Tag Archives: Jim Dowd

Jim Dowd on the new bike lanes:

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You see this symbol on my bike helmet above? Anyone who’s not 12 know what it is? Anyone?

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It’s the Rebel Alliance Starbird symbol from Luke Skywalker’s X-Wing Fighter helmet from the first two Star Wars movies (the good ones).

You know why I have that on there? Besides the fact that I’m such a massive dweeb I make Leonard from Big Bang Theory look like Keith Richards by comparison? Because riding a bike in Gloucester is not unlike the trench run at the end of that film. Here you are, screaming along trying to keep up with traffic and there are doors and drunks and moms on phones. You’ve all heard me talk about this before: Riding a bike in Gloucester is like attacking an armored battle station in your tiny X-wing. And I never even had a Beggar’s Canyon back home to practice in.

The newly installed bike lanes are a big Wampa step in the right direction. The biggest thing they do, in my opinion, is say, “Hey, drivers: it’s cool for bikes to be here!” That’s literally the most important thing. I’ll look out for the obstacles, the potholes, the people pulling out of Cruiseport with their eyes on the phone and not the road (I’m looking at you here, mayor of Fitchburg), staggering dudes without shirts on, all that. What I need is for the intentionally hostile drivers to at least know that we exist and that it’s cool for us to be in the road and to tone down the road rage a few dozen notches.

You’d perhaps be surprised how often people yell shit like “Get out of the road!” or “Get out of the frikin way!” or “Your brother owes me fifty bucks!” (That may be a separate issue, actually). I see comments all the time about how “That road wasn’t designed for bikes” or my favorite generalization, “Roads” (as in all roads) “were not designed for bikes”. I guess that’s technically true, the Romans probably did not have cyclists in mind when they laid the first stones on the Via Apppia in 312 B.C. but most of our roads were not “designed” for cars either. It’s up to us what mix of uses we want to put our roads to.

So the bike lanes remind us that the roads are a public resource; they do not belong to any one group of users. We have trucks, we have cars, and we have busses and Tommy the Trolley or whatever and bikes. Everybody needs to learn to get along because auto use in this country is actually declining. People are seeking alternate forms of transportation for a variety of reasons, and bikes are one of the alternatives folks are turning to. You’ll be seeing more of them, not less in the coming years. Maybe you’ll come join us?

So Huzzah to bike lanes and a shout-out to Heidi Wakeman and Steve Winslow for making it happen. And a second Huzzah to all the folks out there who let me in, let me cross, slow down and generally drive safe around cyclists. One of the things I think we all love about this town is that we don’t have a lot of lights or signs; we all just sort of let each other go with a wave so we can all get where we’re going. “Bearing our neighbor’s burden within reason” as they say. Gloucester may get trashed in the media, but we know how to take care of each other and that’s a shit-ton more than I can say for most places in 21st century America.

You know what? Mos Eisley also got a bad rap. That place had a kickin’ bar scene.

Jim

Jim Dowd and The Why Gloucester Is Hipster (and that’s not a bad thing) Rant

Jim Dowd submits-

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I want to talk about an ugly word in the English language that’s come back into common usage. It’s a word that ends in “er” and is thrown around as a blanket descriptor to disparage a specific population of people. Usually it’s spat out of a passing car window or muttered under the breath as it becomes noticeable this group has taken over a favorite café or bar.

You hear it out for a beer with your once-cool uncle, the guy who dropped out of college in the seventies to follow The Grateful Dead. You assume he’s a tolerant dude, but as it turns out, oh no. He leans over to you and snarls through his Sam Adams, “Can you believe all the fukin’ hipsters in this place?”

Yes, I’m taking on the pejorative overuse of the word “hipster” which many of us knew before it got popular. For years it was a way to explain places like Brooklyn, Seattle, even our own Davis Square in Somerville. It described cities with large numbers of young people; places with organic art and music scenes and certain cultural touchstones like independent theatres, small coffee shops and used book and record stores. Those are the things that make a place “hipsterish” or as I call it “worth bothering to live in.”

But increasingly of late I hear more and more people hating on the actual members of this rather large and ill-defined sub-group, the hipsters themselves. They bash the hipsters’ choice of jeans (skinny) hipster’s facial hair (moustaches or beards) and the hipsters’ preferred form of transportation (fixed-gear bikes or “fixies”). It’s kind of relentless and a little bit lame considering many of us participated in the fashion apocalypses of the 70s and 80s. Hypocrisy aside, I’m not suggesting we avoid clowning hipsters because of some dumbass PC thing. The reason we can’t bash hipsters is, as the hipsters say, “Because Gloucester”.

Seriously gang, we are in no position to down hipsters seeing as Gloucester very simply is the most hipster town that’s ever existed on the face of the Earth. We make Portland Oregon look like frigging Wenham. Gloucester is so hipster we should have a giant fedora lowered onto the City Hall tower. So hipster that someone here driving a K-car wearing a silkscreened wolf sweatshirt with giant 80’s glasses ISN’T TRYING TO BE HISPTER. Let’s examine further, shall we?

Dive bars? Check. Thriving arts community? Check. Music scene that’s more than just a bunch of old dudes with ponytails playing three chord cover songs in lame bars? Check. Vintage vinyl outlet, bike shop, Thai food, sushi, indie bookstore, organic grocery, farmers’ market, coffee shops and other key elements of hiprfrastructure ? All check. Unapologetically gritty? Big fat checkity-check-check.

But most importantly the things that hipsters celebrate, the retro-style cultural items of the 70s and 80s never actually went away in Gloucester. Moustaches, for instance. We still got ‘em, unironically huge ones proudly sported by awesome Italian guys. Beat-up old cars and trucks from that era are still “in vogue” here; if “vogue” were translated to mean “I am keeping this POS running one more year, but only as an on-island.” Beyond appearances, for 400 years we’ve been a kind of “anything goes” culture. Everyone has permission to be a little nuts and oddballs of all stripes suffer no consequences. Far from it, being a whack job can be a badge of honor in “America’s Oddest Seaport”

Scroll up and down. A solid chunk of the stuff that gets celebrated on GMG is crazy-totes hipster. Photography, art, food, film, poetry and literature all = hipster. And I shouldn’t even need to point out that adults playing dodgeball in the winter is only slightly less hipster than donning a vest and joining Mumford and Sons as a back-up banjoist. You couldn’t invent a more hipster place if you tried, from historical art colony to ethnic identity to the fact that our key export is fishsticks, unarguably the most ironic food item ever produced.

“But what about the annoying skinny pants and the fixed-gear bikes?” In response to that complaint all I can ask is: Yell at clouds much? Because being vexed at other people’s fashion choices in no way makes you seem like the kind of person who would shout gibberish at the sky while shaking a cane, really.

The next criticism leveled at hipsters stems from the hallmark hipster “sarcastic and ironic attitude”. Look, every conference I go to for work is chock full of top strategists and analysts from business, science and the military. On the first slide of the presentations they give, we attendees are always informed that none of the old rules apply in the 21st century. They tell us that we simply don’t know what the new rules are yet. I won’t go off on a rail here, but young people already know this. They can tell that we, the responsible people who are supposedly running things, in fact have no fucking clue how to solve our problems when we even admit we have them. Irony and sarcasm then would therefore be what are called “emergent” properties.

I would further argue that the distinctly ironic bent to the hipster worldview is an entirely logical response to knowing they are being fed consistently incorrect and skewed information from the culture-at-large. Take a cold, hard look at the outdated assumptions we ask people to accept about everything from government to religion, from finances to the supposed benefits of consumer culture. Then look at the outcomes we’re experiencing. Sort of makes you want to drink cheap beer and listen to Death Cab, right?

But sarcastic or not, Gloucester fans and especially GMG readers should pray for a never-ending supply of Yo La Tengo-listening, four-barrel-espresso drinking tat-sleeved hipsters of the first order. If you love this town and what it represents you should get your ass down to Coolidge Corner and lay a trail of PBR tall boys and packs of American Sprit back here like a secret hobo trail. You know why? Because hipsters actually buy art. They spend seven bucks on coffee. The frequent both microbreweries and dive bars. They’re foodies but at the same time eat from taco trucks. Hipsters rent bikes, go to poetry readings and don’t get all pissy about a bunch of rotting fishing gear piled up on the waterfront. They instead post Instagrams of this gear with the caption “Spending a day at the seaside”.  

For every groovy restaurant that cannot survive on locals alone the answer is some flavor of visiting hipster. Locals can only buy so many objects d’art, can support only so many coffeehouses and will attend only a set number of photo exhibitions. If we want to move toward a creative economy we have no choice but importing cultural consumers. Look at what hipsters have done for the emerging scenes in Salem and Beverly. Both are getting hipper, you can see previously broken down neighborhoods sporting new cafes and shops because instead of going to malls hipsters seek authentic local culture. We can argue about the cod population off the coast, but a land-based resource Gloucester still maintains in huge stocks is persons of authentic indigenous “color”, just read the police notes. We need to start capitalizing on it.

“Isn’t this gentrification?” No. It’s not gentrification. Gentrification is townhouses, Starbucks, lame chain restaurants like “Not Your Average Joe’s” (correction: It is) and dudes in khakis that list the primary attribute they look for in a city as “abundant parking.” Hipsters don’t mind the rough edges and Gloucester has plenty. If you harbor an unreasonable hate for bikes, art-school-dropout-glasses and anachronistic hairstyles, tolerating them will be a small price to pay for visitors who’ll come downtown and spend eighty bucks on coffee, pie and locally made/vintage consumer goods. That money stays in town.

In closing, I’ll relate a discussion I had with my Irish cousin Chris about the then thriving city of Dublin. I was complimenting him about what an amazing job they had done keeping a heavy Victorian feel while so many other European cities were modernist dullscapes of concrete and glass, completely lacking in character of any kind (I used to go to Frankfurt a lot). He looked at me like I was some kind of moron and said, “Well it wasn’t some kind of preservationist council at work, James. We were fekin’ poor.”

Gloucester is not poor, nor rich nor is it anything easily definable. But like Dublin one way or another we held onto our undeniably authentic selves while so many other places became emblanded. Therefore we should heartily embrace those who put the most value on us as we are today, not as how we would be if we…(insert pet project).

So though it’s not a mainstream thing to do, as a start I’m asking you that the next time someone with tattoos from out of town is taking pictures with an instamatic camera of the same kind you threw out of your mother’s attic twenty years ago, don’t sneer and pretend you’re some kind of “normal” person who isn’t “weird”. Instead go up and say, “Thank you”. You probably have more in common with them than you realize.

Because, to somebody, you my friend are a fukin’ hipster.

Jim Dowd responds to the attack on the Boston Marathon

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[Two products of our fair city. Both will kick your ass.]

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Oh man, you screwed up, didn’t you?

Yes, your little RadioShack experiment for evil hurt and killed some people and got you the attention you were obviously so desperately seeking. Point for you there, asshole. But I get the sense you really don’t know what you’ve done here, do you? Are you from out of town? I have the strong sense that you are.

If that is the case, allow me tell you a little something about the city you screwed with. This town is not your run-of-the mill medium sized regional capital. In picking Boston as a target you picked has the unique condition of having a ridiculously huge number of completely off-the-wall genius techno-wizards co-existing right alongside some of the most psychotic angry, violent motherf&*^ers on the planet. I guarantee you that bringing these two groups together for common cause will turn out to be a massive miscalculation your part.

Do you have any idea what I’m talking about? This small city produced both Stephen J Gould and Whitey Bulger.  This place gave us Leonard Nimoy and Mark Wahlberg.  Southie and Cambridge. Brookline and Brockton. This place will kick the screaming piss out of you, come up with a cure for having the screaming piss kicked out of you, give it to you for free, then win a Nobel prize for it and then use the medallion to break your knuckles. See what I’m talking about?

Go to other towns with smart people. Do they have the tattooed, scarred, pent-up hard-cases to match? Every time I go to a bar in Palo Alto or Zurich I get the distinct sense that I could pretty much take everyone in there while still holding my own in Words With Friends on my iPhone. Not that I’m some huge tough guy by any stretch of the imagination, it’s just that Boston and the other “smart” towns are in different leagues. It’s like the Bruins going up against some “Magic The Gathering” gamers at pond hockey. (And not our the Magic The Gathering players in Gloucester, either. I’ve seen those dudes and they actually look like they could hold their own pretty well. I certainly wouldn’t try and cast a dubious spell with those guys, they’re hardcore.)

Boston produces two distinct stereotypes: Huge, giant geeks and angry Catholic tough guys. You know what? Both of those are true and you, you dumb shit, just gave them a reason to team up. And on top of it you attacked our signature event, one made up of exceedingly fit people who pursue a hobby of enduring incredible searing pain for hours on end. This is what they do for “fun”. You think these guys aren’t going to go to the ends of the Earth to catch you? Trust me, this town will never forget and never give up. We have a thing here called “Irish Alzheimer’s”- it’s when the only memories you have are grudges.

You terrorist asshole, I can assure you that right now, just as I am writing this, that there are dudes sitting in conference rooms and labs a few blocks away in Cambridge drawing elaborate flow charts on whiteboards that describe exactly how to deploy arcane, unheard of and incredibly complicated technology involving quantum entanglement and nanobots to pinpoint, as much as the universe will allow considering the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, your sorry, sorry stupid pathetic little ass.

And behind me in the North End and across the channel to the bars on Summer St. there are similar groups of dudes debating the scientific merits of different electrical voltages applied to the various soft tissues of the human body in order to elicit maximum amounts of excruciating pain over time. They have formulas for this [V/NADS over Time= Screams that they will hear in Worcester]. This is not a theoretical discussion; they are speaking from practical experience.

You’d better pray the BPD catches you first. No, scratch that, you’d better pray for the FBI. No, wait, all those dudes went to Holy Cross. For your own good you might want to turn yourself in to the CDC or the National Geospatial Agency or something like that. They might let you live. Maybe.

And worse yet for you, Boston is provincial in a way that makes Sicily look like Epcot. We don’t care if you’re going to school here, just moved from half a world away or are up for a long weekend. When you’re in Boston, you’re Boston. We watch each other’s backs, always have and always will. And we live for an enemy and a purpose. This is not going to end well for you. Over the past three centuries we’ve taken on Imperial England, slavery and Krispy Kreeme. Note that given time, Boston wins every time.

Come to think of it, a lot of those Geospatial guys went to MIT. Oh man, you are so effed.

Jim Dowd humorous bike response

Hey Joe n’ Gang!
Here is an amusing response to Joey’s rant at the Lycra weenies the
other day. It’s about being a cyclist in Gloucester and how
challenging that can be as well.
I also included a photo of myself to be used as admissible evidence at
my commitment hearing.
Have a good one! -Jim
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I’m enormously glad that Joey has decided to expose the yawning divide between cyclists and drivers in our fair city. A few days ago he gave the motorists’ side, from the perspective of being stuck behind recreational bikers riding three abreast preventing anyone from passing. Annoying? Yes. But I think we can all agree people in cars are prone to some fantastically stupid behavior as well. Yesterday I was stuck behind a shirtless dude in a K-Car with an unbelted toddler and throwing lit cigs and used scratch tickets out the window. A couple of years back I watched guy doing fishtails at Lanes Cove who wound up careening sideways, right over the edge. When he climbed out into the low tide muck I was treated to the most gloriously feathered mullet I have seen on a man since the 80’s. Oh if they only gave MacArthur Genius Awards for maintaining outdated hairstyles, he would have been a shoe-in (otherwise, not so much).

As far as cycling goes, allow me to provide the perspective from the other side. Not from the lycra-wearing sport cyclist, but from a guy who uses his bike to get to and from the train station most days as part of my commute. I’m a utility cyclist, just trying to get somewhere like everybody else and let me tell ya, friends, it ain’t no picnic neither.

Riding a bike in Gloucester is as close as most of us will hopefully ever come to surviving in a post-apocalyptic hellscape. We have narrow, crowded streets that are constantly being torn up. There are innumerable jacked-up diesel work trucks racing to and from jobs, tinted-window Hondas thumping around to lethal levels of bass, stressed-out minivan moms late for the game with murder in their eyes and befuddled tourists in rental cars trying to find the Starbucks. Add to that the zombie-like pedestrians who shamble blindly into the road, blitzed-out from whatever mind-altering chemicals they have on board and there you have my afternoon commute from Gloucester Station to East Gloucester via Prospect and Rogers Streets. Oh, and everyone mentioned above is on a cell phone.  Don’t get me wrong- this is all exactly what makes riding in Gloucester pure unadulterated awesome. The most physically demanding part of my workday at present is pretty much faxing, so I welcome the rides to and from the train as my twice daily chance to crank up my pulse and stare death a few times in the face before I get home and do some laundry. Typically I try to see the others moving around the city as fellow participants in an elaborate dance but I, like Joe, have a few grievances to air since we’re on the topic:

1.     I am not the enemy. I am on a bike. You are in a car. Let’s think of each other as mutual beneficiaries of incredible advances in transportation technology that would have made our foot-bound ancestors weep with envy. Rest assured I’m doing my best to keep out of your way, but I’m highly averse to drawing my last breath while being ground under the wheels of a Kia. I’m therefore going to deploy all means at my disposal to prevent this even if it means slightly inconveniencing a few drivers along the way.

2.     I will occasionally take up the middle of the road. You know why I’m doing this? To block you from passing me. Yes, I’m deliberately in your way. Am I just a massive dickweed? No (I’m so much more than just a massive dickweed). I’m doing this because if I don’t you’ll inadvertently squeeze me between your Nissan and the DPW truck that’s pulled up in front of Destino’s just as the driver opens his door. You see, I’m trying to maintain the highest possible speed to be less of an annoyance, but that also means I’m at greater risk to others and myself if people don’t see me. Greater risk to myself means I’m taking commensurate precautions against becoming an impromptu Jackson Pollock on the back of a FedEx van. And that’s why I’m taking up the lane for all of ninety seconds all the while pedaling as fast as I can to get somewhere safer. Like my couch.

3.     I can’t stop as quickly as you can in your heavy car with its  four large tires. My bike and I may not seem like much, but we can  generate over two thousand pounds of forward momentum (F=MA) and yet  have only a total of six square inches of tire area skidding along the  greasy street. The only way I’m stopping short is if I slam into  something (see above). So I’m bellowing like a Spartan when you  blindly step out into the street, I’m maneuvering onto sidewalks when  I get cut off and subsequently into yards and/or oncoming lanes of  traffic when left no other choice. As Captain Sully Sullenberger said  when he realized his stricken Airbus was not going to make it back to  a paved runway: “Looks like it’s going to be the Hudson.” Hey, It’s  not pretty, but you do the best you can with the options you have.

4.     To add insult to potential grievous injury, the bicycling  infrastructure here is a joke. Go to our two closest economic  competitors in the global economy, China and Germany and there are  bikes. Lots and lots of bikes. Bike lanes, bike shelters, bike  parking, busses equipped to carry bikes, specialty cargo bikes, all  kinds of bikes. I was on the amazing magnetic levitation train from  Shanghai Airport a couple of years ago and I looked out the window to  see what other technological wonders the Chinese were up to in their  flagship city and what I saw were delivery guys on bikes with what  appeared to be queen-sized mattresses strapped to their backs. I don’t  want to confuse correlation and causation, but every high-tech hub in  the world is lousy with bikes: Palo Alto, Cambridge, Seoul, Helsinki  and bikes have become chic in Mumbai as well. In Gloucester we have  the one faded bike lane on Rogers street everyone ignores, the train  station has the bike parking on the wrong side of the tracks with no  shelter and there is zero security (I’ve had one locked bike stolen  there already).

You’d think what with the childhood obesity epidemic morphing our  young people into enormous flesh-barges, our primary energy sources  controlled by hostile lunatics and our love of all things mechanical  that cyclists would be treated as American heroes. Instead people  racing across town in SUVs on their way to get a Big Gulp honk at us. Oh, the irony.

If you experience bike rage, try and think that every bike you see is  one fewer GI sent to some godforsaken country with an oil reserve or  one less shady deal with a despotic foreign government. As you start  to wind up because the cyclist in font of you moving marginally slower  than the motorized traffic, think instead of that one fewer sketchy  off shore drilling rig poised to annihilate an entire ecosystem.  And  when you see me puffing along up Highland Street, know that I’m one  less case of chronic cardiac disease tacked onto the growing shared  cost of health care. The other possibility is that I’m a soon-to-be  fatal heart attack that will end my cost to the system once and for  all. There, that feels better, right?

I’m a cyclist. You’re welcome.

Attention Alert Cape Ann Citizens! Stolen Bike!!!!

Jim Dowd writes-

Attention Alert Citizens!
Upon my return to our beloved island from my work deep down in the cubicle mines of Boston, I discovered my faithful mountain bike "Madeline" missing from the T station in downtown Gloucester. She was locked with a Kryptonite cable through the frame and front tire. As I am the only one with a key and she does not tend to wander off by herself, it is obvious that she has been stolen.
The picture enclosed is her when she was much younger. Today she sports handlebar extensions, black cabling, some stickers (Continental and Powerbar) wire water bottle holders and at the time she was wearing a removeable rear fender, which could easily have been discarded. Her toe-basket clip-straps are red.
I know not what hard use her new master put her to, he who undoubtedly tried to trade her for a few pills of oxycontin only to discover her 1988 vintage not making her worth much more than a TylenolPM, but in my care she was the sole means of solo transportation from my home to the station, hard economic times having reduced our family to a single auto. She was cared for and loved, had a dry place to sleep and plenty of green grease.
Won’t you be on the lookout for her? The dastardly deed has been reported to the GPD and no doubt they are working extra shifts to assure her safe recovery, but nothing supports our finest like watchful eyes. Her stickers and aftermarket handle extensions make her easy to spot. If you do see her you may take one of three actions, depending on your comfortability with confrontation:
A. Stop the rider, tell him/her the bike is stolen and summon the police.
B. Summon the police without alerting the rider, perhaps follow him/her to their destination.
C. Bring me their warm, still pulsating heart in an ornately carved, locked wooden box. (Police involvement not necessary)
Madeline and I thank you enormously. I know she is out there, close by. I can feel her.
Jim.

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Jim Dowd, Local Blogger Would Like to Pay It Forward

One Free Drink Coupon

One Free Drink Coupon

You know how we are in Gloucester, we’re not about holding grudges.
So I say we not blight our karma any further with this whole “Beverly
Farms Parade That Insulted Our Children and Traditions” thing. It’s
all just bad vibes, man. So, I want to invite my fellow friends
sharing Spaceship Earth from Beverly Farms to up Gloucester for a free
drink, so we can put this all behind us. Enclosed is a coupon that
any Bev Farms resident can redeem in a Gloucester bar or Tavern.

Love, man. It’s all about love.

Peace, out

Jim Dowd