Record-setting winter puts spring in my step

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Chilly day for a North Church steeple selfie.

As our record-setting winter begins to melt away, I’m putting the freeze-frame on one particularly amazing statistic: January and February were the first months since I was a kid that I put more miles on my bike and boots than on my automobile.

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I know my car is around here somewhere.

In fact, I felt like a kid – pulling on my striped navy blue snowpants during one single-digit dusting, then saddling up to pedal the panoramic New Castle loop. Or capping a back-roof shoveling session with my brother by filming “Moron leaps off building into snow pile” (see video).

My winter wonderland wanderlust led me on bicycle icicle photo safaris.

To the peak of the Peirce Island snow mountain.

To Fort Constitution, where a young Coast Guardsman’s duties that day included politely ordering me off the massive seaside stone wall where I was posing my bike for still life with lighthouse motif.

To land’s edge, the jetty at New Castle’s town common – light wind, mild flurries. To the new Sagamore Bridge, the water teeming with green-topped, yellow-beaked, orange-footed fishermen.

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This wrought-iron waterfront photo-op, only in New Castle.

The snow-covered path crunches as it winds through South Street Cemetery – cold stones marking local souls from centuries past – circling back to Market Square.

To the top of the parking garage for a North Church steeple selfie.

Confession: The reason I found myself with extra hours for frosty fun was this. My lifelong career as a newspaperman was frozen.

Yes, the ink-o-nomic chill that’s been shrinking the American newspaper industry came nipping at my job last fall.

Who? What? When? Where? Why?

Yesterday’s news.

The breaking scoop here is that a highly motivated, multitalented creator/communicator (writer, editor, graphic designer, webmaster, technologist, teacher, listener) is seeking new opportunities in a job search targeting the area’s top creative agencies.

A lifelong print journalist who specializes in integrating just the right words with high-impact visuals, I aim to reinvent (or e-invent) myself in the age of SEO, content strategy and inbound marketing.

In fact, inbound marketing is such a key concept among my target employers that I decided to employ the principles of inbound marketing in a campaign to draw their attention to how my track record as a copywriter and content creator positions me to excel at inbound marketing.

Yes, I also enjoy humor. But I am being quite serious here. Rather than rely solely on traditional outbound job-search techniques, it makes sense to use inbound marketing strategies to create well-written, visually appealing content that showcases my skills, experience and services for potential customers (employers).

Some of my favorite work as a writer involved crafting Sunday columns for our local paper. Among a way-too-long list of favorites, I recommend “Pullet surprise scoop on Port City chicken coop,” “Mongoplex: A modest proposal” and “Ozzie Sweet: He made Einstein laugh.”

ebook cover-advice333This link tells the story of how my dad guided me into a career in journalism. This one shares my excitement upon returning to a hometown job after seven years at the Boston Herald. I have not yet written the inside story of my “downsizing,” but I have e-published an Amazon worst-seller (“Downsized: How I How I Got Laid Off After 30 Years in Newspapers and Turned My Funniest Sunday Advice Columns Into a Blockbuster E-book”).

I am also a talented graphic designer (especially Adobe InDesign and Photoshop) who has paginated countless newspaper front pages on deadline is regularly inspired to produce highly creative pieces, several of which have received over 20,000 page views (see samples below).

Since 1999, I have moonlighted as a webmaster on personal projects starting with the Humor Gazette and now Triple Action News (aka JohnBreneman.com), so I know the ABCs of html, CMS and SEO.

I have remained very busy between jobs, writing the first draft of a novel, immersing myself in web projects and even applying for a startup business incubator program (see video).

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I urge potential employers to contact me at john.breneman.inc@gmail.

Additional bullet points:

* Here is my resume.

* One of my YouTube videos has amassed over 400,000 views; another introduces my fake anchorman and makeshift TV news studio.

* Call to action: I urge potential employers to contact me at the email address below.

Thank you for listening. I’d love to continue this conversation.
Reach me at john.breneman.inc@gmail.com.

*   *   *

Graphic design samples

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This item, which I created in Photoshop, has over 23,000 page views according to Google Analytics.

 

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I enjoy creating panels that combine graphic design and Photoshop skill with newswriting ability and an engaging verbal style. For example: “Rolling Stones announce ‘Fossils’ Tour.”

 

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Google Analytics says this Speed Racer item has garnered nearly 39,000 page views.

 

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This is a social media nugget I created for G.Willikers! — the downtown Portsmouth, N.H., children’s store founded by my family in 1978.

Below is an expanded selection of recent writing.

Bicycle time travel

Posted by on Jul 7, 2016 in Greetings from Portsmouth, N.H., Sunday columns | 0 comments

Bicycle time travel

PORTSMOUTH, N.H. — Dateline 1889. One thing I adore about this little burg we call Portsmouth is that we love to blur the lines between present and past. And what better way to time travel on a warm November day than perched atop a contraption whose front wheel stands no less than 4 feet tall and whose back wheel is a sporty 17 inches? Oh, did I mention my old-fashioned high-wheeler no brakes? The social cycling event of the season, this was the inaugural Portsmouth Tweed Ride. Hosted by the Swell Society and Old as Adam — the folks who brought you the Gatsby on the Isles gathering this summer — the ride attracted several dozen distinguished gentlemen clad in tweed jackets, caps and knickers and stylish ladies dazzling onlookers in their Gatsby-era garb. The two-state spree started at Papa Wheelies bike shop on Islington Street and featured hospitality stops along the way at White Heron Tea & Coffee and the Book & Bar in Market Square before a scheduled wrap-up at the Press Room, with proceeds benefiting the Portsmouth Historical Society and the John Paul Jones House. We pushed off from Papa Wheelies, stopping traffic with the utmost courtesy and ringing of handlebar bells. Ah, nothing like rolling through time on an old-fashioned high-wheel bike — gasoline-powered horseless carriages whizzing by as we traversed the cracked, gray macadam of Islington Street. Camaraderie was the order of the day, as our procession caused much turning of heads and encouraging exhortations from the periphery. Down to Strawbery Banke and the South End, across the new Memorial Bridge into Kittery, Maine, and back to gather for a team daguerreotype at the North Church. Unfortunately, I had to return to the present in order to write this column and help get this news sheet to the presses. My new ultimate role model is Bob Sawyer of Bedford, a member in good standing of The Wheelmen bicycle club since 1971. Bob is an international cyclist who spoke of riding from Holland to Switzerland on a 1901 Cleveland and from Berlin to Prague on an 1899 Orient. Decked out in his old-timey garb and a sweet newfangled hearing aid, he said he has logged an estimated 125,000 bicycle miles over the years. Bob turns 92 this month. Of course, local bicycle legend Elwood “Zip” Zamarchi was there. He rolled in from Eliot, Maine, with a dozen or so of his spectacularly interesting vintage velocipedes. Zip’ll be 75 this month. Leading our quaint cavalcade of cycle enthusiasts was Adam Irish, a dashing young local haberdasher and ranking member of the Swell Society who is the proprietor of Old As Adam on Ceres Street. “I love living in the past,” said he. Me too, say I. — John Breneman Spokesperson for two-wheeled time travel (Portsmouth Herald: Nov. 3,...

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My favorite spaceman

Posted by on Jul 6, 2015 in Greetings from Portsmouth, N.H., Sunday columns | 1 comment

My favorite spaceman

Long, long ago, in a galaxy that now seems very far away, I got a chance to interview a future astronaut. The year was 1987 — long before my career as an internationally obscure writer had achieved liftoff — and the future spaceman was a fellow York (Maine) High School kid named Chris Cassidy. Now, the chance to interview an astronaut doesn’t come along every day. And looking back, I gotta say, I kinda blew it. Sure, I was only at York High School that day to cover a home football game against whoever (probably Marshwood) and Chris was there in his capacity as the Wildcats’ senior quarterback. So afterward, I approached him for the usual sports-type interview with a couple of softball questions about football. You might say, “Hey, there’s no way I could have known this kid would go on to a decorated military career as a Navy SEAL (heading to Afghanistan two weeks after 9/11, according to his NASA bio) and then literally launch himself into the stratosphere as a genuine astronaut.” But there were tell-tale signs — the ramrod straight posture, the clear-eyed, straight-arrow demeanor, his singular focus on the mission of the team. Plus, he loved wearing a helmet. And the kid sure loved his Tang, couldn’t get enough of it. OK, I’m only kidding about the Tang, but the rest is all true. Also true is that not only has he been living up in the International Space Station since March, he also just helped rescue an Italian colleague when water began leaking into the man’s helmet during a spacewalk. (I hate it when that happens.) Yes, the two were just an hour into a planned six-hour spacewalk to perform what has been described as “routine maintenance” (get your head around that if you can, “routine maintenance” while floating in a weightless environment 11 trillion miles from Earth). Amazingly, such work could very possibly be considered routine by a man of Cmdr. Cassidy’s caliber. I mean, this is a guy with two Bronze Stars, whose job takes him up into the heavens. A guy who logged more than 200 hours underwater piloting “a two-man submersible SEAL Delivery Vehicle, which is launched and recovered from a host-ship submarine.” A guy whose first mission into outer space four years ago this month involved delivering 12 tons of hardware and 1,225 pounds of water to the Space Station and working outside the “safety” of his spaceship for a total of 18 hours — a quick, 15-day jaunt that included 248 orbits around the Earth and some 6.5 million frequent-flyer miles. I stand in awe of this gentleman’s accomplishments. And if I could slap on a spacesuit and jump in a time machine back to that Southern Maine football field in 1987, I would have handled things a little differently. I wouldn’t want to freak him out by asking about his first Bronze Star (for leading a nine-day operation at the Zhawar Kili cave complex on the Afghanistan/Pakistan border) or his second one (for combat leadership in Afghanistan in 2004). But I think I would ask the self-effacing senior QB what plans he had for the future. Whether his obvious team-first attitude made him consider one day trading his Wildcats uniform for that of the United States...

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Pullet surprise scoop on Port City chicken coop

Posted by on May 4, 2014 in Greetings from Portsmouth, N.H., Sunday columns | 0 comments

Pullet surprise scoop on Port City chicken coop

Are you ready for the city of Portsmouth’s next great controversy? This one promises to be a real barn-burner. It’s not a dispute about the mammoth buildings transforming the face of downtown, or about some windows getting changed without an OK from the window police. And it’s not a fight over unsightly blights on our historic cityscape — such as the toxic heaps of rusty riverfront scrap metal. Perhaps most shocking of all, Portsmouth’s internationally renowned parking shortage has nothing whatsoever to do with this latest hullabaloo. However, the new brouhaha is loosely connected to the recent ruckus over whether erecting an old-timey skating rink at the Strawbery Banke Museum would serve as a magnet for hockey-playing ruffians, whom neighbors feared might drink beer and fill the South End air with bawdy language and f-bombs (“fiddlesticks”). This latest squabble threatens to erupt as soon as Wednesday, when the Board of Adjustment is scheduled to hear a request for a variance that would be needed to erect a historically significant chicken coop on the grounds of Strawbery Banke. Some observers say they haven’t heard a peep of protest. But already there are rumblings about a new civic group being formed (Citizens For a Chicken-less Future, or CFCF). And there is word that advocates of the plan — the coop would replicate one kept near the Abbot Store by the Pecunies family in the 1940s — are already lobbying for future inclusion on the National Register of Historic Henhouses. The biggest potential concerns, according to Planning Director Rick Taintor, are obvious — “noise and smells.” But along with the anticipated squawking about decibel levels and the ghastly specter of fowl fecal matter, the proposal raises a wheelbarrow full of unanswered questions. And no, wise-acre, I don’t mean: Why did the chicken cross Marcy Street? I mean serious questions like: Will they put all the eggs in one basket, or will multiple baskets be utilized? And what about the impact on the local ant population? (Because you know those chickens are gonna want to get their beaks into some of that savory Strawbery Banke ant meat.) If the BOA grants its approval, does that set a precedent under which the board would be compelled to issue variances for sheep, donkeys or pigs? (One reason I ask is that I live downtown and was thinking of getting a couple milk cows.) Also, will the BOA indicate a preference toward a certain indigenous American breeds (for example, Rhode Island reds and Iowa blues) while frowning upon such foreign birds as the Chinese silkie, the South African ovambo or Egypt’s golden montazah)? Col. Harlan Sanders and General Tso could not be reached for comment. Now that I have thoroughly researched the matter, I have a few favorites (based solely on the colorfulness of their names, mind you). These include the Sicilian Buttercup, the Belgian Bearded d’Anvers and Transylvanian Naked Neck from Romania. Personally, I will be more inclined to favor this project if the coop is populated by at least one Iranian Manx Rumpy. The specifications of the proposed structure will be equally critical. Let me just say right up front that I’m going to have a real problem with anything over 65 feet tall. I must also insist on a strict prohibition of any...

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Shipyard prison: The Next Brig Thing

Posted by on Mar 9, 2014 in Greetings from Portsmouth, N.H., Sunday columns | 0 comments

Shipyard prison: The Next Brig Thing

Hey Apple. Hey Google. What would be cooler than locating your new East Coast genius lab in a crazy, century-old prison castle inspired by Alcatraz and featured in an infamous, Oscar-nominated Jack Nicholson flick? Newsflash: The U.S. Navy is once again looking to lease the magnificent island fortress known as the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard prison. The breathtaking oceanfront site is currently ranked by Triple Action News as one of the top 5 top-secret real estate opportunities in the world. Long story short, the Navy is looking for a few good companies — anchor companies — so I wanted to put our prison on your radar screen. In my capacity as self-appointed talent scout slash marketing wizard, please allow me to introduce the first unofficial slogan for this epic economic engine by the ocean. “Shipyard prison redevelopment: The Next Brig Thing” Aye aye, captains of industry. Point your GPSes over to Portsmouth and Kittery. Lock in on Seavey Island, Piscataqua River. Google Earth it. Swoop in over the Atlantic from the East. Imagine a suite of executive offices perched up in those castle turrets. Then send an advance team to c’mon out and kick the towers. Since our cutting-edge, clean-technology anchor tenants, will be creating hundreds (thousands?) of high-paying jobs, we will need to feed the people. My restaurant team is in talks to open in early 2016 a swanky joint called The Mess Hall — serving savory seafaring rations and pouring the region’s finest locally brewed grog. Other eateries might opt for trendy Navy yard names like The Dungeon and Remedial Toxic Waste Site No. 342A. A submarine restaurant is a nautical no-brainer. And Gangplank seems like a logical name for a floating, wooden-hulled watering hole pouring tall PBRs on the poop deck. Ship happens. Certainly there’ll be room to squeeze in a few condos. I’m thinking 8-by-10 studios each illuminated by a solitary World War II-era surplus bulb dangling from an artfully frayed wire. Prison chic. “Buy Low — Cell High!” This will, of course, lead to much talk about popping a parking garage onto the island. But in keeping with local tradition, those discussions will lead nowhere. Another advantage: The shipyard prison is strategically located just a short stroll to the newly resurgent Kittery Foreside restaurant district. (Test marketing indicates mixed reaction to my campaign to “brand” Kittery Foreside with the nickname K4.) Of course, I’m planning to reach out to Jack Nicholson, who was nominated for the Oscar in “The Last Detail” (1973) as Billy “Badass” Buddusky, one of two sailors hauling Randy Quaid off to do eight years of hard time at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard prison. Picture Jack (picture Billy Badass) smashing a bottle of bubbly to christen the high-tech, rigged-out shipyard castle. Launching the Navy prison project like a ship. Launching custom-crafted partnerships. Excitement off the starboard bow. Shipyard prison: Unlock the potential. Keep your periscope pointed here for all the scuttlebutt about the Next Brig Thing — right down to the last detail. — John Breneman Tweet Share...

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Sprucing up Market Sq. for Christmas

Posted by on Dec 1, 2013 in Greetings from Portsmouth, N.H., Sunday columns | 0 comments

Sprucing up Market Sq. for Christmas

A 40-foot tree sprouted outside my window in downtown Portsmouth this week. Couple million pine needles hitched together by some branches and a trunk — soon it will glow with twinkling white lights, projecting goodwill and warmth onto raw winter nights. Yes, the massive pine is an unmistakable sign that the Christmas and/or holiday season is officially under way. Black Friday is now behind us, along with Small Business Saturday. Ahead: Cyber Monday and several more weeks of Tannenbaum Tuesdays, Wisemen Wednesdays and Myrrh’s Day Thursdays. (Christmas newsflash: If you were thinking about picking up some Christmas myrrh for the infant who has everything, word to the wise — a report in this month’s Bethlehem Journal of Medicine reveals that myrrh may be hazardous to your health.) Confession: Yes, I am old and cynical. And yes, some years I can be kind of a grinch. But I love Christmastime here in Market Square. The downtown illuminated — decked out in red and green. Pine boughs and bells. Brick walkways bustling with bundled shoppers bearing bundles of gifts — puffy clouds of white breath whispering from their lips. Hey, the trolley just rolled through the Square with costumed characters caroling “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.” We know the forecast calls for snow (but only the decorative, fluffy kind; not the heavy, nasty stuff that makes cars crash and people throw out their backs). And while it’s true that the commercialization can get a little out of hand, veteran Christmas players know the holiday is plenty big enough to love both bargains and Jesus. Experts say the economic impact of the holiday season — when combined with the estimated spiritual impact — can reach as high as elevendy trillion. (Christmas newsflash: Due to ongoing U.S. economic difficulties, Republicans in the House are proposing that we sequester the so-called “Twelve Days of Christmas” down to six or seven. Nine ladies dancing and 10 lords a-leaping could not be reached for comment.) I hope you had a nice Thanksgiving. When you are blessed, as I am, to come from a loving family that has run a downtown children’s store since 1978 A.D., the Thanksgiving meal is followed by another time-honored ritual. In the old days, when we lived up in York, Maine, once the dishes were cleared and the belt buckles adjusted, my mom would drive down to Portsmouth to create a magical window display for Christmas. One year, decades back, she even convinced me to don a red suit and hat with fluffy white trim, boots and beard, to play the role of a certain holiday icon (a pillow strapped to my midsection to simulate jovial girth). I recall feeling awkward, shy and more than a little bit cynical in my rented Santa suit. But the moment that a small boy climbed into my lap and whispered in my ear, I melted like a San Diego snowman. Ah, tradition. (Christmas newsflash: The celebration reportedly dates all the way back to 1883 when someone named either Kris Kringle or Saint Nicholas started carting presents all over the world, allegedly hauled by flying reindeer in an enchanted sleigh.) This year, the storefront window tradition spanned new generations, as my mom was joined by her daughter and granddaughters in creating an eye-catching yuletide scene. There...

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Lights, camera, film fest!

Posted by on Oct 13, 2013 in Greetings from Portsmouth, N.H., Sunday columns | 0 comments

Lights, camera, film fest!

Life, death and everything in between is the theme of the much-anticipated New Hampshire Film Festival this weekend — featuring dozens of entries in genres ranging from cerebral slapstick art house film noir to post-apocalyptic spaghetti western thrillers. And — spoiler alert! — the program looks like it is more about humanity than jamming car chases and explosions all up in your face while you stuff your mug with that $9 triple-jumbo soda and a $12 industrial child-size popcorn. Based on titles alone, I’m stoked to see “Bicycle Hooker,” “Death of a Shadow” and “Patti and Me Minus Patti.” Also: “If We Were Adults,” “Mud Lotus,” “Alive, Feeling Like A Buck Seventy-Five” and many more. Just my luck that this blockbuster cultural event comes the same weekend as my first annual Unreel Film Festival. Mine also features dozens of entries in genres ranging from pre-Cambrian silent movie biopics to minimalist B movie sci-fi slasher “talkies.” And — spoiler alert! — not everyone lives happily ever after. (In fact, wait’ll you see how the protagonist whacks the bad guy in “Revenge of the Vengeance-Seeking Avengers”!) Unlike the N.H. Film Festival with its fancy movie screens and indoor venues, my film fest features raw, stripped-down cinema as it was meant to be enjoyed — on white and off-white sheets draped from walls, trees and poles at top-secret locations near you. Ranging from the ridiculous to the sublime to the macabre and back again, my selections tend to reflect the insanity of life in 21st century America. For example, nowhere else will you see Coco Flambizzington’s X-rated expose of rampant exhibitionism in the fashion industry, “The Devil Wears Nada.” I am also privileged to host the East Coast premiere of a genre-bending tale in which four friends — one whose heart was ripped out by a shark, another his brain — set out on an epic and perilous quest. Warning: Seating is limited for “The Wizard of Jaws.” Many of my films were selected because they embody a special connection to our region. In “The New Hampshire Chainsaw Massacre,” for example, a mysterious woodsman chops down a whole bunch of trees, hacks them up and stacks them neatly (too neatly?) next to a foul-smelling barn that holds more secrets than chickens. Also playing: “Pirates of the Kittery Point Yacht Club” — Noted local Johnny Depp look-alike Michael Venn stars as Captain Mike Sparrow in this swashbuckling tale that captured the prestigious Japanese Medal at the South Berwick Film Festival. “A COAST Bus Named Desire” — Blanche, a fading beauty with booze issues, delusions of grandeur and a dysfunctional living situation, must rely on the kindness of strangers as she commutes to classes at Great Bay Community College. “The Manchurian Council Candidate” — Observers begin to suspect a mysterious Portsmouth City Council candidate has been brainwashed by shadowy pro-development forces to destroy the city. “A Fistful of Quarters” — A pale, taciturn stranger from the Wild West rebels against Portsmouth’s parking enforcement regime by riding up on a 7-foot-tall stallion and parking his steed, without paying and for longer than the posted time limit, in front of Starbucks. And now, for our feature presentation — a heart-warming film chronicling the 86-year arc of a beloved family-style Italian restaurant forced out of business by...

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Port City Mongoplex: A modest proposal

Posted by on Jul 14, 2013 in Greetings from Portsmouth, N.H., Sunday columns | 0 comments

Port City Mongoplex: A modest proposal

Here in quaint little Portsmouth (motto: “Tourist Magnet by the Sea”), the pressures of development are causing seismic disruptions in both the city’s visual landscape and the public dialogue. Construction is booming and critics are barking. But, predictably, the debate too often pits the Build, Baby, Builders vs. the Cease and Desisters. Into this volatile mix, I feel obliged to introduce a modest proposal for a historic, futuristic project that everyone can get behind. Heritage, haute cuisine, commerce and the arts would all converge in the ground-breaking, sky-scraping Port City Mongoplex. (For those not familiar with the term “mongoplex,” it is a concept I coined back in 2000 when I proposed that rustic, yet rusty Fenway Park be replaced by a 10-story multipurpose supertower topped by a glistening Neo-Fenway with luxury Green Monster seats offering spectacular views of both the game and the island of Nantucket.) Savvy urban planners understand that the revenue you can suck in with a colossal custom-designed Port City Mongoplex is astronomical. Picture, if you will, a squat, brick version of Boston’s Prudential Tower on steroids — with a vertigo-inducing array of retail, entertainment and investment opportunities. Here’s an example of the offerings on a hypothetical Saturday night in July 2015, if we get this thing on the fast track: First floor: An authentic, old-timey five-and-dime store called, yes, J.J. Newberry’s — complete with a nostalgic (circa 1972) lunch counter serving grilled cheeses for $1.99. Before this one-time Congress Street treasure closed its doors back in the late 20th century, I wrote a eulogy reflecting on those halcyon days of yore when a senior citizen could still purchase a tub of Vicks VapoRub, or a young boy some Sea-Monkeys, for under a dollar. Second floor: A state-of-the-art museum featuring animatronic figures of Naval hero John Paul Jones and beer pioneer Frank Jones, the scissors used by 5-year-old future mayor Eileen Foley when she cut the ribbon opening the Memorial Bridge back in 1923 and 3-D Omnimax movies of bulldozers tearing down the Italian neighborhood that once stood in the city’s North End. Though the name of the museum can certainly be auctioned to the highest corporate bidder, for now it is called History Palooza. Third floor: Enter the PCM Convention Center. Lions and Shriners and Elks, oh my. You name it, this cutting-edge conference space can host it. Potential events already include the annual conventions of the Great-Great-Great-Granddaughters of the American Revolution and the 50,000-member National Pistol-Whipping Association, an underground militia of men and women who not only like to shoot guns, they like to hit people in the head with them. It is also an ideal venue for TED Talks — those wildly popular forums featuring the rantings of America’s finest Teds, from Turner and Danson to Kaczynski and Nugent. Fourth floor: Once your pupils adjust to the flashing lights and jackpot bells, you’ll see that The Golden Lighthouse Casino is a lavish Vegas-style gambling parlor with a twist — a special “Kiddie Kasino” section featuring toy slot machines and puppet shows to keep junior occupied while mom and dad gamble away his hopes of ever attending college. Fifth floor: Welcome to the Mongo Hall, an epic epicenter of arts and culture. In the summer of 2015 alone, projected off-off-Broadway offerings include “Dracula’s Big...

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Ode to Portsmouth: Paradise by the Piscataqua

Posted by on Jun 23, 2013 in Greetings from Portsmouth, N.H., Sunday columns | 0 comments

Ode to Portsmouth: Paradise by the Piscataqua

PORTSMOUTH — Seriously, Chicago Tribune travel writer Josh Noel? Portsmouth is that perfect? “So ideal that I ache, I envy and I curse my childhood for not including your idyllic splendor?” In case you haven’t heard, “perfect” Portsmouth got a poetic pat on the posterior last week from a Windy City travel columnist who blew in for a quick visit and discovered a charming, brick-lined paradise where the only litter is dollar bills and homeless people dine on free lobster. The breathless opening of his Port City paean — mimicked, then quoted above — has inspired considerable fresh-roasted coffee talk about whether his overly effusive tone and whimsical sentimentality included at least a modicum of gentle mockery. Now, as a longtime resident whose family has operated a downtown business since 1978 — and as a writer who has oft paid homage to Portsmouth’s incomparable charms — I consider myself to be among the most ardent champions of our fair Market Square. But the gentleman from Chicago has raised the bar to Old North Church steeple-like levels. Among my favorite lines: “Oh, Portsmouth, lovely little town of 21,000 with the perfect dab of salty grime behind the ear, mostly from the naval shipyard that calls you home.” Little-known fact: Our intoxicating salt air is a special blend combining industrial sodium chloride, dusky New England road salt and a top-secret seasoning first discovered in the Orient by Portsmouth explorer Macro Polo. Oh, Portsmouth: “Your cozy downtown streets curve just so, with rows of adorable shops bending out of sight with the promise of more adorable shops.” Little-known fact: Local lore has it that our signature 9-degree street curves were designed by Sir John Wentworth based on theories advanced by Leonardo Da Vinci, Copernicus and Michelangelo. Oh, Portsmouth, thy charm flows forth “in your waterfront seafood restaurants, where boats stream by as if on cue.” Little-known fact: Our rugged waterfront tugs — those hard-charging, oft-photographed symbols of life on the river — have consistently been voted “most picturesque on the Eastern Seaboard” by Tugboat Aficionado. (My brother Bob once distilled their iconic significance to our city, and their power to both pull ships and inspire souls, into the slogan: “Portsmouth — Tugs at the Heart.”) Oh, Portsmouth: “You seem to be almost wholly made of the most perfect red brick I have ever seen.” Little-known fact: If you lined up all the bricks in Portsmouth end to end, they would stretch all the way to Jupiter, with plenty left over to build three or four gigantic, unnecessary hotels. Oh, Portsmouth: “You have been lauded as one of the nation’s most kid-friendly, walkable, food-centric, historic, livable and romantic cities. On any East Coast car trip, you are a charming little must.” Car trip, you say? While Mr. Noel’s ode has created quite a buzz, he avoided poking his finger into the hornet’s nest that is Portsmouth’s parking “situation” (also routinely described as a “quandary,” “crisis,” and full-on “debacle”). Little-known fact: Another reason homeless people might be inclined to love Portsmouth: They generally do not possess “cars,” and thus do not need to “park” them. (Note to any homeless people considering relocating to Portsmouth: The all-you-can-eat free lobster deal is only available to direct descendents of Tobias Lear, Celia Thaxter and Captain John Paul...

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Bike commute right in my wheelhouse

Posted by on May 19, 2013 in Greetings from Portsmouth, N.H., Sunday columns | 0 comments

Bike commute right in my wheelhouse

Finally rode my bike to work on Thursday — just a man and his trusty iron steed. We’re a couple of old-timers, he and I. Combined age: 84. He’s about 33, so that makes me what, 29ish? And though I am pretty sure we weren’t the oldest man-cycle combo to saddle up for Bike to Work Week, my vintage Peugeot mountain bike could’ve been a contender for creakiest contraption on the mean streets of Portsmouth and Newington that day. At least the creaks, rasps and groans emanating mostly from the crank case drowned out the softer sound of my own knees grinding (though fortunately not yet “bone on bone” as my mom is quick to inquire). Ever since I ditched my Boston commute to join what is pound-for-pound one of the finest media organizations in the entire Fourth Estate, I’ve been periodically flapping my gums about riding my bike to work … one of these days. Experts say cutting the distance one must travel to “bring home the bacon” has a direct therapeutic impact on one’s mental and physical well-being, with additional benefits for the psyche, super ego and soul. The same is true of bicycling. Good for the heart and lungs, digestion, complexion, muscle tone and, of course, the pancreas. And it significantly reduces the risk of a range of maladies including but not limited to rickets, shingles and premature withering. (Sadly, reports of a more robust and satisfying sex life remain unconfirmed.) When I worked in Boston, a bicycle commute just didn’t seem feasible. Sure, I could’ve rolled down I-95 to 128, jumped on I-93 south, zipped across the Zakim Bridge and made it to the newsroom just in time for …; the end of my shift. But I was eager to escape the Beantown rat race. (Don’t get me started on Massachusetts driving. Horns and hand gestures, angry faces on blithering idiots, close calls with the clueless. Ah, those weren’t the days …) Now, from my humble homestead in downtown Portsmouth, the drive to my post at Pease International Tradeport is a mere 8 to 10 minutes, meaning there are few excuses not to make the commute by cycle. My discovery that this would be Bike/Walk to Work Week set in motion a date with two-wheeled destiny — a knobby-tired, no-petroleum day of car-free karma. So Thursday was the big day … to make my carbon footprint small. Part of the thrill of the round-trip from Market Square to Pease and back is the presence of a very special pedestrian bridge right off Woodbury Avenue that allows walkers and two-wheelers to safely traverse the highway right at the traffic circle. The bridge was erected around 1999, back when money could still be spent for the public good — long before a bunch of powerful jerks decided that investments in stupid stuff like education and human health was anti-American. Thanks to this awesome little bridge (find details on it and other local cycling information at seacoastbikes.org) we two-wheeled types can steer clear of the highway. Of course, I was hoping to see some wildlife. I’ve spotted deer and turkeys at Pease while driving my horseless carriage. So, surely — freed from the confines of my 2006 Honda Metal Box — I would spy a couple flocks of...

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Touching down on a familiar runway

Posted by on Nov 25, 2012 in Greetings from Portsmouth, N.H., Sunday columns | 0 comments

Touching down on a familiar runway

I started writing this column 24 years ago. And today I am feeling thankful that it is not quite finished. It was late 1988 when I first set foot in the Portsmouth Herald newsroom. The Internet did not yet exist. On one of my first assignments I got sent out to Pease, which was then a United States Air Force base. Everyone knew that Pease – a vibrant part of the Seacoast community since the 1950s and a vital cog in the economy – was NOT on the list of bases to be closed. Everyone was wrong. And the news hit like a B-47 bombshell. The Air Force base is long gone. It is still home to the N.H. Air National Guard’s 157th Air Refueling Wing. And after two decades of retooling things it is also the site of a high-tech haven, a community college, an awesome brewery and a large pink building filled with computers and people and printing presses. That’s where we make the Portsmouth Herald now. The story of the Seacoast is reflected in these pages (and now on that Internet thing too), painstakingly published by a too-small staff that works extra, extra hard so you can hold the Herald in your hands. Some days you may love it, hate it, critique it, debate it – but it’ll be there, covering our region in words and pictures, on old-fashioned newsprint, newfangled computers and now even on your phone. And while we are certainly subject to humane error, we bring humanity and passion to the job every day. And then do it all again tomorrow. Nowadays, all this unfolds 24/7 in a wild nonstop media world gone haywire – with the “news cycle” ever revving, like a high-octane Harley. The technological evolution of news means we don’t wait until tomorrow to inform you about the fire or the gas main leak that has shut down a street. In the world of Facebook and Twitter and other social media, word now travels at the speed of a meteor. In 1988, many people wouldn’t learn about Pease closing until the day after the stunning announcement. But nowadays our deadline is real time. Yes, I know I said “humane” error a couple of lines back. It was an intentional typo – because I’ve always believed in bringing a sense of humor to the task of chronicling our local corner of the world. I started covering the Seacoast in 1984 for my hometown York Weekly (memorable assignments included climbing to the top of Nubble Light and interviewing the last Coast Guard lighthouse keeper and his wife before the iconic beacon was automated). I pressed on to the Herald, left in ’92 to edit a paper in Cambridge, came back from 1998 to’04 and then left once more. Along the way I’ve interviewed soldiers and fishermen, Olympic athletes and presidential candidates, truck drivers and writers, cops and alleged robbers – even a human cannonball. And now I am privileged once again – fresh off a seven-year hitch at the Boston Herald – to be stationed at the newspaper that covers the community I love. Right here at Pease where the base once stood. Here where 21 years ago it was my job to write about the midnight flag-lowering ceremony in which base...

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