Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Eleven good years

A well-earned nap

An editorial by Craig Bettenhausen

I guess you can blame it on America’s Next Top Model.

The roommates I had in Massachusetts and I used to gather every Wednesday to watch the show, but that night it was a rerun so I started surfing the internet instead. I discovered that the graduate programs in chemistry at Johns Hopkins University and at Georgetown University had no application fee. So, why not? I applied.

To my surprise, both schools accepted me. I learned then that most PhD programs in the US and Europe pay you to go to grad school. It’s not a lot, but at JHU it was enough that I could afford to buy a house in a quiet neighborhood adjacent to campus called Remington. The academic aspirations eventually went down in flames, but that’s another story entirely.

With help from my parents, I bought a shell of a house on Huntingdon Avenue. The house sort of had two bathrooms, but you had to use the john in one and walk down the hall to wash your hands in the other. Instead of glass, the windows upstairs were black plastic trash bags. Every time the wind changed, they rang like five bass drums. I slept on an old futon mattress on an area rug that also held a dorm fridge, a microwave, and an alarm clock.

That summer and during the first few months of grad school, I got to do something that is on many folks’ bucket list: I (re)built a house with my parents.

Eleven years later, a few things still haven’t gotten done, but it’s been a great place to live. Not just the house, but the neighborhood.

At first, I was involved with the RNA. At one meeting, a speaker came to propose a streetcar running up Charles Street and we listened politely to the presentation. When they left, a member of the group’s leadership started the discussion with the ways he’d already thought of to oppose the project. When I asked if we were going to discuss whether or not we should oppose it, the stares ranged from disgust to confusion to pity.

Shortly thereafter, I was wandering around the neighborhood and came upon a street party at Guardian Angel. Among the groups with tables was GRIA, and Betsy Childs signed me up for their email list. I found them to be serious about advocating for the needs of residents, but open to new ideas and viewpoints. I soon found myself on the board, where I’ve served for most of the past nine years. It’s been an honor working alongside them and even helping shape what that group is and does.

It’s beyond dispute that Remington has changed since 2006. Then, one out three houses on my block were vacant. Now there is only one.

Many longtime residents have left—the punk rocker community in Remington is a tiny fraction of what it was—and many new people have woven into the fabric of our community. Individuals and companies have invested millions of dollars renovating and rebuilding. Three community gardens have bloomed from empty lots.

The commercial uses were mostly automotive in 2006. Now restaurants, retail, services, arts, and nonprofit offices have those spots. It’s harder to get cheap tires, but the greater variety of stores has made it possible to do most errands and much entertainment on foot or bicycle and diversified the people who are able to walk to work in Remington.

In June, my family and I moved out of Remington. We tried to find a place here that would fit the needs of our growing family while also fitting into our budget. What we found instead is six blocks away, in Harwood. Don’t expect to be rid of us entirely; six blocks isn’t far. We’ll continue to be active through Guardian Angel and other connections.

The coming years are going to be an amazing period for Remington. It won’t all be roses. I leave you facing interesting times. But every one of you has the opportunity to be a part of deciding what this neighborhood in flux will become. And decisions will be made. Sit in idle, grumpy, or bashful silence and they’ll be made without you.

Thank you. Remington is the first place that I’ve ever really felt at home. You welcomed me and mine, calling us neighbors and calling us friends.

Thank you for saying "hi" as we passed on the street. Thank you for keeping me humble. Thank you for looking out for my children. Thank you for telling me your stories and thank you for letting me retell some of them here in this newsletter. Thank you for laughing, mourning, working, singing, planting, hauling, cleaning, dancing, eating, drinking, making, breaking, praying, biking, walking, and reposing with me in the warm and common air of our community.