February 2009 Archives

Recession in the 90's

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RIght now times are very uncertain. People are afraid, and I have only the greatest sympathy for what they are going through. In 1994 when I graduated from Villanova, I moved up to the Brooklyn Heights in July only knowing one person, my best friend Brad.

For those that weren't out of school back then the job market in the early 90's was fairly daunting (and wrote about here before). I went to a recruiter who was located midtown, handed over my resume, and she looked it over a bit. She was in her 40's, blonde, but haggard like years of working in that office just wore on her. She was working in a very bleak, dingy office. I remember the flourscent lights just putting a low, dim glaze over the shared workspace of her and her co-workers. I sat there in my ill fitted suit, tugging at my starched collar.

She looks at me, then looks at my resume, which was less than impressive. Sure I went to Villanova, but my major was English. Not exactly the most impressive major unless I was looking to teach kids under 10 years old. My college work experience was interning on Capitol Hill for Arlen Spector in 1992 and working every other summer as a bus boy or waiter in Ocean City, NJ.

The recruiter says to me, in a less than enthusiastic tone, "After reading your resume it looks like you were just another frat guy in college who had a good time and didn't accomplish very much."

My heart sunk. I kind of always thought it was you go to college, study, graduate, get a job. No big deal. Work your way up. Put in long hours, but there's a payoff and one day you have an office, are doing well, have fun, meet a girl, maybe two, get married, have kids, keep working, eventually maybe becoming an executive in the company, buy a house, kids grow up, you grow old, retire and by 65 living in Florida.

Naive? Sure. But in many ways my life just fell into place. High school graduate? Check. College graduate? Check. Job?


Ok, after the recruiter had a few other choice words for me, I left the office a defeated man. I remember I had another interview and the company sat me in front of a computer and wanted to test my words per minute (WPM) typing speed. What the heck kind of job were they going to find for me?

Here I am, again, a college graduate. You think that your life is just rolling along and getting a job would be a breeze...hey! I have a college degree!

Uh. No.

I glumly do the computer test, I have been typing since my Commodore Vic 20 days, and even had a semester of typing class from LaSalle High School, taught by Brother Linus Finn, the girl comes back to the screen and says, "Wow, you hit 100 words per minute!"

So, i'd make someone a great secretary. Kill me now.

I left that recruiter and kept trying to find a job. Weeks pass. Brad is working for JP Morgan. I'm not necessarily envious of him, but I envy that he's working a "real" job.

I had some money from my graduation party. It was $1500, and quickly I was running out. It was September and after 8 weeks of recruiters, sending out resumes, and trying for any job, I was getting no after no.

Finally, an ad caught my eye in the classified section of the New York Times.

There was a new company called "Starbucks Coffee", and they were hiring "baristas".

Oh, you heard of Starbucks?

Remember folks, this is 1994. Starbucks had 3...count em...THREE stores in NYC: World Trade Center, Upper West Side and Midtown. That's it. But they paid fairly well, actually had a limited health care & 401K for their baristas.

Here I was, in a recession and was learning to make coffee as my first job out of college. Starbucks trained me at their Bleeker Street training center for two weeks, with 15 other students on how to make the drinks at the store and understanding coffee beans, etc.

Then I got my first (real) job offer. First job was being an admin assistant for a foreign medical university in the Caribbean, which paid a very meager salary. I took that job on the advice of my father.

He told me times were tough, but just get my foot in the door, anywhere. Get something on the resume, and it's much easier to find a job when you already have a job.

I didn't start that admin job, because a week later, around October, I get a call from a headhunter named Scott Lyons. Won't ever forget him. He called and said he got my resume (I have no idea how, I don't recall sending it to him, but I sent out a lot of resumes back then) and had an interview at "Corporation X".

I was working at Starbucks and interviewing at Corporation X.

I remember stepping off the elevator at Corporation X and it was like something out of a movie. Bright, gleaming offices, with black onyx marble, glass walls and a very cool vibe. Up until that point I have been visiting these old school 1960's era office buildings with their tired looking workers, archaic 80's MAC computers and their less than desireable locations. Corporation X was on Park Avenue in midtown. There was one elevator that went express, and opened right into their office. I was floored and immediately wanted to work at THAT office.

Long story short...I got the job after three interviews and three very long weeks. I visited Scott Lyons, at his office near Wall Street. Up until that point, I never met him. I had a $80 bottle of Bourdeaux, shook his hand, thanked him and left.

Been at Corporation X for almost 15 years now.

Moral of the story is that for me, it was only 3 months of job searching and certainly CANNOT compare, exactly to what people are experiencing today.

But what I can say is that I was ready to do ANY job during that time. Nothing was beneath me. I was ready to serve coffee if I had to. If I lost my job at Corporation X, i'd get a job bartending or as a waiter. Beat the street again and look for my next job.

I definitely feel like a lot of people out there feel like the way I felt in 1994. Things are getting derailed. No one cares. Just gotta keep your head up and realize that the darkest part of the night comes right before the dawn.

Wolfgang's Downtown

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PHONE: 212-925-0350

HOURS: MON-THU: 12:00PM-10:30PM, FRI: 12PM-11PM, SAT 5PM-11PM, SUN: 5:00-10:30PM

Over the years living here I have been fortunate to try many steakhouses in the city. I have dined at Sparks, Bobby Van's, Strip House, The Palm, Smith & Wollensky, Peter Luger's, The Post House, The Capital Grille, MarkJoseph...the list goes on.

Suffice to say, I think I have a good feel for steak and steakhouses.

Now that i'm working in the West Village for 'Corporation X', I have had a chance to explore the neighborhood. Only a few blocks away from my office is Dylan Prime and Wolfgang's Downtown. My buddy Matt mentioned the idea about grabbing a steak, and away we went.

Wolfgang's was started by the head waiter at Peter Lugers, Wolfgang Zwiener. He took the best aspects of Luger's, the steak, and added something even better: a comfortable place for everyone to enjoy the experience.

We made reservations for a Thursday at 7pm, and were seated promptly upon arrival. The establishment is upscale, but not fussy. Many other steakhouses have a pretentious air about them which make dining there, for me, a bit annoying. I can't stand walking into a restaurant where you, the customer, need to feel like you walked into God's gift to steakhouses...like Peter Luger's. I'm sure someone will come rushing to Luger's defense, but I have been there three times and each time it seems I have the rudest waiter who needs to make me feel like I don't belong in their inner sanctum.

Nothing like that at Wolfgang's. Everyone was friendly, and the people there were upscale casual, some in suits, and our seats were in front of the restaurant, with the large expansive glass windows, providing the view of the cityscape along Greenwich street.

We barely glanced at the menu, already knowing that we would share a Porterhouse for two, and grabbed the canadian bacon appetizer along with a seafood platter we would share. Combine that with a bottle of 2005 Stag's Leap Artemis Cabernet and we were ready.

There comes a time in your life when there is a simple harmony to the world. I can remember a few times in my life when this happens, when it seems that the world slows down and becomes less complicated. This was one of those nights. Maybe it was the wine, the company and the food which became an orchestra of pleasure for the senses, but I was relaxed and enjoying my night.

The fare was a pleasure to behold, along with quick, efficient service. The canadian bacon was a bit of a disappointment, I heard so many good things about it, but I was expecting more. The seafood platter was delicious, next time I am definitely ordering that again. The porterhouse steak was cooked to perfection, accompanied by hashed potatoes and asparagus.

Our "dessert" were two glasses each of Oban scotch, and by 8:30pm I was full and heady from a really great meal. We headed back into Hoboken, taking the PATH from Christopher, and ended the night at Mulligan's with a couple of drinks and a few games of pool.

In retrospect, I think that's one of the highlights of living in Hoboken. You get all the great aspects of what the city has to offer, but can hop on a train and be back at your local pub in a short time.

I really want to try to get out more, far too often I find myself in a rut - working, sleeping, eating, repeat. Certainly I cannot eat at places like Wolfgang's every week, it was extremely expensive (the wine and the scotches didn't help), but completely worth it. Now I have to try Dylan Prime next...

Don't Upset The Herd

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Last week, I was watching one of my more favorite movies, Dazed and Confused. I love it because the clothes and the music reminds me of growing up in Richboro, PA.

There was a funny scene in the movie in which one of the characters, Mike, is angry about how he was treated by a bully, Clint, and exacts his revenge. Mike's philosophy is simple: "Look, man, I got it all planned out. Most fights in places like this never get past a punch or two before they're broken up, know what I'm saying? There's almost a natural instinct not to upset the herd. So all I have to do is get in one good punch, play defense and wait."

Mike was wrong, and got his ass kicked by Clint.

So imagine my surprise when at Mulligan's last Friday, someone decides to be Mike.

I'm not sure how it started. It was about 11pm, I was in the back room, shooting pool. My friend Jason is standing next to me, while I am looking at the table and he casually says, "Oh look, a fight."

Jason said it about as casually as someone would say, "Oh look, pretzels."

I turn to look and see two guys, locked together, knocking over tables while some 20-something girl is trying to break it up screaming "That's my husband!" over and over.

Quick segue: Not only do guys get beer muscles, but chicks do too. A 115 pound girl isn't going to stop two guys from fighting, but that still doesn't stop them from getting into the middle of things. My guess? The girl was the reason, somehow, for the fight. I don't have any proof, but 99% of bar fights are over chicks.

The rest of the "herd" is watching this, and I see the one bouncer is rushing towards the two guys, but the crowd just stood there, watching. The two guys were about 8 feet from me, and about 1 second after I process what was going on, I was already in the melee, trying to break it up.

Yes, I have a history of fights, bar scrums and not backing down from confrontation. I have been hit enough times and thrown enough punches that stuff like this doesn't really phase me.

I got in there, bent the one guys fingers back to release his grip, spun him around and put him into a upright half nelson, pulling him away from the other guy. The guy I was holding kept trying to get at the other guy, but he wasn't going anywhere while I had a hold on him.

The other guy fighting was dragged out of the bar by the other bouncer.

I had no idea who started it or why. The crowd was stunned and amused watching the entertainment. After about a minute I released the guy I was holding, who looked like he was young, maybe 22-24, mid length longish black hair, dark rimmed glasses (for friends of mine he looked like a young Charlie B.) and he was upset saying that the other guy spat in his face, for no reason, and he wouldn't put up with it.

We kept trying to calm the kid down, and eventually he did.

I left, leaving the bouncers and bartenders to handle the rest and went back to playing pool.

Just another Friday in Hoboken, folks.

Today is Groundhog Day & depending on which rodent to believe, it will be an early spring (according to Staten Island Chuck) or 6 more weeks of winter (according to Punxsutawney Phil).

Me? I don't care either way, I happen to not be terribly bothered by winter's cold, unless it gets under 20 degrees. Otherwise, i'm fairly easy going to the cold weather or snow.

I was thinking about the movie "Groundhog Day", where the main character gets to relive a day in his life, but not of his choosing. But if we all had a choice, what day would you relive?

Here's my top 5 days, with a brief summary, that i'd like to relive.

1. Block Party, Tanyard Farms, around 1980. When our little development in Richboro was created by Toll Brothers, in 1977, it was filled with mostly young couples, with their new brood of kids. So the development was simply alive and bursting at the seams with youthful vigor. The parents would get together each summer and develop games, a potluck feast, and a carnival like atmosphere that even today I remember like it was last week. Easily a day that I could live over and over again.

2. Richboro, Summer, 1983. Normal summer day, with all the neighborhood kids, back then was a baseball game in Doug's backyard, riding our BMX bikes around construction yards, playing in our pool, listening to Van Halen, Rush and Kiss, then playing "Freedom" followed by a "sleep out". I could relive that day over and over.

3. Shore House, Ocean City, around 1990. I was a freshman in college, my parents had a beautiful home in Ocean City, NJ and we were across the street from the beach. Would love to have another day with the whole family, at the beach, our normal big dinner at home. Those shore house years were absolutely fantastic.

4. White Trash Bash, Hoboken, 1998. Started by the bartenders at Farside, which was many other great years of drinking, before my bartending days, this was a block party we had on 6th and Adams Street. It was long before any of the condos existed there, and we would play whiffleball, egg toss, have a fun BBQ, listen to Will play guitar, then end the night with our infamous card games. It would start with $1 bets. Usually playing 3 card guts, poker, or other variation games. By the end of the night, we would play Acey-Ducey, and have pots of $600...$700...$800...betting...GUESSING...on 1 card to win the pot or you MATCH the pot. Ever bet $200 on 1 card to be higher than a 7...then see a 5 pop up? Yes, I saw that, then saw the next guy, on the next card, bet $400 and lose that too. It was absolutely jaw dropping. Fun days. We would stay up until 4am, until eventually the sun would rise and a few stragglers would be left, still drinking. Then, head home, sleep it off and wait until next year to out do ourselves again.

5. Dipper's Bar, Hoboken, 2002. There's few times in our lives when there's simply magic. Dipper's was, for those who were part of the "regulars" just the best bar in Hoboken. Yep, i'm sure there's lots of people who barely remember the place, or won't agree with me - and that's fine. But for a very small, tight group of bartenders and regulars, we had the perfect bar. There was no overbearing management of the bar, we did as we pleased, made money, had fun and it went on for three great years. I'm not sure what particular day I would choose...but I know that I loved bartending with Teresa in the early years when we could crank Rage Against The Machine, mix drinks and dance with each other behind the bar, while doing shots with our customers, who were also our friends.

Bonus Day: Florence, Italy, the first day when Steph & Dave came to visit me in 1992. I don't have to go into details here, but was easily one of the best experiences to have your family visit you when I was in Italy for 2 months. I don't necessarily think I was "homesick", but being a stranger in a strange land feels pretty good when you are surrounded by people who love you. I think the first night I took them to a local restaurant, we drank great wine, and just had a great night under the Tuscan sky.

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