Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Length And Breadth

Updated: answers are now posted in the comments section; see the sixth entry.

The following trivia questions have all flashed into my head while it was going well over 55 miles per hour, soaked in caffeine, with one eye out for the cops. Answer these, and you are a true Road Warrior And Son Or Daughter Of The Commonwealth of Massachusetts:

1) What is only municipality in Massachusetts with a five syllable name?

2) How many municipalities in Massachusetts have but a one-syllable name? How many can you name?

3) How many municipalities in Massachusetts begin with "West"? A hint: there are more than ten!

4) What is the name and population of the smallest town (by population) in Massachusetts?

5) People in North Adams know that we are the smallest city (by population) in Massachusetts. What is the largest town?

6) Sort these drives from one town in Massachusetts to its "New" namesake in order of distance:

     A. Bedford -> New Bedford
     B. Boston-> New Boston
     C. Braintree-> New Braintree
     D. Marlborough-> New Marlborough
     E. Salem-> New Salem

7) How many different Interstate Highways run within Massachusetts' borders?

8) What's the highest-numbered state route (that is, excluding US and Interstate routes) in Massachusetts?

9) How many state routes in Massachusetts carry an "A" designation (for example, Route 8A)?

10) Finally, a good long one that really earns you a Golden Fastlane if you nail it: starting on Mass Route 2 and heading east from Town of Williamstown, name every municipality you pass through before you make it into the City of Boston.

I was going to put the answers in the comments, but Tara convinced me it was more interactive to let you guess for a little while. What ya got, road geeks?

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

My Friend Apathy

It has been two weeks since I've posted anything, hasn't it.

I suppose I should more ashamed of myself than I am. But really, anybody who's ever done a software release cycle knows what it's like at the very end. For those not in the know, it is best described as "a stinky gray tornado of toxicity".

Picture this: it is mere hours from the release date that cannot be moved, and a bitter mixture of cold pizza, bad coffee, and discarded integrity drips from the cubicle dividers and stains the gray low-pile carpeting. The stench of self-righteousness gets into your clothing, your hair, your soul. Egos are stroked and shredded in the same breath. The name-calling, trash-talking, threats, compromises, and raw nerves that have all been stewing together in a broth of hacky code and last-minute requirements are finally and exhaustedly ladled out to become the CD you buy or web site you log into, only to hear two days later that there's some cutesie open-source crap that does the same damn thing, but for free, and with a vaguely European animal mascot.

Well, maybe it's not quite so dramatic. But there have been some pretty long hours this month. And it's been coupled with an abnormally acute attack of absolute apathy.

This recent weird sense of not giving a crap about the issues of the day is foreign to me; there's usually something going on that's got my boxers in a knot. But between the long hours spent computing for hire, this weeks-long stretch of Global Warming's Revenge, and the lackluster choice of issues presented to the consumers of local news, I truly have been unable to work my way up to anything beyond a mild lather about much that has taken place over the last half-month.

Time Warner, Anna Nicole, the Iraq Resolution, Scooter's trial, slot machines: eh.

Not that some of this stuff isn't important, and not that I have no opinions about them. There's just not enough habaƱero in any of those issues to make me want to squeeze out a few hundred words. Picking my battles, I guess. Saving up my vital juices for the next regularly-scheduled rousing of the rabble.

In that respect, there is a lot to be said for apathy. It allows one to step back and really just not care about some things. Put a little effort into it and you could probably think of well over a dozen people who would be more universally admired if they were only a bit more apathetic. Putting all your energy into rooting for a cause that in the end you have no control over anyway just adds to your overall level of stress and in general makes you less fun to be around, you know? So why not just take some time, here during the bleak midwinter, to just slow down and ignore the roses?

There. I'm starting to feel better already.

Forgotten to add: I wanted to make you all aware of a great event coming up that you can get behind: Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Berkshire County is holding a sweet event called "Bowling for Kids Sake" over at the Mt. Greylock Bowl in North Adams on March 10th. You can either sponsor a bowling team, or provide much-needed support by visiting the web page at There's also an article (with heavy emphasis on the inevitable "balls" puns that crop up whenever bowling is involved) at This one's about the kids, folks, so don't cheap out now. Our gratitude will be gi-normous. How could you not want that?

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The North Berkshire Restaurant Virus

It's like the bubonic plague for eating establishments around here: word comes down today that Breda's Restaurant up on the Curran Highway is done. The bar and bowling alley continue on, but the building's owner has put the hammer down on Antoinette Breda's lease. The doors closed yesterday.

Antoinette was in tears today as she said her farewells to the members of the North Adams Rotary, whose weekly meetings she has happily hosted for some time. Today we held our final meeting there, but had to bring lunch in from, of all places, Papa Gino's. Give me a slice of irony, please, and a garden salad with bitter dressing.

Her story was pretty typical of a small restauranteuse caught in the fatal crossfire of dining and real estate: a couple of late checks, a missed phone call, and a landlord seemingly eager to declare her in default of her lease. That's all it takes. Just a few months ago we were told that she was going to start home delivery of her city's-best pizza, and now we're going to wait until she finds a new home before we can order another one of her special chicken bruschetta pies. Our hearts go out to her; it was really a great relationship while it lasted.

And now our small but feisty club needs to find another home. It has to be open on Tuesdays, provide reasonable privacy for when we have a speaker, and it would be really nice to know that they'll still be open six months from now.

What's in the water up here that kills eating establishments? And why has it been so particularly virulent over the last dozen or so months?

Think about it: Breda's, Gideon's, EGL. Gringo's. Hickory Bill's. The Sugar Llama. Christina's, the Lakeside, the Taconic, the Four Acres. Jae's leaving North Adams and taking over Le Jardin (this has been pushed back to March, so you still have a few weeks to sail on the sushi boat up there). And, disturbingly, rumors of distress are now flying about Red Sauce on Ashland Street. At this rate, by summer all that'll be left will be Chinese buffets, fast food, and the deli counter at the Price Chopper.

I realize that restaurants and marriages nowadays have similar life expectancies, but this seems even weirder than normal. People do purchase prepared food here, even in winter. Some places have been able to manage themselves really well over a span of years. So what separates the dining men from the nibbling boys?

It doesn't appear to be related to the food itself. Some of the places that have been around for a while present uninspiring efforts on the actual plates, while places like Breda's and EGL had some flashes of true greatness. Nor does it seem to be related to the holy retail trinity of parking, price point, and perception: you can't be too snooty, too expensive, or too hard to get to. Most of these now defunct establishments had plenty of space and were reasonably priced.

Not surprisingly, I have my underinformed yet impeccably spelled and punctuated opinion: to paraphrase Fitzgerald, restaurant people are not like you and me. I've heard rumors that the Lakeside and Gideon's closings had more to do with personal intriguery than customers and cash. It just seems that high-cash, low-supervision environments that depend on one person doing the books, combined with the unexplainable attraction restauranteurs have for personal drama, lead to all sorts of problematic situations down the road. It takes a special kind of person to throw the dice and navigate the perilous road of opening a publick house, especially if they don't own the land or building. Scary as it is, the risk-taker mentality necessary to get a thing off the ground is the same mentality that, if not checked, dooms a place in the end.

Well, there are still a bunch of competitors for the North Berkshire dining dollar, and this is truly sometimes just the way things go. So long, Antoinette, and good luck finding a soft place to land.

Meanwhile, does anybody want to serve a decent lunch to a stouthearted group of Rotarians?