Archive for the ‘Cambridge’ Category

It’s a buck, Jack

March 14th, 2014

What the hell is it with Spare Change News? or maybe their vendors? and Bostonians, Cantabrigians? and Somervillains?

For crying out loud in a bucket, as my mother used to say when she was disgusted. Buy the damned rag. Enjoy the unique content. Feel a wee twinge of compassion and humanity.

First for urbanites, if you have any sense of hipness, you’ll want to get every issue. They are rife with poetry and social-action news nobody else has or bothers to cover.

Second, it’s low output, small beer for the reward. The vendors pay 35¢ per copy out of pocket. They sell them for $1 each and keep the 65¢ per. They are working, earning money honestly. Give ‘em a break.

There is no shame in honest labor.

I seek out the vendors. In case you are fastidious or a self-righteous type, you can check a vendor’s bona fides without dirtying yourself. They have ID tags they wear on their shirt, blouse, dress or jacket. You’re doing a good thing by buying and nobody’s scamming anybody.

Third, the vendors are to a man and woman sincere and jolly. Have a few words, connect with a human you didn’t know before and be human and humane yourself.

I see folk in Downtown Crossing, Harvard Square and elsewhere scurrying like Esplanade picnickers who have just noticed a rat crawling behind the Fiedler’s head sculpture. Honest to God, Spare Change vendors won’t transfer vermin to you. Instead, you might have the most genuine interaction of the day by buying a copy.

Do it.

 

 

Mensa Muffins

October 27th, 2013

bcbskedsYesterday at BarCamp Boston, geeks abounded and were super pleasant. For those who haven’t worked in high tech, that is remarkable. Many programmers and others sheltered under the very wide engineer umbrella show off and show each other up.

When I went from tech writer and doc manager to overseeing development and QA engineers,  I experienced that in its spark and spit. Very smart young men and women in software development had to be best. “His code is crap. Mine is much better.” “Her malloc clogs the stack.” “I can write that in 121 fewer lines and mine will run much faster.”

I didn’t see that competitiveness or criticism yesterday. That is except for the brief you’re-doing-in-wrong-and-inefficiently moments. As such, they were left-brain amusing.

Take the sked board. It’s a running BarCamp joke that this is a manual operation, much like the beloved whiteboards in daily use. Each of the two days’ sessions gets a Post-it stuck to its time/location spot in the grid. In deference to modern life, the grid also goes online and nearly every attendant had and used one or more wireless devices.

Several hundred folk waited for those who wanted to give sessions to put their topic on a Post-It, get enough checkmarks showing interest to justify moving it to the sked grid. Their minds clearly were spinning, because as a couple of volunteers climbed on tables to draw precise chalk lines for the grid, the suggestions started.

First, the main woman using a cardboard template to guide the chalk was, as you’d expect, precise…a.k.a. slow. Her lines had to be this level and just so. People standing around waiting to see what they wanted to go to at 11am whispered suggestions for how to create the grid more efficiently. Then they called out their ideas.

stevemuffins

Meanwhile, more self-perceived wisdom occurred at the breakfast tables. Videoblog overlord, Steve Garfield got his version and I saw a truly efficient geek handle the coffee when it arrived.

Steve wasn’t a volunteer, at least when he arrived. He did see the many shrink-wrapped trays of muffins, croissants and such. He went to take the plastic off only to hear the guy sort of watching them announce that he couldn’t. The claim was the no one could have muffins until the vats of coffee arrived. To the sentry, pastries require pastry and that’s that.

Steve asked who was in charge and headed for them. They told him sure, get the muffins ready. Steve had figured all along that not everyone had to have coffee with their pastry.

He used his low-tech tool, his car key, to cut the plastic. Meanwhile, his mother saw a pic of the muffins and wisely informed Steve the muffins were too big, that he should halve them. So he got a plastic knife and did that. There were a lot of muffins.

The coffee arrived, three gigantic vats with spigots, and a bunch of boxes with pour spouts. Almost immediately, a long, single line formed and moved very slowly.

The engineering mind of a few geeks next to me went to work. The first observation was that the gate was at the milk. The half or so of those getting coffee really wanted hot ice cream and fixed their coffee with both milk and sugar, a slow process.

Then one 20-something acted. He could have rearranged the add-ins beyond the vats and sped up the process. Instead, he handled it much better by grabbing a box of coffee and a stack of paper cups. Calling out, “Who wants black coffee?” he went down the line. About half of those did, got a quick pour and the long line became a very short one in about two minutes.

At least two smart guys worked for the common good.

Bike Seconds, Car Minutes

May 21st, 2013

The widespread, irrational hostility toward bicycles continues. Despite the slowly growing number and percentage of Americans cycling — for fun, exercise, commuting, shopping — an astonishing clot of us have visceral, anecdotal reactions to two-wheelers.

happybikesIn fact, as a long-time marriage-equality blogger, I see clear parallels in attitudes. As surely as bicycling and same-sex marriage are the future in the world as well as this country, reactionaries hate those realities. They seem not to care whom they hurt in their process of protesting and impeding progress.

While not the time and place for marriage talk, yet another death of a Boston cyclist and in particular, a crackpot column in today’s Herald are apropos.  In our winger tabloid, Margery Egan builds from the false premise of her first sentence, “Boston’s streets aren’t wide enough for bikes and cars. It’s as simple as that.”

Of course that’s crap. Traffic studies by city, state, academicians and other repeatedly prove a little planning makes room for all, pedestrians included. The more than clever head of bike programs, Nicole Freeman, has judiciously added bike lanes, paths, racks and such where they don’t disrupt, as has her Cambridge counterpart, Cara Seiderman. Their successes are invisible to or ignored by bike haters.

The comments to Egan’s column are almost exclusively what one expects in the Herald. Some even literally wish death on cyclists, a.k.a. those who are reducing congestion by removing their cars from the road while they spin.

What’s most telling is how Egan and many comments use anecdotes and unprovable generalities to justify reckless driving and operating to endanger. You see, wrecks and even deaths are the cyclists fault because if a driver has to slow down, well, that’s what makes them go fast, buzz cyclists, and hit them.

In the real world though, those us who are multi-modal perceive differently. In particular, drivers are clearly irritated at having to wait behind a cyclist or even slow a little to pass safely. The same driver on the same roads at the same time invariably waits much, much longer behind other motor vehicles. They seem to accept waiting through one to four lights as a cost of driving, so long as it is a car or truck and not a bike ahead of them. What’s up with that?

For whatever good it does in no-blood-no-ticket Boston, such driver behavior is governed by state law, not local traffic regulation. That is on the side of the cyclists.

There is no legal justification for j-hooking or claiming, “I just didn’t see her.” Instead, read MA General Laws Chapter 90 and particularly Section 14. That includes plain command, “In approaching or passing a person on a bicycle the operator of a motor vehicle shall slow down and pass at a safe distance and at a reasonable and proper speed.”

There are no built-in excuses, like unless you’d have to slow down or except where the road gets narrow. The onus is entirely on the driver to pass safely. That’s that.

There again, what kind of denial or emotional pull makes drivers accept waiting behind cars but not slowing for a cyclist? Are they so identified with motor vehicles that they lose all reason and judgement?

There will be more cyclists on our roads. At a slower pace, there will be more enforcement, and not just at the Egans would it on what they see as crazed scofflaw bike types. It’s likely that as more drivers lose their licenses and pay big fines for hitting cyclists that they’ll catch a whiff of their responsibility.

It shouldn’t be so hard. If you were brought up right, you’d know not to put other people’s bodies and even lives in danger because you’re impatient or choose to be unobservant.

No Need to Keep Tamerlan Alive

May 8th, 2013

stonebonesWhile it might amuse those who know me to read it, I sometimes feel I lack self-control…st least in stifling myself in commenting.

I’ve been pretty good staying away from the brothers Tsarnaev matters, despite my many thoughts and feelings. Ryan and I did riff a bit on it at the very beginning of our most recent Left Ahead show, which actually introduced the Boston mayoral contest.

I can quickly get my fill of spite and bile from protesters interviewed on the news in Worcester or Boston, or if I can stomach it, reading the comments in any related Boston Herald article. More surprising have been the preemptive moves by the nearby government officials. The Worcester cops are piling (can we say pig piling?) it on Peter Stefan, the noble funeral director who has had the guts to take the body and work for its burial by saying he owes them $30,000 for doing their jobs. That is, they directed traffic and such around the protests by his establishment. This has whiffs of when the Boston police encouraged attacking the Sacco/Vanzetti corpse transfers from the North End to Forest Hills for cremation. Self-righteousness has no place behind badges and guns.

Stefan has a long career of such as burying AIDS-related corpses and those of gang-violence victims when no one else would help their loved ones in fatal crisis. He deserves respect, not reviling. He’s one of the good guys.

Then in Cambridge, City Manager Robert Healy and in Boston, Mayor Thomas Menino each preemptively said publicly not to consider asking those cities to find a burial spot. Eh? I don’t know Healy, but I do know and like Menino. Such a position is beneath him.

At least some at the Globe have a more historically and humanitarian and reality based view. Consider Adrian Walker’s column today that in effect says bury the elder Tsarnaev brother, let the story fade from the news and give some peace and a little closure to those affected. A fitting companion piece by Peter Schworm cites how other hated mass murderers, child molesters and such were quickly and quietly planted without endless public drama and ceaseless coverage.

The classic message for no rest to the wicked is holding around here. Think the multiple places in Isiah, such as 57:20, But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt.

If MA history holds, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will be convicted of the Marathon bombings, he will get life without possibility of parole instead of execution, and he will die in prison not too long away — either by his own hand or that of another inmate. That’s what we do here with the infamous and despised.

Given my classics background, my first thoughts when so many began making so much of the disposition of the corpse was to reflect on Plato’s Phaedo, describing the last hours of Socrates’ life. The philosopher had the long view and made sport with follower Crito over what he viewed as petty concerns about his corpse.

With death pending for Socrates, Crito tried to be helpful and respectful, going for the mundane details. He even asked, “How shall we bury you.” The old wag started with a joke — “Just as you please. if only you can catch me, and I do not escape from you.”

Then he got more to the point. He said not to refer to the body as Socrates. It will be just a body and not the person. Thus usual or customary disposal is fine. “You must have a good courage, then, and say that you bury my body, and bury it in such a manner as is pleasing to you, and as you think is most agreeable to our laws.”

So it is here. Tamerlan Tsarnaev died three and one half weeks ago. Only those who involve themselves in keeping him alive to the public through their arrogant and self-centered proclamations cannot let him die.

My Family Didn’t Bargain

April 22nd, 2013

Surely it’s too late to become a person who dickers for everything…or anything. I wasn’t raised that way.

However this afternoon I found myself forced at my end of a complaining phone call to negotiate. It’s damn tough for me.

I grew up observing people who haggle, which suddenly became common when I went to high school in New Jersey and later lived a decade in Manhattan. Although here living in Cambridge for a while during college, I had one chum who took her sport to the Haymarket and got phenomenal deals, matching resolve with the stall vendors.

In many ways, I envy the hagglers. I’m not clear why I can’t get over this part of my upbringing. I feel very uncomfortable where others would jump right into proposing a deal, and then enjoying the back and forth, then being ready to walk away at any moment if there’s no progress.

Today’s haggle was thrust upon me. A tub refinishing company showed up to work when I was not back from the gym yet. The $399, plus $50 for a color other than white, bid suddenly shifted. The tub tech said the residual glue from the liner needed to go to get the glaze to bond — at an extra $150. I had gotten and agreed to the bid and she felt kind of stuck. The rest of the bath rehab depended on the tub refinishing.

I called after the job and the check writing. The manager alternated between unctuous and paternal.  Ha ha ha, he called his tech, and reported back to me that the extra cleaning was absolutely necessary, it took over an hour, and that we got off lucky, at the low end of the service fee. Then suddenly, we want happy customers. And so it went, with me expressing my surprise, disappointment and anger. He said he not only had the smart-phone image, but that my wife had approved the big bump. I said $445 suddenly becoming about $600 was unreasonable and that I’d told them before they arrived and even before our bid that there was glue from the old liner, as well as that their site said cleaning was part of the operation. Back and forth, back and forth, each of us added angles and details and posits.

I continued to feel and think the fee unreasonable. Then just as suddenly, he shifted to bargaining. When we were at an impasse, he asked what it would take to make me happy.  Suddenly I was back at the Haymarket, watching Peggy at work, dickering for a box of fruit. While I normally would turn away, I did feel the discomfort but felt compelled to get some morsel from the deal.

We went back and forth a few more times, but now to force the other to make an offer. He wouldn’t, I wouldn’t. I remembered from my articles for business magazines that the first one to make an offer loses.  Eventually though, he wore me down. He had no intention of telling me what he thought would make me happy. So, I looked internally at the $150 and figured he’d bite on on the low end, $50, or the silly fee for biscuit, instead of white.

He did. We did.

That is nothing to someone who grew up in a haggling family, but it was remarkable for me. I don’t do that.

I thought of Peggy and how easy that would have been for her. She attributed her attitude and skills to being Jewish. I have come to downgrade that stereotype. I do believe it is cultural though. My tub refinishing manager seemed by accent clearly Middle Eastern. Peggy was from a German, Ashkenazi heritage. As I learned working for a Roman Catholic, German deli owner, the traits that many attribute to Jews are often common among Eastern Europeans instead, everything being negotiable included.

phsToday’s bargaining session also made me recall the only time I got shipped to my adviser’s office in my three years of high school. I was a smart ass but skilled at knowing my edges, my limits. I’d push a teacher with over-familiarity and wisecracks, but ease up when she or he tensed.

My tub guy said a few times, “I want you to be happy. What will it take to make you happy?” That put me back in history class, senior year, in Mr. Sidney Mace’s room, and my moment of ignominy.

The wisecrack that broke my three year of magic was far from my funniest or worst too. Mr. Mace (or Misssssssster Maccccccccccccce as we said for his hissing sibilants) would on occasion scold me and my best friend, who sat directly behind me in the A-B row, for talking in class. That happened often as he still lived lived his WWII personal history and that was the period we studied.

It was only three days before classes ended, we’d done our papers and exams, all we had to do was to listen to yet more stories of the war campaigns he remembered.  He hissed, “Misssster Ball, it would make me very happy if you and Misssster Blumert would stop talking.” I recall then my throwaway line, “We want you to be happy, Mister Mace.”

There was a long pause and I knew that was another safe insult. However, perhaps it was the proximity to graduation or something less obvious about the moment, but after a few seconds, the whole class of perhaps 30 exploded in joyful laughter.

That was all too much for Misssssssster Macccccccccccccccce. He in turn exploded. He ordered me to report to my adviser, Mr. Otto, the short, patient guy with the fly-away wispy hair. I showed, he seemed confused, saying he hadn’t seen me in trouble before, noting that we had only a couple of days of classes, and told me to walk about the halls until the period ended and go to my next class.

The tub guy wanted me to be happy. I wanted Mr. Mace to be happy. None of that was sincere, but everything worked out for all involved.

I bet this is not the start of a bargaining life for me though.

Boston Timeout

April 19th, 2013

Cops, the Gov., our mayor and such are using terms like “self-shelter” or “shelter in place.” They’ve locked down this city and others in area, notably Cambridge where the Boston Marathon bombers lived and Watertown where one died in a shootout with police and the other may still be hiding (or dead).

Closed are all mass transit, stores, public schools, private and public colleges, government offices…virtually everything except Dunkin’ Donuts (not kidding). I first became aware of the reach of this security reaction at a few minutes after 8 this morning. The lifeguard whistled me out of the pool, not for roughhousing, rather because the whole Y was shut down per the mayor’s orders.

fencewebbyOn one hand, this is sensible. A single fugitive mass murder is somewhere out here, likely still in the Boston area. He may have and may even be wearing explosive devices, may have hand guns, may be wanting to take out more police or civilians at his own end.

Our advice that is couched as order includes not to open our locked doors to anyone who is not a uniformed, identified law-enforcement agent. We are to stay indoors. That edict covers the 600,00-plus Bostonians and a total of maybe 2 million in the area.

I’ve read and heard much bluster since Monday’s bombings. There’s a pol writing on FB that he’d strangle this guy with his bare hands. In North Station, a Guardsman with military weapons called to a train cop that he hopes they haven’t caught him yet, that he wants to get him personally. In the men’s locker room this morning, a massive early middle-aged guy said locking down Boston was silly and unnecessary, that if the bad guy saw him, he’d be shaking and give up. Yadda yadda.

On another hand, in my decades, I’ve been through various crises here and in other communities. This likely short-lived one differs from all others in that there is no chance for real community.

After 9/11, we here knew too certainly that the ambient hum of commercial planes high overhead was replaced with the unmistakable guttural grumble of fighter jets. Instead of the frequent distant humming, we knew every half hour or so that a death machine was patrolling the Boston clouds, the very skies where two of the hijacker sets flew from Logan through on their hellish missions. Then we were in the streets, yards, offices, bars and elsewhere together. We wept together, were hopeful together, shared our fears and depression…together.

In less stressful times, in big blizzards here, we’d commiserate being without power for days. We’d pile into our streets together. We’d help each other shovel aside four or six feet of snow. We’d make snowmen, no whole snow families. We’d heap snow and ice into tall piles for our kids to slide down. Those whose stoves worked without electricity would cook. We’d share food and milk and wine. We were together.

Here today though, we are isolated. We watch TV and click the net with multiple tabs open. We look at locked front and back doors. We cancel plans. We, as that phrase would have it, self-shelter.

Monday, one of the few blessings following the horror was a combined defiance and sense of community. We weren’t going to be beaten down or cowed by terrorists.

Today, we find ourselves being safe and sensible…and very alone.

Here for the Music

January 30th, 2013

At 8 PM, the Cantab’s performance space was so quiet we could have heard a caterpillar crawling. By 9, with the opening act half way through their set, the me-me-me birds so overpowered the amplified voices and instruments it was a pantomime.

Straining to hear Hoss Power, then accepting defeat, I thought of the sighs, moans and worse of my musician friends who play in bars. I also climbed into the WABAC machine in a flash memory of when I angered a singer in a New York nightclub.

Last evening was the predictable. By 8:30, the scheduled start, the small room filled, almost entirely with 20-something college sorts. Cantab does a good deed on Tuesdays in bringing in two bluegrass bands for only the price of a passed tip hat and your swilled booze. Being cheap and bluegrass being current hipster fodder, the room, then the adjacent standing space were jam-packed.

…but not for the music.

Da utes were there to socialize and toss back $5 beers and wines. They bellowed and brayed. Some never looked up from their smartphones. A small subset in chairs closest to the stage were clearly there for the band. There were smiles and waves; maybe their were all friends of the group — a lot of folk, mostly women, with a fiddle, mandolin, two guitars, banjo and upright bass. As many as there were hip to hip on the small stage and with working mics, they were no match for the increasing chatter.

Management is used to this and surely the bar had no objections to the non-stop hand signals for another round. We drank a couple ourselves.

alina

In the big-kid world of performance halls with pricey tickets, folk who talk endlessly and in increasing volume over performers doesn’t work. Abutters and staff hush them or remove them. My muse-I-can chums assure me that’s not the way in most bars. Customers are all about themselves. The band is coincidental.

It suddenly reminded me of my own issue many years ago. I pissed off Sesame Street’s Olivia, a.k.a. Alaina Reed.

Before her long stint with Big Bird, she was already a singer and actress. Her blues were powerful and convincing.

I was single and brought a female companion for the show. I also brought my new 35mm camera (decades before digital photography). I was considerate and discreet — no flash and only a few shots. I prided myself in being considerate.

Yet in retrospect, I was different only in degree from the clods at the Cantab last night.

After her long set, she stopped by our table on her way out of the room. She looked fiercely into my face and told me  how rude I’d been. She said that the several shutter clicks had tested her concentration.

To me, the noises were so few and faint that I hadn’t considered them a problem. I immediately apologized and iterated that several times. She was decidedly not placated. She stood there and kept at it.

Surprisingly, she did accept my invitation to have an I’m-really-sorry drink with us. Cocktail in hand, she relentlessly scolded me. Naively, I had assumed that the double social lubrication of apology and alcohol would ease the anger. …not at all.

She must have told me 15 different slight variations on how difficult it is to maintain focus as the sole singer in a room and how my selfish noises had challenged her focus. My and my date’s praise for her show also had no obvious effect.

Eventually, she finished her drink and seemed to tire of verbally slapping me. She never once smiled nor showed the slightest indication that anything was forgiven.

The testiness of artistes is the stuff of legend. Alaina Reed was at once right and self-righteous.

Last night, Hoss Power’s musicians plugged away as though everyone could hear them and was listening to the music not each other. They left the stage smiling and were pretty good. No one learned any lessons from them about how to behave in public.

Different people, places and times…

 

 

Stop Sign Philosophy

August 6th, 2012

Even though their heads are muddled, their hearts mean well. When cycling and public-transportation groups chant, “Same roads. Same rules.” they do think they’ve solved the cycling/driving/walking problems.

Alas, such highly oversimplified and illogical solutions solve nothing. We can get deeper in a moment, but you might divert to read cycling scofflaw Randy Cohen in yesterday’s NY Times. The former writer of the paper’s ethics column puts a philosophical spin on the issue…from a very personal perspective. He justifies his own daily trumping of strict interpretation of traffic laws and regulations. He hurts no one and doesn’t even endanger himself by treating stop lights and stop signs as yield signs. He slows and makes sure the way is clear, then makes his own way, darn it.

Whaa. He’s cheating!

You just know that the literalists, the rules-are-rules types, will fume and perhaps send chiding emails. That is the way of the bike/ped/drive conflict. The majority of adults seem to despise, disparage or at least distrust cyclists and are quick with the hyperbolic justifications — all cyclists are reckless, running all lights and endangering everyone on the roads; all pedestrians are jaywalkers who live to imperil themselves and inconvenience drivers; all drivers obey every traffic law and rule…except maybe fudging on speed limits a tiny bit.

Unlike many European nations, we here are not ready for the physical, intellectual and emotional shift to urban cycling. We see in number of cyclists, in lack of enforcement of driving laws, and in the combined driver-oriented actions of the police, prosecutors and judges that Americans illogically and emotionally would like bikes to go away and stay in the kids’ toy class.

Yes, yes, we talk the game of conserving energy. We talk the game of reducing traffic, noise and pollution. We talk.

When it comes time to remove parking spaces to make room for cycle tracks and bike lanes, most of us stomp and wail about the unfairness of it. When we see daily what scofflaws too many drivers are, we still pretend that it’s those damned cyclists that cause the risks, congestion and injuries. The stats report, in the strongest terms, that it’s otherwise, that drivers are the dangerous lawbreakers. Yet, this is cultural and our hearts aren’t there. We’d rather point to real or theoretical bikers running red lights and pretend the problem is with others, not ourselves.

Roads and rules

Back to same roads/same rules. That’s crap. That is intentionally naive and even dumb. There are tremendous differences between cars and bikes. We can’t really set up the roads and laws properly until we become more realistic about those distinctions.

Same roads. First consider that there are numerous essential distinctions between motor vehicle and cycle roads. For example, bikes are forbidden from using limited access highways and toll roads. Motor vehicles can’t legally drive on sidewalks anywhere, even out of business districts, can’t use many designated parkways (although cops rarely enforce that even when the signs are plain that commercial vehicles aren’t allowdd) or shared bike/pedestrian paths or bike lanes or bike paths. Cyclists though can use streets and roads, even when there is a parallel bike path, and can (over the steaming objection of drivers) use a full lane if it is necessary to travel safely. The laws are OK here; they just need to be enforced to the tune of frequent, large fines for motorists.

Same rules. Here’s a huge cultural difference. Motorists in the main are oblivious to physical realities of cycling, while cyclists are or have been motorists and grok the corresponding limits and benefits. More than once, I have been cut off by or threatened by or even brushed by drivers and spoken with them. Most are truly unaware of things that should be obvious, like when a bike stops, the cyclist falls over unless a foot goes out for the pavement or there’s some skilled balancing act. Think about that as a possible driving issues. Bikes can easily go 15 to 25 miles per hours, so turning right immediately as you begin passing a cyclist is both illegal and dangerous. Bikes can stop from speed in 5 to 20 feet, while a car will go 100 feet in the time it takes a driver to move a foot from the accelerator to the brake pedal, not counting the actual stopping time. Cyclists have minimal inertia to overcome and can leave from a dead stop before a driver can being to move. Drivers behave much more sanely when cyclists leave an intersection first and the car can overtake them, otherwise the drivers don’t seem to have a physical sense of where the cyclist is and thus drive erratically.

After decades of urban cycling, I end up concurring with Cohen on the effect if not the philosophy of stop signs and stop lights. He likes to pretend that his scofflaw behavior is morally superior to literal obedience. In contrast, I think the physics and logic of treating those signals all as stop signs have benefits for all. Yet acknowledging those distinctions is what will require that cultural shifts, as they have successfully done in Idaho, even in the very citified Boise.

Consider:

  • it doesn’t take much time or distance for a cyclist to stop or get moving again
  • cyclists can clear an intersection in a small fraction of the time it takes a driver to get moving and get across
  • drivers are very uncomfortable leaving a light at the same time as cyclists beside them
  • drivers are comfortable and seem to feel in control when they overtake and pass cyclists ahead of them
  • motor vehicles are heavy, fast and deadly; they are aim-able weapons
  • silent bikes can startle inattentive pedestrians but by physical reality and by stats are far, far less likely to hit much less damage a person or vehicle

So rephrasing the simpleminded chant is limited. Think, “some of the same roads and many of the same rules.” That demands too much thinking for ordinary folk, particularly the literal minded. It is a potential big education issue and process.

Yet, that’s where major European cities and countries have arrived. We’re far from that though.

More bikes for more awareness

Many biking advocates say repeatedly that when there are sufficient bicyclists commuting and recreating on the streets and roads, people will get it. Drivers and walkers will begin to pay attention, both for their safety and those of the cyclists. A few U.S. cities are almost there, but most are quite a ways off. If preponderance is what it takes, we may be several decades away from drivers and pedestrians taking personal responsibility, as well as the chain of enforcement bring the hammer down on feckless, reckless folk. That, of course includes cyclists, although stereotypes aside, they are far from the most frequent or most dangerous offenders.

Meanwhile, skilled cyclists will likely advocate for Idaho-style sensible laws and acting out their personal versions of them. I doubt many will do the situation ethics justification that Cohen uses, but the effect will be the same. Maybe a few drivers will realize how good it is that those pesky bikers are out of the intersection where they can keep an eye on and pass them. I suspect that many more will have the puerile attitude that someone gets a privilege they don’t. There’s not a lot of prevention or cure for that sort of childishness. It will come with changing laws, the eventual matching enforcement by cops on all concerned, and that distant future of lots of cyclists.

 

 

Plays Close, Kind of Close, Kind of Far

October 17th, 2011

We like theater. Three recent variations made us clearly aware of the range. We enjoyed them all, which may make us theater sluts or in kindest terms omni-viewers.

Consider, by proximity:

I confess here and now that despite terrible accents in one and niggles with all, we had a fine time at each. That surely puts us in the easily amused category. Far worse can be said of many people. Transient happiness lies in real-time enjoyment.

The fundamental difference among the experiences speaks to the range of stage available in cities and smaller places with colleges and artsy types. Here’s a pitch to find out what high-school, college, community and professional theater is within a walk or drive. Much like school sports can be exciting (and affordable), local plays often put you next to the action. Praise the intimate.

I got this Jones in my decade living in Manhattan. Then as now, there was more theater, Broadway, Off-Broadway, Off-Broadway as well as public and academic, than anyone could possible attend. It was from free to a few dollars to pro-basketball-game-seat cost. Some was wheezing repertory, staged for those who truly need the familiar. Some strained so hard at cleverness, vulgarity or innovation that they were unwatchable. The vast majority please this promiscuous play guy.

So it was here on a spectrum of those three, with professionalism climbing with increased distance and neighborhood density.

Nearly everyone has seen versions of Tennessee Williams’ Cat, likely on stage as well as screen. This was at a long-time, often struggling community theater in Logan Square, which itself has a history of stagecraft back to when this area was part of Dedham. A new managing director seems to bring a greater vitality and higher ambitions, but it still fits the mold.

Most of its repertoire is predictable and some old. That, frankly, suits most theater goers. They don’t want plays that will strain them culturally or intellectually, thank you very much. Like repeatedly visiting the same restaurant and wanting the green bean side to taste exactly how they remembered it, they don’t see theater for adventure, but more for familiarity.

Yet, Cat here was good. Big Daddy and Big Mama actors had lots of credits and the younger major roles like Brick and Maggie were acted by folk who’d been through BU’s drama school. No talentless child of a producer stunk up the stage.

With the Southern heritage in this house, we were distracted by the bad accents. Yankees often don’t get Deep South anymore than Midwesterners can do Revere or Southie sounds. In Cat, though, we found Nora Hassan as Big Mama to most credible here. Regardless, it was good theater. We also sat at a table a few feet from the center of the stage — like a command performance.

Praise the intimate

To Central Square, it is our plug-in replacement for NewRep and very, very different. Back when the Newton Repertory was in a church in the Highlands, we loved the adventuresome choices and staging. An early delight was Moby Dick: An American Opera of a decade ago. It was ambitious and challenging to the actors and audience, memorable theater. We tried to transfer our allegiance with our subscription when this one moved to Watertown. Alas, they are glossy suburban pap now, hiding anything innovative in a wee room downstairs.

We get our main theater fix now on Mass Ave near Brookline Street. They do avant garde, mix in an MIT-pleasing tech one, and have highly experienced Equity actors. Even the Hound was highly updated and played effectively for comedic value.

Here too, there are no bad seats in this small theater. It’s the size of many Off-Off-Broadway ones in NYC. It’s like a Spinners game where you’re practically on the field. Because they mix ‘em up and do stretch, it’s as satisfying as NewRep used to be.

Then down to Broadway, that’s expensive (list maybe $150 instead of around $25 per seat) and it’s big in every sense — production, actors, even theater size. Of course, you can find hackneyed drama and particularly musicals in the three levels of New York theater. However, there are always dozens of innovative productions. Unlike the trial or retread runs cities like Boston get in their wee theater districts, NYC is like London in variety and newness. It’s big business there.

We got into previews of The Mountaintop. It was about 90 minutes of Samuel Jackson and Angela Bassett non-stop. The young playwright, Katori Hall, created a fantasy of MLK’s last night alive, replete with a foul-mouthed maid who turned out to be a messenger angel. It more than stretched credulity. We went with the conceit and throughly enjoyed it.

By the bye, the 10/24 New Yorker will have a  John Lahr review. He loved the ending oratorical and visual extravaganza that I found the worst part. He called the angel premise “preposterous,” seeming not to understand the nature of fantasy. In this weekend’s NYT, already online, Ben Brantley wanted more end-tying-up. He concluded,  “I certainly bought Mr. Jackson’s Dr. King as an ordinary man for much of the play, and I felt a spark of Dr. King-like divinity in his rousing climactic oratory. What I didn’t feel was how one side made the other possible. That would require a fuller, more intricately developed play than Ms. Hall has begun to provide here.”

We must be easier to please. We appreciated Hall’s inventiveness. We applauded that play and the other two — each for what and where it was.

This is to urge you if you have forgotten the joys of theater, get with the program.

John Lahr in the 10/24/11 New Yorker preposterous. Well, it is a fantasy
Ben Brantley in the 10/13 NYT http://nyti.ms/qqsFRm
Both sides of this dichotomy are presented, at least symbolically. I certainly bought Mr. Jackson’s Dr. King as an ordinary man for much of the play, and I felt a spark of Dr. King-like divinity in his rousing climactic oratory. What I didn’t feel was how one side made the other possible. That would require a fuller, more intricately developed play than Ms. Hall has begun to provide here.

Horrors of Local Theater

September 18th, 2011

A universe of two does not lend itself to science and analysis, unless perhaps it’s two galaxies. Instead consider the pair of local plays fraught with physical anguish and disappointment.

Our neighborhood group, the Riverside Theatre Works, has staged Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. The Central Square has a lively, comedic version of The House of the Baskervilles. One was delayed and one postponed in process for emergencies. Is this a trend?

We have tickets to Cat, but were not there on opening night. A neighbor involved in the RTW told me yesterday that she was there as usual and for the first time ever, the production halted while an audience member was hauled away. She had some sort of episode that required an ambulance. The show stopped for about 40 minutes. One wonders how much sultriness made the transition.

Today, we were at Hound when we returned from intermission, I with a cup of coffee. The first hour was a surprise delight. It was vaudevillian in its physical comedy and great fun with the too-familiar Conan Doyle lines. Three actors play 16 characters, generally with the one off-stage suddenly reemerging with a wig and dress or cloak to add another part. There was a lot of running around, climbing on sets and what we’d call zaniness in earlier TV sit-coms.

Right before the break, one actor flipped the stage lights on and came out yelling that there really was something back there that bit him, and calling the other actors by their real names. Such switching clearly set us up for the second hour.

Yet, 15 minutes later we returned to blinking lights and the stage manager telling us that one of the actors hurt his ankle so badly that he could not continue. They’d take him to the emergency room. We’d get an email offering us a choice of another performance or a refund. Really.

She had to convince us. Given the parody on stage, this seemed like just another gimmick, like the ones that had worked so well for the first hour.

So there you have it. Two plays in September interrupted by physical crisis. What’s the odds? Do you suppose we’ll ever see the second half of Hound?