Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Fear The Heat

In June, I wrote a blog entry about whether severe weather should be a deal breaker in choosing a geographical mate. I was in Arkansas at the time, and hail storms were the big story.

Seeing hail damage everywhere, I wondered if I could handle living in a place with baseball-sized hail. Then I wondered if every place you go simply has its own mix of natural disasters. California, after all, is known for earthquakes, wildfires and mudslides. Isn't that just as dangerous?

Well, the question has finally been settled. A new study by the University of South Carolina has compared all natural disasters across the country according to mortality. The surprising top killer? Heat and drought, which cause 19.6% of all deaths from natural hazards. Second was thunderstorms, and third was winter weather. All three are rather mundane when you think about it.

Having just read The Science of Fear, which is all about human fondness for exaggerating low-risk things and ignoring high-risk things, I found it interesting that the exotic hazards we seem to fear most - like tornadoes and earthquakes - are not really the big risks. In fact, as you can see on the study's "Death Map," California, Arizona and Nevada are ranked as one of the safest areas of the country in terms of natural hazard mortality, along with Northern New England.

Where is it deadliest to live, you ask? The upper Midwest, which is affected by flooding, severe weather and winter weather, followed by the South, which is affected by heat, lightning and flooding.

Who'd have thunk?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Most Cold-Hearted of All My Exes

I spent Halloween weekend in New York this year, and it gave me a chance to reflect on my former beau. As some of you know, I lived in Manhattan from 1998 to 2000. I was poor, but I felt like I was at the center of the universe. Any New Yorker knows what I mean. Below is a shot of me on Stanton Street on the Lower East Side (LES), just a few blocks from (one of the places) where I used to live.

Despite the swanky boutiques and hip restaurants that have opened all around my old abode, I am proud to report that my rickety LES loft building remains the not-up-to-code eviction palace of a decade ago. The door is still covered with graffiti. There is still no buzzer system. The tattered “Fabrics” sign still points to the time when it was a textile factory. In fact, the only difference I could see is that the pay phone outside the door, which my friends would have to use to call up to me (because no one had cell phones yet!), has been yanked out.

Having visited about once a year since I left, I usually feel pangs of joy...followed by stinging rebuffs. This was a pang of joy. Another was Halloween evening, where literally 98% of the people we passed on the streets were in costume. No city does Halloween as unanimously or passionately. The atmosphere was magical. Plus, where else can you go to a random party populated by professional trapeze artists? Here are two of the most agile ones making everyone else look out-of-shape on the dance floor.

But before long, the rejection and disorientation began. It’s almost like the city is the kind of lover that strives to erase all memory of you once you’ve gone. How? By changing just about everything you adored – including your favorite restaurants, storefronts and bars. They’ll just disappear. So, to try to stay fresh, you make new discoveries on your trip, but a year later, you can’t even count on those. It can be demoralizing.

Here’s the perfect example. On Saturday night of Halloween weekend, we were meeting up with several friends for dinner. I suggested Bao 111 in the East Village and pulled up the restaurant’s website to show my boyfriend. He gave it a thumbs up, so we called to make a reservation for eight people. No problem, they said. But when we arrived at 111 Avenue C, the sign said Arcane, not Bao 111. Flustered, I thought, this can’t be right. I must have the address wrong. But I didn’t. It was just New York letting me know once again that once you’re out, you’re out.

As it turns out, Bao 111 had closed a month earlier, and the new restaurant simply took over the phone number. After getting over my mortification, I just followed the current New Yorkers’ lead and rolled with it. Fortunately, Arcane ended up being a great find, and the ebullient French-Caribbean owners were eager to please. My lime chicken was fantastic, and the evening turned out just fine.

The moral of this story? Once you leave New York, it moves on, whether you like it or not. You can no longer be an expert on the city even a few months later. So this time, I officially let it go. From now on, it’ll just be a familiar stranger who I run into and experience anew. The good thing is that I know I can’t fall for it again. Too expensive, too crowded, too many people. When you’re in a great mood, you love all eight million of them. But when you’re in a bad mood, you’re ready to commit homicide if someone bumps you.

That’s not right for me anymore. I want a place with fewer bumps and more room to breathe. And it looks like 2009 is going to be when I finally decide on where that is. Huzzah!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Cape Town Is "Marriage Material"

That's the word from my boyfriend, who recently returned from 10 days in Cape Town, South Africa.

It seems that not only has he picked up the lexicon of my blog (scoring major points, I might add) - but he's developed his own expatriate fantasy as well. As he regaled me with stories of his trip, I was reminded of how I sounded after coming back from Buenos Aires last year. Flush with enthusiasm. Enchanted by the "dream life" I'd seen others living. Infected with new thoughts of what it's all about.

Not surprisingly, Cape Town and Buenos Aires share one thing that never fails to get Americans' attention: a staggeringly good exchange rate that makes everything damn cheap. Right now, one dollar gets you 10 rand in South Africa. To my surprise, that's an even greater steal than Argentina - and since that's my benchmark for living large on pennies, I was duly impressed.

But if the bargain factor won't get you, it seems Cape Town's beauty surely will. My friends Ali and Katie have raved about it in the past, and well, just check out my man's photos! With the distinctive backdrop of Table Mountain and the stunning coastline (complete with penguins!), Cape Town is a looker. A medium-sized city (3.5 million) with serious physical assets. My boyfriend was also taken by the friendly people, great restaurants and rapidly evolving culture.

We'll see how the infatuation progresses, but a return trip has already been thrown out - with both of us going this time. Thank goodness, because I think I'm experiencing an acute secondhand crush.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Close Your Offices...But Keep Your People

As you probably heard, over 500,000 jobs were lost in November - the biggest one-month drop since 1974. With the exception of healthcare, layoffs are now a daily occurrence in every industry.

But do they have to be?

In a rather compelling blog post I read today - entitled "What's An Office For?" - the author proposes that companies should consider telecommuting before layoffs. In other words, why not shut down your physical offices and transition to a remote workforce to save money?

As a telecommuter myself, of course I'm biased, but it sure sounds like a win-win to me. Companies could cut their overhead dramatically, employees could bid a happy farewell to their gas and lunch budget - and everybody could stay afloat. Plus, let's not forget that research shows that telecommuting produces 22% higher productivity, 60% lower absenteeism and 20% less turnover. Hello!

Yet strangely, as the blogger points out, no one seems to be talking about telecommuting as a way to save the day (or the planet). That's sad. While it might not work for the Big Three auto makers or the manufacturing industry, it could rescue a LOT of other companies, especially those that are service-based or web-based.

As they say, human capital is the most important kind. People, not machines, are the source of creativity and innovation. Shouldn't they be prioritized?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Forget Red or Blue. How About Fat or Skinny States?

Louisiana is the least healthy state, according to new rankings from the American Public Health Association. In fact, the South as a whole is in bad (that is to say, flabby) shape. The bottom ten states include Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Florida, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Nevada and Georgia.

Coming from LA, the land of power yoga, macrobiotic food and insanely fit people, I wonder about moving to a "fat state." As you know, I have crushes on cities in South Carolina (Charleston), Texas (Austin), Mississippi (Natchez), Louisiana (New Orleans) and Arkansas (Eureka Springs). Would I slowly abandon the healthy lifestyle I started here in California? Shrug off a jog because it's too hot - or there's a "12 free wings special during happy hour"?

And what about the lack of smoking bans in bars/restaurants in many such states? Having teared up like a funeral attendant in Arkansas' hazy bars, I seem to be rather sensitive now. Is that something you can get used to again after living in a smoke-free state?

I guess it comes down to how much the "norms" of your environment really influence your habits. I certainly weigh less, eat better and exercise more in California than anywhere else I've lived. But that could also be the product of the dawning awareness that hits many of us in our late 20s / early 30s.

At the moment, I am thinking (perhaps gamely) I could hold onto my waistline even in the South because the money I'll save in cost of living pays for the gym and Whole Foods (if there is one!) combined. As for the smoking in bars, that still stinks. Literally. Like my hair and clothing the next day. But there are other ways to socialize, right?