Retorts: Panhandlers, parks, Burlington

CHURCH STREET in Burlington, Vermont is just about the prettiest downtown area we’ve ever seen (Orange County Tribune photos by Jim and Marilyn Tortolano).

Note to readers: The Tribune’s top staff has been on a “time out” for the last week, recharging  batteries and planning future improvements. Much of this journey of discovery took place in New England, taking a route that began in Boston and moved clock-wise to Providence, R.I., then to Hartford, Connecticut, from there to Burlington, Vermont and then home. Here are some thoughts about connections and advice that might be derived from the places where America was born.

Homelessness. Back in the OC, we see and hear a lot of complaining about the unsheltered. On social media, some folks have taken to grousing that “I can’t stand this anymore! I’m leaving California for [insert imagined better state here].” Well, good luck with that. Homelessness seems epidemic all across New England and perhaps the U.S.

“Unlucky” denizens of each place we stopped were seen standing on center medians holding ratty cardboard signs. Panhandlers stalked the sidewalks and tweekers gathered outside the entrances to CVS drug stores with no apparent constructive purpose. Note to readers: CVS stores and Dunkin’ Donut shops are located on just every block in New England. It must be some kind of law.

Here in California and the OC it’s become fashionable to blame the surge in homelessness and petty crime on AB 47 and Gavin Newsom, but here’s a news flash: the states we visited don’t have any AB 47 and no old or Newsom, and their problems are just as bad as ours.

Traffic: Anyone who’s spent a morning cursing the Orange Crush of the 22, 57 and 5 freeways would sell a kidney to be back in the OC after a few hours trying to drive around in Boston and certain other New England cities. The basic road net was designed by the heirs of folks who presided over the Salem Witch Trials in the 17th century.

Signs are few and far between, and often baffling. Many are tiny and hard to read, especially as night starts to fall. GPS guidance fails if you’re in one of the many long-long tunnels under the city. Even if you know where you’re going, “In Boston it takes an hour to get to Boston,” as a tour guide told us.

Curse the 405 all you like, but compared to some places we’ve seen, it’s like a highway paved with gold on the road to Heaven.

ROGER WILLIAMS PARK in Rhode Island is natural wonder created by the City of Providence.

Parks: Despite all that you’ve read above, there are some wonderful things to see and enjoy in the NE. One of the best examples is Roger Williams Park in northeastern Rhode Island. It’s a 435-acre sylvan oasis that calms the spirit and enervates the body. On land reclaimed in the 19th century in part from swamps, this is one of America’s finest urban recreation parks. It offers large forested areas, seven lakes, a zoo, a carousel and some low-key boating. Just watching the squirrels for 20 minutes lowered my blood pressure.

I’m not suggesting, for instance, that the Willowick site be turned into a West Coast Roger Williams, but a woodsy park with a small lake or such would be a nice addition to the OC in addition to the commercial uses that are probably inevitable.

Or, if the CIty of Garden Grove – which owns Willowick despite its location in Santa Ana – decides to just cash out and invest the result in town, it could do a lot worse than to re-imagine the GG with a few acres of rolling, forested hills surrounding a shimmering expanse of water.

Maybe we could even add a carousel and other amenities.

Or to put it another way, the other man’s grass isn’t always greener, except maybe in this case.

Downtowns: The ultimate walkable “central business district” is located in Burlington, not far from the University of Vermont. It’s a classic college town but more than that. The jewel of the district is Church Street, several blocks of eateries, shops, services – barbers, investments, etc. – and some residences above. While most of the stores are local independents, there’s a sprinkling of national chains such as CVS, Banana Republic, etc. It’s now a pedestrian mall with no cars allowed, and therefore a haven for pedestrians, bicyclists and such. It’s a place worth visiting if you want to re-imagine your downtown.

Jim Tortolano’s Retorts column appears on alternate Wednesdays. Usually.

1 reply »

  1. I was in New England last October. We didn’t hang around Boston too much, so I can’t comment on the city. We went to Concord, Massachusetts, Portsmouth, NH, Kittery, ME, Kennebunkport, York, ME, Gloucester, Mass, Rockport, Mass, to name some of the highlights. We didn’t see any homeless at all. The roads were fine, with far less traffic than OC. Coming back to Boston, we hit Friday afternoon traffic, so we worried about getting to the airport on time. We should have given ourselves more time to get there.

    Personally, I’d move near Portsmouth in a heartbeat. I can’t afford Portsmouth housing, but I got some tips from locals on affordable towns and small cities. The natural beauty of the coast is stunning, and there’s always a lot to do.

    I’ve never lived in the snow, however, so I’d find that daunting.

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