Monday, December 29, 2008

Winter Sunset

I walked out of the supermarket yesterday and was stunned by the intensity of the sunset. Very impressive!

I've seen more than one impressive end of the day sky over the former Naugatuck Valley Mall. I suppose it has something to do with it being a relatively large flat area with hills that block out part of the western view. One evening most of the sky was pitch black, like the darkest night, with a sliver of bright sky along the western horizon where the sun was setting and the dark clouds ended. It was very surreal.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas Adventures

This was the first time in several years that I've spent Christmas in Waterbury. More often than not, I visit relatives in L.A. or other warm climates. Snow and cold at Christmas actually seems odd to me. I've grown accustomed to sun and warmth and the smell of Eucalyptus trees, not to mention the pleasures of airport layovers (the airport at Charlotte is my current favorite layover location, plenty of things to do, perfect for making me feel like I've truly gotten away from my stress).

This was also the first year in a long time that I've had a small child to shop for. My siblings are all adults, my cousins are all teenagers, but my niece is 3 years old and loads of fun. I spent Monday and Tuesday hunting for the right gifts for her, trying to keep my shopping done early in the day, before the masses left the office and flooded the malls.

I still had shopping to do on Christmas Eve and, again, decided to try getting it all done early, before things got too crazy. Bear in mind that I am normally on holiday, visiting relatives, shopping all done by this time. I really had no idea what to expect.

The first clue came at the end of my street, trying to turn left onto Walnut Street. There was a steady stream of traffic in both directions, far more than usual. The next clue came when I turned onto Welton Street. Traffic was backed up almost the full length of the road. For a while I thought there must be an accident at the East Main Street intersection, since I could sort of see a snarl of cars in the middle of the intersection, with other cars curving around the snarl to get through the intersection. When I finally got closer, I realized there was no accident. There simply was an abundance of drivers who felt entitled to ignore the yellow lights and pull into the middle of everyone's way, blocking the box, as they say in NYC. It looked like the traffic jam continued all the way to the I-84 on-ramp, so I decided to take East and West Main Streets through town.

The strangest thing about Christmas Eve day traffic in Waterbury was a sort of inverse proportioning. Places that normally had very little traffic were jammed, while at least one place that is normally the busiest in town was all but deserted. I stopped by Home Depot to pick up some poinsettias and was astonished by how empty the parking lot was. I have never seen the Home Depot parking lot so empty, ever. And yet I still managed to run into my brother-in-law while I was there. Go figure. Waterbury really is a small town.

I finally made it home around 5 p.m., only to discover a note from UPS telling me that they had a package for me. I suspected it was a gift for my niece from my aunt, something that I really wanted to be able to deliver the next day. I got in touch with the UPS folks in Watertown, but the customer service counter was closing and the truck with the package was still out making rounds. The woman on the phone told me that the driver would meet me on Division Street, but he really couldn't wait around, so could I be there in 10 minutes or less? I panicked and couldn't remember where Division Street was, until the UPS woman said it was off of North Main Street. Duh! It's maybe four blocks away from my house! I went racing out the front door, forgetting my cell phone, not bothering to change out of my sweat pants, just tossing on my rain boots and jacket. Then I spent about eight minutes driving up and down Division Street, wondering where the UPS truck was hiding.... it finally showed up, going the opposite direction. I flashed my lights, waited for the rest of traffic to get out of the way, then back up, turned around, parked in front of the truck, and stood calf-deep in a puddle of ice-cold water in the pouring rain and dark night to get my package (good thing I had on rain boots!). The UPS driver had me go around to the other side of the truck, where I was in danger of getting run down by oncoming traffic. Finally, he found the package, and it was indeed the gift for my niece--a Princess Treasure Chest, which proved to be the gift she was the most excited about. Success!

After my UPS rendezvous, I decided I might as well swing by the grocery store, as I had a craving for manicotti but didn't have any ricotta. I arrived at Shop-Rite just after 6 p.m., and was told by a security guard(!) at the door that the store was closed. Okay. Went across the street to Stop and Shop, cruising slowly past the entrance, where I saw would-be shoppers unable to enter. Okay, fine. Surely WalMart would still be opened. Parked my car, got out, observed a man walking away from the store tell someone else just arriving that WalMart was closed. Great. Got back in my car, headed home, then decided, as I sat forever at the stop light, that KMart appeared to be opened. Sure enough, it was. KMart was the only large store on Wolcott Road still open after 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve, and it was PACKED full of shoppers, far more than any other time. Their very small grocery section was emptied of almost everything, so I still had to give up on my dinner craving and go home to a second-best dinner option. Oh well. Next year I'm sure I'll remember to do all my shopping far in advance (and if you believe that...).

Happy Holidays!

Sunday, December 21, 2008


The birds have finally found the bird feeder!

Maybe it was the foot of snow that finally led them to spot the feeder, maybe it was just a matter of time. Either way, there were at least three types of birds visiting today.

They are not yet confident of their safety. Notice how this one is watching the feeder and the window over his (her?) back. There were a lot of dramatic, swooping dives as they scoped things out.

Considering that they were being stared at intensely by my cats, who really wanted to be able to pounce on the birds through the window, it's no surprise that the birds were being cautious. I was impressed when this one perched at the top of the window to gaze down on the cats. I didn't have the right lens, so I had to piece the image together from two shots.

More impressive was this shot. My ex-poodle cat proved that holding very very still can bring your prey within easy reach, if only the glass weren't in the way.

Meanwhile, out in front of the house, the neighborhood kids found the perfect way to cope with all the snow on the road: go snowboarding! One neighbor went so far as to shovel out the entire width of street alongside her parking space. Luckily, we mostly got just snow, only a little bit of freezing drizzle before the last inch of snow fell.

Okay, time to go get my driveway cleared for tomorrow.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

White Christmas?

As everyone in Waterbury knows, we had a major snowstorm yesterday, dumping approximately eight inches of the fluffy white stuff on us very rapidly. I had hoped to run my errands Friday morning and get home before it started, but I only got one errand done before the snow started. The roads were slippery almost instantly. If I had gone directly home then, I would have been fine, but I still needed to buy cat food. There had been only enough for the cats to have a light breakfast that morning. If I had dared go home without food, I probably would not have survived the night.

Normally, it takes me ten or twelve minutes to get home from PetSmart. Yesterday it took two hours. I should have left my car in one of the parking garages and walked home. Fortunately, I bought a packet of Cracker Jacks along with the cat food. Unfortunately, I put them in the trunk, since I didn't expect that getting home would take so long. By the time I got to the mall block of East Main Street I was starving. Traffic was going extremely slowly, with long pauses of two to five minutes, so I hopped out of the car, slid cautiously along the iced-over roadway, grabbed the Cracker Jacks, ignored the driver two cars behind who was outraged that I would do such a thing and started honking at me, and settled back in my seat with time to spare. That same impatient driver got mad at me again when we finally got to the intersection with Route 69, where we were both turning left. I stopped when the light turned yellow, because otherwise I would have had to stop in the middle of the intersection. Impatient driver started honking again. Bear in mind that traffic was going at most 5 mph. Nobody was going to get anywhere quickly. When the light turned green again, the impatient driver decided to try passing me, and didn't seem at all subdued when he started sliding back and forth. Of course, he also was not subdued by the sight of another car that had slid into a snow bank. I really was amazed by the several drivers who seemed oblivious to the road conditions. I was even more amazed that I made it home without getting rear-ended by one of them.

Today the roads were slightly better, especially since all the drivers were going slowly, cautiously and considerately. I thought the roads were be better than they were by mid-afternoon. Does Waterbury not have enough snow plows, or are the plow drivers all on strike? My street and all the other side streets in my neighborhood haven't been plowed yet, although they do all have a little bit of sand on them. Sand really isn't enough. When I came home today, I saw a big SUV attempting to push a little car up a side street. I don't know if they succeeded. More surprising was, yesterday, seeing that someone had actually tried to drive up Niagara Street, but watching an SUV try to push a car up a snowy street was almost as impressive. I also saw cars repeatedly getting stuck in the same pile of snow at the corner of East Main and the little street that runs from the highway between the mall. The third time I saw someone stuck there, the police had arrived to help out. Wouldn't it have been better if someone had plowed that spot earlier on?

Tomorrow, we'll possibly be getting more snow, followed by rain. That should be a real mess (as if it weren't bad enough already!). The rain is more worrying than the snow. Everything, including storm drains, is still buried in snow. The rain water won't have anywhere to go, just flood and then freeze. But maybe it will help clear off a layer of snow.

Metro-North Parking Lot

I haven't had to commute much in recent months, so I don't know how the train parking lot on Meadow Street has been doing, but it was free of broken glass from car windows until Thursday. I pulled carefully into the icy lot that morning, delighted to see that there were plenty of spaces relatively near the train platform (normally I don't mind an extra walk, but my feet were blistered and aching from hauling heavy packages all over midtown in the wrong shoes the day before). Just as I was turning into a parking space, I spotted a glittering pile of shattered glass, presumably from a window of the car that had been in the space before me. I felt like I was being superstitious, as if any car in that space was guaranteed to get a shattered window, but I decided to back out and park a few spaces away, just to be safe.

Sure enough, when I got back at 4:30 p.m., there was a car with a broken window in the space I decided not to park in. Either that spot is jinxed, or the thieves feel least likely to get caught in that spot, or it's just a coincidence and both cars happened to have very stealable items (like GPS) left out in the open.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Mall Future?

The possible closing of the Brass Mill Center mall is once again a hot topic on many minds, but with more validity than in the past.

The mall is owned by General Growth Properties, Inc., based in Chicago, is currently trying to avoid declaring bankruptcy. General Growth (GGP) also owns one other mall in Connecticut, The Shoppes at Buckland Hills in Manchester, as well as more than 200 malls throughout the country. According to articles on, GGP has some $900 million in mortgage debts, apparently from two malls in Las Vegas (that's right--a bad financial expense in Vegas has put something "at home" in danger--just joking here, but there is a sort of tragic comedy to it), as well as an additional $1800 million or so of other debts. There are serious concerns that GGP will "go under". Their debt ratings have most recently been downgraded to junk status (I have no idea what that really means, but it certainly doesn't sound good).

In Waterbury and, presumably, the other 200+ communities with GGP-owned malls, the immediate question is whether or not the malls will close if GGP fails. I imagine that the first step would be to put the malls up for sale. What happens after that is unknown to me. All the realtors I know agree that nothing is selling right now.

I've been hearing some buzz for the past few years about the era of the malls reaching its end. Times change, nothing lasts forever. But all of those merchants in the mall need stores in which to do business (for the customers who don't do all their shopping online). It would be interesting if the mall merchants banded together to buy the mall and then operated it as a co-op or condo association. It might even save them some money in the long run.

The current events seem somewhat ironic. The creation of malls is one of the factors associated with the death of downtown. Now that the downtown is beginning to come back to life, the mall is in danger of dying (I don't think the mall will shut down, but I'm certainly no expert). In some ways, the theoretical closing of the mall could be a boon to downtown, as the mall merchants could relocate to downtown storefronts. Unfortunately, a dead mall visible from the highway would drag down all of Waterbury, scaring away potential visitors. It's in Waterbury's best interests to keep the mall alive and thriving, even if General Growth dies.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Latest Painting

Shakesperience Productions' A Midsummer Night's Dream in Library Park, 2005 (painting completed this weekend):

Visit my other blog for the story of the painting!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Morbid Plan

This week's controversial topic is the proposed conversion of the Alderson Funeral Home into a drug rehabilitation home. The location, on the corner of West Main Street and Holmes Avenue, makes it a terrible location for a rehab center. It's a beautifully maintained building in a prominent location. The best use for the building would be law offices--it's very close to the courthouse and the interior is gorgeous. Using it for drug rehab would drag down the building and the neighborhood, which is mostly law offices and apartments, as well being a gateway to downtown.

Making it an even worse plan is the fact that the building has been a funeral parlor for decades. While there are people who would have no problems living in a former funeral home, I'm sure there are plenty of people, recovering addicts included, who would be extremely uncomfortable spending one night there, let alone living there for any length of time. I can only imagine that staying there could be detrimental to someone trying to recover from a drug addiction.

Sunday, December 07, 2008


This is increasingly becoming the normal scene in my dining room, ever since I set up the bird feeder in the window. The fluffy cat in the window is taking a break from watching the squirrel to watch the snow falling.

There have been a few birds at the feeder, but mostly it's been just the squirrels. Which keeps the cats just as entertained as they would be with birds, but I miss the variety of birds that came to the feeder when I lived on Eastwood Avenue. Other than trying different types of seed, I don't know how to entice more birds. Last winter I had the feeder on the back porch, this year I've put it on the side window, thinking a new location would help. So far the results are the same. Where are all the birds? Maybe someone in the neighborhood has better seed.

The squirrels don't seem to mind the cats at all. Nor were they put off by today's snow!


There have been a few articles in the newspaper lately about Alderman Mike Telesca and one of his rental properties. First he was in trouble for not having a permit to operate a rooming house, but he has since found the paperwork from 23 years ago that gives him permission to do so. But he still hasn't been paying the annual fee for a health permit for the rooming house.

This is a man who has been involved in city politics for many years. He is an elected city official. He claims to care about doing what's best for the people of Waterbury, although, as an alderman, mostly all he seems to do is complain that the Democrats are being mean to the Independents. As a responsible city official, his response to the discovery that he is not in compliance with city regulations should have been to apologize and immediately rectify the situation by paying for the required permits. Instead he issued eviction notices to all of his tenants and claims that the Democrats are being mean to him, as if he were the only city landlord expected to have the correct permits.

This is yet another big disappointment from Waterbury's Independent Party. Instead of focusing on doing good works for the city, they are, collectively and individually, bogged down in paranoia. At best, they are paranoid that new developments, like the power plant in the South End, are bad for the city and speak out against them. Most of the time, however, they seem to be obsessed with the notion that the Democrats are out to get them and waste huge amounts of time and energy complaining about it, instead of saying "so what?" and moving forward with their elected responsibilities.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Commercial Interruption

Do you hate going shopping at the mall during the holiday season? If so, don't go! Here are some really good alternatives:

Stay home, use the internet, and visit my CafePress store to buy framed archival prints of my Waterbury paintings (and other merchandise as well). Or buy one of my original paintings: Meadow Street is available directly through me, Shakespeare in Library Park will be available soon, and Rainy Day, Pine Street is available at the John Bale Book Company on Grand Street (where the painting can currently be viewed in their holiday window display).

While you're at John Bale, do some more gift shopping! They have a ton of books and prints that would make great presents. And you can grab a coffee or tea from their Café while you shop.

Downtown Waterbury has many good stores for gift buying. Think of the chaos of any mall parking lot this time of year, then imagine parking downtown. The Buckingham parking garage is well-lit, with security monitors and a low hourly rate for a downtown garage (one dollar per hour, even less if you have your parking validated by the merchants). There's always plenty of parking, and no stressed-out shoppers willing to run you down for a parking space.

On Bank Street, the Connecticut Store has a wonderful selection of gift items, all made in Connecticut. Clothing, accessories, maple syrup, jams, toys and games, fine artwork.

Also on Bank Street, there are clothing stores ranging from those that appeal to teenagers, to Tony's Men's Shop, where you can buy a really nice suit or tie.

Ideal Jewelers is just as the name implies: the perfect place to purchase jewelry and watches. If you're looking for a Timex watch, don't forget to stop by the Timexpo Museum in the Barnes & Noble/Office Max plaza next to the mall.

Shakesperience Productions offers private acting lessons as well as acting workshops (a perfect gift for the aspiring thespian, or for anyone looking for something fun to do in the winter!), and they have upcoming public performances, with tickets available now. Similarly, the Palace Theater has a lot of great upcoming shows--tickets are a good stocking-stuffer, and a season pass is even better!

Goldsmith's sells artwork, but they also have a framing studio and can put a quality frame on your family photos, documents and artwork for less than you would pay at the mall, even though the quality is much more professional than what you would get at the mall.

If you're shopping on a budget, try Maslar's on Bank Street. Yes, it's a pawn shop, but it's not too scary and you'll find some good bargains.

Another good gift option are gift certificates. Waterbury, especially downtown, is full of great locally-owned restaurants (see the links on the right) which offer gift certificates.

You might even find some good items at the UConn-Waterbury co-op store.

Go downtown, and go shopping!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Tree Lighting on the Green

Here are some photographs from Friday night's tree lighting ceremony, and a few photos of some of the winners of Main Street's Third Annual Holiday Decoration Competition (I took photos of more than just these, but for some reason the camera didn't save them). The Green will be lit up all month--it's worth a visit.

Vintage Restaurant

Universal Copy

John Bale Book Company

Friday, November 21, 2008

Presidential Votes

UConn has published the results of the election with breakdowns by town. It's interesting to see that Waterbury and Naugatuck are very nearly surrounded by a sea of red, while almost the entire rest of the state is blue.

More election maps are online at

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Getting Ready for Spring

Last week I planted bulbs in my front yard. Iris, because they've always been my favorite; hyacinth, because they smell nice; and anemone, because they came in packets of 25 multicolored, so they'll help fill in the yard.

My neighbor across the street was interested in what I was planting, since he has the best view of my yard. My next-door neighbor heard us talking and came out to see what was happening. I don't think he'd ever seen anyone garden before. It was a revelation to him. I showed him the photos and descriptions of what the bulbs will become in the spring, and he was amazed that something so large and beautiful could grow from something that looks like a cross between a potato and an onion. He said something to the effect that he doesn't understand how anyone could not believe in a high power when you see how a tiny little seed or bulb can be put in the ground and then grow into a large plant. I had a similar thought earlier this year, when I saw the first tiny little sprig of a plant growing from seeds I had planted. Life is truly miraculous, and gardening can have a positive impact on people's lives.

In Waterbury, the Brass City Harvest has been doing a lot of good work to bring gardening and fresh fruits & vegetables to the inner city. They have a newly launched blog at Check 'em out!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Staying Current

The Hartford Courant has a reputation for being biased against Waterbury. This is something that can be seen going back decades. I don't know what started this "tradition" at the Courant, but maybe one of the reasons it continues is that they haven't bothered to stay up-to-date on what's happening here. Take, for example, their official description of Waterbury on their website: "Principal industries are manufacture of brass and copper products, clocks, and watches."

I'd say that puts their knowledge of Waterbury at least thirty years behind the times.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


(photos taken in 2007)

A lot of factory buildings tend to be ugly behomeths, especially if they were built during the 20th century. During the 19th century, factory buildings were typically beautiful brick structures. Many have been rehabilitated, converted into dynamic apartments, condos and shops. Many others have been demolished, and it seems that Waterbury is about to lose another one. The abandoned factories at North Elm and Cherry Streets are going to be replaced with a new facility. It's a real shame. For years, I've been hoping that someone would rescue them. Rehabbing them is on my wish list of things I would do if I won Powerball.

A portion of the old watch factory was converted to Enterprise Apartments, and, as you can see from the photo, it looks really nice:

By contrast, here's the depressingly hideous, cement-block, bunker-style housing on the opposite side of North Elm Street (why does it seem like the ugly architecture stays forever, while the attractive architecture gets destroyed?):

I don't know for certain, but the neighboring Benrus factory might also be not long for this world:

Last, but certainly not least, here is the main office building for the factory complex, designed to look like a miniature mansion. I don't have a lot of hope remaining for its future.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Good Music

After I moved to Scovill Row last year, I kept hearing some fantastic music being played in the neighborhood. I did some online searching and finally discovered that what I was hearing was Bachata, a style of music from the Dominican Republic. My favorite bachata musician is Zacarias Ferreira--his Dime Que Falto CD (I almost called it an album...) is fantastic.

A couple of weeks ago, I started to notice a flyer cropping up all over Waterbury and Hartford (and presumably all the other cities in Connecticut). Ferreira is going to be putting on a concert in Waterbury on November 16 at Salon La Fatima (Our Lady of Fatima Church) on Baldwin Street.

If you aren't familiar with his music, here are some good links to listen to:
Dime Que Falto
Ay Amor
Es Tan Dificil
Se Marcho El Amor

Sunday, November 02, 2008

The Local Public House

I've had a terrible time remembering the new name of T. Pic's bar, probably because they haven't gotten new signs up yet. So here it is: The Local Public House. Conjures up images of old Irish pubs.

When I was there the other day, I got a little history lesson from my fellow drinkers. Before it was T. Pic's, it was 457 (after the street address). Before that, it was No Fish Today. Before that, it was something I can't remember now (sorry!).

There used to be a bar just down the street, in a building that was lost to fire, that had the longest bar in Connecticut. It is believed that the bar was purchased and moved out of state.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Mattatuck Cafe Reopens

The Mattatuck Museum has been without a cafe for several years, but they are finally re-opening it this week, Wednesday, November 5. This time around, the cafe will be run by the Bunker Hill Deli. Sandwiches, soups, salads, all available Tuesday through Saturday, 11:30 - 2:30.

If you still haven't stopped by to see the new history exhibit, now's the perfect time--see the history, eat some lunch, and if the weather is nice, borrow one of the MP3 players and a map, and tour some of downtown's architecture.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


After much nagging, pestering and good advice, I'm finally giving merchandising of my art a try. Marketing my own work falls outside my comfort zone, so please forgive my awkwardness and buy some stuff!

Postcards, prints, mugs and other items are available through cafepress (click here to view).

Once I finish a painting, I will add its image to the store. If you would like a specific product that is not included in my store, just let me know, and I will add it.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Impact

I've been working from home for about a month, starting when the Wall Street collapse began. This past week, I was back to riding the train to NYC again, and was shocked to see a very noticeable decrease in the number of suited passengers. Stamford is normally the busiest stop, with swarms of men and women in high-end business attire getting on and off the train. Now there's hardly anyone. Normally the morning train is standing-room only, with five or six people standing in every doorway. Now there's plenty of empty seats.

The news reports I've read have all been focused on the bail-out and on how the banks are currently spending money. There have been plenty of incendiary reports about bankers being given raises and bonuses, and exposés of corporate partying. What I wasn't aware of until this week are the huge numbers of layoffs. So far approximately 110,000 people connected to Wall Street have lost their jobs, with more layoffs anticipated. No wonder the train wasn't crowded. No wonder Stamford looks like a ghost town.

I have also read a Forbes report on towns most likely to suffer during this economic whatever-you-want-to-call-it. They cite the small town (25,500 people) of Zanesville, Ohio, which has an unemployment rate of 8.9% (Waterbury's is 8.6%, according to, a poverty rate of 16.2% (35% of Waterbury households earn less than $25,000 per year), and an education statistic of 18% with an associates degree or higher (compared to 23% in Waterbury).

Zanesville's mayor is optimistic about his town's future, pointing out that they have plans for more than $250 million in school and downtown development construction over the next two years (sound familiar?). The article, not surprisingly for Forbes, does not spell out exactly what dangers Zanesville and other vulnerable towns face, nor does it in any way suggest what actions might be prudent for vulnerable towns. I would like to know those details, especially since it sounds like Waterbury could also be considered vulnerable. We've already seen fallout from the mortgage fiasco--foreclosures on homeowners who couldn't make payments when their subprime mortgages adjusted to higher rates, and numerous properties purchased by real estate speculators who drove the prices up without adding value and have now abandoned the properties, leaving pockets of blight throughout the city.

In that regard, maybe Waterbury has already seen the worst of the mortgage fall-out (just don't expect to get a good price if you're selling a house right now). Unemployment could very well increase. We're seeing a steady decline in the number of big stores, not just in Waterbury. We've lost two grocery stores, and it looks like they won't be replaced. The national chains are steadily going under: Steve & Barry's declared bankruptcy and closed their Waterbury store; Linens N Things declared bankruptcy and is closing its Waterbury store. When the plaza with Linens N Things first opened, there was a craft supply store on the other side of Stop & Shop which closed almost immediately and has yet to be replaced. I doubt that Linens N Things will be replaced. Waterbury is turning into a town of half-empty plazas.

On the bright side, the prices of gasoline and heating oil have decreased significantly. But that's probably not much consolation for anyone who's lost their job because their employer went bankrupt or lost their house because the bank increased their mortgage interest rates so much that they couldn't make their payments.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Your State Tax Dollars At Work

Here's a shot of the notorious State Government shuttle van idling outside the Buckingham Parking Garage. When the Rowland Government Center was being constructed, the state employees who were scheduled to be relocated to Waterbury were apparently horrified by the prospect of having to walk all the way from the garage to their office building. To placate them, the state agreed to operate a shuttle van. In the morning, the van sits waiting on Cottage Place with the engine running. When I took this photograph, it was there for five minutes before one woman arrived. The van then drove her to the Rowland building, then returned to idle some more. I don't know what the van's specific schedule is, but it's probably safe to assume it operates for one or two hours twice a day during the week. With the engine running the whole time, even if it's just sitting at the curb.

The distance from the parking garage to the Rowland building is about a thousand feet. One-fifth of a mile. The average person needs four minutes to walk that distance. But the state of Connecticut is willing to spend tax dollars on a shuttle van.

You can't even argue that it's for safety. At 8 a.m. on a weekday, walking along Grand Street in front of the Post Office or, on the other side of the street, in front of several small cafés, a dry cleaner, and a pizza place; then turning down Leavenworth Street, walking in front of law offices and restaurants before reaching the Rowland building at the end of the street--what could be safer?

It's ironic that the shuttle van is green in color; it's very not green in environmental terms.

[I should also add, before anyone asks, the Rowland building is not named for the former Governor. It is named for his grandfather, Sherwood Rowland, who helped expose (and halt) political corruption during the 1930s. While I'm on the topic of clarification, Rowland Park was named for Rowlands who were not related to those Rowlands. The mini-park was donated by the Chase family--Elsie Rowland Chase came to Waterbury in the late 19th century, when her father, Rev. Dr. Edmund Rowland, was appointed to St. John's Episcopal Church.]

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Anya Thai

I've been meaning to try the Thai restaurant on Meriden Road in Wolcott for years, and last night I finally did. Yum! It was delicious! There is something about a Thai curry that is emotionally soothing--for whatever reason, it's comfort food for me. I had a hot curry soup with shrimp, balanced very nicely with a vegetable roll, followed by a green curry chicken dish. It was so good, I could eat there every day. I can't believe it took me this long to try them!

The one downside is that they don't serve alcohol, but considering that I have to drive so far to get to the restaurant, that's probably just as well. It certainly didn't impair my enjoyment of the food!

Tuesday, October 07, 2008


Condos are not universally bad. You wouldn't know it from the way people in Waterbury have been talking lately, but it's true. Locally, take a look at Heritage Village. That was built many decades ago, but is still high quality and very park-like, with the winding roads and dense woods.

The problem is that condos in Waterbury are almost always built with the cheapest materials and methods. They are some of the ugliest buildings you will ever see, easily considered a blight even when they are well maintained. Bradley Gardens is one of the worst and is a proven fire hazard, but it is certainly not the only example of shoddy condo construction in Waterbury.

Residents of the "nicer" neighborhoods have been complaining loudly about how they don't want condo developments, but I suspect that it's not condos in general they are opposed to, it's the slum-like condos that typically get built in Waterbury that they are resisting.

Building codes typically deal with safety issues. Aesthetics are harder to pin down and enforce. But what about enforcing a minimum ratio of built acres to landscaped acres? How about enforcing a certain number of shade trees per landscaped acres? While I'm at it, how about requiring any new building development to construct sidewalks?

I could keep going with the wish list for a while!

Sunday, October 05, 2008


Last year, I went to the DOT's public hearings about their plans to rebuild the highway interchange in Waterbury, and I thought there would be one more, once they finally narrowed down the options. Instead, they're asking that the city give them an opinion on two options by Wednesday. Neither option is great. I really dislike the idea of spreading out 84 as it cuts through the heart of the city. It's really sort of offensive, as if the DOT is trying to wipe out as much of Waterbury as possible. 84 has to be a double decker through Waterbury, to minimize the impact on the city.

I'm also offended by the DOT's efforts to sugar-coat their proposal. Last year they were very reluctant to state which business would lose their buildings because of highway construction. Now they are giving fractions: 43% of Jarjura's Market, 76% of CL&P, 70% of YankeeGas. Are we really supposed to believe that these businesses would continue to operate with only a partial property? Plain and simple, those are 100% losses. The highway construction will take out businesses that have been reliable taxpayers for a very long time. There is no guarantee that they will relocate within Waterbury. The DOT tries to smooth this over by claiming that new developments will somehow bring in millions of dollars in yearly taxes. What, exactly, are these magical developments and how in the world can the DOT promise that they will happen?


Bonding seems to come up frequently here in Waterbury, as if it were the magic solution to many problems. I wonder how many city residents understand what bonding is. For example, the Mayor has proposed purchasing the Wachovia building for $5 million through bonding. What the newspaper left out is the explanation of how much debt the city would accrue in doing this. How many years will it take to pay off the five million and how many millions more will we have to pay in interest?

When a city makes major purchases through bonding, it's not much different than an individual person making major purchases on a credit card. Given what's been going on with the economy recently, it seems like now is a good time to be much more cautious and frugal.

There have been times when I have had to rely on credit cards to cover my necessary expenses. I learned early on that you have to be careful about how much debt you accumulate--if you have too much debt, you won't have enough money to cover your monthly payments. This could happen to Waterbury with bonding. Too much bonding, and we won't have enough money to make our payments and keep up with other expenses. As I understand it, the interest rate paid by the city is variable. Which means monthly payments could get larger. Can a city declare bankruptcy?

The way I see it, there has to be a limit to how much debt Waterbury can afford, while it seems there is no limit to the number of things the city could spend money on. If the Wachovia building can be acquired without increasing the city's expenses (compare the bonding costs to the rent money saved, then factor in the lost taxes and any ongoing maintenance costs), then it's probably a good plan.

Thursday, October 02, 2008


This year's Downtown Draw is Saturday morning, with judging in the early afternoon. This year's theme is to tie in with The Big Read. It's always a fun event, and it's very cool to see what can be done with chalk. The weather is supposed to be good, so stop by the Green to what's happening!

Photos from last year

Official Website

Monday, September 29, 2008

Parks vs. Parking

I've spent the past several days thinking about open space issues in Waterbury, and stumbled onto an intriguing question: how many acres of parking lots are there in Waterbury? There are 905 acres of parks, which Mayor Jarjura says is "enough" (I strongly disagree). Jarjura, a developer, has encouraged the conversion of outlying woodlands into new office and retail spaces with ample parking lots (next weekend I think I'll be ruminating on urban sprawl). If all of the unprotected woods and fields in Waterbury were turned into parking lots and nondescript buildings, what would the ratio of pavement to greenery be?

During the hot summer months, I'm always acutely aware of parking lots. All of that open pavement radiates heat, making the summer hotter, while in the shade of the forest, the summer is cooler. In the winter, the cold wind blows freely across parking lots, while woodland trees offer a little bit of protection from the biting cold.

I wish I knew how many acres of parking lots there are in Waterbury. I could probably figure out an estimate from a map, but that would be very time consuming, so how about just a preliminary list of lots (I'm not including the parking lot between the library and City Hall because the huge old trees there make it just as much a park as a parking lot):

Buckingham Ramparage
Palace Theater/WAMS parking garage
UConn parking garage
Prospect Street parking garage
the train station parking lot and the newspaper parking lot and garage
Meadow Street parking lot (below Library Park)
Home Depot/Sports Authority
parking garages at both hospitals
Colonial Plaza
every single small shopping site in town--CVS, Walgreens, Frankie's, McDonald's, etc.
Brass Mill Mall
Wal-Mart and Stop & Shop
Marshall's and the former Shop-Rite center
the new Shop-Rite
Target/Stop & Shop mini-mall
the long strip of businesses on Lakewood Road
every condo complex

There are plenty more that I could add to the list. I would not be at all surprised to learn that there are more acres of parking lots than of parks, even though parks add much more to the city's quality of life. Obviously, businesses need parking lots, but I think they need to be less utilitarian and less sprawling.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

More Trains!

Metro-North has finally added one train each way on the weekends for Waterbury, which means a new weekend schedule. Starting in October, we will now have five trains each way (not great, but definitely a step in the right direction!).

Tragically, the last train leaving Grand Central for Waterbury is still the 9:07 p.m. WHEN will they figure out that we need a later train???

Monday, September 22, 2008

I-84 "Wins", Waterbury Loses

I'm currently watching the state Department of Transportation's latest report on their plans for rebuilding the highway interchange through Waterbury. Most of their proposed plans would decimate the center of the city, even worse than what happened when the highways were first built forty years ago. The South End has never recovered from the last highway construction--the presentation immediately preceding the DOT presentation was the Loyola Development group's proposal for rebuilding the South End.

We lost the battle against the power plant and its pollution (DePillo's "compromise" amounts to nothing more than tossing a dog a bone), and now we're about to get shafted by the DOT.

[Update, 9:45 p.m.]
And, speaking of getting shafted, I can't help wondering why the Independents are spending so much time complaining about not being treated with as much respect as they want. I expect my elected officials to focus on government, but Waterbury's Independents seem to spend all their time trying to get into a fight with the Democrats, hampering the progress of government. Whining achieves nothing. Whatever happened to "sticks and stones"? They seem to be more concerned with their egos than with helping Waterbury, which means they are hurting the city they claim to work for.


Here's a snapshot I took at Hamilton Park two Saturdays ago. Flocks of Canada Geese are always a sign of changing seasons.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Every so often, I get to catch a glimpse of an amazing sunrise or sunset in Waterbury. When I lived on Johnson Street, I had a great view of the sunset, but my current home is angled just wrong for viewing the dramatic colors of the sky.

This morning, however, the sunrise was at its best right when I was hurrying to leave for the train station. If I hadn't been so worried about missing my train, I would have tried to take a photo.

There were spectacular bright pink clouds filling the sky, becoming a grayish-lavender further up, with a bright white full moon shining behind them. It was an impressive start to the day!

Monday, September 08, 2008

Cycling, part two

Rode my bicycle to the train this morning. I got up half an hour early to make sure I had enough time, but it turns out that bicycling to downtown takes the same amount of time as driving. So I had plenty of time to get breakfast at Barci's and write this post.

The train station doesn't have a bike rack, just a chain link fence, so I decided to lock up my bike at the library, where there is a lot more supervision. Leaving it there all day might annoy them, but there aren't a lot of other options.

Sunday, September 07, 2008


Today I start using my bicycle to get around town. It's something I've been meaning to do, but until now I've let myself be lazy and drive. Last night, however, I did some very dramatic driving on Route 20, just before merging with 91-S, narrowly escaped death (the Good Samaritan who stopped to help couldn't believe I was uninjured, never mind still alive), and messed up my suspension, so I'm feeling very motivated to bicycle instead of drive.

One of my pitiful excuses for not bicycling around town is that "it's SO far" to get to anything. But when I used Google maps just now to see how long it might take to get where I want to go today, I realized that it's only four miles to Straits Turnpike. When I go to Cheshire to use the linear park, I routinely bicycle 20 miles. Four miles is nothing, even with the hills.

It's a beautiful Sunday afternoon, so I'm heading off to enjoy the day while I run my errands.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A New Year

Today, in the very early morning hours, swarms of teenagers were huddled on street corners and in unused doorways, looking chilled (they never wear enough warm clothing), and with blank expressions on their faces. While I didn’t see any yellow buses, I can conclude only one thing—the new year of purgatory, I mean, school has begun.

It seems cruel to make teenagers get up at dawn. From what I remember of being a teen, they need anywhere between eight and ten hours of sleep a night, and they are very unlikely to go to sleep before 11 p.m. Maybe this bit has changed, but at my school, we weren’t allowed to drink coffee until senior year. Something about all that caffeine being bad for our growing bodies.

My memories of public school are mostly bad. Endless hours trapped in soulless cinder-block chambers, trying to pay attention as the teacher droned on and on through a lesson delivered countless times before, sapping the teacher’s ability to make it sound fresh, new and interesting. School architectural design had a big influence on my education experiences. I loved going to Salem School in Naugatuck. I was there for only half a year (we moved to town half way through 5th Grade), and I was dazzled by the beautiful woodwork and high ceilings. I was incredibly grateful that I didn’t have to attend Naugatuck High School—the first time I saw it, I thought it was some sort of industrial prison. I did put in the requisite two years at Swift Middle School in Watertown. Those were miserable years. I was having a hard time being the new kid again, I was dealing with all the emotional turmoil of those years, and I had to spend my days navigating the dark, low-ceilinged, soulless cinderblock maze of hallways. That’s what I remember most about Swift—soulless cinderblock and endless hallways where I still sometimes took a wrong turn after the first year. Meanwhile, I remember Salem with fondness.

I thought I was the most engaged student in any of my classes. Learning wasn’t cool, so all the kids made a big effort to show that they weren’t being uncool. The funny thing is, as adults, most of us spend a fair amount of time trying to learn things, whether it’s how to operate your DVR or preparing to pass a test to get a new job or promotion. Maybe the most important thing to teach in the public schools is how to learn.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Transportation Center

It's been some months since I last heard anything about plans for a consolidated transportation center at the train station. In fact, I think it's been two years since any noticeable progress has been made. Lately, I've started taking the train from Waterbury on a regular basis, so I am more aware than ever of the need for the transportation hub. I love taking the train, it's a million times better than driving to work, but our "station" needs some upgrades.

I don't like parking at the railway (I can't call it a station, since all we have right now is a platform). The parking lot is full of shattered glass from car windows that were broken into. There is a very large sign that originally claimed that This Lot Is Monitored, only someone has used spray paint to change it to Not Monitored. Because I never seem to be able to get out of the house early enough to park in the Ramparage on Field Street, I've been leaving my car at the railway lot. No damage to it so far, thank goodness. Maybe all the broken glass is old. There's no sign that the city ever cleans the parking lot.

If the buses ran late at night, I'd get up earlier in the morning to walk the half hour downhill to the train. It's great exercise. Walking home after dark while carrying my purse and computer is less great. But the Waterbury buses stop running at 6pm, so I have to take my car. If the buses ran until, say, midnight and had the proposed transportation hub as their starting/ending point, that would be fantastic.

Because our beautiful brick train station was sold to the Republican American, all we have now is a platform with minimal amenities--trash and recycling containers, benches and shelter from the rain. If you need to buy a ticket, you can purchase only a one-way, higher price ticket on the train. Other train stations have ticket machines selling the full ticket options for less right on the platforms.

The amenity I most long for is a coffee shop at the railway. Someplace to quickly grab a coffee and a portable breakfast (egg & cheese sandwich, for example). Diner food to go, located right next to where you get on the train. (Please, no Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts! The mini-diner at the Bridgeport station is perfect, albeit expensive--$2 for a small coffee, another $2.75 for the egg & cheese sandwich; I can get the same thing at Penn Station for half the price.)

Returning at the end of the day, there are always taxi drivers on the train platform asking if anyone needs a taxi. There's really no other way for them to go about this, since there is no taxi stand at Waterbury. I suppose it's a system that works, but it means that anyone can stand around claiming to offer taxi rides. Not the safest situation. I'd be a little scared to walk off into the dark with some guy claiming to be a taxi driver. Fortunately, there are always plenty of people around. There's a regular little traffic jam on Meadow Street when the train pulls in. Within ten minutes, the regular commuters are long gone, the joyful reunions are over, the bags are loaded into cars, and all that's left are the small number of people sitting by the sidewalk wondering when their family or friends are going to pick them up.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Heavenly Invader

Now that I have a yard to tend, I've suddenly noticed a new tree that is shooting up everywhere in Connecticut: the "tree of heaven" (Ailanthus altissima). It is similar in appearance to the staghorn sumac, which is native to the northeast, so this may be why I didn't notice it until just now. The other day I thought back to when I was growing up. The trees in our yard were mostly pine, maple, chestnut. Twenty years ago, maybe even ten years ago, maple trees were the most prolific Connecticut tree (going by my memory). Now where I live is surrounded by the tree of heaven.

The most noticeable thing about this tree is that it grows like a weed. It can release up to 325,000 seeds per year. If you cut it down to a stump, the stump will sprout numerous shoots. If you pull it out with the roots, any tiny little root fragment left in the ground will start growing a new tree. It ought to be called the hydra tree.

I've been somewhat casually trying to remove the saplings growing along my property line. There's a slender stump that has maybe half a dozen new shoots growing on it every other month. The good news is that they are easily broken in half. But they will keep coming back for all of eternity. They grow fast, too, and can get as tall as 80 feet (or more) in a relatively short span of time.

Full-grown, it does make for a nice shade tree. But it really is a destructive weed of a tree. The roots can damage sewers and foundations. It produces a type of toxin that prevents other types of plants from growing, and it can quickly crowd out any other type of tree. The maple tree has met its match.

In researching the tree of heaven, I learned a couple of interesting things about it. First, it is native to central China (known in Mandarin as chouchun). It was brought to Philadelphia in 1784 by a gardener, and by 1840 was available through nurseries. Now it is somewhat universally regarded as a pest, although it is the title "character" of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

Monday, August 11, 2008


For the past couple of months, whenever I've worked in my front yard, I've seen this one grasshopper. I'm assuming that it's the same grasshopper each time. When I first saw him, he was a miniscule little speck of bright pastel green. He's been noticeably larger each time I've seen him. Now he's huge.

I think he came to my yard from Suffield. I bought a lot of plants from farms up there, and it was after that I first saw my grasshopper. There aren't a lot of opportunities for grasshoppers to flourish in the heart of the city, although this one seems to be doing fine, maybe because he doesn't have any competition.

Friday, August 08, 2008

More Art

My latest (and sixth) painting of Waterbury:

Next up: Shakespeare in Library Park. Might be a while before it's done, though. Have to focus on "real" work for a while.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Coming Soon...

This Sunday, August 10th, at 12:30 p.m., the Immaculate Conception church will hold a special mass by Archbishop Mansell, who will read the decree making the church a basilica. The new sign is ready, but is being kept under a blue tarp until Sunday. When the sun shines just right, you can see the wording through the tarp.

The Immaculate will be the only basilica in Connecticut. Along with the recent rededication of Ste. Anne's as a Shrine for Mothers, this new century seems to be a good one for Waterbury's Catholic community. A hundred and fifty years ago, Catholics were a disliked minority in Waterbury. Now Waterbury is very much a Catholic town!

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Chili Festival

It took me a week, but I finally found the results of the chili competition last week at the Waterville Fire House. The Republican-American once again did a terrible job covering a Waterbury event--they announced the top prize winner, but didn't identify which number it was, nor did they identify any of the other chili makers (the chilis were numbered and anonymous; I tried to stick around long enough for the results, but once the dunking was over, I got bored and left). The event's co-host, the Waterbury Neighborhood Council, hasn't posted the results on their website, and they haven't replied to my email asking for the information. I googled for the event this morning, and found the results on the Waterbury Fire Fighters Association website--Go Fire Fighters!!!

Chili #1 -- Crossroads Cantina -- top place winner (and just like the chili I make at home!)
Chili #2 -- Fire Fighter Dave Lanese -- 3rd place winner -- I liked this one, but it had chicken instead of beef, which I wasn't sure I liked
Chili #3 -- Uncle Willie's BBQ
Chili #5 -- no show
Chili #6 -- T. Pic's
Chili #7 -- Legendary Dean's Tavern (located on Rubber Avenue in Naugatuck) -- 2nd place winner (I remember that I liked this one, but now I can't remember anything else about it)
Chili #8 -- That's A Wrap (located in the East Gate Plaza)

The dunk booth was a major attraction, with the dunkees including the mayor, several aldermen and others. The most popular person to dunk (reflecting how unpopular he is--a lot of folks were absolutely delighted at the prospect of giving him a dunking), was John Rowland. Here is the crowd gathering to watch:

... and here he is getting dunked, one of many times.

There were plenty of other activities, including live music in the park across the street, discount prices from an ice cream truck, hot dogs, hamburgers, fire equipment displays, fire rescue displays, a fire safety trailer, air brush tattooing, slides, balloons and raffles.