Westport Fire Chief Robert Yost is one of Westport’s most interesting public officials.
His department puts out blazes, sure. But they do much more. They respond to accidents, conduct inspections, even check on elderly residents and advise first-time homeowners how to use their fireplaces (pro tip: open the flue!).
The chief also oversees the town’s entire Emergency Management Team. Judging from our recent hurricanes, superstorms, floods and blizzards, that’s a full-time job itself.
Did Yost have a burning desire (ho ho) to become a fire chief? How has Westport — and firefighting — changed since he joined the department? What’s a typical day in his life like?
We talked about all that recently, at the Westport Library. Now you can watch our conversation (below).
When you’re done, I bet you’ll never think of our (amazing) Fire Department the same way again.
On Friday, “06880” proudly posted a photo by Pulitzer Prize-winner (and Staples High School graduate) Lynsey Addario. Showing misery in South Sudan, it was one of the New York Times’ top photos of 2021.
Yesterday, another of her images — from a different continent — was featured. By another prestigious publication
National Geographic gave star treatment — and a lengthy explanation — to this shot.
Lynsey sure gets around. And she continues to make her hometown proud. (Hat tip: Chuck Greenlee)
SIR Development’s Rob Haroun responds to yesterday’s photo of trees that were recently cut on Hideaway Lane, off Hillspoint Road. He says:
“The 7 or 8 trees, most of which are on town property as shown in the Google Earth photo and acknowledged by the Westport tree warden, were all posted for removal. No one objected.
“After the requisite period of time and with permission from the tree warden, the trees were removed, some by the town. This was due to the extreme hazard to walkers and vehicles and the lack of maintenance over many years both by the town and the prior owner of 149 Hillspoint.
“The Google Earth photo (below) shows how the trees in the background leaned perilously over Hillspoint Road. Even though most of them were town trees, the tree warden requires replacement trees, from the town-approved list, which will be planted in the fall.
“Additionally, the ‘after’ photo (below) was not taken from the same vantage point as the Google Earth photo, as it does not show the remaining trees on both the left and right sides of Hideaway Lane.”
It’s hardly a surprise that Tyler Hicks and Lynsey Addario — Staples High School’s 2 Pulitzer Prize-winning photographers — have images in this year’s “Year in Pictures” supplement.
Tyler’s was taken on July 12 in Herat, Afghanistan.
(Photo/Tyler Hicks for New York Times)
Tyler says: “This photograph was taken at a checkpoint where Afghan police were inspecting vehicles arriving from nearby Taliban controlled villages. As cars were stopped and checked I turned and saw that a family who was fleeing that area was packed into a car with a girl looking out the back window, back toward where they had come from. I could see the concern in her face and to me that’s what stood out about this moment.
“Although only one person is seen in this photograph, her face says everything about what was soon to come. You can always tell what’s coming by the mood of the population. There was an urgency among the people that was obvious. This is when it became clear to me that there would be no turning back the events that followed.”
Lynsey’s photo was shot on October 26 in Paliau, South Sudan.
(Photo/Lynsey Addario for New York times)
She says: “I was traveling with UNICEF through this very flooded area of South Sudan. It was the first time people had been given masks and they were trying them on. There is so much flooding, malaria, hunger. Covid is not first and foremost on peoples’ minds.”
Congratulations to Tyler and Lynsey, on their superb images. Let’s hope they’ll be able to capture more pleasant and peaceful scenes for the 2022 Year in Pictures.
If you’re heading to tonight’s Christmas Eve services at Greens Farms Church: you’ll need to register in advance (click here). COVID restrictions will keep each service — at 4:30, 6 and 9 p.m. — below the 180-seat meetinghouse capacity.
Each service will last about 30 minutes, and include opportunities for participation by children. All services feature candlelight, too.
Masks are required in the meetinghouse. Congregants are asked to arrive early, for check-in.
Greens Farms Congregational Church (Photo/Candace Dohn Banks)
Dozens of Westporters took time from hectic last-minute shopping yesterday, to contribute toys, books, coats and fundsto OneWestport’s collection. All donations will be given to Person to Person, the Fairfield County organization serving needing families.
James Dobin-Smith — founder of Staples High School’s OneWestport Club — says, “We were overwhelmed by how many people showed up. A 1st grader named George Gitto used the allowance he had saved up for months to buy picture books to donate from Barnes & Noble. We even got a cash donation from England!
“Thank you, everyone. We can’t wait to deliver the gifts on Christmas Eve!”
Congratulations to club members Dobin Smith, Caroline Caggiano, Isabelle Ormsby, Ian Patton, Cooper Sadler and Melanie Stanger.
OneWestport Club members with donations (from left): Melanie Stanger (with the two stuffed animals) and Ian Patton, Isabelle Ormsby, Cooper Sadler & me. Caroline Caggiano also volunteered but isn’t pictured.
More than 55 years after graduating from Staples, Rob Carlson still writes and records music. He’s better than ever. And he’s doing it with great local talent.
His latest effort was assembled over the last 3 years. With some new and some new recordings of older songs, it’s called simply “Rob Carlson.” It’s typically eclectic: folk, rock, jazz, pop, Americana, R&B, comedy and reggae.
COVID enabled Rob to record with other non-gigging greats like Westport session guitarist Jeff Southworth, jazz keyboardist Chris Coogan, and old friends like Jon Gailmor.
Yes — the legendary Carlson & Gailmor duo, whose long-out-of-print Polydor record is one of the all-time, hard-to-believe-it-never-made-it great records — is back together for a bit.
“Rob Carlson” is on Spotify, YouTube and other streaming services. The CD or tracks can be bought at Rob’s Online Store, or downloaded from Bandcamp.com. Find out more about the songs and artists by clicking here.
This month, the Greens Farms Garden Club’s annual wreath-making workshop and lunch was special. They surprised long-time member Mary Lou McGuire with a Federated Garden Clubs of Connecticut life membership.
She was cited for her many years of service, depth of experience, and breadth of talents in chairing and serving on almost all positions in the club.
All wreaths made by club members were donated to local non-profit groups.
Greens Farms Garden Club past [resident Ann Watkins, current president Kathy Mitchell, and Mary Lou McGuire
Connecticut has introduced its version of a “digital vaccine passport.” Residents who click on their COVID-19 vaccination records through the state immunization database, CT WiZ (click here), can then get a “SMART Health Card” to save on their smartphone photo roll, or in an app like the iPhone Wallet.
The “card” includes a QR code that uses the same standard as New York, California and Canada.
This is the busiest time of year for Staples’ Orphenians.
The elite high school a cappella group has spent weeks singing holiday music. They visit civic clubs, elderly residents and Christmas tree lightings. Earlier this month, they entertained a large crowd at the “06880” Stroll.
They return downtown on Thursday, with a twist: alumni.
Former Orphenians are invited to join current members for an hour-long meander along Main Street and environs.
The group gathers shortly before 6:30 p.m. this Thursday (December 23), near the entrance to Starbucks in Parker Harding Plaza.
Groupies are welcome to tag along and listen, too.
The Orphenians entertained at this month’s Town Hall holiday tree lighting. (Photo/Dan Woog)
It’s Christmas Day. You’ve opened the presents, put all the stuff that needs assembling together, and gone to CVS for batteries. You’ve had lunch, and an egg nog or two.
At 3:06 p.m. — that’s right, just after the news — tune in to WSHU-FM. Westport Country Playhouse Radio Theater reprises last year’s clever audio play, “A Merry Little Christmas Carol.”
Missed it on Christmas? Tune in the next day — Sunday, December 26, also 3:06 p.m. — for a rebroadcast.
Pro tip: You don’t have to listen on radio. “A Merry Little Christmas Carol” is available now through January 2 at the Playhouse website — click here.
“A Merry Little Christmas Carol” is written and directed by Mark Shanahan, adapted from his play of the same name, and based on “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens. Shanahan is curator of Playhouse Radio Theater, and also curates the Playhouse Script in Hand playreading series.
“With the remarkable Paxton Whitehead as Scrooge, Dickens’ masterpiece charges us to recall that we are all responsible for the wellbeing of our brothers and sisters—an idea which rings true now more than ever,” Shanahan says.
“Our merry little audio play invites those who cannot be with us in person at the theater to close their eyes and imagine they are once again nestled into their cozy red seats at the Playhouse, experiencing a remarkable story filled with laughter, tears, and holiday cheer.”
Speaking of the Playhouse: A promo is out for next month’s PBS specials: “Stars on Stage from Westport Country Playhouse.”
The shows — set for 3 consecutive Fridays (January 7, 14 and 21, all at 9 p.m.), featuring Broadway stars Gavin Creel, Shoshana Bean and Brandon Victor Dixon — will put our historic theater squarely in the national spotlight.
They were filmed in September, before live audiences.
David Ader shot today’s “Westport … Naturally” image.
He explains: “Turin has its shroud. On Woodside Avenue, we have the bird.
“These photos are of a haunting outline of a bird on a picture window, a good 20 feet off the ground. I noticed this and thought it was the lingering remains of something my kids had put up years before, but it wasn’t a sticker’s residual on the inside.
“I suspect this was from a bird that smashed into the window and left, somehow, this image. I ran outside to see if a dead or stunned bird lay below on the driveway, but there was nothing, not even a feather.
“I’d like to believe it’s a sign of something — perhaps an angel’s wings, or a symbol of peace?
“Or, worst case, that we’re all flying straight into a wall!”
On the last Sunday before Christmas, Main Street is packed today with almost-last-minute shoppers.
While buying gifts for friends and loved ones, Steve Crowley hopes we’ll think about everyone in Kentucky whose holidays — and lives — were upended by last week’s tornadoes.
Steve — the owner of SCA Crowley Real Estate Services — has swung into action. He got a logo (courtesy of Miggs Burroughs) with the words “America Lends a Hand.” He ordered dozens of t-shirts, with the design.
Marty Rogers produced a sign. It’s in front of Vineyard Vines all day today, where Steve and his sons are selling the shirts, in return for donations to the Western Kentucky Relief Fund. 100% of all contributions go directly there.
In the midst of everything, stop in front of Vineyard Vines to help out. And, Steve says, if you can’t be there, send a tax-deductible check made out to “Team Western Kentucky Tornado Relief Fund,” c/o Public Protection Cabinet, 500 Metro Streeet, 218 NC, Frankfort, KY 40601.
Steve Crowley (right) and sons, selling t-shirts outside Vineyard Vines today.
Speaking of the Library: It can’t run without volunteers. Betty Lou Cummings was one of its staunchest.
She served many other organizations, including her fall festival baby, the Applel Festival. She was a Representative Town Meeting member, as well as a 2nd selectwoman.
Yesterday, Betty Lou and her husband Tom celebrated their 66th wedding anniversary. It was the same day I — and so many other Westporters — got their classic Christmas card, filled with photos of children, grandchildren, and random others.
Happy anniversary — and Merry Christmas — to one of our town’s favorite couples!
Here’s a last-minute gift idea for anyone who remembers hours spent at Arnie’s Place arcade (or dreams about paying their taxes in pennies, as Arnie did).
Virginia Wong — the Westport native and entrepreneur who spent many happy hours at the controversial (to parents and town officials) and joyful (to kids) Post Road video arcade (now Ulta) — has reanimated the iconic graphic from Arnie Kaye’s long-running campaign to open, and stay open.
“I Support Arntie’s” t-shirts come in 4 colors. They’re perfect for any ’80s Westport kid.
Click here to order. But hurry! Tomorrow (Monday, December 20) is the cutoff for Christmas delivery.
There was no better illustrator of Westport life than Stevan Dohanos.
And there’s no better time to look back at one of his many Saturday Evening Post works — one that showed our town off to a national audience — than today, a week before Christmas.
The piece is “Christmas in Westport.”
Using a mundane scene — postal carriers (“postmen,” we called them then) heading out to deliver cards and packages, in the snow — he showed both the hard work and joy of the holidays.
If the setting looks familiar: It is. From the 1930s through ’90s, the building that is now Design Within Reach served as our real (non-rinky-dink) post office. The loading dock was on the east side, facing Bay Street — where the patio is today south side, facing the building across the Post Road.
Dohanos — a longtime Westporter who designed not only magazine covers but postage stamps, World War II patriotic posters and more — used artistic license to move the Saugatuck Congregational Church across the street.
No problem. Our postmen knew exactly where to find it — and every other customer on their route.
The podcast world is filled with people urging us to take big steps to change our lives.
Carolyn Cohen wants us to take smaller steps.
Figuratively. And literally.
The longtime Westporter’s 100th “Wellness While Walking” podcast was released this week. Although she has not gone crazy marketing it, it’s been downloaded in countries from A (Albania) to Z (Zimbabwe).
It’s also on Apple’s Top 30 “Fitness Podcasts” list. Despite having “walking” in the title, it’s not really a fitness podcast. But Cohen is delighted that people are listening. Ideally, they do it while walking.
After all, that’s how she discovered podcasting.
Carolyn Cohen walks while listening to her podcast …
A Boston native who majored in psychology at Brown, then earned an MBA (and met her husband, a classmate) at Northwestern, they moved to Westport in 2007 when he got a job with Playtex at Nyala Farm.
Growing up, Cohen had rebelled a bit against her “health nut” mother. Diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome, Cohen had “a rough relationship” with food.
She left her marketing job after her second child was born. Her children had food allergies and ear infections. As Cohen researched those maladies, she realized that diet plays an important role.
Surprising herself, she followed her mother’s path. Cohen became a certified health coach, and joined the Westport Public Schools’ Food Committee.
But, she discovered, telling people they should make big changes in their diets and lifestyles is hard. Most soon revert to their old habits — and feel even worse about themselves.
So Cohen advocates taking smaller steps. Little changes can yield big results, she says.
‘And rather than saying “don’t” — proscribing certain foods, for example — she tells listeners what they can add to their diets. Two servings of a fish like salmon, or even flax seeds, can make an enormous difference in health, she says.
Walking is important too. Cohen likes the metaphor of “taking steps” — literally, and figuratively — to change one’s life.
Like many Westport mothers, the health coach had spent plenty of time in her car, chauffeuring 4 children around to activities. She became an avid podcast listener — and realized how easily people could educate themselves, while doing something else like driving.
Wellness while walking at Parker Harding Plaza.
Her first podcast was January 1, 2020. It was recorded then (and still is) in her oldest daughter’s closet. Within a week, she had her first fan mail.
A few weeks later, the pandemic struck. One of the only safe activities was walking. Cohen noticed people in her Sturges Highway neighborhood she’d never seen before.
Nearly 2 years later, they’re still walking.
Around the world, people walk — and drive, cook, or whatever — while listening to “Wellness While Walking.” Listeners have sent photos of themselves walking in Indian and Australia.
Cohen’s definition of “wellness” is broad. She interviews authors of books she likes, and chefs she admires. Her guests are always positive and upbeat.
“I try to bring different ideas together in a creative way, and show how they’re related,” the podcaster says.
“Nutrition, movement, stress management, the importance of sleep, how our environment helps or hurts us — they’re all keys to health.”‘
Her podcast community is growing larger. But it’s also small. Listeners connect with each other, and share stories of their own life changes and successes.
If you were a certain age a few years ago, you may have heard of the Walters.
The Chicago-based band — whose harmonies are reminiscent of the Beach Boys, and whose music has been described as “cardigan rock” — recorded a few songs. The first — “I Love You So,” released in 2014 — did the best.
The Walters’ founder — 2010 Staples High School graduate Walter Kosner — helped the group do some guerilla marketing, on places like Reddit, In 2016 they booked a too-ambitious 3-month tour. It burned them out. Members went their separate ways.
Four of them — minus their lead singer — eventually reunited. They played under a new name: Corduroy.
Kosner moved to California. He had a few side gigs, but the steady income from the Walters’ streaming helped pay the bills.
Recently — suddenly, and out of the blue — labels began calling. There was renewed interested in the Walters. Kosner had no idea why.
Turns out that TikTok gave the group a new life.
A few fans posted videos there, with background music from “I Love You So.” Younger people discovered the song, then used it for their own videos; The Walters started trending; that led music lovers to Spotify and Apple Music, and bam!
The Walters are bona fide internet sensations: over 200 million Spotify streams, and more than half a million TikTok videos. By comparison, The Weeknd’s “Save Your Tears” soundtrack is on just over 130,000 TikToks; Ariana Grande’s “34+35” is featured in 184,000 videos.
There was only one snag: They broke up 5 years ago.
Kosner recruited the singer back. Now they’re making new music. Soon — signed to Warner Records — they’ll start recording again.
Walter Kosner (back row, center) and The Walters.
And touring. They’re playing dates from New York to Los Angeles.
Thanks to social media, they’ve got fans all over the world. Some of the most avid are in Indonesia and the Philippines. In the new year, the Walters will make their way there too.
The genius of some famous people — Van Gogh, Emily Dickinson, Galileo — became apparent only after their death.
Steve Ginsburg spent 10 great years with the ADL: 4 in Chicago, the last 6 as director of its Connecticut chapter.
His most rewarding times were helping people in crisis — CEOs, school principals, teenagers being bullied or accused of bullying — work through their issues.
Now, the Westport resident is doing that full-time.
Ginsburg is a co-founder of August. It’s a national strategic communications firm, helping people and companies in difficult circumstances tell their story with clarity and integrity.
His area of expertise is “diversity and bias.” For example, he cites a university campus roiled by accusations of racism. He can guide the many stakeholers — students, professors, administrators, trustees — as they speak to the media.
“At ADL, I loved working with media,” Ginsburg says. “I saw the importance of them doing their job well — and what can happen when they don’t.
“Our society is very polarized. When news breaks, there’s often a rush to judgment. But things are not always what they first seem. Society benefits from accurate, fair reporting.”
Justin Paul has been very generous with his time. The Tony, Oscar and Grammy Award-winning co-songwriter of “Dear Evan Hansen,” “La La Land” and “The Greatest Showman” — and 2003 Staples High School graduate — has returned often to his alma mater (and Coleytown Middle School) to share insights and tricks of the trade with the next generation of talented Westporters.
For the rest of us — who aren’t still in school — there’s a new online course.
Paul and his writing partner, Benj Pasek, offer a month-long online class: “Songwriting for Musical Theater.” It’s immersive — 7 to 10 hours a week, for 4 weeks — that provides students with the foundation to write their own musical (including 2 original songs).
Click here for details. Who knows? Maybe after writing your musical, “You Will Be Found.”
At the end of an appearance in 2018 at Staples High, Justin Paul played piano as students sang the “Dear Evan Hansen” classic, “Waving Through a Window.” (Photo/Kerry Long)
Everyone is in the gift-giving mood. Even the Westport Transit District.
As a holiday gift to residents, they offer free rides to users of the Wheels2U shuttle service. The service starts Monday (December 20), and is good through December 31.
Wheels2U Westport is the WTD’s on-demand, group ride, door-to -train platform shuttle service.
The free rides to and from the Westport and Greens Farms stations are not just for commuters. If you’re seeing a show, museum, the Rockefeller Center tree or friends: hop aboard the shuttle, and the train.
If you’re in the service area, use the Wheels2U Westport app to request a pickup between 5:45 and 9:45 a.m., and 4 and 8 p.m., 20 minutes before you’d normally leave.
Back in the (Clam Box) days, there was an exit from that parking lot in the back, onto Long Lots Road.
Years ago, it was sealed off. The only exit and entrance was via Post Road East.
There may be another exit in the future. In a different spot: the upper parking deck.
Planning & Zoning Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals permission has been granted to expand the upper deck by 18 spaces; reconstruct and extend the existing retaining wall; install a planter and landscaping — and add gated, emergency access to Long Lots. It would only be used by fire, police or EMS vehicles, as a secondary exit route.
The request for a zoning permit awaits P&Z Department approval.
A view of the 877 Post Road East upper parking deck, from Long Lots Road.
It’s tough to cram half a century of music stardom — and a spectacular new musical about Dracula — into a half-hour conversation.
But that’s what Rex Fowler, Dodie Pettit and I did in our latest “06880” podcast, at the Westport Library’s Verso Studios.
He’s the co-founder of Aztec Two-Step, the internationally known folk-and-more band. She’s a longtime Westporter/Broadway singer and dancer who — while married to fellow actor/singer/Staples High School graduate Kevin Gray — collaborated on that Dracula show. (Not the one that flopped on Broadway.)
Now Dodie and Rex are married too. They perform together as Aztec Two-Step 2.0. And they recently unveiled the soundtrack of their “Dracula” musical at their Westport home.
Click below to listen to their fascinating stories about life on stage, and here.
Click here to help support “06880” via credit card or PayPal. Any amount is welcome — and appreciated! Reader contributions keep this blog going. (Alternate methods: Please send a check to “06880” c/o Dan Woog, 301 Post Road East, Westport, CT 06880. Or use Venmo: @DanWoog06880. Or Zelle: firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks!)