Friday, January 23, 2015

Runpee/rerunpee

It’s the dead of winter and, this being New England, that means it’s pretty darned dead.

And what with the deadening effects of winter in general and this winter in particular, I was casting about for the blogging idea that would be the equivalent of an amuse-bouche to end the week on. You know, a little something that would tickle the funny bone of the reader’s mind, not the mention the funny bone of the writer’s.

(If I’m not making any sense here, it’s because it is the dead of winter, and I have sadly found the answer to the question ‘would I be willing to take a long walk – or even a medium-sized walk - every day, even if it’s 15 degrees out?’ And that answer is a resounding ‘No!’ So I’m no doubt suffering from a bit of cabin fever.)

Anyway, just as I was despairing of ever finding my blog idea version of an amuse-bouche du jour, I heard a news bit on TV on the runpee app.

Surely a blog-worthy topic, given that there is no end to my amazement at the sheer volume of seemingly useless apps that are out there. And here was an app that identified the sections of a movie where theatergoers could take a pee break without missing out on the plot. Is this really something that the world has been holding its breath – and its bladder – for?

But as I sat down to do my post, I had something of a Groundhog Day (boring bit: maybe when they’re on the highway?) moment.

‘Hey,’ I asked myself, ‘Didn’t I blog about this app, like, a million useless apps ago?’

And indeed I did, way back in June of ought-nine, in a post entitled RunPee…because. (A title that is something of an in-joke for women of a certain age, as it takes off on the Modess…because ads of our girlhood. Back then, the sanitary napkin was a product that dared not mention its name. We’ve come along way, baby, what with all sorts of “feminine” products – including birth control and douches – saying it loud and saying it proud. Not to be outdone, of course, the guys have all the ED ads warning about those pesky erections that last more than four hours. Okay. This is neither here nor there w.r.t. runpee, but I just wanted to do a shout out to my fellow dames d’un certain age, especially given that, as we age, so do our bladders and we’re always on the lookout for clean bathrooms and we’re always devising workarounds, like don’t drink a cup of tea before climbing into the car. Don’t know what’s with all the French today, either. It’s not like I speak he language. Maybe it’s a dead of winter thing. Or the image of John Kerry and James Taylor giving France a hug, or whatever it is they were doing last week.)

Anyway, I’m sticking to my original read on runpee, which is a reasonable entertaining post, made a bit more entertaining by the fact that the founder of runpee stopped by to make a comment.

But I do want to say a couple of things.

First, it’s amazing that these guys are still around after all these years, isn’t it?

Second, it’s amazing that these guys are still capable of generating fresh publicity – like mentions on national news – after all these years, isn’t it?

Maybe it’s time for me to dream up a useless app of my own, which I may well be inspired to do once I drop my Blackberry into the recycle bin of life and step into the world of app-o-rama, of app-a-palooza.

One thought: why not an app reminding movie goers to pee before they get seated for the movie. With an add-on telling them to order the small-sized soda. Now that would be useful for those who haven’t yet figured this out on their own. Given the longevity of runpee, there must be plenty of them.

Meanwhile, since I’ve already done my rant on runpee, I need to look for a fresh app to make fun of.

I swear that the other day I saw something about an app that you use in conjunction with teeth-whiteners. Something that you shine on your teeth to accelerate the whitening process?

Damn!

What was I thinking when I didn’t seize the time and click through on it.

And now I can’t find it.*

Which means maybe I dreamed it up. Which means that, once I get a smarter smartphone, maybe I can even invent it. Especially with all the time I have on my hands, given that it’s too damned cold to go out and take a long – or even medium-sized – walk.

Watch this space…

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*Nope. I didn’t dream it up. Someone else did. As was inevitable, after I wrote this post, I stumbled upon it. There is, indeed an app called White Tooth that promises to accelerate the whitening process.

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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Business booming for private eyes

For those of us who grew up in the 1950’s and 1960’s, the two dominant TV show themes were westerns and private detectives.

Westerns occupied most of the terrain on the small screen, but there were plenty of PI’s, too.

Seventy-seven Sunset Strip. Surfside Six. Hawaiian Eye. Peter Gunn. And our appetites continued to be fed during the 1970’s and 1980’s with Rockford Files and Magnum PI.

Our introduction to PI’s came, of course, from HoFadoozlewdy Doody, where we first learned about the profession through Inspector Fadoozle, “America’s Number One Private Eye” (pictured here with Flub-a-dub. And lest you think that John J. Fadoozle was anything other than an important figure in American culture, in 2002 his marionette fetched $40K at auction.)

But although PI’s have lived on in detective fiction – think Mickey Bolitar and Stephanie Plum – they’re not quite as present on TV as they once were. (I know that there’s a show that’s kind of about Sherlock Holmes, but most of TV detectives these days work for a PD or for NCIS. So they’re public, not private.)

In real life, however, the PI business is booming.

Investigators across the nation say business has boomed in recent years from clients who want their sweethearts investigated for potentially deal-breaking habits and secrets.

“It’s worth it to them to spend a little in advance to figure out whether they’re hooked up with a loser or a longtime candidate,” said Jerry Bussard, who owns Cincinnati-based AAA Detective Agency Inc., of his clients.

The trend is partly driven, investigators say, by the legions of examples of online daters embellishing their profiles, and of scammers using dating sites to lure people into false romances with the intent of stealing from them. But investigators also say the uptick reflects a world in which a person can divine the outline of another’s life by a simple Google search. The Internet, they say, is like a gateway drug to professional snooping.

“What they are getting is just enough information to make them curious,” said Mr. Bussard. (Source: WSJ Online)

While digging up dirt for personal reasons is a big driver, employee background checks are also on the increase – something that was just not done in the good old days. (A friend recently told me that someone on her team was caught out because he had claimed a degree he had not technically been awarded. What was in the way of getting that degree was an unpaid activities fee from senior year. The employee – who hadn’t thought of it in years; he’d earned the degree, he just hadn’t been given his diploma - was allowed to pay up, so the case was closed. Point being, employees are under increasing scrutiny these days.)

Anyway, annual revenues for detective services have doubled over the past decade and, as of 2012, it was a $5.2 billion business in the U.S.

A lot of the business is conducted via computer which is a bit less exciting than surveillance (at least the parts of surveillance when there’s actually something to see), car chases and fist fights.

Who among us hasn’t been tempted to sign up for one of those criminal background check services to get the dirt on someone we’re curious about? Sure, we think about it but, in the end, if we really want or need to know something, we cede it to the pros.

Sometimes the background investigations reveal something really good, i.e., bad. Other times, there’s nothing new learned. And other times, the whole thing just blows up. As when a Chicago woman called the police about a car that had been suspiciously parked in front of her home. Turns out her boyfriend had hired a PI to investigate her. I suspect that this ended with a ‘not tonight, honey, I’ve got a headache’ of the permanent sort.

In any case, I thought it was interesting to see that business for PI’s is booming.

Wonder what this would have made of Inspector Fadoozle’s claim that he was “America’s Number One Private Eye.”

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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Thank you, Elon Musk

Well, Elon Musk has been in the news quite a bit lately.

There was the crash and burn of the Space X Falcon rocket ship, which made a spectacularly unsuccessful landing – talk about rockets’ red glare – on its return from a Pea Pod run to launch a payload of supplies to the International Space Station. (Space X is Musk’s civilian space exploration enterprise.)

Then came the news that Musk plans to be the Al Gore of an Internet designed for outer space.

Not to mention his donation of $10 million to the Future of Life Institute to help protect the world from artificial intelligence (AI):

In the past, Musk has warned that AI could be "potentially more dangerous than nukes." Recently, he and a long list of researchers signed an open letter asking for "robust and beneficial" AI research that would be mindful of future consequences to humans. (Source: NBC News)

And now he has put his money – or a teeny-tiny fraction of it – where his mouth is.

The $10 million will be given out as research grants. "You could certainly construct scenarios where the human race does not recover," Musk said. "When the risk is that severe, it seems like you should be proactive and not reactive."

Although it’s local – headed up by an MIT professor – I wasn’t familiar with the Future of Life Institute. But I’m all in favor of any group “working to mitigate existential risks facing humanity.”

Personally, I would have picked climate change, rogue viruses, mad scientists creating half-human/half musk ox hybrids,  or our increasing general reliance on technology to “run” everything (such that only survivalists will know where water comes from, how to stay warm, and how to navigate by reading a map) as my existential risks. Maybe this latter fear of mine intersects with what the Future of Life Institute is on to. After all, they have very big brains, and understand that AI is more than Amazon suggesting what books you might like. So if they want to focus on the risky business of “human-level artificial intelligence”, well, have at it.

Musk isn't the only famous scientific mind worried about killer machines. In December, astrophysicist Stephen Hawking told the BBC that the "development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race."

Well, that settles things. Any fear of Stephen Hawking is a fear of mine.

All this reminds me of a second-order encounter with AI that I had a few decades back. (I was going to write that it was 20 years ago, but I think it was more like 30. Time flies, even if  you’re not in a rocket ship.)

Anyway, a number of my colleagues – one of them remains one of my closest friends – were bailing out to join an upstart AI company.

What this company was doing was creating a Robby the Robot that would combine a LISP machine with a finance textbook (written by a Sloan School professor) and spit out optimal capital investment recommendations. At least that’s what I recall that the company of geniuses was going to do. It’s been a while. (I did a quick google and found that there is a Harvard Business School case study on this company, which I’m going to try to get my hands on.)

I was eventually invited to interview with this outfit. At least that’s what I recall. I may be being ego-shielding here. I may well have been pounding on their doors begging them to take me. After all, they were only hiring people with big and mighty brains, and what was more crave-worthy than joining that sort of brigade?

Anyway, I went through a number of interviews with everyone from the founders to my would-be manager (who was, in fact, an old-be manager of mine) to my likely peers. 

Along the way, I asked a few questions, mostly around whether there was actually going to be an audience that would pay a million bucks for a black-box that would “make” a decision for them that was currently made via a combination of spreadsheet, back of the napkin, and gut sense for free.  I also poked around a bit about my suspicion that business people were likely to look at the output of that costly black-box and yay or nay the advice based on back of the napkin and gut check.

I thought that, during the interview process, I was amply demonstrating that I had a big and mighty brain – big and mighty enough to make it there.

Apparently, most of what I was demonstrating was that I just didn’t get it.

I was let down gently.

I would not be getting an offer because it was felt that I “was not yet ready to leave my present company.”

Naturally, I was crushed.

And, just as naturally, I was gleeful and felt supremely vindicated when this company – which I kept tabs on through my friend – spent a couple of years going through all sorts of contortions before imploding. (Note to self: you really must get your hands on that HBS case.)

So, having been personally saved from AI, I laud Elon Musk and the Future of Life Institute for recognizing that it can pose an existential threat.

Oh, that Elon Musk. He is really something.

PayPal. Tesla. All that space stuff. Saving us from AI. Not to mention a name straight out of James Bond or Batman. It is good to be Elon Musk. And it is probably good to have Elon Musk as well.

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P.S. Special thanks to my friend Valerie, who has a very big and mighty (non-artificial) intelligence for pointing this article out to me. Seriously, it takes a village to keep track of everything that Elon Musk is up to.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Heart of the Commonwealth reborn? (If the New York Times says so…)

When you grow up in a city that’s about a 10 on the ‘meh’ scale of everyone else in the world (at least the proportion that’s actually heard of your less-than-illustrious city), you end up grasping for whatever straws there are out there that have anything to do with your less-than-illustrious city.

Worcester!

We were the birthplace of Dr. Robert Goddard, Robert Benchley, S.N. Behrman (not to be confused with S.J. Perlman), Elizabeth Bishop, Rich Gedman.

So what if you haven’t heard of any of all of these.

They were ours, all ours.

And while Esther Forbes may have (disappointingly) not been born in Worcester, but a few miles down Route 9, she damn well died in Worcester. (Who’s Esther Forbes? Come now: she wrote Johnny Tremain. Don’t you know anything?)

The smiley face?

Invented here!

Only place where Sigmund Freud spoke when he came to the U.S.?

Worcester!

And, by the way, we’re one of a handful of cities which has been named an All-American City five times.

So. There.

We might not be the Hub of the Universe, the Hog Butcher of the World, or the City of Lights.

But we were the Heart of the Commonwealth.

And, boy, was I excited when I read Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood and saw that Worcester was practically a character:

"One wet afternoon the following November, a Greyhound bus deposited Perry [Smith – one of the killers] in Worcester, a Massachusetts factory town of steep up-and-down streets that even in the best of weathers seem cheerless and hostile." (Original source of quote is In Cold Blood, but I found it on Sean Dacey’s no longer active blog, Unfashionable Sentiments.)

[As an aside, my senior year in high school I entered an essay contest on Worcester, sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce, and led off with this quote. I was so naïve about the ways of the world, let alone the Chamber of Commerce, that I was actually surprised when I didn’t win.]

Anyway, Worcester-ites, whether current or past, like it when we get a shout-out.

One of our more recent brushes with fame was when a funeral parlor in Worcester was the only one in the state willing to take the body of Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev and see that it got a proper burial.

And, most recently, just a couple of weeks ago, there was The New York Times talking about Worcester as a college town.

Oh, The Times tells us, it took Worcester nearly two-hundred years to get that it was a college town. But, day-am, with 35,000 college students – more than 1/6 of its population – it sure is. Holy Cross. Clark. Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Worcester State. Et al. Colleges ‘r Us. And, what’s more, the city is moving beyond college town-ery and is flourishing in general.

From one end of the city’s 245-acre central core to the other, Worcester is attending to the 35,000 college students who study and live here, and its primary boulevards are steadily filling up with the civic amenities that attract new residents. They include a busy public transit hub, comfortable and affordable housing, new restaurants and watering holes, computer stores and coffee shops, a performing arts theater, biotech research facilities, incubators and office space for start-up companies, and renovated parks — including one alongside City Hall with an ice rink larger than the one in Rockefeller Center. (Source: New York Times.)

Although I grew up skating on Henderson Pond (a.k.a., Hendy’s), I am especially delighted about that City Hall outdoor rink. To me, there are few more wonderful urban sights than folks skating on a winter’s day – or night. I try to walk by the Boston Common  rink at least once a day. In the summer, it’s a splash pond, which is fun to see in action as well.

What else up in Worcester?

A mix-used (including apartments) development right near City Hall (which takes the place of the heinous and failed Galleria Mall.) The ongoing fabulous rehab of the fabulous train station. The Hanover Theater – which used to be a dumpy movie theater, the Loew’s Poli and is now a beautiful performance space. (I’ve been to two events there in the past month: it’s gorgeous.) A new Marriott’s going up.

And as often as not, it’s the colleges that are helping Worcester revitalize. (I’m sure in self-defense: they’re competing for students who want to be in cool places like Boston and Providence.)

Worcester Tech’s partnering to turn “an 11-acre parcel on the edge of its 6,000-student campus into a life sciences teaching, research, laboratory and office complex called Gateway Park.”

The Mass College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences built a new campus in beautiful downtown Worcester a few years back.

When Quinsigamond Community College expanded into downtown, it decided not to build-in its own coffee shop and café. It wanted its students to patronize what was already around.

As a result of all this do-goodery:

According to the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Worcester’s steady redevelopment, fostered by well over $1.3 billion in public and private investment, is producing results that are at the top of urban demographic and economic performance in New England. The city’s population has climbed to more than 182,000 residents, up 13 percent from its modern low of under 162,000 in 1990. Worcester is now the second-largest city in New England.

The jobless rate in October, 5.6 percent, was lower than the state’s unemployment rate of 6 percent. The city added 6,900 new jobs from October 2013 to October 2014, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and average wages during that period increased nearly 5 percent.

Resurge, dear Heart of the Commonwealth, resurge.

“We haven’t rushed to rebuild the city,” said Frederick H. Eppinger, the president and chief executive of Hanover Insurance Group [a big part of all the development, including the Hanover Theater].

“Haven’t rushed in?” I’ll say.

Better late than never, and you might as well get it right.

God knows there are plenty of places in Worcester, including the neighborhoods skirting much of downtown, that are bleak and nasty.

But I’m delighted that Worcester’s on the rise.

After all, with the sea levels on the rise, I may end up flooded out here and end up doing a re-lo to Worcester.

God West, old lady, go West.

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A tip of the Worcester Tornados (a defunct minor league baseball team) cap to my friend Cathy, who sent me this link.

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Monday, January 19, 2015

Poodle skirts: so 50’s, not 60’s

In the last couple of months, I’ve seen two – count ‘em – two ads that showed 1960’s teenage girls wearing poodle skirts.

I don’t even remember what those ads were for – insurance? vitamins? ED drugs? – but in one of them the 1960’s teenage girl wearing the poodle skirt was doing the Mashed Potato.

No, no, a thousand times no.

A 1960’s teenager doing the Mashed Potato, the UT, the Twist, the Frug, the Pony, the Popeye might have been wearing a shirt-waist dress, a madras skirt, wheat jeans, black ski pants, a cable knit sweater and matching skirt (plaid). But there’s no way, unless they were at a costume party, that a teenage girl doing the Mashed Potato would have been wearing a poodle skirt.

That poodle skirt-wearing teenager would have been dong whatever the 1950’s version of swing dancing was called. And they would have been doing it to Bill Haley and the Comet’s “Rock Around the Clock,” not to “Dee Dee Sharpe’s Mashed Potato Time.”

Maybe whoever put together those ads would argue that it was a creative anachronism, but I found it just weird.

If you’re going to do decade related stuff, you really need to know that flappers = 1920’s, bobby-soxers = 1940’s, and poodle skirts = 1950’s. I don’t know what teenagers in the 1930’s were associated with. There was a Depression on. In pictures of my mother, who was a teenager in the 1930’s, she’s wearing dresses that looked exactly like what her mother was wearing. Andy Hardy’s girlfriend, Polly Benedict, probably wore a dress that looked exactly like what her mother was wearing, too.

This probably wouldn’t have bothered me that much if I hadn’t seen two separate ads associating the poodle-shirt with the 1960’s.

Not that decades don’t overlap. It’s not like the calendar turns and you empty out your closets and start anew.

Bobby sox are associated with the 1940’s, but teenagers wore them in the 1950’s. So did teen-age wannabes. I remember a swell pair of bobby sox that I had, which, for some reason had shoe laces (red and white candy-striped) threaded through them. As with so much of my clothing, I believe these were hand-me-downs from my sister. (Not that we did hand-me-downs with socks and underwear. We did have our standards. Maybe I just craved those socks so much that my sister just gave up and gave them to me.)

And when I started going to mixers in the 1960’s, there were a few senior couples who, at some point in the evening, would take over a corner of the floor and do the Stroll, a dance that was popular in the late 1950’s.

The rest of us would stop doing the Hully Gully long enough to gape at them.

Once the Stroll was over, we could all get back to the work of the evening, which – if you couldn’t get a boy to dance with you – was trying to figure out the words to “Louie Louie.”

And I can assure you that no one trying to figure out the words to “Louie Louie” was wearing a poodle skirt.

There’s really no other decade that I’d feel so confident in making such fashion assertions.

This is probably a bit surprising, given that for the first 7.5 years of that decade I was mostly wearing a green jumper and a white blouse. But I do have a very keen sense of what people – make that teenage people – were wearing. Which was not a poodle skirt.

As for other decades, well, I’m not so sure.

The more I got into not caring about fashion, the less I was aware of what was happening around me.

The 1970’s. Was that the era of body suits – the stretchy long-sleeved shirts that snapped under the crotch? And Huckapoo shirts – you remember them, the crazy-print nylon numbers that made everyone look like Donny Osmond. Maxi-coats. And the Diane Von Furstenberg wrap dress.

The 1980’s were leg warmers and big hair. That is, it was for people other than me. For me, it was menswear skirt suits, worn with either the femme silk shirt with a bow or the butch menswear shirt with a bow tie. (Oh, what the first mass wave of women in the formerly male workplaces went through so that today’s young women could wear form-fitting suits, low cut shirts, and f-me pumps…)

I don’t have a clue what was on in the 1990’s, and pretty much the only thing I associate with 2000 and beyond would be Uggs.

But the 1960’s.

I’m there, baby.

Girls started out the decade dressing like Mary Stone, the ideal teen (as opposed to teen idol) played by Shelly Fabares on the Donna Reed Show. Shiny hair pulled back with a stretchy headband. Modest shirt-waist dress. Later in the decade, that modest shirt-waist dress had been supplanted by the Mary Quant mini-skirt that Dr. and Mrs. Stone would most certainly not have approved if Mary had tried to leave the house wearing one. By the end of the decade, there was the Mary Mother of God look worn by hippie girls, and the jeans and work boots worn by the politicos.

Not that I pay all that much attention to what goes on in the world of fashion, but I do seem to notice that the 1960’s are making a comeback: boucle coats, Pucci print dresses…

The 1960’s. Bring it on.

Just keep in mind that, in the 1960’s, there were no poodle skirts.

Trust me on this one.

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Friday, January 16, 2015

Famous last tweets?

There was a famous film from the 1970’s – Little Big Man – in which the ancient character, Jack Crabb (played by Dustin Hoffman), croaks out:

My name is Jack Crabb, and I am the sole white survivor of the Battle of Little Big Horn.

Well, my name is Maureen Rogers, and I am apparently the sole person still using a Blackberry.

Seriously, sometimes when I take it out in front of others, I feel like I’m sporting a World War II era walkie-talkie.

Oooh….Aaah…Look…A Blackberry…Oooh…Aaah…

Do you carry it in your reticule?

The Blackberry is on my list to replace – it is, after all, over three years old – ancient history, electronics-wise. But it’s still chugging along. As is my similarly aged laptop. I do think the laptop will collapse first, but once I’m out electronics shopping I might as well do full sweep/fell swoop. I’ve pretty much settled on a Surface Pro for my computer, but I’m still at loose ends on a phone. Can you text on a World War II era walkie-talkie?

I do know that I’m on my last Blackberry.

They’ve been fine, but enough is enough.

And even the Blackberry folks are apparently ditching their Blackberrys in favor of other devices. Included in this group is whoever tweets out on the Blackberry official twitter account.

Here’s what happened:

Last year, there was a bit of a flurry when Blackberryit emerged that Alicia Keyes, who was the company’s “celebrity creative director” was sailing off tweets from an iPhone. (She blamed it on hackers, but who knows…)

In the latest episode, however, the official Blackberry Twitter account – which communicates to those few, those happy few, that band of brothers and sisters who remain Blackberry-loyal and Blackberry-proud – used an iPhone to get its word out.

If you can’t read the fine print there, it reads “via Twitter for iPhone”.)

Here’s what The Verge had to say:

You'd think the BlackBerry Classic would be a perfect device for thumbing out 140-character missives and sending them to the world; that keyboard is undeniably fantastic.

But nope. Whoever wrote this fired it off from an iPhone. You wouldn't see it anywhere in the regular Twitter app, but companies still seem to forget this stuff is plainly visible in Tweetbot, Tweetdeck, and other clients. Let's learn the lesson already, everyone. Why was this message so urgent that it needed to be tweeted from a phone?  From an iPhone, at that? We'll never know. And in case you were wondering, yes, a Twitter app for BlackBerry most definitely does exist. (Source: The Verge)

Using an iPhone when you’re working for Blackberry? Maybe not your smartest move, but ‘meh.’

Using an iPhone when you’re the outsourced provider of their social media work? Maybe not the smartest move, but ‘meh.’

Using an iPhone to carry out that social media work when you’re doing it on behalf of Blackberry? Whether you’re an insider or an outsider, I’d say this bit of stupidity and stunning lack of judgment might well be a firing offense.

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Thanks to my brother-in-law John for spotting this article.

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Thursday, January 15, 2015

Let the annual winter parking spot games begin!

Almost a month into it, we’ve had next to no snow this winter. Plenty of cold, but only an inch or two of total snow accumulation.

Which is fine by me.

Not that I don’t enjoy snow.

I do.

I especially enjoy being inside during a storm, standing there with my cup of tea, looking out at it. I like how pretty it looks in the immediate aftermath of a storm, especially in the Boston Public Garden, which is right across the street. How quiet it is.

And then…

The footing gets treacherous (especially when scofflaws neglect to shovel their sidewalks). Some folks decide that they no longer have to pick up after their pooch (and even if they do, there’s still the yellow snow to contend with). The gutters fill with slush (and there’s really no experience quite comparable to stepping into a slush puddle that crests the top of your boot).

So while it’s really not good to have a no snow winter – no snow = fires in the spring, etc. – if we have an almost no snow winter, I’ll be fine with it.

But if we do have lots of snow, one thing I won’t have to worry about is shoveling out my car, only to have someone else grab my space while I’m out. This is definitely one of the top benefits of not having a car in the city.

If everyone shoveled out their car, this would not be the problem it always ends up being. But since you’re unlikely to get your shoveled-out spot back, a lot of people do only the minimum they need to get their car out. The rutted mounds left behind turn into ice, which only someone with an all terrain vehicle could get back into, removing a potential parking place from play.

Even if you do want to fully shovel out your call, there’s the problem of what to do with the snow.

You’re not allowed to toss it back in the street, and you can’t toss it onto the sidewalk that someone may (or may not) have just cleared. On many streets, there are no front yards to speak of. The options of where to put the snow you’re so assiduously trying to shovel out from around your car often come down to piling it up between cars, or schlepping it twenty yards to to the corner, where you pile it on top of the mega-mound that the city plows have left, knowing that the city will come around a some point and remove the mega-mound.

It’s really no wonder that so many – in my neighborhood, I’d estimate that it’s easily 2/3’s of all parkers – don’t bother to do more than the most cursory job shoveling out their cars.

Where I live there is, at least, an alternative, albeit an expensive one, in that there are plenty of parking garages around.

In neighborhoods where there are fewer alternatives, a quaint custom has grown up over the years. The person who shovels out a spot stakes a claim to it, leaving trash barrels, old kitchen chairs, traffic cones, empty Pampers boxes, broken Big Wheels… Someone who elects to remove the trash barrel, old kitchen chair, traffic cone, empty Pampers box, or broken Big Wheels and take the parking space, does so at considerable risk of keyed door or worse.

The space saver first became popularized in South Boston, which adopted the practice as a neighborhood tradition and enforced violations to the unwritten rules in its own way — often through vehicle vandalism; occasionally through violence.

The city, for its part, stayed mostly out of it, treating space savers as an issue for neighbors to work out between themselves. But a little over a decade ago, Mayor Thomas M. Menino became fed up with people who abused the privilege and kept their savers out for far too long and instated a rule that space savers had to be removed 48 hours after the end of a snow emergency.

By declaring when they must be gone, Menino pseudo-sanctioned the fact that they could be there at all.

That system has remained tenuously in place — through slashed tires and assaults —into the administration of Martin J. Walsh, who has kept Menino’s 48-hour policy. “We prefer to call it a ‘guideline,’ ” said his spokeswoman, Kate Norton. Walsh has said publicly, on numerous occasions, that he believes in the principle of “you shovel it, you earn it.” (Source: Boston Globe)

This custom actually worked pretty well when neighborhoods were more or less cohesive, and neighbors were more or less known to each other.

If you’d just watched your buddy Charlie shovel out a space, you certainly weren’t going to take it.

But two things happened over time: interlopers interloped, and more and more people got cars. A triple-decker in Dorchester that at one point was home to three cars might now be home to nine cars.

More cars chasing fewer parking places, and fewer people who knew who good old Charley was.

And while I sympathize with the “you shovel it, you earn it” sentiment, it’s not especially practical. And it can be downright scary: would anyone in their right mind take someone’s “space saved” parking place in Southie or Charlestown? Not if they valued their Volvo or their dental work.

Whether for 48 hours or for the duration, one neighborhood in Boston has decided to formally ban the practice of saving a space, and that’s the South End.

Now South Enders who see a space saver are encouraged to remove it. If they are afraid to do so, they can call the city to come do it. And the city’s trash contractors will collect all space savers they see on their twice-weekly rounds, with no grace period after a snow emergency.

I don’t know how calling the city to remove the Pampers box is going to save you from getting your door keyed, but whatever…

In any case, unlike South Boston and Charlestown, the South End doesn’t have as much of an entrenched working class townie vs. interloping yuppie parvenu vibe. Although the South End contains some projects around its periphery, and butts up against a fairly poor area, most of the working class “natives” were gentrified out of the prime spots long ago. In South Boston and Charlestown, as well as in some other neighborhoods, there remain strong ethnic enclaves. So what may well work in the South End, where there were probably fewer slashed tire/smash mouth incidents to begin with.

I don’t recall ever seeing a space saver on Beacon Hill which is, in general, a pretty posh area – with plenty of nearby parking garages.  I was going to write that we are a more mannerly area, as well, but that just ain’t true. People don’t resort to space savers here because most of them don’t bother to shovel out a space to begin with.

I do have a good winter parking story to end with.

Many years ago, when I was still daft enough to own a car in the city, I had shoveled out my car and left to head out to the burbs for a client meeting.

When I returned, I moseyed around looking for a space.

I wouldn’t have minded if I’d have to check in to a paid garage for an overnight, but I wasn’t going to need my car for at least a week, and a week’s worth of $$$ parking I just wasn’t up for.

Miraculously, a man walking down the street gestured to me that he was leaving, and that I could have his space.

When I got to the spot, sure enough, it was the one I’d perfectly shoveled out a few hours earlier.

Sometimes you actually do get to pay it forward to yourself!

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