Tag Archives: Optimum

Workers Of Westport: The Sequel

“06880” readers love Rowene Weems’ photos. She has a keen eye for the beauty of our town. Flowers, sunsets, the Levitt Pavilion— her camera and composition make those scenes come alive in special and compelling ways.

Rowene also has a great eye for people. As she travels around town, she captures some of the men and women who work — mostly unseen — to make Westport what it is.

She does not know their back stories. She tries not to interrupt too much. A woman once chastised Rowene for taking photos of workers on her property. “Time is money!” she said.

Last spring, “06880” featured some of those images. They’re part of a book she’s creating about workers everywhere, from her travels around the US and world.

It’s time for another look, at more of the men and women who make our town all that it is. Today, let’s appreciate them anew.

Anthony, in his truck …

… and digging a gas line.

Janine, a delightful server at La Plage.

Wood working on Jesup Road.

A friendly, efficient team of Optimum workers …

… starting a job …

… with plenty of cable …

… and time for a quick break …

,,, before finishing up (All photos/Rowene Weems)

(Photos are a big part of “06880” — but just one. If you enjoy this blog, please click here to contribute.) 

 

Optimum Offline

Optimum boasts: “#1 in customer satisfaction.”

In neighborhoods all around Westport, customers beg to differ.

Social media was filled this week with complaints about the long-time cable provider.

Randi Nazem came directly to “06880.” Describing the situation off North Avenue, she writes:

We have WiFi sometimes, but it drops intermittently throughout the day. On Tuesday, for example, we had it all morning. Around 1 it dropped, and didn’t come back up until after 6 p.m.

This past weekend it dropped every few hours, for 10 to 15 minute intervals. It’s bizarre, and very frustrating.

This has been going on for 10 days. I’ve had Optimum on the phone 10 times. I’ve spoken to managers and the supervisor. They came to check and said everything ‘looks’ fine, yet my home (and many others) have no or only intermittent service.

Meanwhile, my $300 bill is due this week. I have to pay it, right?

Randi’s husband works from home. Without WiFi, that’s impossible, she says.

Randi reached out to “06880” because nothing else has helped. They need senior-level attention.

I received another email, this one from a woman in the Old Hill area. She said:

We have not had regular/consistent internet for the past 10 days. It sounds like this is pervasive in Old Hill, from an informal neighborhood poll — often out for more than an hour at a time).

I missed an important job interview due to the outage, and then had to reschedule and do it at the library.

My husband and I both work remotely full time, and have 2 children under 2. I monitor my newborn’s breathing through internet while she sleeps.

Our alarm system doesn’t work without internet, and we receive very little cell reception here so we need Wifi to make calls.

Optimum has a monopoly. They are content to do nothing and provide nothing to customers that have no choice.

This is fundamentally impactful to all of our lives. This affects the entire Old Hill neighborhood. The town needs to intervene with Optimum. This puts safety as well as ability to work at risk.

Randi sent screenshots of social media posts from other areas in Westport.

A plea — from 2020. (Photo/Aurea de Souza)

A second Old Hill neighbor reported: “Optimum gave us a new modem, and fixed most of it. Still some issues connecting our devices to Wi-Fi though.”

A woman on Imperial Avenue added: “I’ve had this issue for the last 2-3 weeks. We have all the best equipment on every floor of our house, yet we have full-on blackout periods every single day for hours. I’m losing my mind.”

Another person said: “We’ve had similar issues with daily outages this week. Optmum is the worst company I’ve ever dealt with, and our only option for high speed internet. I can’t wait for the day when there is another reliable, and likely cheaper, option.”

Some commenters suggest it may be an issue related to line work Optimum is doing. Others discussed the pros and cons of the Eero Mesh wifi system.

Bottom line: Optimum has some very unsatisfied customers, all over town.

They’re looking for answers.

Or at least for someone in a position of authority to care.

(Here’s one thing you can rely on: “06880.” Please click here to support this blog!)

 

Roundup: Straight White Men, Jewish Teenagers, Martha Stewart …

There’s something new at the Westport Country Playhouse: hosts for the evening.

And they don’t look like anything you’d expect:

Ashton Muniz, one of the Westport Country Playhouse hosts. (Photo/dan Woog)

Ashton Muñiz(above) and Akiko Akita are proud non-straight, non-white non-men. So why are they welcoming guests (with big smiles and ear plugs) to the current production of “Straight White Men”?

As they explain before the curtain rises, it’s because the audience needs to get out of its comfort zone.

And why are those ear plugs necessary? Well, the music that plays as the audience finds its seats is not what you’d normally hear at the historic, near-100-year-old theater.

The show itself is quite funny and unsettling — sometimes simultaneously. Playwright Young Jean Lee is the first Asian-American woman to have a show on Broadway.

She’s not the type of person you’d expect to write “Straight White Men.” But  she — and Ashton and Akiko — are happy to welcome you to it.

(For more information and tickets, click here.) 

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In an annual ritual, parents gathered this morning at 5:30 a.m., to set up a wider slide at Kings Highway Elementary School.

Their kids did not see them at work. But a few hours later, they’re sure enjoying it.

(Photo/Frank Rosen)

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Merkaz is a place for Jewish students from area high schools and congregations to learn, socialize, explore and strengthen their religious identity.

This fall (Mondays from 7 to 9 p.m.), Merkaz offers a Westport location.

Courses include:

  • Merkaz Mahjong
  • Choices on the College Campus
  • Jews in the News
  • Denial and The Holocaust
  • Jewish Humor
  • Superheroes
  • Judaism and the Environment
  • Outstanding Jewish Women
  • Jewish Cooking
  • Broadway and the Jews
  • Jewish Songs and Songwriters
  • Yoga, Meditation and Mindfulness
  • College Bound
  • Making Local Change

Click here for more information. MerkazCT.org. Questions? Email Merkaz@JewishPhilanthropyCT.org.

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Eve Potts writes:

“There is a new Optimum store in the Fresh Market plaza. We noticed the sign this week. We have questions about billing, so we decided to pay a visit.

“An incredible, bright and knowledgeable young man named Alex answered all our questions quickly and completely. it was a very different experience from our visit to the Norwalk office.

“Alex said they’ve been in town since December, but the sign just recently went up and nobody knows they are here. I want to let Westport  know that Optimum is here, and has a really great guy on board.”

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Speaking of (relatively) new businesses: More than a year after opening — in the middle of COVID — The Porch @ Christie’s held its official ribbon-cutting yesterday.

It was a quick, informal and friendly ceremony — just like the Cross Highway deli itself. The icing on the cake: free cookies, from the Porch’s partner Sweet P Bakery.

Cutting the Porch ribbon (from left): consultant Mark Moeller..2nd Selectwoman Andrea Moore, owners Bill and Andrea Pecoriello, 1st Selectwoman Jen Tooker, marketing director Betsy Weissman, Sweet P Bakery head pastry chef Terri Cahn, manager Iby  Rivera. 

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Beach-bound traffic was diverted yesterday afternoon, when a moving truck snagged a low-hangiing wire on Hillspoint Road, after pulling out of Edgewater Commons.

The road was reopened a few hours later.

The cause of the Hillspoint Road closure. (Photo/Andrew Colabella)

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“The Great American Tag Sale with Martha Stewart” aired last night.

ABC previewed it: “Martha Stewart, known for turning everyday living into an art form, is ready to part ways with pieces from her vast collection of furniture, art and housewares in this new 1-hour special. Over the years, Martha has amassed an assortment of items that ranges from fine art to knickknacks.

“During the special, she will regale viewers with fond memories of how these beloved items were acquired and offer expert advice on how to execute a successful tag sale. Alongside her team of event planners, Martha will host a series of tag sale events including an exclusive cocktail party for celebrities and neighbors to preview the sale.”

I did not watch the show. In fact, there are 27,298.331 things I would have done before I’d even think of watching it.

But — as someone who remembers when the lifestyle guru/ businesswoman/wrtier/television personality/chef/inmate lived in Westport (and the stories that circulated here) — I wonder how many of of items (both fine art and knicknacks) have a Westport back story. (Hat tip: Betsy Pollak)

How much of Martha Stewart’s tag sale started on Turkey Hill?

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Last month, “06880” reported that Great Island — the 60-acre property off the Darien coast with a stable, riding rings, “grand house,” and whiskey and wine cellar with contents dating back to Prohibition, all once owned by the Steinkraus family of Westport — was for sale.

It was called “the largest private island ever to be offered for sale on the East Coast.”

Now, the Wall Street Journal reports, the town of Darien is in negotiations to buy the island for “more than $100 million.”

Granted, Cockenoe is no Great Island. And 1969 money is not the same as 2022.

But we got our island for just $200,000. (Hat tip: Adam Stolpen)

Great Island …

… and Cockenoe Island.

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Congratulations to May’s Staples High School Students of the Month: jnior Jordyn Goldshore, sophomores Michael Blishteyn and Kervin Joseph, and freshmen Jonah Bernstein and Davi Da Silva.

Principal Stafford Thomas said they were chosen for helping make their school “a welcoming place for peers and teachers. They are the ‘glue’ of the Staples community: the type of kind, cheerful, hard-working, trustworthy students who keep the high school together, making it the special place it is.”

Staples High School Students of the Month (from left): Michael Blishteyn, Jonah Bernstein, Davi Da Silva, Kervin Joseph. Missing: Jordyn Goldshore.

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Relaxing recently for their “Westport … Naturally” closeup at Wakeman Town Farm were these 2 beauties:

(Photo/Lauri Weiser)

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And finally … in honor of a TV show I would never watch, even though it stars one of Westport’s most famous ex-residents (see story above):

Roundup: Power Outages, Coleytown Portable, Optimum Bill …

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Eversource continues to restore power to the 1,450-plus customers who lost it in last night’s rain-and-wind storm.

The worst affected area was Hillspoint Road south of the I-95 bridge, down to Soundview Road. 550 customers were affected.

We’re lucky. Most trees still don’t have full leaves. If this happened a few weeks later, the damage could be much worse.

Downed tree, on Hillandale Road. (Photo/Bob
Weingarten)

We’re also lucky that this is spring break for public schools. Easton Road is closed west of North Avenue, with a number of trees down. That would have played havoc with this morning’s bus rides to our 4 North Avenue schools.

Easton Road scene. (Photo/Jeff Mitchell)

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It’s not quite the “Teardown of the Day.”

But work has begun to replace a 1,114-square foot Coleytown Elementary School portable classroom with a more modern, efficient and bigger (2,713 square feet) one.

The classroom — used most recently at Fairfield’s Holland Hill Elementary School — will solve a space crunch, due to increasing enrollment at CES.

Preparing for a new portable classroom at Coleytown Elementary School. (Photo/Jeff Mitchell)

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Matt Murray jut got his Optimum bill. Tucked inside were new “Terms of Service & Information.”

They seemed long. Really long.

Matt spread them out in his kitchen. Then he took out a tape measure.

He was right. Unfolded, they’re 35 inches long.

That’s twice the length of a newborn baby.

Optimum’s “Terms of Service & Information.” (Photo/Matt Murray)

But don’t try to read them all. They’re in a type size Matt estimates at “less than 5-point.”

On the upside, there’s a Spanish-language version on back.

“I get the feeling Optimum really cares about its customers,” Matt says, tongue firmly planted in cheeck. “I can’t figure out why people say such bad things about our cable service provider.”

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The past 2 years have turned the world upside down.

Now Beechwood Arts — the intimate, immersive arts-and-more salon — is back. They’re celebrating the resilience of the human spirt — especially the artistic innovation and reinvention that’s occurred during these upside-down times.

Beechwood’s spring season is called “Upside Down.” Both are hosted by the Westport Library, produced by their superb Verso Studios staff.

On Friday, May 6 (7 p.m.): Dan Tepfer’s #BachUpside Down. He’s performed this innovative project worldwide. He’ll then join internationally famed pianist — and Beechwood co-founder — Frederic Chiu onstage, for a lively conversation.

The following Friday (May 13, 7 p.m.), “GatherRound UpsideDown Art & Story Share” brings the community together. Art will be projected o the Library’s large screen, as artists tell their stories. The first “GatherRound” drew over 200 people.

Click here to register for Dan Tepfer’s #BachUpsideDown. Click here to register for “Gather Round Upside Down Art & Story Share.” For more information, click here.

Note about the logo below: In some Yogic traditions the Tree of Life is turned upside down. The tree exposes its essence — that which grounds it and gives it life. That reflects how this period has caused many artists to tap into their essence, discovering what truly grounds them.

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Jillian Elder — of “Finding Westport” fame — has rolled out new designs.

She’s got new tank tops, t-shirts, hoodies and mugs, all saying “203 Westport.” Click here to see, and order.

She’s also got a rainbow-colored Pride line, with more to come soon. Click here to see, and order.

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Jeff Bullwinkel grew up in Westport. He and his wife spend most of their time in Amsterdam. But they were back this weekend — just in time to enjoy the magnificent cherry trees on their South Compo Road property.

Jeff shares their beauty, as today’s “Westport … Naturally” feature.

(Photo/Jeff Bullwinkel)

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Every 33 years, 3 of the world’s most popular religions celebrate very important holidays at the same time.

This is one of those rare years. The Christian celebration of Holy Week, Jewish observation of Passover, and Muslim month of Ramadan all coincided this past weekend.

Happy Easter! Chag Sameach! Ramadan Mubarak!

Bury The Wires? Not So Fast!

Recent tree cutting by Eversource and Metro-North at the Westport train station evoked a predictable response: Bury the power lines!

It sounds doable, though probably expensive.

Recent tree removal (and overhead wires) at the Westport train station. (Photo/Matthew Mandell)

But that’s not the only issue. A Westporter with long experience in areas like this writes:

To “burying the lines” — and not just those owned by Eversource, but also phone (now owned by Frontier) and cable (Optimum) — you’d need to:

  • Get all 3 companies working on the project simultaneously
  • Get 100% of every house, building, traffic signal, street light, closed circuit TV camera, fire siren, crosswalk signal, etc., to agree to go underground
  • Every existing overhead service would need to be prepared for the new underground connection in advance (and all work on private property up to and including the meter box and service panel at the home or building is the responsibility of the owner — costing at least several thousand dollars for just a simple home (200 amp, which is not the average with today’s large homes)
  • Once all are agreed 100%, the underground system would be installed in conduits in trenches alongside or within the street, including pad-mounted transformers (boxy containers roughly 3 x 4 feet by 3-foot high, located along the street on the shoulder of the road)
  • Each home or building owner would trench from the transformer pad to the location on the house or building where the meter would be (all trenching on private property is done by the home or building owner’s contractor, paid for by the owner)
  • Once all is ready (as in 100%), the system would then be transferred to the new underground wiring from the overhead
  • Only when all the above is done 100%, and every building is operating on the new underground system (electric, phone and cable), can the old overhead system of wires, poles and transformers be removed.

If all this sounds very complicated, very expensive and nearly impossible: It is!

Which is why the overhead system we look at continues as the source for somewhere around 90% of most towns’ residences and commercial buildings in this area.

Cables on South Compo Road. Burying these lines is far easier said than done. (Photo/Morgan Mermagen)

Unsung Hero #200

Rikki Gordon’s family has lived near Compo Beach for 4 generations.

Her grandparents bought a cottage in the early 1950s. Summers there — 6 family members crammed together, escaping New York City’s heat — were the happiest times of her life.

For the next 7 decades, she cherished that beach address — and the phone number that never changed.

After her parents died in 2008 and ’09, Rikki and her husband Allen Pack built a Nantucket-style home on the property. It was a new chapter, but a continuation of their beloved summer life. The phone number remained the same.

When COVID struck, Rikki — she’s a psychologist; he’s a psychiatrist — worked from Pacific Palisades, California. They rented out their Westport home.

When they returned this past June, Rikki was stunned at the tenant’s damage. Still, she consoled herself, they were all just “things.” They could be fixed.

Yet when she phoned Altice — Optimum’s parent company — to request a service appointment, they said she was calling from an unfamiliar number.

Rikki’s tenant had changed the phone number on her own, apparently as part of a promotion to get a lower rate than she was paying.

Realizing that her “227” number — actually, “CApital 7,” when that was the format — was gone devastated Rikki.

“That number belonged to my grandparents, my parents, my family,” she explains. It was part of her identity — and, of course, the way friends reached her. She started to cry.

Then she called Optimum, and was connected to a “wonderful, bright and thoughtful man named Mohamed.” Rikki told him about the damage to her home, but said the loss of her phone number meant far more.

“Mohamed understood the importance of family and history,” she says. He plunged right in.

Rikki Gordon’s “227” number dates back to these days.

For the next 3 hours, he wrote code to recreate her phone number. He enlisted a team of technology troubleshooters to help.

They — along with Mohamed’s expertise and dedication — worked a “small miracle.”

Throughout the ordeal, Rikki stayed in touch with Mohamed using neighbors Patricia McMahon and Matthew Levine’s landline.

Every 10 to 20 minutes he came on, with an update.

“Mohamed was not sure if this would work,” Rikki reports. “But I felt like he was a doctor doing delicate surgery, keeping me informed every step.

“This gentleman Mohamed was so kind, so dedicated to restoring my family’s link to friends and neighbors.”

After 3 “nail-biting, prayer-filled” hours, he had restored Rikki’s family history.

“He could have said, ‘sorry, the number is irretrievable.’ But he genuinely heard my distress, and devoted himself to helping. I cannot thank him enough. I want to acknowledge his work, and the fact that he cared about a stranger. Thank you, Mohamed!”

Done! Mohamed: You are our Unsung Heroes of the Week!

(Do you know an Unsung Hero? Email dwoog@optonline.net)

Roundup: Yanks’ Bat Girl, Playhouse, Ireland …

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Gwen Goldman McLoughlin’s star turn as New York Yankees’ bat girl — 60 years after the team rejected the 10-year-old’s request — has gotten plenty of national media attention. “06880” covered the inspiring story on Sunday.

One of the best pieces was in yesterday’s New York Times. Click here to read. Then click below for a tweet that will have you smiling all day.

Whether you love the Yanks or hate them, you gotta admit: This is pure class.

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Ninety years to the day after it first opened, the Westport Country Playhouse celebrated a new season last night.

The audience was COVID-limited in size. They enjoyed a recorded — not live — presentation of “Tiny House,” a clever comedy.

But — after last year’s remote-only season, and some decisions about how to present this year’s shows — there was a palpable sense of joy among last night’s theater-goers.

The Playhouse has survived one of the toughest times in its 9-decade history. They’ve got a full schedule of events this year (most remote, a few cabarets and such in person).

The doors were open again last night, exactly 90 years after the former tannery in an apple orchard began its run as one of America’s premier summer theaters.

Here’s wishing 90 more great years, to one of Westport’s greatest jewels!

Welcome back! (Photo/Dan Woog)

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Optimum will “dramatically reduce” upload speeds for new customers on July 12, according to published reports.

The Verge says that the cable company — owned by Altice — will slice some plans from 35 Mbps to 5 Mbps.

The change affects new customers serviced by Optimum’s non-fiber network. It will impact current subscribers only if they upgrade, downgrade or otherwise change their service. Download speeds should remain the same,

The change, Altice told The Verge, is to bring the plan  “in line with other ISPs and aligned with the industry.” (Click here for the Verge story; click here for a longer story from Ars Technica. Hat tip: Dick Lowenstein)

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Concerts at the Levitt Pavilion is an Angus family tradition since they moved here in 1993. He grew up watching the Hall Family Band Night (and was part of Music for Children for a long time).

Some of Drew Angus’ most memorable Westport nights were with legends Nile Rodgers and Chic, John Fogerty, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, and most recently Bruce Hornsby. 

He remembers too when his grandmother brought panties to throw on stage for Tom Jones.

He’s seen great regional acts like Philly’s Low Cut Connie and Brooklyn’s Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds. He enjoyed some of the country’s best blues and rock acts at Blues Views & BBQ. One of his all-time favorites was a Latin zydeco band from California, Incendio. 

Drew long dreamed of playing on stage. He fulfilled that dream in 2018. It’s a stage I dreamt of playing as a kid and did for the first time in 2018

This Friday (July 2, 7:30 p.m.), Drew Angus is back. He’s joined by a 7-piece band, including Westport’s Russ Crain. They were fellow Class of 2007 Staples graduates.

They’ll play songs from Drew’s upcoming record, and familiar covers. It will be a special night for one of the Levitt’s favorite musicians — on both sides of the stage. (Click here for tickets, and more information.)

Drew Angus rocks.

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Work begins soon on the transformation of the old Barnes & Noble into a new grocery outlet — rumored to be Amazon Go. A construction trailer has moved into the parking lot.

Meanwhile, around the corner, work continues on the renovation of Greens Farms Congregational Church.

(Photo/Bob Weingarten)

Meanwhile, back near the former Barnes & Noble, there is no sign of action whatsoever at the abandoned Mobil Self-Serve. It closed nearly 3 years ago, and the site looks sorrier by the day.

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Last month’s Westport Fine Arts Festival was a cold washout.

Weston hopes for a better forecast for their own Fine Arts Festival. It’s July 17 and 18, on School Road.

The juried event includes over 100 artists working in painting, sculpture, jewelry, ceremics, wood and fine crafts, plus children’s activities, art demonstrations, musical guests and food trucks. Weston’s own Jose Feliciano performs live on Saturday.

Admission is free.

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Speaking of art: Sorelle Gallery’s next show is “Quiet Moments.” Works by contemporary coastal realist painter Daniel Pollera, and abstract artist Kelly Rossetti, are on display from July 10 through August 1.

A reception is set for July 10 (3 to 5 p.m.), in the Church Lane space. For more information, click here.

Works by Daniel Pollera and Kelly Rossetti.

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Yesterday’s “06880: The Podcast” upload featured Helen McAlinden. The CEO of Homes with Hope discussed homelessness and food insecurity in Fairfield County, with her well-known passion and trademark Irish brogue.

As it happens, she’s spending this week visiting relatives back home. She took time to send this photo of Westport — Westport, Ireland, that is.

Sure, and it brightens your day.

(Photo/Helen McAlinden)

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Speaking as we were of the water: Today’s “Westport … Naturally” photo is from this side of the pond. I have no idea if there are horseshoe crabs in Ireland.

(Photo/Lauri Weiser)

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And finally … speaking of Westport, Ireland: Matt Molloy of the Chieftains owns a pub and music venue there. It’s on a road whose name we share here in Connecticut: Bridge Street.

Roundup: Leaf Blowers, Paper Source, Cable Monopoly …

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Leaf blowers — those must-have yet most-hated suburban scourges — are the subject of a proposed Representative Town Meeting regulation.

The RTM Ordinance Committee meets March 25 (7:30 p.m., conference call). They’ll discuss these rules:

  • Summer (May 16-October 14): Gas-powered leaf blowers not permitted; electric/battery-powered leaf blowers allowed.
  • Fall cleanups (October 15-November 30): Gas- and electric/battery-powered blowers allowed.
  • Winter (December 1-March 31): Gas-powered blowers not permitted; electric/battery-powered blowers allowed.
  • Spring cleanups (April 1-May 15): Gas- and electric/battery-powered blowers allowed.

In addition:

  • No leaf blower of any kind may be used before 9 a.m. or after 5 p.m.
  • No more than 1 leaf blower (regardless of power source) may be used simultaneously on any site less than 2 acres in size.
  • No gas-powered leaf blower may be used on any state or federal holiday.
  • Exceptions: If the 1st Selectman declares an emergency, then gas-powered leaf blowers and/or electric/battery-powered leaf blowers may be used as necessary.

Fines (property owner is responsible):

  • $100 for 1st offense (after a warning)
  • $200 for 2nd offense
  • $500 250 for third or subsequent offense.

The public can call in to the meeting: 646-876 9923. The meeting ID is 850 4769 6393. The passcode is 788806.

 

 

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Paper Source — the Chicago-based stationery store chain — closed 11 stores in the past year.

The downtown Westport shop — between Bank of America and Barnes & Noble — remains open.

It is corporate owned. A recent story on the Well-Appointed Desk blog notes that headquarters “bought a bunch of product from small makers, declared bankruptcy so they would not have to pay the bills, then sell it in the stores for 100% profit.”

It’s great to shop local. But caveat emptor: Supporting this Westport business may mean complicating situations with its corporate owner. (Click here for the full story.)

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The weather’s nice. Time to get the kids moving!

The Joggers Club has opened a group for youngsters. Led by experienced runners, the focus is on form, endurance and fun.

It “runs” Sundays, 2 to 3:15 p.m., April 4 to May 2 at the Staples High School track.

Space is limited to 20 children, grades 3 to 8. The cost is $50 per child.

The Venmo account is “TheJoggersClub-Westport.” Questions? Email thejoggersclub@gmail.com.

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This evening Wednesday, March 10, 6:45 p.m.), Congressman Jim Himes hosts a “telephone town hall.” He’ll discuss the American Rescue Plan. Audience members can ask questions during the call. Click here for the link.

Congressman Jim Himes, at Bedford Middle School.

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Looking for another COVID test center?

There’s an under-the-radar spot right under our noses. Yale New Haven Health operates a drive-through operation at 140 Mill Plain Road in Fairfield, just off I-95 Exit 21.

Hours are by appointment only. Click here for more information, or call 833-275-9644. (Hat tip: Carol Waxman)

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Westport’s MaryGrace Gudis is one of 4 new members of Norwalk Hospital’s board of directors.

Director of the Norwalk Hospital Foundation Board since 2011, she has spent more than 1,000 hours researching and compiling the hospital’s history.

Active at Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, MaryGrace is also involved in initiatives providing college educational assistance to disadvantaged students.

The Southern Methodist University graduate has held senior communications positions in the financial industry, including director of public information and senior liaison to the board of directors at the Federal Reserve Bank. Her husband Mark is on the board of directors for Nuvance Health, Norwalk Hospital’s parent company.

MaryGrace Gudis

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Last month, “06880” reported that the Tristate Coalition for Fair Internet Service is working on legal challenges to Optimum/Altice through the New York State Attorney General’s office, and promoting alternate providers. They’re also collecting data on customer experiences with the longtime cable service.

That survey data was lost when Google disabled the account without the group’s knowledge. They’re appealing. Meanwhile, they created a new survey.

They ask people to complete the Optimum/Altice survey, even if it was already done before. Click here for the link.

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The Webb Road goose is ready for every holiday. Next up: St. Patrick’s Day!

(Photo/MaryLou Roels)

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And finally … exactly one year ago today, COVID-19 was officially declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization.

You know: WHO.

Optimum, Eversource: An Industry Insider’s Insights

It’s been more than a month since Tropical Isaias plunged Westport into darkness — and hammered our internet service too.

Opinions of public utilities like Eversource — and probably-should-be-regulated-as-a-public-utility like Optimum — have moved from rage to simmering anger. An “06880” story earlier this month about the cable monopoly drew 160 brutal comments. No one defended them.

Readers across the tri-state area described harrowing encounters with Optimum and its owner, Altice. Most spoke as dissatisfied customers.

Richard Guha speaks as an industry executive.

He’s lived in Weston twice, most recently since 1996. He’s worked as president of Reliant Energy in Houston, one of the nation’s largest combination utilities. Before that he was chief marketing officer of MediaOne in Boston — now part of Comcast, and the first to launch “broadband” in the world.

Eversource and Optimum’s response after Isaias was “disastrous,” he says. While losing power, phone and internet service is inconvenient — particularly because many area residents lack adequate cell phone reception to begin with — it can also be life-threatening.

Grove Point Road offered one example off Isaias’ devastation. (Photo/John Kantor)

Guha himself had to drive someone to the emergency room, because he could not call an ambulance.

He cites one example, from Lyons Plains Road. From August 4 through 24, he had a long series of frustrating encounters with Optimum. From setting up an appointment for cable reconnection to technicians who failed to show up for appointments, then appeared without the correct equipment, Guha found customer service lacking at every level.

Multiply that by thousands, and the problem is clear.

Based on Guha’s own experience — and confidential interviews with service technicians — he offers a peek behind the cable curtain.

In a drive to cut costs, Guha says, Optimum has reduced equipment and staff to “a bare minimum.” It’s sufficient for regular maintenance, but not for unusual repair loads.

For example, a few years ago there were 150 bucket trucks in Fairfield County. Now there are 10.

While much of the initial disconnections resulted from or had the same causes as power outages, he says, the reconnection process has been “staggeringly poor, inefficient and dishonest.”

Customer service representatives were so overloaded that not enough were available to answer phone calls for any reason. (“This may also have been deliberate,” he says, “to shield them from customer anger, and then quitting.”)

Customers were forced to send online messages — a huge challenge without internet — which allows a single representative to deal with multiple customers. Responses were slow.

Representatives did not seem to have a full picture of what was happening. Or they were too overloaded to look. Or they simply deflected questions, by making up answers.

Service technicians told Guha that when someone contacted Optimum to set up an appointment, the representative simply promised a slot — “to get the customer off for a few days.”

An Optimum email confirmed a service call — for the previous day.

Service techs were given calls to make with “little logic,” Guha reports. They were assigned too many calls to make each day. But there was no flexibility for them to call in and get reassigned.

Often the wrong equipment was sent to an address, even if the correct piece had been specified.

Eversource’s issues and inactions, meanwhile, are different. The best way to deal with power outages, Guha says, is to minimize them in the first place. Clearing trees and brush is the most important tool.

(Of course, much of Connecticut has too many shallow rooted trees, which are vulnerable to strong winds and rain. Guha suggests restrictions on tree planting in the state.)

When he was in the cable and energy businesses, most lines were laid in buried trenches. Trimming, however, was a priority.

It is expensive, and unpopular when it is happening. However, he notes, “over time it is more expensive to the local economy not to do it.”

The costs of not trimming trees — as shown here after Isaias, on Charcoal Hill Road — are high. (Photo/Pat Blaufuss)

Guha notes that putting in cables is also retroactive, particularly in wooded areas. However, he says, it pays the company back over time, in savings on maintenance and repairs. New technology can reduce the cost.

The biggest benefits lie in economic strength — and national security. “The vulnerability of infrastructure is extremely dangerous,” Guha warns, including health and risk to life.

Even at $1 million per mile, the cost of one F-35 would pay for 400,000 miles of trenching, he says.

He uses another military analogy. For Optimum and Eversource to cut their equipment so extensively is like the military saying, “We don’t need our tanks now, so we’ll get rid of them. If we have a war, we’ll get them back.”

Guha realizes that none of this is new. Everything he describes has been written about before.

Yet after every disaster, and every hearing, nothing happens.

“The same issue affects all physical infrastructure,” Guha says. “Whether it is roads, bridges, tunnels, rail, communication or energy, if it is not constantly improved, it steadily falls behind. Minimum maintenance is a recipe for disaster.”

Connecticut legislators have only limited immediate impact on utilities, he says. Regulators and franchising authorities have much more. However, “they often affiliate more closely with those they regulate than the customers they serve.”

Energy, cable and phone companies hire large staffs of regulator and government relations employees. Their job “is to get regulators to think the same way they do.

“They get paid to influence regulators, and can lose their jobs if they do not.

“They rarely lose their jobs.”

Less Than Optimum Service

Mary Luvera is an Optimum customer. She is not pleased. She writes:

My family and I have lived in Westport for more than 10 years. Over that time we have probably paid Optimum more than $20,000 for a combination of phone, cable and internet service.

In early August we called to cancel our service, because we were moving. While other companies will prorate fees when you cancel service, Optimum said we would have to pay through the end of our billing cycle (September 15). We could have overlooked that.

Then on August 27 a tree fell, knocking out the cable line to our house. The next day we called Optimum to restore the cable line. We wanted it to be ready for our renters, and of course wanted the unsightly dangling cable line removed.

The tree that took out the cable line.

During that first frustrating call –waiting on hold forever; not hearing the representative well (what kind of headphones do they use?!); getting nonsensical responses — my husband was given a service date for Monday, August 31 between 8 and 11 a.m., for a service technician to arrive. We were told we had to be in the house to test the service.

We now live an hour from Westport. But on August 31, my husband was there, waiting for Optimum.

No one showed up.

He called Optimum and was informed that our appointment was moved to September 16 — the day after our service ends. No one told us the date had been changed. My husband wasted his time driving back and forth, spending hours like he was waiting for Godot.

A scene from “Waiting for Godot.”

My husband asked to speak to a supervisor, but was told no one was available. When he persisted, his call was dropped while being transferred.

He called back multiple times with similar results: being dropped at various times in the call. Optimum’s hold times are extremely long, so that is like a slap in the face.

Eventually, on August 31, he was assured that the appointment was moved to Saturday, September 5, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. My husband asked for a supervisor, to confirm the time. The person on the line could not transfer him to a supervisor, but said one would call him in 30 minutes. No one has called yet.

On Friday my husband called to confirm that the appointment was scheduled for yesterday (September 5). Surprise! He was told there was no appointment for September 5; our appointment is on September 16 (the day after our service ends).

My husband again asked for a September 5 service date. Finally, he was told someone would come then —  but it could be any time between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. Hope we don’t have plans for the long weekend!

Shortly after that interaction, my husband received an email (below) from Optimum. Note the sent date (Friday) and the scheduled appointment date (the day before).

I can’t be sure the cable line will ever be restored. And I can only imagine what will happen when we return our cable boxes!

In a followup email late Friday, Mary added this PS:

On his way home from work today, my husband received an automated call from Optimum confirming our appointment for September 5, from 10 p.m. to 8 p.m.

No, that’s not a typo. It’s what the recording said!