Monday, April 30, 2012

Doing it their way
By Arthur H. Gunther III
How would you feel if someone with clout and cash decided to throw a party in your home, didn’t invite you, left a mess and couldn’t remember your name?
That’s about to happen in South Nyack, N.Y., and Tarrytown, just across the mighty Hudson River, a National Historic waterway that itself should get more respect. I mean Henry Hudson explored this part of America, right?
He found the river though he was seeking the Northwest Passage, but it now appears transportation gurus in Washington and at Albany, directed by a president and governor, can’t find post-exploration settlements on the Hudson’s shore. And they have GPS. If they could, taxpayers at South Nyack and Tarrytown would like them to come visit, sit a spell and tell them what to expect when a new bridge is built joining the communities.
Actually, a crossing already exists -- the Tappan Zee Bridge, named by a newspaper editor (Norman R. Baker of The Journal-News) but since 1994 officially termed the Gov. Malcolm Wilson Tappan Zee Bridge. Built in 1955. it was constructed on the cheap to save money and to get it up  quickly. It was designed as the New York State Thruway’s “cash register on the Hudson,” to pay off the bonding.
The bridge, carrying far more traffic than originally expected and requiring super-costly renovation, is now said to be failing, though there is dispute over this, and special interests like the trucking lobby and construction unions want it replaced. A nearly $6 billion, two-bridge choice is to be designed as quickly as the last one. That’s where the disrespect for South Nyack and Tarrytown comes into play.
It seems the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, not required in the 1950s but now at least an attempt to address land, water, air and people issues, has not properly examined the effects on either side of the Hudson. 
Why not? The Thruway backs up daily in both locations and vehicle emissions fill the air. Trucks are a special problem, their diesel exhaust clearly visible as a tripling of pre-1990 truck traffic continues. The new crossings’ landfall also will affect property values and quality of life during and after construction, and promises even more traffic. 
President Obama and Gov. Andrew Cuomo have fast-tracked bridge replacement, contending it will create jobs in an economy in need of re-invention as well as assure the soundness of the interstate system. So they will occupy South Nyack and Tarrytown to get the job done, hardly caring if they make a mess of life there. It’s their party, though the bridge jobs will be temporary and the new crossings will be as impotent in moving increasing traffic as is the present bridge. 
Decades ago, the interstate system should have constructed a major connector road between I-84 and I-95, so that trucks bound for New England go north and east and do not need to take the Tappan Zee. That should have been done before I-287 opened in the early 1990s, almost doubling Tappan Zee truck traffic overnight. 
Also, a one-seat ride should have been provided for commuters west of the river. And a dedicated bus lane should have been established on the bridge. Those two moves would have reduced auto traffic.
Now, with fast-track design, bidding and construction ever so rapidly approaching, these old issues still have not been resolved. South Nyack, which lost hundreds of homes and its entire downtown through state seizure in the first Tappan Zee build, will get another sock in the jaw. And that punch will vibrate over the Hudson at Tarrytown, too.
Nice when some have friends in high places. Not so nice if those friends are your enemies.

Monday, April 23, 2012


By Arthur H. Gunther III

     Viola, N.Y. -- Spring was once famous in this small hamlet, its name now almost forgotten in the greater growth of suburban and partly urban Ramapo Town. Just 25 miles from New York City, this area of Rockland County was until the 1960s largely rural -- apple orchards and truck crop farming. The blossoms were extraordinary, and if Heaven could tempt with a preview, it did here.
     You also knew spring was coming when the forsythia bloomed at the foot of the old Almshouse property -- the county welfare and aged home and these days the site of a large community college. Though the area has changed so dramatically, if you look past the bustle,  you can still find the patch where yellow in annual brightness must have cheered some Almshouse residents at least. Even in Rockland Community College’s early days, 1962 or so, students in the library or in classrooms facing College Road could see the forsythia as well as the pussy willows favored by a particular friend who also liked cats. Now only the patch remains.
In the great scheme of things, and there always seems to be a scheme for anything, you could say who cares about some yellow flowers or furry catkins on twigs? Get with the program, man, you might admonish. Progress doesn’t have time to smell the flowers, right? Times change, and rural land and the farms that are kit and kin to them and once were to more of America simply must move aside for “Huggy Bear Estates” or that four-story, multi-family home, yes?  You can put a photo of the old forsythia above the mantle, for auld lang syne. The pussy willows can go in the umbrella stand in the two-story foyer.
You’ll never convince me, though, that progress should be a steamroller, that in the applaudable interest of perhaps providing better living through homes and backyards in suburbia, there isn’t a finish line when the dozers should cut their engines and we all say enough. I think the term for that is sensible planning, with the balancing of need and resource, infrastructure and costs so that quality of life, which was sought after in the first place when the suburbs began, is supported not by relentless growth but by limits on it. 
Maybe then the small patch where forsythia and pussy willows grew off College Road will bloom again.

Monday, April 16, 2012


By Arthur H. Gunther III
What better topic on April 16, National Librarian Day, than to hail those women and men who encourage reading? The old slogan, “Reading is Fundamental,” is apt since the flow of ideas and free thinking, without which democracy and progress cannot exist and flourish, derives from absorbing one word after another. Librarians enable us to do that.
It is ironic, though, that most librarians, and I am including all who work in libraries, are paid little relative to other professions, and often there is required masters degree training. Libraries are also among the first to receive government budget cuts. Yet not one foot has ever gone forward in the chasing of our own nation’s manifest destiny without at least one leader who is well-read.
Yes, he or she may have been self-schooled, self-motivated in picking up a book, reading and absorbing words, using those words to formulate thinking and to foster inventiveness, but somewhere before there was a keeper of books who loaned that person the first reader.
Often it’s your mom who is your initial “librarian,” since she reads to you, and today dads are there as well. And both may take a child to their first library.
When I was a young fellow, lucky to grow up in a small village of the 1940s and ‘50s where the tiny public library was built by the generous Finkelstein Family, many an otherwise boring day was spent walking a mile and a half to sit amongst the beautiful wood shelves filled with so many books. Miss Heitman, the librarian, let kids look for themselves, and I soon found the biographies I liked best. While I proved an intially poor reader (years later after great difficulty in early college years, I learned I had a reading/comprehension deficit),  the love of words began with that library and that librarian. It proved, though subconsciously at first, to be the incentive to a career using words as a newspaperman. It was also through books that I was able to develop a shorthand way to compensate for my learning deficit.
I also married a woman who, besides teaching, has been and is again a part-time librarian. She reads constantly and has filled our home with books. The first son, a teacher, absorbed that atmosphere so much that his own being, family and house are infused with reading. His children are lucky to walk to their own local library in Nyack, N.Y. The second son, though not a reader as such, uses words in special ways in his job at the Smithsonian.
I also have a friend in Colorado who chases words and who has been a librarian and teacher. And in my youth I knew other strong readers. 
So, I have much reason to thank all the librarians out there who have affected my life, and so do you. Hail to our librarians, who offer us words in print, now digitally as well, and who guide us to all manner of information. What a road map they provide.

Monday, April 9, 2012


By Arthur H. Gunther III
If “government is of the people, by the people, for the people,” or at least if there is the slightest pretense of that, then the “people” get to communicate with officialdom, right? But what happens if Big Brother does not answer?
It’s the newest way of dealing with the masses, it seems. At least with the mass that is me. I’m beginning to feel as if I am the child who asks too many questions and is simply ignored, dismissed as it were.
When I WAS a child, way back, I wrote a letter to President Eisenhower following his moderate heart attack in Colorado (1955). Since I was just going on 13, it wasn’t a deep missive. The wish was for a speedy recovery. Why I wrote I do not recall. At about the same time I was sending letters to the queen of England and to the short story editors of the Saturday Evening Post. 
Ike’s Sherman Adams penned a nice reply and so did the Post editor, and I have always been grateful for that, thankful that these busy men took time out to at least have letters written to a young fellow whose handwriting was barely readable. The queen didn’t respond, but I figured she was was still mad at the colonialists. 
Over the years, into adulthood and seniorhood, there have been other letters and usually replies. Not always the answers I sought or from the actual people I intended to reach, but still replies. Not a bad record in this participating democracy, so I have been humming the citizenship counts tune for a long time.
Until recently. Story #1: When President Obama took office, there was a well-publicized push by his staff that he would be the “Internet president” and that the people could more easily communicate with him and his powerful office. The hope was that the White House, like the Congress, usually so well courted by lobbyists and other special interests, would be accessible in the spirit of “government by the people, etc.” A comprehensive website was established to leave comment, and you can check a box if you seek reply. Now, no one expect a busy president in a busy world to read all his e-mail, especially the huge volumes of web messages, but his staff should, if that’s the promise. And there should at least be a form letter response.
But nada, on several occasions. And I wrote clearly expressed letters, to the point. I’m in the writing business.
Story #2: In my part of the people’s government area, near the mighty Hudson River, there is a 57-year-old bridge across the Tappan Zee (Sea) that was built quickly in the mid-1950s to accommodate the new Thruway then slashing its way through New York State to New York City. It was constructed cheaply,  and that was just the wrong thing to do since government’s failure over successive decades to provide a major truck route to New England has now overloaded the crossing. Some experts say it should be replaced, though there is debate. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, courted by the trucking industry and construction companies and unions,  is hell bent on building a new crossing. And without what the locals, including myself, see as a full environmental review, especially concern for the river’s estuary and for South Nyack and Tarrytown, the landing points for the planned two bridges. There is no mass transit component for commuters, no regard for the localities and the extra air and visual pollution that will result. And the bridges will not provide enough lanes for traffic that continues to expand exponentially. They will be obsolete the day they open.
Since I authored about 100 editorials and a number of columns on the various bridge replacement proposals during my years as editorialist for The Journal-News, the area newspaper, I wrote the governor, including a personal message about how I and his father Mario, a previous governor, bantered at Editorial Board meetings. That was not bragging, but at least a way to get his staff to read a letter of concern, one expressing the interests of residents. I thought I could get his ear and help in the dialogue. But, again, not even a form letter reply to both email and old-fashioned U.S. Postal Service delivery. 
Sad in these days of ever-more powerful special interests that it seems only those with money can get to our officials. Guess it’s now “government of the lobbies, by the lobbies, for the lobbies.”

Sunday, April 1, 2012


By Arthur H. Gunther III
Probably in America, there are thousands of undiscovered “Easter eggs” -- real hardboiled and also plastic with coins inside -- the leftovers of so many mother- or grandmother-inspired events over the decades. The excitement of children following clues and locating seemingly insignificant treasures is worth the price of today’s gold. If only they could hunt Easter eggs for  a longer time and innocence be prolonged.
Some of us are better at laying the clues for such adventure, using numbers that must be followed in succession, or as one person  did it, taking a car ride to the park as the second clue. Others, perhaps used to doing the child’s work for the child, almost lead by the hand. Or maybe it's impatience. But whatever the method and intent, it is the reaction of the young that is almost glorious. Here they are with hard-boiled eggs that they may not even want to eat but which they colored in such great fun. And here they are with plastic eggs filled with just a few dimes. The toys and games they may routinely get, the electronics they have -- all cost so much more but may not bring as much immediate excitement.

Of course, a trip to Grandma’s does not hurt either, for that is always Imaginary Land, especially with a wonderfully indulgent lady of the house.
Today’s world, as ever, is sometimes a scary place for grownups, and there is enough stress and worry to make you gray before your time. But if, once in your life at least, you can run to a backyard and find a few Easter eggs behind trees, under rocks and in flower pots, you will gather part of the warming quilt that can get you through it all.