Category Archives: Westport life

Fred Cantor: Seeing Westport Through SoCal Eyes

“06880” readers know Fred Cantor as an avid commenter, with a keen eye for Westport’s history, and a passion for its present and future. He’s also a multi-talented writer, movie and play producer, and attorney

Fred Cantor (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

The 1971 Staples High School graduate has had health issues, so for the past few years he and his wife Debbie have spent winters in Southern California. They were there last year, when the pandemic (and his doctor’s advice) turned a few months’ stay into more than a year. It was the longest time he’d been away from Westport since moving here at age 10.

After 17 months, Fred and Debbie are back. Here’s what he sees.

The first thing that grabbed our attention coming off Exit 17 was the empty train station parking lot. We had read about the large number of people working at home, but that was an eye-opener.

Yet then, almost instantly, there were old welcome sights: the approach to the distinctive Cribari Bridge — with early signs of spring (daffodils in full bloom) — and just past the bridge, 19th-century homes with yards fronted by quintessential New England stone walls or wrought-iron fences.

Daffodils near the William F. Cribari Bridge.

I don’t think Debbie and I crossed a bridge over a river once in our area of SoCal— and certainly not a bridge on the National Register of Historic Places — even before the pandemic, when we did more driving. Southern California has much natural beauty, but in the area of Orange County where we rented, numerous rivers and streams are certainly not among them.

And historic 19th century homes — well, they did not exist there. Some of those towns were created in the 1960s or later.

Handsome home on Bridge Street.

Westport’s historic homes, stone walls, rivers and meandering tributaries — such as can be seen along Ford Road — are among the sights I missed the most.

The scene along Ford Road.

Forsythias blooming all around Westport were another “welcome home” sign; that too was much rarer in our part of SoCal.

Forsythia blooms outside a 1930 Imperial Avenue home.

Heading to the beach, I had to stop at Joey’s By The Shore at its new location. I hoped to see Joey after all this time. but he’s away.

Back in business: Joey’s by the Shore.

That reinforced my feelings that, while many of us embrace longtime local establishments, it is largely the proprietors we really have such warm feelings about. That was certainly true when the Nistico family switched its restaurant operation from the Arrow to the Red Barn.

Walking across the street to Old Mill Beach instantly reminded me why that has long been a personal favorite. It’s not only beautiful; it’s often serene, as exemplified by a couple quietly reading their iPad and newspaper on a nearly empty beach.

Old Mill Beach.

When I was away I stayed in touch with Westport friends via email, texts, social media, occasional phone calls and Zoom.

I followed local Westport news via “06880,” so in certain respects I didn’t feel 3,000 miles away from what was happening here.  By contrast, I vividly recall the summer of 1964. I was at camp in Pennsylvania, and learned of my Little League team winning the Minor League World Series a week after the fact, when I received a letter from my parents with a clipping from the Town Crier.

The most difficult thing about being so far away was not being able to see our 93- and 95-year-old moms. Daily phone calls and occasional FaceTime calls didn’t quite suffice.

So that first weekend back in town generated a teary reunion hug between Debbie and her mom. It was coupled with a culinary discovery: delicious mini-babka at the new Kneads Bakery, which we all enjoyed at their outdoor dining area.

Fred’s wife Debbie Silberstein, Debbie’s mother and aide, at Kneads Bakery. (All photos/Fred Cantor)

That first weekend back also generated our first experience with traffic. At 4 p.m. Saturday there was a big backup on Bridge Street toward Saugatuck. Traffic crawled on 95, spilling over onto local streets.

Other than on the single-lane canyon road leading to Laguna Beach, we never experienced major backups in SoCal. The main local roads have 3 lanes in each direction — with an additional two left-hand turn lanes at major intersections.

During that traffic tie-up on Bridge Street I witnessed an “only in Westport” moment (and something I had never seen in close to 60 years here). Moving right by the traffic on a highly unusual mode of transit were two cyclists on penny-farthings (you can look it up🤨).

Seeing that, I knew for sure I was back in Westport!

Roundup: Memorial Day Parade, Yankee Doodle Fair, Waterspout …

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In one more sign of approaching normalcy, the town is moving forward with plans for an actual Memorial Day parade.

This year’s theme for the float contest is “Honoring Women Veterans.” Certificates will be awarded for Best Development of Theme, Best Youth Organization Float, Most Creative, Best Community Organization, Most Colorful, and the Best Overall Float.

If past form holds true, the Y’s Men will win the Overall award. They’ve won it nearly every year for the past 20 or so.

And the only reason the Y’s Men did not win in 2020, 2017 or 2016 was because there were no parades. (COVID last year; rain those other 2.)

Weather and COVID permitting, this year’s event begins at 9 a.m. on May 31, at Saugatuck Elementary School. Veterans — and thousands of others — will march north on Riverside Avenue, trn right on Post Road East, then continue to Myrtle Avenue.

 

The Y’s Men’s float won, as usual, in 2012. This one honored Korean War veterans — complete with freezing mist.

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The Memorial Day parade is not the only tradition that’s returning.

The Westport Woman’s Club’s Yankee Doodle Fair returns this year — but not in its century-old mid-June, end-of-school, welcome-summer slot.

Yesterday, the Board of Selectmen approved the event for September 23 through the 26th.

So it will be a start-of-school, welcome-fall fair.

But it’s still at the Woman’s Club site on Imperial Avenue.

Even after 100 years, little changes.

The 2017 Yankee Doodle Fair (Drone photo/Ryan Collins)

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Yesterday was spring-like — warm and mostly sunny. Guy Sherman wanted to  photograph a few interesting clouds over Saugatuck Shores.

He got a bonus: this rare and remarkable waterspout:

(Photo/Guy Sherman)

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A month ago, the old wood-shingled house at 19 Soundview Drive bore a demolition sign.

Then it was gone.

Now the home — one of the oldest, as-yet-unrenovated along the Compo exit road– has been painted and spiffed up. It looks eager to greet renters and beachgoers.

And ready to last another 100 years.

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The Learning Community Day School celebrates its 50th anniversary on April 28th.

The institution — housed for many years on Hillspoint Road — is not just patting themselves on the back. They’re raising money for kindergarten scholarships, with their first-ever golf outing.

It’s set for Monday, April 26 at Longshore. Check-in and breakfast are 9 a.m.; tee times start at 10 a.m. You can play 9 or 18 holes.

The cost is $250 per player, $900 for a foursome. You can form your own twosome or foursome, or be paired up.

Popup Bagels and Manny’s Ultimate Bloody Mary Mix are sponsoring food and drinks. Of course, there are prizes and giveaways.

For more information, email learning_community@yahoo.com or call 203-227-8394.

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Longtime Westport resident Judith Portner Sappern died peacefully on Saturday. She was 88 years old.

The Rumson, New Jersey native was an adventurer who, after serving as managing editor of her high school newspaper, took the unusual step at the time to go out of state for college. A

t the University of Connecticut she served as president of Alpha Epsilon Phi sorority, made lifelong friends and fell in love with Donald Sappern. Married shortly after graduation, they started a telephone answering service in Norwalk.  As Don’s career progressed and he became a successful insurance executive, Judy managed office operations and bookkeeping.

Judy Sappern

As the couple’s children grew, Judy helped with their studies and supported every interest, from the choir room and pool to the baseball diamond and the rock band that practiced in the basement. She fed generations of Staples High School students who used their nearby house on Wedgewood Lane as a home base throughout the day.

Judy pursued a master’s degree in social work, and volunteered at Norwalk Hospital. She loved helping others work through tough times, and passed that empathy on to her children. When not at the hospital or office, Judy worked on needlepoint, and played golf or bridge with friends. She also became a personal computer enthusiast and fanatical supporter of UConn basketball.

She was preceded in death by her husband of 63 years, Donald, and her older sister Joyce Cooper. Judy is survived by her children, Laurie Sappern Gaugler  (Dean), and Matthew (Rianne), both of Fairfield, and Adam (Margot)of Bethel, Vermont. Judy enjoyed frequent visits and calls with her 7 grandchildren: Billy, Chloe, Brian, Geoffrey, Rachel, Carly and Tobey. She is also survived by her beloved sister-in-law, Pietrina Sappern of Milford.

A memorial service will be held when travel and gathering is less limited. Memorial contributions in Judy’s memory can be made to the IGA Nephropathy Foundation, PO Box 1322, Wall, New Jersey 07727.

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And finally … sure, the IRS has extended this year’s filing deadline to May 17. But April 15 will always be, um, special.

 

“Un-Scavenger Hunt” Promises Fun For All

Westport’s 1st-ever “Un-Scavenger Hunt” may be the coolest, most fun fundraiser ever.

And I’m not just saying that because I helped write the clues.

Here’s the deal: On Saturday, April 24, you and your team will click on the free “Goosechase” app.

You’ll see tons of clues, covering Westport trivia, history, art, pop culture and more.

You answer by posting photos, videos, texts and GPS check-ins on the app. Bonus points are given for creativity, ingenuity and humor (costumes, props, songs, pets … you get the idea).

For example, if one of the clues directs you to the Compo Beach cannons, how cleverly can you pose there? It’s a great way to get to know Westport.

One of the clues may be about the Compo Beach cannons. Can you top this photo? (Photo/Stephen Axthelm)

Are there prizes? Of course! Among the best: a pair of sunset cruises; a private tour and wine-and-cheese reception at Dragone Classic Motorcars with George Dragone; Broadway tickets and more.

There are separate prizes for students in grade 12 and below (including cash). And a special prize for the organization that registers the most teams.

The Un-Scavenger Hunt raises funds for CLASP. For nearly 40 years they’ve  provided care, support and inspiration to adults with autism and developmental disabilities.

You can join the hunt any time, all day on Saturday, April 24. It’s not a race!

Click here for tickets. Click here for the Goosechase app. You can practice on it too, until the event goes live.

 

Asian-American Life In Westport: Another Perspective

This morning, Sarin Cheung — who is part Thai, part Chinese — gave one perspective on life as an Asian-American in Westport. Here’s another, from Injae Choe.

Thank you for this opportunity for someone like me (of Korean and Chinese descent) to speak up at this particular time as a Westport resident.

I am a sole proprietor professional making a comfortable living, but I certainly am not immune to both overt and covert forms of racism. I own and operate a mindbody acupressure practice both in New York City and here in Connecticut, so the recent gun shootings targeting mostly Asian massage therapists that took place in Atlanta did indeed hit home.

Since the birth of our daughter 9 years ago, my family eagerly moved to Westport from Brooklyn. Ever since, we have felt very much welcomed and well integrated into this community, except for the following couple of incidents.

At the start of the pandemic last year inside a local store, one customer (white male in his late 50s-60s) went on a long, vocal, racially charged rant against the “China virus” and the inconveniences of mask wearing. He then shouted out an expletive-filled fantasy to round up the Ch**ks to personally machine-gun them down. Within the small confines of the shop, it was clear that I was the lone token Asian person toward whom he was directing his tirade.

Totally shocked, and choosing not to engage, I simply retreated to a far corner of the store, put on my headphones and just waited it out, until that disgruntled racist man eventually completed his purchase and left the store.

And in recent months, in the streets of New York, on separate occasions, I’ve been berated — unprovoked — in broad daylight by a couple of cowardly individuals who only dared hurl their hackneyed racial slurs at my back once I had walked past them a fair distance.

Injae Choe

Still ugly. Still disheartening for me to witness in fellow human beings. And once when I was chased through a scaffolding tunnel, I felt the full impact of being what I’d call “race-objectified,” being reduced to a mere representation of one entire race, so that I’m no longer a person, but merely a convenient target.

Another racist incident was something that my wife, though white, had experienced firsthand, by virtue of being the mother of a biracial child. At another (much bigger) store here in Westport, it was this time a store employee (Latina) who asked my wife point-blank in a racist or at minimum racially insensitive manner about the shape of our daughter’s eyes.

She did so not in a complimentary, curious manner, but rather in a demeaning and mocking way, with the pulling of the eye corners, etc. Fortunately, this happened just as our daughter had briefly wandered off to the next aisle of merchandise and so she didn’t catch wind of what was being said about her. My wife, similar to me in the other instance described earlier, simply chose not to engage or confront.

One consolation from this episode was that my wife subsequently felt compelled to share the whole experience with an online local moms’ group and received nothing but the warmest responses and shows of support. We also discovered from the other posts that such incidents weren’t that uncommon in our town.

One major takeaway from these episodes is that such ugly incidents seemingly operate on racial lines only, affecting minority group members and their spouses and parents even if they happen to be white. Socioeconomic status and other demographic factors seem to matter little, though some of the most sensational recent Asian hate crimes have clearly singled out the especially vulnerable elderly. And it’s with horror that my wife and I feel obligated to eventually address these issues with our little one and to find ways to protect her.

From a psycho-biological (rather than political) perspective, certain impulsive, aggressive thoughts and actions on the part of highly stressed individuals feeling an exaggerated and/or imagined foreign threat are understandable, though these are of course not to be condoned. But when the acting out of such thoughts and behaviors don’t merely offend but lead to the harming and literal killing of unwitting innocent human beings targeted solely on the basis of their race and ethnicity, we need to move beyond just reprimand or criminal punishment. We need to delve deeper into the origins of such aggressions, to learn how we could prevent such atrocities if we want to progress as a harmonious, civilized society.

I believe a good place to start is in our school curriculums. The phenomenon of what psychologists call “dehumanization” needs to be studied in depth. Dehumanization is what enables racists, bigots, chauvinists to inflict harm without remorse on fellow human beings whom they’ve conveniently deemed to belong to a reprehensible other, known as the “out group.” As long as such psychological dynamics to varying degrees aren’t exposed and kept in check, racism — ranging from personal to institutional — will persist.

To have a chance at stamping out rampant racism, we need to not only inhibit racially insensitive or offensive behavior, but also to foster compassion toward fellow members of society, ideally from an early age, so that dehumanization tendencies can never take root in any person’s psyche.

Neighbors Helping Neighbors: What We All Can Do

Earlier this month, several Westporters grew worried about a neighbor.

In his 90s, he lived alone. Several people would cook, and leave bags of food at his door. Two bags had not been retrieved; his mail was still in the box, and the carrier was worried.

Recently, a neighbor had seen bruises on his face. But when anyone knocked, he’d yell from behind a chained door, “COVID! COVID! Go away!”

Yhe Westport Police, EMS and Department of Human Services were called. Sadly, he had died.

A neighbor emailed me: “My heart breaks for the old man, by himself, perhaps ill and/or with failing memory, and so terrified of COVID he refused contact with concerned neighbors, who he knew also brought him food.”

Could they have done more? she wondered.

I asked Human Services director Elaine Daignault. She says:

“Neighbors are often the first line of support for individuals who live alone. That’s why it is so vital for Westporters to get to know their neighbors. Human Services frequently receives calls from concerned neighbors of elderly and disabled residents.

Elaine Daignault, director of Westport’s Department of Human Services

“Every scenario is different. A DHS social worker is always available to listen to concerns, and work collaboratively with neighbors and emergency responders to determine the best way to support the individual in question.

The strong partnership between first responders and Human Services ensures a collective approach to supporting seniors’ health and well-being in various situations.

“If the individual is in imminent danger, residents are encouraged to call 911. If DHS receives the call, we contact the police immediately for a welfare check.

“If warranted, EMS will transport the individual to the hospital for medical emergencies. In this scenario, Police, Fire and EMS will refer the household to Human Services for follow-up, as needed. We also work with hospital social workers to help with discharge planning.

“Concurrently, a call to Human Services initiates a trained social worker’s response to directly contact the individual to assess their needs and create a plan to help.

“Some people are more open to discuss their needs than others. Some people choose to decline assistance altogether. If they are not amenable to sharing, we will identify a family member or friend to offer assistance where needed.

“If we cannot make contact or progress, Human Services works collaboratively with first responders and the Westport Weston Health District to schedule an in-home safety assessment.

“If we cannot find a responsible family member to assist, or the individual is resistant, the team may refer the case to CT Protective Services for the Elderly.  The state then becomes the lead agency, and town partners serve as local resources to ensure that the resident receives appropriate supports.

“Here are some ways for neighborhoods to look after the elderly in their communities:

  • Exchange phone numbers and ask for a loved one’s contact information, just in case.
  • Check in with them regularly, or set up a  simple check-in. For example, offer to do their grocery shopping or bring them their mail. Request that the senior provides a regular “signal” to their neighbors, like opening and closing a specific blind each day, to avoid concerned neighbors making unnecessary calls for welfare checks.
  • Consider encouraging them to register for a Human Services program, or participate in the Westport Center for Senior Activities.
  • DHS has several call programs to provide additional support and welfare checks for registered residents. Anyone wishing to receive a friendly call from a community volunteer (Hello, Neighbor), a welfare check during emergencies (Emergency Registry), or to register special circumstances through our Voluntary Registry for People with Disabilities can contact DHS through the links above, call 203-341-1050, or email or humansrv@westportct.gov.
  • Seniors and people with disabilities may be eligible to receive home delivered meals. This provides an additional layer of support, because volunteers personally deliver meals to recipients weekly.

“It sounds like the neighbors did the right thing by calling the Police Department and Human Services. Together, we will follow up on the calls and do our best to address concerns directly.

“Note that we cannot share personal information or circumstances without the individual’s expressed consent, which can be frustrating to the person making the initial call.

“In a non-emergency situation, anyone can call Human Services at 203-341-1050 weekdays between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., or contact the Police non-emergency line at 341-6000 any time. The Police Department will always bring necessary backup, including Fire and EMS.

“If someone notices a pattern of suspicious activity, or has a concern about abuse or neglect, they can contact both numbers above or make a direct report to the Connecticut Department of Social Services Protective Services For The Elderly central intake line at 888-385- 4225. For after-hour reports, call 211.”

[OPINION] Call To Action On Asian-American Violence

A Westporter writes:

I’m really concerned about the Asian population in Westport. I haven’t seen any kind of statement or anything else come out from the town or the schools in opposition to the tremendous increase in crimes targeting people of Asian descent.

According to a study by California State University, in 2020 alone hate crimes against them have risen by nearly 150 percent. The pandemic has exacerbated anti-Asian racism, but hate and violence towards the Asian community is not a new thing.

My daughter’s elementary school includes a large number of families of Asian descent. I want them to know that their suffering is shared by the larger community. That all of us are outraged, and their heartache, anger and fear is seen. That we are willing to stand united with them, and as a community we stand in opposition to the senseless killing and racism of all people.

I was hopeful that whoever organized the march in June protesting the murder of George Floyd would organize a vigil, a “stand in solidarity” or something. I wonder if there are other people like me who just don’t know how to get the conversation started.

I would be willing to help organize something, but I don’t know where to start. I’m relatively new to Westport, so any guidance would be appreciated. If you have any ideas, please email me: amyherrera@mindspring.com.

Town Hall flags fly at half staff, in memory of the victims of the Atlanta shooting. (Courtesy of Town of Westport/Facebook)

Marpe Marks 1-Year COVID Anniversary

1st Selectman Jim Marpe says:

Today marks 1 year since Westport Weston Health District director Mark Cooper, Westport Public Schools representatives, my fellow selectpersons, various department heads and I held a press conference on the steps of Town Hall addressing the new “coronavirus” spreading throughout the world. At

that time we knew that COVID had been discovered in Westport, contact tracing efforts could not control its spread, and that community members should be made aware of the serious health and safety issues associated with the virus.

We announced that the Public Schools and other town facilities would be closed. We were unaware of how circumstances would unfold in the coming days, weeks, and months to follow.

Flanked by town officials, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe announced the latest COVID-19 news, one year ago today.

In the following days, as the town was further shut down and we all entered a phase of self-isolation, I implored everyone to “stay safe and stay home.” I reminded Westporters to maintain “virus distancing” everywhere; that stores and certain businesses remained open only to insure that food and essentials were available to the public, and that all other activities where people may congregate in groups must be avoided.

In short order, we realized what services were considered essential. We became reliant upon takeout food, curbside pickup, and planned for lines outside grocery stores and pharmacies. Working and schooling from home, scrambling for masks, toilet paper and disinfectant became common occurrences.

It was a confusing and unsettling time. In retrospect however, I believe the common conversations and collective experiences were a way to self-manage the significant emotional toll the pandemic was having on our lives.

A funeral service at Willowbrook Cemetery was limited fewer than 10 mourners.

We continue to remain careful and vigilant. Thankfully, due to many positive developments throughout the year, the science and information now available provides an understanding of what we must do to contain and combat the virus.

I am very thankful that we are in a position today to state that we are beginning to see an end; that much of the unknown has become known, and that we are stronger as a result.

On this solemn anniversary, I send my deepest condolences to those who have lost a loved one and to others who have seen the devastating effects of this pandemic. As a community, we mourn with you and send loving thoughts that the memories of your family members and friends will sustain you in this difficult time.

I would be wholly remiss if I did not emphatically state that, despite its obvious impact, COVID has proved how creative, resilient and compassionate Westporters truly are. The support for first responders and health care workers, words of encouragement, heart-shaped signs, painted rocks, and donations of handmade PPE, proved to be a motivating force for many. These acts of kindness brought a sense of peace and calm during extremely challenging times. The community spirit and collective concern for all was, and continues to be, uplifting.

Some hot meals for the Westport Fire Department, courtesy of Staples football and Viva Zapata.

In conclusion, I want to express my sincere gratitude to the Westport residents, businesses owners, religious leaders, town employees, and the multitude of volunteers who offered advice, maintained services, provided comfort, financial support, and generally surpassed expectations in caring for all of our neighbors.

Your cooperation and unselfish participation, under extreme conditions, was extraordinary. I will always be thankful that Westporters were able to respond to and meet the unique challenge that was COVID.  And I am confident that brighter days are ahead. Please continue to be safe and healthy.

For more information on Westport’s response to COVID-19, visit westportct.gov/covid, or wwhd.org. For information on COVID-19 vaccination distribution plans in Connecticut, visit ct.gov/covidvaccine.

March 11, 2020: The Day COVID Crushed Our Town

On Sunday, March 8, 2020, town officials hosted a community forum on COVID-19, at the Westport Library.

“A small, well-spaced-apart crowd was joined by many more online participants this afternoon,” I wrote.

“Presentations were clear and cogent; questions were wide-ranging and thoughtful; answers were direct and honest.” Topics included schools, the Senior Center, restaurants, Metro-North, budget implications, gyms and the YMCA.

1st Selectman Jim Marpe (far right), at the March 8 COVID-19 panel.

The key takeaways:

  • There were dozens of “what-ifs.”
  • The best precautions included rigorous hand-washing, frequent cleaning of surfaces, and careful monitoring of surroundings and contacts.
  • It was virtually inevitable that COVID would come to Westport.

In fact, it already had.

State Representative Jonathan Steinberg (left),and 1st Selectman Jim Marpe demonstrated the best way to say hello, COVID-19-style.

Three days later — on Wednesday, March 11 — fear had heightened considerably.

A student at Staples High School asked me if I thought schools would close. “Maybe Monday,” I replied.

That night I was supposed to have dinner with my sister and nephews in New York, and see Andy Borowitz. We texted all day about what to do. With trepidation, we said: Let’s go for it.

Suddenly, news came that Westport schools were closing. A news conference was quickly planned for outside Town Hall. Forget dinner, I texted. I have to cover this.

The weather outside Town Hall was beautiful, I reported. But the officials on the front steps were grim.

1st Selectman Jim Marpe, Westport Weston Health District director Mark Cooper and others outlined the day’s rapid developments.

Flanked by town officials, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe announces COVID-19 news.

They noted a private party in Westport the previous Thursday, March 5. Of the 40 or so attendees — of all ages — 14 reported coronavirus-like symptoms.

“It’s likely many people were exposed,” Cooper said. “And others will be.”

Schools would be closed indefinitely, for deep cleaning. Also shut: Town Hall. All meetings, including the Board of Finance budget. The Senior Center. Toquet Hall. The Westport Library (until Monday).

Marpe noted that private institutions must decide for themselves which events to cancel. “We recognize these are tough decisions,” he said.

Print and television reporters kept their distance from each other, at the press conference on the steps of Town Hall. (Photos/Dan Woog)

I still planned one last hurrah that night in New York.

I never went. Midway through writing my story, I got a text. Andy Borowitz had canceled.

The next day, I walked downtown.

The scene was surreal. Main Street was abandoned. Stores were shut; every parking spot was open.

A friend in an office above Brooks Corner spotted me. We talked for an hour. He runs a summer camp. He had no idea if — or how — he’d be affected. We agreed: None of us knew what’s ahead. But suddenly we were very, very worried.

One of my fears was that with Westport locked down, I’d have nothing to write about.

An hour or so after the Westport Public Schools announced they were closing, Trader Joe’s looked like the day before a snowstorm. (Photo/Armelle Pouriche)

I could not have been more wrong.

After returning home, I did not leave for the next 4 days. I wrote constantly. There were stories everywhere.

I wrote about:

  • Constantly changing advice on numbers and safety precautions
  • Store closures: How to get food
  • Church closures: What to expect for Easter and Passover
  • What students should expect, with schools closed
  • The emotions of the Staples girls’ basketball team; COVID canceled the state tournament, just as they reached the semifinals
  • The lack of test kits
  • A raging debate on whether “small gatherings” were okay. “It’s not a snow day!” one news story reported. Some in Westport disagreed.

And of course, I wrote about the beach.

The weekend was gorgeous. Stuck at home Thursday and Friday, Westporters flocked to Compo. Some wore masks. Most did not. Some practiced that new concept: social distancing. Others did not.

Compo Beach, March 13, 2020 (Photo/Jo Shields Sherman)

Alarmed, Marpe shut the Compo and Burying Hill parking lots, and the Compo playground.

Some Westporters applauded his action.

Others protested. They drove to the beach, and parked up and down Soundview Drive.

Police issued tickets. But they were playing whack-a-mole. As soon as one beachgoer left, another arrived.

With the parking lot closed, folks parked up and down the exit road.

All that was within the first 96 hours of COVID in Westport.

It’s been here since.

I realized quickly that I would not run out of stories.

The pandemic has affected every aspect of life here. I’ve written about:

  • The return of college students and 20-somethings to their parents’ homes
  • The continued fallout from “the party”
  • Mental and physical health
  • Westporters of all ages coming together: teenagers shopping for the elderly; women making masks (and yarn bombing trees); churches providing meals; children painting positive messages on rocks
  • Where to find toilet paper, paper towels and Lysol
  • Businesses and restaurants that closed — and new ones that opened
  • Pop-up entertainment, like the Remarkable Theater and a Staples grad who sings opera
  • How to access business loans and other help
  • Hybrid education, Staples’ unique graduation, and the virtual Candlelight Concert
  • 12-step programs, religious services and more online
  • App developers who help the world trace contacts, visualize impacts, connect with others
  • Virtual programming: the Westport Library, JoyRide, non-profit fundraisers and more
  • Where to get tested, and how to get a vaccine.

One of the yarn bomber’s first works, at fire headquarters. (Photo/Molly Alger)

One year ago today, I stood on the steps of Town Hall. I still thought I could get to New York that night.

I haven’t been back since.

This has been a year like no other. Every man, woman and child in Westport has been affected.

We’ve lost 28 neighbors. Over 1,400 here have been diagnosed with COVID. If we did not believe that COVID was real on March 10 last year, we sure did on March 11.

Soon, “06880” will look ahead. We’ll try to figure out what March 11, 2022 will feel like.

But today, let’s look back. We want to hear your thoughts on the past year.

What did the town do right? Wrong? What are you most proud of, or regret the most? How did your life change?

Click “Comments” below.

And remember: Wear a mask!

James Dobin-Smith created the OneWestport.com website in a matter of days. It provided up to date information on what’s open and cloed, all around town.

COVID Update

Here is 1st Selectman Jim Marpe’s weekly COVID update:

This week we saw great progress in the fight against COVID-19, and some return to normalcy.

Governor Lamont announced some easing of COVID-19 restrictions over the next couple of months. Individuals age 55 and over, along with educators and childcare professionals, became eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, and the Westport Weston Health District (WWHD) hosted the first COVID-19 vaccination clinic dedicated to school personnel at Staples High School.

Health officials continue to emphasize mask wearing, social distancing and good hygiene, even as restrictions are loosened and the vaccine is further distributed.

Governor Lamont’s plans for the 2021 spring season include the following:

  • An executive order immediately opens the fishing season by removing the closed seasons on all inland waters in Connecticut, and opens additional lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams to fishing statewide.
  • Effective March 19, the occupancy limits for many places of business, restaurants, cultural institutions, libraries, offices, and houses of worship will be removed, although COVID protocols must continue to be observed. Indoor occupancy limits will be increased to 25 indoors and 100 outdoors. For commercial venues, those caps are 100 and 200 respectively. Subject to Department of Public Health guidance, all sports will be allowed to practice and compete, and all sports tournaments will be allowed.
  • Effective April 2, summer camps and festivals are advised they may begin planning to open for the upcoming season. Additional information can be found here.

Summer camps may be open again this year.

In Westport, I am pleased to announce that plans are underway for a summer that will look more like what we normally experienced in past years.

  • The Levitt Pavilion is planning its season, to be held in compliance with any necessary COVID considerations related to outdoor venues.
  • The Board of Selectmen approved the use of the Imperial Avenue parking lot for the Remarkable Theater’s Drive-In movie theater, and for The Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce and Westport Library’s Supper and Soul events.
  • The Parks and Recreation Department is currently preparing to open its facilities, and plans to offer programs that were not available last year due to COVID-19. They will strive to create safe environments for all facility users and program participants by following best practices and state guidelines.

The Remarkable Theater will be back, with movies and events like Supper and Soul concerts. (Drone photo/John Videler for Videler Photography)

While the easing of these restrictions, as well as the relief from the vaccine, is encouraging, we cannot and should not put our guards down when it comes to the pandemic. All protocols that relate to face coverings, social distancing, and cleaning measures must be maintained. Although current vaccines do not contain the virus that causes COVID-19, there is a possibility that the virus may be contracted from another source. People may remain asymptomatic and contagious even after vaccination. I strongly urge all residents and businesses to follow the State’s reopening guidelines.

The CDC’s latest guidance on mask wearing can be found here.

Update from the Westport Human Service’s Department:

The Department of Human Services and the WWHD seek the community’s help in identifying residents who are experiencing technical difficulties scheduling their COVID-19 vaccination appointments or who require a home vaccination appointment. Seniors ages 65+ and individuals ages 55+ years old with disabilities who require local appointments or a home visit to receive their vaccine should call 203-341-5037 or email humansrv@westportct.gov for assistance.

If you or a loved one are genuinely homebound, please contact the Human Services Department for an assessment of eligibility to receive a home visit for vaccination. Homebound persons include those who require medical equipment to leave their home safely and whose medical provider has advised them not to leave their home due to medical vulnerability.

Registration for the Vaccine:

Vaccine eligible residents are encouraged to make vaccine appointments at any available vaccination clinic, and not wait for an appointment specifically with WWHD. It is anticipated that as supplies to the Health District increase, additional clinic appointments will become available.

Those who are currently eligible to register for the COVID-19 vaccination include:

  • Healthcare personnel
  • Long-term care facility residents
  • Medical first responders
  • Residents and staff of select congregate settings
  • Individuals 55 and older
  • Educators and child care providers:  Pre-K – 12 teachers, paraprofessionals, custodial staff, food service providers, school bus drivers and childcare providers as well as in-school administrative staff. This does not include individuals who are not required to work on-site in a school.

To view a statewide list and map of COVID-19 vaccine clinics click here, enter your zip code in the location box on the right and press the yellow search icon.

Vaccination appointments can be made utilizing the following tools:

  • The Vaccine Administration Management System can be used to schedule appointments at multiple clinics across the state. Click here.
  • Call Connecticut’s COVID-19 Vaccine Appointment Assist Line: Open from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., 7 days a week: 877-918-2224.
  • Hartford HealthCare: Multiple locations throughout the state, including large clinics in the Hartford area. Click here.
  • Yale New Haven Health: Multiple locations throughout the state, including large clinics in the New Haven area. Click here.
  • Stamford Health: 7 days a week at Stamford Hospital. Click here.

For the most up-to-date information on COVID-19 vaccination distribution plans in Connecticut, visit ct.gov/covidvaccine.

Newcomers: We Need You!

I’ve been writing a lot of “Remembering…” posts lately.

In just 3 months, Westport has lost many memorable residents. Doris Jacoby, Lee Greenberg, Shirley Mellor, Jack Shiller, Joan McCarthy, Gloria Cole Sugarman, Matt Johnson … they and several other notable men and women died.

Lee Greenberg was an important part of Westport from the 1940s through her death last month at 103.

They left lasting imprints on our town. The arts, recreation, religion, medicine, human rights, youth activities — no part of Westport life was untouched by their efforts and energy.

Some of their contributions were professional. Much of it was volunteer work. All of it made our town a better place.

Many of those men and women were longtime Westporters. They were active into their 80s, 90s, even (Lee Greenberg) their 100s.

But they began when they were in their 30s and 40s,

Now it’s time for a new generation to take their place.

Specifically, all you newcomers.

The past year has seen an influx of arrivals unrivaled since the 1950s. The impetus then was the post-war baby boom. Today, it’s a global pandemic.

But the opportunity is the same: a chance to make a mark on your community.

You chose this place over others for reasons — the schools perhaps, or the beaches, Longshore, the Library, the arts, the restaurants, the sense you got that people here really care about the environment, social justice and neighbors in need.

An iconic Longshore scene. (Photo/Robert Augustyn)

Whatever those reasons, they are part of something bigger: community. You got the sense that Westport is more than just a collection of nice homes in a beautiful setting.

You understood, perhaps without realizing it, that Westport is a place where people get involved.

None of the many parts that make up Westport happened because they were destined to. They exist because people made them happen.

And they will continue to exist because — and only if — other people take up the cause.

We have Longshore because a group of officials — elected and volunteer — had the foresight to buy a failing country club moments before a developer snatched the land to build 180 homes.

We have an outstanding school system because we support it. With our tax dollars, sure — but also with countless volunteers, who give untold hours to every aspect of it.

We have music and arts and civic organizations and sustainable agriculture and sports teams and a remarkable Remarkable Theater and a ride-on-demand program for the same reason.

People had a vision. People cared. People acted.

The Remarkable Theater was a pop-up hit last summer.

Now it’s the newcomers’ turn. Every group in town needs help.

We need you because you are smart. You are energetic. You are motivated. You are young.

First, we need you to step up. Then we need you to take over.

Whatever your interest, there is a spot for you.

The Westport Young Woman’s League. The Westport Woman’s Club. AWARE.

Earthplace. Wakeman Town Farm. Friends of Sherwood Island. Aspetuck Land Trust.

Boy Scouts. Girl Scouts.

The Westport Arts Advisory Committee. Westport Permanent Art Collections. MoCA Westport. The Westport Country Playhouse.

The Westport Country Playhouse is 90 years old. New blood will keep it going for another 90.

Westport PAL. Westport Soccer Association. Westport Baseball and Softball. Any other sport you can think of.

The Westport Weston Family YMCA. The Senior Center.

PTAs. The Westport Library. The Maker Faire.

Al’s Angels.

TEAM Westport.

The Democratic Party. The Republican Party. The League of Women Voters. The Representative Town Meeting. Every board and commission in town.

You can’t do it all. You can’t do it alone.

But if you pick one or two areas of interest — and every other newcomer does the same — then we’ll have enough volunteer man and womanpower to propel this place to unfathomable heights.

And 40 years from now, whoever is writing the 2061 version of “06880” will remember your legacy too.