Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Play With the Seals!

My friend Nicole and I went to the New England Aquarium this past weekend. I got her two tickets to the “Play With the Seals” program. We were allowed into the Harbor Seals Habitat to goof off with the big furry guys for about an hour.
The program is designed to both educate the users and provide stimulation for the seals. Apparently, seals are very bright and get bored just swimming around. If you've ever been to the aquarium and seen a seal swimming in a circuit, that's them being bored.

We were given a couple of toys to play with. The first was literally just a garden hose.
Sure, it looks kinda lame, but when Nicole sprayed into the water, the seals came swooping in. They love the sensation, especially since they are finishing their molting season, which makes them feel like crap. The spray is like a little massage for them.
The other toys were “fishcicles,” which were ice toys filled with cut squid and a rubber chew toy. It looked gross.
But as the ice melts, the squid becomes exposed, and the seals WENT NUTS tugging and digging for that squid. According to Paul, the seal caretaker, the toys help the seals retain their ability to forage for food.
In all, it is a fabulous program, and definitely worth experiencing. Maybe instead of ripping off ideas for their ad campaigns, the aquarium could let more people know about these programs.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Mass. to Fast Laners: Drop Dead

Never be a sucker. Because if someone ever marks you as a sucker, they will always treat you like shit. Today's case in point: The Turnpike Authority's plan to jack up tolls on Fast Lane users.

See, people along the 93 corridor are not suckers. They said "Fuck no!" to tolls along the highway, and they got what they wanted. They pitched a fit at the very notion and the state backed off.

But Fast Lane users? Suckers. We've already agreed to pay to use the highways and bridges we need, so in the state's eyes, we'll pay for the entire burden of projects across the state.

If you live in Mertowest or the North Shore*, you're a sucker. If you live on the South Shore or the 93N corridor, you're a free rider. To illustrate the point, I made a map. Free Riders in Green. Suckers in Blue.:

View Larger Map

I have no love for tolls. I was psyched at the 2006 plan to get rid of them. But if we're going to have tolls, then let's put them where there's 1) demand for the roadway and 2) spreads the onus of using the highway system over the most number of people. If that gets more people along 93 to take the commuter rail, then great. But at least it shifts the burden to everybody taking a major highway into Boston. Toll everyone or no one. Take your pick.

*That's one thing that's annoyed me about this debate. People who live on the North Shore are not getting a free ride. We pay tolls coming over the Tobin or through the Sumner and Williams tunnels. If you ever bothered to look at a map, you'd see that 93 pushes significantly inland. Chealsea, Revere, Saugus, Everett, Malden, Lynn, etc. are all tolled heavily to come into Boston. Just remember that when you talk about this stuff.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Old Man Oneupsmanship

Overheard in a Revere Diner this A.M.:

Peter Boyle Lookalike: What's with the jacket? What are you, in Florida?

Member's Only: It was cool out when I went out this morning.

Peter Boyle Lookalike: I was out at six, and it wasn't cool.

Member's Only: Well, I was out at five.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Whoa, THIS is What Real Governance Looks Like?

Another day, another example of Gov. Patrick taking a politically tough but important stand. Can there be any question that he's got a position secure in a possible Obama administration? There's no way we would see such political courage unless there was significant political cover.

Today it's police details. The governor is pushing to reduce the use of police officers to direct traffic at construction sites on state roads. It doesn't do anything about police use on local roads (which accounts for over 90% of the roads in the state, apparently), but it gives municipalities some political cover to save some money.

I don't have a problem with police details in the abstract. I do believe they help keep things orderly around a construction site, and it gives the officers a way to make some extra money while in a position to continue to help the community. All these cops who make serious money on details are going to go work second jobs elsewhere. Cities and towns may miss them when they're gone.

But the money at stake is too high, especially now, when we're going to go through another round of revenue shortfalls.

The governor's other big stance came yesterday, when he blocked pension increases for retired state employees. Again, it's tough because retirees are feeling the pinch, just like the rest of us. But the state just can't afford it this time.

Add to that the serious work being done to address the debt loads of the various transportation departments, and we are seeing the rarest of things: A governor working as though he has little time left in office to effect change, and a bureaucracy and legislature that doesn't realize he's already got a foot out the door (and thus are still willing to deal with him). If an Obama victory moves from a likelihood to a fait accompli, maybe things will change and the lame duck status will kick in. And hey, maybe he isn't gunning for work in Washington, which would be all the more extraordinary. I'll believe it when I see it. Most people agree with me, too.

For now, Patrick is working hard to make up for a disastrous first year in office with a breakout sophomore season. Can he see it through before the last Acela leaves for DC?

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Good Riddance Wonderland Dog Track

View Larger Map

Suffolk Downs and Wonderland may merge, which is a great, great deal for the city of Revere.

All of a sudden, this blighted albatross around my home town's neck may disappear and finally meet the fate we all want: Redevelopment.

Personally, I would love to see dense mixed use on the 36-acre lot, similar to what's being planned on the other side of the Wonderland T station. Open a mix of stores, restaurants and a bar in a spot next to a T stop and across from Revere Beach.

There are some thing Revere should definitely require as part of the deal:

  1. Require the developer to build a commuter rail station. Revere is completely bypassed by the commuter rail, which partially splits the city from it's waterfront. A commuter rail station would fit perfectly at the Wonderland site (which is adjacent to the tracks) and  give people from boston and all along the north shore greater access to the beach and shopping areas. It'll also provide Revere residents with a fast commuting option to North Station.

  2. Connect the proposed commuter rail and Wonderland stations. Have the developer build an enclosed foot bridge and people mover, which could both connect the stations and offer the development unfettered foot access to the beach. Win-win.

  3. Require locally-owned and original dining options. One upsetting byproduct of smart growth has been the generic dining options installed as eateries. Some places have made great decisions to involve local establishments. Station Landing at Wellington Circle, for example, has a new Pizzeria Regina, and people love it. Work with the developers to keep rents down in the retail sections, and demand they give local owners preference in opening businesses. No one is gonna take the Blue Line to Revere to eat at a Friday's.

  4. Keep the buildings closer to the street. Have the buildings front North Shore Road and VFW Parkway, and put the parking in the back. That will keep the tall buildings away from the Sagamore Street residential area, provide a friendlier walking destination, and tie in better with transit traffic to the site and beach.
The state could make some smart decisions here, too:
  1. Secure rights of way to connect the Blue Line with the Commuter Rail line for future expansion into Lynn , Salem, and Peabody. Creating a connector between these lines would greatly reduce the costs of any future Blue Line expansion.

  2. Demand Level of Service upgrades for Route 1A, North Shore Road, and Butler Circle. Presently, the roadway is snarled with commuting traffic, even with a mostly dead track across the way. This could be as simple as eliminating the lights between Wonderland station and the dog track.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

More doobies for movie crowds, please

So I saw Pineapple Express last night. Funny stuff, and definitely holds up as both a stoner movie and action spoof. James Franco was great, and Seth Rogen was his usual slacker self. The movie doesn't overreach, and it doesn't disappoint.

But. I watched it in the Revere Showcase cinema, and it felt like I was intruding on the Class of 2008's two-month reunion. People were turning the corner into the theater, scanning the crowd, and wildly gesticulating to their friends. Some were vulgar, others were throwing their hands in the air in universal "what up" gestures.

Ah, but here's the thing with stoner movies: These kids were quiet and VERY ready to laugh, because they were all stoned. What looked like it was gonna be a long night of asshole jocks talking shit to the movie and everyone moving up and down the aisle ended up being a quieter crowd than any I've ever seen at Kendall (Not that arthouse types are better behaved than 17-year-olds. They aren't).

This and this alone is reason enough to decriminalize pot.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Introducing the Manny Burrito Bet

After a vigorous exchange of opinions about the Manny-plus-the-cast-of-It's-a-Mad-Mad-Mad-Mad-World-for-only-Jason-Bay Deal, we have come to this: Gambling.

My buddy Pete has bet me a burrito that Bay will have 10 more combined runs and RBIs than Manny. I took the action. If I lose, Pete gets some Anna's Taqueria love. If I win, I get a commensurate gut bomb somewhere in Chicago.

I'll track the players'  progress in a new sidebar feature to the right. Keep in mind, Bay had 136 R+RBI to Manny's 134 as of last night. So remember to shave two off the season totals if you wanna keep track that way.

Can't wait for that burrito...