Monthly Archives: March 2009

Getting the Mill Road Bridge Reopening Story

The Mill Road Bridge - note the left side settling especially on the rail.

The Mill Road Bridge - note the left side settling especially on the rail.

Over a month ago I was mislead into believing that the Mill Road Bridge in Ipswich was going to reopen very shortly.  It didn’t. 

Less than two week ago, the same misleader said that the bridge would open soon probably in May.  It won’t.

How do I know?  I decided that the reopening of that bridge would make for a good story and volunteered to go after it.

I found out from a rep at MassHighway and the Ipswich DPW director that the bridge will be open by the middle of June.

I learned, along the way, that government-related stories don’t fall together as the usual stories I attempt do. 

I drove over to the Mill Road Bridge site on Thursday (March 26th) thinking that I would either arrange for an interview on a future date or get the information I needed right there from the boss at the site.  Silly boy!

No one was there even though the weather was pleasant.  Not knowing the company involved I next sought out the Ipswich DPW to find out if they knew anything.  That got me the director’s phone number but he was gone for the day.

So much for Thursday.  On Friday, I talked to the director’s secretary (I had her kids in school) and learned of the best time to call him – Monday.  I also got the name of the company that was doing the work and called them in Salisbury.  The person I wanted was at a meeting in Boston but would be back later and would call me.  I also learned that MassHighway was the overseer and after a call learned who the public relations guy was for them and that I should call on Monday.

Later on the company guy did call.  I started asking him questions about how the work was going and he said that he couldn’t give me anything because MassHighway didn’t want him too.  That was a bit of a shocker to me!

Today (Monday) I chatted with some wonderful secretaries at the Ipswich DPW and MassHighway in the morning.  In one case they said they would alert the person I wanted that I had called.  In the other case I ended up on his answering machine.  The thought crossed my mind at this point that maybe this story wasn’t meant to be.

This afternoon both people got back to me and confirmed the mid-June date. 

I came away realizing that in this situation the people who had the specific information I wanted were prevented from giving me the information and asked to defer me to people who only had general information.  Not the sort of stuff an inquisitive writer would want.

I took a couple of pictures at the work site including the one on this blog.  You can see how the bridge surface slopes left.  How many more vehicles could have made it over before a collapse occurred back in May of 2006 when the days of rain happened? 

The thing to remember now is that everything below the road is now fully repaired even though on the surface you could think otherwise.

( I have written a separate article on this bridge for The Town Common.  When it appears there on April 8th I will post it on this blog. )

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Filed under Ipswich, Mill Road Bridge

NCAA East Regional Men’s Basketball Shootaround in Boston

Villanova coach Jay Wright looks on.

Villanova coach Jay Wright looks on.

(Boston) I took the train into Boston from Newburyport to watch the four NCAA East regional teams get acquainted with the BankNorth Garden.

I thought there might be crowds on hand but like the Division A Prep School tournament at Endicott, only the junkies and family members looked on.  You could sit very close to the action.

The first thing I noticed was the smell.  I had been told that the Celtic parquet wasn’t going to be used.  Instead they had an NCAA floor that had a very strong smell of lacquer.  I’m guessing it would give some folks a headache.

Each of the four teams (Xavier, Villanova, Pitt, and Duke) came out for fifty minutes.  Most of what we saw was shooting.  The length of time before the next team came (15 minutes?) wore me down after three teams and I was back on the train when Duke was on the court. 

I had not done my homework on the teams so I wasn’t sure who the star players were.  I did have my two cameras with me.


Deadly freshman shooter Brad Redford.

Deadly freshman shooter Brad Redford.

What caught my eye about this team was the shooting show put on by freshman guard #12 Brad Redford.  This kid could make shot after shot from deep in many different locations and down both ends.  I learned later that he averaged over 36 points as a senior in high school and was the Michigan Player of the Year.  He would not be a player you would ever want to leave open. I don’t think he plays very much………yet.





Dante Cunningham makes it look easy

Dante Cunningham makes it look easy

This team did some serious isometric exercises at the start of their 50 minutes.  The impressive player in many respects was #33 senior Dante Cunningham.  Coach Jay Wright spent much of his time conversing with announcers Bill Rafferty and Vern Lundquist.






Point guard #2 Levance Fields

Point guard #2 Levance Fields

This was the team with muscles on their muscles.  The player who seemed to be enjoying himself was #2 Levance Fields.  They had a drill in which halfcourt shots were attempted.  After just about everyone else on the team had tried it Levance, who looked overweight to me,  drained one. 








Is this woman a sideline commentator?

Is this woman a sideline commentator?

There were quite a number of reporters and TV types checking out their seating spots.  I saw this woman and assumed that she could be one of those sideline commentators.  I could be wrong since I don’t know who she is.

It was an interesting (free) take and I will search for it next time an NCAA regional is at the BankNorth Garden.

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Filed under NCAA Men's Basketball East Regional

Triton Track Team Reads “Those Shoes” at Newbury Elementary School

Triton High readers gather at Newbury Elementary School with their copies of "Those Shoes" before heading off to the classrooms to read.

Triton High readers gather at Newbury Elementary School with their copies of "Those Shoes" before heading off to the classrooms to read.

(Newbury) I was at Newbury Elementary School this morning to see another piece of the Triton community service project spawned by “Those Shoes,” fall into place.  On this day a group of Trition High School students were to go into each of the classrooms and read, “Those Shoes,” as well as explain the sneaker-gathering project.

I expected to see an assortment of Triton students on hand but learned that Triton’s community service director (Joe Colbert – back left in picture) had decided instead to involve his spring track team.  “Those Shoes,” by Maribeth Boelts is about footwear and the tie-in to the track team was a natural one.

I was surprised to learn from Joe that very few of the Triton students had attended NES.  I, unknowingly, followed one of them walking down the hall to the classrooms.  A teacher from one of the lower grades spotted one of the Triton students and gave him the, “Is that you, so-and-so.  Wow, you’ve changed.”  I believe I detected that particular student cringing after he heard that!

The students gathered in the cafeteria before going to the classrooms.  There was an active amount of swapping what classes the students would go into to read “Those Shoes.”  Seemed that the girls wanted the lower grades.

The person who organized the project (Laurie Collins) told me that quite a few pairs of sneakers had already been collected.

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Filed under Newbury, Those Shoes, Triton

Plum Crazy Opened With Local Support

Roof sign for the new restaurant/convenience store on Plum Island.

Roof sign for the new restaurant/convenience store on Plum Island.

I did an interview on March 20th at Plum Crazy on Plum Island to report on their recent opening.  The more I learned over there and in researching at home the more interesting the story became.

The story idea was suggested because that store site had been vacant for a number of years.

Partner/manager Trish Cram and owner Kurt Littlefield in front of one of the murals inside Plum Crazy.

Partner/manager Trish Cram and owner Kurt Littlefield in front of one of the murals inside Plum Crazy.

The owner (Kurt Littlefield) and his partner/manager (Trish Cram) were very cooperative despite being in the midst of a setting where finishing work was still going on.

One point that Kurt made very clear to me was that the neighbors were very excited to have a restaurant/convenience store opening up.  That got me started in trying to figure out why the neighbors would have such an unusual attitude.  Living near Fruit Street, I know that pulling out a paintbrush can result in neighborhood hysteria.

My research got me reacquainted with the name, Jeanne Geiger.  I recalled reading about her death (in 2005) but hadn’t thought much about her in any context since then. 

Starting in 2003 I dare say that anyone living on Plum Island knew her very well.  Supposedly, the New York resident visited PI and fell in love with it.  Not only did she fall in love with the place but with the help of husband Julian (CEO of Aeropostale) decided to buy as much of PI as she could.

The long range plan was to turn PI into a resort that her wealthy friends from New York would be comfortable at.  Property would be bought and eventually given a makeover into a common theme. 

You would have assumed that the PI locals would turn her down flat when she came trying to buy property that wasn’t even for sale in some cases.  But this was a woman who believed that everyone has a price.  She spent $10,000,000 to get 16 PI residential and commercial properties in two years.

PJ’s Variety was one of the buys.  It was an island center for the locals – food and talk were served up in big doses.  Shortly after buying the place she had it closed down and shuttered.  That didn’t please the locals.

Jeanne Geiger died suddenly in February 2005 from a second-story fall from the PI hotel she had purchased.  What PI would look like now if this hadn’t happened would not be something the locals would wish to think about.  This was a lady in her 50s with plenty more money to use than the $10 million she had already spent. 

Anyhow, with her out of the mix, the curiosity was over what would become of the property she had bought and the plans she had for those properties.  Her husband, Julian, didn’t have the fire in his belly to do much as far as more buying was concerned.

He put PJ’s up for sale and Kurt bought it in June 2008 and has been rehabbing it ever since.  He now lives on the island.  He has a day job in Waltham as the VP of information technology at a dialysis company. 

It has been a long trip to my point that the locals were cheering Kurt on when he bought PJ’s because, I suspect, that in their heart of hearts this signified the turning of the tide against the big spending Geigers from New York.  The PJ buy would mean that at least one commercial property would belong to someone who actually lived on PI.

I think that Kurt sensed the wave of support early and that made the trip out into the neighborhood for feedback a likely success, which it was.  Kurt also hired an artist to do several murals of local scenes that represent PI for the interior of Plum Crazy.  I saw them and they are very nice.

They raised the ceiling and have several skylights.  It is very bright.  I picture PJ’s as having been a low-ceilinged, dark spot. 

Kurt agreed with me that the place’s biggest problem will be parking or lack of same.  There is room for 44 restaurant patrons but I can’t fathom how that many folks would have room to park.  Maybe that’s where being on the good side of the neighbors will help.

Plum Crazy is located halfway to the lighthouse on the right-hand side of Northern Boulevard.

I have done a separate article on Plum Crazy.  It is scheduled to appear in The Town Common on, no fooling, April 1st.  When that happens I will slide that article and accompanying picture onto this blog.

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Filed under Newbury, Plum Crazy, Plum Island

Hockey Pro Erik Kent Not Surprised by Clipper Hockey title

Newburyport's Erik Kent after a pregame skate with the Danbury Mad Hatters.

Newburyport's Erik Kent after a pregame skate with the Danbury Mad Hatters.

Erik Kent may be playing professional hockey four hours away in Danbury (Connecticut) but he is well aware of all the hockey excitement in hometown Newburyport over the recent Division 2 state championship.

I interviewed Erik recently at the Danbury Ice Arena after a morning skate prior to an evening game.

Erik was part of the NHS coaching staff last season and claimed that, “he wasn’t surprised that they were the state champs this year.” 

“The team was very good last season but just didn’t play well in the tournament loss to Tewksbury,” he told me.  “The leadership returned this season and if they were ever going to win a championship it would be this year.”

Erik has had contact with NHS head coach Paul Yameen.  “He told me how exciting winning the championship has been.  He said that everywhere he goes he’s been treated like a king.”

While the Clippers and their fans were having their excitement this season, Erik was having some of his own as he finishes his first full season of professional hockey with the Danbury Mad Hatters of the EPHL (Eastern Professional Hockey League).

Erik thought that two years ago his dream of a professional hockey career was over.  “I went to a training camp in Huntsville (Alabama) in the SPHL (Southern Professional Hockey League) in the best shape of my life but ended up getting cut and released.  I was devastated.”

He ended up back in Newburyport working for his uncle at New England Foundations. 

A phone call from New York in February 2008 reactivated his hockey dream.  “I was invited to play in Jamestown (New York),” he said.  “I went up there and scored points.  The general manager of one of the teams I played against liked what he saw.  A few months later he was looking to stock the Danbury team in the newly formed EPHL (Eastern Professional Hockey League) and he contacted me.  I signed with the team this past August as their first player.”

The level of play in the EPHL is Single A but it doesn’t matter to Erik.  “It is a great opportunity for players like me,” he said.  “During a season of games, I get to show everyone what I can do and get my name out there.”

At 26, Erik is not sure of how long he can wait to move up the professional ladder.  “It’s frustrating that it hasn’t happened yet since I’m among the league leaders in points.  I know that I need to be patient but there are student loans to deal with and you don’t make much money at this level. I want to be at the next level next year.”

Erik was into hockey early.  “No one in my family played hockey but my dad was a big Bruins fan.  When I was three, I took part in Learn-To-Skate with Dick Tierney at Graf.  By five, I was in an organized league.  The youth leagues in Newburyport were unbelievable.”

By ten, he was playing in leagues away from Newburyport and then made the choice to go to Lawrence Academy (Groton MA).  “I thought that I was good enough to play at the prep school level and Lawrence had one of the best hockey programs in the country.  I made the team as a freshman.”

He went on to Southern Maine and played four years of hockey there.  He stayed an extra year to get his degree in communications because, “my mother always told me I needed a college degree.” 

In college, Erik decided to change his style of play.  “Growing up I was a goal scorer,” he told me.  “That’s all I wanted to do.  As a junior in college I figured out that, you have to play both ways.  If you do that it turns into goals.”  And in Erik’s case, professional opportunities.

( This story appeared in The Town Common on March 25th. )

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Filed under Erik Kent, Newburyport, Town Common

Erik Kent of the Danbury Mad Hatters………….and Newburyport

Erik gets set for the opening faceoff.

Erik gets set for the opening faceoff.

A while ago I saw a story in the Newburyport Daily News about a young man from Newburyport who was playing professional hockey for the Danbury (CT) Mad Hatters.  I have family within ten miles of Danbury.  When a trip was arranged to visit I decided to see if I could do a story on the young man – Erik Kent.

I assumed that I could do a better story for The Town Common than the Daily News had done because I was actually going to go where the player was and not rely on a phone interview.  Everything fell into place nicely and I met Erik after his morning skate at the Danbury Ice Arena on Friday March 12th.

He was a good interview despite having a bad cold.  He was excited about the recent Newburyport Division 2 championship because he was the team’s assistant coach last season. 

I also had a chance to visit with the team’s business manager and he gave me a ticket to that night’s game with Hudson Valley.  That night I was part of a crowd of close friends and relatives.  Danbury won 6-2 but had at least 60 shots on net.  In one play the Danbury team went in 4-on-none on the beleaguered HV goalie and took three rapid-fire shots without scoring.  Erik had the last shot and headed to the bench shaking his head.

Erik scores goal.

Erik scores goal.

Erik did get one of the six goals and I got a shot of him on the follow through.

( The article that goes with this visit will appear in The Town Common and on this blog on Wednesday March 25th. )

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Filed under Erik Kent, Newburyport, Uncategorized

“Those Shoes” Inspires Community Service Project in Newbury

Laurie Collins holds the book that inspired the community service project in Newbury.

Laurie Collins holds the book that inspired the community service project in Newbury.

I guess it comes with the territory.

As the children’s librarian at the Newbury Town Library in Byfield, Laurie Collins gets to not only read plenty of books but also to recommend books.

One of the books, among many, that she has recommended is called, “Those Shoes,” by Maribeth Boelts.  The parental response to this 40-page, illustrated book caught Laurie’s attention.

“Whenever it was given out, people would come back and say – “That was such a great story,” and, “It was so inspiring,” recalled Laurie in a recent interview at the library.

“Those Shoes,” is about a young boy’s ultimate generosity with a prized possession – sneakers.

The many positive responses caused Laurie to determine that the book had a clear message and readers might want to move from words to deeds.

The end result is that children in Newbury will be given the opportunity to donate pairs of new sneakers to those less fortunate.

How is this going to happen? 

“On March 24th (Tuesday) a group from Triton High School, doing community service, will visit the Newbury Elementary School,” explained Laurie.  “I’ll meet with them first to talk about “Those Shoes.” Then each class will; get the story read to them by a high school student, hear about the new sneakers donation, and have a book left in their classroom.”  (Laurie told me that the Friends of the Newbury Town Library are buying the books for the classrooms.)

“The new sneakers that are received during the weeks that follow will be brought to our library and stacked in the meeting room,” said Laurie. 

The end of the new sneaker collecting will be during April vacation and coincide with the visit of Wally the Green Monster to the library.  “Last year Wally was here and we had 200 people come through in an hour,” recalled Laurie.  “We’re hoping that this year, when he comes, people will bring new sneakers to donate and Wally will help us do a countdown of how many we have collected.”

Laurie informed me that a clearinghouse agency for local children’s services called, Cradles to Crayons, would distribute the donated sneakers. 

Laurie was quick to commend the cooperation from Triton.  “Joe Colbert (community service director) and Kevin McLaughlin (principal) are important in this project because they will organize and bring the students to the classrooms,” said Laurie. 

Newbury Elementary School assistant principal Elizabeth Boulanger told me that the staff there was excited about being involved.  “NES is enthusiastically looking forward to the visiting readers and for the opportunity to participate in this community service project.”

In a description online, the author (Maribeth Boelts) explains that the idea for the story came as years later she recalled being a substitute teacher and witnessing a student caught in a situation similar to the one she later wrote about in “Those Shoes.”

I sent an email to Maribeth Boelts (she lives in the Midwest) telling her about the community service project.  She wrote back, “I was so honored to learn that “Those Shoes” prompted Laurie Collins to organize and lead this fun and worthy event.  It’s always touching to see an act of generosity like this, particularly when children are involved in the giving.”

Laurie told me that the best part in this project is that “a piece of literature is driving the whole thing.  That’s the most exciting part because that’s what we do here.”

It is said that, “A true charity is something that touches you personally.”  If that is the case then some Newbury students will be going out and buying new sneakers………but not for themselves.

( Prepared for publication in The Town Common on March 18th. )

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Filed under Maribeth Boelts, Newbury, Those Shoes, Triton