Seventy–four-year-old road trippers, Annie and Eddie, hatched a plan for a late life cross-country fling. A simple concept: Fly to the West Coast, pick up a car, drive north up the coast, explore small towns in the rugged mountains and national parks of Montana and Wyoming and race through the heartland for home.
This is how it went. They flew to San Francisco and first, took possession of a vivid new blue Hyundai “touring model” (an arrangement brokered by Cliff Dexheimer at the Gary Rome dealership in Holyoke); savored the pleasures of San Francisco for a few days, and then hit the road.
After a week negotiating the twists and turns of coastal highway #1 with a layover in the very cool city of Portland, Annie and Eddie arrive in Vancouver, British Columbia, where the trip takes a new twist.
The city of Vancouver is a sea of rabid hockey fans wearing blue and white Canuck jerseys in preparation for the second game of the Stanley Cup finals against the Boston Bruins, who have not come this far in more than 40 years. This interests Annie and Eddie, particularly after Eddie bumps into Globe sports columnist Dan Shaughnessy in the lobby of the Sutton Place Hotel, there with seven other Globe sports writers.
Even though their hockey roots go back to the 1970s era of Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito and Johnny Bucyk, Eddie and especially Annie, have shown little interest in the Bruins for years. But this is different.
In an amazingly beautiful city with fabulous restaurants, Annie and Eddie choose to dine on sliced turkey and plastic cups of deli salad in order to watch game 2 in their hotel suite. Alas, both the dinner and the Bruins failed to measure up, which left the Bruins down 0 to 2 in the seven game series.
Boisterous Canuck fans turn downtown Vancouver (a block of so from Annie and Eddie’s hotel) into a maelstrom of rampant Canadians inebriated by alcohol and team spirit. Eddie ventures out to take the measure of the crowd, which is shouting as one “we want The Cup; we want The Cup.”
As the series moves back to Boston, Annie and Eddie prepare to move on, as well, but they remind the confident car jockeys in front of the hotel that Canuck claims of success are premature. “Just wait,” they warned.
Game 3, it’s Bruins and Canucks in Boston. For Annie and Eddie, it’s Ellensburg, Washington, where they watched the first period in their hotel room. It ended with the Bruins up 4-0. They go out to dinner and return to witness an 8-1 victory for the Bruins.
Game 4 finds Annie and Eddie in Butte, Montana, a struggling mining town, and they make arrangements to have dinner at the Metals Sports Bar, a former bank building, where they are seated in the only table in the stainless steel vault with a close up view of the action. Bruins win; series tied. Annie and Eddie feel vindicated; now, they want the Cup.
As the teams return to Vancouver for game 5, Annie and Eddie head for Yellowstone National Park, where TV options are limited. They find a motel in West Yellowstone, and make frequent visits to the bar to check on the game. The final period ends unhappily with a Bruins loss, and they commiserate with another Boston fan—a civil engineer from Bozeman, Montana, by way of New Hampshire. Good game; bad outcome.
The series now returns to Boston, and Annie and Eddie race on to Laramie, Wyoming, in order to catch the game 6 action—as it turns out, at the nearby Applebee’s. Success! Bruins win.
The teams return to Vancouver for the decisive seventh game. Meanwhile, Annie and Eddie in their vivid blue touring car pull into Hays, Kansas (have you ever heard of it?) and, alas, no Bruins coverage at the motel. Thank God for the Applebee’s across the street. For those who got on the bandwagon thirty-five years late, the outcome of the 4-0 last game was sweet indeed.
Measured by the 5,493 miles clocked between San Francisco and Northampton, Annie and Eddie would want you to know that the Bruins triumph was only one small, serendipitous pleasure of the road trip.
And so the time has come to take one last amble along downstreet.net where, for more than the last 10 years, my personal reporting, commentary and occasionally intemperate opinions about matters very local and faraway have appeared.
Sometimes postings were frequent and urgent, other times there were periods of silence when I had nothing much to say, was distracted by travel, which eventually might yield an article, usually with photos. But I also have a life that is not lived totally on downstreet.net. Yet over the last decade we have posted hundreds and hundreds of articles on the website, most all of which remain in tact, comfortably housed in our extensive archives. They are just a click away. http://www.downstreet.net/archives/archives.html
A decade ago, when I imagined downstreet.net, I thought, drawing on my background in journalism, it might be something akin to a very modest version of a newspaper or weekly journal. And for most of the 2000s that goal seemed possible.
Ed Shanahan/Detroit Free Press May 1970
There were always sufficient public and private outrages—easy targets for a stories or comments—which tried put the issues in context or link them to some larger and less well understood public or private transgression. Downstreet.net was often about making connections, local to national, today to yesterday and tomorrow.
I engaged in extensive media criticism as a consequence of my
previous work as a newspaper reporter and editor. And my reporting background provided me with an abiding interest in such civic issues as zoning, planning, development, municipal finance, public safety, architecture, housing, transportation, education, and trees – none of which are sexy topics—but all are part of the lifeblood of a community.
I offered up personal anecdotes that emerged from disputes with city officials, the Academy of Music, public television and WFCR, Harvard College, Look Park, so-called public utilities such as Comcast, National Grid, local banks, some members of the medical profession, as well as all insurance companies and corporate giants.
Having arrived in Northampton in 1971, I eventually came to believe I understood something of the workings of the community, and had become acquainted with the principal players, the movers and shakers and those who were shaken and moved as well.
Thus, I did my share of feature articles on people in the community and, as I aged, so did the people I had come to know, and often that might entail crafting a small farewell to someone who had passed on like Sam Freedman or Ted Squires, Fred Marks, Bob August or Miss Fitts. I also did features about those outside the area, who were personal heroes, such as my report on the Madison Square Garden concert celebrating the 90th birthday of folksinger Pete Seeger.
And it was not always the local personality whose death moved me to post my thoughts. Perhaps, the single article about an individual that keeps being summoned up from the archive and related back to me is one I wrote about the adult education in classical music I received from Robert J. Lurtsema, a Boston-based radio host. His death saddened me as much as if he had been a member of the family, and in many ways he was, virtually every Saturday and Sunday morning, and many weekdays as well. To this day, from time to time, one of his admirers will send an e-mail thanking me for my piece upon his long-ago passing from the scene.
Because I had shifted my principal activity in the early 1990s from journalism to operating a used bookstore in Florence, when I look back to the downstreet.net archives I find numerous articles about the book trade, its past, present and future ands its various manifestations. The Northampton-Amherst area is especially rich in all aspects of the book – home to successful authors, editors, bookbinders, designers, printers, illustrators, artists, publishers, as well as those who collect rare books, and those who sell books to collectors. The book culture here is amazing and I’m afraid I only scratched the surface in my on-line effort to capture this special local expertise.
Of all the stories that I wrote for downstret.net, the one that has elicited the greatest and most consistent response was one that laid out the logistics and nuts and bolts for starting up a used book store. I get at least a query a month—and have for the last 8 or 9 years— from some earnest young person, or a more mature correspondent anxious for a change of direction in their life. They googled “how to start a used bookstore” and up pops the downstreet.net article, and they send off a quick follow-up e-mail asking for more details.
Here is one I received the other day, similar to countless others:
My husband and I are interested in opening a business which will be rewarding for both us and the community. I have an image of a bookstore that will invite children and parents to become active readers.
I read your article on how you started and grew your bookstore. We are in need of starting a business soon, so i was wondering how long did it take to collect those 4-5,000 books (hitting garage sales, libraries, auctions and such)?
We live in Whitehall, Pennsylvania and are looking into opening a store in Bethlehem or Allentown area.
If you have any other tips, we'd love to hear them.
--tahira and saleem rabbani
It has been my practice to answer each of these queries with a personal note, although I now explain that there have been important, even dramatic, changes in the used book trade, mostly as a result of the impact of the Internet and on-line sales, which make running a retail shop extremely challenging.
Not all of what appeared on downstreet.net was my work alone. Often reporting and writing articles for the site was Mike Kirby, who has street smarts, a nice little chip on his shoulder, and good contacts with members of non-establishment Northampton. His Beaver Brook development scandal stories from Leeds come to mind, and should have resulted in legal action against the malefactors if anyone had been paying attention.
I valued Mike’s contribution, even paying him for his labor, and I had mixed feelings when he created his own website or blog, kirbyontheloose, which has been good for him and the community but weakened downstreet.net.
Another major contribution during the year of the 350th celebration of Northampton’s history was Brian Turner’s brilliant seven-part series titled “Northampton the River of Time,” which ran exclusively on downstret.net.
But as the years wore on, the internal pressure to keep posting fresh articles became for me more like a burden than a pleasure. Not motivated to conduct full-bore original reporting and spend the time and energy putting together the articles for posting, I came to believe that the original goal of downstreet.net or downtown dot com or downstreet dot com, as some called it, made less and less sense.
After a decade of toil, I have found that it is not really possible for a single person to do the hard work that a good news story or investigation requires. And, unless the stories and commentary have depth and add value to the community understanding and debate of public issues then the question becomes, what’s the point?
And, of course, there has been a sudden proliferation of handsomely designed and colorful local blogs, with a greater diversity of voices out there. Downstreet.net has more or less gotten lost in the explosive growth of on-line news or so-called citizen journalism. We were early to the game, but don’t have the staying power or the need to compete with the new voices. That work will be expanded with the broad reach of the active local news aggregator, Northampton Media under the direction of Mary Serreze.
I also feel the Gazette, under the stewardship of editor Larry Parnass, is providing imaginative and energetic coverage on a consistent basis, which bodes well for its continuation in the face of the rapid shift from print news to digital presentation and distribution. That trend has the newspaper industry in frightful turmoil these days, but the more than two-century old Gazette remains robust and apparently viable.
So, it’s time for me to hush up and turn my attentions to other matters.
One final note. Downstreet.net was not my baby alone, because every story written for the website was edited by Ann Shanahan and every photo and story that was posted on the-line was posted by Ann Shanahan. Every writer requires a demanding editor and mine is the very best.
- Edward Shanahan
Go to downstreet.net archives to read all of our previous commentary.
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