Did I jinx the Camry?

Not long ago, or so it seems, I posted a Tendril on 10 cars I’ve had in my life. (I was going to say “owned,” but one was a company car.)

Guess I’ll have to make that 11 now.

My 2002 Toyota Camry fell victim to rust damage, which would have kept it from passing state inspection. It also needed new tires and an oil pan or some such. Besides, the key worked only on the driver side – not the trunk or passenger door – and the costly air conditioning coolant disappeared after a month or so of summer and, oh yes, the ignition did freeze up several times in recent winters. I know I’m overlooking other defects.

Still, it was paid for and I was hoping to hit 300,000 miles.

Alas, I bit the bullet and agreed to let go now at 283,000 miles. Gee, 17,000 short – I wanted just one more year.

In its place is a 2016 Chevy Sonic. I’m downsizing, for sure, but I no longer have a long daily commute or kids and their gear at home, and my wife’s Prius is what we’ll use when there’s more than one passenger.

I’ll spare you the calculations and experiences of used-car shopping, but will say that maybe if I’m lucky, this will be my last car purchase. Who knows?

Or by then we may just be into the revolutionary era of self-driving vehicles.

In the meantime, I still have a long way to go in catching up with all the new technology on the dashboard.

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Dover’s new riverfront appearance and hilltop park access

Downtown Dover grew around the falls on the Cocheco River, where the mills could channel the current to produce world-famous calico and much more.

Below the falls and the dam atop them, tides from the Atlantic Ocean downstream rise and fall eight to ten feet every six hours or so. Boats from the ocean made their way the 14 miles upstream to pick up or deliver goods.

As pollution in the river has been cleaned up and the city itself become more of a center of the Seacoast Region, planners have been looking to develop an open stretch of unpaved parking lot and weeds across the water from downtown.

For years, the site was the public works yard – not the best use of potentially valuable real estate. That has since been relocated elsewhere. I’m guessing it was tannery and warehouses before that.

A proposal to build anew there fell through in the real estate collapse of the great recession at the end of the George W. Bush administration but now, a decade later, it’s emerging in new form.

Key to the design is the extension of Henry Law park along the river as a walkway with added attractions such as kayak and canoe landings. A hillside has already been carved back to allow moving an existing street away from the river to open the space for more pleasant picnicking or the strolling public.

Further on there will be room for new housing and small stores or offices. Done right, it should be quite welcoming and attractive.

Just as important, in my eyes, is the way this will open up access to an existing city park at the top of the hill. Rather than running into a dead end as it does now, Washington Street will rise up the slope to become the entrance to Maglaras Park. It will be an easy walk from downtown, rather than the convoluted route it’s replacing. Even for drivers, it’s a huge improvement.

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The changing face of downtown Dover

My small city is the seventh oldest settlement in the continental United States, not that there’s a lot left from its first century, when the place was largely on the sometimes troubled frontier of English dominion.

As a working-class mill town, it developed more modestly than more prosperous harbor towns like Portsmouth to the south or Portland to the northeast or Newburyport to the southwest.

Our downtown is catching up, though. A small but significant building boom is under way.

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Polycentric community adds up

With the release of Subway Visions, I’ve been returning to considerations of urban affairs. It’s not all New York City, either, even though the novel takes place there.

For me, the big city these days is Boston. I live an hour to the north – or northeast, more technically. I can even take the train in, as well as the hourly bus, which is quite comfortable and also links us to the airport. (You’d be surprised at the number of pilots and other airline personnel who are boarding from here.)

So we can go in for concerts or museums or dim sum on weekday mornings. We’re not exactly stuck in the sticks.

On the other hand, I live in a city of nearly 30,000 – the largest of a cluster of small cities that together form a larger population base to sustain our varied interests.

Portsmouth, 15 minutes to our south, is wealthier and more fashionable. It has probably as many restaurants per capita as Manhattan as well as several theater companies, the Music Hall, and art galleries.

The state university is ten minutes to our west, and about a third of its students rent apartments in our city. The school runs its own buses to serve them and anyone else who wants to pay to ride. Its library, of course, is a marvelous resource for independent writers and scholars.

In other words, I have no reason to feel deprived. Well, sometimes I wish the Harvard Book Store were closer or Symphony Hall. But I still have my choir in Watertown.

Looking at this has me recalling my mentor in political science, Vincent Ostrom, who coined the concept of “polycentric” to describe the overlapping jurisdictions that govern American polity. A city typically falls within a county, for instance, as well as a state and then the nation. Nowadays there may also be special districts to address things like water, pollution, or transportation needs.

As mayor of Baltimore, William Donald Schaefer took the concept in another direction by enhancing neighborhood identity and decision-making to revitalize a big city. Adjustments could be made in neighborhood settings even while having a central tax base, police and fire services, water and sewer system, and so on.

So my city has a much different identity and feel from Portsmouth or Durham or Rochester or Somersworth or the Berwicks over the state line in Maine. And yet we’re all conscious, even proud, of our identity as the Seacoast Region.

Do you see how these many circles begin to overlap, each adding to the richness we enjoy?

As the hippie phrase used to go, “Small is beautiful.” But, in this universe I’m describing, it doesn’t have to be confining or impoverishing, either.

For now, I do feel I have the best of both worlds.

Soft voices in the air

While working in the driveway, I hear a faint “Hello.” I look around and it’s repeated until I see that it’s coming from a second-floor neighboring window. It’s repeated again.

I look up and see two round faces pressed to the window screen. They resemble two little owls.

Not too long ago the two girls had been too shy to respond to my waves. But now?

Just listen. “Hello, hello.”

We’re making progress.

The breakthrough came the other morning when I waved and the older child waved back. I switched hands and waved. So did she. I used both hands. Ditto. We exchanged some other arm motions and finally a thumbs up.

Well, it brightened my day.

Requiem for hippie

In revising the novel that has been recast as Daffodil Uprising, I began grieving. It wasn’t the feeling I had expected. This was supposed to be a celebration of a remarkable time in world history. Some things really did change as a result.

Not all of them for the better, alas. And many of the lessons arising from Vietnam, especially, still haven’t been learned in realms of political power. And while much of the environment has been cleaned up, the global climate is still headed for disaster.

Repeatedly, I felt this was a requiem.

Part of that must have been a consequence of my long effort of drafting and revising What’s Left, which picks up on the central character a generation later. Or, more accurately, his daughter, Cassia.

But moving on with his story, in what’s now released as Pit-a-Pat High Jinks, I’m feeling wounded. Not by the novels, mind you – I think you’ll find them entertaining, enlightening, and delightful. No, the wounds are from, well, all kinds of losses, many of them my own fault.

I have heard that in the retreat from the outburst of the Quaker movement in the radical uprisings of mid-1600s Britain, many of them had a something of a shellshock look for years after. They had come so close to truly revolutionary societal change and lost that to the Restoration. Well, some of those ideals did come to flower in the American Revolution – the Bill of Rights, especially – but even there, we’ll still falling short.

As the liturgical chanters sing out in accompaniment to prayers in Christian Orthodox worship, Kyrie eleison – Lord have mercy.

Yes, mercy. And hope. And grant us peace.