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A weblog about the politics and affairs of the old and glorious City of Albany, New York, USA. Articles written and disseminated from Albany's beautiful and historic South End by Daniel Van Riper. If you wish to make a response, have anything to add or would like to make an empty threat, please contact me.


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February 8, 2020

Freezing Cold March For Dr. King

Plus the politicized Census, police hiring shortfalls, ornamental apple trees and the mayor’s image cloaking device

Yes, it’s a bit different every year, sunny and really cold this year, but not quite cold enough to cancel the event.  For some reason I came outside about 45 minutes early and stood there on Martin Luther King Boulevard on Martin Luther King Day in the middle of Lincoln Park waiting in that 15 degree fahrenheit sunshine wishing I had put on more layers of clothing, every few minutes turning away from that steady breeze that was coming down the hill to face toward the sun, desperately trying to absorb a bit of warmth.  Eventually I realized I’d better put my camera into my pants pocket against my thigh so it wouldn’t freeze up and become inoperable, as happened one year.

I hear that the indoor program held that morning inside the dark, dismal, but warm auditorium underneath The Egg was well attended, big crowds, choruses, speeches, tabling, all kinds of stuff.  But the short march from Madison to the MLK monument in my neighborhood was not quite as well attended as it has been some years when the weather was a bit more tolerable.  Only the hardiest citizens ventured forth into the cold sunshine, but for sure this year we had a whole lot more elected officials than usual.  When there are TV cameras trained on them, politicians can endure almost any conditions.

The March Through Lincoln Park
The March Through Lincoln Park

I definitely got out there way too early.  The City had put out notice, for the first time I believe, that the march would take off from Madison Avenue at 11:45 AM.  So I really had no excuse for going out so far ahead of time and freezing my precious parts like that.  I mean, if I wanted pictures of the area around the monument before the ceremony I could have taken photos and gone back inside my house for a half hour to warm up.  I have to confess that the reason I imposed suffering on myself, unspoken to myself at the time, was... shame.  

You see, a year ago just after MLK Day I was on the phone with a friend who lives in rural Wisconsin and happened to mention to her that year’s march to my neighborhood was cancelled because of the weather, almost two feet of snow had fallen the day before and the temperature was -4F.  On the other end of the line I heard loaded silence... followed by cold, icy contempt, icicles of disgust.  She informed me, as you might inform a pathetic wimp crying about a little boo-boo that, where she lives, when the weather gets balmy like that they put on their Spring outfits and rototill the garden.

I guess in Wisconsin they seem to be proud of how well they endure the horrible cold, but I’d never heard contempt from her before. There’s just something devastating about a person who is never contemptuous with you suddenly spitting derision that can kick one deep inside whether one notices or not.  So somewhere deep inside my balmy head I wanted to show her or somebody how tough I can be. As a result, by the time I could hear the approaching marchers still out of sight singing We Shall Overcome, I felt like I was ready to occupy a drawer in the cold storage unit at the morgue.

Ornamental Apple Tree In Lincoln Park
Ornamental Apple Tree In Lincoln Park

While I was standing there waiting on MLK Boulevard feeling the warmth of life getting sucked away by the breeze, I noticed a couple of ornamental crabapple trees loaded with tiny bright red apples in the snow covered field. For some reason I’d never noticed them before. 

The little apples on these trees, which ripen to bright red in the cold months, are incredibly sour, make your mouth become inoperable and will probably get tossed back up by your stomach if you manage to swallow them.  Even the birds won’t touch them, that is, not until after a few warm spells at the end of winter when they rot and turn brown, presumably making them less sour and more edible when food is the most scarce for the birds.  Most of the time all they are good for is as projectiles that the kids splatter against buildings and throw at each other.

But in early Spring these trees flower beautifully, an exhilarating announcement of the end of Winter.   In full blossom they are awesome, and the sweet smell is delightful.  The rest of the year they function as hardy and attractive street trees, able to thrive in the shade cast by buildings and never quite growing tall enough to bother overhead wires.

Springtime Apple Blossoms On Morton Avenue Last April
Springtime Apple Blossoms On Morton Avenue Last April

Many years ago, on the corner on Morton Avenue on the other side of the MLK monument, I planted a seven foot tall ornamental apple tree where the City and the power monopoly had conspired to kill what I thought was a perfectly good maple tree that both entities had considered bothersome.  This planting of a tree on public property by me was an illegal act, even though I had paid for the tree with my own money and did the work.  But hey, in the 1990s the City didn’t give a damn about the South End and in particular was openly contemptuous of my neighborhood.

Yet because of these annual marches on MLK day, the area surrounding the monument got looked at once a year by dignitaries and scrutinized by the Corporate Media. So in the last years of the last century the City very reluctantly carried out some projects within sight of the annual ceremony to make the images that ended up on TV look reasonably attractive.  One of these reluctant projects was to replace the crumbling sidewalk on that block of Morton Avenue and to plant some trees along there, starting at my illegal apple tree.

By then my tree, which I had carefully watered and defended from assault by autos and children, was big and strong and beautiful.  The City guys in charge of street trees, including the City Forester at the time, were impressed by it. Finding him and another guy who I think was from General Services (DGS) standing out on the corner by the tree, I asked what kind of trees they planned to plant up the block in the nice square openings that had been put in the brand new sidewalk.

The Wreath Ready To Be Presented To Dr. King
The Wreath Ready To Be Presented To Dr. King

To my delight they told me they planned to plant ornamental apples just like this one that we were looking at, because, as they explained, it was obvious someone had watched out for this tree and taken care of it.  This was a surprise to them, because the prevailing opinion of the City officials at the time was that the people of my neighborhood were subhuman troglodytes incapable of such higher functioning activities as caring for a street tree.  So they were hoping that “some of these people” (as they put it) would give the trees a chance to grow.

But, they told me, they had one problem, they had searched and searched but could find no record of having planted the tree or who had authorized it.  So old motormouth here happily confessed to them the true origin of the tree.  They both visibly started.  And became silent. They didn’t want to talk to me anymore.  I think they were embarrassed.

Well, the ornamental apple trees got planted all the way up the block as planned, and it looks like a couple ended up here in the park on the other side of the MLK monument.  Most of the trees planted on Morton survived quite nicely to maturity, and the City replaced the one or two that didn’t.  And I wasn’t arrested and thrown in prison for my terrible crime.  At least not yet.

Cold Cops On Horses
Cold Cops On Horses

After the police pace car in the lead came the mounted cops.  The horses, as they always do, looked sleek and shiny and healthy and not minding the weather one bit.  In contrast, the cops that sat on top of them looked cold and miserable, and as I found out one past year when the weather was like this, the guys are quite surly if you try to talk to them.

There’s a good reason for that.  When the marchers gather at the beginning of the march, they do so inside the south entrance to the underground mall opposite the State Museum, which is a nice warm place to mill about.  But the cops have to stay outside with their horses waiting for these people to get their act together and step outside.  Even if they could lead those horses inside through the doors there’s really not much room for the big animals right there at the top of the stairs.  Although that would be an awesome thing to do.

So while they wait the guys sit high up on their horses catching that godawful wind that constantly howls through the overhang on Madison Avenue.  Even those hot horse bodies underneath their butts don’t help.  I’d have to say of all the people trying to duplicate the trials and tribulations of Freedom Marches by this short downhill jaunt to my neighborhood, these cops on horses make the biggest sacrifice.

State Troopers
State Troopers

Next came the four State Troopers, I guess they had thick long underwear underneath those full dress uniforms.  But what’s up with those ceremonial rifles?  I’m taking a big fat guess here... are those US government issued 1903 bolt action Remingtons that you can fix a bayonet to?  If so, I suppose it was a good idea to leave those bayonets back at the barracks.  But bayonets on their shoulders would have been awesome.

Albany Police Explorers
Albany Police Explorers

Behind the State Troopers marched the Albany Police Explorers, which is a sort of internship for youth aged 17 to 22 who are considering a career in law enforcement.  The Explorer program is run by the Police Athletic League (PAL) which we usually think of as running sporting events for kids and such.  But this is a serious training endeavor. From an Albany Police Facebook posting about what they call Station Day, which is held at Sienna College:

Station Day is a competition among explorer posts from around the Capital Region in which the explorers are put into scenarios that police may respond to. Some of the scenarios at today's event included traffic stops, domestic incidents, emotionally disturbed persons, emergency medical care and an active shooter.

According to Chief Eric Hawkins speaking at a public event this past January 7, the Albany Police Department (APD) is short about 47 officers. One of the ways that the APD is trying to make up this shortfall is by providing officer training particularly for citizens of Albany, which also has the advantage of creating officers who understand the community and are part of it.  In the past, most of the conflicts between the APD and the community can be traced to the overwhelming majority of officers having no connection to the City except to collect a paycheck.

This year’s Explorer class is the largest ever, 23 participants.  A number of current APD officers started with the Explorers.  There is also the Training Academy, which produces officers ready to be hired by the City upon graduation (they must be 21.5 years old to become officers in NY State.)  The Academy is doubling in size to deal with the hiring crisis, the new facility being renovated is on 215 Washington Avenue and is expected to open shortly.  

Proletariat With Politicians Mixed In
Proletariat With Politicians Mixed In

It was a small but determined, bundled-up crowd that sang to keep warm.  It may not have been Wisconsin cold, but hey.  Martin Luther King put his life on the line many times for what he believed in, but he was born in Georgia and never had to put up with this crap.  When he visited Albany in 1961 he made sure to show up in June.

Most of the politicians were bundled up with headgear, well, more than usual.  I was surprised I didn’t spot Mayor Kathy Sheehan as she passed me, when I saw her later at the monument before the speeches started, about all I could see of her was her nose sticking out of her scarf.  But Congressman Paul Tonko, who I don’t think marched but showed up at the monument, proudly displayed his bare, bald head for all to admire as if it were a fine morning in June.

State Assembly Member Pat Fahy And Albany Police Chief Eric Hawkins Converse And Grimace, While Albany Recreation Commissioner Jonathan Jones Seems To Enjoy The Weather
State Assembly Member Pat Fahy And Albany Police Chief Eric Hawkins Converse And Grimace, While Albany Recreation Commissioner Jonathan Jones Seems To Enjoy The Weather

One of the deficiencies of the MLK monument is that while it acts a natural podium for this ceremony and for the speaking politicians, the hill in front of the monument is a lousy place for an audience to stand and watch.  When there’s snow on the ground it is downright dangerous. Maybe a project for the future is to create some sort of terrace for people to congregate safely.

This is the first time that I remember the City failed to remove the snow in front of the monument.  This is kind of odd because the dignitaries that were crowded onto the monument faced front, and the speeches were directed toward the grassy slope in front.  But hardly anyone stood in front of them except a half dozen or so persons with cameras, like myself, and I can tell you it was not the safest place to shift around for a good shot.

What happened is that the police honor guards carrying their flags and antique rifles marched around to the back of the monument as they always do, but this time everybody followed them!  As soon as the honor guards stopped marching, the regular folks drifted downhill to surer footing on either side of the monument, pushing the dignitaries tighter together.  It’s just as well, not only was it safer but probably it helped cut the wind a little bit.

Why Is This Picture Of Mayor Sheehan Blurry?
Why Is This Picture Of Mayor Sheehan Blurry?

Mayor Sheehan revealed enough of her face to be the master of ceremonies as usual.  Now, I want you to know I took fourteen photos of the mayor as she spoke.  Yet when I got home and downloaded them into my laptop, every single one of those fourteen photos was out of focus, blurry.

Why did this happen?  I can only think of two plausible explanations.  Quite possibly the mayor had a state of the art personal image distortion cloaking device underneath her coat, a gadget originally developed to confound face recognition software but used by her on MLK Day to ruin unauthorized photos taken by politically suspect persons like myself.  The other possible explanation is that I still haven’t figured out the settings on this complicated camera that The Wife bought me for my birthday after I’d dropped my other camera into the water while overturning my kayak last summer as I was trying to get out of it.  I’ll let you decide.

Usually the mayor gives an exceptionally passionate and inspiring speech about justice and equity and the challenges faced by the City and our society.  But this time her message was about the upcoming Census, how everybody had to participate, how the City needed a full head count, and how everybody had to participate, and how the City needed a full head count, I think about five or six times.  People started to look confused and then annoyed.  I think they didn’t want to hear that, they wanted inspiration.  But oh well.

Congressman Paul Tonko
Congressman Paul Tonko

His bare bald head prominent in the cold sunshine, Congressman Paul Tonko delivered the rousing and inspiring speech that everyone expected. It might have been a trade-off with the mayor, most other years Mr. Tonko gives a report from DC while Ms. Sheehan does the inspiring.  It might be that he feels she’s a hard act to follow, or more likely she’s been feeling anxious about this Census thing and not very inspirational at the moment and figured it was his turn anyway.

As for the Census, there appears to be a manufactured crisis going on.  Most decades the temporary Census jobs get snapped up fast, but this year the persons running it have had to raise the pay to $20 an hour plus .57 cents per mile travel in an attempt to attract people.  I heard this last month from the esteemed Mr. Fred Pfeiffer who was working a Census job recruitment table at Honest Weight Coop.

When I dutifully spread the word on Spacebook I was quickly informed by several people that it was almost impossible to get through to the persons in charge of hiring, either by the phone number or the website I was given on the flyer I’d picked up from Fred.  Mr. Roger Green complained that he’d been trying to get through on and off since the middle of last year and hadn’t heard a thing from them.

As anyone who follows the news outside the Corporate Media is aware, the Census has been politicized by the vile scumbag squatting inside the White House.  There is a real possibility that this blocking of callers looking to work is deliberate, meant to undercount New York.  This problem isn’t getting any attention, but something needs to be done about it fast if people in New York State are to be properly counted.

Mayor Sheehan Carries The Wreath
Mayor Sheehan Carries The Wreath

This year I was fast and rude and jumped in front of the Corporate Media picture snappers to get a photo of the wreath laying part of the ceremony, basically the mayor and a bunch of kids moving the wreath from the stand to Dr. King’s feet.  But I couldn’t get a good photo, all these kids crowded around to help and it was almost impossible to see what was going on. Plus the mayor’s image cloaking device. The photo above is the best of the bunch, the rest are just a mass of kids.

And sadly, as usual, I failed to get the names of either reverend, the one who gave an invocation at the beginning of the ceremony and the one who gave the closing invocation.  This is because I am a hell-bound heathen who rarely steps inside of a church of any sort and thus does not know the names of any of our local religious leaders or where they conduct their ministries. Since it is always rather hard to scribble down a note (especially when my hands are half numb with cold) I seem to think I will remember their names and which churches they preside over without notes, but of course I do not. 

The Reverend Leading A Prayer At The Beginning
The Reverend Leading A Prayer At The Beginning

 

The Reverend Leading The Prayer At The End
The Reverend Leading The Prayer At The End

And that was it except for the milling about and dispersing.  A bus actually followed the marchers this year behind the last stragglers, I guess it goes the short distance back to Madison Avenue for those who are too numb with cold to walk.  As for me, that was enough.  I’m not a hardy tough guy from Wisconsin, I’m a local wimp and I needed to go back to my house and get warm.

All Over But The Milling About
All Over But The Milling About

 


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