Great Barrington leaders should heed lighting complaints

Posted November 2, 2015 by alanchartock
Categories: Uncategorized

Things are heating up in Great Barrington. This time, the battle is between those charged with running the government and just about everyone else and the fight is a humdinger.

This seems to demonstrate some of the dangers of a town manager form of government. To be sure, most of the folks in the battle over the way the Main Street of Great Barrington looks are nice. I am a huge fan of Selectboard Chairman Sean Stanton and even Town Manager Jennifer Tabakin (even though she doesn’t answer my phone calls).

The best small town in America now looks like the entrance to the Holland Tunnel. The problem is that both the merchants and we regular people who live here or visit just hate what we see so far.

The early warnings of the merchants, many of whom don’t vote, were ignored. Now we are left with those giant traffic light poles. They are just plain frightening. What was once quaint and beautiful Main Street is now simply offensive.

Great Barrington is a tourist town. I love that. We are protected from bad things because of our tourism and the growing arts scene. Now we look like the big city that most of our tourists are trying to get away from.

The horrible new traffic light holders seem to come right out of the Department of Defense budget. We were told that we had to have them by the state which gave us the money, as in, “We took the deal.”

In fact, there were those who thought that taking the state money was a terrible idea. It turns out that they were right. In response to the terrible outcry about the way the town looks, I suspect that the powers that be are taking a look at the citizen anger and figuring that they had better do something to calm the potential political revolution down.

They are now telling us that we can make some changes “down the road,” all the while arguing the validity of their positions out of the other side of their mouths. Town Manager Tabakin says that citizen complaints are “not unreasonable” but my friend (I hope) Sean Stanton says that the new overhead “cobra” lights are all about pedestrian safety.

Some, like Chip Elitzer, argue that lighting can come from the third source of lighting in the town, the decorative, old time lamp posts. Tabakin counters that those decorative lights don’t throw off the same amount of light as the larger cobra overhead lights, which are more protective of those crossing the streets.

From where I’m sitting, downtown Great Barrington is not a crime-filled city but a gentle, beautiful, bucolic place. The town has an extraordinary well turned out police force, complete with a chief, sergeants and lots of patrol cars that we are asked to provide at every town meeting.

My bet is that when we are told that some time in the future the ugly poles can be removed, there is a prediction and/or a hope on the part of the powers that be that all of this will be like a passing shower that will soon be gone if everyone can just be persuaded to wait for that time in the future when beauty in our town will be restored. I am extremely wary of their promises.

We do have a town manager form of government. I am for it. I always have been. I am worried, however, that the five member Selectboard and its powerful chair are inclined to let the managers have their way. That is a mistake.

But, to go back to a political Selectboard like the ones we used to have would be an even bigger error. Nope, we have to count on the current board to exercise independent judgment and to represent all of us. Clearly, in this case, that didn’t happen.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 10/31/15


Spencertown, NY, diner has got breakfast nailed

Posted October 26, 2015 by alanchartock
Categories: Uncategorized

Readers of this column will know that the Chartocks care deeply about places to go for breakfast. Breakfast truly is the most important meal of the day. The older you get, the more true the previous statement is because even looking at food means that you will gain weight. So don’t eat after 5 p.m.

In the hunt for great breakfast places, I have searched for the best of the best and I think I may just have found it. For years on our rides over to Chatham to see my honorary sister, Judy Grunberg, we have passed one of the most interesting edifices in the Berkshires.

It’s a very small diner that looks like it couldn’t hold more than a few people. It turns out that the diner is the dream of Spencertown, N.Y., resident Dan Rundell, a practicing mason who has a real thing for diners.

Hey, some people have a thing for cars and others for fish but in Dan’s case, it’s diners. So when he saw a decrepit diner somewhere in Connecticut, he hauled it to Spencertown, gutted it from top to bottom and as much as humanly possible, returned it to its original state.

It took 12 years but when all was said and done, Dan’s Diner was fabulous. It has a curved oak ceiling that is emboldened with hand-painted gold leaf. The floors are what Dan calls “subway tile.” It’s got frosted windows and much more. But most of all, the food is as good as you will find anywhere.

Roselle and I watched transfixed as Sean, the cook of the day, broke eggs in one hand. I ordered the three egg omelet, bacon, peppers and onions. It came with hash brown potatoes that are just beautiful to behold and, of course, to eat.

That omelet was the kind of thing you’ll remember when you are passing from the world. As I watched, the chef prepared egg sandwiches on the largest hard rolls I have ever seen. I watched as people sitting down the row from me had pancakes that begged to be eaten. Ditto the French toast.

Everything is priced incredibly reasonably. The French toast, for example is $2.95 for one slice, $3.95 for two slices and $4.95 for three slices. For $6.95 you can get the “Hot Mess — peppers, onions, ham, cheddar, and home fries scrambled into two eggs served with toast.” Or, how about the “French Toast Sandwich” consisting of “two eggs with choice cheese and meat between two slices of Texas style French toast”?

Breakfast is served all day but they also serve great lunches. What I truly loved about the place was the mixture of customers. There were hunters and, to the right of us, people in upscale togs were talking about the Emma Willard School. No matter who you are, you’ll fit in. I recommend without reservation that you go.

On yet another subject, the town of Great Barrington is about to engage in yet another brouhaha over the construction of a pretty big hotel and conference center on Bridge Street where the old Searles School now sits vacant.

Some folks are already pretty upset about the dimensions and proposed look of the thing. Since the Berkshires rely on a tourist economy, I have no problems with the hotel. In fact, anything that is good for Jane Iredale, who has done so much for our town, is good with me.

She’s been frustrated by potential buyers backing out of her sale of the Searles property. She has really tried to make it nice for everyone. For my final opinion, I want to see what the thing will look like.

Obviously, it couldn’t look worse than what the town and state have come up with in the Main Street reconstruction plan. The problem for the folks who want to construct the hotel is that the Main Street mess has everyone so riled up that mobilization against the hotel is a foregone conclusion. Stay tuned.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 10/24/15

Presidential, House speaker races rife with drama

Posted October 19, 2015 by alanchartock
Categories: Uncategorized

So, the presidential race is closing fast. It is quite clear that the Republicans fear Hillary Clinton more than any other potential candidate.

They have been doing their best to decimate her and at least one of their leaders, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, really blew it when he publicly declared that the war on Hillary was intended to lower her popularity.

He actually took credit for damaging her, perhaps thinking that fellow Republicans would thank him for that. Well, it backfired and blew up in his face and while he was expected to be the new speaker, he’s now out of the race.

The Republicans continue to act like Slim Pickens riding the bomb down in Dr. Strangelove with their attacks on people of color and women. The whole problem is that a small segment of the Republicans in the House has been calling the tune because their committed voters are the ones who show up in the primaries.

The more moderate Republicans who know better are scared to death that if they show any compassion or willingness to compromise, they will be primaried and might lose their precious seats. Eric Cantor, the former majority leader, is a good example of what can happen when you offer compromises. There’s always someone more conservative than you. He got his butt kicked when virtually no one expected that to happen.

Things have been made worse by the evil gerrymander that put the 50 or so uber-conservatives into the House. They don’t seem to give a hoot about what’s right, all they care about it their political careers. Their views on issues like climate control prove that their congressional seats are more important to them than the very existence of humanity.

In the meantime, the Democratic debate is over and the philosophically middle of the road press like the New York Times was quick to declare Hillary Clinton the winner. I watched and I have to say, I thought Hillary was great but I don’t think she won anything.

I thought Bernie Sanders was extraordinary and while his position on guns is not to my liking, his positions on just about everything else were inspirational. When he talks about “too big to fail” banks or a living wage or an improved health care system, he makes great sense.

People have been counting Bernie out for many years. They said that since he is a declared socialist from Vermont who is Jewish and speaks with a Brooklyn accent, he couldn’t possibly be city councilman or mayor or congressman or U.S. senator.

Well, “they” were wrong. That’s because people in this country know truth when they hear it. Also, we are on the “precipice of disgust.” They don’t want more of the same-old-same-old. They are looking for bold leadership. They want someone who comes along and says, “I can make a big difference.”

That’s why we got Ronald Reagan for president. While I am unprepared to say whether Bernie Sanders can be president, I am also not prepared to suggest that he can’t win. He has too much history defying the odds.

Of course, there is the looming presence of Vice President Joe Biden. I think that if Hillary gets herself into big trouble, Biden is in. If that doesn’t happen, Biden stays out.

On the face of it, this looks like a good Democratic year assuming that any of the Republican presidential hopefuls gets the nomination. In dumbed down America, a television personality like Donald Trump might be their best hope but it is important to remember that Trump and his big mouth are always at risk.

He has a lot of history and you had better bet that there are journalists out there looking for the stinkos that will get him in trouble. Such enterprise will certainly turn something up. It’s all getting interesting.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 10/16/15

Makeover dilutes Great Barrington’s charm

Posted October 13, 2015 by alanchartock
Categories: Uncategorized

Well, pretty much as I predicted, all hell has broken loose in Great Barrington over the government-financed reconstruction of Main Street.

What, according to Smithsonian Magazine, was formerly the best small town in America has been transformed by the Great Barrington Committee on Non-Aesthetic Behavior. All of a sudden, our quaint little town has become a mixture of phoo-phoo, make believe, “quaint town” look and the entrance to the Holland Tunnel with giant gleaming stainless steel traffic lights hanging down the street as far as the eye can see.

Those who support the new look have blamed the citizenry for not paying attention during the planning process while the citizenry itself is saying, “Hey, we elected our government officials to use their brains to make intelligent, well thought through decisions on our behalf.”

All I know is that my little town is looking like cow manure. It’s just awful. Social media is filled with invective about the new look. People are piling on and are genuinely angry. These are not the usual wags who are just natural born haters. These are rich people, not so rich people and everyone in between.

There is such a thing as objective reality. The new look is just plain ugly and silly. The distance between the sidewalks and the street where you park your car is simply unacceptable. My pet peeve is the removal of the third lane so that we can make a right turn up to the hospital on Taconic Avenue. That is potentially life threatening. To the pro-new look people who say that we should have spoken up earlier, I refer them to my remarks about this very dangerous situation in print in this very space.

I believe that I am a rather pragmatic progressive type. When the right wing crowd goes after “big government” to save themselves a few dollars, I am always disbelieving that these fat cats are so greedy that they don’t want kids in preschool or the poor to receive decent health care.

But there is always another side. In this case it appears that in order for the town to take the “free money,” they had to agree to the state proscriptions. For example, in the case of the giant Holland Tunnel overhanging light poles, the all-knowing government has demanded that the poles must be able to withstand hurricane force winds. Fine, but that doesn’t mean they have to be ugly.

Great Barrington is a gateway to the Berkshires. To get up to tony Williamstown, you might have to go through Great Barrington. We simply can’t allow the Williamstown elite to be laughing down their noses at us. That just wouldn’t do.

The reaction of the citizenry is so great that in order to fix the situation, they might have to take down the overhanging poles at great expense to the town. Great Barrington is great for a lot of things, including its tax rate.

This is the town that just voted not to support a desperately needed renovation of its high school. Now some of that very crowd is yelling about the new look. It will be interesting to see whether they would be willing to spend tax dollars to make Great Barrington whole again.

The lovely Roselle is absolutely furious about the new look. She has come up with a slogan to organize around: “Too much chrome for our home.” She is also concerned about Railroad Street, the Greenwich Village of Great Barrington, which has thus far gone unspoiled but she suspects that with the town’s bad track record, they will screw that up, too.

OK, so here’s the point. One of the most sagacious of all trite sayings is, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. This is one hell of a mess. The anger out there is palpable and when people are angry, strange things can happen.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 10/10/15

Mary Grant’s new campus in idyllic N.C. country

Posted September 28, 2015 by alanchartock
Categories: Uncategorized

The inauguration of Mary K. Grant as Chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Asheville was a beautiful event.

We wanted to be there to watch this extraordinary academic leader climb the next rung on the ladder that is her brilliant career. Roselle was a long time faculty member at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts where she served under several presidents. She raves about Mary’s accomplishments at the North Adams institution.

Grant’s ability to involve the Berkshire community and get along with the faculty is legendary. She brought that little college into the center of what happens educationally in all of Berkshire County. Her work on the Berkshire Compact opened up lines of communication in her field that would have once been considered impossible.

When she announced her retirement, many of us grieved. She will be almost impossible to replace. She was considered for an even bigger presidential role in the University of Massachusetts system but lucky for her, she didn’t get the job. That was a stupid mistake for UMass but a lucky break for her. That job didn’t happen but a much better one did. If you ever get a chance to visit Asheville you will see why.

First of all, this is one of the most beautiful university campuses you will ever see. It is tucked into the Blue Ridge Mountains, considered by many to be one of the most beautiful places in America. The weather is wonderful. It is home to some of the best music you will find anywhere on the planet and that appears to be constant.

Roselle and I sat and listened to one of the greatest bluegrass bands we have ever heard as we nursed our drinks and that was easy because we both really dislike alcohol. Others around us imbibed some of the locally produced beers that abound in the town which apparently boasts any number of microbreweries.

But you didn’t have to go to a bar to see or hear musicians — you could just walk around and see the talent busking on sidewalks throughout the little city. Some of it really was terrible but some of it was extraordinary and as good as anything you’ll see on stage anywhere. One that stands out in my mind was a trio comprised of a young guitar player, a bass player and a fiddle player who, when she wasn’t playing fiddle, was clogging on a relatively small platform. I could have watched that band all night.

When you travel with Roselle, no moment is ever wasted. She plans every trip. She goes online. She buys guide books. Not a second is left unaccounted for. While most people who fly in to Asheville generally rent a car, Roselle is against car renting. Lucky for us, we met the great Berkshire brain surgeon (retired) Gene Leibowitz and his wife, Augusta, who were very sharing with their wheels.

Everybody talked about how we should drive the Blue Ridge Parkway so Roselle did her research and found an extraordinary man, Keith Yeatman of Tumblestone Tours. He took us on a five hour tour that brought us to several beautiful waterfalls. We got to do a bit of hiking and saw a really beautiful portion of the parkway. It is breathtaking and while the Berkshires have tremendous scenery, these Blue Ridge Mountains are never to be forgotten.

Put another way, this Asheville visit should be on everyone’s bucket list. As for Mary Grant, someone must be looking out over her. This will be a hard job but she is certainly up to it.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 9/26/15

The ‘Sprout Man’ had a positive impact on all

Posted September 21, 2015 by alanchartock
Categories: Uncategorized

Steve Meyerowitz, the “Sprout Man,” has passed despite his credentials as one of the best of us. He ate well and taught us how to do the same. He was universally liked and admired and so many people attended his funeral that any spectator might have guessed they were burying a head of state. He was generous to those around him and during a WAMC fund drive, there was always a donation from the Sprout Man. It was as if this nice man wanted to take the heavy load off my shoulders. When you met Steve in the street, he always had this ability to make you feel good about yourself — at least I did.

His wife and his brothers and children all got up to say something about him. These were not just platitudes — you can hear sincerity and know what it means. His wife, Beth, got right to my heart when she looked out at the audience and said, “We’ll be all right.” A man who cares about his children is one to ride the river with and Steve did. His children adored him, as did his brothers.

He was a pilot and a musician and a healer. Beth says that she fell in love with him the minute she laid eyes on him. Every town has a group of special people. Steve Meyerowitz was such a person and while it really doesn’t help to talk this way, one has only to wonder, why him? He left a big void.

After the funeral we went out to Route 23 where cars were parked as far as the eye could see. We walked a good distance and when we got to our car we were astounded to see that someone had wedged themselves in front of us so as not to block a drive way. Their car was literally mounted on ours. Whoever the galoot was, he or she decided to push our car with theirs and in doing so left a dent in the front of our car. They didn’t even pull up an inch. We had just come from a funeral, honoring a man of great decency who adhered to a personal code of conduct that was all of us could emulate. Obviously the galoot who unashamedly banged our car and then just stayed there without even caring to leave a bit of distance was anxious to honor the same man that we were there to say goodbye to. So, what could the dope have been thinking? Why was it okay to try to push our car back, to leave a dent in the car and then to act with impunity and join the other mourners?

The lovely Roselle always cuts someone a break. This time however, she was off the wall. She just didn’t understand who could operate in such a manner. I am sure that each of you, dear readers, has seen this kind of thing before. Perhaps it’s happened to you. I am sure that the dent will cost a few hundred dollars to repair but that really isn’t the point. We considered waiting for the aggressor to come back to their car and to confront him but what good would that have done? It was clear what had happened. I’m sure the wrongdoer would have denied his transgression and then the only choice would have been to call the police so we decided not to do anything but leave. Would we really have wanted to cause a scene? What would you have done?

This is a strange world that is now down a very good man. We are, of course, imperfect. Some people choose to turn their own backs on personal responsibility and not even care if they caused damage. We’ll eat the cost but what could have the perp been thinking?

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 9/21/15

Cuomo should hold firm on gun stance

Posted September 14, 2015 by alanchartock
Categories: Uncategorized

Andrew Cuomo, as we all know, is a hard driving, focused strategist. This occasionally Machiavellian politician sometimes doesn’t stop to consider the consequences of his actions.

When it is appropriate, I have pointed some of those instances out. On the other hand, there are times when I really admire the man’s courage. His stance on gun control, for example, deserves our support. The reaction to his SAFE Act was immediate and dramatic.

A lot of Americans and New Yorkers, particularly upstate New Yorkers, love their guns. There are millions of guns out there. The right wing Republican-appointed majority of the Supreme Court of the United States has pacified this angry beast by affirming that the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution protects their right to own their individual killing machines.

In fact, the gun culture is alive and well in the United States and as a result, we are witnessing one catastrophe after another. The right wing gun nuts say that they need their guns to fight the government when it comes after them. That may be so, but we continue to see one senseless gun crime after another with horrific results.

When the shootings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School wiped out all of those beautiful children, it was more than Cuomo, who has his own kids, could bear. He used every tool at his disposal to push the SAFE Act through the Legislature and it was brutal. The result was that a few Republican Senators lost their seats. I think it was Cuomo’s finest moment.

As the bad news continues, Cuomo is now at a place where he throws up his hands and admits defeat. He knows, and says that he knows, that what we have is not a state problem but a national problem.

The gun runners transport guns from one state to another and sell them on the street to the very outlaws that people hate. Look, sooner or later people are going to have to make hard choices about the proliferation of guns in this country. There has to be recognition that at the very least, everyone who buys a gun must be subject to a background check.

It is far from a fix all but every life that is saved will be crucial. Frankly, I am still shaking my head that the Sandy Hook massacre of those innocent children wasn’t enough to reach the tipping point.

Governor Cuomo used a tremendous amount of his political capital to get his SAFE Act passed. I doubt that he can do much more than he did when he was at the height of his political popularity and his public opinion numbers were higher.

In fact, there are some indications that he is trying to assuage some of the angry gun owners who are so unhappy with him. But my advice to him is to continue to stand tall. My bet is that he will not be able to pull the gun people back over the line.

There are times when a politician’s moral compass has to be the guidance system. One of the reasons why Bernie Sanders is doing so unexpectedly well in his quest for the presidency is that he is unequivocal in not straying from those positions in which he believes.

On the contrary, Hillary Clinton is seen as more of a “politician” in the worst sense of the word. We just picture her sitting around a table with her advisors every day, adjusting her image and thinking out positions that will get them the most votes.

I truly believe that the American people have had enough of all of that. They want common sense. They want someone who speaks from the heart. When it comes to guns, Andrew Cuomo is doing just that. He needs to do it more and his polls will go up.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 9/12/15