Tag Archives: neighborhoods

Should a cookie-cutter neighborhood be restricted to cookie-cutter dogs?

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The developer of a neighborhood of modern, look-alike, cookie-cutter homes in Lexington, Ky., apparently wants to also define the breeds of dogs that can live there — or at least stipulate what breeds cannot.

That’s not all that rare nowadays, but the company managing McConnell’s Trace is casting a pretty broad net when it calls for banning 11 breeds of dog it deems “dangerous.”

If you read this website, you already know who I think the dangerous ones are in this scenario.

It’s not the German Shepherds, or the Rottweilers, or the mastiffs, or the Doberman Pinschers, or the pit bulls, or the huskies, or the malamutes, or the chows, or the Great Danes, or the St. Bernards or the Akitas.

It’s the developers, property management companies, and/or homeowner’s associationsthat decide breed bans are necessary to maintain peace, sanctity and low insurance premiums — and then go about enforcing their ill-informed rules with dictatorial zeal.

They are the far bigger threat so society.

In a nation so concerned about everybody’s Constitutional rights, and protecting individual liberties, it’s amazing how much power such groups can exert over how we live, and that they get away with it.

Sometimes it is done by the developers who, rather than just build houses, want to impose a set of rules on the community that will last through perpetuity. They do this by establishing “deed restrictions,” stipulating what a homeowner can and cannot do on the property.

Sometimes it’s property management companies that, while collecting a monthly free from homeowners, also issue edicts. Seeing liability insurance premiums rise, for example, they might decide to ban a breed, or two, or 11, of dog. The latest correspondence I received from mine informed homeowners that any alterations to the way grounds crews have laid down pine needles around their houses (it’s a southern thing) “will not be tolerated.”

Sometimes it’s the homeowner’s association, which generally means its board of directors.

All can tend to become little fiefdoms, dispensing rule after rule, threat after threat, warning after warning. When pressed for answers, when asked for reasons, they get vague about who is responsible for what, and pass the buck.

In the Lexington situation, homeowners in McConnell’s Trace were sent letters by the neighborhood developer detailing a reported change in an existing dog restriction, which previously referred only to unspecified “aggressive breeds.”

At least that’s what Josh McCurn, president of the area’s neighborhood association, told the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Developer Dennis Anderson said Monday that Anderson Communities has been prohibiting the 11 dog breeds since 2006. Deed restrictions signed since then have included the prohibited list of breeds, he said.

“We want a mother and her child to feel safe when walking to the mailbox or hiking on the Town Branch Trail,” Anderson said in an email. “We want McConnell’s Trace to be the safest place to raise a family.”

Anderson sent the Herald-Leader a copy of deed restrictions dated in 2006 that lists the 11 restricted breeds.

The letter sent out last week to homeowners, however, stated “restrictions are now amended to include a complete list of prohibited breeds.”

Some homeowners said they never were provided a copy of deed restrictions when they moved in. One said, though he bought his home just over a year ago, he received the 2001 list of deed restrictions.

So it’s entirely possible, given how these places operate, that the developer’s attorney was the only one who actually had a copy of these restrictions he says have been in place for more than 10 years.

The letter said homeowners who already have a dog that belongs to one of the listed breeds can keep their dog.

“Please note, however, that all future pets must meet the breed requirements.”

Residents in the neighborhood organized an emergency meeting for 6:30 p.m. Friday to discuss the restrictions. It will be held at Masterson Station Park shelter #3 and will be open to the public.

Given the meeting is being held outside the neighborhood, I’m assuming dogs of all breeds are welcome.

If San Francisco’s neighborhoods were dogs

Just as every dog breed has a distinct personality, so too does every neighborhood.

In a city as dog-loving, artistically inclined and fantastically diverse as San Francisco, perhaps it was only matter of time before a creative type decided to match them up.

The video above, in which 11 neighborhoods are portrayed as dressed-up dogs, may reinforce a stereotype or two, but it is really more about making you smile.

“This little animation is the long time brainchild of my obsession with dog breeds and the humorous stereotypes of SF neighborhoods,” says its creator. “Hopefully no-one is offended.”

An intense dog-lover, and San Francisco-lover, Libby Cooper is creative director of Videopixie.

She’d had the idea for the video in mind for a couple of years, but a creative-project stipend from Videopixie allowed her to make the notion a reality, reports the website, Curbed.

“My budget allowed me create 11,” she says. “But I hope to eventually cover all of the San Francisco neighborhoods.

In the short animated video, entitled “San Frandingo,” an Afghan hound with a pearl necklace represents Pacific Heights, a Shiba Inu wearing goggles and a “vegan leather jacket” symbolizes Potrero Hill, and a French Bulldog with a motorcycle cap, studded collar and harness serves as mascot for the Castro.

Other match-ups include a golden retriever with a tennis ball in its mouth as the marina, an American Staffordshire Terrier wearing a Giants cap as the Mission, and a Cairn terrier smoking a cigarette as the Tenderloin.

Cooper, who says she can recite all 184 dog breeds, relied on her personal impressions of the neighborhoods and her knowledge of dog breeds and their characteristics to come up with the concept.

Greetings from Bellaville, New Yorkie

I’m a proponent of spending more time with your dog, and less with your computer, but here’s an interesting, and interactive,  presentation from WNYC in New York, which has mapped out not just what breeds dominate the city’s neighborhoods, but what names as well.

Citywide, the top three female names for dogs are Bella, Princess and Lola; the top male names are Max, Rocky and Lucky and the top breeds are Yorkie, Shih Tzu and Maltese.

(Actually the most popular dog in New York is the mutt, and WYNC does report that elsewhere. Somehow they didn’t rate getting on the map, though.)

What’s the most fun though is scrolling through the boroughs to see where Lola tops Lucy, where Buddy beats Buster as the name of choice, and what breeds are, from neighborhood to neighborhood, most predominant. While Yorkies dominate most areas, there are enclaves where Labs and Chihuahuas and pit bulls are owned in the highest numbers. There’s a major English bulldog contingent in lower Manhattan, and pit bulls are the highest in number in Bed Stuy.

The list is based on information WNYC obtained from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which runs the city’s dog licensing program.

The feature has some other bells and whistles, too, including opportunities to play games and make a t-shirt.

Just after WNYC came out with its map, Gothamist put together an interactive map of its own — this back in January — claiming to show not where the dogs are, but where their poop is, or at least where it’s most complained about. The map shows what neighborhoods have the most barking dog complaints, too.

One wonders what would happen if those two interactive maps were to interact. Would that reveal large dogs named Brutus leave bigger droppings than Chihuahuas named Princess? That Sparky barks more than Snoozy?

Somewhere we have to draw line on all this interactivity with our computers — especially that share of it that’s presenting information that’s just everyday knowledge or common sense or entirely bogus.

In those cases, your time would be better spend interacting with the dog.

One for the road …

There are times – despite what you may believe – that my dog is not at my side. One of them was Saturday night.

Once or twice a year, a select group of friends and I make it a point to visit all the old-time bars – those among the dwindling few in South Baltimore that haven’t been upscaled yet.

I’m talking about the sort of neighborhood places that are named after a guy as opposed to a concept, the kind where you’re still  called “hon,” and where the food — if they have anything beyond bags of chips and a giant jar of pickled eggs atop the bar — is never  “encrusted,” just flat out fried.

As Ace and I prepare to hit the road, it seemed a good time to do it again – to say goodbye not just to friends, but to a few old, not yet gentrified bars that might not be here when I get back, including one that I’d just found out will be the next to go.

So we started there, at Bill’s Lighthouse Tavern.

Popular with old-timers and newcomers alike, the Lighthouse serves up huge portions of food, at affordable prices. When its owner Bill Wedemeyer died last year, his wife, Adele, kept it going, drawing in a steady crowd with its famous crabs, and impressive buffets on Ravens game days.

According to the sign posted in the window, Bill’s Lighthouse has been sold to new owners from California, who plan to transform it into “Café Velocity” and add outdoor dining. Currently, the only al fresco dining that takes place is done by the stray cats (like my former houseguest Miley) who are drawn by handouts from the kitchen staff.

After paying our respects at the Lighthouse, we moved on – first, right across the street, to Leon’s, home base of the Attaboy Club, whose members were holding a meeting in the back room, probably to plot their next bull/oyster/pig roast. The Attaboy Club is always roasting something.

Leon’s is unusual in that it has no outside sign. It’s a nondescript white building that caters mostly to a stalwart crowd of regulars. Yet it has always been warm and inviting when our old school bar crawl crowd shows up. My connection to it, as well as the Lighthouse, began when Ace poked his head through the door.

From Leon’s we moved on to Schaefer’s, whose bar is one of oldest in the city – a carryover from the days that male customers didn’t walk to the bathroom to relieve themselves, instead utilizing the trough-like drain that ran the length of the bar. (Not everything about the good old days was good.)

The sidewalks leading to Schaefer’s are emblazoned with the painted-on jerseys of Raven’s players, and in the back room, you can find a purple pool table.

Moving on to Rayzer’s just up the street, we got a bucket of pony-sized beers and blew a few dollars playing the video horse race game, learning, among other things, the difference between quinella and trifecta.

The last old school bar stop was Muir’s Tavern, whose glowing orange neon sign and upstairs turret give it the look of a medieval whorehouse, and I mean that in a good way.

As we arrived, Natasha, the bartender, stood outside. One customer, Mary, had run home across the street for a moment, and Natasha was worried that – Mary being small and the winds being fierce that night – she might blow away when she tried to return.

Alas, Mary made it back, and reassumed her position at the video slot machine. Our group kept itself entertained with the low-tech bowling game and Muir’s sophisticated Internet jukebox, which lets you download any song, it seems, in the world.

As you can see, though I didn’t have my dog, I had my camera along, and thanks to it and Iris Dement, we were able to throw together this tribute before we depart — a musical slide show about a slowly fading side of South Baltimore.

On foam, farewells and Federal Hill

After eight months away, it has been interesting to see the latest twists and turns my old neighborhood in Baltimore has taken.

For 10 years, I lived in not quite Federal Hill, never – until now — within its exact boundaries, but on its periphery: first in the Riverside neighborhood, and later in another that, while it doesn’t have a name, per se, falls under the direction of a neighborhood association called the South Baltimore Improvement Committee.

Living in an “improvement” district keeps you from getting a big head, and perhaps the same can be said of living in Baltimore. To me, the charm of “Charm City” has always been its lack of arrogance. Having “improvement” in your neighborhood name, on the other hand, seems to reinforce a “you’re not quite good enough” message: “Hey, you still have a way to go, SoBoImCo, before you can attach “Hill” or “River” or “Point” or some other scenic term to your name.”

The gentrification of South Baltimore – and whether that’s synonymous with improvement is arguable — was well underway when I arrived 10 years ago, not quite young, not quite upscale, definitely not gentry.

Immediately, I felt more of a connection with the old and vanishing, stoop-sitting side of the area than its younger, newer denizens – those being the rooftop deckers, the wine-tasters, the perpetually texting woo-hoo! girls and the loud, backwards-cap-wearing frat boys who clog up Cross Street

Far more interesting (not to mention closer to my age group) were the old-timers, the ones with stories to tell, the ones who knew the area’s history and had some themselves, the ones who, as the neighborhoods of Federal Hill, Riverside, Locust Point and SoBoImCo transformed,  were being priced out of the block they’d grown up on. If that weren’t enough, they were seeing almost all their old watering holes dry up – reopening with trendier names, upscaled décor and higher prices.

A few years after I arrived, the gentrification of South Baltimore was in full swing, and it seemed likely that day would come that it crossed all the way over – that the last patches of the original canvas, all those interesting textures, would be layered over with more boring, modern hues. Then again, what is any neighborhood but a work in progress?

Since being back, Ace and I have spent the month living in a friend’s house in actual Federal Hill before her tenants arrive, and we’ve been enjoying the rooftop deck, and the hot tub on it. (After steeping for five minutes, I do start feeling a little like gentry.) Walking the neighborhood with Ace, I can see that the transition continues – though slowed by the lousy economy — for better and worse.

There are more empty storefronts along Charles Street than I’ve ever noticed before, and two of my favorite institutions are closing up shop.

Gone is the House of Foam, a curious establishment that, in addition to foam, sold a mish-mash of electronic gadgets. As there weren’t too many times I found myself in need of foam, I only went in once, but I loved the name, and the sign. They’ve relocated to a new neighborhood, on Russell Street, in what used to be a Staples.

Also departing is Lucky Lucy’s Canine Café, whose owner Nancy Dixon (also my temporary landlord) has decided to close up shop – more for family reasons than anything else. The shop is up for sale, meaning it could reopen again as a doggie haven, with homemade treats, pet food and toys – or maybe as something else entirely.

Meanwhile, down at the shopping center, the Shopper’s Supermarket has been reconfigured and the entire complex is receiving a facelift. Apparently, with a huge new condominium development called McHenry Row going up, and a new Harris-Teeter grocery store arriving, the management at Southside MarketPlace decided it was time to upscale or die.

There were rumors that the Goodwill thrift store was going to close – highly upsetting to me — but I’ve since heard that, under its lease, it will be around a couple more years at least.

Part of the reason I’m waxing nostalgic is because three two more things are leaving South Baltimore – two of those being Ace and me, at least for a while.

After a month spent reuniting with friends, our travels will continue. We’re headed to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, the town in which I was born, and where my mother still lives. It will be our home base for a few months, during which time we plan a few side trips. Stick with us and you can read about those expeditions, as well as our new living arrangements – in the basement of an aging mansion.

As for that third thing that’s leaving, it’s another classic piece of South Baltimore – one we’ll pay tribute to tomorrow.

 (Tomorrow: “One for the Road,” a tribute to the South Baltimore’s old school bars)

Maniacs, monkeys and the Motel 6

 

In a way, this might not be the best time to sing the praises of Motel 6 — it being in the news now for leaving the light on for one Jared Lee Loughner.

Authorities say the Tucson man rented a room from America’s most affordable motel chain to plot the final steps of the horrific shooting spree that left six dead and 14 wounded, including U.S. Rep Gabrielle Giffords.

In another way, though, there’s probably no better time to stand up for a dependable, if imperfect, friend than when that friend is being tarnished with the broad brush of guilt by association.

A recent Washington Post story started out this way: “Room 411, a king-bed single in a dark and grimy Motel 6 near the railroad tracks on the western edge of Tucson, served as the staging ground for Jared Loughner’s series of pre-dawn errands before last Saturday’s shooting spree outside a suburban supermarket here.”

Pretty good writing, and — assuming it was really “dark and grimy” — nothing wrong with it, unless you’re Motel 6, in which case you find yourself, through no fault of your own, in the thick of a dark and grimy story you’d rather have no part of.

So I’m here — even though it has always been Tom Bodett’s job — to speak up for Motel 6, a topic on which I consider myself an authority. What makes me such an expert?

In the last eight months, my dog and I have stayed in Motel 6’s in Biloxi, Mississippi; New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana;  Flagstaff, Holbrook, Yuma and Tucson, Arizona; Tucumcari and Albuquerque, New Mexico;  Oklahoma City and Midwest City, Oklahoma; Lewisville, Dallas, Hunstville and Houston, Texas; Greensboro, Statesville and Raleigh, North Carolina; Norfolk and Richmond, Virginia.; New Cumberland, Pennsylvania; Niantic, Connecticut; Portland and Bangor, Maine; Syracuse, New York; Brattleboro, Vermont; Fargo, North Dakota; Billings and Butte, Montana; Spokane and Kirkland, Washington; Coos Bay, Oregon; Ukiah, Monterey, San Bernadino and Bakersfield, California; and Russellville, Arkansas.

Seventy nights in all.

Crime struck only twice, and only in the most minor of ways, both times in Texas when ohmidog! door magnets were removed from my Jeep — one in Lewisville, one in Huntsville. Then again, with a 130-pound dog at your side, folks tend to not mess with you.

During our 22,000 miles of travels, I poked a lot of fun at the chain, with its bare bones ambience, and near total lack of amentities. They’re not always in the greatest of neighborhoods. Their pools aren’t always pristine, or even open, or even there anymore. There are no “continental” breakfasts, or in-room coffee makers at the Motel 6. You can walk to the lobby and serve yourself some, but it’s in tiny Sytrofoam cups that are empty by the time you get back to your room.

The quality varies widely from motel to motel, and the only consistency, chain-wide, is in the spartan furnishings and the tacky polyester bedspread. You get a small bar of Motel 6 soap, a couple of plastic disposable cups and, if you’re lucky, an ice bucket. I’ve gotten rooms without chairs, without hot water and, several times, with remote controls from which the batteries had been removed.

If there is a step that can be taken to conserve costs, Motel 6 has taken it.

And yet, as basic and humdrum as staying at the Motel 6 became for me (and maybe Ace, too), while there were nights I thought checking into another of its lookalike rooms would send me over the brink, I love Motel 6 — for two reasons.

It is consistently dog friendly, with no fees for pets and no restrictions on size or breeds. Most of the motel staff we encountered — with the exception of one employee who shrieked and ran away when encountering Ace — seem to like dogs. There were so many times that desk clerks passed him treats over the counter that Ace now jumps up and puts his front paws on any counter he encounters.

And it is consistently cheap — almost always under $50, often under $40, sometimes under $30.

On our trip, Motel 6 served as a huge comfort to me. Not the rooms, necessarily, but knowing it was there, in most towns, to take me in when others would turn me away because of my dog, or charge pet fees that nearly doubled the cost of a room, or just plain charge too much for our budget.

More important, it’s there for the growing masses who — foreclosed upon, laid off, or otherwise caught up in some bad luck — can get out of the cold for less than the cost of a tank of gasoline.

In a way, by not catering to the more upscale crowd, Motel 6 provides a public service — especially during the down economy. We met more than a few people who, with nowhere else to go, were calling their motel room home for now.

That Motel 6’s are more likely to be the scene of crime or other malfeasance is to be expected — in the same way poor neighborhoods have more problems than rich ones. People with criminal records and drug histories, people who are economically desperate or just plain desperate, end up there more often than, say, the Hilton.

Motel 6 deserves no blame or ridicule in connection with the shooting spree in Tucson. (Let’s save that for Sportsman’s Warehouse, where Loughner bought his Glock, and the Arizona lawmakers who have worked to make gunslinging so easy achievable in that state.)

I did a Google news search on Motel 6 earlier this week, and found most of the stories that popped up were, as I expected, about crimes: a man found bound and gagged inside a Motel 6 in Utah, an attempted robbery at a Motel 6 in Kansas, a man and woman arrested for using their Motel 6 room to print counterfeit money with an inkjet printer, a couple arrested with  2,000 illegally obtained pain and anti-anxiety pills at a Motel 6 in Alabama, a woman arrested on a prostitution charge after allegedly propositioning a plainclothes officer to join her in her Motel 6 room in Iowa.

One of the few non-crime stories that mentioned Motel 6 was about a colony of wild vervet monkeys, some of whom have chosen to live behind a Motel 6 in Dania Beach, Florida.

Nobody’s sure how the monkeys ended up in South Florida. Some say they are descendants of those used in a Tarzan episode once filmed there; some believe they are descendants of monkeys bred for research that helped lead to a cure for polio.

In any case, at least two of the monkeys live behind the Dania Beach Motel 6, where motel visitors look forward to watching them come out each afternoon. I’m guessing the monkeys find the Motel 6 guests equally entertaining.

What’s great about Motel 6 is its total lack of snobbiness. Desk clerks don’t look down their noses at you, or crinkle it up when you have a dog along. If you have credit card or cash, you’re in, which is as it should be.

It’s not a motel’s job — at least one at the bargain basement level — to monitor or screen its customers.

For business that are selling guns, as opposed to a night on a mattress, there is more of an obligation to screen customers, or at least there should be, in my view.

Motels 6’s don’t kill people. Guns do. Any monkey knows that.

(Vervet photo by Joe Rimkus Jr. / Miami Herald)

Leaving the city of brotherly love

Pardon my haste, and the typos I’m sure will follow, but sitting here in the tranquility of the Grover Cleveland Service Area of the New Jersey Turnpike, hoping to pop off a quick post, I notice my computer’s battery is quickly draining.

Not mine, though. It has been recharged by my time in Baltimore and Philadelphia, reuniting with old friends and, I’ll admit it, hoisting a few, by which I mean beers, not friends.

During our Philadelphia visit, Ace and I stayed with my longtime friend and colleague Margaret, and her husband Will, and their three cats, Tammo, Cali and Papi.

They were but the latest of many cats Ace and I have stayed with as we continue to freeload, as much as possible, our way across the country. But Ace, who’s enamored with felines, hadn’t been amid three at a time before.

Each one had a slightly different personality, and a different reaction to Ace. Cali, the oldest at 15, was the most mellow, hissing once in a while if Ace got too close, but otherwise acting as if it were no big deal to suddenly have a 130-pound dog in a cat-specific house.

Tammo kept his distance, sometimes approaching Ace, then running off.

Papi was the most curious, not, I wouldn’t say, antagonistic — but definitely confrontational. On second though, maybe I would say antagonistic. He’d cautiously stalk up behind Ace and come up next to him and, during the first approach, gave him a good right jab, which Ace responded to by standing up and issuing one bark.

After that Ace, though still curious, kept a respectable distance, for the most part.

Even then, though, he seemed to delight in laying down somewhere near one of them and gazing at them, or the chair they were hidden under.

Seeing they had reached something close to detente, I left Ace and visited my old newspaper, the Philadelphia Inquirer, which happens to be on the auction block today, if you’ve got a few million and are looking for a good investment.

Given all the insecurity, it amazed me that my former colleagues weren’t babbling idiots by now. Somehow, in that limbo, they manage to do their jobs and produce a pretty decent newspaper.

As in Baltimore, I was struck in Philadelphia by how much I’ve missed people with whom I’ve done a terrible job of staying in touch.

With 10 years having passed since I worked there, I was surprised to see so many familiar faces (and sorry I didn’t have more time), surprised as well when a colleague showed me a dictionary that still had my name written on it.

We’re headed now to Long Island, where we will hop three ferry boats tomorrow as we begin duplicating, at least for the time being, the route John Steinbeck and his poodle covered in “Travels with Charley.”

By tonight, we’ll be in North Merrick, have dinner with a Steinbeck afficianado and librarian and try to find someplace to stay before heading to Sag Harbor in the morning.

My hour-long Internet search for affordable (by my definition) and dog-friendly lodging was a huge waste of time, with little to be found for under $100 a night — a price we feel so strongly about not paying that we will sleep in the car for the first time if we have to.

Today, on my way north, I took a quick tour of Yardley, Pennsylvania, my hometown for about 15 years and noticed, despite continued upscaling — fancier restaurants, even more Realtors, a Starbucks and lots of hair salons — it was still pretty much the same quaint, one-stoplight boro.

Somewhere today, I think, we also crossed the Continental Polite Divide. In my experiences the southern half of America — whatever else you might say about it — is far more friendly. Baltimore is still mostly friendly. Philadelphia is kind of friendly. But somehwere along the way — possibly Princeton, New Jersey — we crossed the zig-zagging imaginary line across America into a place where people are more insular, where doors aren’t often held open, where conversations aren’t as likely to start up, unless maybe you have a dog and they want to know what kind of dog it is.

In Philadelphia, I felt among friends — old and new. My friend Margaret’s close-knit block, in the shadow of the old Eastern Penitentiary, was a wonderful slice of the city to hang out in, and an example of one of many neighborhoods — once mostly all ethnic enclaves — that have become little melting pots. This one boiled over with kindness.

Except maybe for Papi, who continued to most surreptitiously — and I’m sure I spelled that wrong — try to provoke Ace.

Deep down though, I think she was as enthralled with him as he was with her.

I think — gross generalization that it is — all these impolite northerners would, if they gave it a chance, be more enthralled with each other as well, if they took the time. More often, they are in a hurry, wrapped up in themselves, not seeing the world around them —  like the one who cut me off with his car, or the one who let the door close on my cheeseburger and fries, or the three (out of five) men in the restroom that were talking on their cell phones while they urinated.

C’mon fellas. Even with hands free technology, it’s still bad manners.