Category Archives: Westport life

“06880” Podcast: Jimmy Izzo

Everyone in Westport knows Jimmy Izzo.

Former owner of Crossroads Ace Hardware, current RTM member, he’s got his finger on the pulse of every issue in town. He knows the ins and outs, pros and cons of life here today. He’s got plenty of opinions — but he delivers them with grace, warmth and optimism.

No one loves Westport more than Jimmy. And no one articulates that love better than he.

The other day, we sat  on the Westport Library Forum stage. Thanks to Verso Studios, our conversation is now part of the “06880: The Podcast” series. Click here to enjoy Jimmy Izzo’s memories, insights and ideas.

Jimmy Izzo

School Traffic Drives Residents Crazy

This was the scene Tuesday on Post Road West, at 3:30 p.m. Cars lined up from Burr Street to the light by Kings Highway North. It looked like Cape Cod on a summer Friday. Or Woodstock in 1969.

(Photo/Dick Lowenstein)

Dick Lowenstein thought it was remarkable enough to send to “06880.”

But anyone who passes by Kings Highway Elementary at the end of school — or any other one in Westport — knows it’s a daily occurrence.

Bus ridership is down. Personal transportation is way, way up.

“Is it because of parents’ fear of COVID?” Dick asks. “Or are there not enough bus drivers?”

It’s a great question.

So, “06880” readers: Have at it.

Do you drive your kids to school? If so, why? If not, why not?

What are the upsides — and downsides — to all these one-kid-per-car trips? Are there alternatives?

How long will it last? Any solutions? What can schools — and parents, and everyone else — do to ease the crunch?

Click “Comments” below. And please: Be objective and constructive!

Bedford Middle School traffic. (Photo/Adam Vengrow)

COVID: The Business Battle Rages On

It’s been a tough 18 months for all of us.

COVID knocked us to our knees. Westporters lost jobs and businesses. Our kids lost the benefits of in-person school; adults became part-time teachers and full-time counselors. We all lost our sense of security; fearing at times for our lives, we wondered how the world had suddenly gone so askew.

Slowly, we’re emerging from the darkness. COVID is still here, and — particularly among the stubbornly unvaccinated — rampant. We’re learning to live with the pandemic.

But we’re gathering again, in all the places we used to, for work and commerce and pleasure. We’re dining and traveling. We’re welcoming newcomers to town, and their energy makes Westport even more vibrant and wonderful than it was before March of 2020.

Of course, we still have a long way to go. Just ask anyone in the service industry.

The other day, a friend described his recent experiences. He works locally. It doesn’t matter where. His experience is not unique.

He’s exhausted from asking people to wear masks — a mandate that lacks real enforcement power.

He’s tired of asking those with masks to wear them properly. Covering the neck — or even below the nose — will not help stem the virus’ spread.

He’s also tired of trying to change the behavior of the self-centered, pig-headed customers who come into his store. After 18 months, he realizes, they will not listen.

They won’t listen to Dr. Fauci. They won’t listen to the CDC. And they certainly won’t listen to him.

So when I asked him to write an “06880” story about his experiences as a front-line worker, he declined. It’s not worth it, he said.

The ones who are not helping corral the virus have a zillion reasons. “I’m vaccinated.” “I’ll let my immune system work for me.” “It’s my body. Don’t tell me what to do with it.”

The ones who need to read his words won’t, he said. And if they do, they won’t heed them.

They’ll just rage on, berating him and his colleagues. Mocking them. Putting his health in danger, and his nerves on edge.

He has no more strength to tell that story. So I’m telling it instead.

And now — like him in his store — I’ll wait for the abuse.

An anti-mask sign.

#CTUnitesTogether: A Focus On Diversity

Over the past few months, Ria Rueda has been involved in 2 local social justice initiatives: Westport Pride, and the Asian American/Pacific Islander rally on Jesup Green.

A marketing manager, brand builder, event planner, community creator and digital storyteller, she says:

“My daughter is biracial. We have queer friends, international friends, and friends in all shapes and sizes and from different socio-economic backgrounds.

“When we moved to Connecticut from Los Angeles, it was very important to her father and me to raise her to embrace true diversity. Our country was founded and built by immigrants from various places, with various perspectives and ideas, which make us unique and special.

“As children, one of the first things we’re taught about our country’s history is ‘America is a melting pot.’ It’s explained to us that people came here from all over the world in search of a better life, and that our diversity sets us apart from other nations.

“In many ways that makes my daughter a visual and cultural representation of this country.”

With her keen eye for visuals — and many friends in the arts — Ria thought of on an intriguing (and eye-catching) project. Westport photographer Jerri Graham and art director Katie Conte brought her idea to life.

#CTUnitesTogether is a social media photo campaign. Initially created to build upon the Stop AAPI Hate movement, it has evolved into photographing the faces of all types of diversity in Connecticut.

A wide variety of races, gender identities, socio-economic statuses, ages, disabilities, sexual orientations, cultures and more are featured.

The photos are displayed via social media (@thebuzzct), on personal accounts, and community accounts like @aapiwestport.

“More than mere representation, diversity also requires showing individuals as humans first — rather than a representation of a group,” Ria says. “That is, recognizing difference without implying that anyone is superior or inferior to anyone else.”

Ria hopes #CTUnitesTogether educates and inspires people to embrace diversity, culture and equality within communities, families and individuals across Connecticut, and beyond.

She wants to “reinforce and educate others to have an empathetic connection to diverse groups. Ideally, I hope we nurture empathy and begin to break the cycle of intolerance so the children of our future can grow up in a world where tolerance, not hate, is the tie that binds.”

Ria will host a #CTUnitesTogether gallery showing with all of the photos next spring or summer.

The next photo shoot is in September. For more information, email Ria Rueda via Instagram: @thebuzzct.

(All photos/Jerri Graham Photography)

Remembering Barbara Pearson-Rac

Barbara Pearson Rac died last night, after a long battle with cancer.

Most remembrances of noted Westporters use the words of family members, friends and admirers. Sometimes I post a previous “06880” story about them.

Today it’s fitting to memorialize the founder and longtime director of Westport’s First Night celebration — and ditto for Make a Difference Day — with her own words.

Six months ago, when Barbara moved from Westport, I was honored to post her farewell to the town she loved. Below is my introduction, followed by her thoughts.

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After nearly 30 years in Westport, Barbara Pearson-Rac is leaving.

She has made a difference here in so many ways. That’s literal: Make a Difference Day was one of her wonderful projects.

So was First Night. For 2 decades, our town rang in New Year’s with a host of fun activities. Hundreds of volunteers made it work. But none of it would have been possible without Barbara’s prodigious passion, energy and talent.

Soon, Barbara will leave this town she has done so much for. She’s been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. As she explains below, she’ll spend precious time with her daughter and family.

Westport owes an enormous debt to Barbara Pearson-Rac. She’s done so much for us, for so long. Godspeed, Barbara, from the town that loves you just as much as you’ve loved us.

Dear Westporters,

In the early 1990s, my family moved to Westport. We visited many towns in Fairfield County, but were always drawn back here. We sensed this welcoming and inclusive town would be ideal to raise our elementary school age daughter.

Barbara Pearson-Rac

As a product of the ’60s, I experienced the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. These tragedies led to a conscious decision to devote myself to community service. I realized I couldn’t move mountains but any impact, no matter how small, was my goal.

Shortly after we settled in Westport, I participated in the ADL World of Difference program. The outgrowth of my experience became Westport’s Make a Difference Day.

We mobilized adults and children to work on projects for non-for-profit organizations. We went beyond our town borders to help people in need across Fairfield County. This day of volunteering in October grew every year. It was so successful that in our 10th year we received national recognition for our work.

During 2020, due to COVID we had to scale back dramatically, but we were able to help where we could. I am so proud of our many Westporters who have made this event an integral part of our town culture.

First Night, our town New Year’s Eve party, was designed to bring our community together to share in a joyous entertainment event and strengthen ties. I ran the event for many years with a dedicated board and many community volunteers. Together we enjoyed music, fun for all ages, and the beginning of a new year.

The evening always ended at Jesup Green. Everyone gathered around a bonfire watching the fireworks. The happiness in everyone’s faces kept me and the board active in this endeavor for over 20 years, until it was no longer financially feasible. But it was our gift to the town.

John Videler’s drone captured 2016’s First Night fireworks over Westport.

Now I am on a new journey. I have to say goodbye to my beloved Westport and all the wonderful friends I’ve made over the years.

I have been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Soon my husband and I will move to Pennsylvania to be close to my daughter, son-in-law and 2 small grandsons. I want to spend as much time with them as I have left.

Do not feel sorry for me, though. Diagnosed in August, I have responded to chemotherapy better than the doctors ever expected. I remain active, with 3 yoga classes a week, working on my 5th novel (it’s almost completed), participating in virtual author talks, serving on the Senior Center board, and in Zoom with my friends.

I may have cancer, but my life goes on. I hope I’ve been a role model for my daughter on how best to cope when life throws you a curveball.

So with sadness I say goodbye to Westport, all my friends and colleagues, and the opportunities it has given me.

Roundup: Porch Party, Post Road Fawns, Bicycle For 2 …

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In less than 2 months of operation, The Porch @ Christie’s has become an iconic part of Westport.

Besides a great breakfast-lunch-and-dinner menu, excellent coffee and a popular ice cream stand, there are sweeeeet baked goods from Sweet P Bakery.

That’s the business that Porch owners Bill and Andrea Pecoriello started 2 years ago. They instruct and employ 6 bakers — all with disabilities — along with 3 professional chefs.

Yesterday, the Pecoriellos hosted a party (appropriately, on the Porch’s porch) for the Sweet P staff. Some had never seen the place where so many customers love the products they make.

Hetty Marion said “I love this! It’s such a nice atmosphere.” Autumn Perry looked forward to watching people try her creations.

In case you’re wondering what to order: Autumn’s favorite is chocolate chip cookies. Hetty favors Whoopie Pies.

Autumn Perry (left) and Hetty Marion, at yesterday’s party with Porch owners Bill and Andrea Pecoriello.

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Tomorrow (Sunday, July 25, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.) marks Wakeman Town Farm’s first Sustainable Goods Eco Market.

Local vendors and artisans will be selling handwoven baskets and housewares; honey; handmade soaps, body butter and essential oils; skin and hair products for teens; candles; bags; clothing; honey and more.

There’s breakfast from The Granola Bar truck, and ice cream cones from Saugatuck Sweets too.

While adults shop green, youngsters can work on fun projects with WTF director of education Chryse Terrill, or visit with the animals. Expert Judy Panzer will answer animal questions for curious young minds.

Everyone can enjoy music by saxophonist Bobby Master, classical guitarist Jesse Balcom, steel pan and marimba player, and string quartet Vision Academy.

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Westport Animal Control and the Westport Police Department want you to know: 2 fawns have hunkered down in the grassy Post Road median in front of Splash Car Wash.

The mother thinks this is a safe spot for her little ones. Animal Control Officer Peter Reid asks people to not approach them — and when driving by, slow down!

Fawns in the median.

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SA couple considering a moving to Westport from New York would love to take the train here, and explore our town by bike.

They asked “06880” about rentals near the station. I don’t think there’s any such thing (though it might not be a bad sideline for a nearby business).

So how about it, “06880” readers: If there are no bike rentals around, does someone have a pair to lend? Maybe meet them at the station, give some tips (or even ride with them)? Or drop bikes off there, with combination locks?

Sure, it’s a long shot. But it’s also one way to help show off our amazing town — and the great people who live here.

I don’t think this is the type of bike ride our guests are looking for.

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The Hamptons? Cape Cod? LA?

Nope. The too-familiar scene yesterday afternoon, on Bridge Street:

(Photo/Patricia McMahon)

And, reports Patricia McMahon, it took her 20 minutes on South Compo to get to this mess. And a total of 64 minutes to get from the beach to the light by Bridge Square.

Part of the reason may have been an accident south of I-95 exit 19, which shut all 3 lanes for an hour. But that was a few miles away.

Yikes.

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On Thursday, State Senators Will Haskell and Tony Hwang were recognized for their bipartisan effort to pass SB 954. The bill will improve college safety, and is seen as a template for federal legislation, sponsored by Congressman Jim Himes. The goal is to increase transparency around college accidents and deaths in all US colleges.

The initiative comes from College911.net, an all-volunteer organization founded in the memory of Corey Hausman. The 2018 Staples High School graduate died from what started as a preventable accident on his college campus just 15 days into his freshman year. Corey’s was the third student death since the start of that semester.

Senators Will Haskell and Tony Hwang hold certificates presented by College 911.net. Also pictured: members of the 911 Young Adult Advisory Board (Brendan Carney, Rushil Marallapu, Kate Smith and William Bean), members of Corey Hausman’s family (Joel, Nanette and Lucas), and Jeff Mitchell, an ardent supporter.

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Blood donations are still down, compared to pre-COVID times.

The Red Cross is holding a blood drive this Thursday (July 29, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.) at VFW Joseph J. Clinton Post 399 (465 Riverside Avenue).

The VFW is holding an open house the same day, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

VFW Joseph Clinton Post 399.

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A large crowd filled Bedford Hall last night, for the Westport Woman’s Club annual “Sip and Savor” fundraiser.

Proceeds from ticket and wine sales benefit the organization’s many philanthropic and scholarship initiatives.

“It’s so nice to go out again,” one attendee said.

“Especially where there’s wine,” her friend agreed.

One of the 4 tasting stations at the Westport Woman’s Club “Sip & Savor” event. Wines came from around the world.

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The grounds of the Westport Weston Family YMCA always look gorgeous, thanks to Tony Palmer Landscaping.

Yesterday they were especially attractive. The Westport Garden Club chose the Mahackeno site for its annual #FridayFlowers display. They were created by Janet Wolgast, with help from new Y CEO Anjali McCormick.

One more reason to smile before — and after — your workout.

(Photo/Ed Simek)

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Andrew O’Brien spotted this recently at Compo Beach:

(Photo/Andrew O’Brien)

“We have many different points of view here in Westport,” he says. “But I can’t figure out where this individual stands.”

I don’t know either. But it’s clear where he sits: In the driver’s seat, without a real good look through his rear view mirror.

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Longtime Westport resident Vivian Doak of Spring, Texas, died peacefully at home, surrounded by her immediate family, last Saturday. She was 91 years.

The oldest of 5 children, Vivian graduated from high school in Ridgefield Park, New Jersey. After secretarial school in New York, she held various positions. In 1952 she married Malcolm Robert Doak, an Air Force pilot. Following stints in Memphis, Japan, Long Island and Poughkeepsie, the couple settled in Westport in 1964, where they raised their family. In 2009 Vivian and her husband retired to Lake Conroe, Texas, and finally settled in Spring, Texas, at The Village at Gleannloch Farms.

While in Westport Vivian was a mother, housewife, business professional and real estate agent. She served many roles, from Cub Scout and Girl Scout leader to PTA organizer; from church deacon to leading the local Women’s Council of Realtors.

Vivian enjoyed traveling the world with her corporate pilot husband, as well as cultural jaunts with her children. The Doak home was a welcoming place for neighborhood kids, and a great environment for their children’s friends to hang out, be fed delicious meals, and be appreciated. Many still recall her warm smile and generous laugh.

Vivian possessed an ambitious, artistic talent that influenced everything she did. She was an excellent cook and skilled seamstress, skills she passed on to her children, grandchildren and beyond.

She enjoyed dancing, and studied tap and other forms. A painter from early on, she later enjoyed the hands-on hard work of building, refinishing and reupholstering furniture. She brought a creative eye to numerous heirloom quilts made for family members.

Vivian reveled in leading her grandchildren in holiday crafts, and created hand-painted curios for her children and their families. She also mastered a host of magic tricks, and juggled to entertain her grandchildren.

In retirement Doak mastered the art of theorem painting, studying at the Fletcher Farm School for the Arts in Vermont. While a member of the Wilton Presbyterian Church, Vivian designed and oversaw the construction of their on-site Memorial Garden.

Vivian will be remembered for her kindness, patience, loving manner, infectious laugh and bright smile, and as the matriarch of a strong, loving vital family.

Vivian is survived by her husband Malcolm and their 5 children: Kathi Doak of New York City; Lisa Lyne (James) of Spring, Texas; Ivy Doak (Timothy Montler) of Denton, Texas; Robin Neyrey of Spring TX, and Malcolm (Carole Ann) of Kirby, Vermont; 7 grandchildren; 3 great-grandchildren; numerous nieces, nephews, and cousins, and sister Marjorie Schoneboom of Long Island.

A memorial service was held at The Village at Gleannloch Farms. The family is appreciative of everyone there.

Vivian Doak

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Great blue herons are skittish — and very hard to photograph. Yet John Kantor captured this “Westport … Naturally” scene beautifully, at Sherwood Mill Pond.

(Photo/John Kantor)

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And finally … our “06880” plea for bicycle help (above) led of course to this song. I bet the couple wants to explore Westport on individual bikes. But just in case they don’t …

 

Many Hands Make Lights Work

During COVID, Westport’s eerily empty streets were a joy to drive.

A sad joy, to be sure. The other side of our unimpeded ride was knowing that so many friends and neighbors were stuck home, inside, with nowhere at all to go.

Now — thanks to vaccinations, warm weather and pandemic fatigue — traffic is back.

And it’s worse than ever.

For hours a day, backups stretch everywhere: from Route 1 and 33 almost to Fresh Market. Canal and Main Streets. All of Saugatuck.

No one can say for sure why it’s this bad. But driving in Westport really, really sucks.

Waiting in line at the Imperial Avenue light. (Photo/Dick Lowenstein)

With time on my hands the other day — I wasn’t going anywhere — I tried to think of solutions.

I wouldn’t wish another townwide quarantine on anyone. Banning Waze is not an option. (I’m as hypocritical as the rest of Westport: I happily use the app to avoid highway traffic by driving through other towns.)

So I did the next best thing. I came up with a few ideas.

For example:

Alternate red and green lights at both Wilton Road and Riverside Avenue. The awkward dance between cars heading northbound and southbound doesn’t work. One car trying to turn left from Wilton Road onto the Post Road — or left from Riverside onto Post Road West — can hold up a dozen cars behind it. So why not have green for only northbound traffic; then only green for southbound traffic; followed by what we’ve got now (first a “left turn only” for eastbound and westbound drivers, then a full green for both).

What’s the holdup? Some dude at the front of this line, trying to turn left onto the Post Road. (Photo/David Waldman)

Add a “left turn only” for drivers on South Compo, going westbound on Bridge Street. Traffic now routinely backs up under the railroad bridge.

At the same time, change the timing of the light. It’s too long for Greens Farms Road and Bridge Street drivers, not long enough for those on Compo South. (I know; a long light helps ease traffic on Greens Farms and Bridge Street when it’s backed up with I-95 overflow. Maybe shorter lights would effect Waze’s algorithm of suggesting that as an alternate route.)

A “left-turn only” arrow from South Compo to Bridge Street will make traffic flow as easily as it appears in this image from Google Maps.

Reconfigure the turning lane from Kings Highway North (where the Willows/ “Fort Apache” medical complex is on the right), onto Wilton Road. Right now the right lane is for right turns and cars going straight on Kings Highway. When one car in that lane heads straight, no one behind can turn right on red. Make the left lane for left turns and straight ahead; the right lane should be “right on red” only.

Another reason Kings Highway North should be “right turn on red” only: The left lane lines up more directly with its continuation past Wilton Road.

All of these ideas are beyond the scope of Westport officials. They’re state roads. So yeah, I know, I have a better chance of walking to the planet Zork than I do of seeing meaningful traffic light changes.

But a boy can dream.

(Do you have an idea for easing Westport’s traffic woes? Click “Comments” below. It won’t do any good — but at least “06880” readers can appreciate your brilliance.) 

“06880” Party: The Pics

After one rainout, and then a COVID cancellation, the “06880” community was ready to party.

I did the hard thing (picked the most beautiful night of the summer) and the easy one (put out the word for people to come).

You guys did the rest.

Over 150 “06880” readers gathered at South Beach last night for our annual “blog party.”

The crowd was young …

Ann Sheffer with her grandson.

… and old(ish).

Dan Woog (left) and Miggs Burroughs. (Photo/Patrick Kennedy)

It included folks who grew up here in the 1940s, and a couple who moved here in April.

There were politicians, and normal human beings.

There were Westporters with beach stickers, and Westonites, Norwalkers and Fairfielders who got rides, walked from nearby friends’ houses, or paid the full boat at the gate to get in.

(Photo/Robin Tauck)

Everyone brought food, soda, beer and wine (no glass bottles, though!).

The Westport Garden Club even brought decorations. Their #FridayFlowers were a day early, but “06880” was honored to be this week’s recipient.

Yours truly, with a gorgeous Westport Garden Club arrangement. (Photo/Dennis Jackson)

People chatted with old friends, and made new ones. They ate and laughed. They luxuriated in a beautiful, pre-pandemic community gathering, at one of the most beautiful spots in town. They watched the sun go down. Some stayed until long after dark.

(Photo/Isabelle Alvarado)

Thanks to all who came to our party, and made it such a fantastic evening.

If you weren’t there: See you in 2022!

“06880” Party Is On Tonight!

It’s all good for tonight’s “06880” Compo Beach “blog party.”

We’re set for 6 p.m. at South Beach — the alcohol-is-fine-except-no-glass-bottles end, furthest from the cannons.

Please bring your own food and beverages. If you’d like to bring something extra to share, feel free! (Folding tables and chairs are good too.)

We’ll provide the “06880” community — a chance to meet commenters and lurkers. Each year there are oldtimers, newcomers, politicians and normal human beings. It’s a chance to talk, laugh and trade stories about this wild, wacky and only slightly dysfunctional town we share and love.

Plus, the weather is supposed to be perfect.

See you tonight!

PS: If you’re coming over the William F. Cribari Bridge, allow extra time. You never know when it might be closed.

We’ll be just to the left of this jetty (near the boat and kayak launch). Without the car, though. (Photo/Linda Gramatky Smith)

Need A Ride To The “06880” Party? Or Can You Offer One?

Several readers would love to come to Thursday night’s “06880” party. But they don’t have beach stickers.

As much as they like a good time, they’ve decided it’s not worth the daily parking fee. Can’t say I blame ’em.

Uber is one alternative. Here’s another:

  • If you need a ride, email me: dwoog@optonline.net. Tell me where you’re coming from (geographically, not metaphysically).
  • If you can offer a ride, email me: dwoog@optonline.net. Tell me where you can meet people (your home, or someplace neutral).

I’ll do my best to connect riders and drivers — privately, of course. No guarantees.

But it’s just one more way in which “06880” is “where Westport meets the world.”

One way to get to the “06880” blog party. There are others.