Posted December 28, 2015 by alanchartock
Categories: Uncategorized

OK, dear readers, here are my Berkshire-related predictions for the coming year. I offer them up every year with several caveats.

Some of them predict things that I don’t want to see happen, so I predict them in hopes of jinxing them. Then sometimes I predict things that I don’t really think will happen, but I offer them up to make them self fulfilling-prophecies. Finally, there are those things that I really think will happen. Your job is to figure out which is which. So here they are.

The hotel on Bridge Street in Great Barrington will get built but with significant modifications.

The new mayor of Pittsfield will have to deal with significant blow-back from a position that some people believe undermines the “law and order” mentality of the police department.

The “Dugway Road Murder” will be solved by an amateur sleuth. The woman, who specializes in cold cases, will prove that the murder was committed by a repeat offender who is currently incarcerated. The final proof will come from a cellmate who says that he heard a confession. Five years will be shaved off the cellmate’s sentence.

The mayors of Adams, North Adams and Pittsfield will arrange for joint services. State Sen. Benjamin Downing will ask the commonwealth to provide seed money for the arrangement.

The Berkshire Hills Regional School District and the Southern Berkshire District will finally combine in a burst of sanity. State Rep. “Smitty” Pignatelli will get the credit.

A lawyer will face criminal charges for bilking his clients.

A Great Barrington Planning Board member will face questions about conflict of interest.

The brilliant Jennifer Browdy of Simon’s Rock will run for the town’s Selectboard. She will win an overwhelming victory.

Everybody’s favorite, Steve Bannon, will run for Great Barrington town moderator and will be overwhelmingly elected. David Magadini will NOT run against him.

This author will ask to see his FBI file and will be amazed to see every meeting with the great Pete Seeger chronicled.

Roselle Chartock will sign a contract with a major TV network because she owns the only actual talking dog in the world.

District Attorney David Capeless will convene a meeting of district attorneys from around the state to consider the heroin epidemic. He will heavily rely on psychiatrist Jennifer Michaels who knows more about addiction than anyone else in the county and probably the state. Capeless will suggest that there has to be balance — both enforcement of the law and rehabilitation programs available for addicts who are arrested for criminal activity.

The gigantic streetlight poles in Great Barrington will lead to a rare retraction in the Smithsonian Magazine that will read, “The editors regret that they have to rescind their designation of Great Barrington, Massachusetts, as the best small town in America.”

Happy Traum, the best folk singer in America, will be booked into the Guthrie Center in Van Deusenville, which is in Housatonic, which is in Great Barrington. George Lay will announce that he has never seen tickets go that fast.

Jane Iredale will receive a huge offer to sell Iredale Cosmetics. It will involve so much money that she won’t be able to turn it down. The people of Great Barrington, faced with losing her international headquarters, will look at each other and say, “Now what will we do?” Someone will suggest that maybe you should have thought about that earlier.

A local weekly newspaper will close.

Trumpet player Jeff Stevens will be honored, as will musicians Don McGrory, Charlie Tokarz and David Grover.

Finally, you, dear readers, will enjoy a safe, happy and healthy new year.


Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 12/26/15


Good arguments on both sides of hotel proposal

Posted December 21, 2015 by alanchartock
Categories: Uncategorized

ow! All hell is breaking loose over the proposed new hotel where the dilapidated Searles school now stands, empty and forlorn.

Vijay Mahida and his wife, Chrystal, have a highly successful record as hoteliers in the Berkshires. At a recent Selectboard meeting attended by a big crowd, Mahida seemed intent on bringing people into the conversation in support of his project, a 95-room hotel where the old school now stands.

Mahida and his crew will take some of the bricks from the old school to use as the façade for the new hotel. He says that a great deal of tax money will help fill the town coffers and alleviate the very heavy taxes that the townspeople have to pay. All that is good.

He and his people made a brilliant presentation worthy of the very best New York City advertising agency. To put it mildly, this guy means business. I am struck by the fact that almost everyone who knows the Mahidas has only good things to say about them.

Mr. Mahida has proven himself adept at keeping his cool under fire. However, accounts of the meeting make it clear that the Mahidas may be reaching the end of their tolerance tether. According to the Berkshire Edge, Mrs. Mahida was surprised at “the malicious attacks by people who don’t run successful businesses here.” That’s what we call a bad move.

The people who oppose the hotel — including my good and lovely wife — on what I can only see as reasonable grounds are passionate folks. They are acting in what they consider the best interests of the town.

They have very good reasons for opposing the hotel. They point out that a town law limits hotels to 45 rooms while the Mahidas say they need 95 to operate successfully. The opponents feel it is terrible to pass a law that says no more than 45 rooms and then arbitrarily change it to 95 rooms. Hey, the rules are the rules and you don’t get to change them without a very good reason.

Then there is the matter of parking. There are technical requirements that the Mahidas maintain are being met but have you tried to find a parking place in Great Barrington lately? The reality is something altogether different.

There’s also the question of traffic. Anyone who has ever gone to the Co-op on Bridge Street and then patiently waited to make a right or left turn onto Main Street while the light turns several times knows all about that. If it’s that bad without a 95-room hotel, then what will it be like when the hotel gets built?

With all that said, I personally don’t care if the hotel is built or not. I do care about the slick way in which the project is being marketed, with the top get-it-done lawyer in Great Barrington playing a substantial role. In addition, I think it might be a good idea if the people who vote on town boards are vetted for short- or long-term conflicts of interest in this whole matter.

There are many people who think this has been a done deal since Minute One. After all, a huge hotel in the middle of town will certainly help restaurants and retail businesses.

That said, there are many good business people in town who vehemently oppose the new edifice. They want the old Great Barrington, the picturesque one; they don’t want a commercialized, cutesy town that will only compound the disaster of the horrible Holland Tunnel streetlights.

Finally, I need to say that I love Jane Iredale and I would never want to be party to anything that would hurt this wonderful woman who has done so much for all of us. I would hate to see her sale of Searles go south because of anything I’ve written or said. It’s that simple.


Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 12/19/15


A deeper look at a person might reveal a better side — or not

Posted December 14, 2015 by alanchartock
Categories: Uncategorized

Roselle and I recently traveled to New Orleans to see our boy Jonas and his wonderful family.

We are very proud of Jonas, his wife Andrea, and their daughter Mila. They live in a double shotgun house that is filled with art relevant to their lives, including a wonderful piece of outsider art, a picture of Leadbelly, Huddie Ledbetter.

We love going to New Orleans. Like so many of you who follow your kids and grandchildren to their various postings, we have visited Jonas in some wonderful places, including Austin, Houston, Venice Beach and more.

New Orleans, however, is my favorite. It is a diverse, healthy city that is filled with great people, great restaurants and great stores. The World War II Museum alone is worth the trip.

There is always a lot of fun associated with traveling to the Big Easy. Jonas picked out some wonderful restaurants including an alleged old Mafia joint called Mosca’s.

When we got there with our crew, Jonas noticed that political pundit James Carville was sitting in the room behind us. He was wearing a bright green shirt and was obviously having a good time. So Jonas, ever clever, had Roselle and I sit next to each other and pose for a picture with just a little space between us.

He was able to take the picture so that if you looked really carefully you would see Roselle and Alan with James in the middle. Naturally, Jonas posted the photo on Facebook and we got incredible numbers of likes and comments. It was sort of like one of those “Where’s Waldo?” puzzles because if you got it, you felt very proud.

This took me back to Ten Mile River Scout Camp, where the older guys had all the young people get down on the floor in a downward dog position and repeat the ancient incantation, “O Wha Tagos I Yam.”

The idea was that of you listened to what you were saying you would get a message and then you could go to bed. Most of my fellow scouts got it and went to bed. I said it over and over for what seemed like an eternity and finally the assistant Scoutmaster tapped me on the shoulder and told me I could go to bed.

In the middle of the night I woke up with a start and realized that the message was, “Oh what a goose I am.” Years later, I still feel the pangs of foolishness that one gets when one realizes how stupid we can be. I thought of that because a lot of people who saw the picture didn’t get it while others did.

On his way out, a very happy Carville came out and talked to us for a while about football scores. I, of course, had no idea what anyone was talking about since I don’t follow that brutal game which causes head trauma and other injuries.

Anyway, I never really liked the guy’s dog and pony show with his wife who plays the Republican in the schtick. But now, after having a few seconds of interaction with the guy, I like him. Shows you how fickle we human beings can be. Believe it or not, I have heard people say, “I always hated Chartock on the radio but when I had a chance to talk to him I changed my mind.”

So when you next see Donald Trump on the television suggesting that no Muslims be admitted into the country and feeling your blood boiling about his un-American and even fascistic thinking, you might ask yourself if you had a chance to have a conversation with the guy whether you might really like him personally.

On the other hand, maybe the philosophical may really be the way to judge him and to hell with the personal. So much for this column.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 12/12/15

Williams College should follow example of local church and divest

Posted December 7, 2015 by alanchartock
Categories: Uncategorized

The First Congregational Church in Williamstown, right in the middle of Williams College, has done the right thing. It has decided to divest itself of fossil fuel stocks, which represent a great deal of money, in its endowment funds. The Williams College board, on the other hand and despite a student push, has refused to do so.

Divestment in the name social sanity is never an easy thing to do. Trustees are counted on to be fiscally prudent. Comptrollers of various states, when pressed to divest this or that stock, have often said that they are tasked with bringing the best fiscal return to the state’s taxpayers. They say, “Our hands are tied — it would not be fiscally prudent for our citizens, who depend on us to give them the best fiscal return.”

So, was the Williams College board of trustees in the wrong in refuse to divest? As a matter of fact, it was. It was, to use an unfortunate phrase, potentially dead wrong.

Al Gore won a Nobel Prize warning us about what we are doing to ourselves. The ice caps are melting, the seas are rising, the scientific community recognizes the danger and yet, in the name of a few pennies, we continue our bad behavior.

Long ago, boards of one kind or another divested themselves of killer tobacco stocks even when they were making good returns for this or that stock portfolio. So who are the people who are sitting on the board of Williams College? They are, with a few exceptions, good people with a great deal of money.

Many of them have children and grandchildren. The whole idea of sitting on a Williams College board is to provide for a future for the young people who go there and, presumably, for all the other citizens of the world. This was a golden opportunity to do good and they blew it.

All across the country, college students are in revolt. These young people go to liberal arts institutions and are taught about social justice but sometimes when the students challenge the system, the colleges and universities simply can’t comply.

Many institutions are named after people like Lord Jeffrey Amherst, who did terrible things to American Indians in his day. Students demanded that his name be taken off the name of the college. A similar thing is going on at Princeton where the Woodrow Wilson School is located. We always knew the guy was dead wrong about African-Americans and even spoke well of the Ku Klux Klan. It’s hard to argue with the protesters’ position, though it is unlikely they will get their wishes granted.

The other problem is that some students want to censure the right of free speech. That shouldn’t be allowed. In the meantime, Williams should divest because global warming threatens our very existence.

Not that far away from Williamstown is Lenox, where the more than competent Sharon Hawkes was fired as the library director. Now she has been hired by the Nahant Public Library. Writer Clarence Fanto tells us that there were no less than nine semi-finalists for the job and the board recognized quality when they saw it. We were very distressed when the Lenox Library board fired Hawkes and we said so. I hope that the members of the Lenox Library are sleeping well.

In yet another story, the aforementioned Eagle writer Clarence Fanto recently wrote that Donald Trump doesn’t deserve to be elected. I certainly think my friend Clarence is correct about that but I am not going to say that he won’t be elected.

This is the age of name recognition, know nothing-ism and television. Don’t kid yourself. It could happen. What is happening internationally can only help the man as he spews half truths, lies and insults.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 12/6/15

Great Barrington has best Berkshires has to offer

Posted November 23, 2015 by alanchartock
Categories: Uncategorized

So which town is the best in the Berkshires? Despite anything that the Smithsonian Magazine may have to say on the subject, it is an important question because if we can establish the best model, we might just all aspire to it.

So here goes: Great Barrington is the best of the lot. Part of it is just plain luck. Sometimes things happen. While Great Barrington was once a mess, it no longer is. Of course mistakes have been made. Someone recently wrote that while the town once had a road running through it, we now have a road with a town around it.

There was a period when there were too many drugs in the town. We still have too many drugs in town but the situation does seem better. District Attorney David Capeless and the state police Drug Task Force have made a tremendous difference.

The town police department needed some changes and, while still a work in progress, it is coming along. Thanks to Berkshires Health Systems under Dave Phelps, Great Barrington boasts a wonderful little hospital that keeps getting named to “Best Of” lists. It has a lot of great restaurants and coffee shops. It has the Triplex Cinema. It has Bard College at Simon’s Rock. It has great public schools under Superintendent Peter Dillon, despite the anti-education crowd who consider themselves liberals until it’s time to pay up.

It has the Rudolph Steiner people who are committed to their style of education. It has Lake Mansfield and civic leaders to keep it pristine. It has good bagels. It has Guido’s. It used to have the best Friendly’s in the world, sadly now gone.

Then there is Lenox which is a little more artsy than Great Barrington. As the gateway to Tanglewood, Lenox has lots of inns, Shakespeare & Company and a wonderful public library. It has other arts venues, it has the Mount where Edith Wharton once lived, and wonderful restaurants like Haven and Zinc and many others that are going to be correctly angry about not being included. It also has Guido’s. It has Matt Tannenbaum’s bookstore, the best in the Berkshires. But, it is a summer place and therefore doesn’t reach Great Barrington’s heights.

Stockbridge is a fine town but there really isn’t much there. It does have the Berkshire Theatre Festival and the Bowl and the Red Lion Inn, the vortex of the Berkshires, but it reminds me a little of the western movie sets where you just see the fronts of the buildings. It has the Norman Rockwell Museum, a great institution honored at the White House, and a fabulous little museum, Chesterwood, where you can see how the Lincoln Memorial came to be.

Then there are the Egremonts. Good schools and some other great stuff. But not competitive except as very good place for second homers and people who appreciate the quality of life, relatively low taxes and breathing good air.

Much the same can be said for little Alford.

Pittsfield has a long way to go. It’s a beautiful city. It has the Colonial Theatre. It has a fine museum. But it has way too many drugs and too much crime.

Lee is cool. It is a place where people can afford to live and has a thriving middle class. It used to have Kentucky Fried Chicken to take to Tanglewood but that’s been gone for years.

North Adams has enormous potential. I like it. It has MCLA and Mass MoCA. It has an involved electorate.

Adams hosts the WAMC tower.

The hill towns are very nice.

So, one has to conclude that our various villages, town and cities each offer specialties and have distinctive characters. Of course, our governments make us gnash our teeth but hey, that’s just human nature. Power corrupts.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 11/21/15

At 20, Great Barrington’s Triplex earns two thumbs up

Posted November 16, 2015 by alanchartock
Categories: Uncategorized

So it has been 20 years since the Triplex Cinema in Great Barrington got started. It really is a terrific story. So many of us are grateful for this wonderful venue, including a lot of people from Columbia County and Connecticut who come to see a film, eat and shop.

There really are hometown heroes in Great Barrington and my nomination for this year goes to Richard Stanley. With his partner, the late Joe Wasserman, Stanley built the movie theater that precipitated so many changes in the town that is now lauded as the best small town in America.

When we got to Great Barrington in 1970, Railroad Street was a mess. Buildings were vacant. Dingy bars drew a clientele that was very far removed from today’s hipsters. Then one night, the old Taconic Lumberyard suffered a terrible fire.

The sirens blared through the night and Roselle and I went down to what is affectionately called the Pig’s Lane that leads down to Great Barrington. We watched this enormous fire that devastated the lumberyard.

To put it mildly, the whole area was not particularly inviting even before the fire. Then Richard Stanley who owned the Barrington House decided to apply for a series of state grants suggested by former banker Hank Ervin.

It took a lot of work and sweat equity but the Chamber of Commerce and a Simon’s Rock business manager named Mike Hoag landed the grant, which was awarded to correct urban blight. Hard to imagine that Great Barrington once had urban blight but it did and a parking lot rose from the ashes.

The phone and electric companies had to be convinced to bury their stuff and town counsel Ed McCormick got it all done. You really have to hand it to Richard Stanley — he knows how to smell out who’s got power.

So now we had a parking lot. At the far side were some buildings that Stanley and his partner bought. They couldn’t figure out what to put there but the idea of a movie theater took shape.

At the suggestion of Abby Schroeder, Stanley and Wasserman went to Hoyts movie chain, which agreed to run the theaters. At the beginning, Hoyts played big box office movies. That annoyed many of the local literati and their friends who wanted more artsy movies.

So the pair went back to Hoyts and said that they wanted to take back the management of the theaters. Hoyts agreed, warning Richard that when you played art films people bought less popcorn and soda. In the movie business, the concessions are what pay the bills.

Stanley admits that he’s never been able to figure out how to get people to buy the soda and popcorn. About 10 years into their movie business, Kelley Vickery came along and asked Stanley and his legendary theater manager, John Valente, to let them use a small theater in the middle of the week for the Berkshire International Film Festival.

That yearly event is now a staple and part of what makes Great Barrington so great. It doesn’t stop there. Stanley has always been extraordinarily generous to groups like CATA, Multicultural BRIDGE and even in a small way to WAMC.

Of course, there will always be people who argue that the Triplex was a boondoggle. I disagree — I think that the theater has made the town. When each movie empties out you can hear the departing patrons discussing where to go for dinner.

Richard Stanley is a great businessman. He balances making money with paying back to the community. As a result, he makes a lot of money. He is a success and part of that success comes from the fact that he keeps on giving to the rest of us. We should have more like him.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 11/14/15

Plenty of Halloween fun to be had in 2 hour span

Posted November 9, 2015 by alanchartock
Categories: Uncategorized

OK, now that the fire and hail stones have quieted down, let’s review the Halloween issues in Great Barrington, the Disneyland of the aforementioned holiday.

I don’t know how it happened but Hollenbeck Avenue on the Hill in Great Barrington has become the go-to neighborhood for candy and celebration. It’s a lot of fun and it’s wonderful to see the kids all dressed up, properly accompanied by their parents.

The children range in age from a few weeks old to teens from Simon’s Rock around the corner. We gave out about 500 pieces of candy. Everyone was respectful and nice and if they forgot to say thank you, their parents reminded them. It was terrific.

Roselle got a mechanical witch and a mechanical skeleton who, when you pushed the button, danced to music coming out of the machines. The kids, particularly the younger ones, couldn’t have cared less about the candy but stood transfixed in front of the mechanical dancers. They loved to push the buttons themselves. Priceless. Roselle wore a beautiful mask and I was issued a wig with devil’s horns.

Before Halloween came and went, a great, courageous and sensible neighbor from up the street wrote a letter to our neighborhood listserv questioning why Great Barrington, seemingly alone, allocated two and a half hours to the trick-or-treat crowd while every other town set aside a good deal less time.

Hey, it’s cold out there. When you have that many kids climbing up your steps you have to stay outside and shiver. Your hands freeze as if you were in the Klondike. As the great Parkinson instructed us, anything expands to the time allocated to it.

I opined over the radio that I thought my neighbor had a point and shortly thereafter, the trouble began. People began writing to the listserv as if those of us who felt two and a half hours were too long were the collective Grinches who stole Halloween. Manners disappeared, claws were sharpened, and accusations were hurled.

The gist of the accusations was that we were out of line and we were stealing Halloween. There are a few parents who believe that they know more about parenting than anyone else. They suggested that those of us who wished to could close our doors and turn out our lights. At 7:30, that’s exactly what we did, beating the town hours by a half an hour.

Hey, all my neighbor did was ask a question that made a lot of sense to many of us. No one wanted NO Halloween, so for those who turned a simple question into a major self-serving show of, “You people want to kill Halloween,” I say, “Whoa, that ain’t right.” You’ve really got to suppress all that anger.

Hey, look, we all have to get along. We all have to appreciate other points of view. As my mom used to say, “There’s no reason to take a tone.”

The question of whether or not to have a hotel on Bridge Street continues to percolate.

Some people are very upset but there are many of us who don’t think the whole thing is such a bad idea. We are a tourist town; we need a first rate hotel; Jane Iredale would never let anyone put up anything that was unattractive; the owners of the new hotel have shown every consideration for compromise with their critics.

On the other hand, there are some troubling aspects to the whole plan. Clearly preservation efforts and rules have been ignored; traffic already is bad on the street; it’s unclear what protections River Walk and our river would have.

So, let us be vigilant and monitor developments. If this is going to happen, we need to get things right this time.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 11/7/15