Wednesday, April 29, 2009

An Anna's Roadblock

I love Anna's Taqueria, but the place really is in need of a bright MBA grad who can speed things up a bit.

I go to Anna's (at the corner of Cambridge and Garden Streets on Beacon Hill) a few times a month. It's one of those legendary local places that only takes cash. One heck of a burrito. (I was told by a colleague in San Francisco that the owners are Asian.)

I don't mind the fact that Anna's doesn't take cash, but the place has a line most of the time, leading up to an a la carte buffet where three or four employees stand ready to make a burrito to order. The line speaks to the place's popularity, but perhaps it also speaks to some concerns I have about the assembly line.

You start out by giving your order-- the size of your burrito, and the type of meat. However, over the course of fulfillment, you repeat your order at least twice to other individuals standing right next to the original person who took your order (I will spare out the specifics of why this is the case). Generally, one is also asked at least twice whether the order is to-go or not.

My favorite part is, while I generally have the same order each time I go, I always seem to pay a different amount. I guess the Wholesale prices for burrito ingredients are a moving target.

Regardless, I am sure I will be back to Anna's in a few days.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Boston is Shining this Saturday

The date for Boston Shines, Mayor Menino's city-wide clean up day, was set a long time ago. There was no way to know then if the weather would cooperate.

Well, today was Boston Shines, and the weather was spectacular.

On Beacon Hill, we organized four equipment pick-up locations: on Charles Street at the Paramount, on Cambridge Street at Store 24, at 74 Joy Street (the community building there), and at Suffolk University's Donahue Building on Temple Street.

We focused special attention on north slope streets that are especially dirty. Working with the Mayor's Office of Neighborhood Services and the Boston Transportation Department, a few streets in that area were posted no parking. The city brought out the infamous green machine-- a smaller street sweeper. As a result, Beacon Hill is definitely shining today.

Following the event, the Beacon Hill Civic Association hosted a lunch at 74 Joy Street, with food provided by a variety of neighborhood establishments. Special thanks to the Paramount (coffee), 7-11 (donuts), The Upper Crust (pizza), Holiday Inn (Salad), Whole Foods (Desert), and Store 24 (water) for all of their donations. Joe Green at Store 24 brought out a large crew of volunteers, and thanks also to Suffolk University for their support.

We're starting the Summer months off with a clean Beacon Hill.

After the event, I went to the roof deck of Ted and Alisha Furst on Beacon Hill for a beverage or two. The thermometer at my apartment says we're above 80. Fantastic.

Ted Furst on his roof deck.
Beacon Hill, Boston
April 25, 2009

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Running for a cause

Saturday I was invited to attend a reception for the runners and patient partners participating in Children's Hospital Boston's Miles for Miracles program.

The program sponsors runners in the Boston Marathon, in return for commitment from the athletes to raise funds for the hospital.

My friends Annmarie Connors and Kim McCrossen are program participants this year. Annmarie celebrated her fifth consecutive year in the program with her patient partners, including young Savannah with whom Annmarie is pictured below.

Annmarie Connors with her patient-partner Savannah
April 18, 2009
Westin Copley Place

This was my third year attending the reception. It's a pretty moving sight-- seeing so many runners and their patients trying to do good. It's also quite inspiring-- Kim decided to get off her butt and participate this year after many years cheering on Annmarie.

It's marathon weekend in Boston, and the city is alive with activity. Spring has arrived. Good luck to Kim, Annmarie and the thousands of others running the Marathon on Monday.

Finally, kudos to Gary Tinder, who completed the Walk for Alzheimer's yesterday in Morgantown, W.V.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

How to Clean Up Beacon Hill: Towing is Just a Start

Boston City Councilor Bill Linehan is proposing that Boston do away with towing cars on street cleaning days. It's a bad idea.

Trust me, trash is something I know well. It's the biggest issue for us downtown residents who live on Beacon Hill. Since I joined the Clean Beacon Hill committee, I have been volunteering personal time to trash since 2000. I should put that on a business card or something. Nine years and counting.

Councilor Linehan's proposal is a populist reaction to a policy put in place by Boston's Chief of Public Works, Dennis Royer, two years ago, which called for strict enforcement of posted street sweeping signs-- including towing on street cleaning days. It's not exactly a strict policy, since the street sweeping signs are very clear as to when street sweeping takes place and mark the street as a "tow zone" during that time. Councilor Linehan would like to do away with the towing, and instead simply give out tickets with a higher fine. His constituents will like the idea. Except it won't work.

Towing is a massive inconvenience. The Boston tow lot is not accessible by public transportation. A typical tow victim needs to hire a cab to get to it. Once there, the fines can be high, starting with a 75-dollar ticket and then charges for being in the tow lot. Karen Cord Taylor of the Beacon Hill Times quipped recently that at least there's an ATM machine at the lot now. Quite a novelty.

It's good that towing causes all sorts of pain, since that makes it an effective deterrent. The proof is on the streets. I took a walk on Beacon Hill today, and relatively speaking, it's pretty darn clean. It is clean because the street cleaning program is working better than it has before. And that's because cars are moved on street cleaning days.

Anderson Street at Revere looking North
Beacon Hill, Boston
April 18, 2009

Prior to Chief Royer's strict policy, cars would never move. Despite raising ticket fines several years ago, the charges never worked. Residents figured the fine was like paying for parking (especially since the Boston resident parking sticker doesn't cost anything).

Towing changed all that. Suddenly residents had an easier time remembering to look at the posted street sweeping signs, and remembering what the signs said. With the cars not there, the street sweepers can reach the curb. And when they reach the curb, they work well.

I have said many times that if towing doesn't happen, there's no reason to have the street sweeping program at all. Because it's a complete waste of money.

To be sure, street sweeping is just the first leg in a three-legged-stool solution that is necessary to bring real cleanliness to Beacon Hill. The other legs are: first, enforcement of the "green tickets" that ISD issues to trash scofflaws, and second, switching to two days of trash pick up on Beacon Hill.

I have written about the green ticket issue before. Boston's Inspectional Service Department (ISD) writes green tickets to residents that improperly dispose their trash. Unfortunately, the tickets have no teeth and are not enforced. Boston's Mayor Tom Menino, City Council President Mike Ross and State Representative Marty Walz, among others, would like to pass a state law that allows Boston to connect the green ticket fines to property owner liens; the best scenario would be if the fines show up on individual tax bills. Unfortunately, Governor Patrick wouldn't sign the law when it passed in December. In fact, he didn't do anything with it, and the legislation suffered the ignominious "pocket veto." I am hoping the law is passed again this year and is signed by Governor Patrick.

The second issue is far more emotional, and it's one I have thought about a lot. Beacon Hill has enjoyed three days of trash pick up for some time. It has its advantages, especially if you live in a neighborhood where small is the norm-- or as I put it, everything in my apartment is a "miniature" version of itself.

The problem is three days of trash pick up means crap is on the side of the street for 42 hours a week. That is one fourth of the week. No joke. Trash is on the street curbs roughly one-quarter of every week on tony Beacon Hill. We have tried to address this issue as a community by shortening the amount of time one can place trash on the curb (what's called same-day pick-up). The problem is this really doesn't give much time for residents to put trash out. The Beacon Hill Civic Association, of which I am a board member, supports same-day pick-up, but we are also trying to move the start of trash pick-up on the hill to 9 a.m. in the morning to give residents two more hours.

Removing a day of pick up cuts down the amount of time trash is put at the curb by a third. From 42-28 hours. Wham. Just like that. And an informal survey I am conducting on the hill is showing that most neighbors would be ok with it.

Councilor Linehan, I don't like your populist idea. Street sweeping is working now better than ever before. And with green ticket enforcement and two days of pick up (instead of three), we can all make our streets far cleaner than they have been.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Spring Politics in Boston

Several political races are heating up around Boston, if you know where to look.

City Council at-large candidate Andrew Kenneally stopped by a meeting of the newly formed Boston chapter of the Young Massachusetts Democrats last month. He spoke for about 10 minutes on a variety of topics, including the MBTA (which I think is interesting given the MBTA is run by the state) and initiatives to make Boston greener. I asked him about the oft-derided Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) program, where non-profit institutions make a donation to the City to offset the fact they don't have to pay property tax. Kenneally mentioned he supports the Mayor's recently created task force to study the issue.

Kenneally and two other at-large city council candidates, Tomas Gonzalez and Scotland Willis, visited my Ward 5 Democratic Committee last month. Chairman Rob Whitney graciously gave them the chance to address the group.

The Mayor's race in Boston is also heating up. In late February, I attended a Meet the Mayor event where I got a chance to have bagels and muffins with Mayor Tom Menino, who still hasn't decided if he's running for re-election (though many, including myself, hope he does). What was neat about the event was the Mayor was chatting with younger Boston residents (I was sadly among the oldest), and he spoke with a passion as if he were running for office for the first time.

I received an email this week from someone working for one of the declared candidates for Mayor, Michael Flaherty. She appeared to have sent the note to the entire Ward 5 Democratic Committee, asking us if we wanted to get involved with the campaign. What I find amazing is that it's April, and she's asking about a city race that won't have an election until September (when the preliminary will be scheduled). My Ward 5 committee won't take an endorsement vote in the Mayoral race until after Labor Day. Then again, I heard from another politically minded Boston resident that turnout for the preliminary might eclipse 100,000. In Boston, that's a ton. I guess things are heating up.

By far the most intriguing campaign so far is being run by the young Doug Bennett, the Republican from Nantucket, who is also running for an at-large seat on the Boston City Council. While his efforts are noteworthy, I haven't quite figured Doug out. He launched an "entertaining" YouTube video recently, set to John Cougar's "Ain't that America." He also says he's going to knock on 100,000 doors across Boston, which I admit is admirable. However, last Saturday, while I was watching the Final Four on CBS, he left a flier on my mailbox (I know it was for me as it had my specific apartment number on it). The problem is I was clearly at home and he didn't ring the buzzer. Does he count that as a door knock?

Enjoy Doug's video below. And happy Saturday.

Libraries make me sick to my stomach

I like books. I am currently reading "The Defining Moment," by Newsweek's Jonathan Alter, on FDR's first 100 days. I have a stack of books near my bookshelf that are waiting in line.

But I hate the library. There's something about the smell of the place. Whenever I walk in a library, I have nauseating flashbacks of my youth. As a kid, the only time I went to the library was when I had a report to write for school. On arrival, I usually had not decided what to write about, and had a week or so to not only pick a topic, but to crank out six or seven pages (double-spaced, of course) on the old word processor. Assignments had requirements that came with them, including a standard number and type of sources to use in the bibliography. Sometimes finding more than two books on the same topic was hard. It was all so painful. Maybe that's why I feel pain today when I enter a library.

They should do something at libraries to give kids a positive impression of it. Like sell ice cream.

From a practical perspective, my loathing of libraries doesn't make sense. I should love the concept of the library. I have a full bookshelf of read books that I won't read again, which is a waste. This summer I plan to bring many of them down to the family beach cottage in Connecticut, so they can sit on a bookshelf there. Using the library is far more economical, and at least you know you didn't waste money if you don't like the book.

Boston has a great library system; there's a Boston Public Library branch in each neighborhood (well, pretty much). Beacon Hill is too small to have a branch, but the West End branch is right down the street and is more than adequate to service both neighborhoods. I only go there to vote, as it's also the voting location for Ward 5, Precinct 4. One time after voting I actually got a library card. But it's never been used.

It's so strange because I really like bookstores. I worked off a grant in college for Barnes & Noble to create a website for college kids called "Loci," and as a result the bookstore chain gave me my first job offer after college (It was a great offer, but decided I couldn't move to New York City).

Obviously my problem with libraries is all psychological. Maybe it's because of all the late return library fees I had to pay-- as a senior at Boston University, I called the administration office three times during the final week of exams to make sure there weren't any errant charges popping up on my account that would affect the receipt of my diploma that final Sunday. Thinking way back, I also remember the vivid panic rumbling through my mind as I frantically searched my room as a kid looking for the book I needed to return.

Yes, libraries have caused me a lot of psychological discomfort over the years, which is why I have personally contributed to the growth of Barnes & Noble--online and off.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

My Brother Brett Launches a Blog

My brother Brett introduced a blog of his own this week, called "Levanto Air." Among his first posts is a touching story from his D.C. bartending days.

Brett lives with his wife Holly in Hampton, Virginia in a neighborhood called Phoebus.

I have added his blog to my blogroll on the right hand side of this site.


Saturday, April 04, 2009

I am sick of Tom Brady

Dominic James, the starting point guard for Marquette's men's basketball team, fell injured in the middle of the season during a game against Big East foe Connecticut.

As I am a UCONN fan, I was watching the game. I felt for James. It's his senior season. Chances for a professional career are slight. The injury to James' foot meant, essentially, the end of his days playing organized basketball. (He did make a return for part of one game in the NCAA tournament, but he was not able to do much.)

Despite his injury, James attended every Marquette game. He sat on the bench. He cheered on his team. He gave encouragement to his young replacement, Maurice Acker.

Hmmm. An experienced player falls to an injury and then becomes the team's number one cheerleader. That's not something I am familiar with in Boston.

Because Tom Brady disappeared from Gillette Stadium when he hurt his knee this past September.

I am quickly tiring of Brady. He and his team said the decision to keep him away from the team after his injury was to avoid "a distraction," and in reality he has become a bigger distraction in the process.

The media are infatuated with the nuptuals he is sharing (or is he?) with his girlfriend. The rumor was they were engaged. Then they weren't. Then they were. Then they weren't. Then they got married. Then they didn't.

Apparently, they are getting married again today. Or something like that. I am so tired of all this. As a marketing person, it's almost as if the rumors and events are carefully planned so that Tom is always in the headlines.

I can tell you one thing. If I were him, and I had sustained an injury on the field, it would have taken the Massachusetts National Guard to keep me from my team and the stadium on game day. Even if I ended up in the box next to the coaching coordinators.

I would imagine Dominic James feels the same way. Which is why, with his career effectively ended, he was on the bench cheering on his team every day.

Happy Final Four weekend. And go HUSKIES!