Blow By, Blow Dry

Standard

I have not lived in Ipswich long, but I have lived here long enough to suggest a few ways to deal with speeders on outer Linebrook Road, where I live.

The speed limit is 25 mph, which is a little slow for modern drivers, I realize that. But after you pass Cumby’s, the road curves left, then right, then left and right again, then left again — until finally you think it’s straightening out, but right then there’s an incline that makes it impossible to see what’s up ahead, and once you get over the incline, you discover another curve, then another, and then another. Et cetera. It’s a wiggly road. An unpredictable road. It’s the road they’ve based several video games on.

Sure, you might be a brilliant driver with lightning reflexes commanding a highly responsive sports car that could take these curves at 35 or 45 or even more. But this is Planet Outer Linebrook, remember. At any moment, you could come around a turn and suddenly find yourself about to broadside a deer family casually clip-clopping across the asphalt. You might survive the crash, but this is a really inefficient way of procuring venison for your freezer. As you maneuver your way along outer Linebrook Road, you’ll also want to give yourself enough time to dodge our dogs, cats, coyotes, squirrels, skunks, fishers, raccoons, beavers, turtles, turkeys, ducks, and those illegal free-range chickens standing along the side of the road hoping to flag down a lawyer. Okay, maybe I exaggerate. We don’t really have any beavers.

I realize it’s a difficult discipline, driving 25 mph. Let’s say you’ve been in Danvers, slurping spaghetti at Ponte Vecchio, and now you’re full of carbs, roaring north along on Route 1 at 50 mph or more. You approach Linebrook Road, the light is green, and you careen around the corner at Cumby’s heading west. Of course you hate, I mean really hate, to slow down to 25 on dopey little outer Linebrook Road.

Or maybe you’ve been at Marini’s farm stand, where you were looking longingly at the field where their corn maze will be, and dreaming of summer. Now you’re heading west on Linebrook Road, the speed limit is 30 mph, so of course you’re not doing any more than 40. Then you cross Route 1 and have to slow down to 25. It’s painful. It’s like a loss of liberty. It’s un-American. John Adams would absolutely hate this.

But slowing down is important. Speeding is dangerous to those of us who live out here. I happen to reside on one of those little bends in the road — just past a “Dangerous Intersection” sign — and I’ve had two mailboxes taken out by drivers who didn’t quite make the curve. If I’m checking for my mail and I lean over to make sure I’ve gotten everything out the box, my rear end is at serious risk of detachment by drivers who just passed the “Dangerous Intersection” sign and, feeling like they’re in the clear now, hit the gas.

Since I arrived in this neighborhood, I’ve suggested a variety of strategies for encouraging drivers to slow down on outer Linebrook Road — including speed bumps, toll gates, information kiosks, traffic signals, and snipers, to name a few. But now my friend Richard Howard has offered a real solution. Something realistic, something practical, something truly feasible. And as you’ll recall, Richard until recently served as an esteemed member of our venerable FinCom, so it will come as no surprise that his plan is entirely affordable.

Richard’s idea has its roots in Hopeman, a small seaside village in the Moray area of northeast Scotland. It’s a bit more Rockport than Ipswich, in a way, since it began as a fishing port, but boomed in the mid-1800s exporting stone from nearby quarries. Yet like Ipswich, the village of Hopeman features an array of attractive places where you can spend your money: a general store, a gift shop, two hairdressers, a butcher shop, a hotel, a flower shop, a post office, and three eating establishments, including a Chinese carryout. There’s also a golf course. (Hopeman also has an art gallery, unlike Ipswich; there were three when I moved here, all gone now.) But like Ipswich, Hopeman features a hugely popular summertime gala featuring a sandcastle competition and plenty of music. Hopeman’s beaches feature a number of remarkable species of birds; however, Hopeman has no piping plovers, so none of its birds dictate public policy.

However, to the point: the village of Hopeman has also had a problem with speeders. They were dealing with drivers racing through town at 60 mph and more, even with children heading to or from school.

But no more. The 1,700 or so residents of this enterprising little shire came up with a simple, low-cost solution.

Here it is:

They send someone in a fluorescent-yellow jacket to stand by the side of the road holding a blow-dryer, aimed like a gun at oncoming drivers.

It looks for all the world like a cop aiming a radar gun at you. And you do. Slow. Down.

Apparently the town of Hopeman has a number of volunteers who take turns donning the vest and manning the blow-dryer. It doesn’t seem to matter whether the person in the vest looks like a cop; the BBC website ran a feature showing a young girl doing the deed, without any apparent diminishment in effectiveness.

Blow-dryers are not a panacea, of course. Mock-cop Day-Glo blow-dryer-aiming can feel foolish. Even one of Hopeman’s elected officials admitted to the BBC his discomfort about the strategy: “We don’t like to be seen standing with hair dryers and hi-vis vests,” he said. But apparently, extreme times call for extreme measures. And why would the people of Hopeman keep doing it — long enough for the BBC and NPR to pick up the story — unless it was working?

So let’s go, outer Linebrook. Come on. Let’s give it a try. Adapting the blow-dryer strategy ought to be simple. I’ll donate my blow-dryer and I’ll buy a bright neon-yellow one-size-fits-all reflective vest. All you have to do is sign up by emailing BlowDryer@DougBrendel.com, and show up for your shift. A very brief training session — how to aim your blow-dryer, how to look friendly-yet-stern, like a real Ipswich cop — and you’ll be well on your way to contributing to the quality of life here on Planet Outer Linebrook.

If this works westbound, we’ll add an eastbound shift. Eventually we may negotiate to work on High Street.

Wait, no. Too dangerous.

 

 

News Flash(ed)

Standard

“Flasher.” What does this term mean to you? I grew up in the Chicago area, and back there, in the 1960’s, your “flasher” was your turn signal. That blinky light on the corner of your car that tells people you’re about to turn. The drivers-ed teacher, during your lesson, would point to that little stick — I mean the little stick sticking out of that bigger stick, the stick that your steering wheel was sitting on the end of — and he would say to you, “OK, now it’s time to turn on your flasher.”

Today, I guess, such language might be considered inappropriate. You probably want to refer to your turn signal as a “turn signal,” or possibly a “blinker.” You probably don’t want to claim that you know, let alone have, a “flasher.” And in any event, you probably don’t want anyone to suggest that it’s time to turn your flasher on. The 60’s seem so innocent today. Flashers were helpful back then, and turning them on was a good thing.

But now, I guess, it’s different. On a recent Friday, my online newsfeed flashed — er, uh, I mean, displayed — this headline: “Alleged Flasher Arrested Downtown.”

I knew immediately that this had nothing to do with an illegally turned-on turn signal.

Reading on, I learned that a man “described as 25 to 30 years old” did something which I hesitate to retype, for fear of getting cooties. But this much I can tell you: he did it at the train station. At around 4 pm.

A simple look at the weather report told me the rest of the story. That February day was unseasonably warm. By the time the police call went out, it had been over 70 for more than two full hours. Plus, the wind was from the south, and you know what a south wind can do to a man. The humidity was a soft, silky 49%, and the barometric pressure was perfect — I mean perfect. Most significantly, visibility was 10 miles. If you have something you want to flash, and you have the potential to show people a full 10 miles away, wouldn’t you go for it? You could reach people at the Newburyport train station. Newburyport commuters wouldn’t even need their own flasher. They could use ours. I love to see North Shore towns working together for the common good.

There were, unfortunately, conflicting details in the news flash, er, uh, report. On one hand, the man in question was reported to be “dressed all in white.” On the other hand, the police dispatcher reportedly indicated that “he had his pants around his ankles.” I don’t mean to get too technical, but if his pants were down around his ankles, was he really “dressed all in white”? I think not. It might have been more accurate to say he was “dressed, to the extent that he was dressed, all in white.” In this age of fake news, it’s important to be entirely accurate.

The alleged flasher was eventually charged with “open and gross lewdness,” among other wrongdoings. I have not lived in Ipswich long, so I guess I don’t understand the finer points of the law here. Is there some other form of lewdness, besides the “open and gross” variety? Perhaps most importantly, if there’s a “closed and refined” lewdness, what does it look like?

And would it be legal to just take a peek?

 

 

You’ll Be Safe Here

Standard

If you leave Ipswich Center and drive west, here’s some friendly advice.

First of all, just driving west from Ipswich Center, I realize, is scary for a lot of Ipswich residents, especially those in Precinct 1 who still think Ipswich ends at Marini Farm. And for those who live within walking distance of Five Corners and think Ipswich ends at Route 1. It may also be scary for those who grew up with those creepy bedtime stories about Yetis living on outer Linebrook. (It was mean of your mother to tell you those stories, true or not.)

But let’s say you’re feeling especially brave. Or maybe you’re one of those people who refuses to acknowledge fear at all — in which case you’re probably doing great digesting CNN these days. So you head out of Ipswich Center driving west. Eventually you’ll cross Route 1 between Wolf Hill and Cumby’s. (Yes! Surprise! Planet Outer Linebrook has its own Cumby’s.) Keep driving west on Linebrook, and you’ll soon find yourself in the deep, dark woods.

This is where you’re going to need my advice.

This advice will also apply to people who already live in the outer Linebrook area — people who think of themselves as rugged pioneers, living out in the wilderness, but who secretly take solace in the fact that the Route 1 Cumby’s is their lifeline during blizzards.

So, in any case, you’re heading west on outer Linebrook Road. Why? I don’t know. It’s not the time of year to be launching your kayak at Hood Pond Beach (which is a “beach” according to the sign, but is actually a tilted slab of concrete charitably misnamed a “beach”). So you’re heading west on outer Linebrook Road because you use a dry cleaner in Topsfield. Who could blame you? If you live on Planet Outer Linebrook, the closest dry cleaner is in Topsfield. Or maybe you’re going to visit a drinking buddy in Boxford. (You know who you are.)

In any case, for whatever reason, you’re heading west on outer Linebrook Road. If you look on a map, you’ll see that you’re heading to that place where Ipswich ultimately narrows to a point, that final resting place where Ipswich finally gives up the ghost and becomes someplace else: Topsfield, if you suddenly see a Yeti and lose control of your vehicle and careen off the road to the left; or Boxford, if your brakes fail you and you hurtle to your doom off to the right. Just for example, I mean.

But enough setting of the stage. Here’s the critically important advice you’re going to need for this journey, if you intend to arrive at your destination safely, Yetis notwithstanding. Because the closer you get to Hood Pond, the more potholes you’re going to encounter.

Please understand: I point this out only as a pubic service, not as a complaint. I revere the Ipswich pothole-fixer gods. They work dreadfully hard, they work awful hours, they often work in wretched weather, they do important work. But they have not, at this writing, had an opportunity to tackle the topographical nightmare, the asphalt moonscape, the concave mountain range that this winter’s blizzards turned the Hood Pond neighborhood into. Until they do — and again, let me be clear, I know the pothole gods will ultimately turn this stretch of road into an absolute work of art — you will need to fend for yourself.

Have no fear. The Outsidah is here for you. I can give you at least six essential insights into the challenge of navigating Planet Outer Linebrook during pothole season.

  1. After you bend left at the old Linebrook Cemetery, you’ll need to start paying closer attention to the road. I mean what used to be the road. Soon you’ll find that significant portions of what used to be the road are now, uh, air. Steer your vehicle around these portions of the ex-road.
  2. The further you go toward 97, the more you may experience unexpected audio sensations. These are echoes. Ignore them. Sound waves are reverberating off the walls of particularly deep and wide potholes.
  3. If you have an idea to create a tourist attraction, where people pay $12 to stand there and say something and hear the pothole repeat it back to them in a spooky tone of voice, please don’t. By the time you get a new-business permit from the Town of Ipswich, the pothole gods will have filled in your cash cow.
  4. The dense foliage of outer Linebrook may lead to confusion. The mottled shadows will make some potholes difficult to spot in time to keep your vehicle from plunging to its doom in them. I suggest creeping at a snail’s pace into and out of each and every oblong-shaped shadow, just in case it happens to be a mammoth cave-sized pothole.
  5. Please stay tuned in to your vehicle’s thermostat. You may need to adjust for unexpected temperature fluctuations. Outer Linebrook potholes are now so vast that some form their own climate systems. Our recent unseasonably warm weather has been largely due to what meteorologists now refer to as the Pothole El Niño. (So many joyous wintertime motorcyclists have fallen into one especially enormous pothole near Pillowlace Lane that they’ve formed their own local government and are now petitioning to set up their own town. I understand former Ipswich selectman and avid motorcyclist Pat McNally is hoping to be their first-ever Town Moderator, if not Emperor.)
  6. The occasional inappropriately aggressive entrepreneur may set up shop in heavy-pothole areas. DO NOT SLOW DOWN on outer Linebrook Road for unsavory-looking people waving handmade signs that say things like “Hubcaps Found and Re-Mounted” or “Lost Your Mini Cooper? We Can Help!” These people will just rip you off.

So that’s my advice. Drive safe. If you’re still nervous, drive east.

 

 

Let’s All Go to School!

Standard

For too long, Ipswich has been a town divided. Two elementary schools, two-and-a-half miles apart. East side kids and west side kids growing up in rival gangs. Every September, two worlds collide as brand-new sixth-graders come together at Ipswich Middle School practically speaking different languages. Hood Pond? What’s that? Sally’s Pond? Who’s Sally?

Soon, all this division will be nothing but a bittersweet memory. The School Committee has done its homework, they’ve surveyed parents and teachers, they’ve rendered their decision, and an extra-special Town Meeting has confirmed their call: We shall have a single, glorious, half-paid-for-by-the-Commonwealth elementary school, rising like a beacon of walkability on the current Winthrop site.

Of course, walkability is as walkability does. West side kids will still come in by bus, just like they did to Doyon. After their long trek over Marini Hill, they’ll be dropped off right at the door of the new one-size-crams-all Winthrop-site school. Kids who live too close to take the bus are officially expected to walk; but of course many parents will choose to drive their children to school. With one elementary school instead of two, the number of driver-parents will effectively double, so the intensity of traffic congestion will ratchet up. With such a crush of cars vying for the school zone, even more parents will drive their little ones to school, just to reduce their odds of being squashed. Since it will be nigh unto impossible to get your first-grader to the door of the school, you’ll finally give up, drop her a block or two away, and offer up a prayer for her safety. Providential side-effect: Ipswich will become a more prayerful place.

Unfortunately, adverse consequences will also ensue. During our twice-a-day downtown gridlock, emergency vehicles will be trapped. While you pray for the children picking their way through the mass of mostly-motionless minivans, please also pray that no fires break out anywhere in town around the start or end of the school day. Police officers will need to plan ahead and station themselves outside the traffic snarl; otherwise we can expect crafty criminals to take advantage of the dual daily paralysis, leading to a spike in burglaries, murders, and maybe even graffiti.

Commuters from other towns who used to drive through Ipswich on their way to and from work will be surprised to find much more traffic choking their regular route. Soon they’ll learn to swing around through Hamilton, which regrettably means fewer of them will be contributing to the Ipswich economy by buying their breakfast snacks here. Another sad side-effect is that they’ll no longer have access to the steady stream of important breaking news offered via the big banners hanging over Five Corners. This may cut significantly into attendance at Chowderfest, Olde Ipswich Days, and vacation Bible schools.

Still, one man’s walkability is another man’s windfall. Sensing opportunity, I am hoping to launch a couple of new enterprises.

  • My new company, Winthrop Kid-Drop, will pick up children from designated sites around town and parachute them directly onto the rooftop of the new school building. At the end of the school day, our helicopter will drop one end of a very large tube onto the school grounds, and our high-powered vacuum sweeper will suck your child up in a jiffy. Winthrop Kid-Drop not only keeps your child safe from the angry swarms of competing drivers on the downtown streets, it also keeps you from having to be one of them! Register today!
  • Gloucester residents who work in towns beyond Ipswich will enjoy Candlewood Catapult, a service that hurls you directly from the Golf Club to the Dairy Queen — and back again at the end of the workday — entirely bypassing the mess on Central Street. Due to tricky wind patterns, we’re still working out logistics for a similar service to benefit people who commute into Gloucester. Sadly, during testing, we accidentally plunked a couple of volunteers from Rowley into the marsh. If you come across them, please contact me immediately.
  • For your generous online contribution, my new charity, Traffic Jam Gram, will deliver a gentle note of encouragement to that blockhead of a driver ahead of you. For a small extra fee, we offer customized cussing.

 

Doug Brendel comes to you from Planet Outer Linebrook, a place 11 minutes from Winthrop, except when it’s 32. Follow him by clicking “Follow” on your screen now.

 

 

Wasn’t That Special!

Standard

Well, here you are, reading this. Which I guess means you survived that “special” Town Meeting last week.

I have not lived in Ipswich long, but I have lived here long enough to know the difference between an ordinary Town Meeting and a special one.

  1. The springtime “Annual Town Meeting,” which probably shouldn’t be called “ordinary,” is ordered under the laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. It has to happen. (I don’t know what happens if we don’t have the legally mandated Annual Town Meeting — Tom Murphy goes to jail?)
  2. Technically, any Town Meeting other than the Annual Town Meeting is a “Special” Town Meeting. Traditionally, the Town of Ipswich has held only one Special Town Meeting each year, in the fall. But the truth is, under the law, the Board of Selectmen have the freedom to call a Special Town Meeting anytime they darn well please. They could call a Special Town Meeting every single day if they wanted to. Wouldn’t that be fun!

With the Pony Express land purchase question and the Winthrop single-school location question, however, the Selectmen decided this would be the year for an extra Special Town Meeting.

And it was extra-special, wasn’t it! So popular that traffic backed up practically to Rowley. A Newbury couple in a Kia trying to get to Salt Kitchen for dinner were trapped on High Street, between a Volvo driven by a Groveland woman hoping to visit her sick cousin at Riverbend, and a New Hampshire man in the Ford F-150 trying to smooth things over with his wife by taking her to the Ipswich Inn B&B. The sick woman was well by the time her cousin got there, and the guy in the pickup gave up and pulled into Dairy Queen. That relationship is pretty much over.

I was trapped myself, at an appointment in Merrimacport, and arrived at the Dolan PAC a half-hour late. The High Street parking lot was jammed, with an enormous black Ipswich police vehicle ominously standing guard lest latecomers park illegally. Fortunately my car is very, very small, so I ended up tucking it in between the rear tires of the cruiser and sneaking into the building.

The volunteers manning the voter-sign-in tables were cheery as ever. I picked up my official neon-orange ballot, no problem, and greeted Election Constable Ron Graves at the auditorium door. He smiled his usual constablesque smile, took me by the shoulder, and turned me around with a solemn one-word admonition: “Cafeteria.”

Yes. It was way too late to squeeze into the already-voter-choked auditorium. I was condemned to the outer reaches, the netherworld, of the Extra-Special Town Meeting. And the cafeteria was no less congested. When I arrived in this Meeting Place of the Damned, every little plastic-disc seat securely attached to its sturdy linoleum table was already more than occupied by the ample backside of yet another voter who hadn’t left home early enough to vie for a cushy seat with all the early-birds in the big-people’s room.

A huge screen loomed over the room, a massive continuously morphing image of the goings-on in the beautiful, comfortable, but off-limits auditorium, a presentation clearly designed to taunt us for having arrived late. Town Moderator Tom Murphy looked like a rock star. I kept hoping he would smash a guitar.

In the makeshift cafetorium, those who were lucky enough to have an actual seat leaned smugly on the cafeteria tables, as if to say to rest of us, “I may have been late, but I wasn’t as late as YOU … you SLACKER.”

The rest of the latecomers huddled at the edges of the room, the crust of humanity. Under such dire circumstances, life takes on a kind of new normalcy. As the big-screen debate dragged on, one couple spread a picnic blanket, sat cross-legged, and noshed. People pitched tents, played cards, texted their children at home, traded valuables for scraps of firewood, all the normal activities you’d observe in a refugee camp.

Speaker after speaker came and went on-screen. I grew numb, then dizzy. At some point I seem to remember someone in the auditorium moving to table the motion to move the motion that the motion be tabled. Eventually, our cafeteria confinement got to be too much for some. A woman with eyes bulging had to be wrestled to the floor when she lunged menacing at the screen with a fingernail file. She was frothing at the mouth as we held her down. “Call the question!” she rasped, shuddering. “Call the question!”

I was a fool to think that it would all be over quickly. An “ordinary” Town Meeting might have 20 articles, and takes perhaps four hours. An extra-special gathering like this, then, with only two articles, ought to take about 24 minutes, right? Uh, no.

We were in the process of setting up our own police and fire departments and electing our own mini-Town Manager when it all came to a merciful end. Democracy had done its job. We had survived our time in solitary. But I felt badly for Moderator Murphy. He only makes $250 a year. In a good year, that’s $125 per Town Meeting. This year, with three Town Meetings, we’ve effectively cut him to $83.33 per. Please, Ipswich, have some compassion. Maybe we could take turns delivering meals to his house.

 

 

You Can Get There From Here

Standard

I have not lived in Ipswich long, but I have lived here long enough to be entering old age — proven by the fact that my youngest child is now at Ipswich High School and recklessly approaching driving age.

Lydia Charlotte will soon need to master driving in Ipswich. Please note that this is not exactly the same as mastering plain old “driving.” Many driving-related phenomena in Ipswich require special skills which are not required — or even recommended — elsewhere.

For example, Lydia Charlotte will eventually need her hair styled. This means she will need to get herself from our home on Planet Outer Linebrook to Detangles on Short Street, where Kathy Gelsomini has been responsible for Brendel family hair ever since we moved to town.

Dear daughter: I offer you this basic primer in getting from here to there.

This journey, of less than five miles, should take only 10 minutes. You simply follow Linebrook Road across Route 1, past Marini, past the Catholic church, to the stop sign at Lord’s Square. All of this can be accomplished with the most rudimentary of driving skills.

Here, however — at Lord’s Square — you will need special abilities, rare insights, and perhaps a dash of luck. For here, you must cross the street, moving from the head of Linebrook Road to the head of Short Street. This is a distance of barely 80 feet, but it is likely to be an extraordinary adventure, vividly remembered for a long time to come, possibly during therapy sessions.

First, prepare yourself for the navigation process. Note that you are crossing not one but two state routes, both 133 and 1A, which means you may be dealing with eastbound traffic from Georgetown competing with southbound traffic from Newbury, as well as westbound traffic from Gloucester competing with northbound traffic from Hamilton. The folks approaching Lord’s Square from your right will likely be disoriented by the sharp curve in the road, as they’re forced to bend toward the dog-leg at High Street. The folks approaching from your left will be even more disoriented, because they will have just experienced the dog-leg at High Street. You may actually catch a glimpse of these drivers mouthing the words “What just happened?”

Even if traffic thins out enough to convince you that you have time to gun the accelerator and bolt across the road to Short Street, please don’t — at least not until you have glanced to your right, to see if anyone is sitting at the head of Liberty Street, also hoping to leap into the fray. Whomever you may see sitting at that stop sign, do not — I repeat, do not, under any circumstances — make eye contact with them. They are trapped on a one-way street which should go the opposite direction but doesn’t, and it’s possible that they’ve been sitting at that stop sign for some number of hours, watching in vain for an opportunity to pull into traffic and get on with their lives. One woman who lives on Liberty Street reportedly raised her five children in her minivan at the Liberty Street stop sign. In such straits, a driver to your right, waiting on Liberty Street, may be fidgety, even desperate, so at any moment they may do something irrational. Or even something emotional — like clasping their hands and miming a plea of anguish — just to get your sympathy. So whatever you do, do not look directly at the Liberty Street driver. Just keep track of them, out of the corner of your eye, so you’re not accidentally broadsided by them when you finally make your move.

When you finally feel that you have enough time to cross the street without being clobbered, I urge you to hit the gas. This is no time for timidity. You have to move your vehicle some 80 feet — nearly two-hundredths of a mile — before you can relax again. In a situation like this, my dear daughter, there is no shame in leaving skid marks on the asphalt. And if you find yourself fainting with fright, uneasy about mashing the accelerator, just remember: Until you get to Detangles, your hair looks terrible.

I’m sorry I can’t teach you in this session everything you’ll need to know about driving in Ipswich, but please know that I love you, I’m committed to you, I’ll pay your hospital bills as necessary — and I promise to keep coaching you as best I can. Future lessons include:

  • How to Survive When Three Drivers Simultaneously Approach the Railroad Crossing in Front of the Ipswich Sports Bar
  • Where You Can Turn Left at Five Corners and Where You Can’t
  • How to Get to the Neck Without a Boat During High Tide

And maybe most important of all:

  • How to Get Off Argilla Road Onto County.