For the next 3 weeks, America will watch 64 teams whittle down to 32, 16, an Elite 8, a Final 4, and then — at last — the NCAA Division I men’s basketball champion.
Billions of dollars will be wagered. Far less will be won.
But why root for Kansas, Duke or UConn (or Grand Canyon, Northern Kentucky or Vermont) when you can cheer for Compo Beach, Gold’s or the Remarkable Book Shop?
Welcome to “06880”‘s first-ever “Westport Madness.”
The goal is simple: find the most quintessential thing in our town.
And you — our readers — are the ones who will do it.
I came up with 16 pairings (unlike March Madness, there are no seedings). My trusty sidekick — Staples High School sophomore Luca Caniato — created the graphics, and a voting system that’s even more secure than Dominion.
Click on or hover over to enlarge.
To vote, just click here. Then scroll down for each match-up. (Don’t forget to click “Submit” at the end!)
Each round of voting lasts 48 hours. Winners, and an updated bracket, will be posted soon after voting ends.
So look over each bracket. Select the “most Westport” choice for each. Click here to vote.
Let the games begin!
(If you enjoy features like this, please support “06880.” Click here to donate. Thank you!)
Mike Joseph graduated from Staples High School in 1971. Life has taken him far from Westport.
He still feels connected to his hometown. But naturally, his perspective has changed. He writes:
A regular reader of “06880,” I love keeping up with the ins, outs and general machinations of life back in Westport.
Like so many kids who grew up there in the ’60s, I took off for college and never looked back. Other than several close childhood friends still surviving the town’s urbanization, the ties that bind have grown decidedly tenuous.
Of course I’d love to return to Westport for all the reasons you know and love, but, um, there’s the affordability factor. It’s out of bounds for anyone calibrated to reality from out in America.
I’m now tuned for the Midwest. I live on Kansas City’s Kansas side in a very Fairfield County-like suburb, not in pot-legal but personal freedom-denied Missouri.
Our enlightened purple county is separate from the rest of the traditionally red- as-a-ruby state, with a Democratic gay American Indian congresswoman. But to my coastal friends, I’m sequestered in a flyover state.
I bought my first house here in the ‘90s — a nice little 1,500-square foot, 3 bedroom ranch – for $78,500. Really.
That was after living on an 11-acre property in a big modern farmhouse with a barn, stable, 4-car garage and a dock on a Michigan river: $120,000. Mid-America is affordable.
My current custom 5,000-square foot cedar and stone ranch was in the $200s. It’s now inflated to $450,000 – and I fight the appraisal every year. That noted, my Southern California realtor friend says it would sell for $5 million-plus there today.
Mike Joseph’s house: $450,000 in the Midwest. In Westport …?
What was once a narrow 2-lane gravel road is not isolated anymore. I’m 8 minutes from the I-435 ring road, and 20 from downtown KC. Rush hour traffic moves at 70 with no delays.
The freeways are empty on weekends; we’re very spread out, an hour’s drive from corner to corner. My sailboat is 30 minutes away. Life’s tough.
The bad news? Sadly, developers have gotten as thick as Wisconsin mosquitos, squeezing in houses – or multi-family residential units — on every piece of former grazing land they can extort. New rooftops now stretch to the (flat) horizon.
Some NIMBY and last-one-in-close-the-door goes on, but my lovely fellow Midwesterners are often too polite to fight it. Of course I stand out, as you’d expect from any New York City media-exposed East Coaster. There’s that.
Kansas City is smack in the middle of the country.
So I begrudgingly portend that my peaceful country living is slowly eroding. Blame the mass exodus away from the corners and into the middle, instigated by ever-declining coastal weather conditions and the pandemic, the isolation migration driver.
Our red state pols of course TIF the corporations before they fund Medicaid, continuing to wave the trickle-down flag. But even that’s changing … ever so slowly.
More good? We have over 20 excellent restaurants within a 10-minute drive, half ethnic, with 5 mega-sized full-service grocery stores just as close. No, they still don’t sell alcohol; we were a dry state when I moved here, and you couldn’t use credit cards for liquor until recently, so… improvement?
In my quiet and hidden 38-home HOA (with its $45 annual fee), we have forests and nature; our backyard is a deer thruway to the big county park across the road. I can’t see any neighbors in the summer. We’re gifted with dozens of miles of creek-side bicycle trails.
Of course, there’s the obvious huge plus: cost of living. That’s the big one. We have incomes that match yours, but the COL is one-third. Cheap gas all year long, lower insurance rates, food prices that never really went up. No egg shortages either.
But property taxes are climbing fast. It’s the pressure of compression, with high population influx and behind-the-curve housing options even with the explosive build rate. 10 to 15% property increases are now the norm.
That’s still cheap compared to California, New York or Connecticut, but a shocking dose of join-the-world-reality for aging residents used to paying $2,500 for their large $300,000 homes. We’re funding infrastructure that the developers need. (I can smell the back-room stogies from here…).
It’s a good place to live with some of the best public schools in the country, mild winters, and all the perks of cultured urbanity — a world-class symphony, a new $2 billion dollar airport terminal, large convention and performance centers, art galleries, museums, vibrant jazz clubs, and a rabid sporting fan base.
From historic Union Station (foreground) to music, art and food, there’s a lot going on in Kansas City.
Let’s not forget BBQ, of course. I’ll also mention the 3 digital comm service providers hooked up to the house, 2 via direct fiber optic. I’m probably more wired than 95% of America. No pun.
With climate confusion, the tornadoes have even moved elsewhere. Dorothy has left the building, and Toto rides around in a Platinum Land Rover these days. Is that good? Just checking…
It seems our little oasis out in the prairie has been discovered. Existentially, many feel like they’re drowning in rabid development, with increasing home values and bipolar political agita. We ain’t so red anymore, with the inclusive influx of different ideologic colors and flavors.
What’s the psychological temp here? Pretty damn good. Change is happening, but it’s only relative; we’re still well differentiated from the coasts. Importantly for us aging juveniles, we’re retiring with all the benefits of a good life while keeping our fiscal heads above water. Big plus.
So, greetings from a flyover state. It’s probably not what you’ve been hearing. In fact, it’s not so bad out here at all.
Of course, it helps to have a guide like Ifeseyi Gayle.
A single mother of Nigerian heritage who grew up in Scotland, with a bachelor’s in business administration, a master’s in public administration, and a career in healthcare reimbursement and credentialing, she moved to Westport from Stamford for what she figured would be a year.
She soon met 5 people from her Scottish home town. She then found others, from around the world.
Ifeseyi became active in the her children’s schools. Following her Nigerian grandmother’s involvement in politics, she volunteered with candidate Stephanie Thomas, then ran for (and won) a seat on the Board of Assessment Appeals.
As co-chair of the Democratic Town Committee’s Outreach Committee, she works with residents, restaurants and small businesses around town.
Now — inspired by a conversation with Board of Education member Christina Torres — she is reaching out via Facebook, to celebrate multiculturalism in Westport.
The “Diverse Westport” page highlights people, organizations and events. Ifeseyi posts several times a day, alerting members to everything from Bollywood Zumba at the YMCA and the TEAM Westport Book Club, to town-wide events of interest to all (not necessarily diversity-related), plus national happenings like Black History Month and Coming Out Day.
“Rock Star of the Month” features women like Stephanie Tang (the head of Kings Highway Elementary School’s diversity, equity and inclusion group recently graduated from nursing school, and started a Girls on the Run leadership program).
Westport’s Asian, Hispanic, Black, Middle Eastern and LGBTQ+ populations — plus many more — are celebrated on the “Diverse Westport” page.
“DIverse Westport”‘s Facebook page header.
The Facebook group has introduced Ifeseyi to even more diversity here. Many members are grateful to see themselves represented and acknowledged — and to meet others who are very different, but also sometimes unseen.
“Diverse Westport” is hidden on Facebook, for security reasons. Anyone interested in joining can email email@example.com., or add Ifeseyi Gayle as a Facebook friend, and ask to join the group.
(“06880” covers all of Westport — including unseen or hidden stories. Please click here to support our work. Thank you!)
The 10th annual event focuses on “The Dialogue Challenge: Effective Engagement on Race, Ethnicity, Religion and LGBTQIA+.”
The prompt says:
Team Westport’s mission is to make Westport a more welcoming community with regard to race, religion, ethnicity, and LGBTQIA+. In order to achieve its mission, one of TEAM Westport’s goals has been to promote opportunities for people to come together in dialogue to better understand each other’s experiences, decrease bias, and learn what we have in common. Meaningful dialogue depends on a good faith effort to set aside preconceived beliefs or what we think we know about other people.
In 1,000 words or less, reflect on your own interactions with people who have different racial, ethnic, religious, and/or LGBTQIA+ identities and/or perspectives. What kinds of conversations were particularly helpful in prompting you to rethink your beliefs or opinions, perhaps causing you to change your mind or enabling you to better understand others’ points of view? Based on these experiences, what specific actions would you suggest that individuals, schools, and/or town entities in Westport take to promote good-faith dialogue, reduce bias, and foster understanding?
It’s an important, in-depth and nuanced question.
But there’s no reason it should be limited to high school students.
Alert “06880” reader — and back-in-the-last-millennium Staples High School graduate — Clark Thiemann wrote in the Comments section:
Would love to see a version of this contest for all town residents. While I’ve found our high school students among the most thoughtful on these topics, I’d like to hear about how to have good conversations with people of different backgrounds and generations that might help break through walls.
Clark nailed it.
So let’s open it up to all “06880” readers.
What do you think? How can we have “good conversations with people of different backgrounds and generations that might help break through walls”?
Feel free to post in the Comments section. You can email too: firstname.lastname@example.org. I can post those in a stand-alone story.
Unlike the TEAM Westport Teen Essay Contest, there are no cash prizes.
But the payoff will be a much-needed town-wide discussion, on a topic that’s crucial to us all.
(NOTE: Most readers often fire off their comments — that’s the nature of a blog. For this one, please take time to consider what you’re saying, and how you say it. Please be civil; no ad hominem attacks. And of course, please use your full, real name.)
(“06880” is your place for discussions — important, interesting and occasionally trivial. Please click here to support our work. Thank you!)
The popular Cross Highway deli/restaurant is the site of the next Club 203 party. Westport’s great social group for adults with disabilities celebrates St. Patrick’s Day there the night before: March 16, 7 p.m.
Westport Country Playhouse was the scene of the club’s recent Valentine’s dance party. Over 120 guests and a dozen volunteers enjoyed stacks of heart-shaped pizzas donated by Planet Pizza, sweetheart cookies courtesy of Stew Leonard’s and The Pantry, and a jewelry-making and artful “live love” project sponsored by MoCA of Westport.
Click here for more information on Club 203, and the St. Paddy’s Day social.
Rockin’ Club 203’s Valentine’s dance, at Westport Country Playhouse.
Yesterday’s Roundup noted that although the Norwalk Bed Bath & Beyond store is not accepting coupons — and everything is 20% off — it was not on the chain’s list of hundreds of stores slated for closing.
But Bobbie Herman — who told “06880” that both it and the Fairfield store will close — was right.
A call to the Norwalk location yesterday confirmed the news. The person who answered said the news has not yet been announced officially. The final day is “sometime in March.”
Two years ago, Jay Norris sat with 4 other Black men. Their goal was to create a social community in Westport for people of color.
The men would network. They and their spouses would attend cultural events, and dine out together; they’d organize beach parties and other events for their kids.
Hoping for a few more men, they chose an optimistic name: Westport 10.
They’ve met at places like La Plage, Autostrada and Hudson Malone. Their children have gotten together. By their presence and involvement in local affairs, they’re making Westport more comfortable for themselves — and more welcoming for all.
Westport 10 has grown rapidly. They’re now up to over 50 men and their families.
Congratulations! Here’s hoping for more name changes in the future.
At a recent Westport 100 lunch at Hudson Malone, clockwise from bottom right: Titus McDougal (wearing a cap), Alexis Johnson, Lorenzo Wyatt, Kevin Christie, Dr. Stephan Grevious, Ron Gordon, Trey Ellis, Vinny Spencer, Roy Adams, Timothy Tanksley, Jay Norris, Ted Parker, C.D. Glin,
Last week, Matt Murray’s radar detector started going bonkers at various spots it never had before.
He realized it was triggered by boxes on telephone poles. Looking closely, he saw that they’re property of the Connecticut Department of Transportation. He worried that “Big Brother” was monitoring speeds.
A state Department of Transportation traffic study box. (Photo/Matt Murray)
They are on (among other roads) North Avenue, Cross Highway and Bayberry Lane — all areas that are being studied for traffic patterns, prior to recommendations for improvement.
Westport Police Chief says, “the data is not vehicle specific. Nor is it being used for enforcement.”
Matt sends along this link, from a barcode on the radar box.
It did not take 9 public meetings last spring for town officials to realize that.
But the sessions — one for each RTM district — were informative. 1st Selectwoman Jen Tooker, and officials from the Police, Fire, Public Works and Planning & Zoning Departments listened to complaint after complaint.
Some were general: Speeders! Red light abusers! Unsafe crosswalks!
Others were specific: The South Compo/Greens Farms/Bridge Street light needs work. Prohibiting left turns from the Sherwood Island connector to Greens Farms Road would cut down on Waze drivers. Build sidewalks on North Compo.
A “left-turn only” arrow from South Compo to Bridge Street would make traffic flow as easily as it appears in this image from Google Maps.
All were heard, and noted.
Yesterday — following an extensive review of all 370-plus comments — the Traffic & Pedestrian Safety Task Force issued their report.
“Intersections” drew the most concern (21 percent of comments). Then came sidewalks (16 percent), followed by heavy traffic (13), speeding (12), crosswalks (7), enforcement (4), parking and signage (3 percent each).
The data has been sorted into 3 “buckets,” in terms of priorities. The green (“go!”) bucket is for ongoing projects, those related to scheduled maintenance, and those that would take only a modicum of planning and effort to accomplish.
The second bucket — yellow (“caution!”) — is for projects with longer time frames (a year, to several years). They require more research, planning and permitting.
The third bucket is red (“stop!”). Those projects are outside the town’s jurisdiction, or are too cost-prohibitive or difficult to implement.
The report also notes that since the first meeting last spring, Westport police made 2,319 traffic stops targeting areas of concern. They wrote 729 citations, and made 17 arrests for driving under the influence, plus 16 misdemeanor arrests for traffic-related offenses.
Another result of the meetings was the formation of a Traffic Safety Unit. Based on the 9 RTM meetings, Police Chief Foti Koskinas and his department identified 55 Westport sites where targeted enforcement could help. Some might be where drivers routinely plow through lights or stop signs; others might attract particularly aggressive or fast (even for Westport) drivers.
Tooker says: “As I acknowledged during the course of the meetings, the issues and concerns will not go away overnight. But these meetings and the recognition from all the residents who participated are an important first step.”
Meanwhile, the Traffic & Pedestrian Safety Task Force will continue to meet twice a year.
They’ll have plenty to talk about.
(Click here for the full Traffic & Pedestrian Safety Task Force report. The appendixes include the green, yellow and red bucket items.)
(Stuck in traffic? Consider a donation to “06880.” Please click here — and thank you!)
Underage drinking has been part of the Westport scene since F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald partied here (despite Prohibition for everyone).
Last month, the Westport Prevention Coalition took a step toward combatting teen alcohol use.
The group — a program of Westport Together, the town-wide alliance of government, public schools, nonprofits, parents and youth aimed at raising awareness, and providing education, support, and environmental and policy changes to enhance a “healthy community” — provides “Liquor Stickers” and information cards to local package stores.
The goal is to raise awareness about underage drinking, and encourage adults to prevent teens from accessing alcohol in homes.
“Liquor Stickers” seal the top of opened but unfinished bottles. A broken seal means that someone has re-opened it.
Stickers are available at:
Black Bear Wine & Spirits
Kindred Spirits & Wine
Green’s Farms Spirit Shop
According to WPC co-chairs Kevin Godburn of Westport Youth Services and Margaret Watt (Positive Directions), “Substance use in the teen years can disrupt healthy brain development and create a potential for lifelong consequences, including a future of addiction and mental health problems. We encourage residents to talk to their children about the dangers of alcohol and drug misuse, and help spread the word to other community members.”
According to a 2021 Youth Survey conducted by Positive Directions on behalf of WPC, Westport teens reported drinking at a rate higher than the 2019 state average – even though the survey occurred during the pandemic, when social opportunities were rarer.
The Westport Prevention Coalition adds:
Be aware that teens who drink often access alcohol at home or in a friend’s home. Use liquor stickers to seal the tops of your liquor bottles, and/or keep alcohol in a locked cabinet.
Ensure that kids aren’t drinking at your house. Call ahead when your children are invited to a party to make sure that adults will be home, and making sure alcohol is not available.
Connecticut’s “Social Host Law” holds adults (age 18+) responsible if someone under 21 drinks on their property. Penalties include a $2000 fine per youth who was drinking, as well as up to a year in prison. The Social Host Law applies even if the adults were not on site and/or were unaware that teens were drinking in their homes. (This law also applies to cannabis.)
Some older Westporters can’t shop or cook for themselves.
Some can, but want companionship for their meals.
Other residents are happy to help.
Quietly — but quite efficiently — Westport’s Senior Center meals program provides tasty, nutritious food.
In a wide variety of ways.
Paulina Przybysz’s is “nutrition program coordinator.” That dry title does not convey the spiciness and zest of the work she oversees.
Paulina Przybysz, with nutritious food in the Senior Center kitchen.
The first of the 3 prongs is home-delivered meals. Available to homebound residents 60 and older, the program allows them to live at home.
A cold lunch or hot dinner — or both — is delivered Monday through Friday (with extras for weekends and holidays), between 10 a.m. and noon.
There are options for hot and cold meals; special or therapeutic diets (for example, diabetic, bland, chopped or puréed), and requests like no pork or beef.
Eighteen volunteers — all vetted — handle deliveries (3 to 6 are needed each day). A typical route takes about 45 minutes, with 5 to 8 stops.
Drivers use their own vehicles, and pay for their own gas. (Some towns with similar programs have to hire drivers.)
If a recipient is not home, the driver calls Paulina. She follows up, to make sure the resident is okay.
The biggest challenge is when bad weather makes deliveries impossible. Seniors are urged to have canned goods on hand for those emergencies. (If the weather eases, drivers may head out later in the day.)
The program is federally funded. There is no cost to anyone covered by The Title III Older Americans Act.
Seniors with more mobility enjoy congregate lunches at the Center. Served weekdays at noon in large, bright Sue’s Café — named for longtime, recently retired Senior Center director Sue Pfister — this is a chance to socialize over a meal.
Creative Catering of Norwalk prepares both the congregate and home delivered meals. Chef Luis is “very accommodating,” Paulina says.
Chef Luis, at work.
He arrives at 9:30 a.m. to prepare fresh food in the Senior Center kitchen. Congregate meals include soup, an entrée and dessert, all prepared under federal nutrition guidelines. (There’s an option to order a chef ‘s salad or cheese omelet too.)
The usual crowd is about 30, though Thursday bingo and special events like a Hanukkah lunch draw more. Just before Christmas, an elementary school chorus sang.
In the works: A Valentine’s Day “heart healthy” meal.
The congregate lunch program is also federally funded. There is no cost, though a donation of $5 to $7 per meal is suggested.
Paulina Przybysz serves lunch at Sue’s Cafe.
The third program is called “Hello Neighbor.” Begun during the pandemic, when seniors felt particularly isolated, it connects people who need help shopping (or a friendly phone call) with Westporters who can provide either (or both).
Participants are matched by interests — gardening, say, or reading.
“Every day is different,” Paulina says of her 3 programs. “But the seniors are so appreciative of everything.”
For more information on the Senior Center meals programs — including how to participate or volunteer — contact Paulina by email (email@example.com) or phone (203-341-5097).
(From senior citizens to seniors in high school — and every other age group — “06880” covers Westport. Please click here to support our work. Thank you!)
For a while now, “06880” has rung in the new year with an iconic photo: The “blue marble” image of Earth, suspended in space.
Taken by Apollo 17 astronauts in December 1972, for half a century it’s symbolized the beauty and fragility of our planet, and the interconnectedness of us all.
This year, I’m going intergalactic.
In the 5 months since the James Webb Space Telescope beamed its first pictures back to us, the world has been mesmerized.
We thought we knew how vast and amazing the universe is.
Now, we realize, we don’t know the half — or the hundredth, or squintillionth — of it.
Gazing at photos like the one above, we realize how insignificant we truly are. Our planet is just one grain of sand, on an obscure beach, in an out-of-the-way location.
We really don’t matter at all.
Except to us.
Take a look at that photo again.
That landscape of “mountains” and “valleys” speckled with glittering stars is actually the edge of a nearby, young, star-forming region in the Carina Nebula. For the first time, we see stars being born.
We look billions of light years into the past. That’s crazy stuff.
So — back here on Earth, in our tiny Zip code in our small state in our big country in our average-sized planet — we have to wonder: What actually matters?
Is it whether the new building in Saugatuck is 5 stories tall, or only 4? Is it a tile mural? Is it the inconvenience of traffic on our roads, or whether certain books should be banned in school libraries, or kept?
The answer is: Yes.
These things matter.
They matter because they are part of our lives here in Westport. Sure, the universe seems endless, we still can’t really conceive of the fourth dimension, and our universe itself may be part of another, “living” life form.
In other words, the Westport — and the world — we know may just be atoms in an infinitely more complex something-or-other.
But all that’s for another day (or time).
Meanwhile, we’re looking for the answers to life out there. But right now, it’s our own lives to lead, right here in “06880.”
Let’s lead them well.
And so … bringing us back to what we know best … here’s that beautiful blue marble, once more.
Last week, “06880” featured a series of photos by Andrew Colabella. They showed homes lit for the holidays, in a wide variety of colors and styles.
There are many others, of course. Andrew — a Representative Town Meeting member, Staples High School graduate and longtime advocate for all things Westport — took a second tour recently. Here’s what he saw on Saugatuck Shores:
(All photos/Andrew Colabella)
And here’s a bonus, from Gabriela Hayes on Sylvan Road South:
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