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.