Shoot Me Not

August 13th, 2016 No comments »

My fashooterlure as a senior engineering manager was not shooting my direct reports. That was both physical and digital.

We all put in long, productive workdays. Mine tended to run longer. I got to the office around 5 AM. They’d stumble in around 9 or 10. I was the documentation manager/head tech writer. The chief UI designer would arrive about the same time. We’d work alone and together on our stuff and the complex interface, head to the downstairs FitCorp gym at 6 or 6:30 and be groomed and caffeinated when the programmers finally showed.

They’d goof around, then work, then insult each other, and keep it going until 5 or 6. Then they’d shift from coffee to Pepsi. As all savvy tech companies, ours provide unlimited cold and hot caffeine. They’d do hours of multi-player games over our network, taking great joy in visually splattering each other for hours.

Weekend meetings might be paintball, when then mayhem was more literal, involving downers (beer) and bruises from the balls.

Old Mike instead read books, wrote blogs, worked cryptic puzzles, and philosophized. I had no interest in figurative murder or literal punishment.

I’m older. The sprouts seemed to forgive me. We all went out to lunch and after-work drinks. I just had no interest in multi-player games and feigned warfare.

When my engineering VP went off to sell the company, he dubbed me in charge of engineering, as in development, test, QA, docs and such. I became the socket for the whines. “His code sucks…he doesn’t know how to clear a memory address…she uses 54 lines to do what I can in 12…my girlfriend’s cat pisses in my shoe…I found this function perfectly done in Fresh Meat…Tom did not subversion his code and I wasted four hours waiting…”

You’ll never find a bigger bunch of kvetchers than developers.

Yet, I admit, I’d been a better sport had I picked up a paintball gun and tried to humiliate and hurt my reports. I could have upended my life and fought rush-hour Boston traffic to get in late, leave late, and devoted two hours every evening to network shooter games.

Sorry. I win.

 

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Your Name Here, On My Chest

August 6th, 2016 No comments »

IMshirt copy Gentle branding of human employees was normal and welcome. Is it still?

Companies that paid well and had good benefits and policies always seemed to try to dress their folk. Of course, the polo shirts, windbreakers, hoodies and the like had the company logo and likely a product name. I scanned part of a couple of my remainders here. Internet Manager was one of the major products of Elron Software (later bought and murdered by Zix Corp.).

micbreakerMicrocom was one f the first and surely the best maker of modems, telecommunications software and chassis and such. Of the high-tech companies I worked for, Microcom was the best. Even after its suffocation and dissolve by Compaq, virtually all modems contain vestiges of it, specifically communicating via MNP (Microcom Networking Protocol).

I have polo shirts (high-end cotton pique, of course), heavy dress shirts, Polartec pullovers, super-heavy sweatshirts, as well as Nerf footballs and various geegaws. It’s the branded clothing that stands out though.

I’d worked for sleazy companies that underpaid. They rarely would spend even for modest t-shirts. I’m also away of rich companies that went out. A friend got a leather and satin jacket from Ziff-Davis’ internet service. A son got a leather bomber jacket from Google when he worked their security division.

From a business perspective, these make good sense. Employees feel special, they are billboards for the company, the non-recurring expense doesn’t add to the salary base. You have to wonder what the cheapskates in companies that don’t offer clothes are thinking. Surely this is penny wise and pound foolish.

I do think though of my erstwhile acquaintance, the late Al Goldstein. As an early 20-something, I did some freelance photography for his Milk Way Productions, which includes the sleazy tabloids Screw, Smut, Gay and Bitch. They did very little original photography, instead, as Al proudly told me, the bought black-and-white prints by the pound from pornographers. Their files were stuffed with drawers with labels like TWO BLACK WOMEN/ONE WHITE MAN.

Al did the shirt thing, largely to sell to subscribers (yes, Screw had mail subscribers). He gave me a couple. They were the cheapest possible fabrics. I remember that the first SCREW-logo one shrank in a few washings from a man’s XL to about a woman’s S.

On the other hand, I have lots of highly serviceable logo-wear from elsewhere.

 

 

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All Lowell All Day Folk Festival

July 31st, 2016 No comments »

You don’t have to wait until the last weekend in July to go to Lowell, MA. Lots of art, restaurants and music are worth the trip the rest of the year. Yet, here we’re big on the annual Lowell Folk Festival. We’ve only missed two of its 30 years, when we were far away.

By the bye, Seattle has an older one (45 years) with more performers. It runs Memorial Day weekend.

We’ve never left the LFF without a new favorite musician/group. Oh to tip the scales, I note that they’ve kept this free. They gently ask for donations as volunteers wander, swapping Mardi Gras necklaces for whatever you chip in (and you don’t have to flash).

Fado (fate in Portuguese) is the mainstay of the country’s music. Many songs are of heartbreak, loss and jealousy. They do mix them up with some fun. Ana Laíns was extremely expressive in voice, body and face. LFFfado7
LFF16ceili1 Of course Irish music…Old Bay Ceili Band played that. Let’s call this the trad Irish mirrored sunglasses.
The several century old Peking Opera, replete with much percussion, garish costumes and battles was by the Qi Shu Fang troupe. I honestly am not sure I would be a regular but no one could say the style is boring. LFFpeking3
LFFjason2 Jason D. Williams, who may or may not be Jerry Lee Lewis’ son, more than plays piano. He uses his fingers, fists, feet, butt and like that. High energy does not being to describe his boogie woogie. I doubt a keyboard could survive more than two of his shows.
Deacon John is in his seventies, but sings and moves like he’s 22. Powerful jump blues. LFFdeacon
LFFlurrie1 Lurrie Bell, Chicago bluesman and son of one, delivered strong and pounding blues.
Gibson Brothers bluegrass band included driving base by Mike Barber and demon mando by Jesse Brock. The leads actually are brothers Leigh and Eric, only 11 months apart. LFFgibson2
LFFmacmaster1





Bad nighttime lighting and the fast movements of Cape Breton fiddlers Natalie MacMaster and hubby Donnell Leahy limited shots of them. They wowed on the violins and she claimed the Irish step dance routine she through in she hadn’t done in almost 30 years.

More pix: These and additional shots are on Flickr. There are many more snaps there.

Pix note: Published under Creative Commons . You are welcome to use them. Just credit Michael Ball once.

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Failing the Mom

July 18th, 2016 No comments »

wanda1While my mother, Wanda Lee Michael Ball, died almost 12 years ago, I continue to recall my times with her. Those are almost entirely happy and grateful. She raised my sister and me solo, did a damned good job of it, and balanced fun and moral and smart by example and word.

On occasion, I do have minor regrets though. I recall particularly how I failed her by turning down one request. Sure, she denied me this or that over the the years as well. Yet, as an old guy now myself, I am increasingly aware of the stresses and pains — interpersonal, intellectual, physical, emotional — that living and aging bring. I could have taken one for the team that afternoon.

In her mid-50s, she had a devil of a year. Even typing that, I snort at Wanda’s example. She was loath to swear or even euphemize. “Damn!” was extreme language for her. When she was angry or very disappointed, her strong language was typically, “For crying out loud in a bucket!” (full emphasis on bucket). A malefactor we might call a bastard or asshole would suffer her, “What a crumbum.”

To most of us her 1979 was a year from hell. It included:

  • She had finally found happiness and fulfillment with a lover, who was chased by his ex-wife’s lawyers and courts for new spousal and child support. He got his company to transfer him to Asia and safety.
  • Her own  company got sold to a much larger pharma who handed payouts to the entire sales staff. Thus she was jobless.
  • With her payout, she had to invest it in six months or lose much of it to taxes. That meant buying a house for her and her sister across the country a decade before she wanted to consider such.
  • She got a breast cancer diagnosis. Her doc wanted to aspirate the growths, but her nurse sister convinced her to get a second opinion in her pending new town of Santa Fe. The surgeon there saw the lymph cancers as well and scheduled her for a radical mastectomy.
  • As part of the treatment at the time, her doctors immediately stopped the heavy doses of hormones she was getting for a hard menopause. As a result, her personality changed and her always modulated and logical self became short-tempered and even occasionally irrational, in other words like most other adults her age.

Beaten up and beaten down in every way, she did cope. In Santa Fe without her friends and lover, without her career, without a breast, and on an on.

In many ways, I was there and helpful. I visited, I called, I sent her goody boxes (something she had always done for her children). I was swell to her until she asked one thing that choked me.

Her surgeon liked to tell the story of when he visited her with the post-mastectomy lady and a couple  of nurses a few days after the surgery. The woman showed with a suitcase of padded bras and prostheses. The nurses were there to observe and learn.

Wanda looked at the assembled crew and asked, “What are you doing here?” The woman said she was there to help with the recovery. The surgeon said that Wanda then stated very clearly, “I’m not sick. I just had cancer,” and shooed them out. She was definitely not interested in being fitted for an artificial breast.

You should know that she never identified strongly with her mammary glands. Hers were small. Her daughter’s large. They’d joke about it being obvious whose bras were hanging to dry.

She had cancer of both breast and lymph. The prognosis after successful surgery was death within five years. She went 25.

On one of my visits not too long after the surgery, but when she had healed as much as her body was going to, she asked and I faltered. I knew they had taken a big chunk of muscle as was the style in those years of mastectomy. When the two of us were on the living room couch, she asked in her previous style whether I wanted to see and feel where the breast had been.

I did not and she seemed truly disappointed. It was a ritual offering that I failed to accept.

Yes, yes, the idea of a son touching his mothers breast, rather where the breast used to be, sounds morally and sexually wrong. It really would not have been. It was a medical, anatomical thing. It was yet another of her healing mechanisms.

I should have bucked up and gone with it…for her. I couldn’t and didn’t.

Shortly after I was rereading one of my favorite poets, Frederick Nicklaus. In The Man Who Bit The Sun, one of his poems starts:

I remember a horse in Indiana;
it came from the fields, it ran alongside
the bus. I remember its reddish hide.

But believe me, I failed the fright of its eyes.

So here it was. My mother looked me straight in the face and asked for something pretty simple. I failed. I couldn’t do it.

 

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JP Porchfest Again

July 9th, 2016 No comments »

We’ve gone to all the JP Porchests. Truth be told, that’s a small deal. Today’s was the third annual. Yeah, yeah, it’s spottier than say the Lowell Folk Festival, but no matter what music you like, they got it and if you don’t like one group, look at the event map or simply wander the neighborhood. There are 100 or so in play at any moment.

I finally relaxed on this one. Previously, I’d planned the long day from noon into evening, hopping in 15 to 20 to 30 minute listens. I wanted to get the maximum aural and visual exposure. This year, I sussed out the performers in advance off the Porchfest site and simply picked several to listen to a long concert with each.

Liv Greene is apparently a Tufts senior and likely older than she looks. Her voice and song writing are plenty mature. She is wont to compose morose lyrics that she mixes with folk cover songs. She pulls off her sad tunes with strong guitar to match her sweet voice.

We saw her later playing with Liv Brook in the duo they call Liv and Letliv, doing Appalachian songs to guitar and fiddle. I grew up with WV hillbilly music. They’d do just fine on Jersey Mountain.

livgreene2
Aurora Birch was starkly slender and dressed all in black. She closed her eyes when she sang. She could seem forbidding except for her frequent gesticulations and grins between songs. She clearly enjoyed herself. She switch among several acoustic and one electric guitar and jocularly regretted not also playing her banjo. abirch1
Fiona Corinne followed the sincere and subtle Aurora Birch…in a very different style. She let us know that she grew up in the world of musical theater. She proved it with the strongest voice of my afternoon. fionac1
Boston’s poet laureate, Danielle Legros Georges, was serious and politically aware. dlgeorges
Allysen Callery accompanied her ethereal voice with finger-style guitar. allysen

We heard snatches of several of the many dozens of performers, but those were ones I dove deeply into. I think that suits me better than trying to catch as many as possible. This is like my beloved Lowell Folk Festival. The key is to pore over the schedule carefully and map an itinerary.

Lowell is an absolute must, but JP’s Porchfest is damned good. Each is well worth hitting the schedule in advance and plotting your performance. Oh, and like Lowell, this one is free too.

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Out-Irish and Out-Boston Each Other

June 23rd, 2016 No comments »

Provincialism and parochialism at their best were on display at Boston Police Academy and had nothing to do with cops. They simply let locals use their auditorium for public meetings like the monthly Fairmount Hill Neighborhood Association

The feature last evening was Boston/Milton developer Denis Keohane. We got to hear the Irish born (himself), even-more-(artificially)-Irish Bostonians, and the overlapping nativists. Oh, with a good dose of NIMBY to boot completing the theater.

The gist is that Keohane (originally from Kinsale in Cork for those who care about such) thought he was there as a courtesy to the residents. That’s not how many in the room figured it.

He presented an early-stage plan for eight houses on a large (91K square feet) derelict lot one long block from my house. His plan starts with meeting requirement in square footage per house (8K) and setbacks all around. The road is 40 feet wide and all in Boston, so the city will plow it in winter. One third of one of the houses sits in Milton, so that one has complicated realty taxes but the building authority and regulations are all Boston.

keohanevilleExpectation differences ruled the meeting. It quickly became obvious that Keohane was a wildly successful residential and commercial developer who came to make nice to the locals. He seemed at first quite giddy that this would be his first project as-of-right and without having to file and fight for variances. He thought he was being gracious.

Legally he didn’t have to ask the neighbors for anything or inform them of anything. His plan includes building a road up the middle of the land and plugging a row of four houses on each side. He was getting the permits to do that. So there.

Well now, not so simple to the many who wanted more than intel. They demand obeisance.

The brogues thickened as Denis sweated his hour on the stage. It made me think of Southerners I know who suddenly develop the strongest accents away from home.

Let’s be aware that Keohane is not quite 50 and has been in the U.S. for 28 years. His first 21 were in Ireland, which he left for economic opportunity. He married here, they have three daughters in their 20s, he has completed numerous successful projects mostly in Boston and some in abutting Milton, and has won town-level elections in Milton.

Shame of a key detail…

Two older men whose Irish accents got stronger as the evening progressed found a chink when Keohane freely confessed that he was not aware that there had been a reservoir on and above the property in question.

My attitude is that ignorance is almost always (baring some scientific and very specific subjects) quick and easy to fix. Give the info and get to the important stuff, I say.

In contrast, many parochial types are like puppies with a swock and just can’t put it down. Thus at the meeting, a couple of alter kakers returned repeatedly with oh-so-you-really-didn’t-know-about-the-reservoir!? The theme seemed to be that if Keohane didn’t know that, anything he said relating to ground water was untrustworthy. Pigeon poop on that.

Keohane presented salient info, specifically that he has an engineer drilling 20 holes to find out when they hit water. The 8 basements are to be 10 feet underground. He said if they find water at 2 feet, that’s a likely reason to walk away from the development. Otherwise, they’d work with pros to mitigate the water and get it to the street pipes and drains.

The old guys kept saying if he didn’t now about the reservoir, his other info was suspect. One even repeated that the water had been their for centuries and would always be there. On the other hand, I wonder whether the water guys can mitigate the water in ways that would in fact lower the water table and make basements drier for all us neighbors. (I’ll attend the water-drilling followup to ask about that possibility.)

The usual suspects…

Several area folk at this meeting come to all local hearings and info sessions. Their aim seems to be to show they can make presenters squirm or badger them. From their comments and questions, they likely would say, “I’m only trying to get to the truth.” That’s the way of jerks who enjoy acting out their control-freak nature.

At numerous such meeting and hearings I’ve attended I see:

  • Gotcha questions indicating “I know this and you didn’t.”
  • Efforts to squeeze some minor concession out of the speaker (to show personal power?)
  • Claims they support positive change when in fact they oppose all change
  • Requests or demands for more information, future meetings, and more trips to regulators

Looking for trouble…

Some folk asked where the coyotes and other furry varmints would go. One couple recalled when a large house went up above this parcel, they for the first time got rats, which the developer had to get rid of for them.

Keohane said he had pest control for development and afterward in the specs, which he detailed.

Yet water was the big issue. One resident recalled ice skating in there as a child. Charming for recreation, but not as much for basement owners.

Keohane had lots of water answers, from percolation (perc) testing to having rights to drain water-table and storm runoff into city systems. Not good enough for the toughs.

Several ended up asking him to look for trouble. Specifically even though the area is not listed as environmentally sensitive or protected, why not go out and see if anyone might just reconsider adding it to wetland shields?

Of course, Keohane noted that his folk has checked the lists and found nothing. I ask why would he create problems?

Not from here…

Bostonians at their worst can be no different than provincial types elsewhere. I was comfortable with Keohane’s Boston cred, professional and personal.

Not so some others, three mentioned his, to them, tenuous connections. When one said it was their neighborhood, he reminded her it was his as well. She went on several levels deep, trying to trump him. She alleged to feel strongly because she’d grown up there. He came back with his nearly three decades in the immediate area, a long-term wife and three kids, arriving here to make his way when he was only 21, and so forth.

She played her final trump card. She had not only lived her 50 years, but had been born here, while he had not.

That was too much for Keohane. He said, “We’re done here.” He allowed as that was not fit argument. He was understandably insulted. She muttered a faint, “I apologize.” In fact, he was out of there.

I call an unfair-fighting foul on her.

Civic theater

As petty and annoying as some of these folk were, there are worse ways to spend an evening than attending neighborhood hearings. You can learn more about your local folk than you want to know.

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Present! Farley

May 30th, 2016 No comments »

Sounds like Dickens to say “Old Farley was dead as a door-nail,” but it’s not Marley this time.

Our the Rev. Dr. Farley Wilder Wheelwright died at the very end of February at 99. While we can all pull out the platitudes, such as each death is a tragedy (nah) and each of us is as unique as a snowflake (not at all true and we won’t have a large enough sampling to really know snowflakes are oners).

Yet Farley was at once broad bush and pinpoint. He amazed us all, and kept amusing us to his end.

He lived larger than most, larger than nearly everyone. Loudmouth for righteousness, beloved of the likes of the Rev. M.L. King Jr., civil rights activist and mostly a for-real humanist and avowed atheist who showed alleged Christians how to act.

Still, he had an astoundingly wee ego and vanity for his accomplishments. He lived not for praise, but to help and soothe. He was an excellent preacher, never out of ideas and powerful in the pulpit. He hated that part of the job though. He lived for the opportunities of pastoral counseling.

There’s lots to be said about Farley, and his friends in Boston and in his final home in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, did that recently. You can get the massive memorial service document from San Miguel (heavy on the pictures) here. The swap-Farley-stories version in Boston is here.

 

 

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Refining Rubes…Maybe

April 20th, 2016 No comments »

Odds are you don’t know farm life. Not only are few of us farmers or even from an ag background, but also time, mores, economics and politics have shifted considerably from the early 1900s. I straddle times and conditions. I have milked cows (manually and mechanically), collected eggs, scalded and plucked hens, and worked corn from seeding to weeding to harvesting to turning under.

On the other hand, I never was in a position to inherit a family farm. I grew, picked and sold vegetables but was never in effect indentured servant/slave to nasty father. I never even belonged to 4-H, while I knew many peers in WV, VA and SC who were all those.

Yet, The 4-H Harvest: Sensuality and the State in Rural America (Gabriel N. Rosenberg, U. Penn Press 2016) goes far beyond county and state fairs, farm kids with beloved pigs and cows, and FFA meetings.

One warning is that the book’s index sucks mightily. I’ve done large book indexing and am positive that the author had nothing to do with this one. Many complex and detailed citations are missing (homosexuality, venereal disease, and on and on); it lacks the ideas and uses only keywords. Boo. The other shortcoming is that Rosenberg is far more concerned with the political and economic relationships than the kids. We can infer about the social, intellectual and economic outcomes for the 4-H youth, but he tells us more about the political players individually.  A third note should be that this is an academic press property; at $55, it’s a good meal price; get it at the library.

As someone who visited relatives’ and friends’ farms, I did the work, but I never actually owned and raised cows, sheep or pigs for exhibition (and eventually slaughter). My chums who did that grew up knowing the true script for animals. They had no apparent problem assisting at the birth, naming the cow, raising her, exhibiting her, then either selling or killing and butchering her, and in the latter case eating her little one.

Fatalistic comes to mind.

The 4-H book recalls other intersections. The Y is one. As a child in several places I belonged to YMCAs. When we moved to Boston, I found myself a member in the original Y. I learned it was the Garden of Eden for Northeastern University.

That is, the nation’s first Y started to be a shield for Christian young men who had moved to the (relatively) big city from the farm to earn a living. The new institution offered wholesome residence, free from bars and prostitutes and the moral perils of rooming house life. This Y offered evening lectures to keep the young men wholesome and occupied. Those in turn led to the college and university — evening activities for the mind and soul rather than the crotch.

Likewise, the 4-H clubs were specifically to counter the immorality and amorality of rural life. In contrast to our idyllic bucolic images, country life was rife with lust, pregnancy, venereal disease, bestiality, homosexuality and.well, non-refined ways to spend an evening.

The clubs viewed, described and treated the youth involved much as they did the produce and animals (other than not eating the kids). The descriptions of the programs and contests are embarrassing in their paternalism. Then again, this was largely the range of the 20th Century, start to finish. There was rampant racism and sexism, with the asininity of stereotyping,  that continued well into the 1970s.

Oddly, the author keeps his academic distance and does not wonder specifically whether the good and bad balance on the 4-H scale.

As an aside, the book reminded me of a dinner about 1970 in Cape May, New Jersey. The hosts were the former mayor, Belford (Bucky) LeMunyon and his wife Ione. She was the aunt of the woman I kept company with in Manhattan. A guest (to my embarrassment I do not recall his name) was a retired local physician. He recalled performing seemingly unceasing Army physicals during the WWI draft in a field outside of town. There were stations of long tents and much longer lines of naked men, each wearing only a bag with personal effects. He remembered to that day one potential soldier after another with secondary or tertiary syphilis, sores and a fatal prognosis unknown to them. They were farm boys given to the amoral sexuality of rural life, young men who had no idea they were close to the insanity and death that end-stage disease brings.

The 4-H book refers to the raw and common sexuality of the farm life. We can sit at a distance and snicker at the self-righteousness of the clubs and Ys preaching about the risks to body and soul from city life, while farm kids were at least as likely to suffer…or more so.

 

 

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Hear Hair Talking

March 26th, 2016 No comments »

I parrothairyadmit that I am one of the millions (or more) who snicker at Donald Trump’s hair weave or whatever artifice crawls around his skull. Most recently, I’ve enjoyed the parrot tulips pending outside and potted on the dining table. I’m simple enough to be amused at the idea that he could take one of my images, like the adjacent one, to his hairstylists. He could say, “Do me!”

I think if he’s going with the orange skin and hair-like-objects theme, he should display some panache.

This is a derivative theme for me. In the early 1980s, a friend and godmother of  one of our sons introduced the concept the phrase.

She is the artist who called herself Savannah, in lieu of her more painfully Southern name, Marion Francis Talmadge Etheredge. More painful was her nasty divorce. Throttled and dumped on by hubby, a few older relatives on her own side, and one of her daughters, she was poor and poorly, angry and alert.

Tall, blonde and striking, she outdid herself when she visited us. We’d moved to Boston with our first boy and she remained in our mutually beloved Manhattan. When she arrived, Boston was not ready for her in the early 1980s. She wore a black body suit and sported three colors of short hair. The not-too-worldly locals literally stopped and gawked.

She spoke about her appearance (we thought she looked great and powerful). She said after the terrible divorce proceedings she went to her SoHo stylist ripe for a real change and statement. She just told her, “Fix me!”

In this temporal reality, Trump is all bluster and theater. Does he have that much nerve?

 

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Boston choo-choo ka-ching

March 3rd, 2016 No comments »

fairmounttoot-213x300With a very jovial CYA delivery, MBTA General Manager Frank DePaola chuckled his way through good-natured insults from Boston City Councilors last evening. He was at the Hyde Park Muni building for a hearing of the city’s Parks, Recreation and Transportation Committee (alas, no Amy Poehler cameo).

It was a very Boston, very city-government two hours entertainment. We got no denouement, but yet, a promise of more bureaucratic theater. It all may resolve well.

We recently saw that with related commuter-rail matters, specifically the Fairmount line. While we rail about commuter rail, Boston is a positive legend in transit circles nationally and internationally. Our local community groups badgered the commonwealth and feds into bring service and stations on the Fairmount Line (a.k.a. Indigo Line) to the underserved largely black and poor citizens. We also pushed successfully for both more frequent service and more than 50% fare drop to a fairer fare equal to a subway trip to Fairmount Station.

Hence the committee meeting. It had the heavy-fingered title of Order for a hearing Regarding Inconsistencies in Commuter Rail Fares and the Effect of This Policy on Local Communities. It resulted from well-justified whining by residents of neighborhoods and sub-neighborhoods.

Unfair fares?

Commuter rail fares in Boston range from $2.10 to $6.25 per one-way trip. These differences relate — but arbitrarily — to MBTA zones, which only kind of tie to distance from major city rail hubs (mostly South Station). Moreover, a short walk or drive away can make that nearly 300% differential, and again, these are all within the city limits.

Then cue the Mommy-Jane-got-something-I-didn’t calls. The Fairmount neighborhood (mine) lobbied and otherwise worked the system for years go get the service, frequency, stations, and BANG! drop from $5.75 to $2.10 a trip. Readville and Hyde Park Stations, only a short distance away are still at $5.75 and $6.25 a trip. Those around them are aware that out-of-Boston stations like West Medford are at $2.10. (Insert understandable foot stomping.)

Last evening’s very civil hearing got into all of these. Three Councilors spoke their unanimous support for fare equity within city limits. They made it plain their constituents were wired about that happening.

Those who showed

Those who appeared in person and were mentioned as supporters were perhaps as telling as who did not. On the dais were:

  • District Councilor for Hyde Park Tim McCarthy
  • At-Large Councilor and Council President Michelle Wu
  • District Councilor for Jamaica Plain, West Roxbury (and Roslindale sliver) Matt O’Malley

McCarthy cited some of the legislators for those neighborhoods who supported lower fares in-town, including Representatives Liz Malia,, Russel Holmes and Angelo Scaccia, and Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz.

Note who didn’t bother, including all the Parks etc Committee members:

  • Chair Salvatore LaMattina
  • Vice Chair Bill Linehan
  • Frank Baker
  • Annissa Essaibi-George
  • Mark Ciommo

Perhaps they weren’t aware they could take the Fairmount Line and get off 100 yards from the municipal building.

Wu brought the prestige of the Council boss. She also worked the room before the hearing and captured snatches from several of us. For example, Gov. Mike Dukakis has long been a mass-transit rider and advocate. He and I both testified at a few public meetings, he was my my Left Ahead show a couple of times and we’ve even corresponded on fares. When Wu approached me at the Muni, I told her that I’d like to see the T as free with money spent on service, maintenance and security instead of fare collection, while Dukakis said he’d like a $1 trip for all. At yesterday’s hearing, from the dais she parroted that some would like free or $1 fares. I sincerely appreciated her saying that. She’s a skilled pol.

McCarthy has a pre-Council career of constituent services. He spoke of reason and fairness, particularly for the stations in Hyde Park on the two lines.

Sit-down comics

O’Malley was charming as he always is. He can out-jolly even DePaola. He said the fare issue was “a problem with a pretty simple solution, as is dropping all in-Boston fares to $2.10. “We can solve the problem and have an early night,” he added with the requisite chuckle.

Before dumping on DePaola as the T representative, O’Malley also apologized in advance. He linked the GM to a Yankee in Fenway Park, acknowledging that most commuters in  the system had terrible thoughts about the MBTA, particularly in light of the failures to operate last year in record snows (and under the previous GM).

Nonplussed, DePaola confirmed there’d be no resolution at the hearing. He pleaded bureaucrat with no portfolio. That is, he came into the meeting without power beyond listening and responding to direct questions that did not involve promises.

He cited the powers that be:

  • Governor Charles D. Baker
  • The 11-member MassDOT board
  • Secretary of Transportation Stephanie Pollack
  • I think he even mentioned the five-member Fiscal and Management Control Board

Baker is a professional bureaucrat. He knows how to wall himself off and is better insulated than a hipster dressed for downhill skiing. DePaola reveled is padding himself.

As he put it, the fares and related issues are all major policy concerns. He praised the questions and concerns from the audience as well as the trio of Councilors as “great ideas.” Then he was at his CYA best with, “We’re the troops. We deliver the service. The policy comes to us from those who make it.”

That was short of don’t-call-us-we’ll-call-you lingo, but not by much.

T probation periods

I’d add that when the Fairground frequency increase and fare decrease came, they were on trial bases. They were on six and 12 month tests. If ridership and revenue seemed to justify them, the MBTA would (fanfare for noblesse oblige) kindly keep them in place.

Apparently, we near Fairmount Station did OK. The T queen bees would still like better numbers but we passed the minimal, it seems. The irony is that they really don’t other to count, not under the old crew or the new Keolis one. Many Fairmount Line trains have conductors who do not have the time (or interest) to collect fare. Those who do grunt approval of smartphone purchases and monthly passes waved in front of them. They simply don’t count the actual number of passengers per trip.

DePaola made much of the T subsidizing commuter-rail at $4 per passenger trip, in contrast to 65¢ on the subway or trolley. We have to trust those are accurate figures and that they amount to the $200 million a year shortfall the T provides.

McCarthy noted that among the 175 communities who pay some annual fees to the T, Boston is by far the largest contributor. He contended that we deserve a break, at the least that all commuter-rail stops in city limits should have the same fare (as in $2.10).

DePaola rejoined that 50 rail stops were within the distance of the farthest Boston-limit distances from South Station, so that would be a big deal. If Boston gets that, then everyone will want it. Whaaa.

My sense of the hearing (and speakers) was that we might be headed to another, bigger trial. That might mean after more headings and sloth-like action by the T bureaucracy, stations like the four in West Roxbury and Roslindale might get Fairmount-style tests. If lowered fares bring in more riders and fuller parking lots, the T gods just might nod approving on the peasants.

 

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