Archive for the 'Life in the United States' Category
When you walk into a Ruby’s Diner in southern California, you take a step back in time, into the 1940s and 50s. The red booths (a table between two long seats), white table tops, soda fountains, and colorful 1940s posters (large printed pictures) are typical of (like, similar to) what you would have found across the U.S. during those years. So is their menu (list of food they sell) – mostly hamburgers, French fries, and milk shakes.
If you visit Ruby’s in Whittier, near where I live, on any Friday evening from May through October, you’ll experience more of the 40s and 50s. That’s when the Ruby’s Diner Friday Night Cruise* fills Ruby’s parking lot with dozens of cars – many of them hot rods and custom cars built during those years.
In the 1930s and 40s, many American young men, especially in California, began to buy older classic (admired by many people) cars and “hop up” or “soup up” (modify, change) the engines to make them more powerful. Sometimes they took out the original engines and put in newer, larger engines and took anything that wasn’t needed off of their cars to make them lighter (have less weight) and faster. They called their cars hot rods; unfortunately no one is sure how the name got started. Roadsters (2-seat open cars) were especially popular for hot rods because they were light and inexpensive (didn’t cost much).
These young men with the hot (powerful, fast) cars began a kind of competition, called drag racing – which Jeff talked about in this week’s English Cafe. In drag racing, two or more cars raced side by side on a street to see which one was fastest over a short distance. Street racing was dangerous and was eventually (after a time) outlawed (made illegal), so after World War II, many hot rodders moved to deserted (unused) airports and raced on the runways.
In the 1950s another kind of hot rod – the custom car – appeared and quickly became popular. Custom cars often had modified engines, like hot rods. But what made them different were changes made to the car’s appearance (how it looks) inside and out, like colorful, unusual paint jobs (if a car has a paint job, it is painted again). When creating a custom car, the goal is to make it look different than any other car. Today there are quite a few custom car shops in California, and some people spend thousands of dollars to have their cars or trucks customized.
The young men – the hot rodders and custom car builders – of the 1940s and 50s are older now and many are gone. But the traditions they started are still alive. You can still find them and their cars at places like Ruby’s Diner all across California.
If you’re interested, Pinterest has a large collection of hot rod and custom car photos, and here is a set of photos of hot rods and custom cars made from the classic 1932 Ford.
*Many young people used to drive their cars slowly up and down a particular street, usually the main street of a town, as a way to spend time with their friends. This was called “cruising”.
~ Warren Ediger – ESL tutor/coach and creator of the Successful English web site.
Photo credit: cb750cafe.
To many people, the word “gentrification” is a dirty (offensive; vulgar) word. Gentrification refers to a change in an urban (city) area with new businesses moving in and housing prices going up, creating a more wealthy (rich) community than was there before. The reason the term “gentrification” is generally considered a negative one is that conventional wisdom (what most people believe) is that this change in a neighborhood pushes out (causes someone to have no choice but to move away) old residents (people who live there) and businesses, changing the character (the things that make something unique or special) of the community.
But is that really true? Several recent studies, including one conducted at Columbia University about the famous New York neighborhood Harlem, which is currently undergoing (experiencing) gentrification, gives us a different perspective (point of view). (To hear more about Harlem’s gentrification, listen to English Cafe 411.)
At least in terms of people being displaced (caused to move), these studies found that people who were there before a neighborhood’s change didn’t leave, and in many cases, stayed longer than those in neighborhoods that didn’t undergo gentrification. This may be because the community becomes more attractive and those already there do what they can to stay. There are often more parks, better schools, and safer streets, so those who are able choose to remain in the neighborhood. New housing and space for businesses are created by converting (changing for a new use) old industrial (used for manufacturing, such as factories) buildings into livable (able to be lived in) and workable (able to be worked in) spaces, augmenting (increasing) the amount of space available in the community.
It’s certainly true that some rents (how much people pay to live in a home or operate a business out of a property) go up, and both businesses and people can be displaced. But the idea that this happens on a grand scale (in large numbers) doesn’t seem to be supported by these recent studies.
Are there any areas in the cities you’re familiar with that have undergone gentrification? What has been the reaction of the old residents? In your opinion, has gentrification changed the character of those areas?
Photo Credit: Minneapolis Warehouse District from Wikipedia
If you’re wondering which cities in the United States could be considered the most religious, you may be interested in a recent survey (piece of research where many people are asked the same questions) released by the American Bible Society (ABS). The ABS is a non-profit (not intended to make money) organization that distributes (gives to people) Bibles and Bible-related materials. (The term “Bible” in American English is usually used to refer to the sacred or holy texts of Christians, the Old and New Testaments, although it could also be used to refer just to texts sacred to Jews as well.)
After asking questions of 46,000 randomly-selected (select by chance) people, the ABS has determined the most “Bible-minded” cities in the U.S. (Minded here means having your mind on or thinking about something.) The ABS asked people whether they had read the Bible within the past seven days and if they agreed “strongly with the accuracy of the Bible.” Based on the responses, the ABS ranked 100 U.S. cities. The top 10 cities are all in an area known in the U.S. as the “Bible Belt.”
The top 10 most Bible-minded cities are:
- Chattanooga, Tennessee
- Birmingham, Alabama
- Roanoke/Lynchburg, Virginia
- Springfield, Missouri
- Shreveport, Louisiana
- Charlotte, North Carolina
- Greenville/Spartanburg, S.C./Asheville, North Carolina
- Little Rock, Arkansas
- Jackson, Mississippi
- Knoxville, Tennessee
The Bible Belt is an informal term for the south central and southeastern parts of the U.S. that have traditionally been considered more religious than other parts of the country. (Belt here means an area where some characteristic or trait is commonly found.) The term is said to have been (believed to be, but not completely certain) coined (created) by an American journalist and commentator (person who gives his/her opinion professionally), H.L. Menken, who wrote for the newspaper Chicago Daily Tribune (now simply called the Chicago Tribune).
Perhaps ironically (being opposite of what one would expect), the American Bible Society is located in New York City, which is number 89 on the list, just ahead of (before) Las Vegas, often called Sin City, with “sin” referring to bad things people do that are against what God would want. Los Angeles doesn’t fare (do) much better at number 73, but we’re not as bad as San Francisco, which is ranked 97th.
If you’d like to see for yourself which cities are considered most Bible-minded according this survey, take a look at the full list here on the American Bible Society website.
Image Credit: King James Version Bible 1611 from Wikipedia
With the start of a new year, new laws go into effect (are now required to be followed). A new law in California has chefs (professional cooks) and bartenders (people whose job it is to serve drinks, especially alcoholic ones, usually at a bar) seeing red (angry; upset).
The new law requires anyone who handles (touches) food that is ready to eat — that does not need to be further (additionally) cooked or reheated (made warm again) — wear disposable gloves (rubber covering over the hands that are thrown away after one use) or use tongs, scoops, or other implements (tools). No bare hands (hands without any covering or protection) are allow to touch the food, even if the hands were just washed clean. The law is intended to improve the health and safety of food served to customers.
This means that bartenders who prepare drinks and add small pieces of food, herbs (plants used to add flavor), or garnish (piece of food added for decoration) must wear these gloves when preparing and serving drinks. This also applies to (is required of) chefs.
You may know that sushi — a type of Japanese cuisine (type of food) that includes rice and raw fish — is very popular here in California. Well, sushi chefs will also need to wear gloves or use implements, and they aren’t very happy about it.
Note that in most places in the U.S., food handlers (people who touch food before it is served) in places like restaurants must also wear covering over their hair and (for men) facial hair (that is, mustaches and beards). Both men and women usually wear a hairnet over their hair and facial hair or a close-fitting (tight) hat.
Are there laws of this type where you live? What types of laws are required of food handlers and food servers?
Photo Credit: Restaurant Order Wheel from Wikipedia
Not long ago, Jeff explained the tradition of American women changing their names after marriage (see English Cafe 427). Although fewer women are following this tradition now than, say (for example), 50 years ago, it is still very common.
When Janice Worth of Hawaii married, she changed her last name to her husband’s: Keihanaikukauakahihulihe’ekahaunaele. (This is actually her husband’s only name, a name given to him by his family at birth (when he was born).) This is a Hawaiian name, and when Janice adopted it (decided to use it), she had a problem. Her first and last names did not fit on official documents, including the Hawaii driver’s license, which only allowed 36 characters (individual letters). For this reason, only her new last name appeared on the license with no first name, and when she used her license as ID (identification) or was stopped by traffic cops (police watching for people breaking driving laws), those officials gave her problems about her unusual license.
She decided not to take this lying down (do nothing). She complained to the governor (the highest-level elected official in a state). In a state that has a large native Hawaiian population and prides itself on (say they do very well at) preserving (keeping something valuable the same) and respecting the Hawaiian culture, the governor promised that changes would be made to the computer systems by the end of 2013 to accommodate (allow for) a longer name like hers. Janice now has a driver’s license that shows her first and last names.
I’ve always been grateful to have a short name, just seven letters in all (total). Filling out (completing) forms is easier. (Unlike most Americans, my parents never gave us — my siblings (brothers and sisters) and me — middle names, for which I am also very grateful. There’s a tradition of children making fun of each other’s middle names in school, and I never had to go through that. Having an unusual last name was hard enough!)
Are there unusual or unique names where you live that present problems for people who have them, whether it’s related to spelling, unique characters/diacritic marks (markings over, under, around letters), length, or something else?
Graphic Credit: Jeff McQuillan
If you live in an American city, you know that the word “easement” means an area on your land that the government says must be used for a specific purpose. For example, many Americans homeowners have easements in their backyards (the outside area behind your house) so that private companies (or the government itself) can erect (put up; install) electricity and telephone poles (very tall, slim pieces of wood or metal that wires are attached to in order to keep them off the ground). Easements are also sometimes used to provide areas maintained by the government that allow rainwater to flow into sewers (a system of underground tunnels carrying waste water).
However, if you’re a farmer (person who grows crops for food), you may be familiar with agricultural easement programs, which set aside (keep for a certain use) land specifically for farming. As cities grow, it is often more profitable (making more money) for landowners (people who own land) to sell their land to housing and business developers (builders) than to use that land for farming. At the same time, there is a trend (effort or movement toward something) for locally-grown food, food that is produced nearby, not transported long distances. The logic behind (the reasons for) locally-grown food, according to its supporters, is that the food is fresher and less energy and fuel are used to transport the food to those who buy it.
To try to protect farmland from disappearing, especially around American cities, the government established agricultural easement programs. These programs actually pay landowners to use their land for farms or to sell their land to people who want to farm. According to some sources, about 1.1 million acres of land are part of these agricultural easement programs throughout the country, at the cost to the government of $2.3 billion.
These programs have had mixed (not clearly good or bad) results. Some say that easement land is still too expensive to buy for farming, with some young farmers opting to (choosing to) rent land to farm. Others believe that these conservation (actions taken to keep things as they are) efforts are necessary to keep American farming alive and for environmental protection purposes.
Are farmlands disappearing around the cities where you live? Are there efforts to protect farmland and farming?
Photo Credit: Farming near Klingerstown, Pennsylvania from Wikipedia
We shall overcome,
We shall overcome,
We shall overcome some day.
Oh, deep in my heart
I do believe,
We shall overcome some day.
Pete Seeger, the musician who helped make We Shall Overcome (to fight against something and win) the anthem (a song identified with a particular group or movement) of the American Civil Rights Movement, and of other civil rights movements around the world, died last week at the age of 94.
Seeger was a folk musician who played an important part in the American folk music revival (when something becomes active or popular again) of the 1950s and 60s. Folk music is music of the people, music that tells their stories. It’s music that people participate in, not just listen to.
Seeger sang and played the banjo, a musical instrument with 4-6 strings stretched across a round body and a long neck similar to the neck of a guitar (see the photo on the right). Banjos became popular in the mid-19th century (1800s) and became an important part of American music, like ragtime, early jazz, country, and bluegrass.
In Seeger’s hands, the banjo became a “machine [that] surrounds (to be all around something, on every side) hate and forces it to surrender (to stop fighting)” – words he wrote on the body of his banjo.
Seeger dedicated (gave, committed) his long life to working and singing to influence (affect the way something develops) social issues. In the 1940s he supported the organization of labor unions and America’s involvement in World War II.
In the 1950s he opposed (disagreed with and worked against) McCarthyism, a campaign (actions intended to achieve a particular result) led by Senator Joseph McCarthy against people in government and other parts of American life who might be communists. Many people were blacklisted (put on a list of disapproved people) and lost their jobs even though they weren’t communists.
In the 1960s he brought his voice and his music, including We Shall Overcome, to the Civil Rights Movement. And in the late 1960s he joined the protests against the Vietnam War.
Some of Seeger’s songs became very popular. Where Have All the Flowers Gone?, sung by the Kingston Trio, reached the Top 40 (the 40 most popular songs in the country) in 1962. A short time later Peter, Paul and Mary’s version (way of doing it) of If I Had a Hammer made it to the Top 10.
If you want to hear Seeger perform some of his own music, Rolling Stone has compiled (put together) 20 of his most important songs. On each page there is a brief story about the song. As you listen, notice how, in good folk music style, the audiences often sing along with him.
If you only have time to listen to a few, try these: If I Had a Hammer, We Shall Overcome, Where Have All the Flowers Gone?, and This Land is Your Land.
Someone once asked Seeger who he was intending (to have in your mind as a plan) to overcome. He replied, “For me, it means the entire world. We’ll overcome our tendencies (the way we often do something) to solve our problems with killing and learn to work together to bring the world together.”
*The idea for this title comes from an article by Andrew Cohen. The soul is the part of a person that contains their character (who they really are inside), thoughts, and feelings.
~ Warren Ediger, ESL tutor/coach and creator of the Successful English web site.
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons
The winter wind blew hard and cold across the Nebraska plains (large area of mostly flat land) last week. And in that cold wind, a small group of people stood together in a small cemetery (where people are buried) on the edge of a small town to say goodbye to a remarkable woman.
Vivian was 103 when she died. She was born in 1910, before World War I, and she lived most of her life in or near the very small town of Eldorado in central Nebraska.
Life was quite different when Vivian was young. They traveled mostly by train or horse and buggy (light carriage pulled by a horse). And there was no high school in Eldorado, so she boarded (rented a room) with a family in a larger town about fifteen miles (24 km) away so she could go to school.
In high school, Vivian took a special course that earned her a certificate (official document) to teach in a rural (not in the city) school. So after she completed high school, she began teaching in a two-room school not far from where her parents lived.
Vivian married her husband Leland in 1935 during the Great Depression. Times were tough (difficult). Vivian continued to teach and received 45 dollars a month. Leland tried to farm (raise crops like wheat or corn) even though the plains were experiencing the worst drought (time without rain) in history. And the winds that usually brought rain clouds often brought towering (very tall) clouds of dust.
While living on the farm, Leland and Vivian had their first three children – two girls and a boy. Vivian writes in her memoirs (written memories of her life) that “Time went on and we had been on the farm six years and never raised a crop. But they were good years and we enjoyed our little family.”
After six crop failures, it was time to move on (do something different). Leland became the operator and manager of the local Farmers Coop – a service that delivered gas, oil, and other supplies to farmers in the area. Vivian became the Coop bookkeeper (a person who keeps the financial records for a business).
They bought a house, which had four rooms and a tiny (very small) kitchen, for $350. It was small, but it was theirs. And it became home to their little family, which soon included a third girl. Family members loved to return to that small house – and the house they bought later when they retired – for family gatherings at Christmas and other times of the year.
Today Leland and Vivian’s family includes four children, 14 grandchildren, 19 great-grandchildren, and three great-great-grandchildren.
Leland died in 1999 when he was 90, but Vivian lived for 15 more years and continued to enjoy her family. When she turned 100, the entire family gathered for three days of birthday celebration.
Vivian loved her family, and they loved her. She had a great sense of humor (ability to think things are funny). She loved to play games, always played to win, and often did. And if you wanted to know what she thought about something, she was happy to tell you.
Vivian was a devout (having deep religious feelings and commitment) Christian. She was active in her church, read the entire Bible every year, and prayed for her family every day.
When someone once asked Vivian to tell her secret for long life, she replied, “Hating milk, loving chocolate, and God’s care.”
I was there last week in that cold wind to say goodbye to Vivian. Vivian – who I had the privilege (a special opportunity that gives you pleasure) of calling “Mom” for almost 45 years – was my wife’s mother.
~ Warren Ediger – ESL coach/tutor and creator of the Successful English web site.
Photo by W. Ediger
Tutoring over the Internet, and using technology to do it, can be tricky (difficult and challenging). An ideal (the best) tutoring situation includes a knowledgeable and skilled teacher working one-on-one (with one teacher and one student) with a student, with the tutor guiding the student over a period of time, similar to what our own Warren Ediger does with his students.
Recently, a new type of Internet tutoring service has become popular, and it has its advantages (good points) and disadvantages (bad points). These on-demand (get it when you want it) tutoring services allow parents and students to sign up (register) for the service, and either pay for a certain number of tutoring minutes in advance (before you use it) or have a credit card number on file (in their records) that can be automatically charged as needed.
Are you a high school student taking calculus (a type of advance math), a junior high student needing help with a history assignment, or a college student requiring help with an English paper? You can get on one of these tutoring services and find a tutor who is on call (immediately available to provide service).
Internet tutors generally use chat programs that allow them to type messages back and forth with students. They also use digital whiteboard programs that allow them to write or draw as they would on a chalkboard on the wall in a classroom.
According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, some parents say that this type of service is a godsend (very helpful and valuable), especially if the parents themselves don’t have the time to help their children with homework or don’t have the knowledge or skills needed to answer questions. However, while some who work for these tutoring services are retired (no longer working because of age) or moonlighting (taking an extra job in addition to your full-time job) teachers, some are not trained teachers, and the quality of the tutoring can be very variable (different each time). These services are not cheap, of course, and only students whose parents can afford them get this advantage – perhaps a case of the rich getting richer (people who already have privileges getting an added advantage).
Are these types of Internet tutoring services available and popular where you live? Have you or would you use such a service for yourself or your children?
Illustration Credit: Brack Vocabularius rerum from Wikipedia
Everyone feels lonely sometimes. One researcher in a recent Wall Street Journal article defines loneliness this way: “Loneliness is the feeling of social isolation or dissatisfaction with your relationships.” Isolation is the feeling of being apart or separate from other people, and you can feel social isolation even when you’re in the middle of a crowd (large group) of people.
In a 2010 meta-analysis (detailed study of published research) of 148 studies (research papers or books) that included more than 300,000 participants, researchers found that feeling lonely is a very strong predictor (factor that can tell what will happen in the future) of mortality (death). In fact, people who are lonely are just as likely to die an early death as people who are alcoholics (addicted to drinking alcohol) or who smoke 15 cigarettes a day. Being lonely is worse for your health than even obesity (being very fat or overweight).
Unfortunately, people in the U.S. are reporting (saying) that they are lonelier than they have been in the past 20 or 30 years. One reason for this doubling (twice as much) of reported loneliness — from 20% in the 1980s to 40% now — may be that more adults are living alone. In 1970, 17% of Americans reported living alone, while 27% lived alone in 2012. It may also be that people spend more time in front of screens — on their computer, smart phone, or tablet — doing solitary (by yourself) activities than in the past.
Psychologists say that there is nothing wrong with being alone or doing things by yourself. It’s your mindset (way of thinking) that matters (is important). Realizing that others care for us and that we matter helps to reduce the feeling of loneliness. Looking for opportunities to interact (talk or do things) with others also help.
I’m not a psychologist but since we all feel lonely sometimes, I’m prescribing (giving you a medical treatment) for everyone reading this to visit our blog if you’re feeling lonely. Your opinions are always valued, and like any good friend, if we disagree with you, we’ll only tell you’re a bonehead (an informal and slightly funny word for a stupid person) in the most affectionate (with kind and loving feelings) way.
Image Credit: Frederick Leighton – Solitude.jpg from Wikipedia