Category Archives: Westport life

Yes, This Is An Actual Parking Job At Trader Joe’s. No, It’s Not A Late April Fool’s Joke.

Here’s another view. Yes, he left his door open the entire time.

When alert — and astonished — “06880” reader David Meth asked the driver if he couldn’t find a parking spot, the response was: “F— you!”

You can’t make this s— up.

New Hartford Taxes Could Hit Westport Hard

Governor Malloy is a Fairfield County guy. But a new series of taxes and surcharges proposed by the former Stamford mayor — and under serious consideration by state officials — could hit suburban towns like Westport far more than less affluent communities, and large cities.

Among the revenue-producing proposals:

  • State taxes — in addition to property taxes levied by towns — on homes greater than 6,000 square feet, and/or with “more than two garage bays,” as well as on cars and trucks whose purchase price exceeds $29,999
  • “Excess water use” surcharges, implemented for users who surpass statewide averages (presumably for activities like lawn watering and filling swimming pools)
  • A fee, paid monthly by employers, for any “au pair, nanny, or other childcare-giver employed directly by parents or guardians within a family.”

The draft legislation “may impact some citizens more than others,” Malloy acknowledges.

But, he says, “ultimately all of us in Connecticut bear some responsibility for helping raise the revenue this state desperately needs.”

For a full list of many more proposed taxes and surcharges — most of which could disproportionately target Westporters — click here.

Westporters who own homes like these — with swimming pools and (presumably) garages with more than 2 bays — would be hit with special taxes, under a proposed plan.

Give A Little Le Rouge Love: The Sequel

On Sunday, “06880” gave a shout-out to Aarti Khosla. The owner of Le Rouge — the fantastic downtown artisan chocolate shop — is offering handmade hearts for just $5 each. She wants folks to give them to people who have made a difference in someone’s life. “Give a Little Love,” she calls her campaign.

Yesterday, there were lines out the door. Today, countless customers handed out untold numbers of chocolate hearts. What a way to celebrate Valentine’s Day!

Aarti welcomes photos of the recipients. She’ll display them on a “Wall of Love” in her cafe.

You’ll want to see it. But here’s a sneak peek:

give-a-little-love-skye-trader-joes

That’s Doris Ghitelman, bestowing her random act of kindness on Shy, one of Trader Joe’s superb employees.

“She always greets me with a smile, and inspires me with her generous spirit and drive,” Doris says. “Today I let her know how much I appreciate her.”

Doris adds: “When she’s not working at Trader Joe’s, Shy is an immigration law student at Georgetown University in Washington, DC.”

Aarti’s campaign runs all through February. So there’s plenty of time for all of us to join Doris and Shy, and “give a little love.”

“I Should Be A Statistic”: Startling Insights Into Westport’s “Privilege”

The recent brouhaha over TEAM Westport’s “white privilege” essay contest got many folks thinking. Throughout town — and around the globe — they dissected the meaning of “privilege.”

Amelia Suermann has a unique perspective. Today, she shares it with “06880”:

I’m privileged to have grown up in Westport. It is a wonderful and supportive town. I’m so proud to say “I’m from Westport” — even when fellow Nutmeggers roll their eyes.

I did not have the “typical” Westport upbringing. My parents aren’t CEOs or executives. I didn’t live in a McMansion, and I wasn’t raised with other stereotypes of Westport.

But make no mistake: I’m privileged.

I’m privileged to have been homeless in Westport. It could have been a lot worse. I am privileged to have been raised by a single mother who worked 2, sometimes 3 jobs, to afford rent and necessities so that I could grow up in a great town with amazing resources, and attend school in a public system that rivals some of the best private institutions in the country.

Amelia Suermann

Amelia Suermann

I’ve posted before on this blog — anonymously — about growing up homeless in Westport. Without the town’s incredible resources, including the Bacharach Center and Gillespie food pantry that fed us many times when money was tight, God only knows where I would be.

I worked minimum wage throughout high school. Sometimes I used my earnings to pay phone bills or buy groceries. I should be a statistic.

But I grew up in Westport — a community with supportive neighbors and teachers. Because of that, I graduated high school. And as Elizabeth wrote a few days ago, the assumption that I would do so was privilege in of itself.

I went to college in Boston and then DC, where I settled and started my life. I’m a product of Westport’s world. The perspective that Westport has provided me is truly unique.

It’s a perspective of 2 worlds: Food pantry “shopping” on Friday night, lounging on friends’ boats on Saturday. You don’t get more privileged than that.

Addressing your own privilege should be about recognizing that maybe we have it a little easier than a lot of people.

Two faces of Westport: the Gillespie Center and Ned Dimes Marina.

Two faces of Westport: the Gillespie Center and Ned Dimes Marina.

A colleague who is originally from Milford sent me a newspaper story on the essay contest. While I understood the intent, a part of me sighed “Ohhh Westport…” as I shook my head.

I thought about my own life, my own privilege. Could we have had an easier life in a less expensive place? Probably.

But I would not have had the excellent education that set me up for the life I have now. People in other towns and of other ethnicities don’t have the same opportunities as many in Westport do. And while I would like to believe that if a non-white peer having the same experience as I would end up with the same happy ending, I don’t.

There are hundreds of comments on Dan’s various posts. Isn’t that the true intent of the essay contest — to inspire thought and a dialogue about one’s own privilege?

Let’s all vow to not let these conversations about privilege go away, simply because they’re hard or embarrassing.

Let’s make them matter.

Word!

It wasn’t quite curling up with the New York Times crossword.

More like racing through it, trying to beat dozens of other crossword aficionados. The grand prize: A book (about words) donated in your name to the Westport Library.

Your name on a new plaque.

And — 24 hours before the Super Bowl — the knowledge that you’re a champion in a competition using (instead of destroying) brain cells.

It happened this afternoon: the Library’s 18th annual Crossword Puzzle Contest.

Jeff Wieser was ready for the Crossword Puzzle Contest. The countdown clock is in the background. There were 3 preliminary rounds, of 20 minutes each.

Jeff Wieser was ready for the Crossword Puzzle Contest. The countdown clock is in the background. There were 3 preliminary rounds, of 20 minutes each.

I was there for the 1st time. The McManus Room was filled with fellow puzzlers. Many had come to previous contests. A few had been to every one.

Eric Maddy came all the way from Huntington Beach, California (and wore shorts). He seemed to know a lot of folks. Crossword solvers have created quite a community.

But there were plenty of familiar faces. Sitting across from me was Jeff Wieser, CEO of Homes With Hope. On my right was Alan Southworth, the 2010 Staples High grad/musician/marathon runner/crossword creator (he hopes Will Shortz will select one of his puzzles for the Times).

Will Shortz: New York Times puzzle editor, Westport Library contest host, all-around cool guy.

Will Shortz: New York Times puzzle editor, Westport Library contest host, all-around cool guy.

Shortz himself — the Times puzzle editor/NPR host/Indiana University enigmatology major — was at today’s contest too. He served as the genial, wisecracking, challenging host.

The diverse, high-energy crowd was perfect for Shortz. And he had 3 strong puzzles — a Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday (in ascending order of difficulty) for us.

I did not win. I did not make the cut as one of 3 finalists. I am, however, extremely proud to say that I did receive a perfect score on all 3 puzzles.

I earned a certificate for that, signed by Will Shortz himself.

A couple dozen others got certificates too. It was that kind of group.

And that kind of only-in-Westport afternoon.

PS: The 3 puzzles will be published in upcoming Times editions. Will gave us the back stories about them. One is by the youngest creator in Times history. When we heard that, no one in the room felt smart at all.

You might even call us clueless.

The 3 finalists. Andy Kravis (right) of New York City won, finishing a Friday puzzle in a blazing 4:50. Eric Maddy (center) finished 2nd. He came all the way from California -- and received ed a Westport Library tote bag in appreciation.

The 3 finalists. Andy Kravis (right) of New York City won, finishing a Friday puzzle in a blazing 4:50. Eric Maddy (center) was 2nd. He came all the way from California — and received a Westport Library tote bag in appreciation.

From now on, the winner's name will be etched on a plaque bearing the name of Howard Brody. As the

From now on, the winner’s name will be etched on a plaque honoring longtime puzzle fan Howard Brody. As the award notes, he “never had a cross word for anyone.”

“White Privilege” Essay Contest: Separating Facts From Fake News

The essay contest sponsored by TEAM Westport — our town’s multicultural commission — has sparked worldwide coverage. An AP story using “outrage” in its headline went viral. Outlets from the Christian Science Monitor to the Onion ran stories.

Like a game of Telephone, each telling brought more inaccuracies.

This AP photo of Main Street ran with many news stories about the

This AP photo of Main Street ran with many news stories about the “white privilege” essay contest.

This morning, TEAM Westport chair Harold Bailey issued a fact sheet about the contest. It won’t get as much press as the kerfuffle story, but for “06880” readers fielding questions from friends around the world — generally framed as What the hell is going on there?! — it’s a start.

The actual essay prompt reads:

White privilege surfaced as a topic during the recent presidential election. In 1,000 words or less, describe how you understand the term “white privilege.” To what extent do you think this privilege exists? What impact do you think it has had in your life — whatever your racial or ethnic identity — and in our society more broadly?

The challenge asks students to research the concept of “white privilege,” and describe to what extent they think it exists.

It does not

  • Make any statement one way or the other about its existence
  • Imply a right answer
  • Imply or signal anything about the town of Westport, beyond an openness to explore the topic.

The essay contest is voluntary. No student is forced to enter. Nor is it a part of any school curriculum or classroom requirement.

TEAM-Westport-logo2The contest is open only to residents of Westport in grades 9-12 attending any school anywhere, and non-resident students who attend public or private schools located in Westport. It is not open to individuals or groups outside the town.

The contest requires written permission of a parent or guardian for entry.

No taxpayer dollars are involved. All funding comes from private contributions (email info@teamwestport.org to donate!).

All members of TEAM Westport are volunteers.

This is the 4th consecutive year that the group has sponsored an essay contest. Previous topics involved race, religion, ethnicity and sexual orientation.

The takeaways:

The essay topic is meant to allow Westport students in grades to 9-12 write about what the challenge means to them.

It is not about what older people, people outside Westport, the press or political groups think.

Think about that!

TEAM Westport contest judges (from left) Jaina Shaw and Dr. Judith Hamer, and (far right) Mary-Lou Weisman flank 2016 essay contest winners Ellie Shapiro, Ali Tritschler and Jacob Klegar.

TEAM Westport contest judges (from left) Jaina Shaw and Dr. Judith Hamer, and (far right) Mary-Lou Weisman flank 2016 essay contest winners Ellie Shapiro, Ali Tritschler and Jacob Klegar.

Westport Moms Own WestportMoms.com

Westport moms have lots of options.

Also, lots of questions.

How do I find the right summer camp? What activities can I do with my 2-year-old? Where can I find a place for a great brunch with my husband?

Up to now, those answers were scattered all over the Googlesphere.

Starting a couple of weeks ago, they’re aggregated all in one place.

Fittingly, it’s called WestportMoms.com.

The site is the work of (duh) Westport moms. Megan Rutstein and Melissa Post are the type of active, plugged-in women friends often turn to for advice.

Megan Rutstein and Melissa Post enjoy a WestportMoms event, at The Cottage.

Megan Rutstein and Melissa Post enjoy a WestportMoms event, at The Cottage.

When Megan and Melissa heard about GreenwichMoms.com — the brainchild of Layla Jafar — and similar pages for Darien and New Canaan, they realized it was a perfect platform for Westport too.

And they’re the perfect partners to produce it.

Megan and Melissa are responsible for all local content. (Which includes Weston and — at least for the moment — Wilton and Fairfield.)

The other day, the home page included “M&M Picks” (All Birds Sneakers for moms, Mad Mattr for munchkins); a New Year’s resolution on cooking healthier meals (with recipes for, um, pizza quesadillas and baked chicken fingers); a story on chef Brian Lewis, the man behind the wildly popular restaurant The Cottage, and a “Meet a Mom” feature with, actually, 2 moms (the founders of Granola Bar).

The rest of the site includes an events calendar (heavy on story time for toddlers); lists of public, private and preschools plus summer camps, and a resources page with links to activities, attractions, babysitting and nanny agencies, pet care, fitness health and beauty (from gyms to botox), pediatricians and pediatric dentists, restaurants and specialty food stores (there are plenty!), shopping and products.

Part of the home page of WestportMoms.com

Part of the home page of WestportMoms.com

WestportMoms.com makes money from advertising partners and sponsored listings.

The graphics are spare. That’s fine. Moms who log on want information, not splashy photos.

And to answer everyone’s question: Sure. There’s tons of good info on WestportMoms for Westport dads too.

The Minute Man Couldn’t Make It To The March On Washington…

… so he did the next best thing:

(Photo/Susan Iseman)

(Photo/Susan Iseman)

In the past, readers complained when the Minute Man wore a Santa cap, Easter bunny ears and a pink hat for breast cancer awareness.

I think it’s a great tradition. And I think it’s especially appropriate today for the Minute Man to exercise the same 1st Amendment rights he and so many others fought and died for.

And yes, I thought the same thing when he sported Tea Party garb.

(Photo/Carolyn Caney)

(Photo/Carolyn Caney)

Disabilities Commission: It’s Way More Than Ramps

The Americans With Disabilities Act — signed by President George H. W. Bush in 1990 — had many consequences.

Some were intended. Others were not.

It opened employment and educational opportunities for tens of millions of Americans with physical and emotional issues. Curb cuts and other design changes now benefit pregnant mothers, parents with youngsters and the elderly.

The ADA also impelled the state of Connecticut to create grants, allowing towns to fund initiatives studying the best ways to promote inclusion for people with disabilities.

In 2006, Westport and Wilton formed a task force. One recommendation was followed: Today our town has a designated official for disability issues (Sarah Heath, in Human Services).

One recommendation was not followed: the creation of a permanent commission.

Until now.

Jim Ross

Jim Ross

Earlier this month, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe announced appointments to Westport’s new Commission on People With Disabilities, which the RTM approved in July. Members include Marina Derman, Diane Johnson, Stacie Curran, LuAnn Giunta, Tom Holleman and Evan Levinson.

The chair is Jim Ross. A successful businessman, he’s also the former head of the Westport Citizens Transit Committee.

Ross is legally blind, and the father of 2 special needs children. “I live this every day,” he notes.

He became a voice for the disabled community in 2012, when  he helped pass legislation giving students access to epilepsy medicine when a school nurse is not present.

Along the way, he  met Human Services director Barbara Butler, who told Ross that the proposal for a town commission had never been implemented.

Ross went to work. Now — with Marpe’s help, and broad public support — it’s a reality.

Westport's former director of human services, Barbara Butler, is a longtime advocate for people with disabilities.

Westport’s former director of human services, Barbara Butler, is a longtime advocate for people with disabilities.

There’s a reason so many Westporters support the new commission. Twenty percent of the town’s population is directly affected by their own or a family member’s physical or intellectual disability. In a community like ours, that means all of us have neighbors, friends and fellow members of civic groups and congregations with disabilities.

“This is an exceptionally humbling opportunity,” Ross says of his post. “It’s a chance to take the ADA — a magnificent civil rights initiative — to the local  level.”

He notes that Westport — a “very socially aware town” — has already done good things. There are ramps everywhere. Compo Beach has a sand wheelchair. The Levitt Pavilion is quite accessible.

But, he adds, “this is about a lot more than ramps. It’s a 2-way conversation between people with disabilities, and the community as a whole. It’s a chance for businesses, organizations, the town and people to have a dialogue to create avenues, paths and bridges for everyone to come together.”

In many ways, Ross says, “people with disabilities are heroes. We can learn a lot about ourselves by including them, and letting them contribute to a more vigorous, dynamic environment. This is not about clubbing people over the head. It’s about everyone working together.”

Beach wheelchair sign

He mentions education, housing, transportation, recreation, employment, the arts and emergency preparedness as areas in which discussions involving people with disabilities can lead to “logistical and tactical benefits” for all Westporters.

He’s eager to get started. Ross calls the 7-member commission “a dynamite group. Everyone has a different area of expertise.”

The Commission on People With Disabilities will meet publicly the 3rd Thursday of every month. The 1st session is Thursday, January 19 (8:30 a.m.), at Town Hall.

Of course, it’s handicap accessible.

[OPINION] Former Westporter: “Entitled Attitudes” Sent Us Elsewhere

The other day, an alert “06880” reader — and former resident — emailed me. He now lives in Black Rock — the diverse, tight-knit and active neighborhood in Bridgeport, just across Ash Creek from Fairfield.

It was a private note — but his perspective deserves a wide audience. He asked for anonymity, so that the focus could be on his words, not on him. That makes sense.

He wrote:

Moving here has been a great experience. We know our neighbors, watch out for each other, enjoy walks through the neighborhood.

What a change from our old neighborhood in Westport. We had a great lot — lovely trees and expansive lawns. We remodeled, and settled in for nearly 30 years.

But older neighbors left or passed away. Over time we had less interaction with  our newer neighbors. Many homes were torn down, with huge new ones taking their place.

Big stone walls were raised, shutting out sightlines from one home to another. It was time for us to decide if we’d stay or go.

Michael Bolton wall

Big walls alter streetscapes.

Our kids went through the Westport school system, and on to great college. We never complained about the taxes, because we really got something in return. We got the education system, the services, Longshore, Compo, and the continuity of building our family in Westport.

I commuted for many years. My wife was active in many community service organizations. We were well-integrated in Westport. We still belong to our church there.

So moving to Bridgeport was a very big step.

But little things happened. At the train station I’d pick up trash that people casually left. A guy once asked if I worked for the town. “Nope,” I said. “I’m a commuter like you. I just don’t like seeing garbage lying around, waiting for someone else to remove it.”

A familiar sight in Westport.

A familiar sight in Westport.

That was part of what rankled — the entitled attitude of so many fellow commuters. Perfectly fit men would leave their coffee cups on the railing, rather than walk 10 steps to the bin.

One morning I said to a guy, “Please put that in the trash.”

“What’s it to you?” he asked.

“I live here too,” I replied. “I don’t expect anyone to pick up after me.”

Grudgingly, he threw it away.

I was really angry. I saw him as a representative of entitlement — someone who typified a “type” that had moved into “my” town.

That was just part of it. I’d had enough of the super-wealth that had come to Westport, changing its ethos with a less-than-communal attitude — or so it seemed to me.

So when it came time to sell our home and  move elsewhere, we just happened to find ourselves in a neighborhood that seemed friendly and accommodating. We weren’t pressured to “keep up.” Rather, we were welcomed for whatever expertise and contributions we could make to our new community.

We jumped in with both feet.

The Black Rock section of Bridgeport. (Photo/Gregg Vigliotti for the New York Times)

The Black Rock section of Bridgeport. (Photo/Gregg Vigliotti for the New York Times)

All the problems are here too — and more. But the entitlement attitude — born of great wealth and expectation — is not.

There’s anger at the “haves.” There’s prejudice that comes from poverty and need. There’s vast deficits in opportunity and vision.

But there’s no shortage of need and desire for a better chance.

All the best for a more harmonious 2017, for all who live on this precious planet we share.