08/23/14 10:00am
Michael and Alison Ventura outside their historic Village Lane home in Orient. The Cape Cod dates back to the 1700s. (Credit: Grant Parpan)

Michael and Alison Ventura outside their historic Village Lane home in Orient. The Cape Cod dates back to the 1700s. (Credit: Grant Parpan)

On picture-postcard-pretty Village Lane in Orient, residents worried not long ago about the fate of one of the street’s genuine treasures — a simple but handsome Cape Cod house that may date as far back as the 1700s.

Neighbors watched with dismay as the front stoop of the house at No. 1780, in the heart of the hamlet’s prized National Historic District, disintegrated — one of them repaired it gratis — and a covered porch tilted so precariously that the owner had to remove it. (more…)

05/31/14 7:00am
An ivory tower. (Credit: Creative Commons)

An actual ivory tower, courtesy of Creative Commons.

It didn’t take a rocket scientist to read between the lines of the brochure I received earlier this year from my college alma mater.

“Admissions 101: College Exploration Program for Trinity Families” read the headline on the brochure. Inside, I learned that the two-day program on the college’s campus in Hartford, Conn., was reserved for high school-aged children and grandchildren of Trinity alumni, parents, faculty and staff.

Talk about special treatment! (more…)

09/01/13 8:00am

STEVE ROSSIN PHOTO | LIRR riders board an eastbound train out of Riverhead earlier this summer.

It’s a summer Friday afternoon and you’re stuck in traffic on the Long Island Expressway, headed from the city to the North Fork. If you’re traveling by bus for Orient, where I live, delays on the LIE could make the trip take as long as four hours.

Think this is bad? It could be a lot worse.

Suppose there were no Long Island Rail Road. Last year, the LIRR ran a great ad on its trains that imagined just such a disastrous turn of events. “Up to nine Long Island Expressway Lanes would be needed to handle the additional traffic,” declared the ad, which ended with the word “cough.”

In fact, more than 260,000 people ride the LIRR on the average weekday.

Statistics like that make me a strong supporter of the nation’s second-busiest commuter railroad, Long Island’s best hope for increasing personal mobility while decreasing congestion, consumption of fossil fuels and air pollution.

I know, I know. Frequency of service on the LIRR’s Ronkonkoma-Greenport line — the service that matters most to us — is woefully inadequate. But that could change.

As previously reported in these pages, funding is now available for the purchase of “scoot” trains on this route. While the railroad has yet to select the equipment it will buy, it’s shopping for trains that would be smaller and cheaper to operate than the current equipment on the Greenport line — a locomotive and two double-deck coaches.

A railroad spokesman recently told Times/Review reporter Tim Gannon, “As envisioned by the LIRR, scoot trains would allow for more frequent train service than currently provided.”

Hey, maybe that widely reviled payroll tax for public transit isn’t so bad after all.

Even without such improvements, there are ways right now to take advantage of the LIRR that many North Forkers may not realize.

For instance, savvy summertime travelers who’ve had it with the LIE can catch the Friday-only 3:55 p.m. train out of Penn Station, fairly confident that they’ll reach their North Fork destination on time. Arrival at Greenport is scheduled for 6:45 p.m. Moreover, on the Ronkonkoma-Greenport leg of the trip, passengers can unwind with a glass of one of the local wines sold aboard the Friday-only train.

Unfortunately, that train operates only between the Memorial Day and Columbus Day weekends. But Saturday and Sunday service, once offered year-around but scaled back in 2010 to the same operating period as the Friday-only train, has been extended and will run between April and November.

Did I mention the Ronkonkoma solution to getting to Kennedy Airport?

If you hire someone to drive you from Orient to JFK, it can cost as much as $150 each way.

I’ve got a cheaper way: Drive to the Ronkonkoma station (LIE exit 60), park your car free (for an unlimited time) in the LIRR’s huge outdoor parking lot and board one of the trains operating nearly hourly to Jamaica. Upon arriving there, take the escalator to the station’s mezzanine and walk a few hundred feet to the platform where the Port Authority’s AirTrain departs every seven to 20 minutes for JFK’s terminals.

Train fare from Ronkonkoma to Jamaica is $13.50 at peak hours and $9.75 off-peak. Add $5 for the AirTrain, and you’ve saved well over $100. I know; I’ve done it.

Some folks who’ve used the Ronkonkoma station tell me they’re worried about missing the train because of the time consumed finding a parking spot in the often crowded free lot. That worried me, too, until I began using THE TIMETABLE.

By consulting the Ronkonkoma Branch timetable, you can determine when the next train from the city is supposed to reach the station. I schedule my arrival at the station around that time so that I can pull into one of the parking spaces just vacated by disembarking passengers. (On weekdays, there’s usually a 15- to 30-minute window between trains arriving from the city and leaving for it.)

Some people also worry that their cars could be vandalized in the parking lot. Never in the 16 years we’ve left our car there (once for as long as seven weeks) has it been damaged. Our luck did run out last year, however, when two exterior accessories — a rooftop kayak rack and a rear-end bike rack — were stolen. Foolishly, neither had been locked to the car.

It seemed like a small price to pay for a service that has worked so well.

Orient resident John Henry has been commuting to Manhattan for 16 years, usually using the LIRR’s Ronkonkoma-New York City service.

07/22/12 7:00am

If ignorance is bliss, then Americans must be blissful indeed these days.

Because so many of us display an appalling (and alarming) ignorance — just confirmed by a respected nonpartisan polling organization — about last month’s landmark Supreme Court ruling upholding President Barack Obama’s health care law.

Health care accounts for nearly a fifth of our gross national product and though voters say that health care remains a top issue for them, behind only the economy and jobs, a Pew Research Center survey found that 45 percent of respondents either were unaware of the court’s ruling (30 percent) or thought most of the law’s provisions had been struck down (15 percent).

“That is staggering stuff,” as The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza noted last week.

“Let’s just make sure we are all clear,” he wrote. “Forty-five percent of people didn’t know about or were misinformed about the most highly publicized Supreme Court case since — at least — Bush v. Gore in 2000 …” And it gets worse.

Among 18- to 29-year-olds — a wellspring of our future leaders — the proportion of respondents who were unaware of the court’s decision was a depressing 43 percent, even though Pew found it was the news story that Americans followed most closely in June. Imagine how much, or little, folks in that age bracket know about less closely followed news stories. Or perhaps you’d rather not.

Ignorance on a scale this breathtaking can be immensely useful to politicians. Indeed, it’s often one of their best friends.

Many believe President George W. Bush’s job of selling the disastrous Iraq War was made easier by the fact that a large majority of Americans believed at the time that Saddam Hussein was behind the 9/11 attacks, although none of the plane hijackers involved came from his country and no link between him and the attacks was ever proven.

A Washington Post poll conducted two years after 9/11 found that seven in 10 Americans continued to think that Saddam was connected to the attacks.

To be fair, the Bush administration never said it had evidence of a link. But, as the newspaper noted in its 2003 story about its poll, the president in making the case for an invasion of Iraq frequently juxtaposed Iraq and al Qaeda in ways that hinted at a link.

If the public had been paying closer attention, an unnecessary war that eventually cost more than 4,000 American lives and led to the deaths of more than 100,000 civilians in Iraq would have been a tougher sell.

This year, as the country braces for what promises to be one of the most consequential presidential elections of all time — one that could set the nation’s direction for years to come — we owe it to ourselves and the country to do our homework on the issues, especially health care, which all of us will use at some time in our lives.

So let’s educate ourselves, for instance, about the difference between requiring people to get health insurance and requiring them to buy broccoli. Understand that and you understand why the insurance mandate is the linchpin of the Affordable Care Act, just as it was for the health care reform Mitt Romney achieved as governor of Massachusetts.

Sure, it’s hard to keep up with what’s going on with so many demands on our time. But keeping well-informed is one of the prices we pay for a living in a democracy.

What you don’t know can hurt you. Put another way, ignorance isn’t bliss.

Mr. Henry is a resident of Orient.