Monday Check-in

springGood morning! Let’s check in.

I left work on Friday evening and picked up two pints of Jeni’s ice cream and a box of cookies ($26.47) to bring with me to a meatballs and wine party some friends of mine were throwing. A friend and I split a cab home after ($14). On Saturday, when it was gorgeous out, I bought a frisbee ($3) and some snacks ($20) and met up with my former roommate and some other pals for a picnic in Central Park, and then we grabbed burgers for dinner ($11.85). On Sunday, I met up with my former roommate and another friend again so we could start planning a summer trip (more on this later), and then picked up some items at Bed Bath & Beyond ($40). My estimate was $125 and I spent $115.82.

And how were your weekends?


Chatting About Women On 20s: The Final Four

Ester: Hello!

Nicole: Hi! So today I learned that I don’t really know what a mutual fund is. Turns out it is so much more than what I was imagining.

Ester: Hahahaha I thought we were going to talk about Women on 20s, not our own ignorance of finance! (Viz, this piece in the April issue of Marie Claire, in which I am quoted confessing my lack-of-knowledge.)

Nicole: Yes, let’s absolutely talk about Women on $20s. We are down to four candidates, yes?

Ester: Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Cherokee chief Wilma Mankiller. Replacing Jackson with Mankiller seems like a no-brainer to me. What could be more American than that?

Nicole: I am definitely rooting for Chief Wilma Mankiller, and you know everyone is going to make the “Mankiller” joke, so it feels embarrassing to re-make it, but she lived an amazing life. Also, she is not particularly well-known, at least not in the “Eleanor Roosevelt is a household name” sense, which makes the designation feel even more meaningful. It’s your contribution, not just because you’re famous.

Not to denigrate any of the other women’s contributions! This is hard. Why can’t we have four $20 bills? READ MORE


This Weekend, Put The “Me” In Yosemite

yogi-bear national parksRevise those Friday Estimates everyone because this weekend access to America’s National Parks is free:

Though most of the National Park Service’s 407 sites are free year-round, the 128 parks that charge a fee — like Yellowstone and Yosemite — will be free those two days.

It’s all part of National Park Week, happening April 18 through April 26, and it’s hosted by the National Park Service and the National Park Foundation.

Check out night-time astronomy parties, daytime Revolutionary War programs, Earth Day parties and family-friendly Junior Ranger activities at national park sites across the country.

Find your closest park here! Or fade into misty, watercolor memories of your favorite federally protected wilderness experiences. My father, who turned his nose up at Disney World, dragged us to every damn place with a canyon or a bridge in the Four Corners, and I have to admit every single one was like a 3D sunset, one you could stare at for hours and even investigate on foot.

As a not-particularly-outdoorsy adult, I had a lot of fun up at Glacier in Montana, too. Ben and I drove up from Missoula and stayed near the park, first on the east side in an AirB&B and then on the west side in what was supposed to be a small hotel but ended up being a trailer on someone’s horse farm, from which we had to walk through dark woods to get to the outdoor facilities that functioned as a bathroom. The owners were super nice, though, and I fell in love with their four dogs who followed me everywhere. At Glacier, we saw real bears (from far away) and bighorn sheep (from closer up) and we hiked all the way up into the sky – occasionally over ice, even though it was August — singing like Von Trapps. FOUR STARS, RECOMMEND.


The Lease Busters


220 West 98th Street, #4
$3,650 per month
2 bedrooms / 1 bathroom
Nearest subway: 1/2/3 trains at 96th Street


Flip is a startup which makes it easier to break leases. The app is still in beta, but its founder, Susannah Vila, who is finishing up her MBA at Columbia University, has introduced to fellow students at Columbia who are looking to get out of their leases. “The idea came about just because I am the number one customer for it,” Vila told me. “I just love to move. I’ve moved three times since starting business school.” Vila is currently on two leases: She lives in Lower Manhattan, on East Broadway, and sublets her previous apartment. “It’s silly that you get constrained and stuck into leases by the year—you should just be able to move in and out of apartments whenever you want.”



Why Is Air Travel so Expensive? Because of Institutional Investors

Up in the Air

If one were to ask why, say, a round-trip flight from Seattle to Cedar Rapids on Christmas week costs $1,200, a few answers might come to mind:

—Well, planes are these enormous machines that manipulate physics to stay in the air for hours at a time, and big machines are expensive!

—Do you know how many people it takes to staff an airport? All those people deserve a living wage!

—Also, airports are these enormous buildings, and enormous buildings are expensive!

—Something about deregulation? Monopolies? Hubs and spokes? Greedy companies wanting big big profits?

—Because it’s Christmas and the airlines know you don’t have any other realistic options?

Turns out those answers are all wrong, or maybe they’re a little bit right but also wrong. According to a new study by economists José Azar, Martin C. Schmalz, and Isabel Tecu, airfare costs are high because many of the airlines share the same investors.

This study is called Anti-Competitive Effects of Common Ownership, and here’s part of the abstract:

Many natural competitors are jointly held by a small set of large diversified institutional investors. In the US airline industry, taking common ownership into account implies increases in market concentration that are 10 times larger than what is “presumed likely to enhance market power” by antitrust authorities. We use within-route variation over time to identify a positive effect of common ownership on ticket prices.



The Cost of Driving My Parents Home from the Hospital

the drive

My sister called crying. “Do you know where Thomasville, Georgia, is?” she asked. It was 5 p.m. on a Sunday. She lived in Memphis near my folks, and I lived in Harlem far from any family.

“I’ve never even heard of the place. Why?”

“Because you’re about to go there,” she said.

Both my parents were in the ICU at Archbold Medical Center in Thomasville, my father with a broken neck and my mother with a fractured lower back. A truck had smashed into their SUV as they drove home from their Florida vacation.

“Are they going to be all right?” I asked.

The phone line fell silent, and for a moment I thought I’d lost the call.

“Just get down there,” my sister said.

Founded in 1826, Thomasville has an oak tree that’s over 300 years old and a population of less than 20,000 people. Nestled in southwest Georgia, it’s an hour’s drive north of Tallahassee, Florida.

My plan: fly into Tallahassee, rent a car and drive up. But an hour’s search for flights online left me cold. The next one left the following day and ran $1,000, and it wouldn’t get me into Tallahassee until late. I wouldn’t make it to Thomasville until after 7 p.m., a solid 24-plus hours after my sister’s call.

I checked the distance, direction, miles, and estimated driving time. Thirteen and a half hours straight drive. I could be there well before noon Monday and not have to bankrupt myself doing so.

By nine that night, I was pulling out of the Budget Rent a Car at LaGuardia airport in a subcompact that promised stellar milage. READ MORE


Am I Hurting Hotel Housekeepers’ Income by Not Leaving My Hotel Room?

a maid in manhattan

Nearly every time I go to a hotel, I run into the same problem.

I want to be in the room, which contains a decent enough writing desk, plenty of coffee, a nearby toilet, and an Internet connection that I, often as not, have paid extra for.

Housekeeping wants me to be out of the room.

The Do Not Disturb sign will not keep housekeeping away past, say, 11 a.m. They will knock anyway, and I don’t blame them. It’s their job to clean the rooms, and I am getting in the way of them completing their job.

Here are some recent work-arounds I’ve tried:

1. When housekeeping knocks, I let them in and then shove my laptop in my bag and leave the room to go find somewhere else to work for a while. This is a decent enough solution, except it usually leads to a few rounds of apologies—”I’m so sorry!” “No, I’m sorry to make you leave the room!”

2. I leave the room before housekeeping arrives and try to get work done in the hotel lobby, in the hopes that housekeeping will notice the room is empty and clean it really fast. The last time I did this was in NYC during Winter Storm Juno, and I got blasted with cold air every time the lobby doors opened, and I also ended up running back up the stairs every 20 minutes to see if my room had been cleaned yet.

3. I do what the hotel assumes I will do, which is to say vacate the hotel during the day, and leave my comfortable, well-appointed workspace (that they specifically designed for me) to go pay $5 and get work done in a coffee shop with slow Wi-Fi.



For Sale: Ghost Town in Connecticut; Haunted Gold Mine in Arizona

Remember when Friday used to be Real Estate day around here? I kinda miss that. Well, I don’t have any houses to offer this morning, but if you’re in the mood to think big, here are some interesting lots for sale: an entire ghost town in the great state of Connecticut and a haunted gold mine in Arizona!

The abandoned village of Johnsonville in East Haddam, Connecticut was once a thriving community in the 1800s that had multiple textile mills. The last mill ceased operation in 1972 when it caught on fire due to lightning striking it.

Aerospace millionaire Ray Schmitt eventually purchased the property and turned it into a theme park. The park later closed in 1994 due to pressure from local officials regarding fire damage.

A movie and a music video was filmed after the park closed and the town has been deserted since 1998. It was later purchased by a hotel developer in 2008 that tried to sell the town in 2013 for $2.9 million.

The 62-acre property was auctioned off on October 28 for $1.9 million but now the ghost town is back on the market for $2.4 million because the deal fell through because the buyer disappeared.

Uh. Disappeared? READ MORE


Fond Memories Of Take Your Kid To Work Day

Before we had a VCR at home, my siblings and I spent one exciting night at my dad’s office to watch a movie. Thinking now of the special occasion this was makes me feel old old old, but I can still remember our excitement.

We went down one Friday night, already in our pajamas, and settled into a small conference room.  I recall only the color orange; given the early 1980’s timeframe, I suspect this is an accurate memory.  I don’t know what movie we watched—one of those Disney live action films like The Shaggy Dog or Watcher in the Woods. 

My mom stayed home with us kids, as well as teaching piano lessons, so the outside work world was dad’s realm in my family.  It was a mysterious place that I never really understood. Over the years the companies changed but, with only infrequent visits like on a weekend to pick up papers, “dad’s office” seemed kind of amazing. There was always a break room or kitchen of some kind with snacks available at all hours. Lots of pens, empty halls great for wandering, and an air of importance.

I never got to do an actual work day with my dad but I would have loved it if he let me, simply for the glimpse into the shadow world of what adults do for so many hours away from home. 

My husband and I are both teachers so there isn’t as much curiosity from our kids about where we go for work.  Still, our oldest son Cole had one of his great life experiences going to work with his dad for the last day of school when he was four years old.  READ MORE