Things that just occurred to me, in no particular order

Archive for the ‘Lewiston/Auburn’ Category


Let’s say you own a plot of land. Your neighbor dies and his heirs sell to a local developer.

Now that guy’s bringing a plan forward to turn the land on the other side of your fence into something. Could be a factory or a church or a chicken farm. It doesn’t matter what because it’s going to change your life drastically.

Of course, this local developer knows the process. He knows what forms to fill out and where to sign and what boards he needs to meet with before he can get started. So, it’s no surprise that this guy is halfway to breaking ground before you realize what’s on his mind.

From your perspective, it looks a lot like he getting a special deal and you raise holy hell. A few other neighbors do, too. You write a few letters, meet with a few local officials yourself and do what you can to unravel all that he’s done.

And suddenly, people start to pay attention and what looked like a slam dunk for this guy starts looking much less likely.

Now, from your point of view, it looks like a conspiracy. He greased all the right palms and settled the deal before you knew what happened. The officials must be on his side. “What happened to the public process?” you cry.

The thing is, it looks a lot like a conspiracy from his point of view, too. He’s invested a lot of money and done a lot of work to get to this point. And now, when there’s no turning back, it all starts to look different. It was anything but easy getting to this point, he says, but his  sure thing ain’t so sure anymore. Maybe some people stop returning his calls.  The officials must be on your side, he thinks.

About the only thing both would agree on is that is that something fishy is afoot. And they’d both be right.

It’s the way government works, top to bottom. Nobody is rewarded for doing their work early. Nothing is settled until the last vote is cast and counted and things can change on a dime. I’d gather it was that way in Ancient Greece, with some last-minute Athenian wheeling and dealing. And I guarantee it was that way back in the late 1700s when our Founding Fathers made their deals.

Keep that in mind this week when there’s a debt deal nationally or a zoning deal next door. It’s not a conspiracy. It’s just government.


He owes somebody a pickled egg

I’m not perfect. Never made any claims at such, and it never surprises me when I’m reminded by a reader that I’ve gotten it wrong.

But it’s nice when I get it right.

So, the voice on my phone cackled at me like an old TV western prospector.

“Ye Got it wrong, last three times you’ve run the story, ye’ve gotten it wrong, hee hee.”

He said his name so fast I couldn’t quite make it out.  But damn, he was happy.

“Ye said that that bridge to the park the city is working on goes from Oxford Street to the park. It don’t! It goes from Birch Street to the park.”

And then he cackled some more, gleefully.

Now, I’m right in the middle of two other stories, so I had to think about it. And it’s always possible that I did get it wrong in the story today.

“Umm,” I said, thoughtfully.

“Hee! I’m right! I’m right! Hee hee! I knew it! Ye got it wrong, didn’t ye!”

I told him I’d have to check, but he was gone at that point, chortling, giggling and choking just a little bit. He must have won a bet.

Thing is, I wasn’t wrong. The little bridge goes from Oxford Street to Simard Payne Park. It’s right there, signs on the road, maps on the computer. Birch Street is  blocks away. I don’t even know what the heck he was talking about.

Somewhere a gleeful, chuckling leprechaun of a man lost a bet.

Life in 19 minute chunks

I tend to be the newsroom’s  guinea pig. When the IT guys want to try out a new system, bit of hardware or whatever, I usually find them hovering over my right shoulder.

For the past month, I’ve been the tester for a new multiple OS system, a desktop using a remote hard drives or something. It’s been a smooth process, with few hiccups — until Monday. That’s when the temporary license on the software they were trying to fold into our delicate infrastructure finally expired.

The result for me was that my system reset itself every 20 minutes — 20 minutes, on the dot, with no sympathy, no warning and no respect at all for the journalistic thought process.

Now,  it took me a few resets before I figured out what was happening. I complained to IT and they said they were working on it. All that was left for me to do was cope.

Eventually, I figured out the reset interval and began timing. I’d start counting down when the computer rebooted and learned to sum up my projects as the 20 minute mark approached. My timer would ding at 19 minutes, I’d save, close my files, step back and the computer would reboot. A minute later and I’d be back in and working.

It’s been an interesting laboratory for me to study my work habits. I think of myself as a hard worker and I get a lot accomplished. But there are so many distractions today — emails, Google Reader updates, Tweets and Facebook posts — it’s real easy to let something interfere with your focus.

But when you have 19 minutes and the clock is ticking, it’s easier to put those distractions aside. I found myself focusing on the task at hand, knowing that the quick email would steal precious seconds from my current thought process. I began grouping my work intervals, delaying Twitter, email and even phone calls until the next 20 minute cycle.

Now, I’ve tried lots of organizing schemes. I have a copy of Allen’s “Getting things Done” on my bookshelf and a drawer down to my right with 43 folders in a tickler. I’ve read on Lifehacker and other places that eight minutes is the ideal amount of time to devote to a particular task, but I never tested it.

Now I know.

IT finally replaced my system Wednesday afternoon, so my enforced breaks are over. But I’m thinking about buying an egg timer or something.

Whistle pigs and Media Play

There was a this patch of open space in Westminster, between where we lived 10 years ago and Stanley Lake. I have no idea if it’s still there, but it’s one of the reasons we left the Denver area and moved to Maine.

I used to ride my bike along a path through there.  I never really stopped because there was not much to it. It was a dirt patch, all owned by the city and kept as open space. Just some scrubby trees, creek beds and lots of Prairie Dogs. They’d whistle to each other as I pedaled past, popping out of their dens briefly. That’s why my Dad always called them Whistle Pigs.

I saw hawks and the occasional coyote there, too.

That little patch was bordered on either side by homes,  city streets and retail developments. Not exactly virgin wilderness.

But it was, I was told, prime develop-able space and that was to be its fate. The City Council was in talks to sell that patch to a developer for a corner shoppette.

But right around the corner, there was a ghost shoppette just a few years old. It was home to a vacant Media Play (remember Media Play?) and a bunch of smaller shops, all equally empty. They’d all gone out of business about the same time and no other retail outlets were interested in moving in.

It was too much for me. You could stand on the asphalt corner of the vacant Media Play lot and throw a pop bottle into the open space patch, if you had a good arm.

I could not figure why someone would sacrifice the last bit of wild in that neighborhood for another sterile, utilitarian retail destination. It was enough to overcome my last bit of resistance and bail on Colorado for good. I don’t even know how it turned out, if they paved over the prairie dogs or ever found someone to rent Media Play’s old home.

I thought of that patch the other day, driving past a Turner Street retail development. When we moved here, it was vacant land, full of whatever passes for Whistle Pigs in Maine. Now  it’s developed, but it’s never been fully occupied.

There’s a gym nearby, a restaurant and some offices. But much of it is empty, just like that old Media Play on Wadsworth Boulevard.

The neighbors say they have to open the door every once in a while to let out any wildlife that slipped under the plywood front door and got trapped.

So, at least there’s still a way to see urban wildlife.

The leprechaun theory

I have a pet theory that I’ve shared with everyone that’s willing to listen. To me, it explains a lot about Mainer’s attitudes about business, taxes and life in general. Maybe the attitude is similar elsewhere, but I can’t be sure of that.

See, it’s a tough economy. Unemployment in Maine is not as bad right now as it is in other parts of the nation, but times are difficult. Groceries, gas, heating oil: they’re all getting more expensive. Raises are less frequent. People want the economy to perk up, especially here at home. They want people to bring money to Maine that’s going to be spread around, raising the standard of living.

At the same time, folks don’t want to be bothered with the stuff that comes with economic development. They don’t want increased traffic on the streets, new bodies at the local schools and lines at the grocery store. They’re pretty wary of newcomers and their annoying ideas about how things should done and frankly want to be left alone.

It manifests like this: Someone comes to town, saying they’re going to bring their business with them. It’s going to mean X many millions of dollars of investment and Y more jobs to the community that pay a living wage. They’re going to pay taxes and they want to be part of the community.

Most folks, I figure, yawn at the news. Sure, they say, that’s a fine idea. More power to them.

But a good-sized minority get all up in arms: it’s going to generate traffic, it’s going to bring the wrong sort of person to town, it’s going to have impacts we can’t imagine and it basically going to change our cozy little community.

I’ve seen several plans march  through Maine communities, and half of them get chased away by these folks. They wind up locating their plant, or store or whatever some place else.

It’s a cousin to the “Not In My Backyard” syndrome and it’s confusing for the community, and especially the economic development folks. Mainers are picky folks: they want economic development, but not that economic development.

It’s a rather tough code to break, but I think I’ve figured it out. We want a leprechaun to wander in to the town, drop his little pot of gold and leave. We’ll divvy it up as we see fit and he can move his little green ass right out of town.

Unfortunately, there has been dearth of leprechauns sighted in these parts lately and even fewer pots of gold.

Just so folks don’t think I go around picking up the wildlife

So I’m on the phone with the insurance adjuster Thursday morning, looking out the window over my sink to my back yard, when I something catches my eye.

Be sure to wash up after handling a Jay

Look what I found in my garage!

Actually, it was pretty hard to miss. There was this angry male blue jay hopping around on my back patio and  staring intently at me, like he was trying to get my attention. I didn’t move, because I didn’t want to scare him. He didn’t leave, just kept hopping around  for a few long moments.

Then, he jumps off my deck, aiming right toward my little dilapidated garage/shed, like he’s going to smack right into the window. He doesn’t, but pulls up right before he hits it, then lands on the ground in front of it and starts strutting around.

Of course, my gaze follows him and that’s when I see his friend or his mate on the other side of the glass, flapping, pecking and trying like heck to get out and fly off with the other one.

I hung up the phone, ran out to the garage and scooped it up and set it free, but not before snapping a quick picture with my cell phone. He/she/it was serious mad at me and screamed bloody murder once I’d let go.

Anyway, just seemed like an odd way to begin a day.

At some point, we have to get around to fixing things

So last November, the country took a turn to the left. We elected a Democrat president and gave him a whisker-thin majority in Congress. This came after years of letting the GOP run the table and on top of a huge financial meltdown.

I hoped we’d all be able to turn a page, you know, put aside all of our partisan differences. Make things happen for a change: heal the economy, fix the planet, build up our image around the globe and similar stuff. Only an idiot would expect quick fixes, thought I. It took a while to get here, it’ll take a while to get someplace else.

Boy was I wrong. The criticism started right away, giving birth to the Tea Party and a brand new partisan game. And here we are, 2010 looks a lot like 1994 — and pretty much every year in between.

But now, I’m curious about the GOP back-pedaling away from some of the Tea Party’s big winners just as the movement appears ready to bear fruit. It doesn’t bode well for us, I’m afraid.

See, the folks that elected Obama have gotten complacent. They’ve let the “Somewhere in Texas, a Village is Missing its Idiot” bumper stickers get all faded and peely and gotten along with their lives.

Meanwhile, the Tea Party crowd is all energized, ready to get their crew elected. This fall, when they do, they’ll divide Congress up evenly and make sure nothing gets done for the following two years.

Then, in 2012, we’ll have another narrow election. Either side could win. The winner’s supporters will get all fat and complacent. The losers will put brand new bumper stickers on their cars and make sure that nothing gets accomplished.

But at some point, we have to put the bickering aside and give someone the chance to fix things and the time to make it work.

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