A Fox in the (Media) Henhouse

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Some people will do anything for attention.

My friend Bob, for example. I’m sure you know him — at least by now, after he was all over the news, with all that coverage by various local TV stations.

Yeah, he’s the guy who got bitten by the rabid fox.

Sure, there were a total of three rabid-fox-bite victims in Ipswich that day, but my friend Bob was the one you saw on television. This is just like Bob, always angling for the spotlight.

It wasn’t enough to live in a lovely, pastoral place near the Ipswich River, surrounded by the beauties of nature, occasionally visited by wild turkeys (I don’t mean Ipswich drivers), enjoying the mild breezes of a New England spring. No. It wasn’t enough for Bob, I guess. He had to go and try to be a media star.

People blame the fox. I’m not so sure. Not at all. With all the fake news flying around these days, I’m not entirely convinced that the story you got was what really happened. There was nobody there rolling video when the attack allegedly took place. So all we have is Bob’s version of events. The tale of a man clearly desperate to be a celebrity, at any cost.

Bob tells me that he first saw the fox running on the other side of his neighbor’s yard. So for starters, this was not Bob’s fox. This fox was apparently committed to a completely different media opportunity. Bob says his neighbor’s grown son, visiting from upstate New York, was clambering onto the hood of a car and yelling as if he were being chased by a swarm of bees. Clearly this out-of-state visitor was striving for some kind of TV coverage himself. (Another fame-seeking New Yorker? You be the judge.)

According to Bob, his first thought was, “Ah, a photo opportunity — for a holiday card!” I seriously doubt this. In all the time I’ve known Bob, I’ve never once received a holiday card from him. Plus, are you really going to put a photo of a rabid fox on your holiday card? What kind of greeting would you offer? “Have a rabies, rabies Christmas!” “The 12 Injections of Christmas.” “All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth (in your flesh).” Not plausible, Bob.

“I called out to Joanne, my wife, to go get her camera,” Bob says. “I tried to keep an eye on the moving fox.” Note that Bob doesn’t admit to flagging down the fox, or waving half a raw chicken at him to try to entice him into a photo op. In any case, while Bob kept an eye on the fox, the fox apparently spotted him — and liked what he saw.

And here’s where the story really breaks down. Bob asserts that the fox headed toward him, and then — trouble. Bob’s version of events: “As happens in so many dramatic, commercial movies filmed in the woods, when someone or something is chasing a victim, I took one step, tripped, and fell down.”

If ever there was a scripted moment, this is it. Bob does not routinely fall down in his own yard. This was obviously Bob’s big attempt at an Academy Award.

“Just then, Joanne came out of the house with her camera,” Bob goes on to say. So where are her photos of the big event? Oh, he says, she put her camera down “to see what I was doing.” Uh-huh. I suggest she shot the whole incident, but it was such bad acting, she deleted everything in disgust.

“She says that she saw me on the ground flailing my arms about, shouting and growling at the fox, as the fox had my jeans in its mouth at the bottom of my left leg,” Bob says — then adds, “tearing at it in a feeding frenzy.” Bob is a better writer than me. I never would have thought of the “feeding frenzy” line. But then this is how it is in today’s media-crazed world: Everything is spin, spin, spin.

“I guess my jeans were not tasty enough, so the fox let go and ran off,” Bob says.

But the damage was done. A scrape and a “puncture wound” on his arm, and an inch-long cut — oh come on, let’s go ahead and call it a bloody gash — on his ankle. The neighbor’s son ran over, Bob says, claiming that the fox bit him also. But whom, exactly, did you see on the Nightly News? Not the neighbor’s son. No. Bob cleverly screened the media away from the out-of-towner and grabbed all the glory for himself.

Bob quickly began ensuring his 15 minutes of fame. “I then became the town crier,” he says, “spreading a warning, knocking on doors of a few other neighbors.” Soon Ipswich’s intrepid Animal Control officer, two emergency services people, and a cadre of cops were on site. Bob was still thinking Hollywood, though. Here’s how he paints the scene:

“I turned my head and noticed a large rabbit behind us, with ears erect, learning what it could. ‘Should I be concerned?’ it seemed to ask.” I believe this is one of those scenes that doesn’t quite make the final cut of the movie.

At the hospital, Bob got seven rabies shots, administered by two nurses sticking him simultaneously — once in both arms, once in both thighs, once in both buttocks — plus a final, seventh injection in an undisclosed location. Mercifully, no cameras were allowed.

Finally, back at his home, it was time for Bob’s star turn. Reporters from three Boston stations sought him out. It might have been just another story for ABC and CBS; but it must have been truly gratifying for Fox News to finally broadcast actual “fox news.” The interviews, I think, reveal the master-media-manipulator that my friend Bob truly is. In these videos, he’s conversational but eloquent, knowledgeable but concise — and of course, as always, casually dressed while at the same time stunningly handsome. Something like Cary Grant in his later years, except for the turkeys.

To the very end of the episode, Bob tried to make me feel it was actually the stuff that movies are made of. Returning home from the hospital, he says, he was struck by a final haunting image: “As we parked, across the street an adult raccoon could be seen in the dark, hiding from our headlights.” Fade to black.

Well, I’m skeptical about the whole thing. Yes, I would love to see my friend Bob become a movie star. Or a TV star. Or even a YouTube sensation. But maybe it was simply not meant to be. In a curious coincidence, while he was being interviewed by the conservative Fox News outside his house, there was the liberal Bill Maher on Bob’s own TV set inside the house. Perhaps a bad omen, portending a failed career in entertainment? I don’t know. I just don’t know.

Anything for a moment in the spotlight, I tell ya. That’s Bob.

And I guess it runs in the family. Bob has a cousin on Long Island who follows the news in Ipswich; but after Bob survived the rabid-fox attack, did she call to see if he was okay? Did she rush to see if she could help in his recovery? No. She emailed Bob with a suggestion: Contact the Outsidah! Maybe you can be in a column!

See? I think this publicity fetish is in the DNA.

Well, okay, Long Island person. Here you go. I hope you’re happy.

Oh, by the way, your cousin Bob is going to live. Maybe send him a nice card?

 

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Shave and a Haircut, Two Acres

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My next-door neighbor is having way more fun than me.

In order to offer him some modicum of privacy, let me simply, for purposes of this column, refer to him as Hendrick. Hendrick drives a tractor-mower, whose actual name I keep forgetting. It’s a big, bold contraption, with a big, bold sound, one that requires Hendrick to wear very impressive noise-canceling headphones while he’s mowing the grass. Grass is such a quiet plant, slender and fine, waving gently in the breeze. But then here comes Hendrick, with a ferocious grrrrr!, like a deadly upside-down helicopter, blades whirring feverishly, slashing those tender little shoots to smithereens.

Just look at Hendrick in action, and you can see how much fun he’s having, leaning on that big ol’ steering wheel, whipping that massive machine around the corners, doing donuts around the trees. For all I know, he’s rocking out, with old Rolling Stones hits pounding inside those headphones.

I revere Hendrick because the places he mows, I don’t have to. We both have pretty big backyards, separated by a sort of meadow, with a winding path cut through the middle of it. The path is essential on school day mornings, because when my daughter walks to the bus stop, she can disappear in the tall weeds and tangled briars and never be heard from again, until she needs money. As you can understand, this critically important path must be mowed regularly, or it just grows over and disappears. I could take my miserable little environmentally correct rechargeable-battery-operated electric mower out there and push, push, push my way through the jungle. But no. My good neighbor Hendrick takes his Humongo-Notorious Death Star out there and — zoop! whoop! shlroop! — that path is as clear as an Olympic slalom course.

Hendrick also uses his Titanic Wham-O Mauler to clear the vegetation along the edge of my property. I’ve put up a decorative fence there, and I’m tempted to ignore whatever’s growing outside of it, between the fence and the road. But on his Mega-Dynamo Vege-matic Decimator, Hendrick can get a running start at the edge of his own driveway and fly down the street at top speed — possibly as much as 2 or even 2.1 mph — and clear the brush at the edge of both of our lots in 20 seconds flat. His riding mower is so gigantic, if he ever got mad at me, he could easily grind the entire fence into mulch. This is one reason why I ply him with cognac and other lavish gifts at Christmastime.

There’s also the matter of the rectangle, at one corner of my property, which abuts Hendrick’s property, and which, by a fluke of geography, really looks more like it should be his than mine. Like a good New England neighbor, observing all the proper protocols, Hendrick graciously asked if he could more or less treat it as his own, mowing it and keeping it up and even planting a couple trees on it; and as the lazy stingy selfish good-for-nothing neighbor I am, I agreed. Since that day, Hendrick has devotedly run his Colosso-Crush Devastato Predator over the northernmost corner of my property. He has made this corner of my property the crown jewel of the neighborhood. It’s immaculately manicured year-round. There are two beautiful new sugar maples complete with circles of mulch. Tourists stop their SUVs and take pictures of this corner of my property. We book weddings on this corner of my property. This guy Hendrick, I love him.

Of course, I realize, it’s not love. It’s not about me. It’s not really even about the super-sized riding mower. It’s about the kids. Hendrick has four children under the age of ten, while I have only one child at home. Hendrick has a certain need to get out of the house, and an excuse to don noise-canceling headphones. Hence, the need for a rider-mower bigger than a Volkswagen. And the need for a mowing area bigger than his own yard.

Here I am, by a stroke of good fortune. Ready to meet said need.

This is the essence of New England-style neighborliness, is it not?

 

 

Make a Lake

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The weather is turning, the forsythia have forsythed; so you’re beginning to dream of heading out to Hood Pond, pushing your kayak into the water, or actually jumping in and splashing around, whatever it takes to get the most out of New England’s several hundred hours of summer. Break out the fishing pole. Let the kids squish around in the scum on the bottom. Feel that strange sensation of actual sunshine on your epidermis.

But dang, Hood Pond is a long way, isn’t it? If you live near Ipswich center, or God forbid even further east, it can take a heck of a long time to journey all the way to the freshwater of Hood Pond. Thirteen, possibly even 14 entire minutes. Depending on whether a cop is stationed in the Our Lady of Hope parking lot.

But I really do believe, if we can manage some relatively simple community organizing, you might soon be able to enjoy many of the benefits of Hood Pond without planning an all-day road trip. Here’s how.

On outer Linebrook Road, past Route 1 but before you get to my house, there’s a pothole, I mean a pretty massive pothole, on the westbound side of the street. I have not lived in Ipswich long, but I have lived here long enough to know about the potholes, and I can tell you, honestly, I have never seen a pothole of this size. It is cavernous. Scientists studying how echoes fool wildlife into changing their migration patterns could dress in khakis and safari hats and pack their gear down into this pothole and take readings. This pothole is big.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining about our Ipswich pothole guys. I love our pothole guys. They faithfully grind out hours of thankless work — I say thankless because nobody goes on Facebook to post “What a nice smooth road!” The pothole guys work everywhere they possibly can, doing as high-quality a job as they possibly can, as fast as they possibly can.

Yet as I write these words, the massive pothole on the westbound side of Linebrook Road past Route 1 but before you get to my house has not yet been filled in. It is vast. And getting vaster — because every time the tires of a vehicle hit this pothole, its edges chip further away. (Of course, if drivers on outer Linebrook Road faithfully obeyed our very sensible 25 mph speed limit, they would have more than time enough to see said pothole and avoid it. But speeding on outer Linebrook is another subject, for another column. Or several.)

So my suggestion is simple — as follows: If you find yourself on outer Linebrook Road, and you have an opportunity to hit this colossal pothole, do so. As vehicles continue to take the edges off of the pothole, it gets larger, and by the time you read this, it will almost certainly rain again. The pothole will fill with H2O. Soon we’ll have an expansive, watery pothole wonderland — and much, much closer to Ipswich center than faraway Hood Pond. You’re going to save more than three miles round trip.

And this pothole-lake will be, at least for the time being, unregulated. Bring your boat, your beer, your homegrown recreational marijuana. Pothole Pond may exist long enough to undergo natural ecological transmutations and develop its own marsh system. You may be able to go clamming at Pothole Pond without a license, for who knows how many days, before the constable catches up with you!

Eventually, of course, the pothole guys will fill it in. They may have to pump it dry first, and demolish the lakeside homes constructed around its perimeter, before they fill it in, but they will almost certainly eventually fill it in. So let’s not delay. Please do your part. Do your civic duty. For the good of Ipswich, make an effort to get to outer Linebrook Road in the next few days, and when you see that gaping hole in the earth, don’t swerve to avoid it. Risk a little rack-and-pinion for the sake of our quality of life. Hit that sucker hard.

Oh, wait — looking out my window, just now, I see the pothole guys filling it in.

So never mind.

 

Blow By, Blow Dry

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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)

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“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

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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!

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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.