Above is the image that just won’t go away. A group of kids being lead away to safety, hands on each others backs, most with their eyes closed, all visibly upset, their innocence forever lost.
Saturday marks one year since the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. One year and still very few answers about why, just a lot of detail that makes you sick to your stomach.
I watched it unfold on Twitter. One Tweet, then another, then my feed was filled. Twitter does this weird things as news breaks, especially major news. The public begins to see how the news process for better or for worse. That day, mostly for the worst.
At first it just seemed like there was a gun near the school. Then it seemed like somebody may have been shot. Then people began tweeting info from the police scanner, which is always dangerous in the event of real news. So much could be right, but so much could be wrong; it’s literally the police, fire and emergency services communicating what might be going on with information from somebody who picked up the phone to call 9-1-1.
One of the tweets from the scanner though set it all out. I don’t recall who it was from, just that it said there was a need for help for mass casualties. At an elementary school, that’s all you need to know.
The Record-Journal didn’t cover Newtown, we used wire reports. I updated the story online as the AP had it available. As a journalist, you don’t have a lot of time to react, only to begin doing your work. A lot of great journalistic work was done that day, but a lot of it was just sickening.
The wrong person, the wrong number of people involved, the wrong number of people dead. Any other day that’s stuff you get right and wait to get right. That day, it was about who had it first, who could get the most information, etc. People took leads and went with it without properly vetting it. That’s the danger of the business. Speed can doom you. Most of the great journalistic work was done in the days, weeks and months that followed.
It’s easy for me to say. I wasn’t there. I didn’t have to report. But I do get to watch the conspiracy theorists feed off of the misinformation. I can see why things went wrong - people used unnamed sources that thought they might know something or thought they had the right information. Information changes.
That is not to say you wait until the day is over to report or don’t report until the info is made available a year later. Of course you report, you just don’t jump to conclusions like blaming the brother for killing everybody involved.
As the day went on, the news only worsened. I don’t remember the time the news started coming in, but I remember being glued to Twitter for much of it. A few hours went by before I walked away from the computer.
I’m a father. I had a two-year-old at the time and another one on the way. This news hit hard.
It could have been any school in any city or town in Connecticut or across the country. It could have been anywhere, but it was 30 minutes away from where I was sitting. The fact that it was so close made me realize it could have been anywhere including where my son was.
The first thing you want to do is run out, get your kid, hug them and take him home. But you have to remember they have no idea what’s going on, especially at 2 years old. And it’s not happening there. It could, but it’s not and you can’t hold them every second of every day.
My wife wanted to home school my son because of this. Well, what happens if there’s a home invasion? Terrible things happen to people when they don’t expect it. It’s horrible, I hate it and you don’t want it to ever happen. But it does. You can’t live your entire life in fear though because of these incidents.
It wasn’t until I was driving to go grab lunch that I really started thinking about the shooting’s impact on me. It was then that I let out a few tears not just because of how it would impact me, but it was easy to see these families had their children taken from them. Kids at this school would forever be haunted by this memory. Imagine waking up in the middle of the night with a nightmare and that nightmare was something that actually happened. How do you cope? How do you explain this to your children? How does life continue on?
When the day was over, I went home. I gave my son a hug and a kiss and with my wife, we went out for pizza. We talked a little about it, but I didn’t want to rehash it for now at least. It was pretty clear what happened. Xander, my son, gave me this. He’s not much of an artist even now and doesn’t have the attention span to sit down and color something, just some scribbles here and there. But they were some of the most meaningful scribbles of my life. While this was unfolding, my son was coloring, peacefully, at his school. No knowledge of what happened. It has been taped to my desk ever since.
A lot has happened since that day.
First of all, the families deserve all the credit in the world for the strength they’ve shown since then. They’ve let journalists into their homes to write about them. They’ve written books, spoken publicly, advocated in Hartford and Washington D.C., they’ve done it all. It’s amazing, really.
We wrote the other day about one of the mothers supporting the family of two children who died recently. Amazing. Somebody who has all the right in the world to be still in mourning is instead helping another family.
There have been debates over guns, school safety, the release of information, and more.
Now the debate is whether or not or how to cover Saturday.
It can’t be ignored. To be honest, the TV news is what’s most invasive. They come with cameras, bright lights during the early morning and night. They have the trucks. It’s a tough call.
As a journalist, I’m all for covering Newtown. But do we need live coverage of what is going on in Newtown one year after this tragedy? No, probably not. I can certainly live without it. And I don’t think anybody is going to be glued to their TV for updates on Saturday.
The best way is to cover it in advance. Be creative. If the families want to talk with you, one-on-one, as a journalist, go for it. That’s their choice. It was Scarlett Lewis’ choice to call us back this week to talk. She didn’t have to.
As a parent, I’m not sure how you move on from Dec. 14, 2012. As I said before, any day anything can happen. You can’t brace yourself. But you can’t live in fear. Schools can better prepare, but you’re not getting rid of guns and no matter what, they will find their way into the hands of bad people and good people. Some people, as the Dark Knight quote goes, just want to see the world burn. The people in Newtown, however, are doing a phenomenal job of showing those who want that, that their strength is superior to the desire for destruction.
Photo credit: Record-Journal file photo
*Updated sometime around 3pm on Thursday*
Most of Meriden’s parks have had their name since the beginning of time. Or, at least, it seems that way. Hubbard Park, Columbus Park, City Park, Brookside Park, the list goes on. If you’re a longtime resident, you probably know plenty of them.
It’s very rare for any park to be renamed. The last actual park to be renamed was Bronson Avenue Park, which, is still often referred to by that name. It’s actually Gilman Memorial Park, named after Sgt. Ben Gilman. Gilman, a Meriden native, died while serving in the U.S. Army in Afghanistan.
Most of Meriden’s parks are either named after a person (Washington, Gilman, Hubbard, Giuffrida, Ceppa, etc.). Then there are those named after areas or nearby bodies of water (Cedar, Beaver Pond/park, Baldwin Pondpark, Johnson Hill).
You get the picture.
It’s not often that these parks change names and prominent ones likely never will. The Hub is not technically a park, but that’s what its future is. And it won’t be just any old park, it will be one of the premier parks. Or, at least, that is what it is intended to be.
For those who don’t know, the Hub plan is basically a $13 million project that involves remediating the site, creating flood storage space, putting a giant bridge in, an amphitheater, some walkways, and other amenities in. The plans certainly look nice.
People question how many people will use it, what the point is, why not put buildings there, etc. I’m not here to discuss that today other than to say there will be buildings, but not within the flood plain. And for background: there were buildings, they’ve been knocked down because they didn’t work and nobody wanted to be there.
Anyway, they want to rename the site/eventual park. It has been The Hub or The Meriden Hub since the early 1980s. The name came from a contest run at the city’s high schools. It replaced the old name, The Meriden Mall. Since then, the “Meriden Mall” is often considered to be The Meriden Square or Westfield Meriden Mall.
The Hub made sense at the time. It was a shopping center and was supposed to be the hub of downtown activity. Before it was the Meriden Mall, and before that building stood there, it was considered Parcel 8. I know because old articles in the basement are filed under that name and I always forget which parcel it was. It was a parcel after dozens of buildings of sites, including the former International Silver Co. big shop was razed.
The name is now outdated and could still make sense. I’m sure, at least in the short-term, people will still call it The Hub. Others, who despise the place or that want to see change, will likely call it by its new name.
What will that name be?
It’s up to you to decided, at least partially. The city will soon begin taking name suggestions from the public through every mode of communication you can think of. Those names will be shortlisted and somehow, some way a decision will be made. They may take a poll of some sort of the final names,
The names have already begun being suggested on the Record-Journal’s Facebook entry. City Manager Larry Kendzior seems to like The Meriden Green and has always noted Meriden does not have a town green like nearly every other town in New England. Others seem to like Harbor Brook Park. That one makes sense too, given that Harbor Brook will be exposed throughout the property once the project is completed.
Update: Former mayor Mike Rohde chimed in on Facebook suggesting Meriden Commons. That suggestion specifically reminds me that the site won’t just be a park. Long term, there are acres reserved for economic development. The amount of square footage escapes me, but it’s in the millions. So the name aught to not only reflect the entire future, not just the park. Meriden Commons seems to do that.
Others, like one Facebook poster like “Stupid (expletive deleted) idea because people are just going to trash it park." I’m not sure that one will fly though.
So here are some, followed by my thoughts:
Mandela Park: Suggested by Eric Cotton, managing editor of the Record-Journal. I like the idea of naming more things after people in this city. It keeps their name alive like Maloney and Platt. I even like the idea of Mandela - obviously his name won’t go away any time soon, internationally. But I think city leaders do not want to go in the direction of naming it after somebody. Also, they want to be able to market the park to communities outside of Meriden and Mandela parks may begin springing up in the future.
Meriden Green: Vanilla. It’s a safe choice. It works and can work well. Personally, I don’t mind it. But I can’t see loving it either.
Harbor Brook Park: Also a safe choice. The possible issue is that there is Harbor Park in Middletown and it might be confusing. But having a watercourse run through the park, it would make sense to include the brook’s name in the park. It’s also less bland than Brookside Park, which also has Harbor Brook running through. It’s worth pointing out that Harbor Brook’s real name is Pilgrim’s Harbor Brook.
Meriden Meadows: Sure, it works. But it isn’t exactly a meadow.
Silver City Park: I like this one. A focus of what they want to do in downtown is keep the history at least somewhat alive. There’s no more silver being produced, but the silver used to be produced on the same site of the park. It makes sense.
Silver City Green: Why not just combine the two names?
The Hub: You could always keep the name. Good or bad, this has been the name for 30-plus years and many will call it that no matter what. Then again, if the plan works and it becomes successful, the park and its name will be around much longer than the people who named it.
Meriden Commons: This is another that makes sense. It gives me the impression that it’s not just a park, but a full, likely bustling, site. Silver City Commons isn’t bad, either.
In December of 1989, I was probably just learning to walk. Mike Rohde was just learning what it meant to be a member of the City Council.
After 23 years, his political career came to an end in an odd way. He was able to take part in a ceremony, though, unlike previous outgoing mayors, he wasn’t actually the mayor for that - Manny Santos had been sworn in about 10 hours earlier.
Rohde didn’t intend on becoming a politician, though I’m sure many on the local level don’t. He was asked by then-state Rep. Tom Luby if he wanted to run and Luby was insistent on it. Rohde had always been a leader and climbed up the success ladder wherever he had been. He won the election and the rest is history. But he certainly has one hell of a track record when it comes to involvement and leadership.
So in meeting with him this past week and just before the election, I learned a lot about Mike both politically and personally. He likes to lead and takes pride in being a leader.
"I used to think anybody could get things done. They don’t, really. I’m sort of amazed more people aren’t leaders and don’t step up to the plate…Leadership is really the thing that makes the difference."
Meriden, he said, is fortunate to have some great leaders whether in business, non-profit, community, or other aspects. You can always question whether it has enough, but you can’t doubt Rohde’s leadership.
In the short term, it’s an unfortunate exit for an otherwise successful political career. In terms of success, I mean the outcomes of races. Despite two primaries in his career, Mike won nine elections and many of them pretty easily. The last one is still causing people to scratch their heads and I’ve heard about 1,000 different reasons why he lost, but only 370 votes separated Rohde and Santos.
A loss to a guy who nobody knew 6 months ago could be damaging to a legacy. It will be interesting to see how people view him in the long term.
As with any politician, Mike has seen his fair share of criticism in the last few years, whether over downtown, large-scale projects, the project labor agreement, etc. I’ve seen the articles about downtown over the last 50 years and if downtown was the reason he lost, then everybody in the last 50 years would have lost too. The PLA likely had something to do with it, the unknown and idea of “change” from Manny Santos drew some intrigue, the list goes on. There will never be an answer.
But nobody who spent 23 years in city politics should be judged on his final few months or even final election. There was plenty he did before that final election that people definitely liked, otherwise he would never have been so successful.
He supported flood control, the high school projects, City Park, etc. - all things being worked out and finalized. In government, things move at a snail’s pace for the most part. Many people don’t remember, but there’s a reason the flood control money for downtown took 20+ years to come - because the people before Rohde didn’t want it or didn’t plan correctly for it. It’s actually well-documented in past stories from the early 1990s.
So time will tell on what Mike’s legacy is. One would hope, for his sake, they all come out in a way that changes the city for the better and in a timely fashion. People that worked closely with him seem to think highly of what he has done. He had opinions that clashed with others, but he was still well-respected.
I have been “working” with Mike for a little over 3 years. As a journalist, he was always helpful. He had his opinions, and I could understand that. He was always available for a quote. He never ducked the paper that I can recall off the top of my head. And he called on a consistent basis just to talk, pitch stories, express his opinions, etc. When we did a good job, he let us know. When he didn’t like something, he let us know. I actually prefer that over being badmouthed and then it getting back to me. And obviously you prefer hearing that you did a good job over no news, but no news is good news sometimes, too.
I got the sense in meeting with him before the election that this would be his last run. I recorded the interview and played back the end of it four or five times. He never said “this is the end” or anything to that nature. But it was clear in talking about his wife, and his tone in doing so, that this might be his last run. He has two children in California, grandchildren in California, he’s aging (as we all are), and he has been going full speed most of his life. At some point, you have to slow down a little. Rohde still wants to be active, but he also wants to spend time with his wife and family.
People have speculated for years that he might be done and move to California. I get the impression he will at some point. It makes sense. I also get that after you invest 40 years in a community that you want to see the things you worked hardest on come to fruition. It’s a tough pull in each direction. And yes, people speculate on moves and retirements with me all the time. I’m not sure why, I don’t talk about retirement with most people until they are close to it. I never get the impression City Manager Larry Kendzior is going to retire in the immediate future, but people feel he might. Larry loves the city, probably isn’t going anywhere (his daughters are in two separate sections of the country), and he has a ton of enthusiasm over these city projects.
Time will tell on Rohde’s legacy and it will tell on where he winds up. But it should be the person writing the book in 10, 20, 50, 100 years that says where Mike Rohde fits into the city’s history, not the casual observer or person who puts all of the blame on the mayor for the lack of business in downtown.
For the same reason, people should, for now, reserve judgment on Manny Santos. He has come in promising change and doesn’t have much of a track record in terms of politics. He got off to a rocky start in his first meeting, but if everybody was judged on one meeting, well, you get the picture. It’ll be interesting to see how his tenure plays out though. Conservatives are certainly making their presence known a lot more than they have in the last 20 years, or so.
Above everything else, it was clear Mike cared.Why else would somebody spend their entire life in school or human-service related work and in their spend time do community-type work? Again, Mike never thought it would lead him into politics, but it did and because of that, he felt he was in more of a position to help people. The same thing happened when he became mayor.
Recently, the City Charter came under scrutiny. It was sent out for an outside opinion and the attorney reviewing it drew conclusions, including some that came from what the intent of the Charter was - not just exactly how it read. Well, I think to determine a legacy you have to do the same. Did Mike accomplish what he wanted to do in positively affecting as many lives as possible? There were political decisions, tax decisions, and other types of decisions along the way. But you can start the judging there.
Photo courtesy of Chris Zajac l Record-Journal
Good luck to this guy, Hector Cardona, who will be retiring after 32 years of service in the Meriden PD. He’s well-known, well-liked and will be missed in the Meriden community.
And he has the greatest mustache you will ever see.
Sometimes while driving it isn’t always easy to see Meriden’s beauty. When you’re focused on the road in front of you and the immediate surroundings, you sometimes miss the Hanging Hills in the background and the other scenery around.
I’m not like most. I often find myself paying more attention to the hills and other scenery than the road. Or taking pictures of it as you’ll see below.
Today was a strange day though. A foggy one. Usually the fog comes in the morning and is gone by late morning or early afternoon. But this morning I noticed the fog as I left and took a picture. Driving around in the afternoon I took a few more.
Warning: don’t take pictures and drive, leave it to the professionals.
This was the first one I took, coming down Broad Street heading north past a former car dealership. At this point I can usually see the light at the corner of Broad and Hall on my way in to work. Not today. Below (via Google Maps) is what you usually see.
I’ll admit the issue is that Google cars were in Meriden mostly during the summer time so trees and greens are abundant.
This is coming down Elmwood Drive toward Miller Avenue. I was leaving my parent’s house around 1 pm.
I had trouble matching the exact location here. Apparently most of the neighborhood has changed its mailboxes in the last 2 years (since Google street view came through).
I cut down Swain Avenue on purpose - just to be able to come down East Main and see the fog. That’s a little weird, probably, I know.
What I thought was interesting here was it literally just looked like you were driving into nothing. You can see a little better in the clear day.
Coming down East Main toward the Broad Street intersection, you couldn’t see much of anything either. Kind of scary considering it’s such a major intersection.
That last one was tough to show. Apparently they didn’t head west on East Main Street in that area.
You know this intersection. You know what it looks like on a nice day. Here’s a not-so-nice one.
Again, they didn’t travel in the same lane.
This is the best part of nearly any drive in Meriden. The chance to see the buildings and architecture with the hills in the background - except today.
That’s a better view.
Again on East Main, just a little bit lower toward the downtown area.
This is…come to think of it I’m not sure what this tiny section is called, if it’s considered Perkins Square. But it’s just east of Wells Fargo where you have to turn left onto East/West Main. This is overlooking the Hub toward Mills Memorial Apartments.
That pole on the left looks awful.
This is one last one driving away from the Record-Journal on Crown Street toward Hall Avenue.
I would’ve liked to go to a few more spots just because the compare and contrast would have been amazing to see, just didn’t have the time. Enjoy.
Photo credit: Justin Weekes l For the Record-Journal
I’ll just put it out there as much as it pains me to do so: people don’t really click on the political stories I write. They read about it in the paper, somewhat. They will talk about it a little bit. But they don’t click on it.
In addition to the newsroom tracking the top five most-clicked stories every week, I usually do some tracking of my own. I can see what is being read at any time or I can track stories over time. But for the most part, people aren’t reading about politics.
For whatever reason - and I have my theories - people have been reading and they have been talking. Michael Rohde being upset by Manny Santos was the 2nd most-clicked story of the past month. Now, election stories are sometimes popular, but not always. Rohde’s win two years ago had 3,000 fewer clicks than him losing this year.
The only story receiving more clicks was about the tragic death of two children in an alleged drunken driving incident in Meriden. It was statewide news and a terrible situation. The number 3, 4 and 5 stories were all about the incident.
Things calmed down briefly after the Santos win, but the story about him trying to get rid of Corporation Counsel Mike Quinn is a top 10-clicked story over the last three weeks. It was an unusual situation and the argument is based on a legal document. The latter part doesn’t scream excitement, but people were intrigued.
Manny’s first day as mayor, a story that began Monday morning and carried through until the evening with updates, is the 2nd most-clicked story since the middle of November. With it are 28 comments on the story, with some more inadvertently deleted (including on from Rohde) when the headline title changed. It’s a little glitch with our system. Nonetheless, I’ve been hearing about it for the last 48 hours and overheard people talking about it. And by the way, people average 5 minutes on the story after they click on it. That’s FAR more than any story with a strong number of clicks on it.
Are people genuinely intrigued by local politics? Is there a shift in interest? Are people behind Santos? Are people glad Rohde is gone? Is there just general confusion, chaos, intrigue? What is it that are making people interested? The situation has been the talk of the town for a month and I am right in the middle of it. People have asking me for my thoughts, opinions and analysis. I can only base what I say on what everybody else has to say.
To be honest, I’m not sure. Some people seem genuinely intrigued by Santos and his desire for change in the way things are done and run in the city. Obviously, since people voted for him.
Others are just waiting to see what’s next. Whose office does he walk into next? What is the next step he makes? What is going to happen to the city? There’s a ton of unsurety. That is to be expected, I mean, a guy with no political background that many people know very little about was just elected to be the chief elected official. If that’s not enough, his a Republican in a city where there’s a 3:1 ratio of Dems to Republicans.
Whatever the reason, I have never received so much feedback via phone call, email, text, Twitter, Facebook, in person and just the comments coming into the stories. I haven’t been covering Meriden for decades, but I’ve been covering through some major events. The only thing somewhat similar was the PLA vote. There was real intrigue there. But even there, there was a set beginning, middle and end.
Meriden’s most recent history is a predictable one. The Democrats have been in control and able to put through any resolution they have wanted and controlled how they wanted. They still hold a majority, but this situation is literally unprecedented. Since the Charter was revised in 1992 the council makeup hasn’t been like this and there hasn’t been a Republican mayor. In ‘92, the mayor was given veto power and some other abilities. So this is new.
I’m not saying this is a good or bad thing. If the situation helps sell papers or leads to clicks, then it does. I’m more intrigued by the intrigue than anything though. Will it go back to the way it was? Probably. But for the first time in a while people are clinging on to these stories and onto what is happening next. And I, just like everybody else, is interested in seeing what happens next.
This is what Meriden voted for. A new mayor. And with a new mayor comes change.
It’s yet to be seen what the actual “change” will be, but with 24 hours in the books, the new mayor, Manny Santos, has certainly brought change.
Last night’s swearing in and council meeting was one for the ages. Last year, I saw a fight in City Hall during a council meeting and long-term, that may take a back seat to what transpired last night.
You can watch the video above and check out the Record-Journal YouTube page for more video of the meeting, but it was clear everything was different.
Santos, for one, is dealing with a learning curve, but that is to be expected. There were plenty of long pauses of silence and people speaking out of order. That can be worked out.
But the nature of the meeting was something unlike Meriden has seen in a long time. I heard the name Abe Grossman about a dozen times. I heard the words “circus” and “chaos.” Then again, I also heard plenty of support for Manny and the Republican-WTP caucus.
So maybe there will be some chaos going forward. Then again, who knows? The first meeting came with a lot of pettiness and 12 people looking to appoint themselves to various roles. You might get some egos and arguments.
That’s over with though. Unless the mayor tries to fight back, of course, with a veto or taking the City Charter issue to court. I’m not ruling that out yet.
But there are much bigger items to deal with and it will take some working together to make it happen. Council committees will be looking into nepotism in the city, in addition to excessive use of force by the police department, neither of which are small issues.
As interesting as it would be to write about chaotic meetings and a non-functioning government, I’m not sure that’s what people want. But they do want change, I think.
Photo courtesy of Chris Zajac l Record-Journal
A few weeks ago, Chris Bourdon’s name came up in the newsroom. I had never met Chris, but I’ve only heard great things about him. I knew very little details, but knew he had a son who died a few years ago.
Boudon’s name came up over the skate park controversy. Bourdon, the former recreation adviser in the city, was involved with originally locating the skate park to its current location on Coe Avenue.
Anyway, somebody asked if Chris was still in the Parks and Rec Dept. I was positive the answer was no, but admittedly, I had no idea where he was. Some quick research showed he moved to the Water Division back in 2008 - more than two years before I even got to the RJ.
Bourdon, I learned, made the switch about two years after his son, Noah, died in a terrible accident on a playground in the city. Reading older stories, it’s amazing Chris stayed in the public’s eye as long as he did. His job required him to be around kids all of the time, I can only imagine how painful it was. After raising close to $500,000 for a new playground at Hubbard Park, Bourdon switched jobs, wanting to fade from the public view and away from children. Understandable.
Chris has since had two children and maybe a third by now, he had/has another on the way. And his love for Parks and Rec never went away.
Last week Chris began working back in the Parks and Rec Dept. as the assistant director. It was a position he applied for earlier this year and eventually was hired for.
I’ve met Chris exactly one time now. But I couldn’t be happier for the guy. He has nothing but enthusiasm for the job and for the department and this is where he really wants to be.
Again, I can’t imagine what he went through in the last few years, but I give him credit. He could have stayed in the Water Division or doing just about anything else including moving away. It’s great to hear that he is moving forward and look forward to working with him.
It was in the summer of 2007 that I began working for the Meriden YMCA as a counselor at their camp on High Hill Road. It was the summer right after Powder Ridge closed. This year, it will be reopening. In case you didn’t realize or aren’t from the area, the day camp is on one side of Mt. Beseck and Powder Ridge ski area is considered the other.
I had been to Powder Ridge maybe once for tubing, but that’s about it. I’m not into the winter sports.
But to my surprise, at least once each summer we take the campers up the mountain, hang out on the top for a little, enjoy the view, etc. The place had already been vandalized with graffiti, a turned over shed and didn’t look to be in great shape. But the view was incredible.
I’ve been up that mountain quite a few times since. For one, there is a trail that runs along the top of the ridge and you can easily pass through. I usually access the area from Flemming Road, which has an access route. It says “do not enter,” but being the rebel that I am, I tend to ignore such things.
If you plan on going, the initial incline is the tough part and is a rocky terrain. Once you get passed that and hit the old, rusted car up there that is in pieces, it’s a pretty simple hike through the woods.
So here are a few stories about the times I’ve been up there:
The sledding incident of 2007
It’s a rough photo there, but back in December 2007 a friend told me he wanted to go sledding…on the mountain. Not being maintained for close to a year, there was brush and overgrowth that I knew about. Other dangers and problems included: trees, little control on a sled, the speed at which we would be traveling on a sled, how to get back up the hill, the fact that it was nothing but ice at that point, if it was even possible to make the hike in the dark without getting hurt, etc.
So of course I was in.
Not wanting to be spotted by the neighbors, the two of us went up the mountain, in the snow, which was mostly just covered in a layer of ice. The hike really wasn’t that bad. It was at night, by the way, close to 10 or 11 pm to avoid doing this out in the open. Luckily, I remember the sky being lit up enough that we could see and the light reflecting off the snow/ice.
When we got up there I remember a great view. I also remember being fairly worried about us crashing into something, anything. So I grabbed some sticks in case we couldn’t stop, to jam into the ice and slow us down. On the ice, it was the fastest I’ve ever sledded and occasionally I had to stop, put my feet out to slow it down or hop off because it literally was that dangerous. Like I said, there was all sorts of overgrowth and brush and even tree limbs and things that would have hurt. In total, it probably took a few minutes just to get to the bottom.
Then I realized there was a reason they invented ski lifts. The walk back up in ice took close to 45 minutes. It was just thick and steep enough to give some trouble on the way up. But I made it back up, eventually, and then back down the mountain and too my house. Was it the best sledding experience ever? Probably not. But it’s a fun memory.
The Lost Ones
I was lost 12 kids on a mountain.
Ok, so I didn’t lose them. Let’s get that out of the way, but I felt responsibility.
In the summer of 2009, I was what’s known as a “village director” at the camp. I was essentially in charge of 8-10 counselors and each one of them had 10-12 campers - it varied by session.
So our annual trip up the mountain got off to a bit of a late start. We got up the mountain and realized we needed to go at a fairly quick pace to get back down in time and on time for the buses.
Seeing as we go up in a large group, counselors are told to space themselves out. This way, we can monitor activity and smaller groups and keep an eye on all kids.
I was leading the pack with another counselor. So we get back just in time. Another pack was further behind and a little later, but no real big deal because they were with some counselors. Then a counselor tells me a kid is missing. Then another counselor tells me they have a couple missing. I basically told them to find the kid, I had to get a quarter of the camp onto the right bus.
Of course as I’m checking kids names off to make sure they get on the bus, there are 3-4 missing. All within my age group. Then a few other buses have the same problem.
We lost kids.
The good news was we were missing a counselor in training and junior counselor. Both high school-aged students, we knew they had to be together.
So one counselor drives over in a truck and begins running up the hill. Realizing the situation, myself and a couple others go running up the mountain and looking everywhere - yelling names of kids we realized were missing.
I’m not sure this is coming as urgent as it seemed at the time, but we had very little idea where these children were.
They were tracked down, we had them run down, back to camp and onto the bus. I was mostly angry at the time. Angry because I knew counselors hadn’t spaced themselves out properly. What happened was the first third of kids and counselors made it down fine. The back half, or so, made it just fine. The small middle group broke away and continued straight and forgot one key turn. Because all of the counselors were toward the front and back, the middle got lost.
I let out some anger, frustration and then some relief. But that was the craziest experience I had as a counselor.
Best for last, right?
Fast forward a summer, I had just met this girl. She’s now my wife. You can see where this is headed.
I’ve liked girls and had girlfriends in the past. But knew this one was special. So I had to really do something to win her over. It had been going in that direction through a couple weeks of texts and one or two hangouts.
So she tells me she wants to hang out and either go on a hike or a picnic. I’m not idiot, I know you can have a hike and a picnic. But why not a hike with a surprise picnic.
So I make the sandwiches, get the snacks and drinks, etc. I tell her I’ll pick her up in like an hour. And in the mean time, I pack everything, drive to the mountain, run up it, and find a spot. Right on one of the decks overlooking the ski resort and on one of the ski lift chairs I put the lunchbox with food. Checking the time, I run back down, drive across town and get to her house. Of course, she’s not ready.
I drive back with her just telling her we are going on a hike. And we go up there, check out the view, and I take her on the wooden deck. She noticed a lunchbox and jokingly says “somebody left their lunch here.” I tell her to check and that’s when she realized what I did. We had lunch, hung out for a while before having to get her home and to work, and descended down the mountain.
And the rest is history.
(Photo credit: Dave Zajac/Record-Journal)
Meriden is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on projects that have gotten under way or are going to in the near future. Plenty of people have a hand in these: elected officials, the city manager, department heads, organizations around the city, state officials, etc. Most can name the players and those involved fairly easily if you’ve been paying attention.
But before these projects can start, they have to get through Wilma Petro, the city’s purchasing officer. Because of the amount of construction happening or about to happen in the city, I had been thinking about a story about Wilma for a while. One city official even said I should do a story about her because she does all of the work, but gets very little credit. I agree.
So I contacted Wilma and asked what she thought. I knew what to expect, of course. We have a good relationship and have talked a lot since the Maloney and Platt renovation projects got started up. She attends the meetings, oversees the bidding process and really has a hand in all construction that happens in this city. That’s just a small part of the job.
She will talk about the work, but I knew she would not want to talk about herself. Still, she agreed and we met on a Friday afternoon in her office for more than an hour. For somebody who has learned everything about construction while on the job, I was impressed. It’s been 18 years in Meriden for her, but that’s still impressive. I myself have been learning on the job trying to keep up with these projects.
Literally since her first day on the job, things have been interesting for her. She was hired to a position where someone was fired. In the first year she fell into the Edison Middle School mess and almost resigned. Not wanting to get too deep into the details, it was clear she went through a lot of stress in the early onset here in Meriden. But after 18 years, she has gained the respect of her peers and her boss. I often hear people rave about her.
City Manager Larry Kendzior laughed when I told him I was doing a story on Wilma. That wasn’t the first laugh I got either. People were surprised she agreed to talk about herself because she doesn’t really like the limelight. But sometimes, people should have their work recognized.
So after giving a laugh, Larry began speaking about Wilma. It was clear he thought she deserved some recognition. This is a woman who, on the side, manages the city’s airport. She works all day most days. I can call her office long after it closes and still get her. When I was investigating the high bids on Maloney High School, I called her while she was on vacation. She still picked up, and she spoke for a while. Then she called back throughout the day with added thoughts. That’s the kind of person she is. Helpful, knowledgeable and someone who deeply cares about what they do. She said people question why she doesn’t live in Meriden, but responded, saying that she wouldn’t spend her time and do her shopping in Meriden if she didn’t care about the city and love it as much as she does.
I’m not sure if people ever tried to interview Wilma about herself. I’m not sure she would have agreed either. Who knows. I know she was reluctant to get her photo taken, but she preferred to be seen on a construction site or at the airport - places where she spends a lot of her time. She’s not in the minority though, most people hate getting their photo taken for the paper, but unlike some, agreed to it.
I’m glad she did, she deserves it.
Earlier this week a few downtown merchants got together and decorated a Christmas tree. Sorry, not the most exciting start.
Let me try again.
This week, downtown merchants got together and inspired close to 215 Facebook likes, 30+ comments and 40+ shares of the story I wrote about them decorating a Chirstmas tree.
I was a little surprised by the attention, too.
Backstory: the city puts a tree up every year in this open space between two buildings and across from the police station. Every year it’s strung vertically with lights and is what it is.
David Ortiz, owner of Feel fresh Hair Studio, was a little fed up with seeing just the tree. He wanted something more than a tree with bland lights that, during the day, just looks like a tree. So he wen out with an employee and a friend who owns another Meriden business and bought some decorations. they threw them on the tree and now it looks decorated day and night.
Ortiz didn’t contact the city or go through the bureaucracy there. He was too scared to hear the word “no.” And he may have heard that word or it may have been pushed off for another year.
Does it look great? Debatable. It could certainly use some more decoration. But there’s a great base. Which is why Ortiz is having his daughter drop off an ornament and put it on the tree. Encouraging others to do the same, people have said they want to do the same.
Go figure: holiday spirit in downtown Meriden.
Last year, people wanted the same - more holiday spirit. They were met with wreaths (paid for by business owners) and “holiday” flags. At night, you can almost notice both.
For a city that wants to drive people downtown, there’s certainly more than can be done. Lighting Colony Street and West Main Street up completely would cost about $50-60,000. That’s a lot, but is it worth it?
That can be debated, but in the long term, I’d say it almost certainly has to be done. Not that it will be the primary reason to drive people downtown, but it certainly won’t hurt.
If this tree thing works out though, and people do go and bring ornaments down there, then the city might want to take some extra initiative. Maybe people do want to see something down there and will actually go if something is there. People say it, but will they actually go?
Time will tell on the ornaments and I plan to check next week. But if it does, and it results in the city putting up more lights in downtown and creating an event or more for people to do in downtown, then maybe the best thing Ortiz did was bypass everybody.
I was over at City Park briefly Friday as workers were pouring concrete for a new ice skating rink. The city has used a temporary one at the Hub, but because of its position in the sun and some unseasonably warm weather, it hasn’t worked well in recent years. This rink will be shaded by the highway and is part of the City Park redevelopment project. The coolest part (for taxpayers) is that this $25,000 rink is paid for with a grant. It should also help improve the neighborhood.
When you cover elections, it sometimes feels like time barely moves, whereas the rest of the year flies by. It’s not that I want election season to be over, I’m actually anxious to see how things play out after Nov. 5.
I see the potential for a few close races in Meriden this year. I don’t know how this mayoral race between Democratic incumbent Michael S. Rohde and Republican Manny Santos will turn out, but it has been interesting to cover. Unlike in past years, the Republicans put up a candidate who a.) isn’t a known Republican that everybody has already had the chance to vote for OR b.) wasn’t nominated with only a month before the election as Walt Micowski was last year.
I spoke with Rohde for a profile piece as well as Santos. Though they have differing views about the state and the future of the city, they are both passionate about being/potentially being mayor.
It will be interesting to see what happens with the outcome of this race as Rohde has easily defeated any challengers he has had for mayor, which includes a primary with a fellow Democrat and two Republican candidates.
No matter who you do or don’t like in this race, it’s been an interesting one to cover and I will have it covered right through the election. So make it more interesting for me and go vote Nov. 5.
Sorry for the lack of posts lately but this is a good one from Wednesday. For the second time in three days and third time in two weeks, a box truck hit this bridge in Meriden. Only a 9’5 clearance, it gets hit every once in a while. Good news was no significant damage and the train was able to pass by (as pictured) about a half hour after the incident even though the truck was still stuck.