– Lowell Politics and History

‘Hibiscus Lane’

It is still freakin’ cold out there, so I’m posting another Caribbean composition from the vault.—PM


Hibiscus Lane


One nimble gecko scaling a mosquito net remains the only lizard we’ve seen in a week on the island whose old name, Hewanorra, means “where the iguana is found.” Purple hummingbirds sip ginger and hibiscus. Fan palm rustles, banana leaves shrug. Doves hoo and hoo. Labrelotte Bay gleams blue-silver, sun chinning the hillside inlaid with red-roofed, white-washed villas, its light bleaching distant sailboats. In a yellow kayak, George Charles digs the sea with a two-ended paddle, sprinting to his dive boat. He hauls up the transport—sets off with bup-bup-bupping engine. All day he’ll taxi tourists to St. Lucia’s primo reef, full of darting rubies and doubloons whose reflections fuse after cloudburst to make half a water-colored hoop joining Morne Fortune to Gros Islet.


Midway into the bay a wave rears like a white chess knight, mane flaring. Nature’s small-engine sound, the whirr spun from a metal web, all fired carbon, shaped mineral, plug-spark, all real to the feel, some handmade combo jazzed and razzed like an oil drum in its new plinking form—the volcano to my left served stone gravy. I like to see banana trees, something different to write home about. Hands of bananas green, hard, clustered. Are we grown like bananas, cropping up each season, ripening each winter, ready to be consumed, the wrinkled sheets our peels, all that’s left after a week? Curved clay tiles colored like plant pots and pipes, same roofing across old mission California, hard shells first formed on the shins of early builders, tiles the color of tomato-dyed pasta. Wind-surfer sails in the middle distance, his investigations, not so deep, need not be shallow—he requires less: water-spider, finch, reed. Light is not enough of a word for the value of air around the terra-cotta patio.


St. Lucia, St. Lulu, blue-green and green-blue—there’s an ooh in the blue air, in the o-round mouth on the white deck of the cruise liner chasing a tank ship bound for the oil farm at Castries. Dark parts of the seascape like indigo ink slurred thru turquoise fields in the bay. Jet-lets of spume way off shore—the dip boat, no banana boat, shipped out. Each villa boasts a few plain conch shells, T-Rex of seashells, grail we never find up north, bony case with smooth pink lining. Each villa is a conch of white walls and terra-cotta floors. With its owner away, we snowbirds claim the showy chassis for a couple of hot weeks. Julia, at the front desk, thirty years old this month, says Nelson Mandela said if he had to choose a place to live outside of South Africa, it would be St. Lucia, where he could sleep with doors open. It’s so calm, she says. When I tell her I admire Derek Walcott’s poems, she says his birthday is January 26th, which is mine, too, and that he’ll be home next month for the island’s Independence Day party. He may write something special. When I mention his teaching in Boston, she nods, “Yes, the Nobel Laureate.” Julia asks if my hometown is “cool,” calm, she explains, not too busy like New York City.

—Paul Marion (c) 2014

“Mass Senate Listening Session” by Nancy Pitkin

Nancy Pitkin is a regular contributor to  She attended the Massachusetts State Senate’s “Listening Session” in Lawrence recently and submitted the following report:

On Monday, February 23, 2015 we attended the Massachusetts State Senators “Listening Session” in Lawrence. It was the fourth of eight state wide forums being held around the commonwealth by our state senators “listening to what you have to say, and working hard to make sure they carry your voices and your ideas back to Beacon Hill.” The function facility at Salvatore’s in RIverwalk was easily accessible with plenty of free parking. It was the largest forum to date – over 300 people.

The forum began about 7:10 PM with opening remarks by new Senator Barbara L’Italien who introduced the Lawrence City Mayor Dan Rivera. And then the forum began. This is a list of institutions/topics that were introduced. I was not able to write down all the names of the speakers. The forum ended at 8:30 PM and if you had signed up to speak but were not able to, you were invited to submit your remarks on their website.

All but 5 or 6 of those who spoke were leaders of institutions/schools/business groups, unions, etc. (in other words, only a few appeared to be speaking as individual citizens rather than in a representative capacity).  The following is my list of the concerns raised by those who did speak.  This is by no means a comprehensive record but it does capture the gist of the speakers’ concerns.

1.      Lawrence General Hospital – Medicare reimbursements

2.      Northern Essex Community College – talked about the number of students enrolled in No. Essex Community College and effectiveness of dual enrollment for high school students

3.      President of the Lawrence city council – wants legislature to increase the balance of power like the national constitution

4.      Prison guards are both public employees and contractors – and the contractors do not have the same commitment to the job but are paid more. Read from a union supplied document

5.      Spanish speaker on maintenance worker at Logan Airport – how conditions have changed for the worse. . Read from a union supplied document

6.      Head of Chamber of Commerce help for business

7.      Lawrence Teachers Union

8.      Families of American Dream want clean safe city – bread and roses

9.      Community Action Council – works with WIC, fuel assistance rental vouchers for working poor

10.     Recycle textiles and paper; Mass only has 8 landfills and 2 will close this year and 2 will close next year. Build new incinerators which no one wants or increase recycling

11.     Revitalize cities – continue Gateway Cities for affordable housing

12.     New bill passed about integrity of election – must be able to hand count a portion of ballets – don’t rely on  computers

     13.     Continue to say no to Kinder Morgan pipeline to protect the environment

14.     Lawrence public schools Receiver/Superintendent: schools are in receivership – they are the most improved community schools. Contract to  renew in June for three more years – then exiting the city

15.     Lawrence Police chief – establishing a training facility for police in Lawrence for whole state

16.     Head of Mass Realtors on mortgage debt relief on phantom income

17.     ESOL classes in Lawrence Methuen Haverhill –funding was cancelled no classes and they were the only provider of Eng. classes

18.     Realtor (didn’t catch his title) scrap metal bill negatively effects all – pass the lower thresh hold for charity license plates

19.     Many affected by drug overdoes – help others to stay off drugs

20.     Work for everyone – new minimum wage, and sick time for all – but need help for full time workers

21.     Trust Act – secure communities- safe driving for all with license so everyone has insurance

     22.     Disabled person needs access to apartment and landlord not complying with laws

23.     Animal protection act – keep out industrial farming in MA

     24.     Income inequality – between Lawrence and No. Andover and need discussion on race in the community in Massachusetts

25.     Consumer advocate for affordable health care: high copayment barrier to care now to avoid acute costs later

26.     D’Youville – established in 1960   – nursing home with most patients on Medicare which does not cover the cost of care

27.     Need a bill to not discriminate against transgender people in public spaces.

28.     Health care for all – restore mental health care

29.     No mosquito spraying – kills honey bees – no honey bees, no food

     30.     Developmental individuals – funding to help families of disabled

     31.     Able Act – disabled allowed to have a bank account and not loose social security – ($2000.00 is the maximum they can have in an account)

32.     Lowell Community health Center over 50,000 patients are helped

     33.     Mental illness hero -  was on heroin, now helping others but we need longer term treatment facilities

One lesson I’ve learned by becoming more politically active in the last three years is that it’s very interesting to attend a political gathering and see the politicians in action yourself. It can be, and usually is, very different from what you get to read and hear in the media. Attendance at these kinds gatherings is eye opening. Attend one yourself to find out.

Transportation Subcommittee Meeting: Feb 24, 2015

Tonight I attended the Lowell City Council Transportation Subcommittee meeting on the Lord Overpass project.  In attendance were six or seven representatives of VHB, the engineering firm hired by the state to oversee this project.  Also in attendance were more than 30 Lowell residents, most representing groups or constituencies with an interest in this project.

The Transportation Subcommittee is chaired by Council Jim Milinazzo and has Councilors Bill Martin and John Leahy as members.  Also attending the meeting were Councilors Rita Mercier, Corey Belanger, Dan Rourke and Bill Samaras as well as City Manager Kevin Murphy and various members of his staff.

Tricia Donegan of VHB addressing subcommittee

The meeting commenced with a presentation by Tricia Donegan of VHB who stated they have not yet started the design portion of this project and they are anxious to hear the community’s input.  VHB has been working in Lowell since 2009 on the Hamilton Canal project and has already done work on Thorndike Street, namely the new crossing lights/markings at the Gallagher Terminal and the new sidewalk along the South Common leading up to the Lord Overpass.  She explained that the geographic scope of this $15 million Mass DOT project extends from the intersection of Thorndike and YMCA Drive to the intersection of Thorndike and Fletcher.

One portion of the project has already been designed and that’s the extension of Jackson Street.  In fact, today was the day for opening of the bids and construction will commence as soon as the snow melts.  Jackson Street, which currently runs parallel to Middlesex and ends at Canal Street, will be extended and will break to the right so that it’s aimed directly at Fletcher Street.  This part of the project will bring Jackson right up to Thorndike, mostly to facilitate construction vehicle access to the site of the new courthouse, but they won’t break through onto Thorndike Street until the bigger project is underway.

Lord Overpass with Chelmsford St in lower right, Fletcher St at left, new Jackson St in upper left

The bigger project will include all new pavement of existing roads and new sidewalks that are made ADA compliant.  As Ms. Donegan said, “Thorndike Street will stay the way it is just with new pavement.”  One big change will be to the down ramp from the Lord Overpass heading downtown.  That will have a second lane added with the right hand lane for traffic turning right onto the new Jackson Street and the Courthouse and Hamilton Canal District.  On the other side of that portion of Thorndike Street, the current one lane for a left turn onto Fletcher Street will be expanded to two lanes for that turn.

(Now when I think of the Lord Overpass, I think of it as an elevated rotary.  The engineers see it as “two bridges”, one connecting Chelmsford to Appleton and the other connecting the two parts of Middlesex Street.  I do think that is an accurate description but it’s definitely a part of the engineering firm’s vocabulary so we should make it part of our’s).

As for these two bridges, they are structurally deficient so the project will replace not only the decking but the steel superstructure as well.  They are acutely aware of how critical this place is to traffic so the roadways won’t be closed completely, at least not for extended periods of time, but there will be frequent lane closures.  They also vowed to improve the sidewalks, the crossing signals, and the general walkability (and bikeability) of the Overpass, perhaps by squeezing the vehicle lanes closer to the middle (which they said shouldn’t be used by pedestrians in any case) to gain more space on the exterior sidewalks/bike lanes.

As for the schedule, a series of community meetings seeking input from the public will commence this spring.  The design phase will take most of 2015.  Construction will be conducted from 2016 through 2018.

Councilors then made some comments.  Councilor Martin said this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to link the Highlands and Acre neighborhoods to the Hamilton Canal District in a way that’s pedestrian friendly.  Councilor Leahy also said he was concerned about neighborhoods and walkability but he wanted them to be sure the vehicle lanes were wide enough to accommodate plowed snow.  Councilor Milinazzo asked if they already had obtained the right of way for the Jackson Street extension (they have).

A number of residents spoke, most voicing their interest in improving the pedestrian accessibility of this area and welcoming the opportunity to discuss the design at future public sessions.


If you are interested in the future of the Lord Overpass, be sure to join the Facebook Group by that name.  Also here are some previous blog posts on this subject:

South Common, Thorndike-Dutton Corridor, Lord Overpass, etc” by Paul Marion

Gov Patrick Delivers $15mil to Lowell” by me

Lord Overpass: A 150 Year History” by Chris on Learning Lowell

Also, read just about any of my Week in Review columns for the past six months.  This Lord Overpass project gets mentioned in many of them.

Thanks to Sam Antonaccio for the snowy Lord Overpass photo

‘Listening to George’s “All Things Must Pass”‘

In the early 2000s, my family was fortunate enough to visit the island of St. Lucia in the Caribbean Sea for several Februarys in a row. This morning, I was looking for something to post that would transport readers out of the Lowell snow zone for a few minutes.—PM


Listening to George’s ‘All Things Must Pass’


I’m on the balcony of Villa 5 notched into the jungle hill,

Where the foil-blue sea seems to slide through railing posts,

The steep angle a visual trick tipping me toward the Caribbean,

Blue like the blue in my son’s eyes that he got from his grandfathers –

This bay-caught blue stretching west to the horizon,

Which is no end at all, just a law of math, the curvy Earth

Converging with sky to make a line where dark- and light-blue meet,

A line that convinced early lookers of the Earth’s flatness,

The end beyond which “there be monsters,” said the old maps,

For the edge appears to be there, even if always moving,

So the best sailor never scrapes the edge or falls off,

But will forever wrap navigational yarns around the blue-green ball,

This improbable sphere holding its own in bottomless space,

The forces and counter-forces swinging the unhinged globe

‘Round the hot-spot Sun in a delicate yet titanic dance

Among other planets, moons, broken plates, and fiery projectiles –

The Sun the same and never the same thing,

Not stopped in time like my memory of the Sun Ray Bakery,

Whose short, fat crusty loaves my mother bought each week

And brought home in the white paper bag printed

With the shop’s name around a red sunburst logo,

A humble homage to our star, not so different in its way

From the desert worshippers of Sun as god,

The Sun that does not rise or sink, no matter how it looks,

The Sun that flames in a self-published burn,

Its flares at times leaping out of the atomic pot,

Crackling enough to scramble our waves –

The Sun no more golden than the sky blue.


—Paul Marion (c) 2015

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