Thursday, May 16, 2013

Return From Basics

We took an extra day to travel out to BASICS, and planned an extra to return. Not wanting to use the Thruway, we figured the extra 80 miles of the Southern Tier route would be a nice ride for the bikes.  I'd done it before and found that I-88 and the Southern Tier Expressway is really a nice ride.   We left early afternoon on Sunday under a mostly clear sky with a bit of wind.  We hit worsening head winds most of the way, and the rain and hail starting in Binghamton--we hadn't planned on that!  Generally, the rain, hail and snow—yes, snow—were gone as quickly as they’d come upon us, and slowed us down without stopping us; but at one point the hail was hard enough—it was blowing across the road in sheets—that we stopped under an overpass and just laughed as it passed us.  In spite of that, we made our overnight point by dark and had a restful night; then got underway in a timely fashion in the morning (in spite of finding snow on the seats of our bikes). For a few hours, it went downhill from there.
About an hour into our ride—which was much slower than the speed limit due to intermittent snow, rain and hail—we stopped at a rest stop and found that the temperature was a balmy 32 degrees!  We were encouraged there by a bunch of men from a church in Sidney, NY who were headed to the same place.  About the time we hit the PA border the weather changed and we began to make better time.  When we got to our hotel, the sun was out and it was quite pleasant—comparably anyway. However, after changing clothes, we opted to catch a ride in a van with some others attending the conference rather than get back on the bikes…yeah, we were pretty well chilled through.  In spite of losing about 90 minutes of planned travel time on account of weather, we beat the rest of our group into town.  You could say it was not a bike ride, it was a trip! We met the rest of our party (who had driven the church’s van) at the conference and enjoyed our time with them and the others at the conference.  That’s in the other post.
Our trip home was the trip we had hoped for on the way out: the weather clear, the wind at our backs, the scenery delightful across NY’s Southern Tier, and the traffic light.  We were making such good time that by the time we made our third rest stop we decided to make the entire trip in one shot.  With a stop about every hour, it took us just about ten hours to turn the 520 miles or so home.    
Like a sleigh ride for which you have to climb a long hill, in which the battle uphill was not too much to pay for the ride down, that’s the way we looked at the trip out, payment for what we had on the way home.  We really appreciated the ride back, it a wonderful end to an awesome few days of conference. 

It's Been a While--Sorry, I've Been Busy

I have been extremely busy lately, to the point of needing to be bilocational--in two places at once.  Thankfully a coworker was able to pull off one part of that need, and my wife--once again, thankfully--was able to pull off yet another part of it.  The lawn, however, is still a mess! 

With all the busyness, I was tempted to bail on a conference that I fully enjoy and from which I am greatly enriched: the annual BASICS conference at Parkside Church in Chagrin Falls, OH.  It's a three day conference, designed for pastors but useful for other church leaders, held by well known pastor and speaker Alistair Begg.  You can look up the church, the pastor and its many works at  

Though I knew better than to bail on the conference, as it would be what I needed to cure the overload (yes, I know, retirement was not supposed to be like this) it was a battle with myself to go and not stay and get stuff done.  The conference won the; so another leader from my church and I opted to ride our motorcycles to the event.  Getting there was trip, not a bike ride; but that’s in a different post (the forecast was good when we left--honest). 
It was good friends, great fellowship; new friends; great speakers and messages; wonderful food served by a mass of willing volunteers; astonishing music; and we came away with a new appreciation for an Awesome God. 
The speakers have always been a varied array of godly men who have a gift for preaching and a great depth of knowledge from which to draw.  This year was no different, and the write-ups on them from the website are worth the reading, as the message are worth the listening. 
The music is powerful, used to set the tone for the speakers’ messages and to inspire the hearts of the listeners.  Good music moves me to tears, a couple hymn in particular—Holy, Holy, Holy being one and It is Well With My Soul being another—and they seem to use them every year.  I got through the first, at least partially because the praise band played it in something of a blue grass style with a banjo and a string bass; you can’t play a sad song on a banjo--so I made it.  However, the other one got me.  The words are powerful enough; but then that girl started with the violin!  Strings reach deep inside of me and rip my heart out through my tear ducts!  On that note, the conference was over; we had a bag lunch from Chik-fil-A and were on our way home.  

Thursday, May 9, 2013

I Was NOT Happy

...and I certainly was more than a bit Grumpy and not even a little bit Bashful; so that only leaves four of the dwarfs unaccounted for.

Last summer, after dealing with a recurring problem all year, I had the mower deck for my tractor rebuilt.  It was not cheap, around $1400, and I used it all of about 8-10 times after I got it back.  I removed it, used the tractor for snow removal all winter, tilled the garden and then re-mounted the mower.  First, I noticed that it had a grease fitting that had snapped off--not a major problem and I figured that I could have done that when taking it off the tractor. While working on that, I noticed that 3 out of the 5 bolts that had held the belt guards down had vibrated out...never noticed that when I'd taken it off.
I got the thing all put together, mounted it to the tractor and started mowing.  I got less than 50 feet and the power take off shaft came off.  Repeated attempts to make it stay fast failed and it wrecked the hydrostatic drive filter (replaced only a few days before) in the process.   Can you see where the grumpy part comes in?  
I contacted the place that had done the work and ultimately took it over there.  Admitting to the service manager that I was upset right in the beginning, we went through the issues, part by part, and then he did something that many could take a lesson from: he apologized!  No excuses, no defenses, just a simple "I apologize."
At this point, I don't know how this mess is going to shake out; but many could take a lesson from that man. My son recently made the point in his blog, Just a Camp Cook: apologize, fix it and move on.  That's the first lesson.  The second is be honest about your displeasure up front, better everyone knows what's on the table at the start of the game.
Stay tuned to see how it turns out.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

On to Staten Island

In February of 1985 we made the move to Staten Island.  I wasn't really sure that I wanted to do it; but the prospect of a house, for less monthly rent than we'd been paying for an apartment was hard to pass up.  One thing to note was that the day we moved was the last day I smoked.  I'd been a pipe smoker since I'd been about 19.  I had a kindred spirit in DEC because Jay Molinelli not only smoked a pipe, but had the same taste in tobacco that I had.  We took some good-natured ribbing about our pipes polluting the air, but stuck it out.

Dennis O'Reilly was helping us with the move and as he and I started down the steps from our apartment with a couch, I had Peggy take the pipe out of my mouth so I didn't spill any ashes.  Dennis remarked that Jay had quit smoking a couple days before.  At the end of the moving day, all my pipes, lighters and other paraphernalia went into a drawer and I never smoked again.   Though there are times a good cigar will attract me, I've never broken down and picked one up, or gone looking for my pipes.

The house we got was a nice little place in Clay Pit Ponds State Park.  It was state owned and the rent was set by the state.  It was about $125 per month cheaper than our Brooklyn apartment.  It was also "in the country."  We were were on a low-traffic road (for the city), even though we were only a couple hundred feet from the West Shore Expressway.  It wan't a bad place to be.  We had a big yard, a nice back porch and a mess of pheasants...the biggest pheasants I'd ever seen in my life!  The were so big that our cats would almost cower on the back porch when they came near the house.

We got the house, and the transfer, because the officer who'd been there was moving upstate.  Things were on the move, all of the guys I'd started with were leaving for upstate positions and new guys were coming. For several months, I was the only officer in the entire city while the new guys finished their days at the academy.  There was the Captain, the Lieutenant and me...apparently I needed a lot of supervision!

A few things came out of this move. We soon found ourselves in the Bethel Evangelical Free Church where we made fast friends with a number of great folks.  Nearly 30 years later, we are still close to many of them, and our kids are connected with theirs.  That, the easier living and a few other things led us to be very comfortable there.  We'd had a New York State map on the wall in Brooklyn that had a line drawn around all the counties to which we'd be interest in transferring.  It had been a pretty large area.  After being in Staten Island for only a short time, we had to draw another line, a much smaller area.  It had become home, not just the place we lived.  We liked it there and it was going to take something pretty good to get us out.  We were not going to move to get out, then move again to get someplace we wanted to be.  We were there until we could move to a new place and call it home.  That would be another two years.

Game Warden Files: Missed it by *This* Much!

As I mentioned before, a big part of the workload when we were in Brooklyn was trying to keep illegal shellfish, particularly clams from Jamaica Bay, from getting to market.  We spent many hours trying to prevent or end clamming operations.

One day we got a call about a suspicious-looking boat docked in Head of Bay, a small tidal creek off Jamaica Bay that was largely in Nassau County.  We located the boat, and one night Lt. Jim Molinelli and I decided to go "sit on it" for a few hours.    We had a pretty good vantage point all picked out and when we got there we found the boat gone.  We figured we'd just wait for it to come back and grab the operators when they unloaded the clams.  Armed with a thermos of coffee, we settled in for the night.  A couple hours into our watch the boat came in and tied up at the dock, with only one person.  He left the boat, walked down the dock...and we never saw him again.  The boat was empty--no clam rakes, no baskets, no clams.  We later heard through the rumor mill that the operators had off-loaded the clams elsewhere, presumably into a vehicle and then that vehicle picked up the boat operator after he'd docked.  Since we had seen the boat operating without navigation lights, with no visible registration numbers and, if I recall correctly, no hull ID number, we had the Coast Guard come up and tow the boat to their station for investigation.

It was a nice boat--designed and built purely as a work boat, most likely all homemade.  It was about 17 feet long, powered by a 235 horsepower OMC outboard engine, so it could really move.  There was no tracing the boat; but the engine had a serial number, so I called OMC to find out what I could.  I chased that on and off for about two weeks, making several trips to marinas and boat shops across the south shore of Long Island; but the trail came to a dead end--quite literally.  The last owner of record had run his boat into a rock pile in the Great South Bay and perished.  All trace of ownership ended there.

But, we had the boat.  While we were trying to figure just how we could make use of it, nature took that decision from us.  We'd left the boat at the Coast Guard Station and a couple bad storms came up.  Between dealing with their own station security, and doing whatever Search and Rescue work required during the storm, the guys at the station didn't pay any attention to clamming boat and it filled with water and sank.  They raised it, but the damage was done.  One of the Chief Petty Officers called me to tell me the news.  They'd tried to save it but the engine had been totally underwater for over 24 hours and was beyond any repairs.  It went to the dump.

At least we deprived its owners of a substantial investment.  Sometimes that's all the justice we got.

(Just a note:  I'll use Lt. Molinelli, Jim Molinelli and Jay Molinelli interchangeably)

On Labor

Sometimes, when I get frustrated with all the busyness in life, I have to stop, take stock and remember just why I do what I do. 
First of all, I am busy.  Though I've theoretically been retired for nearly five years, I'm certainly no less busy.  I'm still actively employed in my profession (law enforcement) working two or three days a week for two different agencies--and I love it!  Crazy, right?  Here I am, 60 years old, and I'm still playing what is largely known as a young man's game.  
The writer of the book of Ecclesiates said this about working: Ec 5:18 Then I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him-- for this is his lot.  Well, I do find satisfaction in it.  There are moments--even days, when it's frustrating; but when you do a foot patrol in a park and a little girl starts to follow you, pick dandelions and give them to you--what other job gives that kind of reward?  How can I not love the profession that God has given me? 
I started this career about 38 years ago, working my way from a part-time small village patrolman to the position to which I'd always aspired--a New York Environmental Conservation Officer.  After about 27 years of that, I needed a change and retired from the state, but already had a new job when I left--as a part-time deputy sheriff.  That has led to yet another job as a part-time small village patrolman--sort of right back where I started. 
My days as a police officer will come to an end.  I don't see it as coming in the next year or so; but I see that it'll be coming.  However, while I'm able, I'll continue to do it and enjoy it, even when it's frustrating, even when the weather turns warm in March and I'd rather be getting in an early motorcycle ride, or when the striped bass are in and a friend says "I've got the boat in the water, lets go."  Yeah...I still love my job.
Looking at time with eternity in mind, the few days I have on Earth are pretty short.  So glad that I truly have a career that gives me so much satisfaction. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Game Warden Files--other Marine Park cases

Marine park was a great place, you never knew just what you'd see there. fishermen, lovers, stolen cars being stripped...  I pulled in one day, noticed a car sitting in an open spot, noting suspicious about it, and came out about 15 minutes later to find the thing was stripped clean!  Anything that could be removed had been removed--and the thieves were gone.

One morning I saw a young fellow trying to load about a half-dozen burlap bags onto his bicycle..not an easy thing.  As I got closer, I found that he was soaking wet as he'd been wading in the shallows plucking mussels off the bottom.  As shellfish, mussels can only be taken from certified water, and since this was certainly not certified water, they were illegal, no matter why he was taking them.  He swore that they were going to a bait shop, though he was unable to tell me where the shop was or who owned it.  I suspected they were going to some local restaurant.  I signed him up for a trip to see the captain for a stipulation.

One morning I drove into the park and saw someone acting strangely in the phragmites (similar to cat-tails) along the shore line.  I parked and found a good vantage point to watch him.  There was a small flock of Canada Geese swimming toward him.  He stood up, raised his bow, fired an arrow...and missed.  The geese flew away and, much to my surprise my unlucky hunter went swimming--fully clothed--to recover his arrow. He emerged to find me holding his bow.  Signed him up also.

Probably the scariest case I ever had there was the day I was walking a trail toward the water's edge when I heard a subdued "POP" and then heard a projectile whizzing through the phragmites several feet from me.  I ran back to my car and started looking for source of the shot.  Soon I found two kids, one about 15 and the other about 17, with a muzzle loading pistol and all the components.  Searching them, I found one of them to be carrying a loaded flare pistol which, though not specifically a weapon would put an awful hurt on someone, tucked into his waistband.

I arrested these guys and headed off to the local precinct.  Due to the age, the younger one was released to his parents who, though pleasant to me and the other officers in the station, had some rather unkind things to say about their son's friend.  He was processed to go into the juvenile justice system.  For the other one, I got my first trip to Brooklyn's Central Booking--a crazy experience for one who had never been there before.  I spent about 4 hours there before I had the paperwork done and got to go home.  I was fortunate to find an Assistant District Attorney who actually had some knowledge of just what an ECO was and did.  He helped me get through the process much more quickly.  I never heard anything from the court, so I assume the kid plead out to some charge.  I'll always wonder if that was his last brush with the law.  He was from a tough part of the borough, so I suspect that he was reacting to the violence he'd become accustomed to and arming himself.

Game Warden Files--Brooklyn, early cases, bunker

In Brooklyn's Sheepshead Bay, we had a place that was a bait and tackle shop, gas dock, beer/soda/snack of those places that had evolved over generations in the same family, catering to the needs of sport and commercial fisherman. Years of ECOs had been customers of the place and there was a good relationship with the family that ran it.  Every game warden needs places like that to hang out--it's the best place to interact with those who use the resource.  However...these guys were outlaws of a sort.  In spite of the fact that several in the younger generation were professional firefighters and police officers, all of them engaged in illegally fishing for "bunker," as the fish menhaden was commonly called.  This is fish that is taken commercially on the ocean in very large quantities (hundreds of tons) and  processed for fish meal and oil.  On a more local level, it's taken in smaller quantities--up to a ton or so--by local fisherman using small boats in the bays and inlets and then sold for bait.  It is the bait for bluefish and stripped bass in the NY Harbor area.  The method of fishing was to locate a school of bunker, generally when a school of predators had driven them into shallow water, and then use a haul seine type of net to gather up all they could.  The nets used would be 200-300 feet in total length and the allowable length was only forty feet.  The net this operation used was well over 300 feet.

In the years before I arrived in NY, my supervisor Jim Molinelli, then an ECO himself, had been getting complaints that that this bait shop was engage in illegal fishing for bunker.  He'd gone to the brothers who ran the place and discussed the law with them, explaining that he was making no accusation, but he didn't want to spoil what had become a good working relationship.  The conversation went something like this:
Jim: "I'm not making any accusations, but if you're doing it, you're in violation of the law and someday we'll catch you."
Joe: "If we see you coming, we'll just run."
Jim: "If you run, we're going to chase you."
Both men laughed and, unless I miss my guess, poured a cup of coffee and talked about fishing, boats, and whatever else was on their minds that day.  It was that kind of relationship.
When I came on the scene, the younger generation was doing the actual fishing part of the business while the senior members of the family (Jim's friends) were staying at the store.
I had a nice conversation with the younger Joe--"Joey" one day and we pretty well came to the same agreement as had his dad and Jim.  I promised that I'd never specifically target him; but did warn him that if I got a complaint or stumbled upon him, it was going to cost him dearly.  He agreed that it was fair and we were friends.
One warm sunny morning in October of 1985, I got a call about two boats with a big net taking bunker in Marine Park, a piece of undeveloped City owned park land on Jamaica Bay with a small inlet.  The tide was out and the sand was such that I was able to drive right to the water's edge.  There was Joey and his crew,  just finishing loading their net into the boat.  When Joey saw me, I called out "What can I say...I had a complaint."  He and his crew motored to the Coast Guard Station and we called Captain O'Reilly to figure out how to settle it.
We didn't often use the criminal courts in New York City, and for this event we chose to settle up by a process called stipulation, a civil agreement between the violator and the state. It kept the incident from being a criminal issue, thought it cost the offender a lot of money.  In this case, the agreed settlement was a thousand dollars.  We got the paperwork done, the money was delivered and we parted company still friends.
A couple weeks later, as I was having a cup of coffee at the Dunkin' Donuts in Sheepshead Bay, Joey came in and sat down next to me.  Thinking that I was about to get an earful over our recent episode, I steeled myself.  Instead, he started complaining about another agency, in Nassau County, that had caught him doing the same thing.  He called them "a bunch of scumbags."  He'd gone to local court there and had paid a total of less than $150 in fines for him and his entire crew.  When I shook my head in confusion--I'd cost him a lot more than that--he said in quite a matter-of-fact manner, "...but for you it's business, for them it was personal."  We each drank our coffee--he bought--and we again parted friends.

I stayed friendly with that family until my departure from the region.  I was always welcome in the shop for coffee, even ate a meal or two there when they had something cooking on slow nasty days.  There came a time later in my time in NY City years that we caught them again, this time I'd just dummied into them in another inlet.  This time, the department seized the net and even after settling on a fine, decided to destroy it as a nuisance.  The company asked for a hearing before an administrative law judge and it was granted.  During the hearing, the history of the relationship came into question and Jim began to relate the story of his long-ago conversation with Joe.  As he started to tell the story, Joe started to chuckle and even laughed out loud--even filling in a couple gaps.  He apparently recalled it the same way as Jim had.  The judge did give them back their net.  It had been in the family for generations, hand-made by Joe's grandfather and kept in repair throughout the years--maybe the judge admired the tradition, because my memory of the logic for returning the net is that it was a pretty thin reason as a matter of law.

My understanding is that as the older generation passed, the relationship with that business changed.  A younger ECO from the area has told me that the new breed are "just plain criminals."  That deeply saddens me.   Though I recognize the fact that new laws regulating the commercialization of wildlife make the penalties stiffer, and therefor the stakes higher, I wonder just how much damage, if any, they were doing to the resource.  It was my experience that when the bunker were driven into the shallows, where this type of fishing was done, they often were held there long enough by the predators that they depleted the oxygen in the water and died in very large numbers.