Sunday, November 30, 2008

Somebody in my Hometown is Pretty Ticked

Franklin, Conn.
November 27, 2008

I don't know the circumstances, but it certainly sounds like Bob is pretty upset. Does he really expect the perpetrators who are stealing his topsoil and wood to call him with questions?

This sign is at the entrance to a new housing development around the corner from my parents' house in Connecticut.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Day The Tower Fell

Boston University Campus
Boston, Mass.
November 29, 2008

It's almost as if they wanted it done by the dark of night. The radio antenna above the Boston University College of Communication came down today, on a Saturday when most of the campus was empty, the students still away celebrating the long holiday weekend.

Not that the moment really means much to non-BU students and grads. The eye-sore antenna hasn't been functioning since the 1950's, and back then, WBUR (now Boston's NPR affiliate) was the University's student radio station. However, the tower symbolized COM, as we all call the College. Its removal has sparked somewhat of a debate on campus, since the BU president recently ordered a construction freeze. A well-written story in BU's student newspaper, The Daily Free Press, talks about other unsightly architecture on the campus that should face a similar fate, even during the freeze. (I love the reference to tearing down the BU Law Tower; as the famous BU joke goes: "The best view of Boston is from the high floors of the BU Law Tower, because you can't see the Law Tower.")

I saw the antenna coming down today as I was walking from Louie's, where I have gotten my hair cut since I started at BU. Maybe only a BU COM grad can understand, but it was somewhat of a poignant, if accidental moment. We recognize COM by the antenna in diametrically opposed ways. You think radio, of course, when you see it, but its derelict status always reminded the COM student of the equally decrepit halls of the building itself.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Week of My Favorite Holiday

Thanksgivig is by far my favorite holiday. There are several reasons why.

First, Christmas gift-giving can be as much a pain as it is a blessing. I love buying gifts for family, but sometimes I forget to buy a gift for a relative who decides to show up for dinner. While I am sure everyone understands, the stress freaks me out. There are no gifts at Thanksgiving. Which also means no debates about who got the worst gift.

Second, it's impossible to offend anyone by saying Happy Thanksgiving. I can't even begin to count the number of times I have put my foot in my mouth by saying Merry Christmas to a non-observer. Thankfully, many of those who do not observe, and have received my cheery quip, have simply accepted it and not pointed out their beliefs. I thank them for that.

Thanksiging is an American holiday. There's something under the surface that's patrioitic about it. It also celebrates our diversity. I love talking to neighbors from other parts of the country about their side dishes at Thanksgiving. Or the family Thanksgiving dessert that has been in a given lineage for generations. For my family, it's English-style fig pudding and English Bakewell tarts, courtesy of my great-grandmother's relatives.

Third, Thanksgiving falls on a Thursday, so the mini-holiday-inspired vacation always begins with the holiday. You celebrate Thanksigivng, and then you have a couple days to wind down. I feel bad for those who do have to work on Friday, but most people do get that day off.

Fourth, Thanksgiving is about food and football. And when you are sick of football, you go make a Turkey sandwich. Talk about heaven.

Here's a run down of my favorite-rating on many holidays, so you get a sense of where I stand.

1. Thanksgiving (See above)

2. Fourth of July. The ultimate patriotic holiday that's also the mark of the summer and everything that comes with that season.

3. Memorial Day. Not sure how a holiday that remembers those who've made the ulitmate sacrifice could be on a list of favorites. Beyond the rememberance, this really is the official start of summer, telling everyone we made it through another winter.

4. Easter. I like the fact that the Easter meal often highlights breakfast foods. I like breakfast.

5. Christmas. Yes, way down here at number five. When Christmas falls during the middle of the week, I have to drive back to Boston from Conn. on Christmas afternoon. Let me tell you, there ain't anything open on Christmas afternoon. Quite depressing.

6. Labor Day. The end of the summer. It's nice that I am usually at the beach and the water is the warmest it's going to be during the year, but still. It was after Labor Day as a kid that school began. 'nuff said.

7. MLK Day and Columbus Day. Two holidays that I usually have off from work, but many companies I work with do not. Which means I need to stay by the computer during the day.

8. Veteran's Day, Bunker Hill Day, Evacuation Day, etc. (See number 7, except I don't get these days off from work).

9. Halloween. I admit it-- I don't like costumes. Luckily I sneak to Conn. and spend time with my neice and nephews. They are cute. Ross in a costume-- not so cute.

10. Valentine's Day. The quintessential Hallmark Holiday, in my opinion.

Safe travels this week everyone. And Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Lessons Learned From New York's Parks

My first job offer came from Barnes & Noble in New York, but I decided at the time I didn't feel comfortable living there. Since then, I have said I love visiting the Big Apple, but I could never live there. It's just too big. To be sure, attending the Big East Tournament in March is on my list of things to do in the near term. Again, another visit.

I traveled to New York late on Thursday for a meeting early Friday, and I had lunch on Friday with my good friend Jason Joly (who I have known since the first days at NFA in 1990). Jason's doing great, and it was great he had time for lunch. It allowed me to take a look at one of Manhattan's parks, Madison Square Garden Park at 5th and Broadway.

The use of Boston's parks is a big debate right now near my neighborhood. The Boston Common is a wonderful park and is used significantly. Just this week City and local officials opened the Frog Pond skating rink, which is open for business through the winter. Arriving home last night, I saw many customers already taking advantage. It helps that it's freezing outside, putting people in the mood.

For my Boston City Councilor, Mike Ross, who is soon to be council president, the use of the Common is a top issue. Greenspace rose on the list over the past two years for a few reasons, among them are the increase in drug use in the Common and the ongoing discussions about an off-leash dog run in the park.

In a recent post on Boston Magazine, Councilor Ross lists among his recommendations opening a restaurant in the Common, similar to those they have in New York City.

Yesterday, Jason mentioned one of the restaurants Mike Ross cited, "The Shake Shack." I jumped at the chance.

The Shake Shack is cool. There's no outside seating, but there's always a line. The menu isn't very long and is dominated by a few different hamburger options. I ordered a double stack and a chocolate shake; Jason a double stack and fries. We brought the food back to his office to eat.

The Shake Shack brought a cosmopolitan element to the park, and a large amount of commercial traffic. The establishment appeared to be well kept. I must say that without the shack, I am not sure why someone would go to Madison Square Park. It's not big enough for a playground or any space to throw a football (Not that those are the only reasons to go to a park, of course).

While I have not thought about it in depth, I can't see why I would be opposed to a commercial establishment on the Common here in Boston, based on my experience visiting the Shack. The business on the Common would have an incentive to maintain its space and help deter unbecoming activity around the eatery. Also, commercial foot traffic on the Common is a good thing. It gives the area energy, without over populating the Common (such as during big events) in a way that damages the grounds.

To be sure, a commercial establishment is not a panacea. As I know well from my volunteer efforts on the Beacon Hill trash committee, retail food establishments create a tremendous amount of debris and waste. There's the question of how the eatery would deter crime late at night when it's closed.

Still, I think the idea has a lot of promise. I would imagine the eatery would be interested in helping with area police efforts-- and if not it should be encouraged to contribute in any way it can. And trash issues can be mediated by requiring trash cans, trash can pick-ups and foot patrols (the eatery should pay). And I am aware of many neighbors who would be more than willing to make sure the restaurant holds up its end of the bargain.

In short, I think Mike Ross is on to something. The major question, however, will be a decision on what eatery is appropriate. Is the hamburger spot, like the Shake Shack, the best option? Or should we go with something more elegant like the Tavern on the Green restaurant or the infamous "Boat House" made famous most recently by the movie "27 Dresses" (both of which are in NYC's Central Park)?

All I can say is my double stack yesterday was quite tasty. And that's in a city that has a trans-fat ban.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

How Obama Won

At this point in 2004, it became clear that President Bush won reelection because a ballot question on gay marriage in Ohio brought out a large number of conservative voters, swinging the margin in that state to the sitting President.

Thankfully, the reason Obama won, looking at the exit polls, is not confined to one state.

Two-thirds of voters between the ages of 18 and 24 picked Obama. Young voters did not comprise a larger percentage of the vote this year, versus four years ago, but a much greater percentage of them voted for Obama versus John Kerry.

Senator McCain simply could not counter the overwhelming generational divide.

On a personal note, it is heartening to see the support Obama received among young white voters. Republican presidential candidates typically win the white vote, and this year was no exception. Except Obama won the white vote for those aged 18-29, and by 10 points, no less. That's what I call progress.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Manchester Team

Some pictures below are from the Manchester, N.H. Obama headquarters this past week, and are of the team that worked tirelessly in the waning hours of the election.

359 Elm Street Obama HQ
Manchester, New Hampshire
November 3, 2008

Note: Despite all the technology involved in the Obama campaign, the biggest cheers in the campaign office came when a volunteer dialed down the "campaign clock," ripping down an hour and bringing us closer to "victory." I took this picture shortly after 8 p.m. on election eve from a phone bank table. I was calling Obama supporters at the time to encourage them to vote and see if they needed rides.

Ryan Fitzgerald and Dee Barkett
Manchester, N.H.
November 4, 2008

Note: Our job on election day was to distribute materials to canvassers leaving to hit the streets of Manchester and surrounding neighborhoods.

Nikko Mendoza and Reed Passafaro
Manchester, N.H.
November 4, 2008

Saturday, November 08, 2008

What a Country!

Line at my polling location
Outside the West End Library
Cambridge Street, Boston
6:45 a.m.
November 4, 2008

Reed Passafaro, fellow Obama volunteer, raised a glass to me on election night at The Mission Bar in the Mission Hill neighborhood of Boston.

"What a country," he toasted, a reference to the late Tim Russert.

"What a country!" I replied.

Tim Russert is no doubt smiling in heaven this week. For Republicans and Democrats alike, the 2008 Presidential election proved to the world how great America really is. More people voted this year than in any election in U.S. history, and when all is said and done, election turnout will be higher than in any election since 1960.

Senator Barack Obama became President-elect Barack Obama at precisely 11 p.m. eastern time on Tuesday, when the networks projected that he would win California's 55 electoral votes. Fittingly, the networks that have been analyzing and re-analyzing this amazing race to eager consumers-- well, they all stopped talking. And for five minutes we listened to cheers in Chicago, Atlanta, Los Angeles and New York. We quickly saw a makeshift celebration outside the north entrance of the White House.

A catharsis was at hand.

Regular readers know I voted for Barack Obama. Beyond my vote, I worked more for Barack Obama than for any other Presidential candidate in my lifetime. It started back in February, when I knocked on doors in the Boston neighborhood of Back Bay the weekend before the Massachusetts Presidential Primary. I traveled to New Hampshire four times to help with canvassing efforts there, including Monday and Tuesday of this past week.

Beyond campaigning for Obama, I also helped Sonia Chang-Diaz and her campaign team in the Mass. 2nd Suffolk Senate race. It created quite a schedule for me during the final two days of the election season, with travel back and forth to New Hampshire, periods spent hanging signs, making phone calls, and driving volunteers to canvassing turfs. And of course, twenty minutes
out of my schedule to vote in Boston on election morning.

During the final weeks of this election season, it was hard not to get caught up in the wave of excitement about Barack Obama. There were so many examples of the ebullience for change-- a feeling that overflowed in those five minutes after he was pronounced President-elect.

  • In Alabama last week on the way to Panama City, I was stopped by two Georgian residents who asked me where I got the Obama sign I had taped to my window. They wanted to buy one.
  • On the phones on Monday, I reached an 18 year old woman and asked her if she was planning to vote on Tuesday. "OH, yes," she exclaimed. "I am planning to vote. Let me just walk through with you my schedule so you know exactly when." I really didn't care about her schedule, but I let her walk through it with me, since it sounded therapeutic for her.
  • Waiting for volunteers at my car pool meet up location on Beacon Hill, runners and joggers would flash a thumbs-up when they spotted my Obama sign. Cars driving buy would honk their horns, and it wasn't even like I was trying to be seen.
  • On the street corners of Manchester, an average of 10 Obama volunteers could be seen at busy intersections holding signs and chanting "Yes, we can."
  • Late on election eve, while hanging signs at polling locations in Mission Hill, a random stranger came up to me (I admit I was a tad alarmed) to simply ask me what time the polls opened in the morning. Another told me he was voting in the election for the first time

Putting aside the winners and losers of the election, I think we can all be proud of what happened this past week. I remember four years ago, staring out into the void of space and trying to figure out what country I was living in. I could not understand how America could have re-elected President George Bush. I faced the reality that too many across this land just did not agree with the things I believed in. That perhaps I was just hopelessly out of touch.

Looking at the thousands of cheering faces this past Tuesday, I recognized America again. And I like what I saw.

What a country!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

A Week in Review

What a week. Since I last posted, I have been pretty busy. I know that's not an excuse, but I ask for a little leniency. : )

Here are the headlines:

1) Senator Wilkerson was arrested. I took off from Logan airport last Tuesday (with one week to the election), and ahead of me was an aggressive schedule of travel for work, pleasure and campaigning (more on that later). While I was in the air, my State Senator, Dianne Wilkerson, was led out of her home in handcuffs. She was arrested for allegedly accepting payment in exchange for advocating on behalf of night club owners who hoped to earn a liquor license in Boston. The significance for me? Well, since July I have been volunteering for Sonia Chang-Diaz, Dianne Wilkerson's opponent for the senate seat. I took a day off work during the state primary in September to support Sonia Chang-Diaz at a phone bank in Boston.

Despite losing the primary, Wilkerson planned to challenge Chang-Diaz by asking her supporters to write Wilkerson's name on the ballot. Despite being arrested, Wilkerson amazingly kept campaigning (or at least kept her campaign going) until Friday, when she finally suspended her efforts (an announcement she made when I, fittingly, was also in the air).

2) I witnessed Barack Obama while on the road and in the air. I traveled to San Francisco for work, and I took a couple pictures of evidence.

Woman watches Senator Obama speak to a crowd in Pennsylvania
Aboard a Jet Blue flight to Oakland from Boston
October 28, 2008

A co-worker at my company's west coast office
San Francisco
October 28, 2008

3) My friend Annmarie Connors completed an Ironman. On Friday of last week, I flew to Atlanta and drove to Panama City, Florida, to watch my friend participate in the Florida Ironman. Kim McCrossen and I got to see Annmarie on the route several times as she swam, rode and ran ridiculous distances. I am so proud of Annmarie, and she clearly did something that I could never imagine doing (not the first time I have said that about her). She's been training with her teammate, Victor Acosta, for a year. From a selfish perspective, I am happy the Ironman is over, since it means I should be able to see Annmarie more (and actually buy her an alcoholic beverage).

Annmarie and Victor on the beach at the start of the 2008 Florida Ironman.
Panama City Beach, Fla.
November 1, 2008

4) I hit the campaign trail on Monday in New Hampshire. On Sunday, the Sonia Chang-Diaz campaign released me, a fancy way of saying that since Wilkerson had stopped campaigning, the Chang-Diaz campaign no longer needed me on election day. This freed me to volunteer for Barack Obama Monday and Tuesday. I traveled to New Hampshire with other volunteers from Mayor Thomas Menino's office (Mayor of Boston). We helped set up a staging location (fancy name for a place where volunteers pick up information to knock on doors) on Monday, and on Tuesday, we helped operations at the main volunteer location on Elm Street in Manchester.

5) All of my causes on election day succeeded. It was the best election day for me since 1996, when I was in D.C. on the Boston University program there, and Bill Clinton was re-elected President. That was my first Presidential election. It's been rough going since then.

This year, Barack Obama was elected. Sonia Chang-Diaz was elected as my new State Senator. And Massachusetts voters turned down Question 1, a reckless proposal to eliminate the state income tax that actually had a chance of passing a few weeks back. Success on all three of my priorities for the election. I am a tad giddy.