Archive for the ‘Suburbs’ Category

Greenway within Grasp

August 31st, 2011

Hail to the many who have worked for the better part of two decades for a Neponset River Greenway! Within two years, the biggest missing piece will be complete. Citizens, engineering sorts and bureaucrats alike have ‘er done.

I joined what looked like a little over a hundred in the Foley Senior Center on River St. in Mattapan last evening for another quenching trip to the well. You can grab the straight coverage and a link to the presentation at the Dorchester Reporter. You can also search at that site for excellent past coverage on this trail.

The short of it is that after many meetings and laborious compiling of complaints, suggestions and comments of Milton, Mattapan and Dorchester abutters (and numerous whiners, loudmouths and cheerleaders), the final plan looks like a winner. A large majority apparently love it. It moves from conceptual drawings to engineer docs that can aid in getting the federal money for the project as well as giving the nitpickers and Myers-Briggs S types something to hold and come to terms with happening. They are now figuring that completion of a link from Central Avenue into Mattapan Square for a ped/bike path will happen by the fall of 2013.greenplan

Click the pic for a closer view or go to the presentation for it and the earlier schemes. Key aspects are that it starts at the existing path at Central Avenue, runs between the trolley path and river, crossing from Milton to Mattapan on a new bridge by the Ryan Playground, then curves on the north of the river to a new ped/bike bridge over and around the trolley terminus and into Mattapan Square.

This came after five previous plans. After the public meetings and private comments, which the presentation recaps in concepts and numbers, the latest plan seemed to placate nearly everyone.

I came for the details, but left with a felt sense of the democratic skills involved, particularly the the DCR folk in managing a prickly, often nasty process. While he was quick and frequent to spread credit and praise, the diplomat in chief seems to be Jack Murray.

The DCR Deputy Commissioner for Park Operations is unfazed by the hostile, NIMBY and unfair-to-me types. Even at this largely jovial celebration, several dissatisfied folk spoke out and up, without rattling Murray. He’s been though a couple years of rough democracy on this and kept his cool and his smile.

In fact, several of the pols who attended and chimed in their praises (Sen. Brian Joyce and Reps. Linda Dorcena Forry and Russell Holmes) called the process out for its amazing transparency, flexibility, and outreach. There was passing mention of the contention involved from the beginning, and nothing but kudos for a thoroughly open process — perhaps an inspiration for the larger government, ask I?

Murray was also charmingly coy about the MBTA. It refused to allow an at-grade crossing for the trail, leading to among other expensive problems, a ped/bike bridge at Mattpan station. Murray just smiled and said “We love our sister agencies.”

So it’s worth nothing the residual complaints that bring up what the DCR and the many others involved overcame. Last evening lacked the whiffs of racism and classism noted in articles about earlier public meetings. A few of those seemed to mirror the fears that kept Weston from allowing an extension of the Minuteman path. There was only one of those last night, and of course Murray handled that well.

Despite the round praise for the proposal, one resident still wanted her say, there and in some private meeting. It was a wonder to hear. She said the trolley runs behind her house and the bike path will. Her concern was that cyclists would jump the fence and do something nefarious on her property – to her possessions or daughter. Hearing that it doesn’t happen, not in Boston or Lexington, and that bike paths add light and witnesses, making areas safer was not enough. She didn’t seem to notice that she undercut her argument by saying she feared the same of the nearby trolley. The fact that this has never been a problem did not deter her. She wanted some kind of meeting with state officials and not a public one. Meh.

Toward the end of the question-and-comment period another resident tried the it’s-only-a-start ploy. He’s surely sadly mistaken if he supposes something with this much pubic input and accommodation awaits his brilliant revisions and a restart.

Otherwise, the niggles were indeed niggling. People were pleased at the result and particularly at having been listened to. They could see their suggestions, complaints and fine-tuning before them. The Neponset River Tail Phase II is rolling right along.

Deacons Who Deviled

August 28th, 2011

Churches are scary places with scary people. Having observed or been involved in the polity and politics of them from childhood into membership and onto chairing committees and boards, I have long outgrown the idealized world of Godly sorts doing good.


None of my direct experiences equals the wanton assault on Canton, Massachusetts’ first minister, Joseph Mors (a.k.a Morse).

Biking South of Boston, I passed the main Canton cemetery many times. I toured once, finding the really old stuff on the far Southwestern corner next to the UU church. The more recent focused trip included enjoying the 18th and 19th Century New England iconography. One that caught me was Mors’ three-skulled stone.

It turns out that with good reason there’s considerable history available on the late minister. His is a tale of caution for even modern clerics.

Consider his epitaph, including:

Within this silent grave here now doth ly,
Him that is gone unto Eternity.
Who when he liv’d was by good men respected,
Although by others was perhaps rejected;
Yet that done hinder his Triumphing Joy,
With saints above where nought can him away.

I couldn’t leave that. Thanks to long-dead local historians and Google’s digital books project, I didn’t have to.

As background, what is now Canton was in terms of religious governance part of the colonial town of Dorchester, a.k.a. New Grant or Dorchester Village. Mors was the first minister there, for a decade from 1707. Subsequently, this became part of Stoughton, which seemed promiscuously to hand it pieces of itself to neighboring towns. The area where the town of Canton, including its main cemetery are, broke off in 1797, with what seems like whimsical name, suggested by macher Elijah Dunbar, on the approximate belief that it was exactly half way around the globe from the Chinese province of that name.

What Could Go Wrong?

Ministerial careers were much less linear in the colony than today or for that matter in England at the time. While Mors, born 1671 graduated from Unitarian founded Harvard, he started as his education suited, as a teacher. In Providence, he and another teacher, Amity Harris, wed. They moved to Watertown, MA, where he gathered a congregation as well as taught. The locals built a meeting house, but never got the church organized. Then in 1707, he got an offer from the future Canton, then New Village, to settle and preach.

All started out swell, and in fact, from other sources, it turns out that The Morses were both die-hard teachers and pretty open minded. The local Natives, the Ponkapoags, welcomed both of them.  They “were well loved by the Ponkapoag Indians, who appreciated the couple’s efforts to educate them and bring them spiritual comfort.”

Life was rough for all and this was a period of various epidemics as well. The Morses gave religious and school instruction, and Joseph ministered to the Ponkapoag families.

Yet, it was the demon deacons, and not the Wake Forest ones, that undid Mors.

As the astonishingly and fastidiously detailed Huntoon history of the town put it, “In those days the office of deacon was regarded with very great respect…” The ones at First Parish were maybe worse than others, it turns out, bringing charges of “false doctrine” against the new minister. “The deacons considered themselves as umpires on matters of doctrine, and, letting the greater part of the sermon slip by without interest, were on the alert to detect and remember the slightest dogmatical inaccuracy or unguarded expression which in the hurry of composition might have escaped from the pen of the minister.”

Whole Town Watching

Snidely I must note that had the locals and deacons lived in our days of sports teams and cable TV, they might have had more if not better concerns and distractions. As it happened, when the deacons were charging Mors, it was a big deal.

“This charge, preferred by one of such high standing and authority in the church, was a cause of much alarm and difficulty. Meetings and fasts were held concerning it, and the communion was suspected for more than six months. Finally, the church voted that they were not dissatisfied with the pastor on account of the allegations brought against him.”

The deacon then backed down. The minister was cleared. From our distance of three centuries, we’d suppose Mors won and was untouchable. Ha!

“The disaffected only awaited an opportunity for a fresh attack; nor was it long before an occasion offered itself.” Upon the request of local Elhanan Lyon “who seems to have been a thorn in the flesh both th Mr. Morse and his successor” was on a committee of the General Court (legislature) and called Mors before that committee with accusations.

This in turn was like a Bill Clinton thing. If you have the interest, read all of the pages of this section of Huntoon for the nasty details. The short of it is that Mors was tripped up on alleged lies. Lying being flat out for ministers, at least at the time.

The underlying issue is that some unnamed person claimed that Mors got tipsy at a dinner party in Canton. Then, when grilled about it, he said he did not overindulge. Hence, those after his scalp, and likely still angry about being rebuffed in the earlier vote of confidence, said he was lying about it.

So the minister was twice tainted, alleged to be a sot and liar. The Dorchester Village council met on the issue a few times. When it came to a vote, by a single one, he was judged unworthy of continuing his ministry.

To little effect, another council meeting of nine churches censured everyone, “requiring them to acknowledge their faults to each other.” By this time, Mors was dead in the pulpit, figuratively. The lasting stain on his was that, like Clinton, he was permanently known as a liar, or as one in the council wrote later “guilty of designed false speaking.”

Again from 304 years distance, it’s impossible to know whether in the mind of the locals it was worse that Mors might have had a glass too many or that he refused to admit it.

He lived out his remain few years in the town, but not as a minister. He had an offer to preach elsewhere, but did not accept it.

Church Traps

I know a lot of  clerics, all of whom have political tales. They tend to note there’re folk in every congregation looking for trouble. They also say congregants and sometimes staff members can be willing to seduce them. Both perils could get a cleric shipped away.

I can recall the first church feud I was aware of when I was 8 or 9. In a large Methodist church in the South, the minister’s wife ran the church in many ways. She disliked the excellent organist/choir director, perhaps because he was very popular among adults and kids alike. She was determined to oust him, which came with time constraints in those days. Methodists were in a given church for only three years before reassignment, in the tradition of the circuit riding John Wesley.

She tried to stir up animosity and got only a little traction in accusing him of this or that. Eventually though, he got real tired of her sniping and attitude. He got an offer to tour Europe as an organist and snapped it up, going on to relative fame.

In other churches, I’ve seen worse. Consider the downtown Boston UU one where I revivified the personnel committee and then ran the board for a couple of years. Two key staff members, each with her own constituency went head to head and rumor to rumor in competition for resources and congregant affection. Staff meetings got so contentious, replete with shouting and tears, that the senior minister stopped holding them and met with one member at a time.

Neither would give a millimeter and each said she was the primary reason congregants came…and pledged. The implication was if they left, the church would collapse. It was ugly, but at least no one was trying to ruin the career of the senior minister.

The devilish duo were so intractable that I finally accepted that they had to go. I convinced one that she wasn’t ever going to find what she wanted there and to look for a larger, better paying church. The other had included me on her hit list and tried to get me removed from both committees.Instead. my personnel report on the problems convinced her that she too was not going to have her way. She and her rich hubby left in a huff, moving from Boston, and prophecizing doom for the church without her talents and his money. Nothing like that occurred and she was easily replaced with a rational and pleasant person.

My minister chums note that many who work at or attend churches are both emotionally needy and feel that being there gives them righteousness points. Regardless of the motives, the Godly places can be ungodly nasty.

Honor Partially Paid at Camp Meigs

July 19th, 2011

Sterling rhetoric, but tin foil action has been the sporadic focus on Boston’s Camp Meigs. I trotted down this afternoon and confirmed that there is little local glory for the Glory Brigade.

meigsTwo months ago, two Globe contributors, Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki, raised a weak huzzah to the sub-sub-neighborhood historical site. They called, meekly, for a second Freedom Trail, which would include this 2.8 acre neglected locale in the Southernmost part of the Southernmost part of Boston.

That’s pretty much been the norm since 1866. The eruption of honor appeared in 1897 across from the MA state house, in the form of the Robert Gould Shaw memorial. While the gigantic relief piece shows the African American soldiers, the monument in art and name is of course for the white commanding officer. The all-black 54th, 55th and 5th are fairly extras in their drama, typical of the time.

Maybe 10 miles South, they drilled and prepared for war, the first fighting forces of black men in this country. In what was Dedham and became Readville/Hyde Park, the camp was the focus of the training…not that you’d know it now.

A visit just below the Neponset Valley Parkway doesn’t make you hum patriotic tunes. Sharing a large rectangular block park, the Camp Meigs site is the smallest portion of a basketball court, softball field, kid’s playground and tennis courts. Where you see the green circle I overlaid on the Google map above, is the evidence. There’s kind of an open ground where the small group of reenactors and educators occasionally sets up. They also take their depiction on the road, including in Boston.

There is a cemetery size and style stone and and an embarrassing fake cannon. The miniature, concrete cannon has graffiti. The stone is OK, with basic-facts on front and a Frederick Douglass quote from 1863 on the back. The latter reads that once the black soldier is outfitted for war “…there is no power on earth or under the earth which can deny that he has earned thie right to citizenship in the United States.”

That’s a start.

Warning or Promise: I had a good time reviewing the ancient HP publications that included Meigs coverage. I’ll do more later this summer on conditions during the Civil War, food, gear and such.

For a wider view on Camp Meigs, I prefer the tone on an address by a D. Eldredge given in 1906 to the Meigs Memorial Association and the Hyde Park Historical Society. (Search for Meigs in the linked text to read it all.)

Let me say that Hyde Park may well be proud of its delightful suburb, proud that so historic a spot is an integral part of the town. Proud may the dwellers at Readville be, for here, beneath our very feet, nearly fifty years ago, thousands marched up and down and upon this plain. The rattle of musketry, the bugle’s blast, the rat-a-tat-tat of the drum, the clanking of the sabre, the neighing steed and the roar of cannon became familiar sounds.

meigsmonumentHere the very flower of the youth of this good old Commonwealth of ours gathered themselves together as a mighty phalanx. Here they learned the art of war, bade fond mother and father, or wife, the sad good bye and marched away. Thousands never came back; other thousands perished upon the battle-field, or in the hospital or the dreadful southern prison. Yet other thousands of the wounded and the sick were sent here to the hospital that they might be near to those they loved and that they might be tenderly nursed.

May these memories, these facts, be kept green, and may the Meigs Memorial Association slack not its hand, but see to it that this and coming generations who make their homes here shall know that this is historic ground, that here was the largest military camp in New England, that soldiers went forth from here to a war such as no man had ever seen.

The land itself turns out to link to the artifact Paul’s Bridge. That farmer, Ebenezer Paul, was surprised by men from the MA governor’s office squatting on is land and, “It is related that the first that Ebenezer Paul knew of any designs upon his land as a camping ground, was his sudden discovery one morn of two or three men sitting under one of the long rows of elms, a few of which are now standing, and his cows gazing upon them with interest.” Supposedly he got $300 a year rental for it.

After the war, he sold his whole farm for $20,000. The local Dedham Gazette editorialized, “”We had hoped,” said the editor, ” that the ground would have been consecrated to some public purpose.”

It was, in a weak way, on July 4th, 1903. There was a splash first. The ceremony had speeches, a commissioned poem, drum rolls and such. A former soldier from the period, Augustus S. Lovett, Esq. also spoke. His rambling and personal address included near the end:

To all these 25,000 or more martial spirits we dedicate this scene of their first soldier days. Long may the cannon preserve their present peaceful positions! Never may the time come when the Star Spangled Banner shall cease to float over this consecrated ground, and may children’s children to the latest generation swell the chorus of the Union saved, now and forever, one and inseparable!

Over a century later, the wee park dominated by playgrounds and a portable toilet may not fulfill that hope.

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Bad, Worse, Worst, By Cracky

July 13th, 2011

Dig in the cliché bag. You don’t have to go far to find, ta da, that no one can afford to live in Manhattan.

My recurring chuckle on that emerged after reading a humor piece One of the Grumpy Old Men of the Blogosphere. As he writes, “I walk around smacking the young folks with my cane and tell them that when I started blogging seven years ago it was a different blogosphere than it is now.”

Thus it is on so many topics, including NYC.

A few weeks ago, number one son considered another job, moving from Davis Square. One of the company’s options was California and another 200 miles South. He commented that Manhattan, where he was born and lived his first six months, was far too expensive.

Where’s my cane?

Truth be told, residents of the City have told that truth for well over a century, like Bostonian love to brag about ephemeral weather. Even such visitors as Mark Twain spoke of that, as in 1876. Before the pop term meme, pride in the mercurial weather was conversation filler and marginal assertion.

Let’s set aside that over 1.5 million live in Manhattan, over 8 million in the five boroughs, and over 18 million in the metro area. Let’s pretend that they all moved there decades ago, “the last time the area was affordable” or that they inherited a rent stabilized flat.

If that’s not enough to kill the cost fantasy:

  1. Compare NYC prices to other high-rent/ownership cities
  2. Ask old, long-term locals

I got my first lessons in this shtick in the 1960s, when I was in high school about 20 miles west in New Jersey. Having moved from exurban Virginia, I was ready for a real city and thrilled to be there. For a small bag of dirt (under a buck, really), a bus would drive into the Port Authority station. I was a regular.

Many other students were afraid to go and had parents who refused to let them take the bus to see the larger world. I think of one of our class trips, to visit the United Nations, when a teacher asked the captives how many had been to Manhattan before. I thought that had to be a stupid question and that surely 100% would raise a hand. Under half did, including my seatmate, who said his father had been last when he left the Army there after WWII ended, over 20 years before. That dad found it dirty and did not feel safe, so he and his family had sat 22 miles west all those years without the museums, shows, restaurants, and wowsers, the energy of Mahattan.

I was all over the 14 miles of Manhattan and much of all the boroughs, with limited Staten Island time beyond the ferry and a few near-dock spots. I promised myself I’d live there after college, and did for a decade. Even as I moved to first the East and then West Village, people all around me who somehow managed to afford living there said no one could afford to live there.

Circling back to the cliché and grumpy old and young people, I have heard it at least hundreds of times, maybe thousands, each with great assuredness. The discussion comes in two flavor:

  1. New York used to be affordable, but no longer is
  2. People have always said it used to be affordable, but no longer is, so blah blah

While Manhattan is way down the list in overall expense worldwide (maybe 32), at the moment it does top the U.S. list. Oddly enough, it’s not that far beyond the next four — San Francisco, LA, DC and Boston. At various times, it has not been at the top.

Of course, housing prices, which reflect desirability, are the largest driver. Moreover, the results for many residents are skewed in favor of the big five cities by income. Employers, particularly white-color ones, compensate staff to adjust for higher prices, bringing the real expense down.

Forget the mitigating factor though. The fun part is that for over 40 years, I’ve heard the same loony rap about unaffordable Manhattan. I also have met long-term New Yorkers who are more rational and less emotional about it. They don’t feel the need to chant no-one-can-live-here-anymore at the least provocation.

Instead, the observant and experienced say they too had heard that from much older, longer-term residents and know it’s jive. Sure, you pay to live where the vitality, personal, business and artistic, is. Yet millions have, do and want to. Let the cliché ricochet around the room or vehicle. It’s boring, but harmless, plus it keeps the easily daunted away.

Those millions manage. They just have to want it, not be afraid and make it work…by cracky.

ID’ing Fans by Ear

June 15th, 2011

stompFrom our times living in Charles River Park, I don’t miss hockey nights. We did get to have a dawn party when they imploded the Hotel Madison (formerly the Manger from Frank Sinatra and Beatles eras). We could see every kind of transport — the Constitution, the Green Line, 93, the streets, and planes leaving Logan for Europe.

We were also next to the Garden. From the 9th floor of Hawthorne Place, on the Garden side, we knew from the sounds what had happened a few blocks away.

Concerts — Maybe they were doped up or blissed out from the music, but they were calm. They’d leave the garages and just slightly increase the hum and roar of traffic.

Basketball — Celtics fans left in clumps if one team was well ahead as was the norm. There’d be some impatient honking, I’d guess suburban types feeling inconvenienced by hoi polloi.

Hockey — Ah, we knew for sure when it was a Bruins night. There was garage rage, whether the home skaters won or lost. Much honking was interspersed with screeching brakes, audible collisions, obscene screaming, and occasionally what sounded like gunshots. The terms rabid and fan seem to go well with hockey.

We don’t hear any of that in Hyde Park. I suppose the Mayor a short distance away does not either.

My Glasses Are Yellower Than Yours

June 11th, 2011

I thought I had yellow glasses before (see here). I did not, but do now.

My aesthetic contribution to my son’s recent wedding was springing my new specs. They were obvious to all, as I solemnized the event and stood before the assembled 70.

Several of the groomsmen, bridesmaids and guest commented, typically, “Nice glasses!” As the occasion was in the arboretum, perhaps I fit with the flowering trees.

I consider myself relatively clothing and accessory conservative…short of glasses. For previous jobs requiring neckties, I was wont to reps and such, the dull stripes of the timid. It has been my wife who bought me the well received Tobasco-themed, red with black Chinese characters and such.

Yet, getting glasses in the third grade led me to despair over the dreadful sameness of boys and men’s eyewear. Back to us boomers, but still through today, by what they are offered and what they choose, males tend to boring spectacles. Behold the men with tortoise shell, black, brown, wire rim and similar yawn-producing and nondescript frames, all about us.

Not I.

Particularly for the past three decades of lucking into a similarly eye-adventurous optician in Boston, I’ve had fun with glasses. More men should.

Eyes of the Beholder

I think of a big meeting of the Society for Technical Communication. I had my previous pair of yellow frames and got lots of compliments from women. My group was the people who write computer manuals and such, not famous for artistic statements and appreciation. Two men commented separately that they too were daring with eyewear. Each had wire rims, one with a gray frame instead of black, silver or gold, and the other with a frame where the wire did not cover the bottom third or so around the lens. I can’t say I was overwhelmed by their daring.

Let’s be plain. Particularly on the East Coast and more generally in the U.S., men don’t get a lot of glasses choices. You can verify that by walking into an optician and comparing the racks of women’s and men’s sample frames. Even if you ask for catalogs, there’s not much beyond earth tones and a bit of metal.

My guy Len Shwom though understands. On  the advice of my NYC insurance agent, when he visited us after we moved here, I tried Gopen Optical three decades ago when he and his father Sydney were in Chinatown. It turned into a family affair with my wife and three sons getting fitted.

Sydney is gone and Len moved the business to Dedham Square, but he remains far more flexible and innovative than any of the chains. Len is kind of a Clark Kent of opticians, with superpowers and surprises all the time.

Same Old, Same Old

Len appreciates my eagerness for a flash of excitement in the necessary. Indeed, isn’t that appetite what keeps us from leading the same tedious day over and over again?

He has confirmed what I heard from chain opticians — colorful and innovative man’s frames are available widely in Europe and a little on the West Coast. The manufacturers and vendors determine who will and therefore who can buy what and where.

Len has long been a frame magician or elf though. I’d come in for a new pair of glasses and he’d beam. He’d squirreled away several frames he’d picked up at shows and conventions or stumbled on in catalogs. He’d also help me track down new colors and materials. We’ve had me in red plastic or metal, green metal, and truly funky black metal sunglasses frames.

In fact, that may be the key to a guy who wants to kick off the mundane. Think sunglasses.

Foster Grant, Ray Ban and others made both sunglasses and prescription frames. Pop out the darkened lenses and voila, prescription specs!

He also tells me first that his father was very customer oriented and would say, “If a second customer asks for something you don’t have, you’d better get it.” Second, just having frames like mine on the rack inspires men, if not that far, at least to avoid the most clichéd choices.

My garish yellow frames are surely outre for many. You needn’t go from milquetoast wires or dull plastics to mine though. There are lots of interim steps. Visit any site that specializes in frames or the manufacturers’ sites. Don’t limit yourself to the prescription pages.

A decent optician or my great one can set you up. If you’re thinking mid-life crisis, a few hundred dollars for some funky eyeglasses are a lot cheaper than a sports car or lover. They also come with out parking charges or jewelry bills. Plus, you can put them in their case whenever you want.


Twice Favored by the MBTA

March 25th, 2011

Harrumphing aside, and despite what my sons might say, I am capable of praise as well. On this week’s zoom in and out of NYC, the Boston T met its skeds and delivered me on time to and from the farthest reaches of this city.

Cynicism would note that I have been reduced to cheering this lumbering, sputtering, bureaucratic service for doing its job. Indeed, there are many reasons why I prefer going by bicycle in the great wheel and on its spokes from Winchester to Wellesley to Stoughton. It takes less time for me to bike from the bottom of Hyde Park to Davis Square for example than to drive or depend on bus/trolley/subway combos. Of course, as a skinflint, I delight in it being far cheaper.

Ah, though on pre-dawn Wednesday, the scant and silly Fairmount commuter rail options worked perfectly and on Thursday night, the equally spare and precise hourly buses from Ashmont to home dovetailed exactly with the Red Line from South Station. Perfecto.

The grousing on Universal Hub of late for delayed, cancelled, vomit-splattered trains, and those with surly staff is understandable. We have a fair mass transit permeation here. So many of us are carless or choose not to pay for commuting, shopping and hitting shows and shops in parking, time and space seeking that we are virtually captive to the T.

Regular readers here and at Marry in Massachusetts know I eagerly await the Purple Line. We can skip or slide the half mile from the top of Fairmount Hill in the bottom left of Boston to the often dilator commuter rail. Its sked is plain silly, with only a few morning runs into town, no weekend service, and a mere two evening returns from South Station — 7:30 and 9:40 — totally in the wrong times to see a show or have a decent meal.

The new sked supposedly within a year will give some choices to the tens of thousands of largely middle class and poor, many of color, who are far from the Orange and Red Lines and who have heard and seen the rare commuter trains roll over and through their neighborhoods with no stations and no service. Also, there’s a fair chance the fare will finally drop from $4.25 to a subway $1.70/$2. That’s fair fare for areas in Boston when many farther stops North and West have long been the subway cost.

Enough carping. Let me note that the T did me right:

  • The 5:51 a.m. arrived at 5:51 at Fairmount and hummed me into South Station in plenty of time to bolt on Bolt for Manhattan.
  • As a bonus, three of us guys got driver Dan who looked and sounded like an off-season Santa, who named our ride the Ship of Good Cheer, who took pictures of us, and who was highly skilled even in the narrow chute of the Midtown tunnel.
  • On the return, traffic in the Bronx into Connecticut had us running behind. Many fretting teens with texting thumb tics whined into their iPhones as did the inane middle-aged guys, constantly updating their families at length about nothing of action — their exit or whether they had the right cell number to call in four hours when they arrived in Boston. Blah, blah, drone. These folk must also need nightlights.
  • We arrived at South Station at 8:33 p.m. and the hourly bus from Ashmont left for my house in 27 minutes. Miss it and the half-hour ride to within 100 feet of my front door would turn into three times that, either with a Red to Orange Line, then a 32 bus to Cleary Square and a 15 minute, mile-plus walk, or waiting for the Mattapan trolley and likely walking the two plus miles in the dark up the wet road. Worse can happen, but those are not what I would seek. The option would be the kill an hour in or near South Station and take the last Fairmount train.
  • Instead, I hustled like squirrel in front of a feral cat. I galumphed the many station stairs, skirted the Atlantic Avenue side, and careered three floors down to the outbound Red Line. Within three minutes, the Ashmont train arrived and made good time to its terminus.
  • Both the South Station platform and the bus shelter on the other end were full of passengers. My trip was fully orchestrated as though all awaited me.
  • The 24/27 bus was nearly full. It is an hourly show after all. I arrived at figurative curtain time, took a seat and enjoyed the brief play. Even the passengers getting on covered with huge snowflakes seemed cast in a musical about Boston in winter.

Praise to the T…and to fortuitous timing. I appreciated jolly Dan on the ride down as well. Mass transit and cheap buses worked wonderfully. May all of my and all of your commutes and special trips be so blessed.


The Good Kind of Sap in the Blue Hills

March 13th, 2011

Maple sugar days in the Blue Hills seems a seasonal surprise year after year. Our bodies and minds may know better but we associate sap collection and syrup making with the fall. Don’t try to convince the maples of that; they insist on making lots of new sap ever spring.

It’s been a few years since we visited the Brookwood Farm just east of Houghton’s Pond for this annual event. We did it again today and a few of my snaps of it follow. Click on a thumbnail for a little larger view.

It’s very New England and simple fun. In warning, if you truly hate small kids, don’t go. I don’t show them here other than a straggler on a vintage tractor, but the big field there was rife with kindergarten and primary lads and lasses, squealing, using hula hoops and such. This is for adults and wee ones. There’s hot dogs, hot chocolate, popcorn and such for purchase and a mini-greenhouse let people leave with a few flower seeds in a plastic pot ready for germination. You would get more here for your $6 than at the early-bird showing of a typical movie.

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Visit and learn that any maple can make sap usable for syrup. Unsurprisingly, sugar maples have the highest concentration in the sap. The buckets hand on spiles (taps) driven into drilled holes. Each can collect up to 15 or more gallons and up to 50 gallons are needed to produce each gallon of syrup. The cover minimizes the leaf, bark and bug residue.
Maple sugaring is about the only agricultural technique (maybe other than tossing a fish with seeds for fertilizer) that the Native Americans taught the Colonists. They did not have metal pots and went through elaborate evaporation rituals like one reenacted for this festival. Drop hot rocks from a fire into a pit of sap in a log to reduce the mixture. Hey, no TV, video games or internet, and there was time for lots of productive activities. sugarrocks
sugarpot The Colonists shortened the cycle with pots to precipitate sugar from the sap. Another reenactor does the easier version.
The sugar hut at the farm is one of the fancier ones available. Many only get about two or three weeks of use a year and are just shacks. This one is in it for the long haul and is the demo kitchen for the festival. The large evaporator inside uses wood fire. sugarsmoke
sugarinside The open roof vents keep the smoke and steam from filling the room inside the shack.
Demonstrators by the Leader evaporator explain the process, show the many colors of syrup and answer questions. The palest (or fancy) A grade syrup comes from the first sap. Residue in the equipment produces darker syrups, down five levels of As to B, which is much earthier and some think better tasting. You can use a deeper sap pan and cook it longer to get the darker version as well. Visit the shack to sample the day’s production. sugarevaporator
sugarjam Outside, the Sometimers performed acoustic folk music. A dozen played for a couple of hours.
Nearby, a lumberjack sort showed log chopping and rough work in making huge beams. Here, another woodworker sat and guided adults and kids through shaping techniques. sugarwood
sugartractor The kids seemed most interested in crawling all over a couple of small antique tractors.
As befitting a farm, a few imported animals hung about. A couple of chickens were in a coop and two very wide rams lolled in the sun — they were wearing wool after all. Here, DCR horse Mike was available for petting. sugarmike

Flat Out XC from Milton

February 4th, 2011

The Burma Road trail in the non-hill Blue Hills hiking/cross-country skiing route. The uxorial unit was inspired by the DCR XC brochure (art below lifted from this). Its wee description of this is:

Skiing from Fowl
Meadow Parking Lot
Located at the intersection of Neponset
Valley Parkway and Brush Hill Road in Milton
Burma Road
4 miles (2.5 hours) Easiest
This long, level course through the wetlands of the Neponset River is nearly a straight line, terminating at Interstate Highway 95. Easy terrain but a lengthy route. Great
for endurance-building and diagonal stride practice. Start
behind the bulletin board and follow the trail to the beginning of Burma Road. Ski to the end, at Interstate 95, and

Skiing from Fowl Meadow Parking Lot

Located at the intersection of Neponset Valley Parkway and Brush Hill Road in Milton

4 miles (2.5 hours) Easiest

This long, level course through the wetlands of the Neponset River is nearly a straight line, terminating at Interstate Highway 95. Easy terrain but a lengthy route. Great for endurance-building and diagonal stride practice. Start behind the bulletin board and follow the trail to the beginning of Burma Road. Ski to the end, at Interstate 95, and return.

xcbluehillsIndeed it is very flat. It also runs through what must be marsh and meadow on each side, planted with trees. We kept waiting for the hills, as we are used to in the reservation. It has the feeling of the Cape Code Rail Trail instead. Yet, it was a workout by its length.

We also got to play a bit of Holmes too. One skier had been through before us today, followed by a hiker with a dog.

The latter pair was clumsy and messy. For the first mile of the trail, they tromped and excreted on the ski tracks (an unfavorite of mine). The dog was prolific, wet and dry, gold and brown.

The skier was more intriguing though. The tracks were close together and shallow, suggesting someone slender with narrow hips and light, perhaps 100 pounds or less. The pole basket holes were not far from the tracks and close together, suggesting that she had narrow shoulders and likely short arms.

We appreciated that she had blazed the trail, so to speak. After the first mile the booted one and canine companion headed off and back, leaving a decent track for us. On the way back, our tracks made the route even faster.

I’ll do that again. Also, while it’s not on Ranger Tom’s Suggested Hikes, I’m sure we’ll try it in the warm. If it isn’t too marshy and buggy, it should be a fine adventure and nature gawk.

Ick Factor on Groupon

February 4th, 2011

In a first, Groupon’s offering creeped me out this morning. The offer from a plastic surgeon and the accompanying image seemed straight out of an SNL skit.

pointyThe deal was a choice of three body mods from Dr. Seckel in Concord, apparently DBA Boston Plastic Surgery Associates. So what will it be:

  • 50 units of Botox®, a $300 value for $175?
  • 3 laser hair zaps, an $800 value for $129?
  • 1 high-intensity pulsed light removal of broken veins and such, a $450 value for $129?

The model is disturbingly unnatural and in strong contrast to Brooke Seckel (below). She looks like she could easily poke a hole in a sugar maple with her chin. She is proof that you can be too thin and surely comes by her looks through surgery, extreme dieting and makeup.

In fairness, I see that Seckel got her pic from his Botox supplier.

roundIn contrast, the guy with the needles looks like the fellow ahead of you at the buffet. He clearly doesn’t go for Botox either.

The offer is billed as a “med-spa treatment,” which doesn’t even begin to describe it. The florid wording underneath gets it on, including:

Dr. Brooke Seckel…is a medical Ponce de Leon, immersed in a perpetual quest for age-defying noninvasive and nonsurgical therapies to keep his patients budding and boisterous…Patients can also punish their naughty shampoo-stealing pelts with three laser hair-removal treatments on either the lips, chin, sideburns, front of neck, back of neck, underarms, feet, hands, or ears…All prospective baby faces need to call ahead for an appointment.

Honestly, I’ve grown to enjoy Groupon deals. The ones I typically buy are for restaurants and travel. There’s no reason vanity treatments shouldn’t find their audience. We’re not among them.

There are those whose wrinkled glabellae upset them. How terrible it must seem to wear a furrow between your eyes that makes you look like a thinker. Others use the word “unsightly” for any stray hair. Here’s a deal for them.