Monday, December 24, 2018

Merry Merry

Downtown at dawn today as birds go by in flying V formation.

Jake's has painted their windows for the season.

Early morning customers at the Haymarket Cafe.

What's become of the baby this cold December morning? A Grateful Dead Christmas carol.


Monday, December 17, 2018

Return to NETA

Now that much of the hoopla has died down, I decided to pay a return visit to NETA, the Northampton marijuana shop. When I was there on Opening Day, there was a three hour wait in line to get in. I refuse to stand in such a line, so I've been holding off returning until the wait time went down.

Recently the media has been reporting that the lines have been shortened considerably, but could still be a half hour or more. I figured I should get something to eat before going to NETA so I wouldn't get hungry standing in line. Therefore, I stopped at the King Street McDonald's, which was shining in the morning sun as brightly as the American dream.

After leaving McDonald's, I headed downtown towards NETA. On the way, I passed the bar Hugo's, which was going out of business on that very day after having been open since 1970.

Oh well, I guess people will have to go to the Ol' Watering Hole, which is right nearby and only five years younger. Personally, I don't like the way things from the 1970's are now starting to be considered old.

When I got in arrived at NETA it was 11:24am and the line wasn't too long. The companionship among the others who were waiting with me was really quite amiable. The person in front of me told me they worked at the local post office, while the person behind me had driven over the border from upstate New York. I finally entered at 12:03pm, a wait of exactly 39 minutes.

Our prize for entering was a free apple.

The buyers are treated respectfully by a friendly staff, and no one is rushed in choosing their purchase.

I knew exactly what I wanted: A chocolate bar just like the one that David Narkiewicz, the Mayor of Northampton, purchased as the first customer to buy legal marijuana in Northampton. Afterwards, the Mayor announced his intention to donate the mood-altering candy bar to the Northampton Historical Society or whatever to preserve it as a historic artifact to be admired by generations yet unborn.

Here's a closeup of Hizzoner's purchase.

Inside, we were handed a menu of available products, and sure enough, the candy bar I wanted was listed.

However, when I got to the counter, I was told those candy bars had just sold out. But I couldn't help but notice that on the other side, across from the recreational marijuana area, in the section where they keep the cannabis available for those with medical marijuana cards, there were plenty of boxes of the very candy I wished to purchase. Yet when I pointed that out, I was told that nothing can be transferred between the two sections. So I couldn't have the candy bar I wanted, even though I could plainly see a good supply of them just across the room.

Why did they even preserve the category of medical marijuana? What purpose does it serve now? All it does is give you a pass to skip the line, since the wait for recreational pot remains quite lengthy, while the line for the medical marijuana is short or non-existant. Oh well, like so many things about the implementation of legalized pot in Massachusetts, it hasn't been thought through very well. I ended up buying a different kind of candy than the Mayor bought, which was handed to me in a white bag with the NETA insignia on it.

Since I first tried marijuana at the age of 15, this was the first time I ever bought it legally. Here's the box that my purchase came in.

When you open the box, it compliments you.

The candy comes in these push-out containers.

Now, with the ruby red candy fully exposed, what do you think I did next?

Here's a hint: I did not donate it to the Northampton Historical Society. As I experiment with these newfangled marijuana products in the coming weeks, I will tell you what I think of them.

In the meantime, I went to Emily Dickinson's birthday party this week at The Robert Frost Library at Amherst College.

Here's her cake. The old gal ain't doing too bad - still relevant at 188 years old.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Casino Check Up

This week the MGM Casino in Springfield passed the 100th day of operation since it opened in August of this year. I thought that milestone merited paying a return visit to the joint, which meant taking the bus to Holyoke, where the flag was flying at half mast in honor of George Herbert Walker Bush.

When I got to Springfield's newly restored Union Station, the old Peter Pan bus station across the street was in the process of being torn down. It won't be missed.

That end of Main Street is still pretty much as run down as it ever was, as illustrated by the litter strewn entrance to the long shuttered Paramount Theater.

An image of the late area TV personality Bill Putnam greets sidewalk passersby.

Meanwhile, long time downtown stalwarts like The Fort (below) and Jake's Diner continue to thrive, just as they somehow managed to do during the years of Springfield's long decline.

As I continued my Main Street tour, I decided to stop in at Tower Square, forever known to some of us of a certain age as Baystate West. They had a beautiful giant Christmas tree in the main lobby.

The Food Court still does a good lunch business. The High School of Commerce Band was playing for the diners and I captured the scene on video, including a cameo appearance by my finger.

The Valley Photo Center, which abuts the Food Court, had a display of local portraits such as this one of Ruth Loving.

This portrait appears to be of some Easthampton cops and perhaps a dispatcher?

After years of neglectful stewardship under MassMutual, Tower Square now has new owners who have ambitious plans that include the possibility of developing a hotel in the little used Steiger's Park across the street.

Continuing down Main Street, I saw some new restaurants have opened in the block just before the casino. That is a very good development, and proof that the casino has resulted in the kind of additional economic activity that was hoped for, although admittedly still on a modest scale.

Arriving at the casino itself, I saw that they too have a Christmas tree, bigger than the one at Tower Square but not as well decorated.

The old Armory has been turned into a high-end Christmas store.

I had lunch at the Lobster Shack. Their clam chowder is excellent and reasonably priced. Next time I'll have to try their lobster bisque.

Overall, I was pleased by what I saw on my visit. There was a pretty good crowd, although mostly older folks, which perhaps is to be expected given the time of day. Nighttime is when casinos really come to life. The buildings across from the casino are still mostly vacant, but they've had a paint job and look better than they have in years. There are rumblings of possible tenants, although nothing definite.

Fears by some critics that the casino would create undesirable social problems around the area appear to have been unfounded. Fate has given me the street smarts to spot things others might miss, and I saw no sign of the prostitution problem that was once rampant in the old South End. The parking lot of the Dunkin Donuts was a notorious pick up stop for customers of gay hustlers, and female sex workers, many looking strung out, would openly approach you on Main Street in broad daylight asking if you wanted a date. That scene appears to have changed dramatically for the better.

The atmosphere downtown that the casino has created is a comfortable one, with the help of a strong, but unobtrusive security presence. I definitely felt completely safe wandering around downtown, which wasn't always true pre-casino. The revival is still mostly confined to the area immediately surrounding the casino, but it is early yet and the development trends are going in all the right directions. After the first hundred days, I would have to say that the effect of the casino so far has been a positive one for Springfield.

Thursday, November 29, 2018


This week I had to go to Eastworks, the former mill in Easthampton which today is "a place that now houses artists, graphic designers, sculptors, writers and community-based nonprofits."

Like a great many people who go to Eastworks these days, I was there to visit the Registry of Motor Vehicles.

Aside from the Registry, the place is sorta sleepy.

However, with the Registry's reputation for waiting, a coffee shop located just across the hall does a steady business.

Personally, I had a pretty wait-free visit to the Registry, while Eastworks itself is a charming old place that could be better utilized.

Meanwhile, yesterday when walking downtown Taylor Knight asked me a question. I was asked about people smoking weed and driving. I started out by saying that people shouldn't smoke and drive, but then went on to say I thought there is an important difference in the way pot affects driving and alcohol, and that I didn't think pot driving was as dangerous as drunk driving because they are different kinds of highs. I then ended by repeating my admonishment not to smoke and drive.

When it appeared on the air, the middle part of my statement was cut out, leaving only my anti-stoned driving introduction and conclusion. It was as though they were determined to do a scare story about stoned driving and had no use for any subtleties. If you look at the clip closely, you can see the edit. A good example of editing the film to fit a pre-chosen narrative.

Winter Sun in Northampton by M. E. Carey.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018


After two years of maddening delays, the big day arrives at last.

Dawn upon the woodland way.

Surprisingly heavy downtown traffic for so early.

Finally I arrive at the cannabis oasis.

The line of people, some of whom have been there all night, is in the hundreds and stretches around the block.

It doesn't help that there was a wintry mix of snow and rain. Among those braving the elements was Attorney Dick Evans, a longtime crusader for legalization. It was indeed a big day for activists like Evans and Terry Franklin, who were fighting for legalization back in the days when it was difficult, and even dangerous, to do so.

The media had their own section set up.

The cops were there, but only to direct traffic. For the first time, stoners could buy marijuana without fear of law enforcement.

UMass journalism Professor Mary Carey took this picture of me. I'm shivering in the cold, but happy. I did not get in that long line to make any purchases, but you can be sure I will be checking the place out once all the hoopla dies down.

In the meantime, I hope everybody has a great Thanksgiving!