A Book Junkie’s Confession

If reading were illegal, I’d have spent my life in prison. The most frightening book I ever read was Bradbury’s Farenheit 451. I couldn’t imagine anything more terrifying than a life with no books.

As a kid, I literally read myself cross-eyed, but today, I have been redeemed by audiobooks. Praise the Lord and don’t make me give up my subscriptions to Audible.com. Early during the 1990s, I discovered audiobooks. I was a “wrong way” commuter, which meant my commute started in Boston and took me out to the suburbs. This was supposed to make the drive easier than going the other way.


Reality was different. Traffic was heavy in all directions, from Boston or from the suburbs. The east-west commute was nominally less awful than the north-south commutes, though coming from the north shore down to Boston was and is still probably the worst commute anywhere.


When we lived in Boston on the 17th floor of Charles River Park, we had a perfect view of the Charles River … and an even better view of 93 northbound. We could look out the window any time of the day or night. It was bumper to bumper as far as the eye could see every day of the week, any time of day or night. Garry had a 5 minute walk to work. I always drove somewhere. You’d think at least once during the more than 20 years Garry and I have been together I’d have found one job near home. Funny how that never happened.

In New England, you do not measure a commute by distance. Distance is irrelevant. It’s how long it takes that matters. No one talks in terms of miles. The mall is half an hour away. Boston is about an hour in good traffic, who knows how long in rush hour traffic. It can take you 2 hours to go six miles, but maybe you can travel 15 miles in half an hour. In which case 15 miles is the shorter commute. Ask anyone.

My commute was never short. Wherever my work took me, it was never anyplace convenient, except for those wonderful periods when I worked at home and had to go to the “office” only occasionally.


The 1990s were serious commuting years. Boston to Amesbury, Boston to Burlington, Boston to Waltham.

It got worse. By 2000, we had moved to Uxbridge. It’s never easier to get from Uxbridge to anywhere, except one of the other Valley towns … and I never worked in any of them. Probably because there is no work there …

As jobs got ever more scarce and I got older and less employable, I found myself commuting longer distances. First, Providence, Rhode Island, which wasn’t too bad. But after that, I had to drive to Groton, Connecticut a few times a week — 140 miles each way — a good deal of it on unlit, unmarked local roads. It was a killer commute and unsurprisingly, I was an early GPS adopter. Even though I didn’t have to do it every day, Groton did me in.

Hudson was almost as bad, and Amesbury was no piece of cake either. The distance from Uxbridge to Newton was not far as the crow flies, but since I was not a crow, it was a nightmare. On any Friday afternoon, it took more than three hours to go twenty some odd miles. On Friday afternoons in the summer when everyone was taking off on for the weekend, I found myself battling not merely regular commuter traffic, but crazed vacationers, desperate to get out of Dodge.


The job market had become unstable, and it seemed every time I turned around, I was working in a different part of the Commonwealth or in another state entirely. If it weren’t for audiobooks, I’d probably have needed a rubber room.

First, I discovered Books On Tape. Originally intended as audiobooks for the blind, me and a million other commuters discovered them during the mid 1990s. They were a godsend. Instead of listening to the news, talk radio, or some inane jabbering DJ, I could drift off into whatever world of literature I could pop into my car’s cassette player.

I bought a lot of audio books and as cassettes began to disappear and everything was on CD, Books On Tape ceased renting books to the consumer market. Fortunately, audiobooks had become downright popular and were available at book stores like Barnes and Noble. Everybody was listening and most of us couldn’t imagine how we’d survived before audiobooks.

In 2002, along came Audible. At first, it was a bit of a problem, figuring out how to transport ones audible books into ones vehicle, but technology came up with MP3 players and widgets that let you plug your player, whatever it is, into your car’s sound system.

Audible started off modestly, but grew and grew and having recently been acquired by Amazon (a company that, like Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and Verizon, is plotting to take over the world and succeeding pretty well), is getting bigger by the minute. For once, I don’t mind a bit. The company was well run before Amazon, and Amazon had the good sense to not mess with success. It is still easy to work with them, literally a pleasure doing business.


Five years ago, I became too sick to work anymore. Would that mean giving up audiobooks? Not on your life. When I was nearly dead, I listened to books and they distracted me from pain and fear, kept me company when I was alone and wondering if I’d live to see morning. Sometimes, they made me laugh in the midst of what can only be described as a place where humor is at a premium.

Today, I listen as I do everything except write. I can listen to books as I play mindless games on Facebook, edit photographs, pay bills or make a seven letter Scrabble play. I admit I cannot listen and write at the same time. That seems to be the point where multi-tasking ends. Actually, I can’t do anything while I write except write.


I get a lot of reading done while accomplishing the computerized tasks of life, not to mention turning hours of mindless messing around into valuable reading time. I am, in effect always reading.

Reading in Bed: My Guilty Pleasure

I read at night on my Kindle because reading in bed has always been one of my guilty pleasures. Oh how I love snuggling into bed with a book, electronic or paper, I don’t care. A book is a book by whatever format.

I remember reading in my bedroom under the covers using a flashlight, or worse, trying to read  from a sliver of light from the hallway nightlight, or, if everything else failed, by the light of a bright moon.

“You’ll ruin your eyes” cried my mother who probably had snuck books into her bed and read by candlelight.

To this day, I don’t know why she didn’t just let me turn a light on. She had to know I was going to read anyhow. She was always reading too! In fact, if books were my addiction, she was my dealer. Even in today politically correct world, giving your kid too many books to read is not yet considered child abuse. Aren’t we glad!

So my love affair with books continues. My tastes change, favorite authors move up or down the list. I go through phases: all history, nothing but fantasy, a run of thrillers, a series of biographies. Getting older has few advantages but there is one huge gift — time.

I have time to read. I can get so involved in my book that I look up and realize that oops, the sun is coming up and I’ve lost another night’s sleep.


It doesn’t matter. Because I don’t have to commute anywhere anymore. I don’t have to leap out of bed with 10 minutes to shower, dress, make up, and get out.

I can stay up too late reading, or writing, or watching movies and for the rest of my life, no one can make me stop. And that, friends, is really, truly, my fondest dream come true. And in the end, it doesn’t matter to me what form the book takes. Kindle, paperback, hardbound, audio or printed … the story, the author, the book is the thing. Everything else? It doesn’t matter. Not even a little bit.

Boston locked down for massive manhunt; one bombing suspect killed by police, the other at-large

See on Scoop.itIn and About the News By Annie Gowen, Clarence Williams and Debbi Wilgoren, Updated: Friday, April 19, 9:39 AM

WATERTOWN, Mass. — A massive manhunt was underway Friday morning in Boston and its suburbs, after one suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings died in a confrontation with police and the second was identified as a 19-year-old immigrant from Kyrgystan who, a classmate said, attended high school in Cambridge, Mass. The two suspects are brothers, authorities said, and are believed to have lived in the United States with their family for several years.

State Department officials said the family appears to have arrived in the country legally. Alleged motive remains unclear, but they appear to be from the Southern Russian republic of Chechnya. Boston, Watertown and several other suburbs were in an unprecedented state of lockdown on Friday, with mass transit canceled, schools and business closed and residents ordered to stay indoors.

Law enforcement officials said they believed the at-large suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, may be strapped with explosives. They were taking extreme precautions in an effort to avoid further loss of life. A campus security officer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was killed in a confrontation with the suspects Thursday night, and a transit officer was critically wounded. “This situation is grave. We are here to protect public safety,” Police Commissioner Ed Davis said. “We believe this to be a terrorist. We believe this to be a man here to kill people.”

The suspects were introduced to the world via photos and video footage Thursday night. The one who was killed was identified as Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26. The brothers’ alleged motive in the bombings, which killed three people and injured more than 170, remains unknown, but their family appears to have immigrated from the Southern Russian republic of Chechnya, and two law enforcement officials said there is a “Chechen connection” to the bombings. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was born in Kyrgystan, law enforcement authorities said. He has a Massachusetts driver’s license.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev was born in Russia and became a legal U.S. resident in 2007. All public transportation was shut down in the greater Boston area Friday morning, officials said, and no vehicle traffic was permitted in or out of Watertown during the massive manhunt. Residents of Boston, Watertown, Newton, Waltham and elsewhere were asked to stay inside, with their doors locked. Colleges and universities announced they would close for the day, and businesses were instructed not to open. Streets were ghostly quiet. Thousands of officers searched house-to-house, and some areas were evacuated.

A Massachusetts State Police spokesman says police closed down a stretch of Norfolk Street in Cambridge, where they think Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his family lived. “We don’t know if he’s there. There is a possibility the suspect is there,” the spokesman, David Procopio, said. Procopio said the manhunt was triggered after the brothers apparently robbed a 7-Eleven store on or near the MIT campus, about 10:20 p.m. Thursday night. They allegedly shot the Sean Collier, a 26-year-old MIT campus police officer, as he sat in his car. Collier, of Somerville, joined the force in January, 2012 after working as a civilian for the Somerville Police Department, officials said.

Marilyn Armstrong‘s insight:
I hope they get someone alive. Chechnya? Have we ever done something to them? Like, when and what? And why the Marathon? Huh?

See on www.washingtonpost.com

Daisy Award: A Special Award for the Brave of Heart

It is on rare occasion that a connection is available to the creator of an award. This time the beginning link in a chain of unknown number of recipients is Subtle Kate.


In Kate’s own words on June 28, 2012, “I would like to start a new award. It’s called the Daisy Award.  Daisy’s are very sweet flowers, but they are stealth with hardiness. They’ll come up anywhere and beat the frost.  This award is for the brave.”

So without further ado, these are the rules to follow:

Thank the person who nominated you.

This is the easiest part. I keep finding myself thanking Sharla, (Awakenings and CatnipOfLife). Sharla, you have become so much a part of my life it’s hard to explain to people who someone who I’ve never met face to face could become so interwoven with my life. You are the best, you really are. Hugs and thanks fly over the miles, from me to you!

Tell your readers seven unusual things about yourself.

What can I tell you that you don’t already know? I think by now I’ve told everybody everything. But let’s see how these fly:

  1. I am a peculiar combination of sentimental, tough, sympathetic, empathetic and impatient. All at the same time. I love and admire people who laugh in the face of disaster but cry at reruns of Flipper.
  2. I love survivors and people who share the good in their lives while trying to spare others from pain.
  3. I appreciate that while I’ve had a rough time, others have had worse.
  4. I’m a risk taker and whenever I take a risk, I’m scared to death. My motto is “What the Hell; do it anyhow!”
  5. I don’t believe that any of us deserve medals for doing the best we can with whatever hand we’ve been dealt. That’s what you are supposed to do. Life can be messy and unfair. No one gets a free ride.
  6. I’m a fighter, even when I know I can’t win. I figure it’s better to lose then give up while letting the fates use you as a soccer ball.
  7. I am a relentless student of everything and when I stop learning, it will be because I’m no longer breathing.

Nominate several worthy bloggers.

This award is for the brave … and I think I’m choosing rightly.

For Mike, at Mike’s Film Talk, because while watching his life crash and burn, he’s managed to somehow keep a sense of humor and a sense of perspective and recognize that there will be another day.

For Jenny Threet at Rumpy Dog who fights a never-ending battle to try to protect our furry friends in the face of ignorance and indifference.

For Jordan Rich at  Jordan Rich, a man who has a been a friend and supporter of every kind of worthy cause, donated his time, his celebrity, and personal resources to help everyone to the best of his ability. Which I might add is considerable. He has his own problems and faces them with courage and honor and without complaint. The Jordan Rich Show airs Friday and Saturday nights, from midnight until 5AM on WBZ AM 1030AM and WCCO Minneapolis.


What’s next for small town America?

It’s lovely out today. The sun is shining. We are having one of the warm weeks we sometimes get in November. These end abruptly when the jet stream drops down from the arctic. Until then, it’s delightful, springlike with a few puffy white clouds in a bright blue sky. I can look out my window and see trees and the few leaves that still cling to them.

Despite Conservative insistence that less government is better, living without enough government  is no blessing.

What it really means is that we don’t have quite enough schools or anything else. It’s difficult keeping taxes low so people won’t lose their homes while supporting schools, a few police and firefighters and some part-time clerks at town hall. It’s a bare-bones budget and no-frills government, with a very fine line between no frills and just plain inadequate.

Making ends meet means we have no public transportation. Our roads get sort of repaired. The bridges are always a bit in danger of washing away if the river floods. There’s no city water or sewers. Trash collection is private. Unless you live in the middle of town, there are no sidewalks or streetlights. We have no town planning because there’s only so much planning you can do with no money. Kind of like us, but on a larger scale.

Being on your own makes great rhetoric, but it loses it’s charm when you realize your community has no resources to deal with its own future. With all the complicated explanations I’ve read about why small American towns are not thriving, it isn’t complicated. Our towns are not doing well because we have poor government and no money. I don’t know if these two things are causally related, but they seem to go hand in hand.

Small towns don’t have lots of qualified people who can or will serve. Even with the best of intentions, there’s only so much you can do when you have nothing much to work with. Rumors to the contrary notwithstanding, it’s a thankless job. The romanticization of small towns in movies and television might have been true of small towns 60 years ago, but Andy Griffith would have a rough time today.

Meanwhile, whatever else we lack, we sure do have a lot of cars.

Lack of public transportation guarantees lots of cars. Everyone has a car and the roads get more crowded every day. Everyone over 17 drives. Most of us don’t worry about traffic because we don’t have too much yet. A traffic jam is a tractor and two cars at an intersection. But that’s changing. The parking lot at the grocery store used to be mostly empty; now it’s usually full. We have our own version of rush hour. It’s not an hour, barely half an hour …  but a year ago we didn’t any rush hour at all.

Local road … also an interstate route, so it is in better repair than many similar roads that don’t cross a state line.

There are many more cars than there were even though the population is slightly lower. Lacking public transportation, you need wheels. If the populations starts to rise, what will we do with the cars? it doesn’t take much to produce gridlock. An accident, a slow driver, road work … anything can bring it all to a complete stop. No one has any idea what to do about it … and that’s just traffic.

When people say we should have less government, they don’t really understand what it means. When you live in a well-populated area, you get infrastructure and services. You don’t think about them: you expect them. If you live in a sleepy town that has no plans to wake up anytime soon, nothing comes with the territory.

Our town is managed, more or less, via Town Hall meetings. We have a town council made up of the friends, relatives and descendents of the families who have always run the town. They are slow to implement change, even when change is urgently needed, typical of all small towns here and everywhere.

What’s going to happen when we are hit by rapid population growth unaccompanied by additional revenue? When the economy comes back, towns like this become an endangered species, ripe for exploitation by anyone who waves money at us.

To say our officials are not forward-thinking  is a massive understatement. By the time town councils in towns and villages acknowledge a crisis, it’s too late to do much about it. Things that suburban areas take for granted are unavailable. From road repair to trash disposal, from schools to sewers, to trained personnel … we don’t have it.

Maybe we can start by figuring out how to deal with the cars. As it stands, we have enough traffic so that almost anything can turn it into a rural version of gridlock. It doesn’t take much: a very slow driver, a minor accident, a road crew … and everything stops. We don’t have another route, so if one is blocked, you can’t get there from here.

Grabbing a piece of the metro pie is tempting. Job opportunities, more and better services — it sounds pretty good until you realize the cost. It will likely bankrupt the towns, make taxes skyrocket and ruin of a lot of beautiful places. What sounds like a boon — the rapid infusion of  upwardly mobile young families with school age children — has devastating economic ramifications on a fragile local economy. Newcomers arrive with expectations of services comparable to those they have known in other places. They expect modern schools, roads, and shops. They assume amenities like trash collection, sewers, water from reservoirs. They don’t realize the attractively low taxes that drew them to the area can’t support the services they expect.

Small town life in the 21st century is a precarious balancing act, life on a fiscal tightrope. There are no big treasuries to raid, no heavy industry to offset costs. All you have to work with are small businesses, many of which are struggling, and property taxes that a lot of people are already finding hard to pay.

So far, the best solution the towns have come up with is to build condos, preferably senior housing. If you bring in lots of seniors, you don’t get lots of kids, You get taxes, but not a hugely increased demand for services. Condos don’t take up as much space as sub-divisions, but pay the same taxes as private homes. McMansions eat land and don’t pay their way. Unfortunately, most of our towns are run by people who have trouble saying no to a developer waving money. Even when they know it’s not a great idea, the need for an infusion of cash can make people ignore the obvious.

Which brings me back where I began. You can say all you want about how more government is bad, but we need government. More to the point, we need good government, smart government. We need people who have vision and can see past a wad of cash to long-term effects. We need planners, not pirates.

Good government protects us in myriad ways. Without the protection of government, small towns are easy prey. We do fine if things don’t change much, or change is incremental, gradual. I suspect the long years of the leisurely change are ending.

Everything is changing. Can America’s small towns survive without surrendering their identity? I guess I’m going to find out soon enough.

Death by traffic jam

Most of us don’t think about traffic. We just deal with it as best we can. It’s part of modern life. Whether it’s trying to find a decent parking space or patiently sitting in endless bumper-to-bumper traffic on a holiday weekend, traffic is everywhere.

I don’t usually think about traffic because we don’t have much of it here. This is the country. A traffic jam is a tractor and two cars waiting at an intersection, or road repairs that slow everything down as we take turns using one open lane.

Main Street, downtown Uxbridge in front of City Hall.

Sometimes, a bridge washes out and we realize how hard it is to get from one town to another without the bridges. In a river valley, it’s impossible to go far without crossing over water, so the loss of a bridge can force you miles out of your way.

A walk downtown.

Until we moved here, though, traffic was on of the top two or three biggest issues in our lives. It controlled when we got up in the morning because we had to leave enough time to get to work, taking traffic into account. Road work in Boston could and did make it actually impossible to get from one side of the city to another. Gridlock before and during holidays could close the whole city. I once tried to pick Garry up from work. It was less than a mile away. Normally, he walked, but he had things to carry and so 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. This 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 that I couldn’t get there. The next day it was in the papers and on TV: the entire city of Boston had been gridlocked. It was the Friday before Christmas; everyone had decided to go shopping at the same time, so no one went anywhere.

A year later, we moved from Government Center to Roxbury, about 4 miles outside the center of Boston. It was much less congested than the area around Charles River Park. There were trees, and empty lots.

You could park for free on the street, of course remaining ever mindful of alternate side of the street parking regulations. It was a much more convenient location for getting onto the Mass Pike without having to navigate through the permanent traffic jams downtown.

Then came the Big Dig.

The Central Artery-Tunnel Project, which everyone called the Big Dig, was a monstrous project involving rerouting and redesigning virtually every road in, out, around, and through the city of Boston. There were no areas unaffected by it either directly or indirectly, though it was worse some places than others.  It turned the main artery (Route 93) —  an exceptionally ugly stretch of permanently clogged elevated highway — into a permanently clogged, very long tunnel.

It didn’t solve the traffic problems, but it made the traffic invisible, leaving everyone to sit in their overheating cars trying to breathe carbon monoxide and hoping they will live to see the other side of the city. This was apparently sufficiently important to warrant a breathtaking price tag, not to mention massive inconvenience to absolutely everyone who worked, lived, or tried to visit the city.

Garth Brooks was scheduled to give a concert at the Boston Garden during the height of the Dig. He never made it. He couldn’t get there with all the detours, roadblocks, closed exits, and such. He wrote a letter that was published in newspapers and quoted on television to the effect that he’d come back to Boston if and when we finished building it.

It was like this for more than a decade. It also filled the air with dirt.

The project straightened out some of the worst intersections and made getting to and from the airport easier. It certainly made Boston look nicer. It was an artistic success, but it sure did cost a lot of money.

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, the use of substandard materials, criminal arrests for a some of the aforementioned offenses (but not nearly enough), and four deaths.

The project was scheduled for completion in 1998 and was supposed to cost $2.8 billion. I am certain that not one single person in Boston actually 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 that 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 around 2038. Maybe not even then. I might add that things are still falling apart so not all the bills are in yet. I’m just glad I don’t live in the middle of it anymore.

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 the Hell out of here!” And we did.

We did not leave Boston. We fled. The traffic had taken control of 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, leaving motorists to find their way through the city using poorly or completely unmarked detours. Out-of-town visitors roamed helplessly through the streets of Dorchester looking in vain for a street sign or marker to give them a clue where to go. Although most of them eventually found their way to us, they never came back. We could hardly blame them.

Big Dig Bye Bye

Big Dig Bye Bye (Photo credit: Steve Garfield)

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

As a commuter, I probably spent the equivalent of years of my life sitting in traffic. Late in my career, audiobooks turned commuting into reading and took some of the sting out of it, but still … when you added the time actually spent in the office (usually 9 or 10 hours) and then included commuting time (2 to 4 more hours), my life was consumed by driving and traffic.

There was no time remaining in which to have a life. That’s probably why, though we are retired and poor as dirt, it’s still better than those last years of commuting. It turns out that poverty trumps traffic. Who’d have guessed?

If this sounds petty, it isn’t really. The stress of traffic, not to mention the expense and physical problems that directly result from hours locked in a car, unable to stretch or change position, are incalculable. By the time we slouch exhausted and beaten to the finish line called retirement, we are wrecks .. and now, we are poor, too. It’s still better than all that driving.

Looking southbound on Main Street. Much better. And the air is clean, too.

Do I have a solution to this? Nope. I’m just saying. Sometimes we seriously underestimate the wear and tear caused by the perfectly ordinary things we do because we have no choice. It adds up and takes a serious toll on our minds and bodies.

Traffic Congestion

Traffic (Photo credit: freefotouk)

Eventually, we wear out, not because we are lazy or defeatist. One day, something just snaps and we know that no amount of pushing is going to keep us going. We can’t do it anymore.

Traffic has a lot more to do with it than you think.