September 27, 2007

Remember who took care of us before it was easy.

It's been a while since I've posted here, and lots has happened since, but it's time again.

I can't help noticing a disturbing trend here in U-Bux, specifically here in Nox Township. When we moved to Ferndale nine years ago, one thing that became immediately apparent was the lack of convenience stores and nearby gas stations. But I figured that was part of the price we paid for being able to live in a rural area. We might not have all the conveniences, but then neither did we have all the traffic, noise and pollution.

But then, I poked around locally, and found that not only did we have quite a few little family-owned general stores, but we also had a plethora of wonderful little sandwich shops that would make any city jealous. We HAD the convenience stores -- they just didn't look like what I was used to seeing, so it took me a while to realize they were here. And, having previously lived in an area so rural that a trip to the nearest feeble little excuse for a grocery store was almost 40 minutes drive, I appreciated them.

Fast forward to this year. A convenience store of the chain variety opens up near the intersection of Hwys. 611 and 412. Some people bitch about the lame traffic flow change (and it truly is lame), others are unhappy about more light pollution (and there is that). But no one seems to mind a 24-hour convenience store that lets them fill their tanks, their bellies and quell the panic of getting down to their last pack of smokes any time of the day or night.

I'll be the first to admit that it's nice not to have to drive 15 minutes just to get some gas in my Jeep, and I've been thankful more than once for that ability. However, what I'm not so thankful for is the reality that the owners of those stores I was so happy to discover nine years ago are being seriously hurt by this latest competitor in the marketplace.

That's right: at least one owner of a store that's been here for years and years told me the business has been seriously hurt, and that they noticed a huge difference in traffic flow within days of the chain store's opening. This is a business that provided jobs for several local people, who've now had to be laid off.

Now, I'm no Luddite, and neither am I an ostrich. I won't stick my head in the sand about what some people call progress. This kind of changing of the guard happens everywhere, and I'm as happy as anyone else about being able to get gas close by (even if the tanks still kind of scare me, as close as they are to the quarry). What concerns me is the apparent lack of regard for the people who brought their little stores here to serve us when it WASN'T convenient or easy or inexpensive to do so.

People should remember that convenience stores will only come into an area when they decide they can make a decent enough profit to make the location worthwhile, and not before. Granted, these little mom-and-pop stores must do the same, but the economics of such a venture are much more difficult and risky for a single-location store with a single owner than for a centrally owned chain that has volume buying discounts to help give them a price advantage.

I'd just like people around here to continue to patronize the mom-and-pop, locally owned shops at the same time they're availing themselves of the new convenience. Why? Well, aside from the fact that it's just the decent thing to do to repay business owners who took a chance on us long before it was a sure thing, there are a few very concrete reasons to do so:

1 - The money generated by the small, privately owned stores and shops stays here, for the most part. And I challenge anyone to say that our area's economy is so robust it wouldn't benefit from a bit more "buy locally" economics.

2 - While the chain stores are required to source from franchise contractors located who-knows-where, several of the small stores and shops source their produce, baked goods, etc. from local farmers and other vendors. Just another way this "act locally" thing works.

3 - Value and quality. Now I know I'm stepping on thin ice here, but I've seen (and tasted) for myself the difference. For instance, the local mom-and-pops I've bought food from offer homemade, fresh sandwiches that have real flavor, with ingredients I could identify without even having to read a label. They sell for a reasonable amount, and I can always count on a satisfying meal.

On the other hand, the one time I bought a breakfast sandwich from the chain store, it contained -- and I swear, I am not making this up -- exactly ONE very thin slice of ham and one slice of American cheese on a bagel that tasted as though it wasn't fresh when the sandwich was made, and then sat for another several hours under the heat lamp before I got to it. Yes, the price was lower than the local one, but for the quality of the eating experience, it was still WAY too expensive for me.

Never again. I'm gonna patronize the shops that have always delivered products I can count on. I know I MUST patronize them, if I want to continue to depend on them being there when I need them.

4 - Ambience. I don't care what anyone says: There isn't a chain store in existence that exudes the same hometown friendliness, happy morning chatter and the occasional dose of juicy gossip that makes a locally owned shop just so much more interesting and welcoming to visit. I like having the owner or clerk call me by first name, and sharing news of local goings-on that they care about as much as I do.

I'm not vilifying the chain stores. They have their place, and I'm thankful for the things they bring to our lives that others can't or choose not to. But in our zeal to take advantage of these new offerings, I wish we all would take a thoughtful and considered stance about how much of our business we're willing to shift over to the new kid on the block.

When they're not new any more, and some of the shine has worn off, I hope we won't have to mourn the loss of those who served us so well and so long before the chains decided we were finally worthy of their presence.

That would just be a shame.

February 14, 2007

Be part of the solution.

My friend and neighbor, Paula F., sent a response to my last post about getting noisy up here in Nox-ville about being treated like first-class citizens. As always, she had something positive, constructive and insightful to say. She suggested that I give people contact info for those public officials who can help us change the fact that Route 32 has been half-impassable since 2004.

I apologize for not having been proactive insupplying this info before. I do like to think that I'm here to be part of the solution and not part of the problem, but just bitching up a storm about something doesn't make that happen. And so, thanks to Paula, I'm posting said contact info here.

She also suggested that I write a sample letter to make it easier for folks to send one in. Though I appreciate the practicality of that suggestion, I'm not going to do so, for three reasons:
  1. I don't believe that a bunch of copies of a pre-written letter will be as effective as people's own letters, written in their own words. This effort should appear as sincere and genuine as it is.
  2. Y'all know how to get mad -- I've seen you in action! If you really feel you can't write your own letter, take another look at the original post on this blog and take some direction from the many points it makes. There are plenty to choose from.
  3. I don't WANT to make it easy. Democracy isn't, and shouldn't be, easy. It's HARD to live in a free society, and it's not FREE. You have to exert yourself a little sometimes, and I'm all for that happening. I don't want you to take this lightly: it's not light subject. As we've seen with the erosion of so many of our civil rights under this current administration, people take things for granted far too easily, and don't value or respect as much those things for which they haven't personally had to struggle. So, stop reading this thing, open a new document, tap out a few well-considered paragraphs, and lick a stamp! Or tap ut an email or pick up the phone -- you can DO this!
Okay, lecture over. Here's who you should contact if you want to get Route 32 back open and not have to wait until Armageddon to see it happen:

Ron Martin, Assistant County Maintenance Manager
PennDOT Bucks County
Engineering District 6
229 N. Broad Street
Doylestown, PA 18901
215-345-6060 x111
Larry Glick
Director of Public Outreach
Office of US Representative Patrick Murphy
60 North Main Street
Doylestown, PA 18901
Phone: (215) 348-1194

Or, write to Rep. Murphy directly at
PA Senator Rob Wonderling

Harrisburg Office
172 Main Capitol Building
Harrisburg, PA 17120-3024
Phone (717) 787-3110
FAX (717) 787-8004

Bucks County Office
Government Service Center
515 South West End Boulevard, Room 5
Quakertown, PA 18951
Phone (215) 529-1215
FAX (215) 529-1218

Fax: (215) 348-1449
PA Senator Chuck McIlhinney, Jr.

Harrisburg Office
Senate Box 203010
Harrisburg, PA 17120-3010

Doylestown Office
22 South Main Street
Suite 220
Doylestown, PA 18901
Phone: 215-489-5000
Toll Free: 800-728-8600
FAX: 215-489-5200
PA Rep. Marguerite Quinn

Harrisburg Office
Room 164A East Wing
PO Box 202143
Harrisburg, PA 17120-2143
(717) 772-1413
Fax: (717) 783-3793

Doylestown Office
1032 North Easton Road
Doylestown, PA 18901-1055
(215) 489-2126
Fax: (215) 489-2129
And of course, you should request that our entire board of supervisors write a group letter to all of these PUBLIC SERVANTS, demanding that our community's health, safety and economy stop being put at risk because someone in Harrisburg can't manage to prioritize our area's main thoroughfares. Reach them at:
Township Supervisors Jim Litzenberger, Ken Gross, Henry Gawronski, Bruce Keyser and Nancy Janyszeski, Nockamixon Township Building, PO Box 100, Ferndale, PA 18921.

Have at it!

Another interesting blog.

Paul wanted me to share his blog about cell phone signal coverage in Upper Bucks, which I'm doing, since it's a subject of interest to many of this blog's readers.

You can also click on this post's title to visit Paul's blog.

Thanks, Paul!

January 29, 2007

Of Roads and Bridges and Related Things

One of the things that bothers me at township meetings is when people go on and on about issues that really only affect themselves or a few others, when what they should do is pursue these issues outside a town meeting where lots of others have to sit and listen to something that doesn't really involve them. However, this month, I found myself turning into one of those folks.

See, I've been having an ongoing dialogue of sorts with Ron Martin at the Doylestown PennDOT office. I've been complaining about the massive amount of VERY heavy tractor-trailer truck traffic that's been coming down our hill onto Rt. 611 (we're located at the only traffic light in Ferndale) since Rt. 32 was closed back in September of 2004.

That happened when a flood on the river, caused by Hurricane Ivan, chewed away the better part of the northbound lane next to the canal in the northern reaches of Upper Black Eddy. The southbound lane was finally re-opened back in late 2005, if I remember correctly, but I know it was at least a year after that flood. Then, of course, it got hit again in April of 2005, and again last summer in June by those two floods.

But the northbound lane remains closed, and the result is that an unacceptably high volume of heavy truck traffic has been diverted down Center Hill Road. There, many lesser-skilled drivers try unsuccessfully to navigate the sharp, 90-degree turns at the stoplight, which just happens to border my yard on two sides. These unsuccessful attempts frequently rearrange our landscaping and force me to replace an average of $100 worth of decorative stone a month.

And so I took advantage of the opportunity to harangue poor old Mr. Martin while I had his attention. And the rest of the township's residents had to sit there while I did so. I apologize for having taken so much of their valuable time (and I sincerely mean that), but this issue is actually larger than just some nuisance traffic. Not even a week later, a huge truck took out the guardrail opposite our yard and created such a distracting mess that not one, but TWO traffic accidents took place the very next day because rubberneckers checking it out weren't paying attention to their driving. (No kidding -- I awoke to one at 9 am, and another happened around 4 pm -- both heavy traffic times at our intersection!)

I don't understand WHY it has taken so much time to get around to fixing that other lane. I know the flooding has kept PennDOT busy. I understand that, like every other area of the commonwealth, the Bucks County region is under-staffed and under-funded when it comes to keeping the roads in good repair (for the life of me, I don't get why Harrisburg doesn't make road infrastructure more of a priority, but that's for a different post). But what I DON'T understand is how it can continue to be such a low priority to re-open what is not just a main thoroughfare for tourists -- who are the lifeblood of this region's economy -- but also for local residents and businesses.

Bad enough that area drivers have had to re-learn how to get around without being able to drive north on Rt. 32 there. Even worse, tourists who don't know all the local roads available as detours simply turn around and take their much-needed dollars elsewhere, because they're afraid to get lost in the boonies. Worse still that several restaurants, including the Indian Rock Inn and the recently re-opened American Grill, have barely been able to stay in business because of all the traffic they've lost to this ongoing road closure.

But worst of all is the reality that, according to Upper Bucks EMS squads, the inability to use that stretch of River Road can add up to 17 minutes to an ambulance trip, depending on where the squad is when a call comes in, where they have to pick up their passenger, and which hospital they must travel to. 17 MINUTES! Anyone who's ever experienced the frightening moments between a heart attack or stroke and the arrival of the ambulance can tell you that this amount of time can mean the difference between full recovery and, frankly, death.

As a member of the Nockamixon Emergency Management Agency, I find it unconscionable that this situation is allowed to exist. I can't help but believe that if we all, collectively, made a big enough stink about it, priorities at PennDOT would be forced to be reconsidered. Don't think so?

Take this into account: At a recent EMA meeting, I sat and listened while a Bucks County EMA representative told us to our faces that the reason Yardley got all the attention during the last flood wasn't so much that they got hit harder than anyone else (in some areas, they did, but there were other, equally affected areas elsewhere, including Upper Black Eddy). No, the real reason was that their borough chief knows how to make a big noise about his city's hardship, and he did so. He went on loud and long, and into the right ears, and the result was that Yardley got what it needed, both during the flood and afterward (not to mention lots of media coverage because that loud noise also attracted many politicians hungry for a photo op).

Now, there are things that we discuss in EMA meetings that aren't meant for public discourse, for security and safety reasons. I don't believe this issue is one of them. In fact, I believe our residents and businesses have every right to know -- for their very real safety, both of their persons and of their livelihoods -- that Nockamixon isn't getting the positive attention it deserves at the county level because we aren't demanding that attention.

Now, I know for a fact that we are capable of behaving badly and noisily when we want to up here. Reference my previous post for one of too many examples. And yet, when it comes to standing up for what we should rightfully be able to expect, we are either too polite (somehow, I don't think that's it) or too uninformed to understand how things work in Doylestown. And how it works is that, as in most things political, the squeaky wheel gets the grease.

So, I have a radical proposal for Nockamixon Township: How about we stop all the stupid and destructive political infighting we're unfortunately notorious for, and instead channel all that energy into fighting the inertia of our down-county representatives? What a concept: Working together for the good of everyone in our township! Sounds downright...democratic, don't you think? (though I'm sure it's a bit too socialistic for some people who shall remain unnamed)

Imagine: All our citizens petition the board of supervisors to demand that they help us stand up and be counted among the tax-paying citizens of Bucks County who deserve equal representation when it comes to services not just promised, but those actually rendered. And -- wait, there's more! -- in a timely, considered and reasonable fashion.

Whaddya think? Think maybe we could call a spade a spade, and get county government officials to 'fess up to the fact that what I've heard referred to as "that north of 412 crowd" has been given the s--t end of the stick long enough? That we deserve to have our roads taken care of just as well and just as soon as the ones in New Hope and Solebury and Yardley are? That just because we don't currently boast as many "gotta see" tourist destinations (please be patient, I'm working on that), we're considered second tier citizens who can wait until they get around to it?

I'm not blasting Doylestown. I think our representatives work hard, and I think they do the best they can, most times. But the reality is that we live in a marketing-driven world: the effort follows the attention. I'm a marketing professional, and I understand this all too well. I say, let's get together and promote the idea that Nockamixon deserves as much as any municipality to enjoy the benefits of first-class citizenship.

Anybody with me?

January 17, 2007

Just because I can.

Okay, so I have just had enough of listening to a certain cadre of ignoramuses, some of whom have the responsibility of running this township, some of whom support those sorry excuses for leaders. So, since those of us not part of that political machine aren't officially given the opportunity to say much, I'm making my own opportunity. This is it.

This evening, during the first town meeting I've attended in many months, I was reminded why I stopped going. It's an exercise in frustration. I sat through an entire evening of certain township supervisors acting like absolute CHILDREN (stage whispering disrespectful comments about the chairman, threatening to take back their gavel because they don't like his attempts to impose order on them) so I could hear something informative about a state grant being offered to townships so they can build a library, which we desperately need.

After being pushed back for a topic moved forward because even our township solicitor was tiring of the behavior of some of the supervisors and wanted to leave, FINALLY, around 10:30 pm
, my topic came up. And it was promptly blown off for painfully obvious lack of interest on the part of our so-called leaders. Clearly, they had not the slightest curiosity about how we might be able to build a library up here in Hicktown.

God forbid we might actually use some of our precious township funds to do something as frivolous as improving our minds, or to indulge in an activity as fruitless as reading when we could instead be spending our time participating in the locally popular sports of Olympic Gossiping, the Meeting Disruption Relay or the 100 Yard Duh.

That's about all I can take for one night. Hope yours was better than mine.