High Street, Waltham

High Street, Waltham, July 30, 2006
High Street sunset -- telephone wires and raised surfaces.



Waltham Shopper coupon nirvana

The Waltham Shopper (see Borderline's article from last year) recently has featured lots of coupons that are very good deals. The Asian Market on Waverly Oaks Road (Rte 60, see the Borderline review) has had $5 coupons in the past few issues of the Shopper, and Eaton Apothecary on Hope Ave also has a $5 coupon. Mal Elfman's has a $10 coupon, and Stephanie's Dry Cleaners, a $3 coupon.

But wait -- there's more! Tri-City Wings, and Asia Express have discounts and coupons for takeout food. The New Verona also has a coupon deal, dinner for 2 for $25.

I believe the Waltham Shopper is distributed in Waltham, Newtonville, and Auburndale, and comes bundled in the mail with local grocery store flyers.

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Shaw's Obstacle Course

Anyone notice how the Shaw's in Waltham (River Street) has become an obstacle course in the past few months? The big aisles are filling up with giant pallets of soda and boxes of potato chips, while the narrower aisles have vendor display racks clogging up the aisle every 20 feet. Even the area where people line up to check out has racks of junk that you have to navigate around.

I also noticed in the past few months that the Star Market in Newtonville has replaced the blue Star sign that hangs over the Mass Pike with the orange Shaw's sign. A little-known grocery store history fact: Before the Pike was built, the Newtonville Star was on Walnut street, where the CVS is now. Yes, it was that small!

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Blackout, part III: The local paper wises up

On the heals of my diatribe against local media organizations which either ignored the widespread power outages, or took NStar's word on the extent of the problem, I am happy to report that at least one of them -- the News Tribune -- got its act together by midweek.

This article, Cedarwood neighborhood left in the dark, still repeated the NStar PR mantra about 'how well power supply infrastructure held up", but also countered that with the experience of ordinary people in Cedarwood, and got some numbers, too: 350 households affected (Cedarwood only, nothing about Borderline's own neighborhood, or others in Waltham). It's a suspiciously round number, but at least readers can see that the extent of the outage was hardly minor.

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Blackout, part II. Media misses the story at first, then gets it wrong

Can you believe it? Last night Borderline was whining about the power outage that targeted our side of the street, but tonight it's the other side of the street. I feel for you guys!

Also, I gotta ask, where's the media on this story? All over Newton, Waltham, Brookline, and Boston, there were outages, says Universal Hub. But I didn't see any newspapers or TV stations covering this. Can't they take some of the reporters over-covering the Big Dig tunnel collapse, and reassign them to the neighborhood news beats?


Despite zilcho in the Globe, Herald, News Trib, and Fox 25 as of late Tuesday night, this morning the Globe finally got its act together on the blackouts. Well, almost. The headline on the Boston Globe website this morning: "New England sets record for electricity use but avoids blackouts". Ha ha. If you click through to the story, the actual headline reads "major blackouts". Still, the reporter merely talks to Nstar, and doesn't bother describing where the "scattered" outages were, how many people were affected, or get any quotes from those affected. It's clear that there's a bit of a disconnect between what ordinary people are experiencing in Newton, Waltham, Boston and Brookline, and what the Globe's official sources claim is happening. Telephone journalism at its worst, in Borderline's opinion.

Incidentally, this reporter is one of the same ones who neglected to interview ordinary residents of Waltham a few weeks ago when describing Waltham's development plans (see "Sloppy reporting on Waltham development"). I think I see a pattern here ...

Update 2:

This morning the News Tribune also has a story on the outages, and includes more details. However, the details are incomplete -- the outages affected Cedarwood and Russell St., says the paper, but neglects to mention High Street and surrounding side streets. It also parrots the NStar propaganda line, claiming there were "no major outages". Gee. In my book, four known outages in Waltham affecting hundreds or thousands of people, not to mention additional outages in Newton, Brookline and Boston, may not be "major," to Nstar, but definitely qualifies as "widespread" ... and a major inconvenience to those affected.

Update 3:

From Universal Hub: Thousands affected in Cambridge, and lots of weighing in with comments. Geez, looks like NStar really has the traditional media on its side for this story.

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Blackout (and thank God for dial-up!)

This sucks. Our little Borderline neighborhood has been without power on one of the hottest nights of year so far. It happened just around bedtime, which freaked out the kids, and forced us to move them downstairs, but it's now three hours later and still no power. As far as I can tell, it's affecting High Street in Waltham, part of Cherry Street in Newton, a few side streets, and frustratingly, just our side of the street we live on. The houses on the opposite side of the street have power.

So now the only power we are getting is the 6 volts through the phone line. And we are still dial-up ISP holdouts, so I am actually able to surf the net and post to Borderline on my laptop battery.

So nyah nyah nyah wireless power users with your useless newfangled access points! They don't work in these parts!


Kidscursion: Boston Harbor/Georges and Spectacle Islands

Here's a half- or full-day kidscursion: A trip to the Boston Harbor islands! They are close to shore, have lots of fun activities, are perfect for a picnic, and the ferries are frequent and leave from a convenient location. There's a bunch of the islands open to the public, but Borderline will only review Spectacle and Georges, which seem best suited to outings with the kids.

Spectacle Island from the activity center, copyright 2006 by BorderlineSpectacle Island: Spectacle Island was just opened to the public a few weeks ago, and is now part of the Boston Harbor Island parks and recreation system. It's very close to Boston proper, just off Logan airport.

Old-timers may remember Spectacle Island as the site of giant garbage dump; in elementary school I can recall seeing a film about how filthy the harbor was and the actual presence of an island made of garbarge. That was a bit of an exaggeration, because Spectacle was a land mass -- or two separate masses -- before its dump status. Indians used it for a while to dry fish or gather plants, then the English settlers used it for pasture. From the late 1790s the two little islands were the site of two summer resort hotels that were famous for gambling and other "undesirable activities." This got to be a big enough problem that the hotels were shut down just before the Civil War. Grease rendering plants opened later in the 1800s on each one of the islets, and these evolved in the dump. Families lived on the islands from 1912 to the 1940s. The dump closed in 1959, and then after the Boston Harbor cleanup, the politicians and government organizations decided to turn it into a park using landfill from the Williams Tunnel. All of this information is available in the excellent little museum they've set up in the visitor's center, right by the new ferry pier.

When you visit Spectacle now, there's no garbage or earlier structures to be seen now, with the exception of old stone pilings which probably supported the dock for one of the old grease rendering plants. The two hillocks (or drumlins) on Spectacle are covered with meadows and light brush, and a few wooden pavilions. If you're there on a sunny day, be prepared to slather on the sunscreen because it can get really hot, and there's very little shelter. On the other hand, there are some really nice breezes cutting across the island. There're tons of places for picnics, either on the meadows, or at the picnic tables they've scattered across various points. Any trash you create, you have to bring out. There are no trash barrels. Even the toilets in the visitors' center use some type of new-age recycling system.

And then there are the beaches. They've set up a swimming beach right next to the pier, but unfortunately it's pretty bad. The water is cloudy, and there's too much unpleasant debris on the sand to really relax and run around -- on our trip Canadian Geese poop and scores of dead jellyfish. They have lifeguards but I don't think they'll last -- it's just not the right type of place for a fun family beach outing.

The highlights of Spectacle are the views from the high points, and the rockier beaches on some sides, which are good for beachcombing and walking. The eastern end of the island has some spectacular views of Logan airport, and one of the main shipping channels -- you can see these giant freighters passing right below the vantage point, not to mention dozens of pleasure boats.

So in summary, I'd say Spectacle is good for a few hours with the kids. Bring water, sunscreen, and binoculars. Start with the visitor's center, which has historical and nature exhibits, then walk around one of the drumlins or the beach to collect shells and talk about the things out in the harbor, and then have a picnic, or a snack back at the visitor's center. The swimming beach isn't anything special, but that may change if the water and jellyfish situation clears up, and officials realize that Canadian Geese are health hazards to children and do not deserve the protections that allow them to crap freely all over our parks and beaches.

Georges Island visitor center, and the fortGeorge's Island: George's Island is the granddaddy of kids field trips. I must have gone there a half-dozen times as a kid. And no wonder -- a boat trip, a giant, castle-like structure, and lots of places to run around and have fun are appealing to kids of all ages.

Georges Island hasn't changed since the last time I was there, in the 1980s. Fort Warren is still standing, hulking and empty and covered with grass and trees. There are lots of tunnels and mysterious stairways leading up into dark places, and you can walk along the ramparts. There's even a little prison (the guardhouse). They've set up little explanatory plaques in key places, and there's also a visitor's center. It's an impressive historical site, and one of the few in Massachusetts that doesn't have luxury condos or commercial developments next door.

There are beaches, too. I am not sure they are good for swimming. The ones I briefly checked out were dark sand and shell bits, but I didn't see any geese or jellyfish. There were no lifeguards.

However, unlike Spectacle Island, George's has much better opportunities for cooling off. The tunnels and areas near the walls have this damp, stony coolness about them. In the center of the star-shaped fort, they have these giant trees of some species I have never seen scattered all over the place, probably planted when the fort was built back in the 1800s. They give great shade, and are perfect for picnics.

The T's high-speed ferry from George's Island to QuincyGetting to the Islands: The ferries to the islands leave from Long Wharf, on the north side of the Marriott, not on the south side/New England Aquarium, which is where the whale watch and Cape Cod ferries leave from. If you park at the garage next to the Aquarium, just cut through the Marriott lobby to reach the Harbor Island ferries dock. You can buy tickets at the booth, or on board.

There are other ferry lines servicing the islands, too. We saw the T ferry to Quincy at Georges. Inter-island ferries come at regular intervals. The ferries to and from Long Wharf depart every hour or two, but this might change depending on the weather.

We got a family pass to Spectacle for $32 (two adults, two kids). Once on the islands, you can take inter-island ferries for free to other islands, so it's possible to hit Spectacle and Georges in six hours or so. The slow ferry to Spectacle is about 25 minutes from the wharf, but the small catamaran is just 15 minutes. Georges is about twice as far.

If you go on a weekend or holiday, consider parking on the street, because many meters in that area (especially in the financial district) are only Monday through Friday. The parking garage next to the Aquarium is a ripoff. $30 if you are there more than 80 minutes.

Lastly, be aware that the Big Dig tunnel collapse has totally altered commuter driving patterns in Boston, and the streets between South Station and North Station -- not to mention I-93 in both directions -- are experiencing a huge amount of extra traffic as a result. Take the subway if you can -- there are several Blue Line and Green Line stops within walking distance of the ferry terminal and the Aquarium.


Boston Harbor Islands partnership


When FNX was like a public radio station ...

Usually my commute is a bit of radio hell, as I switch between radio stations to catch good songs and avoid commercials and mindless DJ blather. But for the first part of this summer I actually enjoyed my commute a lot, 'cause I knew exactly where to tune in: WFNX.

They had some type of deal with Snapple for about a month which made the station commercial free. Well, almost. They had a few 10-second plugs for Snapple, but that was it. I think it's a good model for commercial broadcasting, and actually mirrors a lot of what we see on noncommercial (public) broadcasting, with "corporate underwriting." The alternative -- endless blocks of commercials (WAAF is especially bad in this regard) and huge sales staffs to support them -- is a bloated, frustrating model, especially as more and more people bring iPods and satellite radio in their cars, and totally bypass commercials and questionable radio station playlists (WBCN is especially bad in this regard).

So a, I think your experiment was a success, and I hope you bring back this model -- I'll definitely be listening if you do!


World Cup 2006 -- How Waltham, Newton Reacted

Borderline couldn't watch the copa today, but it was easy enough to figure out who the victor was in the late afternoon: the cacophony of car horns drifting over from High St. and Waltham St. could only mean one thing: Italy had won.

There sure as heck aren't many French expats hanging around these parts, and the people around here with French surnames mostly descend from French-Canadians who came down in the past centuries to work in the mills. A hockey victory from Quebec might set them off, but they wouldn't be honking for the French. On the other hand, the thousands of local Italians and Italian-Americans in the Lake, other parts of North Newton, and South Waltham would let it rip for Italia. So that's how I knew.

A neighbor told me it was a penalty shoot-out that brought about the Italian victory, which isn't the best way to win, but a World Cup victory under any circumstances deserves respect. Congratulations, Italy!


Sloppy reporting on Waltham development

Time for Borderline's monthly anti-development rant, and while I'm at it, I'll throw a barb at the Globe, too, for some really poor reporting.

You may remember a few months back I took Waltham city councillors to task for a pro-development proposal they support ("Councillors Tarallo, Logan and Kelly and their pro-development zoning proposal"). Well, Chris Reidy and Stephanie V. Siek and Thomas C. Palmer Jr. of the Globe had an article about this issue as well, "N.Y. company to redevelop Polaroid site in Waltham" which does a great disservice to the residents of this city. These two reporters basically spend several hundred words gushing over development plans for the Polaroid property, as well the councillors' zoning plans which give "developers the chance to upgrade about a half-dozen older buildings in the new district."

All of the developers and politicians code-words for profitable endeavors at the expense of the citizens are in the story. "Mixed Use", "new zoning designations", "best suburban market", etc. Developers, politicians, and businessmen are quoted throughout the story.

But not once did the Globe bother to interview ordinary Waltham residents to see what we think about yet more development. Come on! Three crack reporters couldn't wear out a little shoe leather and talk to folks who live near this "zone"? Are our opinions so unimportant that no one bothers to ask what we think? Or did the reporters actually try, but the quotes were removed because there wasn't enough space?

There's a bit of sloppiness in this article too: At one point (paragraph 2) the article says "residences" might be in the mix (I'm sure the local condo industry would love that!) and a hotel but the rest of the article is all about office space, shops and restaurants. No description of how residences or hotels would be allowed.

Nice job, fourth estate. Thanks for sticking up for the little guys.

Borderline's earlier posts on real estate:

Borderline isn't the only one alarmed by out-of-control development in Waltham

Local housing bubble deflates

Newton housing bubble?

Borderline prediction comes true: Housing prices decline

News Tribune sucks up to the realtors


Traditional & new media gives Borderline a boost

Today's Sunday Globe excerpted Borderline again, this time mentioning the post about the Newtonville Kidscursion. Borderline would like to thank Matt Viser of the Globe, who has highlighted posts five or six times in the last year, and no doubt brought in some readers who would otherwise never check out the Borderline Blog. Matt's column also points to other local BFOBs (blogging friends of Borderline) including H2Otown and Krissy.

While I am thanking Matt, I should also thank Adam Gaffin at the Universal Hub for all of the traffic in the past six month or so. I usually get one ding per month, which is very much appreciated.