A Prayer For Portfolios

Will Adams drove to Westport the other day, from his home in Vermont.  It’s a state with plenty of guns, few gun laws, and even fewer problems surrounding them.

Meandering through town — the place he grew up, and went to Burr Farms, Long Lots and Staples — Will’s car was shot at by “some entitled little shit” teenager.

That was the last straw.  Will comes to Westport often to visit his 84-year-old father — beloved band teacher Jack Adams.  The changes he notices every couple of years have left a sour taste in Will’s mouth.

This time he vented on Facebook.

Will Adams

Reaction was swift.  A former classmate wrote that Westport “hasn’t really felt like home for a couple of decades.  Now it’s just a faceless town full of rich pukes.”

A woman agreed:  “Nothing is the same.  It’s hard to believe I grew up there!  I live in Fairfield and almost never go to Westport.”

A 3rd chimed in:  “I’m thinking (god shoot me for this) that Boca (where my parents retired) might be better?  Shit.”

I’ve known Will for years, so I wanted to learn more.  I called him the other morning.  Yes, there are phones in Vermont.

“Every place changes,” he acknowledged.  “But my biggest observation is that even though I knew growing up that Westport was an affluent town, it didn’t seem as in-your-face as now.  Money seemed more understated.”

Homes, too.

Driving down a side road, he saw a demolition sign on a Cape.  “It seemed like a perfectly good house,” Will said.  He knows that the 3-bedroom Dutch colonial he lived in on Long Lots, near the North Avenue intersection, will eventually be torn down.

Life is different up north.  “I value simplicity,” Will noted.  “The contrasts are so stark.”

In elementary school, Will remembered, “we took field trips around town.  It was highlighted that this was a colonial town.  We learned all about the early settlers and British soldiers.”  That reverence for history, he said, “seems to have retreated into the background.”

A vestige of the past remains.

Downtown, he added, “could be any affluent town anywhere in the US.”  About the only places still here from his youth are Max’s, Klaff’s, Westport Pizzeria, Oscar’s and Achorn’s.  “Main Street is all designer shops.  It doesn’t seem terribly personal to me.”

Just as distressing, he said, is that “everyone seems in a hurry.  They drive 15 to 20 miles over the speed limit, with cell phones to their ears.  It seems like all their interactions are short.”

Will — who spent 15 years as a lobbyist, and after soon finishing graduate school will work as an elementary school teacher — does not want to seem overly critical.  “These are value judgments,” he notes.  “Times change.  People change.  Maybe everyone who is 42 or 43 looks back and says, ‘Things are not the way they used to be.'”

How much longer will homes like this last?

“But I keep coming back to, ‘When is enough enough?  How much house do you need?’  I’m sure there are very, very good people in Westport.  These are just my observations about contrasts.

“It must be very tiring to worry all the time about paying for your mortgage, taxes, the latest car.  It’s exhausting for me to watch.  I can’t imagine what it’s like to live like that.”

Two years ago Will was in Westport for the 50th anniversary of Staples Players.  It was Memorial Day weekend, and he went to church.

The minister offered prayers for service members, and all who were sick.  His final lamentation was for “those who lost so much in hard economic times.”

That struck Will as “like a prayer for portfolios.  It just sounded very stark to me.”

He concluded:  “Westport is a very pretty town.  But as I drive around it seems something goes by the wayside, when people place more value on the land than in the home.”

49 responses to “A Prayer For Portfolios

  1. Will is making some sweeping generalizations based on one person performing a delinquent act. If I went to Vermont, the same thing could happen to me. And I would not overgeneralize and view the whole town as
    aberrant.

    I would not judge any one person’s character based on one act, nor would I dis an entire town and its population based upon that. Therefore I will not pass any judgement on a man who visits his 84 year-old father at his home (the most convenient way to see an 84 year-old) ONLY every year or two. All of the Westporters I know have enormous amounts of love and respect and show dedicated care to their parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles or as volunteers at the senior center.

    But I’m not judging.

    • William Adams

      I can see how one would be critical of someone that visited his 84-year-old father ONLY once every year or two, but that is not true in my case. To clarify, I travel to Westport several times a year and have been there once a week for the last four months to help my father through some health issues. I’ve e-mailed Dan asking for that point to be clarified so others won’t make comments based on one error in fact in an otherwise accurate account of my conversation with him.

  2. While I agree, it’s not that great to make sweeping generalizations, there is some truth to Will Adam’s comments. Westport has changed…some good, some not. Isn’t change inevitable though? One statement that really stood out was when he mentioned that when he was growing up, he knew Westport was an affluent town, but it wasn’t as in-your-face, as it is now. I think that hits the nail right on the head there..and I think most native Westporter’s would agree!!

  3. Jim Honeycutt

    I have been in Westport since the late 1970s. And have witnessed some of the changes that you mention. At least Westport still has Sally’s Place and Westport Pizza – still some wonders of the past remain! Ha. But if I understand a little bit about economics, the American middle class has been in decline since that time. Could some of these things that you mention which have been lost reflect national trends in economics. Is it just that Westport has lost some of its middle class and some of the characteristics associated with it?

    P.S. Had Will as a student and it was good to hear him speak with such affection at the Players 50th Reunion. Hey, he became a teacher like his dad! Great to hear from him again and feel bad for experience he had.

    Westport is still an extraordinary town. But things do change and some good do regretfully get lost along the way.

    • William Adams

      Mr Honeycutt!! It’s been a long time! Yes, I’ll be a teacher just like my dad. I think you’ve nailed my observation on the head in your observation about the decline of the middle class. That is clearly a national trend and problem and is starkly evident in Westport.

      What I don’t understand is the extravagance that seems to be so prevalent in Westport. How much house, how new a car does one need? When is having enough going to be good enough?

      Thanks for your comments–I hope you are well!

  4. I just received this email from Will Adams, and have changed the paragraph referenced in the post above to reflect this:

    Good morning Dan-
    I visit my father much more often than every year or two. I think where you might have gotten this confused is that I said yesterday that I’ve noticed, every year or two, more and more changes in Westport. Could you edit that section to more accurately reflect how often I travel to Westport; it would be accurate to say that I travel to Westport several times a year and in fact I’ve been there once a week for the last four months. One person has already jumped on the notion of me visiting my 84 year old dad ONLY every year or two. I’d appreciate it if you would change that paragraph. The rest of the post is great, and I enjoyed reading it!
    Will

  5. As a guy who makes a living in Finance, I actually blame the people (in many cases the entitled and self-absorbed wives) who make a living in Finance.

    Growing up here in the 70’s the town was filled primarily with mid towners in the legal and advertising profession. Returning 20 years later with the rise of the Greenwich/Stamford corridor as a hedge fund hotbed – I find that whilst the houses may be bigger and the stores more generic, it’s really the attitude of the people that have changed the most.

    20 years ago the attiude seemed to end at Darien as most finance people making it all the way to Wall Street wouldn’t dare venture out this far. Now we’re right in their cross hairs and while we appreciate the value they’ve brought to our real estate (at least until recently) I’m not sure it’s entirely worth the unintended consequences that came along with them.

    • Princeton '82

      When the New Yorkers started looking at houses as investments instead of homes, the town changed. Those days are over, I believe. No longer are you gonna “flip” your house in three years and make money. Those remaining view Westport as a home to bring up their kids. You can already see a transition.

  6. Isn’t everyone tired of hearing people complain about this stuff? (Though I certainly agree with the sentiment.) Instead of complaining why can’t we (old school residents and adult children of residents who visit their parents once a week or even once a year!) just take our town back? Let’s call it aggressive kindness.

    Stop at cross walks. Thank cashiers and waiters. Smile at people on Main Street. Greet your neighbors. Pick up your trash at Compo (maybe even grab extra rubbish on your way to the trash can.) Use some good old fashion Yankee restraint. Don’t tear down your cape and build a 7 bedroom house on a ¼ acre lot. Shop at Westport Pizza etc.

    If as many of the people who complain about the Westport jerks participated in our aggressive kindness campaign instead of sinking down to their level, then maybe those jerks would start behaving as well. (Or maybe not but at least there would be some good behavior to balance their bad behavior.)

  7. Will Adams is right on the mark about the essence of Westport now!! Growing up there in the early 70’s it was a really cool place to live!! In my opinion, over the years with the affluence of New Yorkers moving in it’s changed with teardowns and less respect for simplicity in homes!! I miss the downtown Westport I remember of my youth: Kleins, The Remarkable Bookstore, The Selective Eye, etc. Some of my favorites remain, but mainly in my memories!!!

  8. – Westport used to be a soccer town – now it’s a football town (too)
    – Westport used to be a Summer destination town (the population would increase), now it is a town where people leave for the summer to more expensive/exclusive summer destination towns.
    – Westport republicans used to fight to cut the school budget while the democrats would defend it. Now that is reversed.

    Many things have changed

    • Perhaps the best Staples football team ever was that of the ’64 season with the entire backfield going Division I. Also, the ’75 team is the only undefeated team in Staples history. Football was and is big.
      The Vineyard and Nantucket boomed in the 70’s with many Westporters finding refuge there as well as in Vermont and Rhode Island.
      Politicians are much the same. They are conflicted by their conscience and their desire for power. True under Herb Baldwin as it is now.
      Houses have gotten bigger, more traffic. Still good compassionate people here.

  9. Linda Gramatky Smith

    Love all these comments and glad Will corrected the misunderstanding. His dad is lucky to have him visit frequently.

    And thanks to “Meg” for her suggestions. I did just that a couple of weeks ago. We had an Australian friend visiting and as we left the back door of the Library, a tall, African American gentleman in a white cowboy hat held the door for us. Our visitor thought that was so nice. But 2 minutes later as we were driving out the road next to the police dept. we noticed that a man in a large black car who was turning INTO that road from Jesup had stopped the red car ahead of us (and inside we could see the silouette of the man with the cowboy hat) and had his window down and was yelling at the nice guy ahead of us. When he finally let the red car have room to exit, and was passing us, I put down my window and asked the man, “Is there a problem?” He glared at me too and said “He was going the wrong way on a one-way street!” I replied “No, this is two-way” and the man roared off towards the Library looking self-righteous. My friend said he had no doubt that this was racism in action. As you know, the exit from the Library is a two-way street down to Jesup Road, and we all need to speak up when Westport’s “entitleds” are obnoxious to other citizens. We can turn Westport back into a friendly town again if we each speak up.

  10. Don Willmott

    Point of clarification: what does he mean by “shot at?” A teenager pointed a gun at his car and shot at it? Were the police notified?

  11. Brave post, Will and Dan. Some things have to be said. Liked Meg’s post very much — Westport is worth claiming back — coming from someone who grew up in the 60’s in Westport and will forever love the town.

  12. The connection between a criminal act and the size of houses is a bit tenuous. I lived on the South Side of Chicago and gunshots were part of everyday life, and the housing was barely adequate. I would not presume to know person based only upon my obersrvation of the size of his/her house; large or small. Superficial judgements can cut both ways.

  13. The Dude Abides

    I have been back five years after growing up here. I love it. The houses are massive but so were the split levels built in the 60’s compared with the existing homes then. People are people, no matter where you go. There is a fair share of assholes but many are good community-minded, hard working and middle class valued individuals. Actually, I think the “rich-entitled” persona is a myth and promulgated by those who wish to live in such an environment. The Westporters I know are those described above. Good folks and the scenery remains spectacular!!! Sorry for your experience, Will, I hope you caught the little shit but underneath all the visible changes, Westport remains your hometown.

  14. Barbara Deecken

    Mr. Jack Adams was my favorite memory of 12 years in the Westport Public Schools in the late 70’s…a wonderfully fun, talented teacher and a real gentleman! He was a role model for all of us, and I’m sure many of his students are better people because of his fine example! Feel better, Mr. A! Great times playing in your exciting band, especially loved performing the theme from M*A*S*H and your phenomenal trumpet demos!

    • William Adams

      Barbara-Thank you for your kind comments about my dad. I’ll be sure to pass them on to him! He has a great memory–which school did you attend where he taught?

      • Barbara Deecken

        Will, I attended Long Lots Junior High. If only all Westporters could be like your Dad, Westport would be a kinder, gentler place…!

        • William Adams

          Thanks again–he’s always been a Southern gentleman. 🙂 I’ll say hello for you net time I’m in town.

  15. William Adams

    One other point of clarification. My original Facebook status update that caught Dan’s eye read as follows: “Every time I visit Westport I become more convinced of the truth within the quote “You can’t go home again.” From there my friends commented as Dan quoted them within this blog and I also relayed the story of having my car shot at during my most recent trip. I relayed that story more a comment out of frustration and dismay that it actually happened; I didn’t suggest that there’s a connection between the random criminal behavior of a misguided youth and the dramatic changes–culturally and economically–that have taken place in Westport over the last 25 years. Those changes are, however, central to the sentiment of my Facebook post: “You can’t go home again.”

  16. Adrian Bowles

    I’d like to offer a thought on the “prayer for portfolios” theme. From my own experience, I took a different meaning from the quote. Sure, there are some who bemoan the loss of value in their portfolios even if it has no effect on their daily lives, but many have lost so much more. I have friends who have lost their homes and to some degree their sense of self-worth as jobs and opportunities evaporated. I know there are children in our town who have lost a sense of security, and confidence, and in some cases of optimism. Those are real losses.

    • Very true, Adrian and good point. But those people also enjoyed the
      boom times of the 90’s, I will bet. Most of the folks I know in trouble now, spent like like the boom would last forever. And a caveat to Will, I believe you can come home and Professor Woog did a piece on my return in the News. As far as rascal hoodlums, hell it was worse back in 50’s when “some” kids threw logs down on cars off Cross Highway. Gotta look closer for the real Westport and after spending countless summers in Vermont and still owning commerical property up there, it has become a welfare state and lost most of its energy.

  17. Richard Lawrence Stein

    I was a class mate of Will’s. We were not friends per se, but I have to have his back here. Many of the things he has said and or feel are really not untrue. I have lived here in our lovely town since 73. The town we remember and the town we knew has changed. I don’t think Dude, Dan, Terry B, or many others can really argue this point. I feel the town has still held onto many of it charming qualities, but I also feel sickened by the attitudes of many and the silliness of the largeness of homes. Will is stating what many feel and think, but we live here day in and day out and he doesn’t. Will is throwing stones, but he is not, he is saddened that a place he grew up loving is not the place he knows. I live here and am quite involved, sometimes I do not know this town too.

    • The Dude Abides

      But RLS, can’t that be said of many parts of America??? Our culture has changed dramatically since the 70’s as well as wealth distribution. To me, I judge Westport by the people and to me, very few places serve 400 people for Thanksgiving/Christmas dinner or have Senior Centers or have a Longshore available to its residents or a Playhouse that attracts first rate thesbians. That is what makes Westport great and not the size of houses or the arrogance of the few.

      • Richard Lawrence Stein

        I don’t disagree Dude… That is why I am here… Plus I like to be the fly in the oinment of those who think they are bigger than the town

  18. We live in a 150+ year old house in the Kings Highway Historic District. The homes here haven’t changed much in years.

    • The Dude Abides

      Do you have a sign on the front saying 1854? Sorry, one of my pet peeves. 4 constructions on my street in the last five years. Houses be a changin’.

      • Someone is building those houses. Someone built those 1960’s split levels. I think it is a benefit that such construction provides jobs. I don’t like the houses, but I am not paying for them, and I don’t want to reduce the number of jobs in an already soft job market.

        • Good point as always JPT. However, I think back then most of the builders were local with local labor. Not so sure about that now. We have found an interesting trend of builders under-bidding the job and then unable to meet budget or pay subs or finish the job. Another reason to hire local.

  19. Fred Cantor

    I think that the types of issues Will raises have really played out in Westport (and similar affluent suburbs) at least as far back as the mid1950s when The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit was written by Sloan Wilson, who made this area the setting of his novel.

  20. The Dude Abides

    Yeah but if you read Wilson carefully (in total with other works), he was not all that happy with the changing Westport and Post WWII country back then either. I conclude that people don’t really like change despite protestations to the contrary especially if they are living the good life. Obama’s meme may prove my supposition???

    • Dick Lowenstein

      Do we remember the opening line in “The Man in GrAy Flannel Suit”? “By the time they had lived seven years in the little house on Greentree Avenue in Westport Connecticut, they both detested it.” 🙂

  21. Native New Englander

    All very interesting and the common theme is change. I think it’s important to note that this isn’t unique to Westport but that any of the affluent metropolitan New York suburbs (and those of other major cities across the country) have experienced very similar things over the past 3-4 decades. It may be true that the Finance types didn’t typically live past Darien due to long commutes downtown and that Greenwich was always the most obviously affluent and that New Canaan was the most discreet and “Waspy” and that Westport was the most culturally diverse or “arsty” of the towns but those microclimates are pretty much long gone due to technology and corporate expansion beyond NYC. The comment about the changing middle class is what is most poignant to me and it what is truly at the root of most of these issues. It is unfortunate that there isn’t more obvious socio-econmic diversity in all our towns; our children would benefit greatly by it. The affluence that has come into so many so quickly hasn’t had the time to absorb or distill in many cases and thereby comes across as brash and highfalutin. I’d like to think that the McMansionites and their progeny will eventually realize the futility of their ways and begin to tone it down and I hope that we can all live to see it. For me, I just try to keep it all in perspective and live my life the way I was brought up to do.

  22. George Horton

    But the middle class is disappearing and not sure there is such as a thing as the “new rich.” The culture has changed in regard to the interaction of human beings. The rush, the hurry, the fast talking, money making Gordon Gekko has become “in” and thus the clones have emerged. Hopefully, the recession will shake reality back into the every present debt ridden wannabes who look upon Westport as an investment rather than a place to plant roots.

  23. First and foremost you can never go home. Places change, people change and that is the way the world works (although I still miss S/M pizza). I grew up in Westport and my folks still live in town. If you were to draw a circle around Westport and pinpoint all of my childhood friend’s current homes who have moved back to the area (after post college NYC apts or stints elsewhere) not one of them would land inside that circle. We live in Weston, Wilton, Fairfield, etc. While I think the middle class argument is compelling and somewhat true, I think there are still plenty of hardworking folks not living in 1.0 million dollar houses in town today and certainly many people struggling. Perhaps they are just more frustrated or angry by the times we live in then in the years past. My over 30 friends and their families who have chosen NOT to live in Westport are all for the most part very successful people, some are in finance, some live in big houses or drive nice cars. I bet some of them even talk on their cell phones while driving. BUT they are all very kind and warm people (for the most part). They smile, they let people into intersections….just generally pleasant people. I love the ‘kill them with kindness’ campaign because in my opinion it is a very small percentage of the people in Westport that are ‘bullying’ the rest of us with their self importance. You know who they are: speed 60 mph down Roseville Rd tailing you in a RR or an Audi Q7, talk loudly about ‘the dollar vs. the yen’ in the frozen food aisle at Whole Foods, believe that by living in Westport every town employee, teacher and camp counselor should be treated like they treated their first intern at Lehman, believe their children have every right to do whatever they please in public, constantly tell you how much they miss ‘the city’ but had to move here..I could write a column called 06883 with all I have to say so I will stop preaching but I will continue to kill them with kindness. Don’t let a few bad apples spoil the apple fest!

    • Well said. You must be very patient. But I think the competitive nature of us Americans doesn’t allow to tolerate those who feel superior and by no means, are. I think the blog here indicates such.

  24. Westport is a beautiful town and anyone would be fortunate to live here and enjoy its unique culture and many amenities. It is a rare and lucky person who can just decide to move here, rather than inheriting a home from an ad-man father or financial boom in-laws.

    My best friend moved here after meeting her “soulmate” on Compo Beach during a visit with me. They married and were happy until his interest in his portfolio and his blog became more important to him. It was suddenly all about HIS house and HIS money and HIS plans, which included making sure his ex let him see his kids; that being contingent upon his supporting her in “Westport style”.

    There are selfish people everywhere, and certainly Westporters have much to “defend” whether they earned it or not. The fear of losing access to exclusivity and status is very real here, and many have had to sacrifice a lot to remain here and keep their children in our good schools.

    But the fact remains that other places are as beautiful, and some moreso – like Mr. Adams’ Vermont. A much more beautiful state. With better stewardship in many ways and finer manners. And schools just as good and more progressive. The difference is they don’t hold their noses up
    in Vermont. That is exclusively a Manhattan-inherited quality of ours we no longer even recognize through our worry of how we are keeping up.

    • “Manhattan-inherited quality” oh my! Aren’t you exhibiting a bit of the attitude you deplore?

  25. I think you have been drinking too much of the kool aid, Alexandra, based on one bad marriage. I don’t find too many noses in the air around Westport. The majority are good hard working families who value their kid’s education and very community minded. Have you ever been to Vermont in April-May?? Hardly beautiful and most folks up there are rarely friendly. Much the anti-snob snobs, much like you.

  26. My mother, a product of hard-core Depression-era working class Boston, was a Westport resident for 50 years until her death just a few years ago. She would have echoed McGee’s sentiments. My dad, who grew up on a hardscrabble farm in the NH White Mountains, would have reminded Alexandra that much of the population of Vermont appears now to be composed of expat individals and families from communities like Westport and, yup, from Manhattan, with all that that implies for better or worse. As a NYC resident for nearly 40 years (Manhattan and the Bronx) I’ll remind Alexandra — who probably needs no reminding — that Manhattan has become mainly a pass-through zone for monied youngsters enroute to somewhere else, an island Oz removed from the rest of the city. Truth in advertising requires me to add that my family came to Westport from Manhattan in the early 50s and within a few years joined the rest of the mostly new residents of the town in complaining about “New Yorkers”, a delicious irony and pretty funny. April and May in northern New England, btw, is called “the mud time,” a very accurate description. The clouds of black flies arrive as the mud dries.

  27. Jack Adams is an awesome teacher. How many Westport teachers do you think can actually afford to live in this town now?

  28. Ed Stalling ("Eddie" to Jack)

    One of the greatest posts, in so many ways, as evidenced by the volume and colorful feedback. Jack Adams changed my life. He egged me on musically, and the joy and therapy music has brought me is priceless. And he is a first class person. He showed up at my father’s funeral, unexpectedly, he really cares. Thank you Jack Adams.

  29. I hope it is not too late to thank Jack Adams for what he taught me. No, he didn’t make me a better player. But he made me a better person. Though it took years for me to catch on to what he was trying to pound into my head, eventually I got it. Thank you.

  30. Poor Will, his eyes are just opening up. I guess you need to get away to look in from the outside. I grew up in Westport in the 60s and 70s and remember it as predominantly being a place of privilege, of exclusive wealth, rich kids, expensive homes. Nothing has changed, Will.

  31. Jack Adams is a very prolific musician, playing both classical and jazz trumpet and as a band conductor, the latter at SHS for many years. Also, every Thanksgiving and Christmas he was playing with my Dixieland/Jazz Band at the Saugatuck Congregational Church during the 80’s and 90’s for their annual celebrations to feed families away from home. Jack is indeed an “endangered species.”