Cart, horse. No pun intended.

Tomorrow’s Council agenda has at least one really important item on the agenda:

12a. That the City Council of the City of Worcester hereby opposes the “Strengthening Our Schools” amendment to the state casino bill. (Rushton, Petty, O’Brien)

And at least one that makes you scratch your head:

10h. Request City Manager work with community partners to develop a gourmet food truck festival for May 2012. (Rushton)

Now, that’s not a bad idea.  Boston has had food truck fests in the past (though one was recently cancelled due to Occupy Boston), and there was recently a food truck festival at Suffolk Downs.

But the difference between Boston and Worcester is that Boston actually encourages food vendors on their streets.  Boston sponsored a contest for food trucks to occupy prime real estate.  Boston lets you know — on the official city website — scheduled stops for food trucks.  While the system isn’t perfect, that city is actively working to “foster an active food truck culture.”

Now, one could argue that Councilor Rushton’s item is a push in the right direction — that is, if we can warm folks up to the idea of food trucks, then we’d gain some support for normalizing street-vendor-hood in the city.

But these food truck fests do not just pull trucks out of the ether — they’re real, live businesses.

And if they come to Worcester, they’ll be told that they’re more than willing to visit as long as they don’t move here.

How many local food trucks would be able to participate in a food truck festival?

I don’t think many residents are interested in (just) another fest.  Why should we settle for ‘gourmet’ food trucks once a year when we could be encouraging the culinary creativity of our own residents?

(Images: Roxy’s Grilled Cheese, by cherrylet, and BBQ Food Smith Food Truck: Boston, MA, USA, by SierraTerra.)

Whatever else I feel about #occupyworcester…

The following is not the best journalism I’ve read this week:

“I hope to help change the way things are,” the Worcester Technical High School freshman, who wears braces, said yesterday at Occupy Worcester’s campsite in Lake Park.

[emphasis added]

The Telegram previously used a picture of a much-tattooed young woman as the ‘face’ of OW.  I  thought Steve Foskett’s coverage was more balanced (that is, placed less emphasis on folks’ appearances and more on their reasons for protesting).

And now we’re back to judging folks on their appearances rather than their actions or beliefs.

This kid could have some really intelligent things to say about his activism, and you’ve just pegged him as a kid who wears braces.

I’ve hesitated writing about OW at much length because I still don’t understand what the point is and because I’m quite fond of some of the participants.  I also feel that this is the kind of movement in which I’m not a part, and I don’t know how effective criticism is coming from the outside.

I did attend a GA last Tuesday, the better to see what the mechanics of OW is.  I also attended briefly on Friday, right before the GA got started.

Some of my observations, in no particular order:

Occupy the park vs. Occupy Worcester

It seemed to me (at that point a week ago) that the occupation of Lake Park was different than Occupy Worcester.  There seemed to be a lot of uncertainty about the mechanics of governing the campground versus OW as a whole.

For someone on the outside, it’s still difficult to understand what the point of occupying a state park is.

Are these just the same protesters we always see?

I saw a lot of folks at the GA on Tuesday who seemed genuinely dedicated to a protest against corporatism and especially to focusing on encouraging folks to switch to local banks on November 5.

But many of those people are already involved in at least one form of activism in the Worcester area.  I didn’t see a lot of folks who one wouldn’t otherwise see protesting the Tea Party or Ringling Brothers, or doing a sit-in on behalf of Clark cafeteria workers.

Now, one could argue that any major protest in Worcester is going to involve a contingent of old guard protesters.

And, to the T&G’s credit, they seem to be trying to profile folks who are not the same old Worcester activists.

Appearances

I briefly spoke with a woman on Friday evening who came because she’d heard about the protest on WCUW.  She wanted to see what she could do and she seemed enthusiastic.  She was thinking of going to Occupy Boston for the weekend.

Now, she may have started speaking to me because I was a woman above thirty, or because I was dressed in a certain way, or because I looked friendly, or just because I was right in front of her.

I left before the GA, so I don’t know what her impressions of OW were when she left for the night, but I can tell you mine.

I felt uncomfortable.

Folks like me (that is, snobs) can be induced to protest against big banks, to encourage their neighbors to use credit unions, and to lobby their elected officials for changes to laws.

But I (and snobs like me) most likely can’t be induced if the only people we see are dressed in neo-hippie-wear and there are people chain-smoking legal and illegal substances all around us.

I don’t think the media’s coverage should be based on appearances.  But the average Worcesterite isn’t going to be induced to be sympathetic to Occupy Worcester (which I think is distinct from Occupy Wall Street) unless there’s an effort to make anyone who wouldn’t otherwise be an activist feel welcome.

Recommendation

I wish Occupy Worcester had someone (or more than one person) greet folks as they approach.  If one of the goals is to get a broader base of support, you need to make sure that folks feel welcome.

I’d also recommend having a coherent message and finding a way to get that message out to the community at large.  Because the daily newspaper isn’t helping (much), and there are folks like the lady I spoke with who do not access to the internet.

There was a mayoral debate last night

No, I didn’t go.

But I did read Nick K’s recap in the T&G.

Perhaps there were some serious issues that didn’t make the paper.

But if — as reported — the biggest issues facing the city are whether the mayor is a full- or part-time job and whether the Q can have some political signs on his lawn, then we’ve got a problem.

Konnie acknowledged a while ago that her impression that the mayor’s ceremonial position was a part-time position was proved inaccurate once she was actually in the job.  She tried to downplay the importance of the position in her race against Joe O’Brien, and from that learned that saying “this job is nothing” isn’t really a good way to win an election.

So the new tack is to emphasize how important it is to be in Worcester at all times.  Because one never knows when there will be an emergency ribbon-cutting.

I find all of that rather boring and, frankly, rather lazy on the part of those asking the candidates questions.

Doesn’t anyone have real issues to discuss?

Like political signs!  To wit:

The candidates also did not see eye-to-eye on an ordinance that restricts the number and size of political signs that homeowners can put on their property.

Mr. Coleman, Ms. Carmona and Mr. Petty said they do not support such restrictions, saying it is a freedom of speech issue.

One can only wonder why Mr. Petty voted for the ordinance if it restricts freedom of speech.

Doesn’t anyone have any real issues to discuss?

Like the superintendent!

All four candidates said they approve of the job Ms. Boone is doing.

Well, glad we resolved that!

Doesn’t anyone have any real ideas?

Well, Bill Coleman feels the mayor should “lead the effort to create a better environment for businesses in Worcester, as well as reduce, if not totally eliminate, the dropout rate in our public schools.”

Which is all well and good, but how is one creating a better environment for businesses while advocating for the lowest residential tax rate?

And could we get any details on how exactly one eliminates the school dropout rate?

Carmen Carmona feels that “before the city focuses on further economic development initiatives, it needs to clean up Main Street, ridding it of trash, drug dealers and prostitution.”

We are in the middle of multiple economic development initiatives that will be ongoing, multi-year projects.  Good luck stopping that train [no pun intended].  And if you know how to rid a place of trash, drug dealers, and prostitution, I believe you could write your ticket to be the city manager in any major metropolitan area in the world.

So we’re stuck between a rock and a hard place.

In Worcester, that particular phrase translates roughly into “between candidates who can actually win but who are uninspiring in the extreme and candidates with a snowball’s chance in hell whose ideas would only work on a ridiculous nighttime soap opera starring Joan Collins.”

We live in a city where BIZARROLUKES is the only candidate to get behind:

http://twitter.com/#!/BIZARROLUKES/status/126794252746375168

(screen captures via kwout)

I haven’t been writing about the campaign much because there’s really nothing to write about.

I attended Occupy Worcester on Tuesday.  My dislike (or, rather, lack of understanding and sympathy) for OW has been well-documented, and I don’t need to go into depth on that subject again.

http://twitter.com/#!/niccommawoo/status/122351081303977984

OW is absurd, but perhaps no more absurd than a debate in which the four candidates for the office of mayor discuss whether the mayor needs to be on call 24/7/365 to hand out keys to the city and how soon it will be before we tell the superintendent (again) — “Boonie, you’re doing a heck of a job.”

From what I’ve heard, Jim Polito and Jordan Levy have devoted hours upon hours of airtime to OW, going on and on about how much they’re disappointed that (more) citizens aren’t complaining to their elected officials about the free ride those neo-hippie OWers are getting on state-owned land.

We live in a city in which our candidates say that items they’ve voted in favor of violate the First Amendment, and where the biggest item for discussion on talk radio is whether some campers can use the bathroom.

And we wonder why no one votes.

http://twitter.com/#!/niccommawoo/status/124298614410461184

I’m not fluent in occupy-ese, but if I may make a point of clarification, there are two issues facing Worcester that we can no longer ignore.

1. If Joe Petty were mayor, could he really make it back to Worcester in 45 mintues (!) as he claims?

2. Why couldn’t Occupy Worcester make their street sign MUTCD-compliant:

(picture via @SustanablShreen)

CWW: BSO Musicians at Holy Cross on Sunday

From the Holy Cross website:

James David Christie, Distinguished Artist in Residence and College of the Holy Cross Organist, will perform with members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra: Robert Sheena, oboe and English Horn, and Cynthia Meyers, flute, on Sunday, Oct. 23 at 3 p.m. in St. Joseph Memorial Chapel. The concert, which is part of the 2011-12 Holy Cross Chapel Artists Series, is free, open to the public, and handicap accessible.

CWW: The Wegman Proviso

(Apologies to the late Robert Ludlum if I’ve just hijacked the title of his next bestseller)

The new Northborough shopping plaza on Route 20 near the Route 9 interchange just endured another “Grand Opening”.  Hot on the heels of the new BJs Wholesale Club’s relocation from Westborough, WooEast/MetroWest shoppers now have another choice for their food shopping.  Wegmans, a grocery store with an almost cult-like following, just opened this past weekend.  Local media regaled us with accounts of people travelling from all up & down the eastern seaboard to experience this new store.  The traffic near the Route 20/9 interchange this past Sunday was crazy.

My family just paid a quick visit to Wegman’s this week after the initial frenzy was over.

We won’t be going back.

It’s not because the new Wegmans is located in an awful hilltop shopping plaza reminiscent of Mount Mall in Millbury.  And it’s not because we wouldn’t have other business in that plaza anyway — the new BJs gas station has great prices, and we buy a few of our staples at BJs.

When we visit a grocery store for the first time, my family checks the prices on all of our household “staples” — the things we use regularly.  Every family has their own list of must-haves, and yours may be very different from mine.  But we found that none of our staples was cheaper at Wegmans.  A few were roughly the same price we have been getting elsewhere, but most were a bit higher.

But for the people of WooEast/Metrowest who have been fleeced for years by the Big Four (Shaw’s, Price Chopper, Stop & Shop, Big Y), Wegmans will offer much better prices & a much better selection.  The new Wegmans is in a great location to compete against those high-priced grocery chains.  And its offerings will appeal to the well-heeled denizens of that region as much as to its price-conscious underbelly.  If you like an enormous selection of yogurts, pre-cooked meals, gluten-free/carb-free/fad-of-the-moment foods, it’s all there, and at prices that beat most nearby grocery chains.

My family finds that its staples are cheaper at Market Basket & Price Rite, with occasional forays to BJs and Hannaford.  Sorry, Wegmans, but you’re not going to make it onto our list of places to shop.  We’re just not Wegmans’ demographic, I think.

But for the WooEast/Metrowest shopper, Wegmans is going to be a refreshing alternative — one even worthy of enduring another ugly hilltop plaza.

Good luck, Wegmans.  I think you picked a good location, and it’s refreshing to see one more chain giving the Big Four price-gougers a black eye.

Grave markers, continued

Steve Foskett had a great article about the great work done by both scrap dealers and the Worcester Police in retrieving stolen veterans markers and arresting someone in connection with that crime.

It seems that most of the markers are either generic (that is, they do not have the veteran’s name on them) or difficult to identify.

The next meeting of the Hope Cemetery Commission will be next Tuesday, October 25, at 4pm, at the cemetery offices.  This item will be on the agenda.

Let me know if you have specific questions to be brought up (and I will ask them before the meeting).  I’ve asked if it would be possible to post a list of those affected on the cemetery website, but if the markers are unidentifiable I’m not sure how possible that would be.

I’m not familiar with the other cemeteries affected, but it’s worth bearing in mind that Hope is huge (more than 160 acres) and the best estimate I have is that more than 100,000 people are buried at the cemetery.

In other general cemetery news…

The Graveyard Girls will be doing a virtual tour, called “Welcome to the Graveyard”, centered on Sturbridge’s three local cemeteries at the Sturbridge Town Hall, Wednesday, October 19th at 7pm.  More info here.

There will be a Civil War Walk sponsored by the Friends of Hope Cemetery on Sunday November 6: