Tag: grandpa

Technology is Amazing

high angle photo of vehicles parked near building
Photo by Stephan Müller on Pexels.com

Now and then, when I find myself taking technology for granted, I try to step back for a few minutes and imagine what my grandfather would have thought about the technology advance over the last 17 years since he died. My grandfather always seemed surprised and delighted by advances in technology. He would marvel at what seemed minor things to me: coffee heated in microwave ovens, Walkman cassette players, and of course, computers. He was an auto mechanic and the technology he was most familiar with was the internal combustion engine and its associated parts, but I remember him wistfully talking about how cars were being controlled by computer more and more–and this was twenty years ago. What he would think of today’s cars, which he called automobiles?

Improvements in automobiles seem steady and constant. Every new year introduces new models that improves upon previous ones. A new car might have one or two features that your old car didn’t have. Your next new car will have one or two more new features. Since cars last longer than they used to, these incremental improvements can sometimes seem like great leaps between two or three successive cars.

I’m not sure my grandfather ever really “got” the Internet. He sent occasional emails through AOL, but I think the concept of a globally connected peer-to-peer network of computers was largely beyond him. It just wasn’t in his experience. Cars were in his wheelhouse. He could see, if not entirely understand, the technological advances cars were making from one year to the next: fuel-injected engines, air conditioning, improvements in the manufacture of motors that required less maintenance over longer periods of time.

Many of the improvements I see cars these days are in areas of comfort and safety, and I suspect it is these improvements that would delight my grandfather more than anything else. I’m not sure that he ever drove in a GPS-equipped car, but I think he would have been tickled by the car displaying a realtime map of his location, and telling him when to make a turn. (“Backseat driver,” he would have said.) Still, imagining him driving with me in our own GPS-equipped car, I can hear him saying “Technology is amazing! It’s incredible that a bunch of satellites in space are beaming precisely timed signals to the car. I couldn’t have dreamed of such a thing!”

When I think about it, many, of not most, of the tedious parts of driving can be handled automatically these days. GPS plots your course, accounts for traffic, and can even provide data to self-driving cars to get them where they need to go. Cruise control has been improved so that the car will automatically keep distance with the car in front of you. Safety systems tell you when someone is in your blind spot, or when your car begins to drift from a lane. If someone suddenly slows down in front of you, your car will automatically slow down to avoid a collision. Cars can even park themselves.

If there was one feature that would blow my grandfather’s mind if he could see it, it would be the car camera view. In our car, when putting the car into drive or reverse and staying below 10 MPH, the four cameras on the car work in concert to generated a bird’s eye view of the car in its current location. You can see if you are inside the lines of your parking spot. You can see if anyone is passing behind you, or one to one side. It’s an impressive bit of mathematical interpolation that would delight my grandfather. I sometimes imagine him sitting in the passenger seat when I put the car into reverse. Up pops a live video of the car from directly overhead.

The "satellite" view in our current car.
The “satellite” view in our current car.

“Where is that picture coming from?” my grandfather would ask, his mouth forming an O like surprised child.

I’d point up to the sky. “Satellite overhead,” I’d say. I’d wait for his stunned reaction, and then I’d confess the truth. I’d point out the cameras, and explain how the computer in the car can take those images and translate them into the overhead view.

He’d recite his mantra: “Technology is amazing!” Grinning, he’d add, “We never had anything like this.”

Well, it’s fairly common these days, and I tend to take it for granted. Every now and then, I try to remind myself just how amazing technology is by trying to imagine what my grandfather would make of it.

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My Grandfather at 101

Grandpa and Me TBT

One of the things I missed noting here on the blog last year was that August 25, 2020 would have been my grandfather’s 100th birthday. I missed it because I wasn’t writing much at the time. Indeed, the only post I wrote last August was on COVID conversations. That means today, August 25, 2021, my Grandpa (I always knew him as Grandpa and that’s how I’ll refer to him from here on out) would have been 101 years old.

Well, maybe. There was some debate about his actual birthday. But when he obtained a passport later in life to travel, his passport gave August 25 as the date, and that’s what I go by.

I’ve written quite a bit about my Grandpa over the course of this blog. He passed away 17 years ago but I still think of him often. I used to have long conversations with him about all kinds of things: science, politics, religion. We traded countless letters, many of which I still have. His handwriting is almost indecipherable, but I’d recognize it anywhere.

One of my grandpa’s more neatly written missives

I think about how I wish he could have seen my kids. He would have loved my kids and my kids would have adored him, the way I did, I’m sure. His life spanned a time of incredible technical growth. Born in 1920, like Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury, he saw the rise of the automobile, the creation of the Interstate Highway System, the dawn of commercial air travel, the heyday of train travel, the first satellites in space, the first men, and then the first women in space. He watched Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walk on the moon. He watched the space shuttles launch and construct the International Space Station. In addition, he watched communication change, from the days of letter writing all the way through email. He was spared social media, which is probably a good thing.

Grandpa marveled at technology. He was apt to say that Atlas, the titan who once bore the weight of the world on his shoulders, could hold that world in the palm of his hand today thanks to the power of technology and communications. He carried a cell phone in his last few years, but swore he’d use it only in emergencies. I often wonder what he’d make of smart phones, of the ability to watch whatever program you wanted from your phone; of the ability to take a picture from your phone. He enjoyed reading and I think he would have delighted in the idea of a Kindle. He would have liked the ability to increase the font size to suit his eyes. Grandpa was a mechanic. GPS navigation and self-driving cars would have amazed him. He loved encyclopedia and had he access to Wikipedia, I think he’d be as addicted to that as we are to social media. Advances in medical technology astonished him, and I think he would have appreciated how quickly science and medicine was able to produce vaccines for COVID.

With four of his brothers, he owned and operated a service station in the Bronx, on the Grand Concourse, across the park from Yankee Stadium. They operated for 35 years before retiring and selling the business. He was fond of quoting Hamlet, “To thine own self be true.” He would also say, “There are only two people I would never lie to: my doctor and myself.” More than anything, he was convinced that 99% of all people are good people.

He was good people. Among his papers were a stack of letters of recommendation from before and after his service in the Second World War. Reading those letters, which I do on occasion, says a lot about the kind of person he was.

These are just a few of the letters I found. There are others, but the themes are the same: “honest and trustworthy,” “character unquestionable,” “honesty, integrity, and loyalty have never been questioned.”

Back at the top of the post is one of my favorite photos of me and my Grandpa. It was taken sometime in my early 20s, on the palisades on the western side of the Hudson River, overlooking the George Washington bridge.

Happy 101st birthday!

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They became spacemen: a science fictional story of a small gas station in the Bronx

Sometime last week, I had a dream that I was explaining to someone where my grandfather’s service station was in the Bronx. My grandpa, along with four of his brothers, owned and operated a gas station in the Bronx for somewhere in the neighborhood of 35 years. They finally sold the business in 1985. The last location they were at was along the Grand Concourse, south of the courthouse and just across the street from the park on the other side of the old Yankee stadium. In my dream, I was trying to explain the location of the gas station by explaining the location of the old Yankee stadium in relation to the park and the courthouse. You know, your typical convoluted dream instructions. If it wasn’t a dream, I might have said something like, Grand Concourse, just north of 153rd street. Or I could have pointed them to a Google Map of the place. But the dream got me thinking about that gas station, and about its unique location. And how at one time, my grandfather and uncles were considered “spacemen”. So I went digging for the evidence.

What I found in my papers were two news articles about the construction of that particular service station. It was built on a ledge and in order to have more room for cars and service space, it was actually constructed out over the ledge, something that was pretty unusual at the time:


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The George and Gracie Dream

I has a strange dream last night. First the setting: my parents, it seemed, owned a beach house of some kind (parts of which were being redone). I remember standing on the beach in the back yard while holding one of Mom’s golf clubs. A wave came by and pulled me into the ocean and for a few minutes, I lost the club (much to Mom’s consternation). Eventually, however, we found it, and all was well.

The strange part of the dream, if that wasn’t strange enough, was that George Burns and Gracie Allen were neighbors, and they frequently came over, though I had never personally met them. Well, this time, I was there when they came over and we sat around a table, and they proceeded to tell me a story about my grandparents that I simply wouldn’t have believed, if it wasn’t for the fact that it was George Burns and Gracie Allen telling me the story.

Apparently, what I’d heard about my Grandma was not entirely true. Growing up, she was actually a Vaudeville actress. She was a not a terribly famous actress, but she did well enough to make a living out of it. My Grandparents traveled quite a bit and would come out to L.A. to visit us, or go to Utah, or go to Florida on various cruises, etc., and apparently (according to Mr. Burns and Ms. Allen) all that traveling was due to my Grandpa’s acting schedule for shows that she would appear in. In a way it was disconcerting. I always thought they were traveling to visit us, but I guess if the acting allowed them to travel, then good for them. But still, my Grandma an actress?

Turns out that George and Gracie knew my grandparents pretty well and told all kinds of funny stories about them–George Burns funny–which nearly had me in tears. In fact, when I finally woke up from the dream, it was because I woke myself up laughing. This has happened to me from time-to-time, but never has it been quite as memorable as this.

The Grandpa Dream #4

The other day I was thinking to myself that I hadn’t had a dream about Grandpa in a long time. In fact, the last time I dreamed about Grandpa was on April 21 of last year. So it really has been a while.

Well, last night I had a dream about Grandpa, but he played only a supporting role. In the dream, I met Grandpa, and my cousins, Mitch and Jon at a community swimming pool in order to go swimming. Though it is cold here in Maryland, it was a hot summer day at the pool. In fact, while waiting to use the diving board, I can clearly remember the feel of hot cement on my feet. There was to be some kind of swimming contest and Grandpa was there to supply an audience. For some reason, however, the contest never happened. I waited in line for my chance to dive into the pool, but it never came. Eventually my alarm went off.

Grandma’s birthday

My diary reminded me that today would have been my Grandma’s 85th birthday. It’s been nearly ten years since she died. I’m not the only one who forgets from time-to-time. It happened to Grandpa too. Probably more than once. But the last time on record was January 17, 1997:

I called Grandma to wish her a happy birthday. Grandpa answered the phone and said, “Oh she’s not home for another half our or so.” Then he paused and said, “Oh boy! Is today the 17th? I’ve got to go and–uh oh–get her something!” Needless to say, I spoke to Grandma later and wished her a happy birthday.

(In that same diary entry, I mentioned the fact that Doug came over along with his new 1997 green Nissan truck. He also had his tongue pierced only a month earlier. Just wait until Ruby and Carson are old enough to read that.)

The interview

Back in my senior year in college, I had to do a “profile” as part of my journalism minor. I decided to do a profile on an lifelong New Yorker, my Grandpa, Paul Friendlander. The resulting profile was called “A Big Apple A Day” and it was great. I even thought about submitting it somewhere, and in my innocence, submitted it to The New Yorker where it was rejected several months later with a form letter.

In writing the profile, I had to interview my Grandpa and to do so, I used the record feature on my answering machine to record the phone call to tape.

Today, when going through some boxes in a closet, I came across the tape, which I thought had been lost. I put it in a tape player and listened to a few minutes of it. It was the first time I heard my Grandpa’s voice since he passed away almost two years ago. I’m going to see if I can convert the tape recording to MP3 format and get it uploaded somewhere. It’s pretty cool to hear my Grandpa talking back before my Grandma died and before my Grandpa’s memory started failing.

Good mail day

I left the office half an hour later than usual and had to stop at the grocery store on the way home to pick up a few things. I was trying to figure out what to do tonight (Wednesday evening is the one week night evening where there is nothing good on TV). I arrived home to find that today was a good mail day.

First, my autographed copy of Visions arrived, personally signed by strausmouse right beneath the article he wrote on his recent skydiving experience. Believe it or not, I have a small collection on my bookshelves, of items signed by my friends. I have a Master’s thesis signed by Tawnya. I have a signed copy of Healthy Pet magazine, which Lisa edits. I have a signed copy of an article in the San Luis Obispo Tribune featuring Dan. I have a signed copy from an Oxnard newspaper mentioned Grandpa. I have a signed copy of an article from the UCLA Law Review, “On Regulating the Internet: Usenet, A Case Study” by Paul. I have a guest editorial in the Rockland County Journal written by none other than Doug many years ago. (That one, alas, is not signed. I’ll have to bring it to Seattle with me next time I go.) And now, I can add Eric’s article to my collection. I swear, the day I finally publish something, I’m going to sign 50 copies of it, personalize each one of them (“To Jamie, a really swell guy!”) and stuff my shelves with them!

Second, I received a letter from Trevor and Andrea (aka, thepopeswife). Actually, it was two-and-a-half letters, as Trevor wrote one letter, Andrea wrote another letter, and then she included an addendum to tell me that she agrees with my spelling thoughts! And so our mutual snail-mail, letter-writing pen-palism continues.

I now know what I am going to do tonight. I am going to compose a letter back to Trevor and Andrea. I may even autograph it for them so that they can start a collection on their bookshelf (if Trevor clears away some of the Lord of the Rings DVDs to make some room). Those autographs will be worth something, someday!

A walk in the park

After the disappointing Oktoberfest, Jason headed off to a photoshoot and Jen and I headed over to Central Park. We entered the park at 84th and Park Avenue and made our way around in almost random fashion until we reached the North Meadow. On the north end of the north meadow, we climbed a rock and sat down to watch little kids and their adult counterparts play soccor and a variety of other activities. It was very pleasant.

From there, we made our way out of the park, ending up on 100th and Park, just a block shy of the Museum of the City of New York, where we visited earlier this year. It was at this point that I realized that we were not far away from where Grandpa had been born and I suggested we make our way over there. At first I thought it was 102nd and 2nd Avenue, but it turned out to be 105th and 2nd Avenue.

The Pinske hardware store that used to occupy the bottom floor of the building had been bought out about a year ago, we discovered, by Garcia & Garcia hardware. The letter and color of the sign had changed, but the hardware store that has been in the building for at least the last 86 years has remained.

I couldn’t remember on which floor Grandpa was born but I took a picture of the front of the building so that I could post it here. Every now and then your mind plays tricks on your. As I said to Jen as we were walking to the location, I had the irresistable urge, upon arriving, to call Grandpa and tell him where we were. Of course, nowadays, dialing 914-352-1149 will not get you Grandpa. It’s strange to think that Grandpa has come and gone but that the building he was born in still stands, aloof as ever, to his passing.

The meaning of [a] life

My Grandpa would have been 86 years old today. I have written about him before, but figured that his birthday is a good time to write about him some more.

Television melodrama often has one character passing away before another character can say “I love you,” or before they can tell the person how much they meant to them. I always found those TV-land situations supremely silly. While there are circumstances where this can happen, it can almost always be avoided. I was going to be sure to avoid it if I could. About a year and a half after my Grandma died, I wrote Grandpa a letter in which I told him in no uncertain terms exactly what he meant to me. The letter is dated November 12, 1997.

Read some excerts from the Letter