By Phineas J. Stone
It wasn’t long ago I saw on television a few Boston media types and some egghead journalism professors talking about the local media.
The host of the program picked up this newspaper, and two other competing papers. Each of them had top stories about progress on IAGs (Impact Advisory Group), about a MEPA (Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act) Draft Project Impact Report (or, DPIR), action at the BCDC (Boston Civic Design Commission) and, finally, the latest on a critical CAC (Community Advisory Committee). Each of the papers, including this one, had many such alphabetical monikers in its headlines.
I bet most of the readers intimately knew what CAC means, or at least they’ve come across it and know what it does. Most importantly, they know that it’s important for making sure development and government don’t roll over residents and their private property and community spaces.
Such things were lost on the television panel, who thought it comical that a CAC’s business was news, and they wondered aloud what a CAC even was.
One of the professor types said it wasn’t real news, but rather just “shopper” type publications where one can get a coupon for his or her dry cleaning.
I’m not sure these are real Bostonians, and they certainly don’t run with the Mr. Boston crowd – which stretches from those who have just moved to the Bean to those who have been here generations. And most all of them could debrief any high-ranking professor on the latest action at the NDC, CAC or BRA.
One has to wonder what Boston those folks live in because for generations Boston people have carried college degrees in navigating, participating, and sometimes destroying, the reams of red tape that make up City and state government. It would be a stretch, really, to find someone who has lived in the neighborhoods and hasn’t been on, or attended, at least one meeting of these alphabetical committees and groups. At any given public meeting of one of these bodies, you’ll run across people with binders and file folders full of paperwork – sometimes paperwork that spans decades and deals with only one small acre of land. There are a lot of those folks and they have a degree in knowing what’s going on and how to fight it, if need be.
It’s what they do.
We may all care about what happened in Syria overnight, and we can be entertained by a video feature about a drive-in diner in Holliston, but for their money, Boston residents aren’t laughing most times at the business going on at the IAG, CAC, MEPA or BRA. They’re pretty serious about it.
In fact, we now have boiled down many of the neighborhood associations. Many of those associations have gone beyond three and four letter monikers and are now resting at five, sometimes six, letters. You have WSANA (Worcester Square Area Neighborhood Association), FOSEL (Friends of the South End Library), UPNA (Union Park Neighborhood Association), FCDC (Fenway Community Development Corporation) and NABB (Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay).
The best thing is that most people in the know – and most people I come across are in the know – recognize what these conglomerations of letters mean on sight. The other day, an acquaintance of mine had to educate me on what FOTPG was – a five-letter monstrosity that describes the Friends of the Public Garden. Everyone knows that, I was chided.
My favorite, though, are my friends over in the Eastie who know backward and forward the workings of the Logan Airport. They know all the terms. It’s like they require it at birth, or somehow it’s passed on telepathically. I even think they have a special unit on Logan terminology in the elementary schools over there.
Last fall, I was over watching a Patriots game at my Eastie buddy’s house. All of the sudden the trees outside started blowing and it was apparent that the wind might have changed directions.
Like a bird dog pointing pheasants, my buddy ran to the front porch and took a look outside.
Suddenly the phone rang.
“Yea. Really? You see any yet? Ok,” my friend said into the phone.
Word had gotten out, apparently, that the wind had shifted, he said, and Logan was shifting traffic from runways 4/22 over to 15R and 33L. However, he said they were going to wait and see if the shift was enough to activate 14/32, which only comes into play, he said, in special conditions.
He saw I was baffled by the talk.
Translating his Eastie speak, he said that the wind had changed, which meant that the planes which had been coming in and out over Orient Heights (sparing us the deafening engine noise) were likely now going to shift to a runway that would take them over Bennington Street, where we were at. However, if the wind shifted a little more, we would be in the clear as they would hit up a runway that went over downtown and miss us entirely.
What did it all mean, I asked intently.
“It means that pretty soon we won’t be able to hear the game,” he said, surprised I didn’t know what he was talking about, as if he had to explain the order of the ABC’s to me. “If the planes start coming over us, we have to either close the windows and turn on the A/C or go up to Orient Heights where my friend is at. He was going to come over here, but now that the wind has shifted, we might go over there. We’ll know in about 15 minutes.”
“How will we know?” I asked.
Someone will call, he said.
And someone did call. After about a 20 minute discussion regarding the CAC meeting earlier that week on a development down the street, he came back in the room and said everything was ok. In fact, the wind hadn’t changed at all, and his buddy from Orient Heights was going to come over to watch the rest of the game so he could hear the sound.
Perhaps such things don’t creep into a classroom or a big newsroom, but there are a lot of letters and numbers that define how we live real lives in Boston.