APRIL 13, 2013
Yeah, I know -- it's been nearly a year since my last entry.
Karen loves the laundry room.
My workshop is remodeled, though I've never finished sorting out the
junk. After my operation, I felt great. Karen and I visited
a few more parks. Then nearly a year to the day after my original
accident, I was working at our church, putting up decorations for the
Christmas season. I tried to stop a 20-foot ladder from falling,
grabbed it and twisted my back. Then a few weeks later, we got
wholloped with 30 inches of heavy snow. I used our snowblower to
clear our driveway. The next morning I couldn't get out of bed.
So it was back to my chiropractor, who swore I wouldn't need to go back
into the hospital. And he was right. I still have light
pain from time to time, but after a few months of his repeated
adjustments I'm generally functioning fine. One odd remnant is
numbness in my left foot that seems to be permanent. And I'm no
longer allowed to lift or move anything heavy. So I'm finding
ways around that dilemma.
For example, over the summer a swarm of yellow jackets build a nest
under our back door sill. I finally got rid of them with Sevin
dust. But our sill was eaten away. Since we had to repair
it and the back door was rotting out anyway, we decided to take out
that wall and have a slider door installed out onto a deck. The
work was completed just after the New Year. It brightened up the
kitchen, but also has necessitated a redesign of that space. I'm
going to install new cabinets and counters. Since I can't lift
those cabinets, I'm going to build them piece by piece in place.
We're also getting rid of the giant electric range that came with the
house and are getting a smaller one. The remodel will create more
storage, more counter space and better flow out onto the deck.
That'll be my big summer project -- and I won't have to lift anything
Over the past two years, I've been managing another big project. Our church
was gifted money specifically to install an upstairs restroom. As
the new head of the Property Committee, I wanted to tie that in with
accessibility improvements all around the church. It was a long
process, but now we not only have a new upstairs bathroom and janitor's
closet, we also have a remodeled handicap bathroom downstairs and new
ramps at the church entrances. We'll be getting new electronic
doors as well; those will hopefully be installed in a month or
so. Then I won't have to play General Contractor anymore.
Another big project for the summer: the long-delayed book about the
Holyoke Merry-Go-Round. The Merry-Go-Round's Board of Directors
have talked for years about a follow-up to the successful book I wrote
about Mountain Park.
I wanted to write about the campaign to save the merry-go-round after
the park closed. It was a successful effort against incredible
odds that no other community has been able to replicate. This year
marks the Holyoke Merry-Go-Round's 20th anniversary of being downtown,
so this seems like the right time to come out with the book.
Also this summer, Karen's daughter in Ohio is having her first
baby. Karen will be driving out early for that, and I'll be
following along by train later. I'm sure we'll stop by Cedar
Point while we're there. We'll see.... Anyone want to bet
on when I'll next update this page?
MAY 19, 2013
People are in peril.
There have been years of bondage, and the poor and downtrodden are
desperate for a savior, someone to give them new hope. They find
a savior, but from the unlikeliest of places: not from some
mythical land far away or from the skies, but from among
themselves. The savior comes from humble beginnings and grows to
defy the authorities. But the powers of the ruling government are
strong. The government doesn't like the way this savior has
captured the public's fascination and so decides that this savior must
This story is all too familiar to us. In fact, it's been turned
into a major motion picture. "Catching Fire" is about a young
girl named Katniss Everdeen and how she becomes the hope of a people
who have been brutally repressed. It's the second book in the
popular Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins. But it could
easily be confused with the story of another savior, from another
book. And today, on Pentecost, "catching fire" is a very apt
metaphor in the story of Christian life.
The famous scripture passage from Acts speaks of the Holy Spirit
appearing upon the apostles in the form of fire. Actually, one
translation reads, "tongues spreading out like a fire." Even
though we now associate Pentecost with fire, it originally had little
to do with flames. The holiday was a Jewish pilgrimage to the
Holy City that took place fifty days after Passover. In the Old
Testament, it was called the Feast of Weeks or the Feast of the
Harvest. Combine those two ideas, of pilgrimage and harvest, and
you can see what this new Pentecost of the apostles begins to
represent: a harvesting of pilgrims, a gathering of the faithful.
But gathering where?
We don't know where the apostles were when the Holy Spirit came.
The scripture passage is frustratingly vague: "they were all together
in one place." Would it have been more meaningful if they
had they been together at the room where the last supper
occurred? (By some accounts, they actually may have been in that
same room.) Or if they had been on the Mount of Olives? Or
in the garden of Gethsemane? But no, they were just in a generic
one place, not even in the place.
Perhaps there's a reason for the vagueness. Can you imagine a
scenario where the Holy Spirit descended upon them at an inn? The
innkeeper would have become the curator of a tourist trap, with tens of
thousands of pilgrims flocking there hoping for a recreation of the
flaming tongues. The Holy Spirit would have been reduced to
little more than a curiosity, like Punxsutawney Phil. People
would buy their flaming tongue souvenir pin and leave disappointed that
they didn't actually feel the presence of the Holy Spirit. The
innkeeper would reassuringly tell them to come back and visit again
soon as if repeated visits would increase their odds of becoming
inspired, like some sort of divine lottery.
No, perhaps there's a reason that the scripture is vague. Perhaps
what it's saying is that the Holy Spirit needs no special place.
God can touch your life anywhere you happen to be, if you're willing to
allow the spirit in.
Notice what the apostles experienced: "Suddenly a sound like a
violent wind blowing came from heaven and filled the entire
house." In the Bible, God always seems to arrive clothed in some
altered form of nature, whether it's as a burning bush or a dove or, in
this case, a gust of wind. And He always seems to come "suddenly"
at the most unexpected of times. The apostles recognized this as
a sign of God's presence. And a crowd noticed something was
strange as well and began to gather near them.
Next, those infamous tongues spread out like fire. In the King
James version, the passage is translated as cloven (or forked)
tongues. Were the apostles turning into snakes? The
word "tongue" actually derives from the Greek word for language.
Knowing that, it all begins to make sense: each apostle was acting
differently and they found that they each could communicate in
different languages. At that moment, they were no longer the
lowly uneducated fishermen that had followed Jesus. They now were
baptized as messengers of the new church to spread the Gospel to every
tribe and every land. John the Baptist foretold this event,
saying, "I baptize you with water, but He (meaning Jesus) will baptize
you with the Holy Spirit and fire."
Remember that after the crucifixion, the apostles were on the run,
hiding in fear for their lives. Perhaps the "fire" the Holy
Spirit brought was their new-found courage and willingness to admit
they were followers of Christ. That courage would become crucial
as each apostle faced a hostile backlash by the ruling powers.
The apostles found the strength to confront seemingly impossible odds,
strength to continue their struggle even as each of them saw their
closest friends murdered by the authorities. Perhaps not so
coincidentally, Katniss follows a similar path in the Hunger
Games. She is both hunter and hunted, struggling to come to grips
with what she represents to the public and the government, learning to
stand up for what is right and just.
Notice the response of some people who saw the apostles: "They're
drunk." Even though the crowd witnessed the miracle for
themselves, even though they heard the various apostles addressing each
of them in their own native language, was that the only conclusion
those skeptics could come to: that the apostles had too much to
drink? If they truly thought the apostles were drunk, how could
they also think the apostles could speak so clearly to them in their
native tongues? If I were drunk, I wouldn't even be able to speak
words in my own language!
Just as there were many who mocked Christ in His lifetime, there
continued to be those who mocked the apostles. And there are
still those who mock the church today. I could imagine that the
apostles would have gotten used to it by that point. And indeed,
Peter seems to understand their skepticism and addresses the crowd
strongly with the first courageous public proclamation that any of the
apostles makes, courageous because Peter isn't preaching to the choir;
he's speaking to people who are derisive and possibly even
hostile. Peter, the one who famously denied Christ three times,
is ironically the first to stand up for Christ after His death:
"Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved." With
those words, Peter creates the new church and begins the unending quest
to gather together the followers of God.
Maybe Katniss was channeling Peter when, in Catching Fire, she says,
"At some point, you have to stop running and turn around and face
whoever wants you dead. The hard thing is finding the courage to
do it." And that's where the Holy Spirit comes in.
Notice that in Paul's letter to the Romans, he says, "You did not
receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have
received a spirit of adoption." What a fascinating way to
describe being touched by the Holy Spirit! It's as if we're being
brought into the safe harbor of a new family, one that cares for us and
treats us as equals.
So on this day when we wear red to symbolize the fire of new life, born
into an awareness of God through Christ and the Holy Spirit, remember
that the fire doesn't die out when Pentecost is over and you dress in a
different color. The fire of Pentecost begins on the inside,
spreads outward and continues burning. It is a spirit that we as
Christians embody: a spirit of openness, of caring, of understanding,
of doing God's bidding in a world that often seems contrary to our
Pentecost reminds us that we all have the ability to "catch fire," to
challenge the complacent order of things and be like Christ. The
place is not important, nor is the time. All it requires is a
longing for the Holy Spirit, and a willingness to hear God's
AUGUST 18, 2013
When we purchased our current home, we were faced with an enormous
clean-up task. The woman who had lived there all her married life had
also passed away there, leaving behind a long-neglected yard. Hostas
that probably were once charming ornamentation had grown so large that
they hid the foundation. A tangle of wistaria had climbed over a sturdy
pergola and was making its way into the attic. Trumpet vines had
blossomed unchecked and had begun burrowing inside the ancient cedar
siding. The small backyard seemed even smaller because of huge drooping
hemlock trees. A young wild cherry tree was struggling to find sun
under their branches. A recently planted maple tree was left to fend
for itself a mere twenty feet from the back door. Boxwoods, lilacs,
holly bushes, wild roses, pine shrubs -- it was as if all of God's
flora had been gathered in one place. There didn't
seem to be any particular rhyme or reason to it; the plantings looked
almost accidental. And although the dense foliage gave the house
a certain sort of charm,
it was clear that their proximity meant that serious damage was being
done. Sections of the house had begun to rot from water damage.
Termites and carpenter ants had traveled along the wistaria and trumpet
vine superhighways and had eaten away nearly one entire wall. While I
realized that plant life had long pre-dated human life, I was not going
to allow seniority to triumph in this case.
So we began the backbreaking, sweaty task of clearing out all of the
most offending growth -- especially the wistaria and trumpet vine. The
hostas were pulled up and unceremoniously tossed into the backyard. A
friend took our boxwoods and holly bushes. There was a particularly
gnarly tree growing against the back of the house. It had steely tough
bark. So I attached a chain between it and my truck, and tried to pull
it out. The chain snapped. I never realized that plants could put up a
But after all, they’re living things, just as we are. They don't want
to be cut down, and will show remarkable resilience. For example,
within a few days
after being removed, the trumpet vine were back. No matter how many I
pulled up, they constantly regenerated. Weed killer did nothing. They
were happy in droughts as well as in floods. Perhaps they were getting
encouragement from the termites and ants who no longer had access to
our tasty walls.
The hostas had taken root wherever we had thrown them. (As our neighbor
wryly observed, “You can’t insult them.”) And it was then that I began
to think a bit differently. Instead of banishing the flora altogether,
why not let them flourish in a more benign spot? So we arranged the
hostas around our shed as a border. We trimmed up the hemlock trees and
Karen planted small gardens under their shade. The cherry tree then had
more sun and began to shoot upward, bearing fruit that brought
songbirds. Our home was safe from nature’s invasion, and yet we had
given nature a place to flourish. It was a win-win situation.
Our attention then turned to the front yard, a vast expanse of dried up
crabgrass and runaway violets. There was a ragged dogwood tree near our
porch, but other than that the front yard was empty. It was the
antithesis of the back. Ironically, after all my work tearing up
plants, I decided to add more fauna. I ordered ten small ornamental
trees from the Arbor Day Foundation. Out of the ten, there really were
only two that I wanted: a pair of golden raintrees, an oriental species
that sported long drooping leaves and, when in bloom, cascades of
bright yellow flowers. I had only seen them in pictures, but I knew I
wanted one. I assumed that out of a pair, at least one should grow.
After a few weeks, the soggy packet came in the mail -- a bundle of
cuttings that had splashes of paint on them, paint that had mostly
rubbed off. The golden raintrees were painted yellow, so I set them
aside first. I could also
identify the Washington hawthorn trees, and set those aside. The rest
were really a crapshoot. I assumed I found a white dogwood, magnolia
and an American redbud, but I wasn’t sure. And the last I assumed to be
a Japanese red maple.
The instructions said to place the cuttings either in pots or in a
temporary growing spot, and then transplant them when they were a year
old. So I dutifully dug small holes at a sunny unused spot in our side
yard, planted the cuttings and watered them. And I waited.
In my mind, I had images from Psalm 80: “You
cleared the ground for it; it took deep root and filled the land. The
mountainsides were covered with its shade, the mighty cedars with its
branches.” Well, I didn’t have any cedar trees planted (that I
of). But I could picture the lush shade of the golden raintrees.
The year passed, and by the next spring three of the clippings had
shriveled and died, including one of the golden raintrees. But the
others had apparently taken a liking to our home and looked fresh and
sturdy. So I transplanted them. The two that I thought were the
hawthorns I placed on either side of our shed in the backyard. The new
dogwood I placed a little ways from the big dogwood; the red maple, to
its left. The magnolia was placed at the east edge of our yard. I
planted the redbud near the east side of our house. And for that
precious golden raintree, I reserved a spot directly in line with our
bedroom window, so that each morning I could awaken and see its
“O God of hosts,” echoed
the psalmist, “look down from
heaven, and see,
and have regard for this vine, the stock that your right hand has
Three years passed. The hawthorns were higher than the shed, providing
additional perches for the songbirds. The magnolia turned out to be two
trees wrapped in one and was thick and already blossoming. The redbud
was spindly￼but growing tall. And that little golden raintree had
feet in height. Its trunk was remarkably thick and smooth. Japanese
beetles had taken a liking to its leaves, but I fended off their
attacks in various ways, from setting traps to spraying the leaves with
It was as if I were fighting a scenario from the psalm: “The boar from the forest ravages it, and
all that move in the field feed on it.”
But the raintree wasn’t that easily defeated. Its leaves were a deep
green ... and I noticed they were shaped very much like a maple leaf.
That’s when I became puzzled. Raintree leaves were thin, more like a
dogwood’s. I went online and looked up photos of raintrees in different
stages of development. It turned out that the hearty tree that I had
nursed to health and saved from beetles was an imposter. After more
research, I discovered to my shock that I had planted a sycamore (which
wasn’t even one of the choices from the Arbor Day Foundation!).
Sycamores grow to 150 feet in height and are prized for their nearly
indestructible wood. Unfortunately, our house wasn’t nearly
indestructible. The sycamore was much too close for comfort. That was
not the tree I wanted to have a mere thirty feet from our bedroom. Even
though it looked really healthy, I couldn’t let it remain there. I
asked around to see if anyone wanted a free sycamore tree. I waited for
a few weeks, but there weren’t any takers.
So I brought out a saw and proceeded to cut it down -- and I discovered
how indestructible that wood is -- I burned out a saw blade, and
finally had to use an axe. And even that took the better part of an
afternoon. I took care to dig down below the soil so that no stump
would remain. I could imagine the tree crying out the words of the
psalmist: “They have cut it down;
may they perish at the rebuke of your
I felt like a murderer, hacking away at it. And I felt remorse when it
was gone. It was my fault that it was planted in that spot. In spite of
its earlier adversity, the tree had clung to the rocky soil
tenaciously. So to
make up for my ruthless act, I once again placed an order with the
Arbor Day Foundation for my two golden raintrees. Within a few weeks,
the bag arrived. This time the paint was easily identifiable. I wasted
no time: I dug a hole near the eradicated sycamore and fertilized it.
The little sprig of the raintree looked so fragile planted there. I
placed the other raintree in our side yard. By the end of the following
summer, both had little branches with leaves shooting out.
But something curious happened: the sycamore was also shooting up
branches with leaves. So I ran over it with my lawnmower, cutting it
back to ground level. But the more I did that, the thicker the tree
got, turning itself into a sycamore bush. It had done so well up till
then, it was as if the tree was refusing to give up that easily, as if
it was calling out: “Restore us, O
God of hosts; let your face shine,
that we may be saved!”
As I stared at the clump of leaves and branches, as I pondered the
futility of my destructiveness, I remembered the lesson I had learned
with the hostas. There was nothing to fear about the sycamore. It could
co-exist with the raintree. I could shape the tree into a manageable
form, and allow it to flourish as an attractive bush. There was no need
to remove all of God’s creations, especially those which God didn’t
seem to want removed. I could listen to God and to nature.
I could hear the sycamore sigh with relief: “We will never turn back from you; give us
life, and we will call your name.”
After all that floral purging, I discovered that the solution was not
to slash and burn, to chop and saw, but to work with nature,
judiciously trimming and shaping as God does with us, to make us
stronger and more beautiful in His world. In my narrow quest to grow a
golden raintree, I overlooked the beauty that was already in our yard.
I obsessed over the raintree, trying to make certain it was everything
I wanted it to be. I was one of the hypocrites that Jesus spoke of,
knowing how to interpret the earth and sky, but not the present time,
not seeing the forest for the trees.
It was then that I stepped back and looked at our yard anew. In my
haste attempting to make a park-like setting in our expansive yard, the
new trees appeared to be scattered about, seemingly without rhyme or
reason. Wasn’t that how I viewed the plantings of the original owners
when we moved in? True, I had saved the house itself from structural
ruin -- structure that had been made by man, not God. But our front
yard would remain a reminder that, in the end, God is in charge of
nature, not man.
The hawthorns now tower over the landscape, producing beautiful white
flowers in the spring and berries in the fall. The redbud is taller
than our house. The golden raintrees (not sycamores this time) are
rapidly climbing upward and looking quite proud. Our unique sycamore
bush is full and thriving, no longer a threat but a sign of the miracle
of God’s creation and persistence.
May God, the master gardener, continue to till the soil within us and
without us, reminding us of his presence. And with His grace, as the
psalmist writes, may our branches extend to the sea and our shoots to
the river. Amen.
SEPTEMBER 30, 2013
For the past few years, I've been contemplating getting a new
vehicle. My faithful Ford Ranger that I've owned since 2007 was a
great little truck, and was very handy when I was making lots of home
renovations and hauling stuff to the dump. But with my delicate
back, those chores were a thing of the past. Although it had one
of the highest fuel efficiencies of any truck on the market (about 27
mpg), it seemed like a needless waste of fuel for simply going back and
forth to work. There were many more fuel efficient vehicles on
the market (though few like my much-missed VW Golf TDI, which gave me a
solid 52 mpg).
I had been closely watching the progress of electric vehicles. My
vehicle of choice would have been the Tesla. The deterrent was
the cost. There was no way I could afford that beautifully
engineered vehicle with my salary. So I cast about for other
options. There were really only two in my limited price range:
the Chevy Spark and the Smart EV. I happened to get a day off
from work (a student left a threatening note, an occurrence becoming as
commonplace as when kids used to pull fire alarms in grammar school),
so I used that free time to go car hunting.
My first stop was the nearest Chevy dealer. I walked into the
nearly empty showroom. Two men were standing there idly, one
leaning against a counter with his chin in his hand. They didn't
seem particularly thrilled to see me.
"Can I help you?" the leaning gent asked.
I said, "Yes. I'm interested in the Spark EV."
They looked at me as if I had three heads. "Huh?" he responded.
"The Spark EV," I repeated.
"What are you talking about?" he asked, as if I were crazed.
"It's the electric version of the Spark. It's supposedly for sale
in California and Oregon."
Another man appeared from around a cubicle. "We don't get those
till 2015," he said with finality.
The leaning man chimed in, "We've got the Volt."
"That's out of my price range," I replied.
"Mine too," he conceded.
"Okay. Well, thanks anyway." I turned on my heels and
left. I guess business must have been really good there, since
they seemingly had no interest in helping me any further.
I went back to my truck and headed for the only dealer in the area that
sold the Smart EV: New Country Motor Cars,
a Mercedes-Benz dealer in Hartford, CT. The Smart had been
something of a joke in the U.S., a country famous for its 12 mpg S.U.V.
behemoths that dominated the highways. The Smart was about
half the length of most other cars on the market. The gas version
had been really popular in Europe where, ironically, it had a higher
fuel efficiency than in the U.S. To me, the trade-off of the
Smart's diminutive size wasn't made up for by its paltry 38 mpg
rating. However, the electric version intrigued me.
I had done my research over the preceding months. Both the Spark
and the Smart EVs were rated at 82 miles per charge. Because of
that, they were strictly around-town cars. The Spark was a
full-sized hatchback. It also had an Apple-approved stereo
interface for my iPhone. That was a big attraction for me.
The Smart wasn't advertised with those amenities, but at least it was
I arrived at New Country and walked into the spacious showroom that
seemed to be busy with activity. A gentleman greeted me and asked
how he could help. I told him I was interested in the Smart
EV. He immediately escorted me over to a saleswoman. We
chatted briefly about what I was looking for, and she said she'd be
right back with a model for me to test drive. She was efficient
without being pushy.
A few minutes later, I was seated in the bright red car. It was
much roomier than I had expected. It was basically a full size
car without a back. She had me start it up, an initially
perplexing action since the car made no sound when it was on. A
little image of the Smart car on the dash was the only indication we
were ready to roll. Oddly, the back windshield wiper kept going
intermittently and she couldn't figure out how to shut it off. I
finally pushed the spray button for the back window and the wiper
She had me pull out of the driveway and head down the street. The
car was much more responsive than I expected. The ride was a bit
stiff, but not uncomfortable. She had the air conditioning on,
which felt good on the warm day. Much of the cabin was a large
glass bubble, including a roof that essentially was a skylight. I
asked her how much the A/C cut into the battery capacity. She
said it was negligible. There was a touch-screen entertainment
system on the dash, a distracting amenity that seemed to be
increasingly commonplace in all cars.
She had me take the car onto the highway. It easily accelerated
up to 65 mph. And I was surprised to find that I didn't feel in
danger. The ride wasn't skittish at all and I easily kept up with
the traffic. She had me take the next exit and head back to the
I was impressed. She showed me the different models on the
lot. None of them had a Bluetooth radio, though -- something I
wanted that would be close enough to the Spark's interface. She
took me back into the showroom. There was a Smart EV there, with
an unusual matte grey finish, and it had the Bluetooth system. So
I decided right there to get it. We sat down at her cubicle and
filled out all the pertinent paperwork. I decided to lease
it. Consumer Reports had said that electric vehicles were so new
-- and the battery so expensive to replace -- that leasing made more
sense than buying. The Bluetooth accessory added a whopping $30 a
month additional to the lease. But even so, the total cost was
less than what I had paid for my Ranger (which I traded in).
She told me she'd take care of the plates and insurance work and
deliver the car to my house in two days, at which time she'd take the
Ranger back to CT. I left the dealership exhilarated, but also
somewhat bewildered. I was concerned about the vehicle's
range. But I also wanted to make a statement through my purchase
that electric vehicles were a good thing for the automobile
market. I was worried that I would end up regretting my choice.
Two days seemed like a long time. But I had a lot to get
done. Before the car was to arrive, I had to clean out the
garage, a space we had used for nothing but storage ever since we
bought the house. Much of the clutter was wood for our stove, so
I moved it to the basement to be chopped up later. After a few
hours, I had cleared a space big enough for the Smart.
A "runner" arrived from New Country with a thick stack of paperwork for
me to sign. Then he left for my insurance company. I had
panicked because I couldn't find my title for the Ranger. That
title was needed before I could sign it over to the dealer. I
hunted through all my pertinent documents, which I had kept neatly
organized in a file cabinet. Karen was the one who eventually
suggested that I never received it. I had bought the Ranger
through my credit union at work. That credit union was absorbed
by another -- at about the same time I paid off the loan. I
called the new credit union and they had no record of the loan.
So I went online to the Massachusetts RMV and purchased a duplicate
title. Fortunately, the RMV had a record of my purchase.
At 4:30 in the afternoon, the saleswoman arrived with my Smart
car. Karen thought it was really cute and laughed quite a
bit. I also purchased a bit of extra insurance: for the tires,
since our city roads were always such a mess; and body damage insurance
for dings and nicks that will probably happen while I'm parked at
work. Then she drove off with my old Ranger and I began my
journey into the world of electric transportation. I took Karen
out for a spin around town. The battery level read 40%. It
would take a few days to get used to the instrument clusters and
entertainment system. We arrived back at the house. I
opened the garage door and backed in slowly. The car just
fit. I took the charger out from the trunk, plugged it into the
outlet in the garage and connected it to the port on the car.
The next morning I went out to the car and packed up the charger into
its little compartment in the trunk. I got in the car and turned
the key. It would be my first full day with the Smart. I
looked at the instrument cluster. The car still had a 40%
charge. I felt a cold sweat. It hadn't charged a bit.
Still, I thought, with an 82 mile range, I should have plenty of
battery left to get to work in back. It was only about 20 miles
round-trip. So off I went. It was strange to glide down the
driveway in near-silence. (The saleswoman said that Mercedes had
to build a noisemaker into the car as a warning to bicyclists and
The ride to work was interesting. There were two circular gauges
atop the dash. One showed the energy being expended. If the
gauge went backwards, energy was being replenished by the regenerative
braking system. To its left was another gauge showing the battery
level. On the instrument cluster was a readout of my driving
efficiency. Flooring the accelerator would lower the
efficiency. Keeping the energy expenditure as near to zero as
possible would bring me up to 100% efficiency.
The biggest challenge proved to be East Mountain, which I had to
traverse every day. The car had plenty of torque to get up the
steep slope -- but at a cost of quite a bit of energy. By the
time I arrived at work, there was just 20% left in the battery.
That meant a trip to and from work every day would use 40% of the
battery. There was no way I would get 82 miles on a charge.
I drove over to the maintenance garage at work. They had a small
golf-cart-style electric car that they used for grounds work, and they
plugged it in outside. So I knew they had an outlet. I
pulled up and two of the groundskeepers came out to greet me.
They had a good laugh over my predicament and offered to put the Smart
car into the back of their pickup and bring it home for me. They
let me charge the car there for the day. Fortunately, this time
So I drove home feeling a bit more secure and arrived at home with
about 20% capacity left. I discovered the problem with my
circuit: the breaker in the garage was only 15 amps; the car needed at
least 20 amps to charge. So I ran another outlet into the garage
and created a new 20 amp circuit for it in our electrical panel.
I finished the job about 9 pm and went to bed exhausted.
The next day I found that the car had charged up to 80%, which would be
plenty to get me back and forth to work. The charger had a "fast
charge" setting in case I was in dire straights. But that
supposedly wasn't as good for the battery and I wanted to err on the
side of caution. The Smart performed fine. I
discovered a slide-out visor for the sun roof. I also adjusted
the settings on the stereo system and the dash. The stereo
sounded great and it worked reasonably well with my iPhone. There
was a USB charging port (strangely hidden inside the glove box).
Plus, there was also built-in GPS if I ever needed it. It
certainly was a step up from my Ranger.
I was able to get the car charged up to 100% a few times over the first
week. At that capacity, I could easily make it back and forth to
work for two days without re-charging. But that's a slight
disappointment; I originally envisioned charging up about once a
week. I have noticed that the drain has gotten slightly less on
progressive trips. Today's trip, for instance, appeared to use
just 15% each way. So perhaps the more the battery is used, the
more efficient it becomes (though that's highly unlikely).
But however it turns out, this is the car I will live with for at least
the next three years. I won't have to stop at a gas station any
more, which will save a little bit of money. However, I won't be
going very far either. And I'll have the peace of mind knowing
that I'm endorsing an alternative to rampant fuel consumption and
absurdly large vehicles.
NOVEMBER 4, 2013
Two months have passed, two
long months since I received a call from Ria Haworth asking if I had
any information about her son Scott. She had received a call from
the Chicopee post office branch where Scott had worked for
decades. He didn't show up for work, and the manager wanted to
know if everything was all right. Scott normally would dine with
his parents once a week, and he didn't show up for that either.
Ria assumed he was busy. He was often in demand, one of the most
talented and dedicated drummers in the Pioneer Valley.
I first met Scott in 1991. He was with the amusingly-named band
Hair Volume, along with Dave Hobbs and Joel Paxton. Their music
was technically astounding, with rapid bursts of sound driven by a
constantly changing beat. It was Frank Zappa mashed together with
speed metal. Dave let loose with pyrotechnic guitar work.
Joel's stream-of-consciousness vocals were often hilarious and
sometimes disturbing. And Scott was their anchor.
Scott was recruited into The Dots,
with Craig Kurtz, David Gowler and myself. We rehearsed
several times a week for months on end. And I grew to have great
respect for Scott's talents, how he so easily could shift from one
style to another and do it exceptionally well. He had a great ear
for and an encyclopedic knowledge of music. He also recorded
every one of our practice sessions. He catalogued everything:
every set list, the times they were performed, even who played
what. He also had a terrific sense of humor. Most of our
rehearsals were more like stand-up comedy routines.
When I was preparing my final solo album, Waves, I wanted real
drums. So I turned to Scott. He didn't want any money; he
said he loved my music and wanted to be a part of it. As a
recording test, I re-made my first album, Eye of the Storm, and set up
his drums in the empty carousel building at Mountain Park. He
nailed almost every song on the first take. All he had to work
with was a click track and a temp track of me singing with my
guitar. But he completely understood the feel of each song and
almost instinctively knew where they were going. His work on that
album's title track still makes my jaw drop. His contributions on
Waves were even more impressive. For one song, he re-tuned his
toms to imitate the sound of kettle drums and improvised the
When Tom Neilson asked me to record his Dancin' Shoes album, I asked
Scott if he wanted to be a part of that and he jumped at the
chance. We set up his kit in the small apartment Karen and I were
renting at the time. He listened to Tom's guitar and vocal track
and once again nailed most every track on the first take.
Scott also shared my love of amusement parks. We went together to
The Great Escape in New York a few times, when it was still a charming
property under the ownership of the great Charlie Wood. I still
remember his uncontrollable laughter as we entered Jungle Land and
heard the absurdly fake African native voice calling out, "You like my
jungle?" It became one of Scott's favorite catch phrases, a sort of
all-purpose conversation piece. He also loved that park's
But probably more than anything, Scott loved The Great Escape because
of its location at the foothills of the Adirondack mountains. He
was an avid hiker and had walked all around the Adirondacks. He
loved climbing Mount Monadnock, Mount Washington, the Appalachian
Trail. He would camp out on the trails. He would help
maintain them. It was almost the antithesis of the life he led
with rock bands. He could escape into the mountains and find
peace and clear his mind.
So when Ria called me, I couldn't quite comprehend what she was
saying. Scott wouldn't disappear. That wasn't the Scott I
knew. We had gotten together only a few months before, and had
corresponded by e-mail. WGBY-TV was contemplating making a
documentary about the Pioneer Valley music scene. If there was
one person they had to talk with, it was Scott. So I had sent
them his contact information. But there was no response.
I called Steve Koziol, a bandmate with whom Scott stayed in touch,
thinking he might have spoken with Scott recently and might have a
clue. My only thought was that Scott had gone off on a hike and
his car had broken down, or he had gotten injured on a trail.
Steve was surprised to learn of Scott's disappearance and put out an
APB among the area band members who Scott knew. Steve's wife
began searching area databases trying to find missing person
information. Scott's parents notified local and state
police. Steve said Scott would often take short hikes on Monument
Mountain in the Berkshires. The area was searched, but there were
no leads. Scott's parents went to his apartment. His car
was gone but all of his hiking supplies were still there.
A few weeks later, Scott was located. He was in the Adirondacks
and had cashed a check at a small convenience store. When the
check was processed, the New York police were alerted. Scott
returned to the convenience store a few days later but was told by the
clerk that the store wasn't supposed to accept out-of-state
checks. Scott disappeared again.
I spoke with Warren, his father, in a brief conversation. Warren
was heading out for the Adirondacks. He didn't care how much of
his life savings he had to spend. He was going to get his son
back. The New York police found Scott's car not far from one of
trails that he would frequent. Search parties scoured the area
with no luck. A helicopter with infrared sensors found no
It wasn't until mid-October that some more news
called me while I was
at work and left a cryptic message. I feared the worst and called
back. He told me that he saw a report about Scott on a New York
newspaper's website. Some wandering hunters found his lifeless
body in the woods about a quarter mile from his car. He had
I felt paralyzed. My breath came in gasps. I couldn't let
myself believe it. That just wasn't the Scott I knew. He
wouldn't do that. He was boundlessly optimistic. There had
to be a reason. Something must have happened to him.
I waited to hear something definitive from Warren or Ria. But
nothing came. On October 22, an obituary appeared in the
Springfield paper. A door closed. It was true. Scott
I wanted closure, but a different kind. I wanted to find Scott
and tell him it was going to be all right. I wanted to hear his
laugh again. I wanted to take him back to Great Escape to see the
changes. I wanted everything to be just the way it was. But
life doesn't always move that way.
Ria called me to thank me for being Scott's friend and wanted me to know how highly he thought of me. She said that Scott was cremated and that they planned to scatter his ashes along the various hiking trails that he loved so much, where he could
be at peace for eternity.
How can I ever know the demons someone carries inside? How can I
see the hidden hurt and find a way to bring healing? Scott left
us much too soon. I wish I could have known what he was going
through and somehow have turned his desperation into hope.
The cold of a New England November is settling in. And as surely
as the snow will come, so too will the spring. These past two months
will gradually turn into years, and then decades. But the sound
of Scott's energy and exhuberance will echo through this Valley for all time.