Thursday, December 4, 2008

How not to build up Goodwill

Good Thursday. 

Before we get started on today's rant, a little unfinished business. 

The last time I raised the subject, I said the Kosher Express Chinese restaurant was all but out of business, but that some people were trying to breathe life into the moribund Amity business.

Forget it. All efforts have failed and the Kosher Express is officially dead. The shopping center has taken down the sign at its entrance. There is no Chinese restaurant now between New Rochelle and Boston. 

My wife, Sue, and I yesterday were driving back from New York (more about that later) and stopped at Eden Wok in New Rochelle for some kosher Chinese.

The meal was fine, well-served. The waitress served water and nibbles as we sat down. The proper plates were served with shared appetizers and main course choices. Requests were fulfilled quickly. The food was OK -- the soup was a little salty and the lo mein noodles a little dark, but the vegetables were crisp and fresh.

If only Kosher Express could have mounted that level of service....well, it was not to be. 

Page 2

Driving in New York, even away from Midtown, is a challenge. 

Driving on 181st Street near Broadway is maddening. Bus drivers think they have the right to drive into traffic at will. Pedestrians stroll across the street, not only at corners but as if the cars were only figments of somebody's imagination. Other drivers seem to feel the same way.

The axiom that two solid objects cannot fit into the same space at the same time is lost on most of the drivers and walkers.

Yesterday was worse than average. At about 5 p.m., we headed for the Cross-Bronx from Broadway. Traffic wasn't crawling. It just wasn't moving at all. We followed a couple of cars that were trying to work their way around the mess. Finally, we found the source of the stoppage. It was a bus, loading passengers. The rear end of the bus was in the travel lane, halting everything. The dozens of passengers boarding the bus took what seemed like forever to get on board.

But, you may ask, why did the rear end of the bus stick out into the travel lane? Well, I'm glad you asked. It was because half the bus stop was taken up by a box truck, standing illegally as it was being loaded with rolling cages of what looked like shmatas (rags). 

The bus was finally loaded and lumbered along on its way and we finally were able to draw even with the truck. 

It was from Goodwill.

Sorry, but if I have anything to give away this year, or next for that matter, it's going anyone but Goodwill. Yes, I know these were probably volunteers loading the truck. But  there was a Goodwill center nearby and if you are responsible manager, you don't allow one of your trucks to inhabit a bus stop during rush hour on a busy street.

No shmatas for you.

Page 3

Things are really getting nasty out there in work land, or rather, lack of work land. 

At my former employer, about 36 people were laid off in Westchester at The Journal News. One guy, my former immediate boss, learned he no longer had a job when his key card didn't allow him access to the building as he reported to work Tuesday. Nobody deserves that. 
Jacques LeSourd, the well-regarded Broadway critic, no longer has a job. Neither does the woman who was running the Rockland Journal News after her former boss got the ax a few weeks ago.

Closer to home, there is a move to save The Herald (formerly the New Britain Herald) and the Bristol Press from being closed by the Journal Register Co. That's the outfit that brings you the New Haven Register.

I hope they succeed in keeping the papers going. JRC has threatened to close them if nobody buys them by early next year. Unfortunately, there may be a Greek tragedy at work here. That's when something that was done in the past brings an inevitable bad result in the present for future.

More than 20 years ago, JRC's ancestor company, Ingersoll, bought the Register for debt. In other words, little cash changed hands, but the company used junk bonds to buy it. It bought much of its chain for promises to pay. It kept on buying newspapers, hoping that some of them would bring enough capital to pay off the debt. It bought a bunch of papers in the Midwest fairly recently. 

The gamble didn't pay off. The stock is worth $0.006 a share at last look. Blame the economy. Blame bad management. Blame an ill wind. Whatever. 

It's a shame. There are some talented and dedicated people working at the Register. I run into them from time to time. There are good reporters and photographers who should only have to worry about getting the news to the reader, instead of whether they will have a job next week or month. 

All this debt is preventing legitimate companies from buying profitable parts of JRC. For example, the Register makes money. But it also carries millions and millions of dollars in debt. 

So, although local and state politicians are trying to keep the papers open, the chances of success are slim to none. It takes a lot of money to start a paper. A Web paper is a good idea. In New Haven, according to the New York Times, the New Haven Independent is competing with the Register and beating it with some regularity. 

Page 4

Something must be said about the tragedy in Mumbai.

The real tragedy is that nothing has changed for a thousand years. You have a problem with a neighbor, kill the Jews. You are upset about something, kill the Jews.

Some terrorists from Pakistan were upset about something, maybe Kashmir, maybe they couldn't raise the money to get to Mecca for the hajj, maybe their girlfriends laughed at them, whatever. So, they shot up a railroad station and a couple of hotels where foreigners stay. 

That's illogical enough. But then, they had to go kill some Jews. And the Indians could not prevent the slaughter. 

So, what has changed. The names of the innocent, the locations, but little else. It was Munich, 1972, or Poland, 1940, or any one of a thousand, thousand other places. 

So now, we pick up the pieces. We mourn the dead and promise to look after the 2-year-old orphan. We make the older child as comfortable as possible, the older child who has Tay Sachs disease, a horrible, fatal genetic affliction for which there is a blood test that every responsible Jewish couple should take.

We mourn and go on. What else can we do?

Until next time...

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