The last time I saw Jeff was about a month and a half ago.  We hung out for a couple of hours and had one of those wonderful, free-wheeling conversations with which anyone who was blessed enough to know Jeff is well-familiar.  We talked about city politics (duh), why people vote for Konnie Lukes, why people vote for Phil Palmieri, what Worcester was like in the seventies, his ambivalence towards his English heritage (which I like to think inspired this post), cats, and how awesome Mike Benedetti is.

If you’re reading this blog, it’s likely because of Jeff Barnard.  And that’s not just because he’s one of the inspirations for my writing this blog.  It’s because he really made it his mission to support and inspire other bloggers.  Jeff had more of a readership than any of us, and he used the power of that audience to support the rest of us, whether it be the Worcester blogroll, or the frequent references and links to other bloggers in his posts.  When I began writing, I felt a bit shy emailing him to ask to include me on the blogroll.  I needn’t have felt that way — Jeff was the kind of writer who was always open to questions and suggestions, and the kind of person who knew how to build a virtual community with real affection and admiration.

To borrow from the words of Tomás Ó Criomhthain:

Ní bheidh a leithéid arís ann.
His like will not be seen again.

(As a further tribute, I composed this post in the most Jeff-worthy internet browser available on the Mac, iCab.)


Pig bus

I have not yet had the pleasure of enjoying a meal at Carl’s Oxford Diner, but I will . . . because this bus keeps reminding me:

It’s certainly eye catching, and my children can spot it a mile away.

I love the pink paint job and the faux nose & ears, but there’s one other vehicle I’d rather have a ride in.

Hand-painted signs

They’re a bit rare these days, but every now & then you’ll see an older sign in Worcester that was hand-painted (instead of the more “modern” approach of having adhesive shapes/letters affixed).  Here are a few I’ve seen recently:

Got any favorite hand-painted signs in your neighborhood?  Send along a photo or let us know where to find it, and we’ll add them here.

(This post is dedicated to Michael B., a former Worcesterite who now lives in Seattle, and to Len.)

Kaprielian’s RMV tapdance

It’s no longer breaking news, but the Southbridge office of the Registry of Motor Vehicles that moved to this rest area plaza on the Mass. Pike:

. . . now has an attractive new home here, in downtown Southbridge:

I’m all in favor of fiscal prudence in government agencies, but moving the South County Registry of Motor Vehicles to a toll-highway rest stop has to be one of the most tone-deaf moves that Rachel Kaprielian (who, incidentally, is a Holy Cross graduate) has made. 

It would perhaps have made more sense to introduce the touch-screen kiosks to each and every Pike rest stop rather than making people pay (or go completely out of their way, or park half a mile away) to use the RMV.

While an apology to Southbridge-area people would have been nice, let’s not hold our breath waiting.

Of course, there is one thing missing to complete the new Registry’s external décor:

Library Vignettes

I was in the library bookstore one evening two weeks ago, brought my purchase to the register, and then I heard someone say, “Oh, it’s Nicole the Blogger!”

It was my good fortune to meet a couple who reads this blog regularly, and we had such a lovely conversation. I feel horribly that I have no memory for names, so if you’re reading this, send me an email and remind me what your names are!


I was at FPBL desperately trying to feed my obsession with the Channel Islands during WWII.  (Sparked by this, which has half the cast of Lewis and the predictably swoon-worthy Philip Glenister.  But I digress.)

The lady in line in front of me had come in with her husband.  He’d lost his library card, so she brought hers.  Except she hasn’t used hers in at least five years, so the card’s no longer valid.  Unfortunately, she needed a form of ID to get another card, and she hadn’t brought one.  So she started complaining loudly (and, frankly, approaching on the abusive) to the librarian.

The librarian took it in stride and explained the rules calmly.  The patron continued to be difficult.  I was actually quite proud at how the librarian handled it: she repeated the rules, said that she had to follow them, and was pretty dang collected for someone who was being yelled at.

Bottom line: if you try to get a library book out by bragging that you haven’t had to use the library in five years (yes, bragged), don’t expect sympathy from the library professionals.  Or me.


Tonight I was walking from the library to City Hall, and as I was walking down the outdoor walkway next to the library, a man greeted me and I threw a good evening back at him.

I kept walking, and he said, “You’re gorgeous.”

I thanked him.

“What’s your name?”

“Nicole.  And before you hit on me any further, sir ,” — I flashed my wedding ring — “I’m married. Sorry about that!”

“That’s okay, honey.  You’re still gorgeous.”

I love this town.

How does the Greendale Big Lots compare?

Last Friday was the grand opening of the new Big Lots store at the Greendale Mall, though people visiting the mall earlier that week evidently found the store open for business in advance of the “grand opening”.  Last Friday, if you were one of the early shoppers (like Kate Toomey), you would have found yourself the recipient of a $3.00 gift card, coffee/juice/doughnuts/muffins, a Big Lots baseball cap, travel mug & tape measure.

Worcesterites are largely unfamiliar with the Big Lots chain, though their stores are sprinkled around central Massachusetts.  Nevertheless, the nearest Big Lots had been in Fitchburg and Dudley until last week, and although Worcesterites like a bargain, they’ll rarely travel far for one.

I’ve heard from several friends/relations who’ve visited the new store.  Not knowing what to expect, some of them were disappointed that prices were slightly higher than comparable items at Ocean State Job Lot or Building 19.  Comparing Big Lots to other discount stores isn’t quite like comparing apples & oranges, but more like comparing Granny Smith Apples to Fuji or Golden Delicious — each sort of bargain store should be evaluated/appreciated separately, as each has its strengths & weaknesses.

In general, Big Lots stores offer very nice merchandise that is considerably cheaper than retail prices in department stores like Walmart or Target.  They’re sometimes cheaper than comparable goods at Ocean State Job Lot, and sometimes they’re more expensive — you have to know your prices to make an informed buying decision.

The new Big Lots store at Greendale Mall is quite spacious, taking over the square footage formerly occupied by Marshalls.  My family and I have been to most of the Big Lots stores in central New England, and the closest in store size & merchandise selection to the Greendale Mall store is probably in Fitchburg (prices seem to be the same in every store).

The Fitchburg Big Lots is located in a small plaza on John Fitch Highway in a circa 1970 building that once housed a Stuart’s Department Store.  It strives to be clean & cheery, and certainly looks nicer than Stuart’s did in the mid-1990s as it circled the drain, but the building still has a “worn out” feel to it.  The bargains & selection, nevertheless, make up for the tired architecture.  For more than a decade this store has been a frequent stop for my family when we’re in the area, and my husband has often made a special trip in the spring, as they offer 8-foot-tall trees for under $15, including species not usually found at nurseries in this area (Taxodium distichum, anyone?).

Fitchburg Big Lots

Until last week, the Fitchburg store was the one to beat.  Dudley, Milford & Gardner are probably the next closest geographically, but just don’t quite compare.  Worcester does.

The selection at the new Worcester store seems to be nearly identical to Fitchburg — we even found a few items in Worcester we hadn’t ever seen in any Big Lots before (though maybe they were new in the inventory chain-wide).  As usual, the prices were uniform with their other stores.

Greendale Mall Big Lots

Despite the comparable merchandise, the Greendale Mall store seems a bit nicer than the one in Fitchburg, with slightly wider aisles.  The location of “departments” within each Big Lots store seems to be determined by each manager’s whim, as they’re usually not consistent — the Greendale Mall store was a new challenge in this regard.  We found ourselves wandering the aisles last week to find things.  Hopefully they’ll get some better overhead signs up soon.

I can cheerfully declare that the Greendale Mall Big Lots is a worthwhile stop for bargain hunters, but you’ll face at least one challenge.  This being the first Big Lots I’ve seen in a mall instead of a plaza, it occurs to me that if you’re accustomed to buying larger items, you may find it a chore to get them to your car.  The store is tucked away at the far right end of the second floor.  Conceivably you could use the glass elevator to get things down to the level where people park, but I doubt that Big Lots will want their shopping carts travelling all the way out to the parking lot or garage.  Check with your sales clerk and see if they have any “approved” ways to get stuff to your car.

And you’ll probably still have to drive to Fitchburg if you want that cheap Cercis canadensis.