Archive for October, 2012

The claw comes to us

October 31st, 2012

Hail to Da Mare and his minions. Post-Sandy, we’re feeling good about city services here in Tom Menino’s city of Boston and neighborhood of Hyde Park. The big old tree is gone. The last of it just went away in a big old truck.

We aren’t uninjured. A good sized limb was driven into the garage roof. We’ll need to fix that or have it fixed.

The tree though…the tree. A chum in Winchester had the same situation in the storm. A large pine fell on his property. There was no damage to his house, but he’s gotten estimates of a thousand for a clean up and $3,000 for the works including tree removal.

Here on Fairmount Hill:

  1. a 40 to 50 foot pine in our front yard fell across the yard, sidewalk, street, and neighbor’s sidewalk and yard
  2. my wife and numerous neighbors independently called 911, the local police station and Public Works
  3. within a half hour, crews worked in the wind and rain to clear the street
  4. a Public Works truck could haul away some of the smaller pieces they had gotten off with a chain saw
  5. a Public Works loader moved the big trunk pieces to our lawn and sidewalk — four massive trunk pieces and the huge root structure
  6. the crew head said (to my incredulity) that Parks would be by to pick up most of it and if we were nice all of it
  7. this morning a contract tree firm showed up to chip and take away the branches
  8. they ended up also loading up the two smaller diameter trunk pieces, clearing the sidewalk
  9. a few minutes ago a green truck (Parks contractor?) showed and took away the rest

Here’s overkill on boys-with-toys. The final process, pix because I have ’em.

The trunk remainder was pretty massive still.
The guy operating the truck and its arcade-claw-machine style crane was clearly not new to the job. He made quick work of our residue and was off to the next job.
A single trunk piece was too inefficient or slow or not fun enough. He doubled up.
The Public Works crew had also sawed through the trunk at the root structure, or he would have had it all at once.
Double dump.
He had to swing the claw back for the roots. (It made me think of Toy Story — “Farewell, my friends. I have been chosen. I go to a better place.”)
The nasty, gnarly root structure was up…
…and gone. And like The Lone Ranger, “Our work is done here,” and he was gone too.

Pix Notes: You’re welcome to anything useful. They are Creative Commons, so just cite Mike Ball once.

Actually, I thought the Public Works crew was optimistic. I have a small electric chainsaw and two bow saws. I considered what lengths I’d cut and such.

But I didn’t have to.

Sandy just bruises us a bit

October 30th, 2012

Here’s best hopes and wishes for those in Sandy’s path. We had comparatively little damage here. Our flooding, lost power, and tree-on-house destruction would normally be sources for self-pity. With this monster storm though, we feel lucky.

Here are a few snaps of our hill in Boston’s Hyde Park neighborhood.

Well, there was that tree. This 40 to 50 foot pine fell without creaking or other sound, suddenly blocking the road. The car normally in its path was not and it fell both away from our house and short of the neighbor’s.
Everyone, his brother and niece seemed to have called the city. Plus a Public Works big shot lives nearby. They told us they didn’t know when they could get to it, but were there within a half hour. They took about half the tree but used a loader to move the rest off to the sides so folk could drive through.
Pre-Sandy old coot (and weatherman/woman) wisdom was it would be a waste of time to rake before the storm. That was partially true. Here is our formally totally clear patio after the blow.
On the other hand, we got trash, recycling and yard-waste pick up all on Monday. So 16 big bags or cans of leaves went to the city compost piles.
A neighbor’s R.I.P. Halloween tombstone ended up in the gutter flood of leaves and water. I retrieved it and one of the downed-tree gawkers recognized it, taking it off to the rightful owner.
Our several maples were denuded by the big winds. The three big basswoods in the back haven’t even bothered to turn color much less give up their foliage. This dogwood held on to about half its covering.
The skies still misted and more rain is allegedly coming throughout the day. Yet, early this morning, the sun tried to peak and promise.
With the big winds gone and guts down to 20 MPH, the political yard sign went back up.

Pix Notes: You’re welcome to anything useful. They are Creative Commons, so just cite Mike Ball once.

We know numerous chums who lost power and had water damage both here and in New Jersey. I hear that my WV buddies and getting a foot or two of snow as well. However, Sandy was relatively kind to us and Boston did a fine job.


What George Taught Me

October 21st, 2012

Without ever meeting me, George McGovern taught me a lesson I’ve kept in mind since 1972. Even back in the grim and exciting days of the Vietnam War era, I interviewed other pols, including similarly anti-war U.S. Sen. Wayne Morse.  As newspaper reporter and editor, I was eager to speak with pols.

Yet the lesson McGovern coincidentally revealed was news I could and can use.

In 1972, I lived on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, long before Yuppies or hipsters. Instead, it was the Hell’s Angels, many Russian and Ukrainian elderly women (hubby had died), junkies, and immigrants using the area of cheap apartments as staging ground for becoming Americans and maybe even wealthy.

In some political ways, I felt a bit like I was back in South Carolina. There, I had been a hippie peacenik sort. That was a decided minority persona. Back on East 3rd and 9th Streets, I sensed the conservative vibes all around.

Russian and Ukrainian greetings and conversations were ubiquitous. Even the tiny A&P on First Avenue was an Eastern European outpost. It sold those deceptive loaves of black bread that weighed two or three times what sandwich loaves the same size did. The old women chatted with clerks and each other in their native tongues, even though many had been in the neighborhood since the 1917 Revolution. I recalled enough of my college Russian to understand the gist.

To a one, the old women seemed dour and sour. I even recall seeing one stumble and fall, spilling her bag of groceries. I helped her up and repacked her bag. I told her in Russian that I’d help her home, but she snatched the brown bag from me and looked terrified as she limped home with her bloody knee. Trust of the other was not big outside of that community.

I thus knew it was surely a fool’s errand to canvass for pinko McGovern in my precinct. I knew Nixon decidedly wasn’t THE ONE as his campaign claimed but rang the bells anyway.

The old women who filled the apartment buildings (one to five story humble dwellings, as was my own) would not have rung me in. However, as was and is the standard NYC practice, I’d just go in when someone else opened the door to enter or exit. Once I was inside, I did get a face-to-face hearing after the woman had looked through the door peephole.

They were stunningly unresponsive. I gave my pitch about the pivotal election and hopes for peace and equality via a McGovern administration.

Sometimes I threw in a little Russian, always being careful to avoid such loaded terms as товарищ (comrade), far too risky I knew. They invariably remained impassive. They certainly were not like the Swiss, who quickly forgive poor pronunciation of any of their three languages or the Japanese or Chinese, who largely sincerely appreciate any effort to speak even a few words in their language. Instead, I saw the same stone faces, never smiling nor nodding nor asking anything.

After several weeks of doing this in the evenings, I had covered the precinct, but was deeply disheartened. Clearly my audience was conservative, unswayed by McGovern’s messages or at least my delivery of them. I had done the right thing in the cause noble, but to what effect?

I had a keen bead on my target voters. They were not buying what I was selling.

Come Wednesday, November 8th, the day after the election, I had an awful acknowledgement and a shock. First, Nixon had crushed my man. Only Massachusetts went for McGovern. Yet, yet…when the precinct results appeared in the papers later, mine had gone overwhelmingly for McGovern. I think it had the highest percentage in the city and state. Those sour elderly women were not at all as I knew them to be.

They didn’t make a deal out of their leftist leanings. They didn’t show them, at least to me. Those many Russian and Ukrainian elders did want what McGovern offered. Perhaps they had experienced enough war and violence and death and instability in their earlier years. Perhaps this or perhaps that. Regardless, they voted as I.

So I learned and have remembered. When I’m cocksure that my assumptions are absolutely correct, that’s far, far less important than reality. You need to ask, to make your pitch, to expose yourself, to be open to the obvious or even the eventual responses of others.

As my mother told me many times, ask, the worst you can hear is, “No.”

Sweeping Options for Boston Schools

October 15th, 2012

It could be huge, could be quashed, could be diluted, but right now, those in charge of the Boston public schools have a seminal plan to consider. We’ll be talking about it was the driving force behind it.

Spend a half hour with City Councilor John Connolly tomorrow, Tuesday, October 16th, from 2 PM Eastern here. If you can’t catch it live, go to that URL, to Left Ahead or our iTunes page any time afterward to listen or download his show.

As a parent who had nudged three sons through BPS start to finish, I believe in public education and have gotten the worst and the best of bureaucracy in evaluating schools, assignment games, dealing with teachers, and doing whatever was necessary to see my guys got the good end of the stick. I’m invested.

In the literal world of school boards and superintendents and teachers’ unions, the focus is almost always on discreet chunks, such as student assignment plans. Instead, what Connolly, along with another Councillor and four state Reps, have thrown into the process is a serious effort to drop the lines on the maps. Instead, they propose schools in every district with the features parents crave and a whole new set of 16 citywide schools.

This is big stuff, which you can see in detail here.

In our half hour, we can’t go through every detail, but as head of the Council’s education committee (and a parent of two young children), Connolly has put a lot of mind and heart into this plan.

Dudley Skeleton Awaiting Muscle

October 6th, 2012

The still-handsome, sturdy, hollow gentleman of Dudley Square is ready for some innards.

At 117 years old, the Ferdinand Building is no longer under wraps. The almost-total demolition left the shell of the former furniture store landmark. It’s destined to become the new public-school administration building, and more important the anchor of redevelopment in the square. Rebuilding should take two years.

Even nearly abandoned and derelict for the past 30 years, the graceful, ornamented building was an obvious symbol of the erstwhile humming, vital square. Back when the Orange Line ran as an elevated train here, this area of Roxbury did just fine. More recent times when it became better known for junkies, winos, muggings and the major bus terminal to be super-cautious using appear to be over.

The Baroque Revival-style 1895 building was originally Ferdinand’s Blue Store (still carved on top). It soon claimed to be the largest home-furnishings store in the country.

Sure, it might have been more efficient to tear it down totally, but I think Bostonians are already glad they didn’t.

The facade is grand and a fitting symbol for what we do well here — press past and future Boston together.

Pix note: These were taken this morning early. They are under Creative Commons; do what you want with either, just credit Mike Ball once. Click an image for a larger view.

Boston Bike Battles

October 2nd, 2012

Over at Left Ahead today, our guest was Steven Miller. He has many impressive credentials, but among the top for cycling are founding Hub on Wheels here, being on the boards of the Cambridge and MBTA bike advisory groups and Livable Streets. At the latter, he also is blogger in chief. Oh, and he’s a regular cyclist.

As a rider myself, I have long marveled at the awful hostility many drivers hold for cyclists. The basic rant includes such as all bicyclists run every red light and stop sign, never yield to pedestrians, and have total disregard for public safety, including their own. Miller agreed with my cycling/driving/walking/busing observations that drivers don’t note their constant moving violations or those of fellow motorists. He notes it’s easier to blame other people.

He holds that Boston cyclists are no better, no worse than Boston drivers, as damning as that may seem.

We chatted for a half hour about Boston’s mayoral-championed leaps in the past decade. We used to be one of the worst cycling towns in the hemisphere and we are headed toward one of the best. He gives background about why Mayor Tom Menino used to hate bikers and came to like them and be one.

He lists the ways Boston and other cities can improve life for both drivers and cyclists, everything from bike lanes to law enforcement for all to programs in schools and more.

If you love or hate bicycles and have opinions on their role in cities, click below to give Miller a listen.