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Drive Like You’re From Jersey

Last week, I had the unfortunate luck of finding myself driving in Camp Hill on a Friday around lunchtime. People who live in Harrisburg or on the “east shore” generally categorize those who live on the “west shore” or Camp Hill as a bit more affluent, well-to-do and certainly more employed and employable than their Harrisburg counterparts.

Now this, of course, isn’t true for ALL west shore dwellers. There are scores of residents that used to live within the city limits but after their children approach school age, they take that trip across the Harvey Taylor Bridge one last time and settle in with a yard and a driveway; escaping the faltering Harrisburg School District, higher crime and lower quality of life in the Capitol City.

Considering more people are more employed and probably have more urgency of places to go and things to do, I’d think that those on that side of the river would drive a bit more efficiently. But believe me…they don’t.

And Harrisburg drivers – don’t think you’re getting out of this rant either. You can be just as sluggish on the road as the rest of the midstate. I just happen to be hot on the topic of Camp Hill drivers at the moment.

Here are a few tips from a Jersey native on how to get places quicker and navigate more congested roads at 2PM on a Sunday than this area will likely ever see at 4:30 on a Friday.

The gas is on the right!

Step on the gas, grandma! Speed limits are merely guidelines for traveling.

Bob and weave…safely

My bud Jersey Dan and I were driving back to Harrisburg from Hershey the other night and he commended me on my cutting-in-and-out skills. There’s a fine line here, though. Sometimes, you can appear to be a real dick if you too aggressively bob-and-weave. But a steady, gentle cutting in and out of lanes is perfectly fine.

Pass Right, Cruise Middle, Turn Left

Front Street in Harrisburg is incredibly frustrating at times. Mostly, when entering on a busier morning or afternoon. If you’re traveling on Front Street and don’t plan to turn off anytime in the next several blocks, stay in the middle lane! And if you’re in the middle lane, you better be cruising along at least five or seven miles per hour over the posted limit.

Unless You See Otherwise, Turn Right On Red

Just do it, already! If you don’t see a sign advising otherwise, go right on red! It’s totally legal.

Put The Phone Down

No, no. I realize I’m pretty guilty of this one too, but hey…if you’re going to text at a red light, you damn well better have one eye on the light while you’re waiting. You get a three second grace period when the light turns green before I’m laying on the horn.

Finally…

When In Doubt, Be Aggressive

I’m not saying be in a constant state of road rage, but grab your balls and get out there! It’s a competitive world we live in and driving isn’t excluded.

This Is Not A Post About Roller Coasters

Want proof that reforming an Amusement Tax is a great thing?

Look no further than Kennywood Amusement Park in West Millflin, PA.

The 111 year old amusement park had fought local officials for YEARS about the fairness (or lack thereof) of their local Amusement Tax before winning the reform.

Last April, West Mifflin officials and Kennywood brass came to an amicable agreement which made both parties happy…and saved the century-old park nearly two million dollars per year in payouts.

And TODAY- Kennywood announced they’ll be building a brand new roller coaster…to the tune of five million dollars.

Think that the reform of the Amusement Tax had anything to do with that?

You betcha.

Wake up, Harrisburg. It’s 2009. Get with the times or you won’t HAVE any great businesses to tax out of town.

Off The Record- Episode 11

otr-logo1-medHere it is!

Episode Eleven: Battle of The PennLive Bands, Poor State Workers (on the breadline), Trying to explain social networking to the uninitiated elder set, Entourage, The Strip Club Is Coming!, CoTweet, Jersey Bagels, Dave Matthews Telephone Game, We’re Number 1! (In Crime)

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Right and Wrong

Seven years.

My grandmother says that things go in seven year cycles.

Seven shit years followed by seven years of triumph.

Seven year chapters of relationships.

You see, my grandmother was married for over fifty years. She’s clearly experienced enough to dispel this wisdom.

Me, however, I’m still in those seven year chapters.

Sold speakers for seven years. Followed by seven years in Harrisburg.

Seven, karmically retributive years.

But in our cycles of life, there are things which we pick up along the way…some from mistakes we’ve made, some from lessons we’ve learned from peers or elders and others yet are life experiences which we take things away from to keep in our moral-pocket the rest of our lives.

Here’s a list. Nothing scientific, but just a handful of items I try to remind myself of daily (or as necessary) to get me through the toughest of times. Feel free to add to this little project..as I’m sure we can share a thing or two with one another.

1. It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.

In business. At a restaurant. With your mother on the phone. To your son or daughter. I’ve found that you can get virtually any message across to a listener if you simply say it kindly.

I’ve seen this rule be ignored by countless people I’ve encountered. Particularly bosses or figures of authority. “Ask nicely” I was always taught. No need to be a dick, right?

2. Attitude is everything.

Great attitude = great results.

Bad attitude = bad results.

I’ve seen this in action and have caught myself when I’ve just generally got a bad attitude about a situation. Life’s short. No need to sweat the small stuff, right?

3. Regardless of what your mother said, a moderate about of sex, drugs and rock and roll are just as essential as your daily multivitamin.

Maybe more “sex” and “rock and roll” than “drugs” (depending on your definition). And perhaps it’s what I do for a living..but I can’t go a week without at least a little of each of those three items.

4. Be nice to girls.

I’m always astounded when I read in the paper about someone physically hurting a woman. Maybe it’s just how I was raised, but it just seems like there are things that one wouldn’t need to be taught. If she’s really that tough to deal with, walk away. But always take the high road.

And on that note..

5. Bros before Hoes.

Women come and go. But a bro is always supposed to be there. So fellas- ya’ll should know that if your best bud breaks up with his girl, she is, forever, off limits. And if you break that rule, you’re a douchebag and a cheat for life. It’s just another one of those things that one would think that dudes would respect and unconditionally know…but unfortunately, that is not the case.

6. Hold the door for the person behind you.

There’s a rule to this though…I generally use the twenty-foot-rule. If I’m entering a building and there’s someone behind me who is walking at a moderate pace, I’ll hold the door for them. It’s just courteous. Then again, if they’re lollygagging along, all bets are off.

7. Believe half of what you see and none of what you hear.

If I were to discount everyone in Harrisburg prior to meeting them myself based on the opinions of others, I’d likely not have any friends. People make bad decisions from time to time and leave a bad taste in the mouths of some. Occasionally, it happens. But I prefer to give people the benefit of the doubt until they wrong me personally.

That said…

8. Screw me once, shame on you. Screw me twice…shame on me.

Once a thief always a thief? Perhaps. But generally, the ‘one strike’ rule tends to hold up.

That’s it. It’s by no means a complete list. And I’m sure I’ll add to it.

What are some of your rules to live by?

A Night In The Life Of A Harrisburg Police Officer (Part I)

This is Part I of a three-part blog post about my ride along with the Harrisburg Police Department on the night of October 30, 2008. Part I is an overview of the program, my goals for participating and is the timeline up until roll call.

Part II will feature the events of the night. I scribbled fastidiously in my best shorthand each call we were dispatched to and page after page of questions I had for the officer I was riding with. His answers were brutally honest, eye-opening and sometimes shocking- but he was absolutely forthcoming and eager to talk with a member of the proverbial fourth estate about the work the HPD does on a daily and nightly basis.

And the final part will be my conclusion. The events and content of the eight hour program couldn’t possibly be summed up in one quick post (and I know how short all of our attention spans are).

Having lived in the city for just about five years now, I’ve been the victim of a handgun crime, have had my home vandalized, my car was innocently hit-and-ran and I know more than a bakers-dozen of people (first-hand) who have been mugged, beaten or burglarized within the confines of this Capitol city.

I’ve participated in countless conversations and debates with plenty of fellow citizens about the how’s and why’s of local crime. And I’ve read the coverage (or lack thereof) in the local newspaper of some of the more heinous crimes which happen nightly within our city limits.

And after all of the talk and debate, message board chatter and barroom banter about the ills and dangers of living and surviving in the City of Harrisburg, I decided that I wanted to see first-hand what it’s really like on a typical shift of a Harrisburg Police Officer.

I contacted City Councilwoman Patty Kim and inquired about who I would need to speak with to arrange a ride along. (Councilwoman Kim participated in one about two years ago while she was Public Safety Chair).

After making the necessary phone calls, clearing my outstanding ticket and signing my life away waiver, I told the officer in charge of arranging the ride alongs that I wanted to go out on the most dangerous, busiest and bloodiest shift that he’d allow- and it was Thursday night- 11P-7A patrolling Allison Hill. (Friday and Saturday nights are the busiest and bloodiest, apparently, but safety concerns prohibit ridealongs on weekends)

I arrived at the station shortly before eleven- large coffee in hand- and just in time for roll call. For the few minutes I was early, I was privy to hearing the next shift of officers bust each others chops and poke fun at their acknowledged shortcomings. It was mostly the veterans joshing the new guys- not unlike a football locker room.

It was comical, actually- and this jostling was my first glance into the reality of the Harrisburg Police- and that reality is simple- these guys are human beings- good people with good families and modest homes; and the common uniting factor amongst the HPD is the desire- the want, the need to protect the citizens of this community. To say their job is “difficult” would not do justice- “Difficult” is parallel parking. “Difficult” is negotiating a mall parking lot during the holidays or making it to work on time after a three day weekend.

The Harrisburg Police exist in a precarious place- the proverbial rope in a tug-of-war between the Mayor and City Council- with jobs and salaries and good, qualified and honest officers being bargained or whittled away by poor city accounting and mismanagement of available funds.

Prior to roll call, I was chatting with one of the officers- “About ten years ago, we were just over two hundred [officers] strong; now, we’re at about one fifty”.

(Twenty five percent of the Harrisburg police department has been eliminated in some form over the past ten years because of budget restraints, retiring officers and difficulty in hiring new recruits due to the Mayor’s residency rule. City of Harrisburg Police officers are now required to reside in the city.)

Roll call began and the Captain briefed the team of ten on the goings-on of the night.

“Alright guys, we’ve got the league minimum tonight” (An officer explained to me earlier that they try to have fifteen patrols at any given time- but the minimum that they can begin a shift with is ten officers on duty)

“We had our first shooting of the night, guys” he began; and proceeded to explain that a male was shot in the leg and was en-route to Hershey Medical Center with minimal injuries.

“On a positive note, there were forty three burglaries in October.”

Forty three burglaries!? And that’s positive? I thought to myself. Later in the night, the Captain would explain that crime in the city is actually down in numbers. Although smaller crimes- muggings and break-and-entries are still prevalent and will become more so- as we approach “Robbery Season”, which normally begins mid-November – as the holidays approach. But the season started early this year.

Patrol assignments were issued after updating the team that the officer’s involved in the Ryan Westover brutality case were, in fact, cleared of all wrongdoing after the investigation revealed that Westover attempted to choke an officer with his radio cord prior to his injury.

He seemed relieved that he was cleared- but also acknowledged that the newspaper most likely wouldn’t report on the charges being dismissed. (WHTM reported tonight; PennLive still has only the initial story)

“You ready, dude?” My partner for the night asked-

“You bet, man. Let’s go!”

“Alright…did they give you your armor?”

I chuckled “Yeah… got it man…”- (He wasn’t joking)..”Oh…you…you’re serious?”

“Dude, it’s like Beirut out there. We gotta get you a vest.”

So, for the first time in my life, I strapped on a Kevlar bullet proof vest, stepped outside for a smoke and waited patiently for my ride-along to begin….

Click Here For Part II

[EDIT: 5:09PM 11/7/08: In the spirit of full-disclosure, the above reference to PennLive not updating the status of the Westover story, the online news site did report on the clearance of the officers in the case- at 11:43 this morning. Nearly twelve full hours after this post was published and plugged on the Harrisburg Forum of PennLive.]