Archive for July, 2009

Lackaday, No Bike Cops

July 31st, 2009

Sunny weather and a jolly convoy from the bottom of JP to City Hall Plaza marked today’s Bike Friday. The missing element was the toy joy of having bicycle cops lead the convoys from neighborhoods and burbs.

There’s one more such event this year, August 28th. Check the site for convoy routes and times. When you arrive, expect too much free food, plus one to two dozen tents of bike organizations. Several bike shops will check and lube your bike on the spot for free too.

Mayor in his elementOur new well inculcated in cycling Mayor Tom Menino loves this stuff. He claims to bike daily at 5 a.m. from his Readville home in the Hyde Park neighborhood. In our Left Ahead! interview, he couldn’t restrain himself from talking bike either, adding that he wish he had started cycling 20 years ago.

On Bike Fridays, he show and talks and walks and shake hands. Today, he  glad-handed all comers.

Alas though, we were missing those bicycle cop escorts described in a previous post. City Bicycle Coordinator (a.k.a. bike czarina) Nicole Freedman told me this morning that they were a casualty of budget and rules changes.

She says that the city bicycle police are no longer allowed to cross district lines. That makes leading a convoy even less than 10 miles from, say, Readville logistically impossible.

bpjolly.jpg

Number two son and I rode in from the start of the start of the Lallement Bikepath along the Southwest Corridor. Doug Mink led about 20 of us into town. It pleasant enough and there was camaraderie to spare. However, no cops leapt off their bikes in intersections to keep us safe. No one had lights or sirens on his bike.

I shouldn’t whine. To most of these bike events, I’m too impatient to wait for and then stay with a convoy. I bike into downtown all the time and it’s quicker and more direct to tool on in solo.

Going at the slow pace was nice today. Several impatient commuters on bikes rolled past and greeted us. Every year I ride around town, I see more of them. I believe Menino and Freedman when they say that we are slowing getting momentum to turn our town into a cycling one.

OM.

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Who’s Bridge — Hyde Park?

July 30th, 2009

Okay, okay. It’s time to roll around in Hyde Park’s local history. We seem to be about to move from one Boston neighborhood, Jamaica Plain, to this other one. The task isn’t hard.

HP went from farmland to housing with some industry. It was the last Boston neighborhood annexed (1912). It doesn’t have many historical sites or landmarks. While there are numerous nice houses that belonged to non-famous people, only one building features in the Boston Landmark’s printed flyer (not online) on Hyde Park. Christ Church (1895) was designed by the same architect who planned the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Manhattan.

The local historical society doesn’t have an online presence. You need to trot to the HP branch of the public library to read up on the area. Otherwise, during the U.S. Civil War, the first black troops (the 54th Regiment) trained in HP. There’s a memorial, but no other evidence of Camp Meigs.

However, there is  a bridge.

There’s much talk about Paul’s Bridge. Even on the recent Neponset Greenway ride, the leaders mentioned it. However, they didn’t point it out, much less lead us through the trees to see it.

I knew it was roughly at the very bottom of Boston, that is at the very bottom of Hyde Park. I saw from internet searches that it was along the Neponset Valley Parkway. I saw mentions that it had been part of Stony Brook Reservation (now north and west of the Parkway. So why wasn’t I seeing it?

The image in the Landmarks brochure shows a grand stone structure with three  elegant stone arches. How could I miss that?

Paul’s BridgeYesterday, I set off on a long bike ride, including the initial task postively ID’ing Paul’s Bridge. To my humbled amazement, I had likely passed over it many hundreds of times and never paid attention. It’s as though nature and the city had conspired to hide it. Even its landmark sign is in overgrowth, off to one side, and drab brown against brown tree trunks.

First, about the name. That’s a mundane tale too. The area had the habit at the time of applying large landowners’ last names to bridges. Simply, the Pauls owned the biggest farm nearby.

From the flyer, I learned that the 1719 wooden bridge linking Dorchester, Milton and Dedham wore out and was replaced several times. It was Paul’s Bridge by 1784. In 1807, an update combined stone abutments and a wooden roadway. In 1949, Thomas Hollis Jr. of Milton built a stone version, without mortar, just using fitted stone. In 1930, landscape architect Arthur Shurcliff redesigned a version wide enough for auto traffic and with stone parapets on top.

So, that sounds obvious, eh? Not so fast, city slicker.

The bridge that I had driven over many times and cycled over many more — I’m fond of Blue Hill and Canton bike rides, is there, but submerged by geography and botany. Head east on Neponset Valley Parkway, either were Hyde Park Avenue curves at the bottom or off the southern end of Truman Parkway. Just before the right curve in the road at Brush Hill Road, you passed over Paul’s Bridge. So there.

Paul’s Bridge closeThe topping stones are short, under three feet. More important, you see asphalt and fewer than one arch.

The too subtle sign may be obvious from the running path, but not from the road, even at cycle speeds. It is on the southeast corner of the crossing.

Then if you bushwhack a little  on the south side, you can make out the arches over the river. You can cross the street to the north side to get a little better view. There is a beaten path down the steep incline with slightly less obstructed views.

Pic click tricks: Click a thumbnail for a larger view. If this opens in the same window, use your browser’s back button to return.

house plaqueThis would be a better sight either from a canoe or at winter without all the foliage. Yet, it’s attractive and looks historic.

In fact, there is little history involved at all. No poets commemorated  important crossings or battles there. There weren’t any. It reminds me of the brass plaque on the front of my current house.

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Healing Spinners Brotherhood

July 28th, 2009

Barry and I are messes, but we’re working on it. He has a newish hip and I have that leg with the titanium bolt knee to ankle.

For a couple of years, we were just middle aged guys who saddled up on bike-like objects in spin classes at the West Roxbury Y. There and then, Dulce, Wendy and other perky sorts cranked out the rock music and choreographed our sweat sessions.

To be candid, after taking spin for a couple of years and teaching it for a few more, I find these classes sort of sissy. My first spin leader was the legend, the martinet, Marta Weinstock. While she went on to drop the h from Martha and become a yoga goddess, she was the best and most demanding at spinning. When I got my Power Pacing certification and started teaching, I carried some of her philosophy, including, “If you didn’t leave a puddle under your bike, you weren’t working!”

That was at a FitCorp. I’ve never taken a class at a Y that was anywhere as tough as hers…or mine.

Regardless, any flavor of spinning is great cardio and something we older guys can do without grinding the knees or ankles. Many of the same of us men and women would show up before 6 a.m. three times a week to do our do.

A couple of years ago, maybe three, I was bike commuting to tech-writing contracts in South Boston. I didn’t go to spin. I had the exercise, plus the adrenalin of trucks and cabs chasing me in Boston traffic twice a day. Then I broke a wrist when a pickup driver jumped a light and knocked me off the bike. I was commuting in a cast a couple of weeks later, but still not back in spin classes.

More seriously, this year with my broken leg — and walker, crutches and cane for months, I was in no condition even though I’ve been unable to find contract work in this recession. So I was surprised and a little ashamed in mid-April when I looked over from my stationary bike in the gym to see Barry.

He and I had spent a lot of hours on nearby saddles, up down, up down, sprint. I was pretty feeble then though. I had just returned to the gym after six weeks crippled, four of those eating hydromorphone (opiate analgesic) for pain.

 Two Lame Guys

The idiot, scripted physician’s assistant from Harvard Vanguard had told me by phone that healing would be better if I lost some weight. Her brilliant and repeating mantra was eat less and exercise more. I initially asked sincerely what exercises I could do when I used the walker and could barely stagger from bed to toilet. She said (ta dah) eat less, exercise more. She only had one answer.

At the Y, the staff was concerned but of little help. They said I’ve have to wait, that there weren’t any classes or equipment for the likes of me.

It turned out to my delight that they were very wrong.  I cruised (ha, figuratively) the machines rooms to discover the SciFit arm machine for physical therapy. Then I found that I could use the crutches also to thump over to rowing machines. So long as I left the leg in the cast on the floor, I could use that. Both were slow and painful, but they made me sweat and breath hard. I cranked up the resistance and time settings on both.

Finally, eight weeks after the break and surgery, I thumped over to the Expresso Fitness stationary bikes, resting my crutches on the floor. They used to be so easy, but it was all I could do to hoist the bad leg over the saddle with two hands and keep my balance climbing on. I was slow, dog slow, and with tears from my uvea.

It was from that vantage a month later that I saw I was sitting next to Barry. We were each out of context for the other. The spin room was maybe 50 yards away by the entrance and where we knew each other.

By then, I could sort of bike. The maddening, taunting ghosts of rides from when I had two working legs haunted me. Yet the ankle had finally loosened enough that I could push the pedals. An actual bicycle seemed long off in the future though.

Barry could one up me though. As we compared sad tales of absence from spin, his story was more powerful than mine.

He had heard speculation in the locker room (no one asked me or the staff) that I had been in a car wreck or a ski accident. Falling on the sidewalk lacks the flair of those.

He on the other hand got a replacement hip the previous August. It did not work as advertised. He doubted that he’d ever be able to go to spin class again. Moreover, his wife had been quite ill at the same time. While she healed, he was not driven to his own concerns.

It happens that several gym rats I didn’t know by name had eyed my progress from walker to crutches to cane to limp and from SciFit to Expresso. The staff too was fairly effusive, praising the various advances and supposed speed of transitions.

The surgeons meanwhile were glum, even grumpy. I had a one-month and then a nine-weeks follow-up, with x-rays and indifference. In the hospital, the head of the orthopedic trauma department and his residents had a hearty chuckle at my bedside when I asked, “When can I get back on a bicycle?” In the follow-ups, the surgeon and residents did not openly ridicule me, but all but one were not helpful or hopeful.

At nine weeks, the head of trauma for Partners thought it over and figured September, but added that I wouldn’t feel like riding until maybe December (just the month you want to hit the streets on two wheels after 10 months off). However, his young resident is a cyclist and had a different answer. He said despite the pain and stiffness, there was no physical reason not to start…slowly and cautiously…as soon as I could balance. He eased another concern, saying I shouldn’t have trouble kicking out of the pedal clip with my SPD shoes, despite the fact that the fibular bottom was still in tiny pieces.

Barry and I see each other regularly at the gym, but not yet in spin classes. He says he sees me as inspiration, because I push the recovery so hard and clearly did the physical therapy and more. He adds that since his wife is better it’s his turn to take care of himself by imitating me.

I’m not often a role model. It’s painless, as the expression goes. Now Barry tells me I’m his inspiration to do his exercises. He thinks when I go back to spin, he’ll try.

Except for the worst weather days or when my wife and I can go to the Y together, I bike to and from. I do various machines and weights while there. When I do the Expresso bikes, the ghost may or may not beat me, but I’m just old-man slow now.

My message for those recovering from a broken leg or something similar is to push it. Don’t get emotionally involved with the pain, just think about what you want to be doing and do it. In my case, it was the puerile delight of a two wheeler.

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Euterpe Visits Lowell Again

July 27th, 2009

We were in Lowell literally as the muse of music was figuratively, yet again. Saturday was into our second decade of annual visits to the Lowell Folk Festival.

Actually, the first one we went to was 23 years ago, when it was for that one time the American Folk Festival or something similar. Since it has been the LFF and remains the nation’s largest free folk festival.  While the city has a grand (and inexpensive) series of other concerts, plus the restaurants and parks and Spinners, the LFF weekend is artistic altruism for all at its best.

This blog and Marry in Massachusetts have snippets and pix from some previous versions. In hopes to inspire the ignorant or inert, I can cite a bit about the one just past.

My candor gene is overly developed. I won’t pretend this was the absolute best LFF we attended. A few acquainted us with extremely talented and moving musicians. This version was merely wonderful. We did have unforgettable  musical moments and did find performers whose music we feel compelled to buy. If you didn’t go, I bet you can’t report on any comparable joys over your weekend.

As frequently happens at this festival, I had a problem and a blessing. The biggest problem is that so many promising acts appear at the same time on six or so stages, that picking one for that hour is wrenching.  Some are easy — my wife will head toward bluegrass and I toward blue. For both of us, others are much more difficult in picking folk we know or styles we like that conflict.

The blessing is stumbling into a session that is brilliant and thrilling. That happened Saturday when I went to a song-style workshop. Honestly, I figured if it ended up too academic or slow, I was within a couple of hundred yards of the other stages and would hop.

It was a mixed, maybe motley, group with soul singer Trudy Lynn, one of the throat-singing Tuva guys from Alash, the gospel quintet Brotherhood Singers, and honky tonk fellow Sage Guyton. Each was to describe and demonstrate how they used voice styling. Did they ever.

They got my attention early on as they began to interact. Under the emcee’s urging, they harmonized on Amazing Grace, all except for the Tuvan. Immediately after, he showed that he had taken the unfamiliar and made it his, transposing the tones and rhythms to throat singing. As in the vid on YouTube from Leroy743, he carried on with it. Moreover, to end the workshop, all the singers jammed on Shake, Rattle and Roll.

A few other posts on the LFF will follow here.

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Bellies and Fatheads

July 20th, 2009

Talk to someone else about the glories of the BMI. I know that the near-universal body mass index instead might stand for bull measurement for idiots.

A splendid explanatory piece on it appears in Slate.  Jeremy Singer-Vine’s Why doctors won’t stop using an outdated measure for obesity. details how BMI came into being and particularly how it come to substitute for any semblance of science and observation by so many doctors and other medical professionals.

I won’t go into those details. However, the punchline is that it is absurd to use BMI in individual cases, be they a school child or an adult. BMI can be a pretty good societal indicator of the general fatness level of the population, but folds immediately into irrelevance for any given person.

Dividing someone’s weight by the square of his height for large groups is a fine general indicator. The variations in somatotypes, as well as percentage of heavy muscle and light fat, produce comical BMI judgments. Many athletes in top condition come out as obese in BMI. Many trim-looking sedentary sorts measure healthy by BMI but have low muscularity and organs surrounded with unhealthy fat.

Yet, as the Slate piece so well illustrates, we love simple and quick answers…that particularly includes primary care physicians. Woe to any of us who try to lose or gain weight to match a height/weight chart or the slight variation that is BMI. You can sicken yourself by either flabbing up or having your body eat away excellent muscle mass to make the numbers.

Yet it is easy to understand why a doctor or nurse would fall back on a BMI for a patient. How tall and how much you weigh is easy and the scale is likely in the examining room. You can churn out a bunch of patients quickly, make your quota and seem to have done some science. That’s all without wasting any time with meaningful measurements or observation or diagnosis.

Truth be told, most medical professionals are far from nutritional experts. Their sparse training in the field is comparable to a minister’s business work in divinity school. They learn on their own or not at all. In fact, those of us who read newspapers and pop magazines stand a good chance of knowing more about the field than someone who has to keep up on all the diseases and the pharmacopoeia of symptom treating/non-curing drugs available.

Doctors should certainly know more about diet, exercise and body fat than they do. Yet, they are under tremendous pressure to bill visits and not to take extra time with each patient.

It makes more sense to me for them to pay attention to patients’ bodies when they palpate or listen to hearts and lungs. Their trained eyes and hands can get a fair sense of fat levels, fairer than a BMI.

body fat reading

Moreover, every examining room should have a body-fat monitor (a.k.a. body-composition analyzer). Percent of body fat is vastly more meaningful and useful as a diagnostic tool than BMI. Plus, the monitors as used in fitness centers, plain old Y’s and by physical therapists are inexpensive, in the range of a stethoscope and cheaper than the ubiquitous scale.

A long time ago, I got a scale that measures weight as accurately as my wife’s balance beam model. It has a body-fat function at the same time, customized for your age, height and build. Fortunately, I also had bought a hand-held fat monitor too.

When I got the titanium rod in my leg, it messed up the fat measurement from the scale, which sends electrical pulses up the legs. Apparently 14.2 inches of metal in the leg disrupts that process.

The hand-held monitor provides results in the same range as the old caliper system.  Importantly, measuring those pinches of fat in numerous places is very time consuming, more subjective, and only provides a range after all the trouble. Whether the fancy ($50 to $100) or less so ($30 to $50), these body composition analyzers are pretty accurate, more consistent than calipers, and give readouts in seconds. As with a scale, using the same monitor at the same time of day in the same way is the most accurate way to go.

Slate‘s article headlines with the question of how BMI stays popular with docs when it is pretty much meaningless for individuals. The simplest way to describe it is that it is down-and-dirty easy. It’s fast and comes with a spurious air of authority. Doctor and patient alike can pretend it’s real science.

Meanwhile come physical-exam time, if your doctor won’t give you a body composition analysis or is lazy enough to diagnose your condition using BMI, speak up.

You should own a BF scale or monitor anyway. You can show up at the next physical with a printout of your readings for the preceding months. It can only benefit you and other patients for the doctor to know that you expect a real and meaningful measurement before heading home to tweak your body and stay healthy.

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New-ponset Greenway

July 16th, 2009

There’s a lot shaking on what will be the Neponset River Greenway, but boy, it’s raw now. We toured a portion by bike last evening and were favorably and unfavorably impressed.

Resources:

  • Boston Natural Areas Network events calendar is here.
  • The Greenway Festival brochure is here.
  • The MassBike description of and links to what’s going to happen is here.
  • The BNAN version (with more accurate links) is here.
  • The master plan for the greenway is here.

The ride was a conflict for me. I really, really wanted to do the Wild Edibles Walk at Allandale Woods BNAN had scheduled for the same date and time. We have enjoyed that urban wild and its great stone wall already. “Join Russ Cohen, expert forager…on a two-hour ramble…identification of at least eighteen varieties of edible wild plants, preparation methods, and guidelines for safe and environmentally responsible foraging” was enticing.

I wanted to do both. Moreover, my uxorial unit wanted the bike trip. She rarely bikes and had never gone on a major road, Hyde Park Avenue in this case. The preponderance of the small weighed most heavily. inset of greenway

Twenty or so of us ended up with three leaders — Candice Cook, BNAN’s program coordinator; Paul Schmiek, short-term Boston bike czar before Mayor Menino’s cycling conversion; Doug Mink, urban biking fanatic and unrepentant hippie sort. Mink was the designated leader, but he has neither the voice nor extroversion of a tour guide.

Pic trick: Click the thumbnail for a larger view of the greenway master plan. This is a subset of larger one, available here.

Through no fault of BNAN or Mink, this was like a hike with Daniel Boone over a sort of wilderness with a bright future. The vision of those who have long advocated these bike paths and mixed-use trails is moderately contagious. If you were expecting a version of the completed Cape Cod Rail Trail, you would miss the point and be deeply disappointed. This stuff is in the works or coming, but not today and not tomorrow.

We tooled around for about 10 miles, pretty slowly. That included busy streets near and by the river, broken pavement and potholes typical of secondary residential sections, an obstacle course of orange barrels and Jersey barriers, and not an inch of what anyone could call a bike trail.

Yet, even we jaded types used to Boston bike bluster can see some of what’s sure to happen. Along Brush Hill Road into Truman Parkway from Mattapan Square into the bottom of Hyde Park (see inset above), a long section has a mixed-use path under construction. At the curb will be a five-foot dedicated bike path…for those speedsters who terrify families with their Spandex-aided breezes.

That should finish this year, but only southbound. The neighborhood, says Mink, is not yet ready to give up any parking on the northbound side. (By the bye, we are likely to move from JP to HP soon and I have been biking the area, including the northbound Brush Hill route. It’s busy but certainly no scarier than biking main drags in Boston, which I do all the time.) Mink noted at several points the silliness of Boston and the state together not being able to coordinate these efforts or do the obvious, like designated bike lanes on the roads to complete these projects and keep everyone safe.

In the end, even with Mink mumbling to one end of our group, he was a welcome aid. I have biked by parts of last evening’s route without seeing the short-term and mid-term visions. It looked like roadside rubble. Other sections were brand new to me and I didn’t know you could sneak down a side street, carry the bike a few yards over curbs and end up wheeling beside the river.

I now believe this will happen and that this greenway will be family friendly for strolls and slow biking. Like so many of the Boston-area bike projects, this one is stuck out there, largely isolated from both other cycling/walking futures and the larger city. Yet, this is another neighborhood that will benefit. Plus, this is the Neponset River Greenway and they are building it not coincidentally where the river has always been.

Good stuff this and my wife found the trip exhausting but thoroughly enjoyable.

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Aged Giant for a Buck

July 14th, 2009

For those of us who worked business and trade magazines, BusinessWeek‘s disgrace will take come adjustment. In today’s Financial Times is a little piece on the bottom of a page about McGraw-Hill shopping the once dominant book for $1.

bweak.jpg

That doesn’t have the emotional pull to many, not as powerful as daily newspapers collapsing. Yet to me, it’s as striking in its way as a car maker going down.

For a couple of terms, in the business press, we tend to refer to:

  • book, which outsiders could call magazine
  • property, which non-publishing sorts would call a book
  • trade magazines, generally monthlies or weeklies devoted to specific industries like construction or restaurants
  • business magazines, which can cover trades but tends to be more financially and managerially oriented, like Inc. or BusinessWeek
  • editor, on a magazine can mean that, but generally senior editor or such means a writer who gets more title than money

I worked them all. I did a big handbook for McGraw-Hill (for corporate directors), was on the staff at Inc. and Management Review, wrote for computer and electronics pubs, as well as construction and materials handling ones. I began to know BW folk when I worked at the New York HQ of Conover-Mast, which Boston-based Cahners bought to triple its size.

BW is where writers hoped to go to get lazy and overpaid. Several from Conover-Mast ended up there when Cahners tried to move our books to Boston and Chicago. Some writers went to the dark side, public relations, but most scuttled back ashamed later to return to trade or business press writing.

The Conover-Mast books tended to have a rivalry with equivalent McGraw ones, and sometimes titles from other houses. At Construction Equipment, where I worked, we tried to catch (and successfully passed) Construction and Highway and Heavy Construction in both ad pages and revenue, as well as writing awards.

I worked for a great writer, John Rehfield, who inspired us to greatness in our little trade maggy ways. He was a civil engineer, but he was both enormously funny and a facile writer. He was an astounding anomaly in a field where most editors know their business but have a terrific problem putting that knowledge into intelligible words. In fact, when John offered me the job, I asked why. I had come out of newspapers and the only construction expertise I had was as a carpenter’s helper for two summers in college. That brought a big laugh as he put a hand on my portfolio and waved his arm toward the editors beyond his office. “You’re a writer. I can teach you anything you need to know about construction. I can’t teach an engineer how to write.”

When Cahners moved CE to Chicago,  I stayed in New York with the energy and publishing. Many Conover-Mast writers found other companies as well. A few ended up at BW. While I never had much interest in a job there, they sure did like the money and prestige of sailing on McGraw’s flagship.

And now, any one of them could buy the big book for a buck. It’s circulation is still over 900,000, but ad revenues have plunged with other print media’s and it loses money…ever week, as the expression goes.

It’s had a great run. I think of comparisons such as Digital Equipment Corporation. Some might say DEC failed as it went from mini-computer giant to subset of Compaq and then HP and then to nothing. I say despite founder Ken Olsen’s stupidities about personal computers and other blunders, DEC paid a lot of salaries and shareholder dividends for decades. It was successful for most of its run, as has been BW.

Like Greek myths, such tales can be sad. The Titans and heroes have their flaws or lose out to the next generation. Maybe it is better to turn to Latin — sic transit gloria mundi..

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Grafitti Demigod Sent Off Chuckling

July 10th, 2009

The free spirited draftsman disguised and self-packaged as an artist, Shepard Fairey walks among us again. Lackaday, he can no longer carry wheat paste in Boston…for two years at least.

After another overblown display by the local constabulary and prosecutors, we were back to where we (and I specifically) predicted in March. He pleaded guilty to a couple of graffiti-related charges, the others disappeared, and he paid a $2,000 fine.

That’s what should have been done at the time and he was willing. Instead, true property destruction continued unabated by others, to say nothing of violence. It was a classic Boston moment, reminiscent of the Mooninites. It’s good theater; I just wish it wasn’t the kind of comedy that keeps the rest of the country chuckling at us.

Over at the Herald, the usual suspects did not waste any time calling for his long-term jailing. So far, there haven’t been any calls for castration or corporal punishment, but it’s early yet.

As the other daily puts it, the punishment for the California resident is:

..a plea deal that will prohibit him from carrying stickers, posters, wheat paste, brushes, and other tools of the graffiti trade while in Suffolk County for the next two years. Under the arrangement, Fairey pleaded guilty to three vandalism charges and must pay a $2,000 fine to one of his adversaries, Graffiti NABBers for the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay.

In a statement, Fairey apologized to the citizens of Boston for “posting my art in unauthorized spaces without the consent of the owner.”

In other words, the rich commercial artist who might have no plans or reason to be here for the next decade is out $2,000. We have every cause to believe that the hoo-ha our civic protectors caused has generated many times that in poster, print and clothing sales. It’s the local prosecutors who should have cut a plea bargain — for a percentage of sales.

Cross-post: This also appears at Marry in Massachusetts.


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Boston Firefighters Smother Wee Blaze

July 10th, 2009

How many firefighters does it take to douse a small triple-decker fire? You can choose eight trucks full or just enough today.

fire localeAround 1 p.m. on the tiny Carlford Road at the JP/Roslindale line on Hyde Park Avenue, response to a 911 call brought eight trucks, three police cars, and two fire commander SUVs. They were ready for anything and apparently didn’t mind coming for very little.

Amusingly enough, with the firefighters missing their overtime pay under Mayor Menino cutting back (brownouts, as they have it) on subs for those calling in sick, there were no shortage of jakes and supervisors.  It was somehow comforting, as had it been a real fire, the cheek-to-jowl wooden houses there and on the avenue could literally have been toast.

fighter watching

outfitted firefighters

I sweat in long-sleeves on sunny warm days like this. These guys seemed plenty jolly enough in their boots, super gloves, heavy suits and oxygen tanks.

Pix Trix: Click an image for larger view or go here for the Flickr stream, including the house in question at 6 Carlford.

The operation was a little over an hour, with more time devoted to repacking unneeded hoses than setting up. These guys are very efficient at getting to the task at hand.

Amusingly enough, on the corner of HP and Carlford is one of those huge Flaherty for mayor signs. The firefighters didn’t seem to notice.

Southbound traffic on HP Ave. diverted through Woodbourne, a twisty little neighborhood whose non-rectilinear layout seemed to befuddle local drivers. (Where next? How the hell can I get out of here?)

The elderly residents across the street at the Woodbourne Apartments, as well as the passing teens on their trick bikes all seemed to enjoy the show. No one seemed overly disappointed at the lack of flames and smoke.  We saw what skillful drivers the jakes were to make U-turns on HP Ave. or to back up a ladder truck a block past parked cars and other red trucks.

Hand-Me-Down Crutches

July 9th, 2009

Prosthetic setLooking at the hospital bills and the BC/BS payment statements, I was somehow less shocked by the tens of thousands for the surgeons as the hundreds for aluminum leg aids.  The deep surprise was when I could foresee no longer needing the walker, two crutches and cane. To everyone, it seemed, these are disposable.

That’s not the way I was raised.

The folding walker, delivered to the hospital, was about $125, the crutches about $70, and the cane $30. In terms of my treatment, those were negligible amounts. In terms of materials and labor, that’s substantial. Thinking too of the many for whom such expenses are huge, I could not believe in our time of alleged awareness of the environment and the great recession that we would send those to attics or landfills.

The usual suspects — Goodwill, Boomerangs, the Red Cross and the hospitals themselves couldn’t be bothered. Everyone, his niece and grandfather had crutches. No thanks.

As my mother would have said in exasperation, “For crying out loud in a bucket!”

Finally, deep searching on that good ole internet led me to someone else who couldn’t believe the waste…and who did something about it. I called, got the OK and was happy to drive six miles to Quincy this morning to deliver my almost new gear for redistribution as needed.

The quiet hero here is Bruce Ayers. I spoke with him briefly by phone and hoped to see him when I dropped the aids off there. He was likely doing his other business, as First Norfolk State Rep.

His business is Ayers Handicap Conversion Center.  They adapt vans for those with disabilities. They seem to share the building with a family auto-body complex, Ayers Collision.

The woman in the office said he recognized the need about 13 or 14 years ago. He began collecting, maintaining and redistributing my kind of gear…for free…to those who need it. This obvious, simple and sensible solution should be commonplace.

Ayers’ company site has some humble mentions of his service, like here.  The town of Quincy supports and sponsors the program now. That is likely no coincidence, as Ayers was a city councilor there from 1992 to 2000, before his 1999 election as state representative.

Those with my style aids, wheelchairs and such can use the online form to set up a contact or call  617-722-2800, extension 8818. Apparently they’ll pick things up in the Quincy area, but I think it’s nice to drop it off for them. They do everything else.

It bothers me use disposable razor cartridges. The idea of tossing a walker, crutches and cane was too much. I’ll hoist one to Bruce Ayers. I’ll also ask my district City Councilor whether Boston, the hospital center of New England, doesn’t need to get with the program.

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