REMEMBERING THE DAY

On September 11, 2001, I had just gotten back from overseas. I’d been in Israel, a business trip. While there, I picked up some kind of nasty bug that kept me very close to home — and a bathroom — and so, I was at home when the phone rang. Sandy and I were in my bedroom, sorting through some clothing. It was Owen — her husband, my son — on the phone.

“Turn on the television,” Owen said.

“What channel?” I asked.

“Any channel,” he said. “Do it now.”

I did. “The World Trade Center is on fire,” I said.

“A plane hit it,” he said. And as I watched, another plane hit the other tower and the world spun round and nothing was the same after that.

Hitting the Tower

We watched, silently. Owen was watching at work, on the other end of the phone line. Then, a tower was gone.

“The tower is gone. Gone,” I whispered.

Then, the other tower fell.

Nothing remained but a cloud of dust and a giant pile of toxic rubble. Information started to come in. One of my co-workers was supposed to be on one of the planes that had hit a tower. I called, but he said he had changed his mind at the last minute. He felt he didn’t want to go on that flight. He’d take a different flight, later.

Close as we were to Boston, everyone was calling friends, family, trying to find out who was where, who was not, if anyone knew something. We watched television, we waited. Garry got home from Channel 7. He said the newsroom had been a very strange place that day. Very strange.

We knew the world had changed. We didn’t know how much.

Firefighters-9.11

16 years later, we know. It will never be the same. So many differences, some subtle, most not-so-subtle. It was the end of our belief in our invulnerability. Here was an enemy we didn’t know we had, didn’t know was out to get us. Maybe the government knew, but it hadn’t trickled down to “the people.” We didn’t recognize the hatred behind the rhetoric.

This is a good day to remember who lived, who died. And how hatred still rules the world.

Has anything we have done, any fighting in which we have been engaged during the past 16 years made the world safer? Or better? No? Then we need to start fixing the reasons for war.

Terry Pratchett defined Peace as “that period of time during which nations prepare for the next war.” We need to change that. I do not claim to know how, but I’m not the President.

THE LONGEST RUNNING TV SHOW

For 31 years, there was a series on Channel 7 in Boston. It was my favorite show. I watched it any day I could get home from work in time. It was on several times a day, five days a week. The first performance often aired during the pre-dawn hours, while the final day’s episode might air long after most people had finished dinner and many had gone to bed.

It was “good stuff.” Garry Armstrong was a smart, thorough reporter who cared about Boston and its people. He knew everyone and they knew him. He makes jokes about being trusted … but he was trusted because he had proved he could be. He had sources. He checked with them. He knew when the a story wasn’t “right” and he was cynical about politicians and big money.

Watching Garry kept me informed about events taking place in my neighborhood, the city, and the region. I also got follow-up and background information over dinner — sometimes quite different than what had been aired. There was stuff you could broadcast, and there was stuff that he and other reporters “knew,” but couldn’t prove.

It was sometimes difficult to reconcile the star of the TV show with the tired, crabby guy who came home expecting dinner, a newspaper, and when we were lucky, a baseball game. I always knew how the star’s day had gone. I taped his pieces so he could see them when he got home. Although he covered stories, wrote them, and performed, he didn’t see them as finished pieces unless I taped them.

I watched the news as I also watched him deal with violence and the calamities that are a constant in every reporter’s life. He never got used to it. Garry was, in a regional way — a celebrity. I was the celebrity’s wife — a very different role. My job was often to be there and smile. Television “people” don’t pay much attention to anyone who isn’t part of their habitat. At a good event, I got fed too.  I even got to wear ball gowns occasionally and I met some people I would never have normally encountered in my life.

Garry covered, or was involved with, virtually every major event in New England for his run of 31 years. From the great to the tragic, he was there.

Garry and I at President Clinton's party on Martha's Vineyard

Garry and I at President Clinton’s party on Martha’s Vineyard

We have one of Garry’s three Emmy awards on a shelf behind the TV, but virtually no tape of anything that happened. I don’t remember who found the piece below, but it’s a rare viewing of him doing normal work on a normal day in the news biz. Garry’s segment appears at about 1 minute and 30 seconds into the noon news. You can fast forward and skip the intro or choose to watch from the top of the show.

That was a “live shot.”

Time passes. It’s good to have something tangible to remember. Lucky me, I still have the star himself.

On September 12, 2013, Garry Armstrong was inducted into the Massachusetts Broadcasting Hall of Fame.

We keep the plaque on the mantel. His one remaining Emmy (Channel 7 lost the other two) is on a shelf that Owen built, along with his Kauff award and one other big one, the name of which I have forgotten. Amazing the things you forget even though at some point in your life, you couldn’t imagine ever forgetting something that important. His “Silver Circle” Lifetime Emmy hangs on the wall, too and there are other awards here and there in the house.

What is important changes over time. As time marches along, life and day-to-day events become more important than whatever career you had — except on days when the guys get together to remember.

That more or less wraps it up. I think it’s going to rain today.

SYMPHONY

Symphony is a T-stop in Boston … the underground subway adjacent to Symphony Hall, middle of downtown. I’ve always enjoyed that we have a T-stop called “Symphony.” I’m sure someone could write a little symphonic piece that would somehow represent the subway, the streets, and the hall. Maybe it has already been done. No one tells me anything.

And then, there is Symphony Hall. It’s where the Boston Symphony Orchestra plays, but it’s also where the Boston Pops plays. There’s a major redecoration between symphony and pops season, too.

I think our “symphony winters” have ended, but I will always miss them!

NO MORE FAKE NEWS! I AM SAMOAN! – GARRY ARMSTRONG

I’m a Samoan. It’s something of an inside joke in local media.

Maybe you’ve heard it before and then again, maybe not. Back in the early 70’s, Boston was grappling with court ordered school desegregation and forced busing. It was a very ugly time for race relations in The Hub of the Universe. “The cradle of liberty” was under an international media microscope. Not pretty.

I was out covering the story and to my credit, everyone hated me. Black, white, and politicians — everyone thought I was on the other side. I was proud of that. It means (to me) that I was on the right side. One day, there was an incident in South Boston — also know as “Southie” — which was where all the action was taking place.

A bunch of white thugs had cornered me and my crew. They were screaming the usual epithets, throwing rocks and bottles. Moving in for a serious tune-up. It was then that I had a Mel Brooks moment. An epiphany. The angry mob quieted as I raised my hand for silence. I spoke calmly, in my best, soothing voice.

“Hey, I’m not a nig__r. I’m a Samoan!”  

My crew looked at me dubiously. Surely, no one could be that stupid. Besides, I had that infamous ironic smile on my face. The angry mob was still quiet and obviously somewhat confused. So I repeated it again, slowly and louder, so the crowd could read my lips.

“Guys, I’m not a nig__r, I’m a Samoan!”  

A brief pause and then … the crowd cheered.

“He’s not a nig__r. He is Samoan!!”  

They approached with broad smiles, offering handshakes. We got the hell out of there ASAP. Yes, they were that stupid.  To this day, many colleagues call me “The Samoan.”

Now, that was real news!!

WIDE SHOT VS. CLOSE UP – AKA – LANDSCAPE VS. PORTRAIT

Longest shot

THURSDAY’S SPECIAL: PORTRAIT VS. LANDSCAPE

From Paula: Today you are invited to post a portrait and landscape format of the same scene. You may be surprised at how much different they look and what each one reveals. That’s the only requirement for this challenge. The subject is up to you. Have a great day!


Long view of the back of Boston’s State House.

Same picture, close!

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DYING IN TRAFFIC

When I lived in Boston, traffic was basic. It was as much “life” as getting up to go to work. I had audiobooks in the car to keep my brain engaged. Traffic was fundamental. You couldn’t go anywhere without adding that extra hour — in case traffic was bad. Traffic was usually bad, but sometimes, it was worse. These days, I don’t need to think about traffic because we don’t have it. We don’t commute. If we need to drive, we schedule it for when there is likely to be little or no traffic. Locally, a traffic jam is a tractor with two cars waiting at an intersection. Or road repairs.

Until we moved here, traffic was a major issue. It controlled our days. Road work in Boston could make it impossible to get from one side of the city to another. Gridlock before and during holidays could effectively close the city. I once tried to pick Garry up from work. It was less than a mile from home. Normally, he walked, but he had things to carry and so he asked me to come get him.

I left the parking lot, drove a block, and had to stop. Nothing was moving. An hour later, I was in the same place. I finally made a u-turn and went home to the apartment. It was before cell phones, so I had to call the guard at the front desk at Channel 7 and ask him to go outside and tell Garry I couldn’t get there. The next day it was in the papers and TV. The entire city had been gridlocked, the Friday before Christmas.

Less than a year later, we moved from to Roxbury, about 4 miles outside downtown Boston. There were trees. Empty lots. Almost the suburbs. You could park — for free — on the street, as long as you remembered alternate side of the street parking.

Then came the Big Dig.

The Central Artery-Tunnel Project, called The Big Dig, was a monstrous project involving rerouting and redesigning virtually every road in, out, around, and through Boston. If you lived in the city, there were no areas unaffected by it. It was supposed to solve the city’s traffic disaster. Ultimately, it made it easier to get to the airport, but the rest of it? It’s still a permanent jam that will never go away. Was it worth it?

The Big Dig was the most expensive highway project in history. To absolutely no one’s surprise, it was plagued by cost overruns, scheduling disasters, water leakage, collapses of ceilings and other parts of roads and tunnels, impressive design flaws, blatantly poor workmanship, nepotism, corruption, payoffs, substandard materials, criminal arrests for a some of the aforementioned offenses (but not nearly enough), and four deaths.

The project was supposed to be finished by 1998 and cost $2.8 billion. I am sure no one in Boston expected it to cost that or be finished on schedule — and we were right. It took an additional nine years and was finally finished in December 2007  It cost more than $14.6 billion. The Boston Globe estimates when all is said and done, including interest and fines, lawsuits and so on, the project will total more than $22 billion and won’t be paid off until sometime in 2038. Or later.

The Big Dig drove us out of Boston. One day, I had to go grocery shopping. The supermarket was a mile away. It took me two hours to get there and another hour and a half to get home.

“Garry,” I said that evening, “Let’s get out of here!”

We did.

We fled Boston. Traffic had taken over our lives. We couldn’t go to a restaurant or a movie. We couldn’t shop, park, or get to or from work. People trying to visit us couldn’t find our condo because the exit to our neighborhood kept moving and was often closed. Out-of-towners roamed helplessly through Dorchester, looking in vain for a street sign or marker to give them a clue where to go. Maps and GPS were useless.

Sometimes we couldn’t find our way home. It was unnerving.


I must have spent years of my life in traffic. By the time we slouched home, exhausted and beaten, we were wrecks.

Is there a solution to this? Not that I know of.. You don’t find good jobs in small towns or the country. We underestimate how seriously the wear and tear of commuting affects us. It wears us down physically. It tightens our backs and necks. When it take hours to get to work, you are already tired when you get there. Maybe its easier by train, but we haven’t lived anywhere with direct train — or even bus — service to anywhere we worked, so we had to drive.

If not for the commuting, I might have survived longer in the work place, but it was hopeless. One day, something snapped. After that, no amount of pushing was going to keep me going. I was done. There were other reasons too … but if I hadn’t had that two to three-hour twice-a-day commute? I might have found a way to hang on. Traffic has a lot more to do with our survival than we think.

Work is easy. Commuting is a killer.