Friday, December 14, 2007

The Hartfordland of Tomorrow

The architect's rendering is one of my favorite art forms. In it you can find more unalloyed hope, a rosier version of the future, a far more perfect world, than you might pick up in a whole month's worth of presidential debates. Take the drawing that accompanies today's release of the new plans for Front Street in Hartford. Here is the Hartford of tomorrow: clean, well-ordered, vaguely seductive and basically depopulated. The handsome buildings exude a sophisticated urban vibe, although their purpose is unclear, and their signage doesn't really say anything coherent. The streets are peaceful and extraordinarily uncrowded. A couple of cars, small and stylish, make their way unhurriedly. Citizens, sleek and gainfully employed (judging from the briefcases) stroll and chat. In this version of the near future even the dogs, unleashed, trot obediently alongside their masters. The trees are worth noting, too. They are lollipop-shaped and seem to grow very close to the buildings without ever quite touching them. These wonders of nature possess a diaphanous quality, a mysterious there-but-not-quite-there beauty that will also be a part of life in our reborn capital city. The only standard architect's feature missing in this particular rendering is a fountain in which a lone boy sails a toy boat. But surely that will not be denied to those who are brave enough to desire it. In Hartford. In the future. It's just around the next corner.

Monday, December 10, 2007


(How's that for a New York Post-inspired title?)

So like touching a bruise, I'm here to recount my commute in last Friday's "monster" snow storm, commiserating with all the others around the state who were trapped in the mess. First, know that my normal ride from here at my palatial office high atop Connecticut Magazine Tower in Trumbull to my modest abode in Shelton is usually about 10 minutes, 12 when it rains.

Last Friday, it took 1 hour and 45 minutes.

And I consider myself among the lucky ones as there was no part during my trip where I crashed into anything or skidded into a ditch. But it was truly like end-of-the-world anarchy out there on the roads -- well, at least in the parking lot that doubled as the Route 8 corridor through Trumbull and Shelton -- as the first snow of the season, Friday night rush hour and holiday madness combined for a perfect storm of traffic.

Now as much as I hate snow, I do enjoy the first snowfall because that's when all the people out there who overpaid for big and shiny new SUVs usually wreck them in their maiden foray onto slippery roads, mainly because they don't understand the First Rule of All-Wheel Traction: "Having four-wheel drive doesn't mean having four-wheel STOP."

In other words, just because you can go fast in the snow doesn't mean you should -- stopping still involves the laws of physics, and if you're going 45 miles an hour on a surface that provides minimal or no friction, all the gas-guzzling, road-clogging, heated-seating, GPS-navigating, quintuple side-curtain airbagging excesses isn't going to stop you before you wrap yourself in a guardrail. Fortunately for me, I learned that years ago when I spun my then-new Toyota 4x4 pickup into a simple curb on an abandoned road one icy January night and came away shaken, but without a scratch.

That being said, I was shocked at how poorly people were driving on Friday night, like it had never snowed in Connecticut before. Do people forget the basic concepts over the summer? Holy guacamole. While I was trying to cross an icy overpass, a car going in the opposite direction actually backed into my lane unannounced and in front of me, and then proceeded to back all the way across overpass -- staying in the wrong lane the whole time. At no point did she pull over or try and turn around. (Oh, and she had kids in the car, too!) People on Route 8 were speeding in the break-down lanes to try and beat the lines of slow-crawling traffic. Craziness.

Fortunately, I was able to get away from the general madness without incident. But to the rest of you out there who weren't as lucky, you have my sympathy. To those of you who seemed determined to make a tough situation impossible, you have my scorn.

Thursday, November 29, 2007


As the horrid details continue to come out in the stunning discovery of a huge cache of child pornography in the former home of the late Dr. George E. Reardon, the word that keeps coming to mind -- after all the revulsion and anger -- is "violated."

Obviously the victims were violated in a way that makes us all sick to our core, but I also find myself thinking about many of the people indirectly involved -- other patients of Dr. Reardon who have to be replaying their every encounter with him, other patients at the hospital where the activities were going on, nurses and support personnel who may have unwittingly been involved in aiding these crimes . . . .

Not only are these people feeling violated by Dr. Reardon, but they must also be feeling a bit violated by the hospital administrators, the local police department and the department of health, all of whom seemingly turned a blind eye to the extent of the activities they may have had a suspicion were going on, if from nothing else but the number of complaints lodged against Dr. Reardon. ("If there's smoke . . .")

I'm fortunate in that I've never had to endure first-hand anything this horrible in my life, but even so, I feel a bit violated -- the doctor-patient relationship is one of the most sacred there is, and it's something that after an event like this, if at your next visit to your physician you're not thinking about it up front, it's at least somewhere in the back of your mind. Troubling.

I also feel for the unfortunate homeowner who stumbled upon this nightmare -- he must feel violated by his own home, holding a dark and nasty secret in its walls. I mean, can you imagine stumbling upon that? "Oh, time to renovate this old basement. Guess I'll start with this wall over here . . . let's pry back this board and .. . what the heck? Slides, movies? What is this stuff?" [picks up one slide, holds it to the light] "Oh. my. god."

Talk about a sucker punch to the gut. I feel bad for him then trying to make that phone call to the police to explain how he found 50,000 slides of child pornography in his house while trying to maintain his dignity -- the poor guy did nothing wrong other than take a hammer to a basement wall, but you know he probably had to defend his innocence and integrity a bit when the first investigators showed up.

It's amazing how the vile actions of one man could violate the lives of so many.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Riding the Rails

One of the things we enjoy here at Connecticut Magazine is finding a variety of viewpoints and voices that help convey the "Connecticut experience," as it were.

To that effect, one of my favorite local blogs to visit is Derailed, which details the ongoing activities of Bob McDonough, "The Conductor to the Stars." A sharp-eyed conductor who rides the rails of MetroNorth, he shares many of his entertaining encounters, having met many celebrities during his daily travels, from Brett Somers to Dominick Dunne to Gwen Stefani. He also recounts many of his unique rail-riding experiences, such as returning to New York on Sept. 13, 2001, often alternating between amusing and thoughtful. Off the rails, he shares other personal anecdotes, like the story of discovering his father's "shocking" role in the famous "Milgram Experiment" at Yale.

Personally, I knew Bobby back when he was "The Paint Salesman to the Customers," when we both worked at Sears in Orange during the 1980s. I was "Stockboy to the Warehouse," or something like that -- and I'm pretty sure we both had more hair back then. I hadn't heard from him in years, and was very pleasantly surprised to cross paths with him again (so to speak). It's fun to re-connect with someone like this -- ah, the glory of the internet!

Anyway, next time you're on the train, say hi. Maybe you'll end up on the blog yourself.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Rell Calls for "Round-the-Clock Medical Care" for Ex-Governor Meskill

The governor's latest call to action followed her order on Monday to put up Jersey barriers along a stretch of I-95 in Groton four days after a horrendous accident occurred there. Earlier in the year, the governor used the occasion of the brutal home-invasion murders in Cheshire to order that--starting now--violent criminals not be released on parole; she also ordered more money for the inspection and repair of Connecticut bridges following the tragic collapse of a bridge in Minnesota. The governor also issued a call for enhanced laptop security among government agencies following the disappearance of one belonging to a state employee, and she strongly urged an investigation of DOT practices after negligence was discovered in construction jobs along I-84 in Waterbury.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Accidents Everywhere

I know it would greatly impinge upon our automobile-centric economy and probably our national psyche as well, but I think it's time that the driver's-license test (both written and in the car) in Connecticut and elsewhere be made much more difficult than it is right now. I'm serious about this. The growing wave of traffic accidents on I-95, I-91, I-84 etc. is proof that too many people don't know the rules, don't have common sense or a "head" for driving or just don't possess the skills to operate a car (or truck) at moderate-to-high speeds in increasingly heavy traffic or under adverse conditions. Our own observation tells us the same thing. People don't know how to merge or how to enter a highway from a standing stop in the breakdown lane. They don't know how to get out of the passing lane when they're not passing anyone. They're not paying attention. Sometimes they barely seem to be driving at all. Everyone knows the driver's-license testing is perfunctory at best, and that a license is laughably easy to obtain and hold onto. Imagine if the test were made difficult enough so that the bottom 20 percent of drivers did not qualify. How much better, and safer, would our roads be then? And imagine if more testing were required every 10 years before a license is renewed? It wouldn't eliminate all the problems, of course, but it would be a good start.

Clone Wars?

I saw that they're breaking ground on a new Lowe's in the Orange-Derby Plaza, and although I'm happy to see the space be used productively, I have to ask when is enough enough?

I mean, I don't begrudge the spirit of capitalism, and although I'm not a fan of chains in general -- especially restaurant chains -- I do shop at them, understand their role and the things people like about them: convenience, reliability and often cheaper prices (at the cost of local businesses and American industry, but that's a story for another day). My concern is that it seems that there are too many of the same ones popping up over and over again.

The aforementioned Lowe's in the Orange-Derby Plaza is going in about a mile away from a Home Depot (which I understand from a competition view point), but it'll also be less than five miles from another Lowe's (on the Post Road in Orange), which of course, is less than a mile away from another Home Depot. Does this really work? It must, or these multibillion dollar corporations wouldn't do it, right? Right? Bueller?

I went shopping one night last week in the new Target in Ansonia, which is only miles from the newish Targets in Milford, Orange and Trumbull (not counting the new one going into the Trumbull Mall), and I noticed that the place was nearly empty. Was it the night I was shopping, or have we begun to reach the saturation point? If one Target in Orange is good, then three more are better, right? On my last Sunday Drive, I passed what seemed to be about 60 Walgreens in a half-hour span -- I understand wanting to eliminate the competition, but it seems that some of these businesses are trying to drive themselves out of business.

Quick story: Back in the day, I used to work at a Flower Time garden center in Milford, part of a small chain which was eventually devoured by a bigger fish, Frank's Nursery and Crafts, a national chain. Manifest destiny then seemed to become the business plan as they opened more and more bigger stores, including another one on the Post Road in Milford, less than two miles from the first one. Was there such a need for so many giant floral, craft and garden centers, especially so close to each other?

I think if you drive by the now-empty store on the Post Road, you know the answer.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Stratford Hauntings

A Halloween haunted house in Stratford has become a mansion of terror for its owners and town officials. Joyce Mounajed and Jennifer Cervero's annual outdoor Halloween display was intended to give visitors to their East Main Street home a frightening thrill, but a ghoulish hanging character scared some townsfolk enough to shout in protest.

When Rev. Johnny Gamble, of Friendship Baptist Church in Stratford, happened to pass by the house last Saturday, he saw red. He called police and then confronted the homeowners. Gamble was so outraged by the hanging man, which he interpreted as a representation of the lynching of an African-American man, that he promised to organize a "massive protest" in front of the home if it wasn't removed. Mayor James R. Miron, Police Chief John Buturla and other community leaders met with Mounajed and Cervero and convinced them to take down the hanging man. The women insisted the character was just meant to provide some Halloween fun and did not depict any racial group. They removed the figure from the noose and moved it to the steps of the house, where it sits with a bloody knife through its heart. Since this incident hit the national news, the family has been harassed and threatened.

Halloween displays like this have sparked controversy across the country. Some homeowners take the decorations down yet others defend their right to keep them up. What do you think?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Moving Up

With one eye securely positioned on The White House, U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd has his other eye set squarely on Iowa. Without a win in the early Iowa caucus Dodd's chances of moving to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in Washington, D.C. are over, and right now he's at the back of the pack of Democratic presidential hopefuls. What's the five-term senator from Connecticut to do? Well, his advisers said Iowa's the place he ought to be, so he loaded up the truck and moved to—Des Moines. That's right, Des Moines (Connecticut residents remember, both esses are silent). And wife Jackie and daughters Grace and Christina have joined him, too (Grace has been enrolled in kindergarten there).

So what about the people who voted for him in the first place? According to Dodd campaign spokesperson Colleen Flanagan,"His constituents in Connecticut understand that it is important to have a strong showing there [in Iowa]." Does that mean Connecticut's left with one senator, namely Joe Lieberman, to look out for its interests? Let us know what you think.

Tuition Wishin'

What bothers me most about the announcement today that college costs have risen an inflation-busting 6.6% during the last 12 months is the fact that as costs rise, the number of class days shrinks. In 1964, college students were in class an average of 191 days a year, according to the National Association of Scholars; now it's more like 140. That's a 50 day difference! Ten weeks!! The Christmas break has become unconscionably long, the school year ends in early May, classes typically meet once or twice a week. The whole thing is a joke, no doubt pushed hard by faculty members, many of whom would rather not have to be in actual classrooms with actual students. These same faculty members are enjoying unprecedented prosperity and leisure, especially those at the top colleges, which are basically printing money at this point. It's hard to see what will snap this trend . . . liberal guilt, maybe?

Monday, October 22, 2007

Simply Irresistible

In reading about the antibiotic-resistant organism known as MRSA, here, you may be wondering why the cases mentioned as occurring in Connecticut have often been linked to kids in high school. My theory: Kids in school, especially those involved in athletics who are routinely cut and bruised during competition, no longer take showers at the end of practices and games. At one time, it was required that athletes take hot showers at school before getting back into street clothes. If you didn't, there was something strange about you. Now, at most schools, the showers are basically unused, and cuts and scrapes that once would have been scrubbed at with soap and water right away are now allowed to fester. What's the reason for this? I have no idea, but somehow kids growing up in a seemingly permissive, sexually charged era are too modest to take showers in front of each other.

Friday, October 12, 2007

What the Cell?

The Insurance Journal recently ran an interesting article talking about the effectiveness of Connecticut's cell phone and driving laws. The gist of the story is that although more people are being ticketed by police for breaking the law, the reason is that even more are completely ignoring (and breaking) the law. (Don't even get me started on the fact that over two dozen bus drivers have been ticketed -- "Ride the bus and leave your negligent death to us.") And of those actually ticketed, less than half are being forced to pay the $100 fine.

Of course, there's talk of the legislature fine tuning the bill, but we all know the problem isn't the ban, it's the enforcement, which has been very weak, at best.

Yes, I know the police have better things to attend to, but when public safety is at risk because someone is more interested in keeping a phone tucked under their ear than paying attention while properly piloting a 2,000-pound hunk of glass and metal moving at 70 mph through a turn on a busy highway, I think it deserves their attention.

Then again, that might require them to put their own phones down first.

Friday, September 21, 2007

The Mildest Show on Earth

I see that the state legislature has approved a $1.25 million bonding request for renovations at Bridgeport's P.T. Barnum Museum. You may think this is an appropriate expenditure of public funds, or you may not, but to me it proves Barnum's famous line that there's a sucker born every minute. If the idea of the Barnum Museum is to keep alive the legacy of its namesake, it should be the most exciting, unpredictable, over-the-top museum in America. It should be a magnet for outrage, a center for scam, the Weekly World News of the museum world. People should be lining up outside its doors to come view the latest spectacle. Instead, the museum is quiet, unassuming and, dare I say it, so tasteful that you barely know it's there. What could and should be one of Connecticut's most notable and colorful attractions is instead a shrinking violet. Barnum no doubt would be embarrassed to have left behind such a low-key monument. And the state should wonder about its unquestioning support. Who are the suckers this time?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Mountain Lions in Connecticut?

One of our most commented-upon stories in the past few years is "Seeing Ghosts" by Brigitte Ruthman, which explores the possibility of mountain lions (or "cougars" or "catamounts" or "pumas") having returned to the state. Since the story was published on in 2005, there have been numerous eyewitness accounts posted from people who believe that they have seen a mountain lion here, primarily in the less-populated and more-forested northeastern and northwestern corners of the state.

Officials at the Department of Environmental Protection maintain that the majority of sightings are either bobcats or coyotes, and cite the lack of physical evidence (no footprints, no dead carcases, etc.). The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has created a site dedicated to the Easter Cougar, and is trying to verify the existence of this elusive creature.

I personally have done a lot of hiking around the state and never have come across any of these creatures, but that doesn't mean they're not out there. Anyone have any stories to share?

UPDATE: I posted this last week, and lo and behold in a hometown paper, the Shelton Weekly, there's a report of a third appearance of a large "cat-like" animal in the White Hills section of town. The creature sighted was a "golden animal" "the size of a baby deer" and was reported in a tree at one point.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Non Compos? No Problem!

We've all long understood that accountability among our state employees for the mistakes they make and stupid things they do is basically non-existent. Two recent episodes bring that home very clearly. The first was the complete, criminal screw-up of renovations to I-84 in Waterbury, in which not one, but two, private firms didn't bother to, first, properly build, and, two, check the work on, the roadside drainage system. Kind of lost in the drama was the fact that these two firms had to have been overseen by multiple employees in the state Department of Transportation Thus far, only one such person has been identified, but he was "punished" by being transferred to another responsibility (much like a rogue parish priest quietly being shifted to another flock). A similar scenario is unfolding in the laptop scandal in which a tax department employee allowed a computer with info on more than 100,000 Connecticut taxpayers get stolen from his car. Will he or she be named? Punished? If makes me think that if you're worried about identity theft--which is the whole problem with the laptop dust-up--just become a Connecticut state employee and then get into trouble. No one will ever find out who you are.