Waiting Six Hours at Cadman Plaza Post Office

I did not expect that it was possible to spend six hours at a post office on a Saturday, just to turn in passport applications for the kids. Who knew?! At other locations, they make appointments. Not at Cadman Plaza in Brooklyn, though. Of course, after our ordeal, we heard that they take passport applications at the Main Library in Brooklyn on Saturdays, which we will try next time. In 4.5 years.

Last Saturday, the whole family trudged to Cadman Plaza, as the kids’ passports expire in June. These days, you need to have at least six months on your passport for many countries to allow you in, and since we want to travel later this year, I thought that we should jump on it. Funny, if you wait until the point that you are leaving within two weeks, you can go to the Passport Agency in Manhattan, which is supposed to be pretty efficient and quick. However, if you are the type to plan ahead, you are punished by having to deal with your local post office. And you are severely punished if you happen to be in Brooklyn.

Had it been our local post office in Santa Rosa, CA, it would have taken us an hour. We would have made an appointment, we would have shown up, waited a few minutes, and been done. I miss that post office! The people that work there are so pleasant. I didn’t mind going there. If there was a line, the employees worked hard to process people through quickly.

The Cadman Plaza post office is a very different experience, and not in a good way. Why they don’t make appointments is beyond me. We got there a little before 10 AM and were nearly the last people to get a number, even though their advertised hours are 9 AM until 4 PM. There was one person after us before they stopped giving out numbers. They had three windows that were technically open, but for most of the day only one or two was active. Each employee took more than an hour for lunch and at least one long break. Seriously?! In six hours? From 1-2 PM there was only one window open and a roomful of people waiting. And waiting.

During the many hours of standing, I noticed a lighted display that scrolled various messages next to one of the windows. It took a while, but I finally grokked that the lighted display was actually in demo mode . . . from 1998! So someone installed the lighted display 18 years ago and no one in the post office ever bothered to program the date, the time, or turn on the built-in Trivia function. They could not be bothered. Meanwhile, the thing has been ON for 18 years, saying absolutely nothing.  Which says a lot about the employees’ pride in their work. Or lack thereof.


Apology to Tourists That I Misdirected

Dear Unfortunate Tourists,

I am so sorry to send you in the wrong direction on the C train last Thursday! You probably thought I did it on purpose, but I was just turned around, standing on the wrong platform. You didn’t know that, of course. And since I told you with absolute conviction to “Get on that train now!” you followed my advice immediately. As soon as the train left, I looked up at the sign and realized what happened. I was horrified. A mother and son, trying to get to the Museum of Natural History and a pair of women, trying to go Uptown– all four of them headed into Brooklyn.  I hope it didn’t take you too long to figure it out!

My sense of direction is crappy, always has been. And normally I would pause to make sure that I am correct. If it is any consolation, you got on the train that I was supposed to be on but missed. Since Fulton St. Station is one that I had been in many times before, it didn’t even occur to me that I could be wrong until it was too late.

Our nanny pointed out to me that I’ve given you a story, at least. “Why did that lady who seemed so nice send us into Brooklyn? Those mean New Yorkers!” I can hear your story now. You will say how long it took to figure it out, how long it took you out of your way. And you will be baffled by my behavior.

Later that evening on the train back from Manhattan, I bumped into a couple of parents that I know. After relating to them what had happened and how awful I felt, I burst into a fit of laughing. One of them teased sarcastically, “You’re clearly broken up about it.” I really DID (and still do) feel badly about sending you in the wrong direction. But when one makes a mistake, one has to laugh or cry about it, and I choose laughter. Sometimes you have to shout out to others, “Look at this stupid thing I did!” and giggle at yourself. But I will definitely double-check my location before giving directions next time I’m asked.



It Doesn’t Get Any Better Than This.

Hearing the sound of the kids laughing in the back yard, playing together in the snow. Enjoying a perfectly seared filet mignon with Manly Guy at a lower Manhattan steak house. Sitting at my desk working while our daughter S makes carnitas tacos for a family dinner with minimal help. Greeting the kids as they enter our apartment after T walks his sisters home from school.

I was able to enjoy each of these special moments this week and it was glorious. We are encouraging the kids to be a bit more independent and they each seem to be rising to the occasion. I am acutely aware of how good life is right now and I’m trying to take note, to be conscious of it.  Life doesn’t get any better than this. Time is flying faster than ever and I regularly remind myself to be present, to be here now.

I’m not saying that life is absolutely perfect, although in the big picture, it is really. One can always think of ways to improve what one has. It is the human condition to want more. I believe that I’m content. I feel that I’m grateful for our NYC life. And yet . . . sometimes I get frustrated because there is *always* too much to do. (I can hear Manly Guy interjecting now: “And whose fault is that?” teasing me with a smile.) I occasionally chafe at the lack of space in our Brooklyn apartment. And unlike three of our four kids, I don’t love winter weather.

I find it amusing that I can know in my bones how good I have it and still yearn for improvements.  And when the next (inevitable) challenge arises, I will look back to this week, this month, and wish then that my life would be just like it is now.

South Brooklyn is Having a Moment

We didn’t choose to live in South Brooklyn because it is trendy, but South Brooklyn is definitely having a moment right now. Just last week I saw this headline: “EXCLUSIVE: $15.5M Cobble Hill townhouse sets the record for the most expensive home ever sold in Brooklyn.” (In the NY Daily News.) Recent real estate articles now claim that in some neighborhoods of Brooklyn (particularly Dumbo and Vinegar Hill), home prices and rents equal or surpass those in many sections of Manhattan, but Carroll Gardens and Cobble Hill (they are adjacent to and sit just south of Brooklyn Heights) are also considered “hot” neighborhoods. Of course, Brooklyn is just generally “hip” currently. Last fall, Brooklyn was voted the hippest part of NYC, even by Manhattanites. And in the latest Avengers movie, Captain America admits that he still hadn’t found an apartment in Brooklyn, although he is looking.

As I understand it, our corner of Brooklyn was a pretty scary place twenty years ago. Old mafia neighborhood, so women were safer than some other areas (or, so I’ve heard), but Brooklyn was generally pretty rough then. Lots of crime, lots of social problems. You see little evidence of that now. It isn’t zero, of course, as we *do* live in NYC, but generally if you are sensible and smart, the local streets are reasonably safe. There are still some areas to avoid, but I’ve heard that they are not nearly as problematic as they used to be.

We chose our location for the local school, which happens to have a French Dual-Language Program (DLP) through 5th grade. I had researched schools in NYC and I learned that there were only three schools in the NYC public school system that had the French DLP through 5th grade (there were three other programs, but they were more recently started, so only went up to 1st or 3rd grade). Our other two options were Upper West Side and Harlem, and Brooklyn seemed to have the most promise for finding a larger apartment (for six people) with a yard. Of course, there are plenty of private schools in NYC that offer French, but the cost of tuition ($30-40K per child) isn’t doable with four kids unless you are seriously rich.

One thing that I really like about our neighborhood is the *scale*. The buildings are not the towering apartment buildings of Manhattan, but mostly old brownstones between 3 and 4 stories high. It is a much more “human” scale than much of Manhattan. Don’t get me wrong– I really enjoy Manhattan– but if we had moved there, we would only have been able to afford a place in one of the soulless high-rises, a nondescript elevator building standing next to a bunch of similar nondescript elevator buildings. In NYC, particularly in Manhattan, charm is expensive. We have plenty of charm in our area of Brooklyn, and Manly Guy has a very easy commute to lower Manhattan for work (only six subway stops). We can easily enjoy the cultural attractions in Manhattan and still have a more livable lifestyle.

I’m grateful to be here. Living in NYC is pretty awesome, particularly in South Brooklyn.