In this chapter, the late craze for 3D movies:

Reuben & Max see a 3D movie

En garde!

Do you think your Wu Tang sword can defeat me? En garde!

Further to the post immediately below this one, I have one happy reflection: For all of the ambient consumerist madness that prevails, especially today on so-called Black Friday, and for all the times that I lament my inability to raise children who do not, at least at times, clamor for new baubles with sickening zeal, to the point that they look forward to the aquarium gift shop almost as much as the sharks and sea turtles, it is reassuring to me that both of my boys deemed the most exciting part of today’s aquarium trip to be riding the subway there and back (or, as the three-year-old calls it, the “someway”).

Someway

In this chapter, the gift shop at the New England Aquarium in Boston:

Gift shop

My mighty (slow) cargo tricycle has already served me very well. First, there was the Halloween iteration, made by building three sides of a plywood around the cargo compartment and painting jack-o-lantern motifs:

Halloween Mobile

Halloween Mobile

In action on the fateful night, with five costumed passengers:

5 in the Halloween buggy

Then, there have been a few instances of more mature cargo, such as this one, in which I ferried my friend Luis home after a few drinks:

Carro oficial del concejal

I also ferried my friend Kenny, and his bicycle, from my house in West Hartford to his house on Laurel Street in Hartford. We didn’t get any pics of that because that was a long distance with a heavy load, so we were trading off pedaling duties and thinking more about keeping our hearts from jumping out of our chests than of taking photographs.

Most importantly, though, the trike has become my everyday commuting bicycle, which is a little bit absurd, since it weighs about 100 pounds, but also a lot awesome. I take Max to school in it, then head on to the office. (Right now, Max is a first-grade celebrity because of his unusual ride. I am taking bets on how long before he will insist on being dropped off at the end of the block to avoid mortifying embarrassment, but for now it’s nice that he likes it.) It turns the four-mile trip into a vigorous workout, which is good, and it makes it easy for me to stop for groceries on the way home, or to drop off a pair of bicycle frames at a friend’s house in Hartford, as I did yesterday. Luckily, my office has bike parking:

My reserved parking space at work

I just ordered a three-speed wheel to replace the single speed I’m working with now, so pretty soon the trike can become not just my hauling bike and my commuting bike, but my touring bike as well! I’m also working on plans for attaching a plow.

Park & Broad, Hartford

While translating an article on the current financial crisis from English to Spanish, I realized that I didn’t know the word for “brokerage” in Spanish, so I looked it up. Usually when I am translating and go to the dictionary, it turns out that I knew the word already, whether in English or Spanish (for this happens both ways – sometimes I encounter a Spanish word that I understand perfectly but for which I cannot conjure an English analog), but couldn’t quite remember it at the moment. This is both frustrating and reassuring: frustrating because time is money and I want to be good and efficient at what I do, but reassuring in greater measure because it reminds me, “Oh, I did know that word. My vocabulary is expansive because I am well-read in two languages, and worldly.” The immediate familiarity of a forgotten word in my second language gives me the same gentle self-satisfaction as when I recognize obscure allusions in an erudite person’s jokes.

The Spanish word for brokerage is “corretaje,” and this word gave me no such warm feeling. I have definitely never heard the word before – and why would I have? In my day job I am public defender at the juvenile court in Hartford, Connecticut. About half the people I talk to on a given day speak Spanish, and it is safe to say that none of them are brokers or transact business with brokerages. I would even hazard that most of them, like me, have never heard the word “corretaje.”

Now, I can discern a relationship between “corretaje” and “correr” – to run – and in some recess of my brain there is a memory of learning in college, somehow, that “corredores” were people who once had some role in formal commercial transactions. Still, this word basically feels like a collection of letters with no particular connection to its substance. But that makes me ask: what is the substance of a brokerage? What does that word mean in English, and what is it that a brokerage house does? I have no fucking idea.

OK, I am overstating the case a little bit. I can surmise that brokerages collect or are placed in charge of money that is not their own, and then invest this money to the advantage of its owners, with some significant residual benefits for the brokerages themselves. I cannot begin to imagine, however, what the daily activities of a broker might comprise. Are they on the phone a lot? In meetings? Giving Powerpoint presentations? I have listened to all those collaborations between This American Life and NPR’s Planet Money team in which Alex Bloomberg and Hanna Joffe Walt explain the financial crisis in a way that east coast liberals like me will understand, and I have done some wikipedia research, but that shit refuses to stick in my head. Brokers wear fancy suits, they work long hours, and then they go drink scotch and look at strippers and buy mansions in Fairfield County. Later, somehow, the whole economy gets ruined.

Here’s the thing: my clients who have no idea what a “corretaje” is are poor, Spanish-speaking teenagers in one of the poorest cities in the nation, or they are the struggling working-class parents of these teenagers. That is not to say they are not smart – plenty of them are – but they don’t have much occasion to meet brokers, let alone deal with brokerages. in contrast, I am a lawyer, highly educated and solidly middle-class. I have an actual 401(k) plan, with which brokerages are likely involved in some way. I have met a number of brokers in casual social settings. Sometimes, I have asked them to explain to me what the hell they do with their days, and infrequently, they have obliged. Still, I am clueless about brokerages.

All of this makes me understand very well the nihilistic apoliticality that prevails among my clients and their families: Somehow, a bunch of rich people were legitimately employed at jobs where they inexplicably got richer while decimating the nation’s economy. Now the government has massive debt that needs to be paid off. The President – a man of modest origins, our first non-white President, elected thanks to massive participation by black, hispanic, and poor voters – created a commission to figure out how to reduce this debt, and the commission proposed, among other things, reducing Social Security benefits, raising the retirement age to 69, lowering corporate taxes, and increasing the gas tax. What the fuck?

Yesterday’s Courant brought the disheartening news that Connecticut’s storied river ferries may be on the budgetary chopping block. This is a bad thing, not only, as the article mentions, because many people use the ferries in their daily commutes, but because the ferries remind us of our surroundings and our history.

I have marveled before at how quickly one can go from city to country in Connecticut. All you have to do is walk out on the old railroad bridge north of the Bulkeley Bridge for an example of how wondrously cheek-by-jowl the city and country live in Connecticut, especially along the river: Look south, and there is downtown Hartford, well lit and buzzing with cars and trucks.

New England's Rising Star

But turn north, and you see a view that people crossing the river have probably been seeing for 1,000 years.

The mighty Connecticut, looking north from railroad bridge, Hartford

But in a busy life, all highways and sprawl and long commutes, it is easy to become disconnected from the routes we traverse. Riding in a car between Hartford and East Hartford, you can’t even see the mighty river you are crossing. So the existence of ferries, on which we make a trip not much different from what people in Connecticut have been doing for 300 years, is important.

All of which got me to thinking: I know that the Rocky Hill – Glastonbury used to be powered by a horse on a treadmill (memorialized in lovely fashion by local art and design genius, Brian Cook). Some interwebs research revealed to me that a world-class athlete can sustain an output of about .54 horsepower for an hour on a track bicycle, and that a fit cyclist can exceed one horsepower of output on a road bicycle for a brief period. That tells me that two relatively fit cyclists, working together, should be able to generate one horsepower for ten minutes at a stretch, which should be adequate to power a barge across the Connecticut river.

Right now, the Rocky Hill – Glastonbury ferry is pushed by a tugboat:

The Cumberland pushes the Glastonbury - Rocky Hill ferry
(Here, you can see the tug nudging against the ferry.)

According to the Courant story, the yearly operating budget of this ferry is $250,000. I suppose that includes maintenance, insurance, salaries for maybe four or five employees (the ferry runs about 12 hours a day, seven days a week, and there are two people working at all times – the tug captain and the ferryman), and fuel. Surely, significant savings could be realized if the tug and the fuel were entirely removed from the equation, right?

Here’s the dream: Create a non-profit organization to run the ferry. Rig up the barge to run on the power of two bicycles. If you pay cyclists $15/hour to drive the ferry and you need two cyclists for 12 hours a day, nine months a year, that’s $97,200 of wage costs. It could be a part-time job or something that high school and college students do, or bike nerds like me could volunteer periodically. Either way, I’m guessing there’s a significant savings over pushing the barge with a tug. But then, the non-profit works to develop interest in the ferry and in river history, and to get sponsorships from local businesses. The barge itself could have historical displays for passengers to look at during the brief trip. On weekends, there could be special events with historical talks, or river tours, and the barge could be rented out for special events like weddings and dinners.

If the fares on the boat raise at least $66,000 (22,000 cars, per the Courant, at $3 each), and the wages for ferry bikers are about $100,000, I figure the state should be able to pay the non-profit $100,000 a year to run the service, and if fundraising efforts were especially successful, money could be returned to the state, fares could be reduced, or more related services (like riverbank clean-up, more historical displays and tours, etc.) could be added.

Is this a crazy pipe dream? I think the money would work out. What mostly concerns me is whether it’s really possible for two cyclists to move a 50-foot barge across a quarter-mile of river while carrying three cars. Still, I think this could be awesome and doable, and honestly, who wouldn’t want to come see what would be, if my Googling is correct, THE ONLY BICYCLE-POWERED RIVER FERRY IN THE WORLD?

Enjoy!

Although the occasion of rolling clocks back for the end (or the beginning? who knows?) of Daylight Savings Time is always accompanied by much hew and cry about the wisdom of toying with nature’s order for something so trifling as the perception of more light, the simple fact is that this is the time of year when the days are sparse, the nights long, and the sky, even at its brightest, is brooding and mottled and dim. Over the two weeks leading up to the fall-back weekend, that familiar chill of impending snow came into the air, and middling gray clouds seemed to settle in comfortably over the whole sky. Leaves were raked and leaf piles frolicked in, and I even got a nice day yesterday of meandering around Boston with hands deep in pockets and face tucked into collar against the wind. And then, like clockwork, we woke up this morning to snow on the ground in Hartford and sleet filling the air. Hello again, Winter. I need a stiff drink.

Property Line, West Hartford, Conn.

Leaf pile in the truck

Lawrence Street, October 29

Elizabeth Park rose garden

Boston, under a brooding sky

A gray Autumn day in Boston