Tuesday, February 7, 2012

City life

Cty Harvest's tractor trailer outside its new 45,500-square-foot food distribution center. 11:30 AM. Photo: JH.
Tuesday, February 7, 2012. Fair and mild and sunny in New York; not very cold.

At noontime JH and I were shepherded across the 59th Street Bridge to Long Island City to a large warehouse, a food rescue facility that has been recently opened by City Harvest. If you’re a regular reader of the NYSD, you know about City Harvest. If you don’t/aren’t, City Harvest is an organization that collects food that has not been used/consumed/touched and re-distributes it all over New York to its “agencies” which are mainly food pantries and food kitchens. It is a lifesaver and elevates all who participate including its clients/neighbors who receive their bounty.

I first learned about it in the early 90s from my friend Joy Ingham who has been an active supporter for years. It was started in 1982 by a woman who had been a volunteer in soup kitchens. There was a culinary fad at the time where potato skins were very popular, baked without the potato and garnished with various things (like bacon bits, etc.). This woman realized that a lot of potatoes were going to waste, and she knew a place that could use  them -- namely the kitchen she was volunteering in. So she asked a restaurant nearby if they would save the potatoes for her. And they did. And so it began.
The drivers pose City Harvest's tractor trailer for JH and the Digital.
When City Harvest began, they had one truck and six volunteers. Today they have a fleet of 18 trucks, as well as a couple of tractor trailers, plus 3 bikes (as well as more than 100 staff members and 2200 volunteers) collecting and delivering food daily. Each week 300,000 New Yorkers get help from City Harvest. Waste not; want not.

Joy and Gillian Miniter and Susan Fales-Hill were our hostesses. This warehouse is a first. Before they were moving 83,000 pounds of food a day with the help of a small 3000 square foot rental space. Now they have moved into a 45,400 square foot facility and are moving 100,000 pounds of food a day. The facility also contains a 5,300 square foot cooler so they can accept more dairy and a greater variety of produce. They project that in the coming years, they will be able to rescue and deliver 60 million pounds of food a year.
That's Erin Hoover of City Harvest, DPC, David Levy (CH's vice president for distribution and transportation), Joy Ingham, Patricia Barrick, Gillian Miniter, and Susan Fales-Hill.
Here we are again ...
This is not only heroic, but this is common sense -- a quality now rarely found in public policy and a reminder that it still actually exists.

Meanwhile, aside from the magnificent facility and the potential that will be realized there for the benefit of the citizens of New York, the views are stupendous, not to mention spectacular.
Looking east across the East River towards 1 WTC.
The dispatch center.
The big screen has everything from the route date and ID to the driver to the planned start, departure, and arrival, the projected start, departure, and arrival, and actual start, departure, and arrival.
The 4,000-square-foot freezer.
5,300-square-foot cooler, once the keg room for the Budweiser distributorship.
The room where City Harvest drivers receive their training.
And where we received our training ...
Looking across Newtown Creek to a once empty lot, now the home of HBO's Boardwalk Empire.
Charlotte Beers is from Texas. I didn’t know that until I looked at her book which I got a book signing last night at Kathy and Billy Rayners’. I’d never met her before and actually I didn’t meet her last night, but I had heard a lot about her. She’s famous in New York (and probably many other places) for her executive skills and the Big Jobs she’s held because of them.

She made her mark in that New York of New York industries -- advertising. She was the first woman senior vice president in the history of J. Walter Thompson, the granddaddy of big time advertising agencies. Later she became CEO of Ogilvy and Mather with 8000 employees and $5.4 billion in revenues. She increased it by another $2 bill in the five years she held that post. That’s when I heard about her.

An arrangement of lilies at the Rayners' last night.
Ms. Beers talking to the crowd.
Charlotte Beers with her book I'd Rather Be in Charge. (click to order)
For me, she was one of those people whom I heard about often enough that I had conjured up a physical image of her in my head without ever having seen her. You know how that happens to us – you hear enough that you’re imagination supplies an image? My image of her was along the lines of Martha Stewart (who was there last night and who is a business associate and friend of Ms. Beer). Blonde, commanding, good looking but without the emphasis.

The Rayners always give a very glamorous New York party. Men and women put their best foot forward when attending. I took a picture of that arrangement of lilies because that is the atmosphere Kathy Rayner creates for her guests in her house. It’s beautiful but relaxed. The guests respond knowingly.

I was having a difficult time with this new camera of mine (time for another). Nothing was coming out right. I like this picture of Ms. Beers on the staircase with a mike, talking to the guests about her book and herself. Because of my camera problems, I was focused on that, than on her words.

I like this picture though, with all its fuzziness because it captures the impression I had of the woman I’d heard so much about but had never seen or met before. (I probably have seen her in a crowd room for a benefit or some congregation, but I never knew her to identify.) She didn’t look anything like I had imagined. She had the eclat of a seasoned and very successful actress of the theatre.

Watching and listening, I felt like I was in a movie about New York. You know those Hollywood versions of a sophisticated New York cocktail party where the hostess, elegance and glamour personified, gets up to say something witty and dazzles the crowd (and the audience). She’s got her glass of champagne (this is the movie, not necessarily the room last night), and she’s amusing the guests with her clever observations and phrases. Not that Ms. Beers was especially clever or witty, but what she was was direct and articulate in expressing her essence, herself. You were in the presence of a force. The medium is the message.

I think there may be something in the water down there in Texas. I know quite a few very dynamic, attractive, exceptionally smart, charming (at least when they want to be) women who could run the world, and come from Texas. Worldly-wise, indefatigable, tasters of the wine, powdered nose to the grindstone, funny, fast and ready for fun. They come to New York and turn on the lights. Liz Smith comes to mind. But there are scores of these girls in this town. They become stars, glamourpusses, CEOs; stage, screen, TV and any other venue, they grace them all with their special energy.

That, to me, was the gist of what Charlotte Beers was telling the guests last night. She was talking about her book – “I’d Rather Be In Charge.” Standing there in her black floor length sheathe with her Scarlett O’Hara figure and looking more New York than Hollywood could ever have interpreted, you knew what she meant. In fact, she was in charge.

Her message is directed at men and women but women are at the forefront, because women are seen by the author (and other women) as having to break those glass ceilings, etc., to get where they want to go (or get). They would argue that is succeeding in a man’s world. I would argue that when these girls come around, it’s a woman’s world. I think men know this more than women do. The opposite misconception is often operative with women also.
Horrible camera work, better as a painting, no? That's Martha, Celerie Kemble (Beers' spiritual goddaughter) and the Guest of Honor.
However, we are living at a time of gender re-defining. When I was a kid, a man might refer to his wife as “the little woman.” You never hear that any more. Ever. You hear the complaints about the little woman, of course, but never the term. This is a great conundrum for many because if the little woman isn’t little anymore, then how big’s the big guy? Maybe not very, huh?  Men know this instinctively.

Charlotte Beers, by physical stature, is probably about a foot and a half shorter than I. However, I never felt for a moment last night that she was little. I’ll bet nobody else did either. She’s the boss. For her you shape up. And there are results. What she is, she’s teaching now. All over the country she gives seminars to women, teaching the “tools for transforming themselves” into managers and leaders in the industries they work in. Steady, strong, self-images. Charlotte Beers has one of those.

Martha Stewart showed up just as her friend was finishing up her little speech. You could see they are friends and very much equals in terms of self-image and self-confidence. She’s another one. This is New York.

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