Thursday, January 12, 2012

Charlie Reardon has passed on


Essex Street Fair 2007 012 BW, originally uploaded by dmoisan.

The Salem Con Disabilities is sad to announce that one of our long-time members has passed away.

Charlie Reardon is no longer with us.

When I first started filming disability meetings, Charlie was one of the first people I met. He and I would go to various city meetings in one of his vehicles so I could record them. He was on a lot of shoots with me.

He also ferried around my blind colleague Andy quite a lot--Andy's late guide dog, Elliot, adored Charlie!

We both lived in Ward 2 and we shared the same "opinions" on the Salem Common Neighborhood Association that I have long aired here.

We will miss Charlie.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Is My Councilor Better Than His Voters Because He Served?

Honor Guard, James Ayube Roadway Memorial Dedication

Dedication of the James Ayube Memorial Riverway, September 30th, 2011

A few days ago, I was reading the threads on Salemweb, and ran into Lloyd’s political commentary mixed amongst his Christmas best wishes.  (Christmas is not my favorite holiday, but I hope everybody had good festivities nonetheless.)

I don’t pay a lot of attention;  most of the threads on that board rehash old arguments that would never be settled even if Kim Driscoll were hit by a meteorite in bed tonight.

And why would I take issue with best wishes anyway, even if they’re satirical?  But Lloyd, in this thread, said something that has bothered me enough to stick my head out on a topic I never felt safe to bring up before.

Lloyd:

To Mike Sosnowski - Many thanks for your hard work in the face of dealing with individuals who have little or no appreciation for your service to your country, or your dedication to the ward you live in. Semper Fi.

I’m sure Lloyd didn’t mean anything negative in particular, except for criticizing those who don’t agree with Mike.

Or who don’t appreciate Mike’s service to his country as a Marine.

I respect his service.  But I have disagreed with Mike on many occasions.  I don’t approve of his performance.  I don’t like how he toadies to the Common and the Federal Street associations.  I was livid when he let someone from Northfields tell me what I should have or not have in my neighborhood.

But he’s a veteran.  I should not speak.

Right?

One of Mark Twain’s best short works, “The War Prayer”, goes right to the heart of my unease.  He describes the great swell of patriotism surrounding the Phillipine-American War, which he hated.

In a church, a fervent pastor is leading his flock in excited, vigorous prayer, praying for their young men, soon to go into battle, and for their total victory over their enemy.

In the middle of the prayer, a wild man walks in, and explains:

"I come from the Throne -- bearing a message from Almighty God!" The words smote the house with a shock; if the stranger perceived it he gave no attention. "He has heard the prayer of His servant your shepherd, and will grant it if such shall be your desire after I, His messenger, shall have explained to you its import -- that is to say, its full import. For it is like unto many of the prayers of men, in that it asks for more than he who utters it is aware of -- except he pause and think.

"God's servant and yours has prayed his prayer. Has he paused and taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two -- one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the ear of Him Who heareth all supplications, the spoken and the unspoken. Ponder this -- keep it in mind. If you would beseech a blessing upon yourself, beware! lest without intent you invoke a curse upon a neighbor at the same time. If you pray for the blessing of rain upon your crop which needs it, by that act you are possibly praying for a curse upon some neighbor's crop which may not need rain and can be injured by it.

"You have heard your servant's prayer -- the uttered part of it. I am commissioned of God to put into words the other part of it -- that part which the pastor -- and also you in your hearts -- fervently prayed silently. And ignorantly and unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You heard these words: 'Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!' That is sufficient. the *whole* of the uttered prayer is compact into those pregnant words. Elaborations were not necessary. When you have prayed for victory you have prayed for many unmentioned results which follow victory--*must* follow it, cannot help but follow it. Upon the listening spirit of God fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!

If you pray for our victory, Twain says, you are praying for some mother’s son to die, for someone’s home to be bombed, for some child to die in fire.  (It’s worth going back to read the whole piece;  I do it no credit.)

I’m no pacifist.  I’ve grown up all my life knowing a military and veterans and armed forces and I don’t see that going away.  But war, as Sherman put it, is hell, and I hate sentimentalizing it or romanticizing it.

More to the point of my councilor, when I am told to support my councilor because he served,  I hear these unspoken things:

  • “I served and I’m a better citizen than you!”
  • “You can’t tell me what to do.  I served and you didn’t!”
  • “You’d act better if  I sent you to boot camp, wouldn’t you?!”
  • “Yes, I can tell you what to do!  Say Sir, Yes Sir!”
  • “You didn’t serve.  You’re not really a citizen.  Or a person.”

This last point is inordinately cruel:  Though I did register for Selective Service and had no qualms or fears of the unlikely possibility that I would be called up, I would have never been able to pass the physical in any event;  my early eye history and my hearing loss would have certainly disqualified me.

If my councilor is superior to me because he served, and if I could not serve, I would have to think I’m an untermenschen.   (Societies that thought they had untermenschen they needed to deal with have all been stable and happy societies that have never made war within their nations or outside of it.  Right.  Sure.)

Mind you, I don’t think Mike himself thinks this of me.  He might hate what I wrote.  He could even yell at me as if he were my DI—and he’d be perfectly entitled to do so, given our disagreements!

But I’ve heard comments like Lloyd’s from so many people in the past few years.  Several years ago on Salemweb, I had made a comment on Eisenhower (whom I admire) and how I would not necessarily vote for a veteran because none of them were like our former General and President.

I got an extended lecture on the Greatest Generation.

I suspect the person who gave me that lecture, which has become a catechism over the years, did not serve.  Many people who are gung-ho about our military, who love our military above all else, the Fighting Keyboard types who would bomb Iran tomorrow, did not themselves serve.

To too many Americans, our soldiers are totems.  We worship them.  We use them to make ourselves feel better.  We can stand next to the lowest Army private and be his or her friend and be better because we are associated with a soldier.

To hear people tell it, the late James Ayube died for our sins.  I attended the dedication ceremony that named the bypass road for him, and I was dismayed about how my state rep, John Keenan, and my mayor Driscoll, just waved away the facts of Ayube’s death as if they were just a force of Nature.  I am left thinking that ceremony was not so much for Ayube’s family but for ourselves.

I don’t expect a ceremony like that to be a discourse on our foreign policies, but we, the people, are responsible for the well-being, the safety and most importantly the prudent use of our forces, with our  young people that we have asked to fight for us on our behalf.

We can’t take his death for granted, nor romanticize it, nor sentimentalize it.  But I’ve given up on our politicians realizing that because they of all people benefit the most from standing next to a soldier.

Getting back to my point, I’ve heard from a lot of people over the past few years, and not a few of my Facebook friends, who love the idea of a military government, even though it’s against our Constitution.

The military will just make things work!  In a military government, Lloyd can have me sent away for treason.  The Army can kill all them liberals!  Shoot illegal aliens all day, all night, with dogs and choppers and night vision, everywhere! 

I have to think if I am going to toady up to my councilor just because he served, I am helping to insure that the military takeover that we have always criticized other nations for doing, that could never happen because we loved Freedom more than anyone else, will easily happen right here at home.  To hear some tell it, we’re well on our way to welcoming our new Army overlords.

I won’t do it.

Mike can show up at my door anytime and give me General Patton’s method of discipline.  I understand it.  I’ll take it.

But I won’t kiss his ass just because he served and I didn’t.

Monday, October 17, 2011

My years of futility in Salem transit, part 2

Route 459-Derby St

Following up on my last post, I’m wondering why we just can’t get things done to improve our public transit and make our streets safer for pedestrians and people with disabilities.

I’m signed up with the MBTA to get service alerts for bus routes I regularly use, which would be the 450, 451, 455, 456, 459 and 465.  I just got an alert now:

Routes 455 & 459 are experiencing 15-20 minute delays due to traffic.

10/17/2011 4:07 PM

This has been a regular occurrence.  Normally, I’m not concerned about delays here and there because buses run in traffic and are susceptible to the same delays that affect motorists trying to go down 1A and 107 on their way to and from Salem.

But there’s been a disturbing increase in traffic congestion that has happened in all months at most times of the day in the North Shore.

The MBTA schedules have been severely affected;  looking at Route 456, the frequency of service is now 80 minutes.  That means 1 hour and 20 minutes between buses.  This route once ran hourly when it was established in 2002.  (The 456 is a busy route that serves Central Square by way of Highland Ave., and the many Lynn residents who shop and use the medical offices in Salem.)

The 450 has been affected as well.  In fact, during weekdays, none of the MBTA routes out of Salem Depot run hourly.  The 465 that serves the Peabody-Danvers shopping area runs about every 1 hour and 10 minutes (70 minutes).

Even on weekends, the 455W, Salem to Wonderland, no longer runs hourly, but also slips 5 minutes here and there throughout the day.

This single bus route is the most frequent, and busiest, of all of the MBTA’s Salem routes.  Before the 455 was split into the 455 and 459 routes (the latter going to Logan Airport and South Station on weekdays), it ran every 30 minutes, as does the 455W weekend service to Wonderland.

I have taken that route many times and I can tell you it is crowded.  If you come home from Boston and elect to get off the Blue Line at Revere Beach (one stop short of Wonderland), you will not get a seat on the bus.  (The bus shelter at Revere Beach is much nicer than the one at Wonderland so I board there any time I can.)

Remember also that the MBTA runs many, many other routes to and through Lynn, and to Swampscott and Marblehead.

Here is an exercise for those who doubt this:  Drive down either Route 1A (the Lynnway) or Route 107 (Western Ave.) and pull into a lot somewhere before Revere.  There are a number of Dunks around so pull in with a medium regular and your choice of donut.  Normal business hours are fine, day or evening.

Find an MBTA bus that is marked for service on its LED sign (other than “NOT IN SERVICE” or “NO STOPS”).  Count how many people are onboard;  you don’t need to be exact.

Count the buses and count the people.

You’ll probably find a lot more buses and a lot more riders than you think.  These people are heading to and from work, to and from doctor appointments, daycare, shopping and even church.

Critics of transit spending like to say that you can’t make demand by spending on big capital projects like, say, the Blue Line extension to Lynn.

But the people are already here!  They’ve been here for a long time.  They come whenever the latest condos get built on Highland Ave.

And those who don’t take the bus, drive.  Yes, I know I am in the minority of people who do not drive and yes I am lazy, didn’t overcome my disabilities, and so forth.  I know all that.

But I know, too, that in any urban area, when the density of people gets above a certain point, it’s time to consider investing in public transit, simply because the road networks will strangle the very communities that depend on them.

That time’s now.  It’s been “now” for years.

No public official will say this, because the scariest thing they could imagine is to have Barbara Anderson and the Tea Party at their door screaming “NO NEW TAXES!”  I’ve heard that before, I’ve heard it for years and years and years.

And, certainly, Salem is wealthy enough in the short term that the Tea Party platforms could “work”.

For a short while, anyway.

Will the shiny, happy, good, new (and rich) residents of Salem tolerate not being able to leave their driveway, not only in October, but year-round?  The traffic jams of Halloween in Salem are legendary, but the dirty truth is that they happen just as readily on a cold twilight afternoon in January.

I fear something even worse:  The Massachusetts Senate has approved a casino gaming bill.   In the bill, which still has to go to a conference committee to be finalized, there would be three destination casinos in the state.  One of them would be near Suffolk Downs.

The owners of Suffolk Downs have long looked to slot machines to provide the revenue they need to keep the horse track running;  horse racing as a sport has been on a long slow decline for decades and the track was once known as “Sufferin’ Downs” for good reason.

The owners recently bought Wonderland, the defunct dog track near the Blue Line that was closed after Mass. voters approved a referenda to ban greyhound racing.  Wonderland is where most people think a slot parlor may go on the North Shore.

It’s the northern end of the Blue Line.  And it is the worst migraine headache for me and all of us on the North Shore.  And it will happen.   There’s too much money being tossed around in executive suites and the State House to think otherwise.

Both my mayor and my rep, Driscoll and Keenan, are supporting casinos.  They’re doing so, I suspect, because of the hope of increased state revenue for cities and towns, the selling point most used by our state lottery, and they are hoping for infrastructure (roads & transit) improvements.

I’m not going to guess on the revenue, but I will guess that the casino operators won’t invest as much in the infrastructure as we would like.  They don’t need to.

They don’t need a Blue Line extension;  most of their customers will drive, and the few who don’t can be served by leasing a few dozen shuttle buses.  We’ll see them everywhere once the casino opens.  (They will also become the default recreational option for senior centers, but that is another matter.)

They won’t need to invest in anything else;  the casinos of Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun are, like most, self-contained so the visitor doesn’t need to go anywhere else.  Nowhere else but there to spend money!

Mayor Driscoll is deluding herself if she thinks this won’t ripple into Salem’s tourist revenue.

What casinos will surely do is clog up the roads and make it impossible for anyone in buses or cars to get around.

Unless, of course, you are going to the casino yourself.  That will be easy.

Otherwise, not so much.  The decay of the T will continue and no one will care.  What have I been doing for 4 years, again?  Will it matter?

My years of futility in Salem transit, part 1

Highland Ave at Pep Boys

In my last post, I updated the status of Salem Depot and its endless revisions and delays.  A little further south of downtown, there’s another situation that I am reminded of again and again.

I’ve long wrote about the Market Basket bus stop and the problems navigating to it in the winter.  Around this time of year, most of us are shopping for new winter boots and hoping against hope that the upcoming winter will be mild, or at least with little snow.

This picture outside Pep Boys showed that this was not to be, early in 2011.  In 2010, the Commission hoped that the MBTA would route buses through Market Basket to eliminate the problem.

That was also not to be;  the MBTA declined the idea.  The Market Basket plaza was never designed for buses, the routes would be delayed going through there, but most importantly, the abutter to Market Basket—the adjacent shopping complex with Shaws and TJ Maxx, objected.

There will be no new bus stop in the winter of 2011-2012 and, I fear, there may never be.

Since I’ve started this blog, I have heard regularly from a gentleman, a former city councilor, who’s been upset over the bus stop and its snowbanks.

Like clockwork, I’ll hear from him when Mayor Driscoll announces funding for some new project (“She can spend $XXXXX for something but not on the bus stop!”)

Repeatedly.

He’s made me even more cynical than I am already.  I have seen and known enough about government to know that the fact of Mayor Driscoll seeking to start some project or another is totally orthogonal and unrelated to that bus stop.  I didn’t even vote for her but I have expressed my thoughts on transit to her and other elected officials regularly.

Most people who’ve been outraged over this issue have cars and don’t need to wait in the snow for the bus!

I use that bus stop regularly. If I get run over standing next to a snowbank one gray chilly day, isn’t that poetic justice?  Given what the Tea Parties say about government and those who work for it, I wouldn’t expect an ounce of sympathy from anyone if that happened!  I don’t know the politics of my correspondent, but I do know a lot of people his age who parrot  the “hard work and personal responsibility” trope of the Tea Parties so often that it is just screaming noise.  (Obviously, I didn’t work hard enough to overcome my vision problems so I could drive!)

And my correspondent is an ex-city councilor!  I feel that if you are a current city official or even a former city official, you have an obligation to answer when someone asks, “What did you do to make Salem better when you served?”

I’d like to ask my correspondent what he did when he had the reins.

I know that in 4 years and 1-1/3rd terms into my service on the Commission on Disabilities, I have to ask myself that question every time I get up in the morning and every time I sit in our conference room at SATV every third Tuesday.

I’m beginning to wonder if I can really answer that.  Thoughts in my next post. 

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Salem Depot Update

Message board at Salem Depot HP parking area

Two updates on Salem Depot:  Several of us from the Salem Commission on Disabilities met here at Salem Depot with representatives from the Salem and MBTA Police to discuss handicapped parking problems at the station.  The Salem News wrote about this in some detail.

There wasn’t much that the police could do at the moment, since there is no continual monitoring of the area, by video or otherwise, but the T placed a message board, seen in in the image, for the interim.  October and Halloween represent the biggest month that this station sees in car and foot traffic, so this sign is not or should not be an unexpected expense for the T.

I never read the Salem News comment section, but there was one comment to that article I want to address:  The commenter believes that, instead of enforcing HP parking, that people with disabilities should use the T’s paratransit service, The Ride.

Um, they could.  But as I’ve written before, that service is very expensive to provide.   Using The Ride for direct service from, say, North Salem to Boston is just nuts if one can make the commuter rail.  And using The Ride as a shuttle to the station itself is practically a non-starter with Salem’s downtown traffic as bad as it is.

It turns out to be much cheaper, in the long run, for the MBTA to make their regular service accessible to people with disabilities.  The current management at the T seems to realize this, only after decades of neglect—and lawsuits.

My second update is more disturbing.  There was a robbery at the station one night last month.  A student was robbed of his laptop and iPod to the tune of $1,400, while waiting for a ride around 9 PM.

On reading this in the News, I can imagine the good people of Federal Street locking their doors in unison.  It’s not safe at 9 PM, after all.

I have been at the Depot late at night getting off a train.  It’s not at all unusual to call for a ride or a taxi.  9 PM is not a “wrong” time to be on the T.

My Mom told me stories of the old Salem Depot, not the famous headhouse that was demolished 50 years ago, but the two that sat under the south end of Riley Plaza.

A platform that was virtually invisible from the street. 

There were crimes and assaults on that platform up until it was closed in 1987 when the current station opened.

It is not acceptable to have someone minding their business at the station, waiting for their ride home, and being robbed. 

It’s intolerable that we should be taking these events  for granted, but many do.  I know, we’re in a recession, government is ineffective, and can’t we just wait for better days?  We’ll build a better Salem Depot to the shrine of Sammy McIntyre someday soon!

I’m coming to think that nobody in Salem wants a new train station, not the politicians, not the Salem News 101st Keyboard Brigade, not the neighborhood groups, or the “government-is-bad” people, nobody.

More on my next post.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Salem’s ADA Day, 2011

Monday marked the 21st anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act. Seen here are David Tracht, Salem Commission on Disabilities co-chair, Mayor Kim Driscoll, David Martel, Salem Commission on Disabilities and Mary Margaret Moor, Independent Living Center of the North Shore and Cape Ann.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Salem Schools Looking For a Home—and Accessibility

Salem Community Charter School

As reported by the Salem News, the new charter school, Salem Community Charter School is looking for space.  Museum Place is one possibility they’re looking at;  the former Saint Joseph’s Rectory is another.

As well, the Saltonstall School is being renovated and Salem is scrambling to find space for their students, and for a special-needs program at the Collins.

The rectory will need a year’s worth of work before it is useable as a school.  The Boston diocese did not offer their other properties such as St. John’s School and one official has speculated it is due to ADA issues.

A regular member of the commentariat at the Salem News weighed in on both stories with a refrain I am too familiar with as a member of the disability community in Salem.  To paraphrase:  “Why do we have to serve a small minority of students.  Forget that touchy-feely stuff of [disabled kids].  It’s an emergency—use the parochial schools!”

(It’s an emergency;  does that mean emergency no-bid contracting?  The member of the commentariat is a Tea Partier and I presume for less government and taxation and against the charming “emergency” measures that have often concealed thefts of the public purse.  I’m getting off the point here.)

Here’s a scenario the hardest-bitten conservative can relate to:

John Jones is a decorated veteran.  A wounded veteran who came home from Afghanistan or perhaps Iraq.  There’s no way he’s gonna get up and down stairs unless he rolls.  Downhill, possibly not under his own control.

He has kids.  He has a daughter, a true daddy’s girl that goes to the Saltonstall, or perhaps the new charter school or the Academy charter school.

His girl isn’t one of these special-needs snowflakes;  she’s a normal active girl.  Except that she’s an athlete and a ball player and there was that unseen posthole in the outfield one day when she was running out a grounder.

She’ll be hopping around for some time.

Now, Dad is deciding on schools, perhaps his family’s moved to Salem or his girl is making a change.  Remember choice?  That’s what the charter schools were supposed to be about.  Choice, choice, choice!

You will tell Dad the vet, wounded for our sins (“freedom isn’t free”, mind?), that he and his daughter cannot participate as parent and child in their own school system?

Good luck with that.

While many people use patriotism to worship respect our soldiers, few of them realize something I’ve thought of.

If you count all the veterans still living from all wars, and those that are wounded and disabled, I suspect they don’t make up a large number.

In Salem, I have heard estimates that 20% of Salemmites have a disability.  Not all of them are of school age, of course.

I am certain that the 20% is not all made up of veterans.

Yet if I suggested that  veterans should not get help because their numbers are so few, I’m certain I would be assaulted in an alleyway.  (Freedom isn’t free…)

I have no animosity towards veterans—I’m too young to have ever spat upon a Vietnam veteran, and have never said a word of disrespect to them (perhaps, I have done this to the politicians who task them, but…)   Salem’s veteran groups are natural allies of the Commission on Disabilities and always will be.

I have to wonder why the diocese of Boston is not aggressive with its surplus properties.  Despite what Rand Paul would have you believe, in Massachusetts, any given building does not have to be made ADA accessible to current codes merely as if the authorities waved a pixie wand and made it so.

The requirement to make a building ADA compliant per current code very much depends on the use of the building, the age of the building and the intended use of the building.  There were several revisions to Massachusetts building codes for handicapped access and by the current law, a building constructed say, in 1978, only has to meet accessibility requirements for 1978.  I have several large (and large-print) binders with all the laws to date.

If a building is used for general business purposes, it may or may not need to be brought up to ADA access.  Often in Salem, buildings have been repurposed and have never been made accessible because there were very few if any renovations performed.

A benchmark the Commission often discusses is the “one-third rule” or “30% rule” or “hitting 30%”.  That refers  to the current value of the building.  If any proposed renovations exceed 30% of this value, the building must be brought fully up to ADA and Massachusetts code.

Even then, developers and architects have considerable wiggle room.  The law does not say absolute accommodations, merely reasonable accommodations.  The Mass. Architectural Access Board (MAAB) will grant variances if the regulations are burdensome or do not benefit.

A few years ago, the state renovated a home in North Salem to use as a group home.  By the letter of the law it would have needed an expensive elevator.  The developer convinced the MAAB that the only space that the public would access was the ground floor.  The ground floor of the building was brought up to code with HP parking and no steps, but there didn’t need to be an elevator.  

I’ve been in St. John’s School before, and is not so much a charming old fashioned parochial school as it is a dump, no disrespect to Catholics meant.  There are stairs everywhere.  It could be impossible to get variances for this or any of the other school buildings involved.

Don’t forget, too, that the staff and teachers have to use the space as well.  People get old and infirm, or have a negative encounter with an icy front step.  If you think there’s controversy over accommodating students, just wait until it’s a teacher with a grievance!

I have to wonder if the diocese fears that the values of their properties have fallen so much that any renovations at all to them would require them to be fully up to code.  After all, it isn’t only handicapped access at stake but also electrical, plumbing, fire safety and communications cabling that need to be upgraded as well.

Whatever the case, this is something you can’t blame on the special-needs snowflakes, “those people” or the ADA activists.  Salem schools are indeed in a pickle.  But they would be anyway even if you deported all the disabled to Lynn.