By Edward Shanahan
at the Downtown Theme Park
Create a theme park and they will come,
which is precisely what has happened in downtown Northampton.
The energy and vitality of the downtown has become such a scene
that it lures young and old from far and wide to hang out, gawk,
groom their dog or pet snake, exhibit various pierced body parts,
panhandle, act out, and just be part of the scene. It's always
These visitors may even patronize some of the businesses.
So why are the businesses now cry babying because of the offenses
of those who travel to Northampton by motorcycle and park them
in vehicular spaces and spend their time mostly talking, drinking
coffee and adding to the show?
The complaining business establishments apparently want it both
ways - they are happy to contribute to the theme park circus atmosphere,
but they only want as visitors to the city and patrons of their
shops - well-mannered, free-spending suburbanites. Noise, crowded
sidewalks and doorways, aimless, transient, and oddly dressed
voyeurs are an inevitable part of an urban theme park. It is somewhat
graceless to impose new rules that don't apply to all to certain
visitors to the theme park.
Many communities of similar or greater size than Northampton
would happily welcome the influx of large crowds of visitors who
provide diversity and zest to downtowns that are probably pretty
But certain Northampton merchants want the theme park, but not
the hassles, just as they are forever complaining that the city
government is anti-business, even though City Hall goes out of
its way to stroke and pamper businesses at every turn.
Dismantle the carefully constructed theme park and the problem
of motorcyclists and invasive visitors to Northampton will quickly
go away, and so will the buzz about Northampton.
IRS, for Losing Our Tax Return
Once the Internal Revenue Service had a well-earned reputation
for being mean-spirited, even vindictive. But after reforming
itself under threat from Congress, the new IRS is merely incompetent.
We received the following letter recently in response to an inquiry
"You notified us that your check date 4/15/2001 in the amount
of ... was never cashed. We show no record of this payment being
received and advise you to make a stop payment on this check and
issue a replacement. If we receive your replacement check within
30 days from the date of this letter, we will credit your account
with the date of the original check.
"If you sent any documents to the IRS in Pittsburgh with you
check, for example: you tax return ... please resubmit this information
with your replacement check ..."
The letter was pure bureaucratic obfuscation; there is a cruder
The IRS had already confirmed by telephone that it had lost our
entire multi-page tax return and the check that was enclosed,
as it had for hundreds, maybe thousands of other taxpayers who
had sent their returns to an address in Pittsburgh. The most recent
news accounts had put the number of lost, misplaced, or stolen
checks at 1,800, but the suspicion is that the number is much
Yet this letter makes it sound as if we had screwed up - "we
show no record of this payment being received " and the IRS is
graciously going to let us send a new return, a new check after
stopping payment in the old check and copying and mailing by certified
mail all of the tax information a second time.
Typically, the IRS takes the position the burden is on us to
correct its gross misconduct. Actually, come to think of is, maybe
the IRS still is mean-spirited as well as merely incompetent.
Up at Fannie Look's Pretty Park?
I hope they know what they are up to at Look Park because paving
over of much to the entrance to that estimable park sends a bad
signal to some of us.
For months a pedestrian or biker entering the park competes for
access with vehicles because of the excavation of a large area
adjacent to the former swimming pool bathhouse, which is now being
renovated into a rather elaborate function center.
Obviously, the expectation is that the function center once complete
will require lots and lots of parking spaces, which is what is
now being prepared.
Of course, there is a slight problem - the law suit filed against
the trustees of Look Park by Bridge Road neighbor Edwin C. Warner
on the grounds that a money-making function hall for weddings
and other events is inconsistent with the terms of the bequest
that created the park and its quiet spaces in a natural setting.
Based on a short chat I had with Brian Elliott, director of the
park, should the park lose that legal battle (something he does
not foresee happening), then the renovation project could turn
into a very costly white elephant. And that cost could have serious
repercussions for the park's long-term future, in my view.
Meanwhile, the creation of a vastly expanded blacktop lot with
massive granite curbing on the very doorstep of the park is an
unappealing blemish that is at odds with the aesthetics and taste
so evident in the rest of the park.