Sept. 29, 2013

Several years ago, I was surprised to receive an e-mail from a man also named Mike Devine.

Mike explained that he had run into a strange post–9/11 problem — for reasons unknown to him, Mike’s name had been added to the TSA watch list. He ran a search on his name along with a few terms related to airport security, and found this very blog among the search results. I forget the specific post that had inspired him to write to me, but it was most likely the one about my unexpected airport hassle in 2005 or my follow-up post from later that year. Either way, I do recall that Mike had also written that he enjoyed reading the rest of my site, and I was pleased to hear from him.

A few years later, Mike found my profile on Facebook and added me as a friend. Mike and I occasionally exchanged messages or comments, much like modern-day pen pals. Then, shortly before Joan and I were married last year, Mike and his family mailed us a really thoughtful gift — a French press from our registry at Crate & Barrel. We were both astounded by such generosity from someone I’d never met in person, and we thanked him for his kindness.

Mike contacted me again earlier this month, saying that he was going to be in nearby Conshohocken for a conference, and asked if I would be interested in meeting up. Given our pleasant exchanges over the years, I agreed. We met up for a Sunday night dinner at an outdoor table at the Great American Pub, and he even brought along a children’s book for Michael (who happens to also have the same name, too!).

I know what you’re thinking — what’s this guy’s angle? Was he trying to sign me up for financial planning or a new insurance policy? Quite simply, the answer is no. Mike just happens to be an incredibly nice guy who thought it might be fun to meet in person. We talked at length about our families (Mike is married with two young children and recently moved from Long Island to a Chicago suburb) and our respective careers (he’s an engineering manager for a magnetics company that works on some really interesting projects).

Perhaps it’s an East Coast mindset, but it’s easy to be skeptical of people and assume that their motivations are self-serving. But Mike proved to me that there are some genuinely thoughtful, friendly people in this world. I’m fortunate to have finally met him in person, and I really hope we can catch up again in the near future.

[ No. 650 ]

Sept. 20–22, 2013

Time for another pilgrimage to Happy Valley with my old college friends!

Friday. While Joan worked until noon and Michael spent the morning at day care, I ran a bunch of errands in preparation for the trip. By early afternoon, we dropped Michael off at my parents’ house for what they affectionately called “fall camp.” Joan and I shared a late lunch at a McDonald’s on Route 100, then fought some moderate traffic en route to State College.

We checked in at the Quality Inn, where we booked a separate room (without sharing with another couple) for the first time. We then met up with Marc, Sarah, Steve, and Crystal at Cafe 210 West. (Unfortunately, Brian and his wife Michelle had a conflict with a wedding this year.) After some outdoor drinks, we enjoyed a casual dinner at the Corner Room, and surprisingly, we didn’t even wait very long for the table.

As we were paying our check at the front of the restaurant, I noticed a hand-painted wooden sign that read:


I remembered it from my college days but had never known what it actually meant. A quick Google search on my iPhone informed me that it was a Latin phrase from the Aeneid and roughy translates to “Perhaps someday it will help to have remembered even these things” — a fitting phrase for a college town.

After dinner, Joan and I stopped by the Rathskeller, where we waited to meet up with some other Philly-area friends who were in town, but wound up calling it a night after just one round of beers, and before the group even arrived. (C’mon, cut us some slack — we’re still new parents!)

Saturday. Our group of six reconvened for breakfast at the hotel, then consolidated our food and drinks into two SUVs before proceeding to the tailgate fields north of Beaver Stadium. We set up two tents, and Steve even set up a few side walls to block out the intermittent rain. Between eating lots of delicious food and telling old stories, Joan and I left the group and took a walk to visit her colleague, Dr. Finnegan, at his group’s tailgate.

As the six of us entered Beaver Stadium, the rain began to intensify, much to our collective dismay. We stayed through three soggy quarters of the Nittany Lions’ 34–0 win over Kent State, then drove back to the Quality Inn for a much-needed hot shower and a change of clothes. Our night concluded with our traditional dinner at the Tavern, which was as good as ever.

Sunday. Our group reconvened for breakfast at the Waffle Shop across the street from the hotel. We said our goodbyes, then Joan and I did some shopping downtown, where I bought a new Allen Robinson jersey (which happens to feature my lucky number, 8). We also stopped by the Creamery for some ice cream (including the all-important half-gallons to take home). On the way home from Happy Valley, Joan and I drove directly to my parents’ house, where we were delighted to see our little boy again and shared a great dinner with the family.

[ No. 649 ]

Sept. 14, 2013

The Chesterbrook Village Center, a shopping center in our suburban neighborhood since 1981, is now in foreclosure. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to even the most casual observer in Chesterbrook, but it’s sad nonetheless.

According to a troubling article in the Philadelphia Business Journal, the shopping center has fallen on hard times since its owners took out a $10.5 million loan in 2004. Over the nine years since, over 90% of that original loan amount remains, and the shopping center’s property value has decreased by over two-thirds during that same period.

When I moved to Chesterbrook in 2004, the shopping center seemed to be doing reasonably well. The anchor tenant, a Genuardi’s supermarket, was tremendously convenient and consistently busy. I had a few pictures framed at the Village Art Gallery and stopped by Shuler’s Jewelers to get my watch battery replaced. One storefront in the back of the outdoor plaza housed a different restaurant about once a year — but then again, restaurants quickly come and go pretty much everywhere.

Thanks to a lengthy and painful recession, as well as a general disdain for anything less than a million-square-foot megastore, the medium-sized Genuardi’s closed in August 2010, much to my dismay. The cavernous building has remained empty over the three years since, and that glaring vacancy has accelerated the demise of the rest of the shopping center. The Village Art Gallery relocated to the nearby Gateway Shopping Center and eventually closed for good, while the family-run Shuler’s closed in 2009 after nearly 30 years in business.

To be fair, some stores have managed to stick around — I still go to Rite Aid, Subway, and Manhattan Bagel once in a while. But compared to many other bustling strip malls in the area, the Chesterbrook Village Center is depressingly desolate, even though it’s located in the middle of numerous townhouse communities and down the street from a busy corporate center. Given its prime location, I’m simply baffled by its decline.

I can only hope that a new developer can help to bring the shopping center back to life, but I’m not holding my breath.

[ No. 648 ]