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Sunday, April 30, 2017

Walk the Walk

At the suggestion of the city manager, following my plea for a sidewalk on Swan Lake Avenue, I walked all over Swan Lake Avenue, from my house to Rt. 1, knocking on doors and gathering signatures for a letter requesting that Belfast City Council find a safe walking solution for our road.

In the process, I got a sunburn, got offered more beers than I can count, and learned a thing or two about the priorities and feelings of the people on Swan Lake Avenue.

First, everyone is skeptical of some strange person knocking on the door. I even went to the side doors - no one on this road uses their front door because of the traffic, so when that door gets knocked on you know it's the Jehovah's Witnesses - but people were still initially skeptical. However, as soon as they figured out what I was there for, people wanted to talk to me. They wanted to tell me about their experiences living on their road. I was met with overwhelming support.

The first and only rejections came from a couple of young gentleman in front of a trailer with a confederate flag on it. Yes, I left the "c" in confederate lowercase on purpose. It's a losing team, it's a pro-slavery team, it's a white supremacy team, and it doesn't deserve capitalization. But I digress. Those two gentlemen gave me a lecture about some executive order they were certain that President George H.W. Bush made which evidently gave "foreign entities" "complete control" over every single road in this country. That was interesting, to say the least, but we left on good terms; they even waved and smiled at me as I made my way back.

I had four different people sign who gave me long lectures on how what I was doing was so wonderful but useless, and how they were signing because they liked me but that they wanted me to "be prepared" for the city to "not care" about it. This, of course, only served to steel my purple hippo resolve to get something done.

Every single person I talked to, including the two who weren't interested in signing, expressed fear about walking up and down this road, and genuine concern for the kids who live and walk on this road. Multiple people were concerned about kids walking to the elementary school to play on the playground, and about parents with children having to walk up the road to get to the closest store.

Many people brought up the guy who drives his crotch-rocket that has a high-pitched whine of an engine up and down this road at all hours at speeds far exceeding our speed limit; general consensus is most of us would like to ram him with a car or maybe a bulldozer. Not very diplomatic, of course, and certainly not a solution to suggest to Belfast City Council.

Most importantly, I learned there are many different ideas for solutions. The problem is agreed upon: walking on this road is dangerous, and it is necessary for some residents, including children, to walk on it. While I had initially conceived of a sidewalk as a solution, it's just one solution. I had individuals with an eye for vengeance suggest that instead of sidewalks we install speed bumps every 100 feet or so and hope that drivers pop a few tires to get the message. One person suggested that we place cement blocks inside the shoulder all the way down. Multiple people wanted a bike lane, a sidewalk, flashing lights, and a speed limit decrease, all together.

I have to say, that speed bump idea is appealing. Especially for the crotch rocket driver...

One member of Belfast City Council made a comment to me recently that really resonated - "Think globally, act locally." I know that's a catchphrase of sorts, but I hadn't really given it much thought until I went on my sidewalk crusade. "Swan Lake Needs a Sidewalk," the header of my letter ran. But in fact, Swan Lake Avenue needs a solution, and it is filled with local residents who have ideas. Let's hope that Belfast City Council takes a few of these ideas and runs with them. Can we at least borrow a bulldozer?

Acting Locally: A Learning Process

As I've grumped my way to being politically awake over the past year, I've been working to figure out where I can fit in to effect positive change. I coordinated local involvement in the Women's March, have hosted multiple postcard writing parties, and attended other people's similar resistance efforts. I'm good at contributing to any effort with the goal of being obnoxious.

I realized early on as part of this crusade that I've paid little to no attention to the government that affects my life the most, local government. I've paid some attention to state government - those people have gotten obnoxious postcards, faxes, and phone calls from me, alongside the national jokers, but I am embarrassed to admit that I knew almost nothing about either the local school board or the Belfast city government.

My first step toward learning more about what these entities do was attending an RSU 71 board meeting last fall. They discussed quite a bit, including how to use the district's money - there was extensive talk about whether to shut down the smaller elementary schools and consolidate them into a large one, or invest in renovations. Even more extensive, though, was a discussion about dress code, and I found it absolutely infuriating, as did the teachers surrounding me in the audience.

RSU 71 has long had the policy that students can wear hats unless a teacher or administrator requests they take them off. Teachers in attendance affirmed that this policy works just fine and that students do, indeed, remove hats when requested. However, a couple of school board members very melodramatically bemoaned the downfall of proper civilization as exemplified by hats. They very desperately wanted hats to be banned outright. Significant energy was spent on this heated argument, with the emotional attachment to the meaning of a piece of clothing inexplicably strong.

Since in my job as a school social worker I routinely deal with kids who don't eat enough or are filthy because of no running water and fifteen cats in the home, hats are pretty much last on my list of "downfall of society" issues. So this group, I realized, was not for me. As part of the school board, I would simply raise my own blood pressure and piss other people off. I don't have the patience with their particular set of details and priorities to be an effective and positive influence.

That said, I'm not completely naive - I realize there is some degree of this sort of impassioned bickering about largely useless issues in any level of government. However, when I went to my first couple of City Council meetings and learned what City Council does, even though members all had to make sure they had their individual say, what they had to say was generally pertinent, useful, and did move the topics along. They debated measures that would affect local businesses, housing, and summer events. City Council, I can do, whether as an informed citizen or, perhaps, should voters someday approve, as a member.

Yes, that's right. I found something I'm interested in. I'm the purple hippo you should vote for in 2018. Purple Pottamus, City of Belfast, Ward 5. Are you with me?

Stay tuned...


Thursday, April 27, 2017

Tipping Toward Addiction

Maine State Senate President Mike Thibodeau has shared an opinion piece from the Bangor Daily News about returning the tip credit in Maine.

While I respect the writer's opinion, I feel uniquely qualified to respond with my own, equally anecdotal experience.

My mother was a waitress for my entire childhood. I can remember going in to work with her when she couldn't find childcare; the bartender would let me polish the brass in exchange for an ice cream sundae. The waitstaff would give me quarters for "helping" them by using the carpet sweeper. I'm sure I was obnoxious. I have lots of good memories wrapped up in restaurants because of my mother.

I also have bad ones.

I was five years old, sitting on the high barstools clutching a virgin strawberry Daiquiri in between my two little hands, when I watched my mother burst into tears because a couple walked out without paying for an expensive tab that included alcohol. Would you believe that I actually remember what the couple looked like? Her hurt feelings made such an indelible impression on me that I do. I watched those people laughing at their restaurant table and then I watched them walk out. My mother had worked hard, and they walked out. One table, sure, but it sucked, and my mom was young and easily wounded. She was working her ass off, too. And I know that wasn't the last table - far from it. It's just the one that I was there for.

So that's one problem I have with the way servers are currently paid, below minimum wage with the expectation that they'll make up for it themselves in tips: some people are assholes. Period. It doesn't matter how well you do your job, narcissists are takers, and they don't give two shits about who they hurt in their quest for "mine."

I also remember a childhood where I never saw my mother sleep. Yes, it's true. For awhile there I thought my mother was some sort of magical fairy who didn't need sleep. One of the reasons I loved being at her house was that if I woke up having a bad dream she would always be awake to comfort me. My dad was a mere mortal - he, like me, actually needed to sleep for a few hours each day.

Years later, my mother would explain to me that cocaine made waitressing for a living possible, and waitressing for a living made cocaine possible. There was a commercial some years back with a guy snorting himself into a circle, because cocaine makes you want to do more cocaine makes you want to do cocaine...you get the picture. Waitressing requires a great deal of energy and focus, and it also can generate, on good nights free of narcissists, a great deal of easily disposable cash...which is good for cocaine, which is good for staying up for another shift, which is good for...again. Yes.

So when the writer claims that the unfolding policy in Maine of paying servers, ya know, a regular, almost-living wage, is not only unnecessary, but will effectively tap into her bottom line...I question the veracity of those statements, and more importantly, I see my entire point has been neglected, by someone who works in the restaurant industry and knows damned well that stimulants make the hospitality go round. Either that or she works in the one addiction-free restaurant in the U.S.

I would like to add that I always tip at least 20%, and that my tipping amount won't change just because waitstaff might get paid a more practical minimum.

This country gets very hyperactive and happy about the great War on Drugs. How about you warmongers support paying an industry in a manner that doesn't demand sleeplessness and stimulants in order to survive?!