Two decades of building a bikeway

Over 30 years of leadership is represented with these two gentlemen
Over 30 years of leadership is represented with these two gentlemen

Back in 1988, a few folks had an idea about turning an old rail line in Stoneham into a trail. It was a cutting edge idea, at the time – the rails to trails projects were just kicking off. But the land was publicly owned, and it seemed like a good idea. Twenty-seven years later, the plan has final cleared (almost) all the hurdles required to break ground. My own part in this saga was trivial from that big picture perspective, but it was extremely illuminating for me.

Looking from the outside in, it can be awfully hard to get a hook into local politics. For example, googling my selectmen before a vote revealed… pretty much nothing (fun fact – my blog posts are like time 20 hits on nearly all of them). You can find some general information on what they do for a living. One or two of them have campaign pages, which reveal, well, nothing. Without a hook into the community, it’s hard to tell the obstructionists from the development-happy, the cooperators from the blockers, the sensible from the selfish. It’s almost impossible to educate yourself to vote responsibly when neither you nor anyone you know has any insight into these candidates.

Then came the Greenway. This project was so incredibly clear cut, I didn’t need a 20 year Stoneham veteran to explain the ins and outs to me. The pro was that we had an amazing project on public land paid for by state funds and sponsored by MassDOT. On the opposing side we had… uh…. safety concerns (which were bogus – the crossings will be much safer with the new work to be done) and uh… … The funny thing was that despite voting down a delay of a vote, and then voting down the initiative in the October meeting, no one could or would articulate a real & compelling reason why they didn’t think Stoneham should have this awesome amenity. The reasons, I believe, were all buried in relationships, history and some selfishness on the parts of the businesses who had been using the land for years with little or minimal compensation to the public. (I’m left to speculate. Anyone who’d prefer to explain the real reason is free to leave a comment!)

So in this complex community, I finally had a touchpoint. Using information available to me, I could see that the Greenway was good. This provided me the entryway into understanding more about the town. My involvement started out very lightly. In 2011 I walked the Greenway route. In May of 2013 I wrote about the project. In a sign of my outsiderness, I tried to reach out to the Selectmen using the publicly available contact information (which was rather unsuccessful). Then this fall, at the request of a friend, I went to the Town Hall meeting where the vote was both delayed and denied.

I was shocked into action. The excuses for failure were SO LAME. And they looked very much like they were going to successfully kill the project. I spoke at the meeting, and came to the attention of the advocates. Coming back from that meeting, I wrote a letter to the local newspapers. I reached out to the supporters, and helped collect signatures for a special town hall meeting. I engaged in the ad hoc group that pushed to get out the vote over a one month period. I walked door to door with my kids. I cold called 200 likely voters (a more pleasant experience than usual, based on the fact that 99.8% of the town thought the Greenway was a great idea). I called for the vote in the special Town Hall meeting, packed to the gills with hundreds of usually unheard residents who had answered our calls to support the project.

The townhall meeting felt like a movie where the hard work all pays off in the end
The Town Hall meeting felt like a movie where the hard work all pays off in the end

My portion of the effort was definitely at the eleventh hour and much less than that of others, but when the time came for drinks afterwards, I got the invite. I sat at a table of people who had poured years, tens of thousands of dollars and their hearts and souls into making the town a better plan to live, with no ulterior motivation. There was elation. There was exhaustion. There was a vague sense of unease that the opposition might find one more thing we hadn’t known about or thought about to block the project. I looked at those people, still struggling to put faces and names together, and settled into my place in the community.

Many things have come from this effort. The largest, of course, is that we now have a Greenway (assuming nothing bad happens from here on out). We have invited many residents of Stoneham to their first ever Town Hall meeting – hopefully some number of them become more engaged in guiding our community. I hope that the older entrenched interests in the town have realized that there are many more people in Stoneham than the handful of hundred who have historically done so much for the community, and that our planning needs to take both new and old residents into consideration. And I – I hope that I and my neighbors become more engaged in the town. Finally, enduringly, I have made some new friends in this adventure, who may be my friends in this great town for years to come.

What about you? Do you understand how your town ticks? Are you a voter? How do you figure out how to vote on local issues? How does a stranger come to become a local in your community?

Ignore the Mom behind the curtain

I know that I could be accused of painting rosy pictures of life. I’m sure you’ve all heard of the Facebook effect, where it seems like all your Facebook friends are immaculately put together, live in perfect houses, go on great adventures, and generally live a life far more awesome than your own. This is because all of us edit our narratives. We want to share the exciting/flattering bits, and tend to downplay the mundane/embarrassing ones. (And if we don’t, unless we are FANTASTIC writers who could make imaginary dialogues between deodorants hilarious – looking at you here Amalah – our readership is quite limited.)

Anyway, what I’m saying is that I know my blog is like that. All the fun stuff, all the picturesque stuff, all the deep thinking, and none of the “I’m a complete mess”. But guess what… sometimes? I’m a complete mess.

Let’s begin our story when our heroine left work 15 minutes late because she was in a not-fun meeting. (As opposed to a fun meeting, which happens roughly never.) So. Late. Rainy night. I check my text message alert, and it’s riiiiight on the borderline between freeway or back roads.* I call to see if it’s changed, and I find out that it got really bad on the freeway, so I opt for my backroad commute. Tick tock, tick tock, the daycare clock!

Did I mention my husband has been in Florida for a week, and although due back will not be in time to pick up the kids? No, I didn’t because I never let teh intarwebs know these kind of things in advance, just in case. But Adam was in Florida, so there was no calling him if I didn’t make it on time (which is my usual backup).

Then, just as I had fully committed to the backroads route and there was no turning back… whammo. Traffic stopped moving. Like, one or two cars a light. There’s never a backup here!?! Five minutes, I didn’t sweat. But then it turned to ten, fifteen, twenty. When I had 15 minutes to do 30 – 45 minutes of commuting, I panicked. I called all my parent friends (including those I should have known were like, you know, in Dallas.. hoping he was kidding when he told me who I was interrupting…) asking if anyone could pick up my kids. Of course, it’s extra complicated because who wanders around with two extra car seats? No one! In fact, almost none of my friends has a car that can seat two extra kids never mind car seats. And it was raining, hard! And super dark! Yay! Fun! Finally, I reached one friend (actually there at that moment picking up her kids) and we cobbled together a plan that involved her taking my kids to my neighbor’s house and then returning to the center for her own. I gave my permission over the phone to the daycare people to release my kids almost as I was passing the accident.

Phew. Can I say this? Three years ago, I wouldn’t have known what to do. I don’t know how I got this lucky, but I have awesome friends who have my back and are there for me when I need them, and I am SO GRATEFUL. I may be alone while my husband’s gone, but I’m not unsupported.

Anyway, so I come home. I park my car. I put my backpack inside, and head down the payment full of adrenalin and frustration to my neighbor’s house to retrieve my children. And just as my sidewalk joins my neighbors, I stepped on a rock wrong, and went down HARD.

I had one of those moments that stretched very long. I was on the ground, rain falling poetically onto my face, right leg obviously badly scratched up, but truly wondering if I had just popped the graft on my left leg, and I would have to do this fantastic surgery all over again. With the rush of pain and adrenalin and fear, I couldn’t tell how bad my left leg was. I could tell I’d done something non-zero, but was it epic? Was it a pull? Was it just the persistent tendon tightness we’re fighting at PT and nothing wrong at all? I had to wait, on the ground, for several very long minutes to find out. I’m extremely happy to report that based on knee function and subsequent pain, it is nothing serious. However, I’m deeply saddened to report that my absolute favorite pair of tights that are incredibly comfortable have come to the end of their lives. Also, I did a number on my shoe. Finally, I also scratched up my good leg (but I care less because eh! It’s only a flesh wound!)

Are you getting tired of pictures of my leg injuries?
Are you getting tired of pictures of my leg injuries?

I picked myself back up and continued down. Things improved. I walked in on my neighbors feeding my children. They very generously put a plate out for me too. I sat at the table and watched my children rough-housing and being rude and periodically yelling things at them like, “No throwing Christmas ornaments at the dog!” and I was just so very very grateful that I wasn’t alone.

Then I came home, and put them to bed over an hour early, because oh. Those children. Based on the fact they both went to sleep, I think they must have been tired. Then I had to do worky work for an hour. Now I’m writing an unflattering blog post about my own incompetence.

So what about you? Have you ever had a day like this – falling far short of tragic but definitely rising to the level of highest annoyance?

* This is super helpful, so let me share. Navteq allows you to set up a commute and a schedule. Then every day you set up, it texts you a numerical value of how your commute is. I have mine set to check the route at 4:45. So every work day at 4:45 I get a text message with a number. Through experience I know that at 2 or over, I’m better off taking back roads. Additionally, in the text message, you can call a number at any point and ask how your commute is now and they’ll give you the latest conditions. I would pay for this service, but I get it for free. It’s fantastic for those of us with highly variable commutes.