You Can’t Get There From Here


Google recently restructured. It was big news, and there was plenty of speculation as to why they did it. This speculation was unnecessary. Clearly, the company restructured in order to focus the efforts of several hundred programmers on upgrading their Google Maps app. Not the whole app. Just the Ipswich part.

Google Maps, as you know, is the app that tells you how to get where you’re going, and how long it’s going to take you, and how much longer it’s going to take you in traffic. Google Maps has become a centerpiece of American life, and in most parts of the country it probably works just fine. But Ipswich is unique — unique in ways that the ordinary Google Maps app just can’t handle. Driving through Ipswich, you need more location-specific information than the Google programmers originally accounted for. Truth be told, a single month of summertime driving in this town can require a staggering breadth of data:

Time to destination: 12 minutes.

With traffic: 15 minutes.

Behind motorcycle rally: 11 minutes.

With potholes: 17 minutes.

With bicycles in the road: 52 minutes.

In a neighborhood where children have set up a lemonade stand: 16 minutes.

In a neighborhood where adults have set up a yard sale: 29 minutes.

With turkeys in the road: 19 minutes.

With guinea hens in the road (Linebrook Road at Route 1): 21 minutes.

With deer in the road: 7 minutes, with post-shock acceleration.

With deer in the road (dead): 13 minutes.

With protesters in the road (Water Street): 26 minutes.

With Joni Soffron in the road (Pavilion Beach): 27 minutes.

With flooding (during mandatory water restrictions): 28 minutes.

With fire engine emerging (Central Street): 14 minutes.

With fire engine returning (Central Street): 22 minutes.

Prior to Thursday evening Crane concert (Argilla Road): 52 minutes.

During Clam Box operating hours (High Street): 70 minutes.

During Ipswich Farmers Market (Wednesdays, South Main Street): 72 minutes.

During Marini’s Strawberry Festival (Linebrook Road): 30 minutes.

During Marini’s Corn Maze (Linebrook Road): 42 minutes.

Behind the Marini tractor (Linebrook, until the driver can find a wide place where he can pull to the side of the road): 25 minutes.

Before or after Town Meeting (High Street, School Street): 43 minutes.

When Tom Palance or Orville Giddings is playing at Downtown Tuesdays (Market Street): 23 minutes.

If Riverbend’s pile of dead brush cascades across County Road: 33 minutes.

If Riverbend’s rotted logs don’t hold up the gravel at the side of the road: 38 minutes.

With freak thunderstorm: 41 minutes.

Distracted by ICAM drone cam overhead: 44 minutes.

Distracted by ICAM drone cam overhead (with crash): 187 minutes.

Behind school bus (school mornings only): 48 minutes.

Behind garbage truck (garbage days only; 1 garbage can per household): 25 minutes.

With emptied garbage cans rolling around in the road (garbage days only): 50 minutes.

Behind recycling truck (unlimited recycling) 213 minutes.

Behind compost truck (roadside compost pickup days only; by subscription only): 13 minutes.

Saturday morning en route to the beach (Argilla Road): Forget about it.

Saturday morning en route to the beach (with Strandbeests): Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.

Making the Best of It


As I imagine it, somewhere in a smoke-filled room, deep in the inner sanctums of Town Hall, the Powers That Be are gathered under a single dim light bulb, chomping on cigars and deciding the fate of the Town.

“Time to decide on permits,” one growls.

“Water Street,” another grunts, flicking through paperwork.

“Yeah, the old Melanson property,” someone mutters from the shadows.

“What are you doing? Crossing yourself? Stop it.”

“It burned down! You have to cross yourself when someone talks about a place that burned down! Otherwise it can happen to you!”

“Nuts to that. It was a blessing,” another says. “That lot is better empty. Right on the river, there.”

“Nice space, empty.”

“Yeah, you can see the river. You can actually walk. It’s nice.”

“You’re such a wimp. Walking along the river. Wimp!”

“So what’s the deal on this precious square of riverfront?”

“Roger bought it. Needs a permit.”

“Why? It’s legal for two condo units.”

“So? What’s he wanna put there?”

“Three units.”

“Dang. The Town shoulda bought it when they had the chance.”

“We are the Town.”

“And we didn’t buy it.” He crushes his cigar. “Oh well.”

“Roger did a nice job dressing up the Whittier. Ya gotta give him that.”

“Yeah. And he’ll do a nice job on Water Street.”

“Sure. Water Street is gonna be a great attraction. Good for the Town economy.”

“Yeah, after we dredge.”


“Yeah, the river’s too shallow there for the cruise ships.”

“True.” He cuts another cigar.

“I also agree that the heliport is going to be a real plus.”


“Yeah, on the roof. Three stories, heliport on top. Awesome.”

“Boston’s got nothin’ on us!” He pours another whisky.

“Any objections? Hearing none — approved.”

“So what else we got tonight?”

“Well, we got a plot here on Fellows Road.”

“What’s the story?”

“Need a permit for a combination convenience store, gas station, preschool, antique shop.”

“Sounds good to me.”

“I’m not finished reading yet. Also a hardware store, a machine shop, and doctors’ offices.”

“Is that it?”

“And condos.”

“Dang. Maybe the Town shoulda bought this one too.”

“Who’s the permit for?”

“Roger. Nobody else seemed to want it!”

“What a go-getter. OK, what’s next?”

“Well, there’s a stretch of land along Linebrook Road. Nothin’ but trees.”

“Eh, people love trees. Town shoulda bought it. Who wants a permit?”

“Roger bought it. He’s thinking of a landing strip. Nothing big, just small planes.”

“OK. What else?”

“There’s a small undeveloped rectangle inside Ipswich out on Route 1. Just gravel now. Legal for a one-story business.”

“So what’s the deal?”

“Town shoulda bought it. But we didn’t. Roger got it. He’s thinking casino.”

“Oughta be great once we get medical marijuana going.”

“OK. Anything else?”

“Here’s a little triangle of property where North Main Street splits in two, heading up toward the church.”

“Yeah. Town shoulda bought it. Who wants the permit?”


“Of course. What can we approve for him?”

“Skyscraper. First ten floors, businesses. Next ten, condos. On top, satellite communications. NASA contract. NSA tie-in. National security stuff. The details are blacked out. Classified. If they tell us, they’ll have to kill us.”

“OK, good to go. Just so he doesn’t put in any sculpture.”

“No way. I think we’ve been clear on that sculpture nonsense. OK. Next?”

“That cul-de-sac at the end of Mitchell Road. Totally developable.”

“Town shoulda bought it.”

“Who needs the permit?”

“Well, Roger bought it.”

“Silly question. What’s he have in mind?”


Maine Course: You Up for Down East?


I have not lived in Ipswich long, but I have now lived here long enough to do what everybody else does, which is vacation in Maine.

Which I did last week.

My wife and I abandoned our children, our jobs, even our cats — left behind not just Facebook but the entire World Wide Web — and rented a cottage for a week in a 16-acre thicket of woods on the Maine coast. Where, you ask? I’m not sure. I believe it was someplace between Acadia National Park and needing a passport. As ignorant a newcomer as I am in Ipswich, I was even ignoranter — an even newercomer — in Maine.

But now, after seven continuous days of firsthand experience, I am an expert on Maine. As a public service, I offer seven fun facts:

  1. Maine produces nearly 90% of the nation’s lobster supply. Maine also produces 90% of the nation’s toothpick supply — because you always need a toothpick after eating lobster.
  2. Maine also has clams, but they don’t hold a candle to ours. They look pretty much like Ipswich clams, but the similarity ends there. Maine clams don’t taste right. They taste like a cross between an oyster and a rubber doorstop — and with a consistency somewhere between a Super Ball and, well, actually, a rubber doorstop.
  3. We thought we had it bad on the North Shore last winter, with 10 feet of snow, but that was child’s play compared to the folks Down East. They got 14 feet. It was not a pleasant time for them. Many ropes were gotten to the end of. Now that the weather is nice, Maine is absolutely wallpapered with For Sale signs. You can buy vast swaths of Maine real estate for rock-bottom prices. Unfortunately, you will neither be able to get onto nor off of your property during the winter, and when you finally do gain access, you will find that the roof collapsed under the tonnage of snow, and your living room is now a fungus farm.
  4. Maine’s state animal is the moose. Maine claims to have more moose per square mile than any other state. They perpetuate this myth with thousands of “Watch Out for Moose” signs along their highways. But the moose are not profuse. In fact, we have never yet seen a single such Down East beast. I now believe that there is actually only one moose, which they move from place to place, and take photographs of, to post the photos online. There is also just one cute little baby moose, who makes it into some of the photographs. There may have been more moose in Maine at one time, but after 14 feet of snow, they have all moved to Florida.
  5. Maine is also famous for its mosquitoes. Their mosquitoes are bigger than our mosquitoes, and growing rapidly. Thanks to the natural processes of evolution, Maine’s mosquitoes are enlarging to take up the space left behind by the moose. This should be no surprise. You’ve seen photos of moose standing in swamps. Mosquitoes breed in swamps. The only difference now is that the mosquitoes are six feet tall at the shoulder. And some are growing antlers.
  6. Maine is larger than the other five New England states combined. I never knew why until I spent a week there. Now I understand. They need the space for all that junk. Here in Massachusetts, we have “antique” shops, but Mainers are not given to such fancified euphemism. For the most part, they just tell it like it is. It’s junk. I saw more than one sign offering — without embellishment — “Old Stuff.” I saw enough junk shops in Maine to worry that we may soon have a shortage of junk in the rest of the country. If there’s a spike in the price of junk, Maine is gonna get rich.
  7. A favorite pastime for people in Maine is to watch for cars with Massachusetts plates and then pull out in front of them and drive 10 mph under the speed limit. Traveling to Maine? Plan accordingly.

I’m back now. It was a beautiful vacation. Really. But I’m happy to be home — for the reasonable weather, for the tasty clams, for the normal-sized mosquitoes, and most of all, for the sensible traffic.



Apparently it’s hard to beat a candidate positioned as “friend of chickens” who serves drinks.

election day 2

(“Skipped” is SurveyMonkey’s term for write-in votes. Write-ins included Susan Brengle, Rachel Roesler, Kitty Robertson, Joni Soffron, Heidi Paek, and Nicholetta Paudelopoulous, the worker killed in Ipswich’s 1913 mill strike.)

24-hour Update on the Big Vote


At the 24-hour mark, the race to place an Ipswich woman’s face on the $10 bill is dramatic indeed. The U.S. Treasury Secretary has not yet announced his decision, so this ballot is still open. Vote here today!

Chicken Lady Deb Clapp is running away with it so far, but there are still more than 13,000 votes to be cast.

(“Skipped” is Survey Monkey’s term for write-ins.)

election day 1