Metuchen – It’s a Bloody Great Town!

My local ice-cream and pizza shop (What’s the Scoop) had a Blood Drive this week. That’s bloody great!

I think some of my friends and family thought I was kidding. (People seem to think an ice-cream shop is an odd location for this.) Others said, “Gross!” But it’s true – a blood drive at our ice-cream shop, which is one of the community centers of Metuchen‘s Main Street (yes, it is called “Main Street” – isn’t that quaint?).

Metuchen is a (bloody) great town. My wife and I – who are recently transplanted from Brooklyn – love every bit of it.

We moved here to get more quiet and space, but had no idea the amount of good community we would see. I have to say, it’s more community than I saw any place I lived in New York City. We have our fill of live music, good eats, good people, whenever we want it. Other times, we enjoy the quiet of our back yard.

What’s the Scoop

There are many good places to eat, drink, get coffee, or hang-out in Metuchen. What’s the Scoop has a quality that makes it unique.

First, it’s an ice-cream and pizza place, so that’s fun. It also has a LOT of space inside, so it’s a nice place to linger while you enjoy a cone of mint chip. More lingering out front keeps the sidewalk active and neighborly for much of the day – it’s one of the nicer scenes on my walk home from the commuter train. But on top of all that, the owner regularly hosts New York Blood Center blood drives. Bloody great, I’d say.

And… you get free ice-cream and pizza for your donation. Plus, our local Irish pub (Hailey’s Harp & Pub) matches pint-for-pint on donations (limit one pint, as I recall). 🙂

Other Community in Metuchen

I am, perhaps, being overly supportive of the ice-cream industry. There are many other forms of great community in my town. For example:

  • Forum Theatre Arts Center – A restored theatre that hosts eclectic films.
  • Brewed Awakening – Our local coffee shop that is open from morning until late each night, serving great coffee and food all day. Plus, live music can be heard here many nights each month. (Shameless Plug: My wife recently started hosting a music series here.
  • Metuchen’s Outdoor Concert Series – Starting today (August 5th) and running each Thursday until a culminating fireworks show early in September.
  • There’s some sort of car show that occasionally appears the entire length of Main Street. Old, beautifully finished cars.
  • Parades for every holiday down Main Street.
  • Alessio – A good place to get some rock-solid Italian food. Great staff, and a quiet but lively community atmosphere.
  • Novita Bistro & Lounge – We go here more often than I’d care to admit. Great bar food and fancier food as well. Wide selection of drinks at the bar. Nice outdoor patio. Live music a few times per week. Highly recommended.
  • Antonio’s Brick Oven Pizza – Another place I go more often than I’d care to admit. Great heroes, pizza, always a crowd hanging out.
  • Other pizza places, bagel shops, a French restaurant, some great Chinese food, Indian food, Thai food, pretty much anything you could ask for.

These are just some of my personal favorite spots along Main Street. I’ve left out many others, which you may also enjoy.

And then there’s the great websites, blogs, and Facebook groups:

  • Metuchen Matters – A blog about town.
  • Metuchen Matters on Facebook – And the blog’s Facebook page.
  • Metuchen Living on Facebook – A blog about town which has LOTS of great photography.
  • Metuchen Cultural Arts Commission – The ones responsible for much of the community activities – e.g., the Outdoor Concert Series this month.

It’s the New Urban

Soon after we moved in, I proclaimed to my family and closest friends that we had found the “new urban.”

When we lived in New York City, it always seemed to me like there was a disconnect, even between people who were close socially. A friend who lived 5 miles away was sometimes actually over an hour away by subway. Our immediate neighborhood just didn’t seem to have the same sort of “neighborhoodness” that you might see in an old movie about New York. Maybe I am being overly sentimental about a connected New York City that never really existed as it appeared in movies?

People lived one place, worked someplace else, and socialized in yet another bunch of scattered places throughout the City. Put that disconnected social life together with the fact that we had long ago stopped frequenting New York’s many museums and theaters, it really left us wondering what value the City actually held for us.

Fast forward to our move to the suburbs. Many of our friends said “Why?!?”

There were all the stereotypes of large, vapid, lawn-filled towns where people drove everywhere and never met their neighbors. Even we returned from our first few visits to the Borough of Metuchen with a very unsettled feeling, wondering if we could ever be happy again outside of the concrete walls of Manhattan and Brooklyn.

Turns out – nothing to worry about. This suburb is fanTAStic. It’s got all the resources and “neighborhoodness” that one might expect in an urban environment, but it’s still not called urban (by most people).

To me, I think the true urban centers like New York have actually grown beyond their prime, big enough so that we people are scattered across them and spend most of our day trying to move from one location to another, and less of our time being connected to each other. We live where we can afford, or where our own very particular set of interests and requirements lands us, often having no common ground with our neighbors.

Not to say that common ground can’t grow, and found neighbors can’t become great friends (many did), but there is still a price paid in disconnect, and a constant running to keep up with the many disconnected “neighborhoods” which a typical City-dweller calls his own.

Perhaps there are other factors causing me, personally, to feel disconnect, like the problem of immediate families and closest friends being scattered so far geographically, even beyond the impenetrable neighborhoods of the City. Whatever it is, the urban advantages of even a city like New York are strongly out-weighed (I’d say) by the advantages of a suburb like Metuchen – the New Urban.

Others would disagree. What do you think?

Heaven On the Northeast Corridor Line

Some days, I feel like I live in Heaven. I know that’s arrogant to say. But I’m just describing my feeling, and that’s how I sometimes feel.

It’s a nice feeling.

I know I’ve had my share of complaints about the cell phone talkers during my train commute, and I’ve grumped about the occasional horn-honker who seems intent on running down pedestrians on Metuchen’s Main Street. There’s also been the ongoing war against snow, mild flooding, autumn leaves, and the army of squirrels who besieged my lawn this morning. And don’t get me started about the bird sh*t that is recently raining upon my Corolla each morning in our tree-lined driveway.

But aside from those minor quibbles, I’ve having a grand old time in my new neighborhood. It’s pretty awesome. 🙂

I started writing this post a few months back, on a weekend when my wife was out of town, and had taken our one car with her. In many a suburb, that might be a problem for the husband stranded at home. We are fortunate enough to live in a town that has a marvelously interesting Main Street (yes, it’s actually called “Main Street”), and to live a mere five-minute walk from the town center. So on a weekend without a car available, I have access to every bit as much neat stuff to do as I did back when we lived in Brooklyn, all within walking distance. Or, if I want, a reasonable train ride back into Manhattan on my monthly commuter pass.

It’s like a new kind of urban. Or, as I said, like Heaven, at times.

That particular weekend when my wife was out-of-town, I believe I had spent most of my day around the house, perhaps doing some yard work. By late afternoon, I was getting a little bored at home and I walked into town.

Here are some of the fun things I did:

  • An hour on the wireless at our local coffee shop – Brewed Awakening
  • A walk over to one of our local pizza places – Antonio’s Brick Oven Pizza – to pick-up some take-out food.
  • A quick stop in across the street to pick-up a quart of my favorite soup – a delicious New England clam chowder from Dick’s Dock.
  • Then, a leisurely walk home on a quiet, tree-lined street, to enjoy a movie at home.

Other options I could have taken on that particular weekend evening:

  • Catch a movie at the Forum Theatre Arts Center.
  • Spend some time browsing the used books at The Raconteur.
  • Take the NJ Transit train to New Brunswick or Princeton (people seem to do that sometimes).
  • Stop by our local martini bar – Novita (which also happens to be a fantastic bistro and restaurant, with live sax/piano music every Friday night.
  • Stop by our local Irish bar – Hailey’s Harp & Pub, for a.. Guinness and burger!

So.. Heaven I say. I am arrogant, I guess – perhaps superficial. But I gotta tell ya’, I sure like my new neighborhood. 🙂

Paperboy On My Resume

I got better delivery service when my newspaper was delivered by a teenager. And I gave better tips to the kid.

Today, our daily paper is delivered by an adult who drives a car, and likely has large overhead expenses. (S)he probably needs better tips to pay for the gas. And the profit margin for selling papers has slimmed over the years, I guess. Not sure why that would be, but it seems like it may be true, that is what we are told. I have even read that it would be cheaper for The New York Times to just send all of their subscribers a complimentary Kindle, and deliver all papers wirelessly. Maybe. News delivery is a weird business.

You got to know your paperboy.

Granted, even when I was a teen, The Times was the only newspaper delivered by adults in cars. It was the odd duck. But Daily News and Newsday were delivered by teens on bicycles, who generally provided great service at a great price. You got to know your paperboy. You gave tips every week for special favors (like running the paper around to the back door). Big tips around the holidays. This is the way a service business should be, but it seems like nowadays newspaper delivery is not a service business. News delivery is a weird business.

My wife and I lived and received newspaper delivery service in New York City for several years, during which time we felt no connection whatsoever to the delivery-person, who for several months did not bother to bring the paper to our door. We were told this was due to an operational mishap between The Times and our co-op management. Our paper would be tossed in the lobby, five floors below. Now we live in a suburb, where we feel a bit more of a connection to the person who leaves a double-wrapped blue-bagged copy of the paper at the end of our driveway each day. I retrieve it for my wife before walking to my train commute each morning, but I am thinking about buying slippers (so I could retrieve it earlier, during my bathrobe morning routine). Or buying a dog (who could retrieve it for us).

I still think it is strange that the paper is not brought to our mailbox (I think we pay more for the subscription than we do for USPS mail delivery, right? Or no?). Disclaimer: I also still think it is strange that subscription cable television shows advertisements, and that we pay admission for a movie which shows commercials before the main feature. Advertising is a weird business. 🙂

Perhaps one day the mailman will also start leaving our mail at the bottom of our driveway? For that, we may need a gaggle of puppies, and a poodle – they are smart and could surely sort the tossed mail effectively! Get ’em, Sparky!

When I was a teen, I myself delivered newspapers for a living (about $30 per week, which was pretty nice at the time; if you took on two paper routes you could earn twice that, easily). True, I was somewhere in the range of twelve to fifteen years old (with no access to a car), and I delivered Newsday, not The Times. I had a total of only 25 customers, but I provided far better service. We all did – all the paperboys. I have decided to put my experience as a paperboy on my resume, since it is relevant. I wonder if some of today’s young managers will know what the word means..

Gaining Tips

I often talk with friends about the value and meaning of tipping in America. Some accept it as routine – sort of a mandatory tax on service. Others feel like the temptation of a tip should be held in order to motivate good service. But consider the other side – not as the consumer, but as the service provider. Assume that you need to gain your tip. That’s not a bad thing, it doesn’t mean you are groveling. The receipt of a tip is feedback for your service. It can (should?) tell you how well you have done. Tips come in all forms, and there are all sorts of customers. Some tips are cash. Others are more abstract – a compliment or a return visit from a customer. On this blog, comments, ad click-throughs, and Google Analytics tracking results are my tips.

Assume that you need to gain your tip.

Customers come in different sorts. They may be “locked in”, as were the customers of my newspaper route, who had little choice of service provider. Or they may be completely free to move to another service provider at any time, as the readers of this blog are. Go, Sparky!

Either way, the idea of the tip is what motivates talented service providers. The lure of getting some revenue beyond what was agreed. When writing my resume, I want prospective employers to know that I am a person who values the chance to gain that extra little bit of customer loyalty, goodwill, or cash.

Endless Drive

Just as there are many ways to give or receive a tip, there are many types of employees and service providers, who are more or less suited for various types of jobs. Intensively service-driven jobs are best left to those who have endless drive – those who are not worn-out by the workplace, either because they are still young and bright-eyed, or because they have a customer service spirit deep within them that will not fade.

For many of us, the last chance we have to show that type of endless drive is during our teen years, when we have boundless energy, and hopefully have not yet lost our humility. When writing my resume, I want prospective employers to know that I still care about service. (Perhaps I even have a deep spirit?) I am a software developer who works at a large law firm. I do not have any traditional customers. All the same, I believe in service. Without it, our jobs become boring, and our customers (whether they are retail customers, co-workers, other team leaders, or the guy in Accounting who wishes everything would just “work right”) – well, they will go elsewhere, somehow. Trust me.

I am putting “paperboy” on my resume.