Saturday, September 14, 2013

Road Work

Last April, around Tax Day, we got a letter from our township supervisors informing us that an upgrade needed to be made to the sewers on our street.  Work was expected to begin on April 29th and end on or about June 7th.  Obviously we would need to be aware of some inconveniences about accessing our properties sometimes during this process.

OK.  A hassle, but part of the headache of home ownership.

Except that the work is still going on, here in mid-September.

There has been no information, zero, zilch, nothing from any of the powers-that-be.  Everything we've learned about the project has been picked up via hearsay from the workers themselves, who are usually even more in the dark than we residents are.  What I have gleaned from them so far:  the work encountered more and harder bedrock than anticipated; the equipment they had brought in to do the job proved to be inadequate and getting the right equipment in was harder and took longer than they thought it would be; the final paving will now not happen until the Spring of 2014, etc., etc., etc.

The way the local authorities have handled this situation has been nothing short of appalling.  We have not been informed of any of the difficulties, in spite of numerous phone calls, letters, e-mails and neighborhood petitions.  (Guess who's going to be looking for a new job after the next election?)  There has been no rhyme or reason to the pattern of work, and several times we have awakened to find ourselves trapped in our home while excavations took out the driveway.  I mean, would it have been so BLOODY DIFFICULT to stick a measly postcard in the mailbox saying, "Hey, we're going to be working in front of your driveway tomorrow so if you need to get out, move your car to a side street tonight, okay?"  Granted, with minimal eye-rolling, the guys would do their best to let you get out if it was at all possible, but a little information would have gone a long, long way to making everybody's life easier -- both the workers and the affected residents.

It looks like the work is winding up, at least for the season.  The road is now a Frankenstein's Monster network of patches and seams.  One of the workers told me that the final paving of a top coat will now not happen until next Spring, so as to allow the work to "settle."  He also told me that this is almost certainly a complete load of horseshit.  Nothing they've done needs to "settle," according to the foreman, and it's just going to be a huge, expensive hassle to close the street again in the Spring so that it can be paved.  Which should last only a couple of days.


When I was a kid in New Jersey, we had a joke:  "You know why it says New Jersey is 'The Garden State' on our license plates?  Because 'The Toxic Waste Dump State' won't fit!"  I feel like for Pennsylvania the punchline should be "The 'You-Can't-Get-There-From-Here' State."

Friday, September 6, 2013

Mike Seeger

Great PBS special on tonight about the history of the banjo, narrated by Steve Martin, who sneaks in a performance with the Steep Canyon Rangers at the end.  Steve and the Rangers, as you might remember, perform one of my absolute favorite modern bluegrass tunes, "Atheists Don't Have No Songs."

In addition to some really wonderful old footage and songs, from banjo players that predate the great Earl Scruggs by decades, the filmmaker interviewed Pete Seeger's brother, Mike Seeger, pretty extensively.  Mike Seeger came to the University of Virginia back in 1972 to do a folk music workshop.  It was, sadly, rather poorly attended...but I was there.  I was very, very into making jug band music at the time.  

Mike Seeger is one of the gentlest souls I have ever had the pleasure to meet.  He taught me how to correctly play the jaw harp (the instrument known in less politically correct nomenclature as the Jew's Harp) and turned me on to the blacksmith in Williamsburg, VA, who makes the finest harps in the known world.  I still have mine, and I still play it.  Mike also taught us a few old, old Appalachian songs and gave me a great tip, which I share with you now:  if you're going to play the washboard as a rhythm instrument, don't waste your time with a modern one made of zinc or tin.  Take the time to hunt down a vintage washboard that was made out of pressed glass.  You'll be amazed at how much richer the sound is with a glass washboard than you get with a tin board.  Sadly mine was lost in one of our interstate moves -- a  whole box of stuff, including the washboard, a couple of tambourines, and an 18th Century fife -- vanished into the limbo where odd socks and moving boxes go.  One of these days I'll get around to hunting down a new washboard.

It was really great to see Mike in this special.  He is still sharing his knowledge and his music, only now, instead of hunting down old mentors to learn their music, Mike has become himself an old mentor.  Bless you, Mike, and thank you for the gifts you gave me.

(Mike Seeger as I met him in the early 1970's--)

(--and Mike Seeger today.)