city’s sports footprint says about it, a fun (for me) exercise that gave interesting perspective to the American landscape. In light of Stan Kroenke’s merciless city-bashing as he took his Rams out of St. Louis this week—he’s from St. Louis! He’s named after two local sports heroes! And he told the city it’s a national laggard!—I’m revisiting the list, updated below.

Herewith, a revised tally by city of the major sports markets in America, covering MLB, NFL, NBA and NHL teams, in descending order of size, organized by my own arbitrary but numerically derived categories.

The majors
New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Los Angeles, Miami, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Washington, DC. These dozen cities are the hosts with the most: a team from every sports league. Of them, New York is the most major of all, as it has two teams in every league, if you include the Jersey-based football teams with NY in their logos. (New York’s position atop the hierarchy is much cleaner with the Nets’ and Islanders’ moves to Brooklyn.) Chicago gets bragging rights for its two baseball teams, while Dallas gets a partial bye, since its baseball and football teams technically play over the border in Arlington; and Los Angeles, long a football pariah, has a team once again, and may have two NFL franchises by the end of the decade.

The mid-majors
Cleveland, Houston, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Tampa Bay, Toronto. These cities have 3/4 coverage, not a bad haul, especially for cities you wouldn’t otherwise think are major or important on other scales, like Tampa. With the Rams’ move to L.A., there are now just six cities with this kind of sports presence. I almost demoted San Francisco because the NBA Warriors still refer to their location as “Golden State,” which makes no sense to me, even with the Golden Gate Bridge in their logo. Also, bonus points to Toronto for being so American that it boasts several of our pro sports teams.

The players
Charlotte, Milwaukee, Baltimore, Buffalo, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Kansas City, New Orleans, Oakland, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, St. Louis, Nashville. Each of these cities has two pro teams. Interestingly, all of them count a pro football team as one of the two (with the exception of Milwaukee, which has Green Bay up the road). Indianapolis and Nashville get less credit here than the others, because they have teams that cite a hometown state rather than the city. And woe to St. Louis, longtime home of the proud Cardinals baseball team, which has now suffered the loss of an NFL franchise—twice.

States that matter, because their cities don’t
Minnesota, Utah and New Jersey each have teams that don’t bother to name-check any town in particular. Poor New Jersey not only lost the Nets, but the Jets and Giants, who have played in the Meadowlands for decades, continue to pretend their port of call is across the Hudson River. And Utah has a lone sports team, which migrated there from New Orleans but retained its name, so we get to enjoy the dissonance of a team in straightlaced Salt Lake City called the Jazz.

Legacies
I love cities that have a sports team much larger than they would otherwise deserve. Green Bay, for one, with its legendary football club. And San Antonio with a leftover from the NBA-ABA merger in the 1970s–which, by the way, explained the New Jersey Nets for more than 30 years.

Canadian cities that make the list thanks to the NHL
Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal, Ottawa, Vancouver. I bet the CFL has a team in each of these cities. (Montreal had an MLB team until a few years ago, and Vancouver briefly sported an NBA franchise.)

One-sport oddities
Columbus has a hockey team. I don’t know why. Jacksonville has a football team, and not even the NFL is sure why. They play basketball in Memphis and Oklahoma City, mainly because wealthy men chose to buy teams and plunk them across town from their estates. Orlando, on the other hand, has a fairly strong basketball presence but no other teams.
Portland has a lone and legendarily popular basketball team; Sacramento also has an NBA presence. A few miles south, San Jose has a hockey team, which I’ve also never understood, although they always had a pretty terrific logo.

And speaking of hockey, the NHL has a team in Raleigh, N.C., which is probably why they call themselves the Carolina Hurricanes. Got all that?

The year in cities, 2015

Eleventh edition! Here is everywhere I visited and slept overnight in 2015. Repeat visits denoted with an asterisk—lots of them this year.

New York
Palm Beach Gardens, FL *
Lake Buena Vista, FL *
New City, NY *
Livingston, NJ *
Toronto, Ontario, Canada *
Hershey, PA
Gloucester, MA *
Groton, CT *
Edgartown, MA *
Athens, GA
North Creek, NY *

Helpful cashier, II

I’m at my corner deli when a man pokes his head in the front door. He barely comes into the store. He has a dog with him.

The cashier recognizes him; he’s obviously a regular. “Iced coffee?” she asks.

“Please.”

“Black?”

Please.

She intuitively grabs the largest cup she has. “This size?”

He nods in assent. She begins to prepare his drink, helping one gruffly appreciative man to better face his Monday.

Helpful cashier, I

The lottery is $202 million tomorrow. On the way out of work I stopped in the little shop in my office building to give it a shot.

“One Powerball ticket, please,” I asked the manager behind the counter.

“A winning one?” he asked.

Ina Golub, 1938-2015

Ina Golub, an award-winning Judaica artist whose weaving and beadwork are in the permanent collection of the Jewish Museum of New York and many congregations nationwide, died today in West Orange, New Jersey, from complications resulting from throat cancer. She was 76.

ina_golub_headshot_yarn

Ina was my aunt. She was the only notable relationship I had on my mother’s side of the family; my grandparents died early, and Ina and her husband, Herb, did not have children.

Going to their house was a much different experience than being in my own home. Ina and Herb were into the fine arts. He was a concert pianist and university professor; she, of course, was a weaver, and later a beadworker.

As a kid, stepping into their home was fascinating: the pianist rehearsing downstairs, the huge looms taking up two bedrooms, the balls of yarn and professional-grade drawing tables, the reel-to-reel playing classical music, the Eames recliner. Her house, never renovated, always stood out in my mind—the polished-brick entryway floor, the thick carpeting, the purple accents everywhere, and the dog, always a dog, a succession of fluffy Shetland sheepdogs when I was young (named Sebastian and Amadeus, naturally) and later an adorable rescue.

I spent hours drawing with high-end colored pencils in Ina’s studio, encouraged by her continual focus on creativity. Ina, my mother and I all inherited some of my grandfather Irving’s creative genes—Ina most of all, by far, but enough trickled down that Ina saw her lineage in me, and welcomed my explorations and curiosity.

Once a year, she’d drive me into New York from the suburbs, and we’d spend the day on the Upper West Side, poking around the dinosaurs at the Museum of Natural History, and occasionally exploring the flea market on Columbus Avenue and the curio store Maxilla and Mandible. Decades later, I now live in the neighborhood, and I think of my aunt every time I bring my sons to the museum.

ina_golub_fishIna was immensely talented in a variety of physical media. Her “Adon Livyatan”
Havadalah Spice Container (right) won first prize from the 1998 Philip and Sylvia Spertus
Judaica Prize. Her tapestries hang in congregations like Emanu-El in New York, Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos Hills, California, and at several synagogues in her home state of New Jersey, including my mother’s own congregation.

I am honored to possess a variety of Ina’s works, including a woven challah cover and an astounding pair of beaded candleholders. Ina also created a pomegranate encasement that contained the ceremonial glass that I broke at my wedding ceremony, and the tallis in which I was bar mitzvahed and married. They are among my more cherished personal belongings.

Ina is survived by her sister, Myrna, and a lasting body of work that should be her legacy.