Westport in the State of Inertia
By Remy Chevalier

(This was posted April 21st 2002 to the Connecticut Solar on School list, and to a few other choice folks who I thought would get a kick out of reading it. Remy C.)

Dear CTSOS List,

I don't often read the Westport News or the Minuteman anymore. They just pile up in my kitchen because I don't have the courage to recycle them in case there's something important there I don't want to miss. So once every three months I go through all of them at once, speed read like crazy, and try to catch up on the test bed of Westport: social experiment gone awry.

This Friday I looked inside the Westport News for the movie listings. It's the only local paper that gets them right. Looking for the page along the way I see a picture of One Gorham Island. My memory does a flashback to the
months thousands of Westport residents fought the keep this little island downtown in the middle of the river from development. Some people wanted a park. I wanted to restore the old house that used to be there into a
renewable energy museum. How naive was I back then? Bulldozers came and the dream was over. You can still see what the old house looked like on http://www.remyc.com/greenburbs_home.html

After years and years of Leo Nevas denying he still owned the property, Marc Nevas has just been named exclusive agent for One Gorham Island and is quoted as saying: "Even when fully occupied we continually receive inquiries
asking if any space is opening up." It wasn't always so. When the building first went up, the townspeople had such an knee-jerk aversion, it took ten years for it to be fully rented. Nobody wanted to move inside because of the stigma and
bad karma still lingering around. Everybody knew this island should have been a park, the town's people fought long and hard for it to happen. Then the very same day the old house had been introduced into the register of historical
places, Leo Nevas brought in the wrecking crew, then railroaded construction straight through local government.

So why would Marc Nevas today announce that he was offering 10,000 sq ft of space in the building if: "Even when fully occupied we continually receive inquiries asking if any space is opening up?" Your guess is as good as mine.
Maybe it's not really renting as quickly as it should. Maybe people still feel sick over it. It's an ugly building. It feels and looks out of place where it is. It was built smack in the middle of wetlands before environmental laws went into effect to prevent such a thing. But there it sits, in all its glory, as a testament to when Westport, this mysterious little social experiment, went bezerk, run amuck by all the wrong ambitions.

As I keep flipping through the pages of the Westport News I find a letter by Watts Wacker, who happens to be on the CTSOS list. He's hung in there... It's a reprint of a tongue in cheek letter he and Ryan Matthews wrote back
in 1999 about a possible future for Westport. One thing they missed is that Westport would become the first community in the state of Connecticut to sign up for green electrical power, all the more surprising with a name like "Watts"! In all their predictions for wetware, brainware, and plugs in your neck to tell you the time of day and connect you to cyberspace, Watts not once mentioned what would generate all the electricity necessary to power all these gadgets. That used to be a typical unrealistic approach to "futurism" back in the 50's, when events like the World's Fairs were totally sponsored by the oil companies. That's the thing. Things haven't changed much in Westport. Watts's clients are still these same antiquated corporations who think fossil fuels will be around forever, despite the fact they are trashing the planet and fouling the air we breathe. Watts's lives and works in Westport. He loves Westport. But Watts's business is co-dependent with companies the greens, environmentalists, solar activists, free energy researchers, fight against every waking day of their lives. Watts's clients have the gold, and they make the rules.

The people who move to Westport, buy a house and decide the live here, are not your average American. They are your CEOs, your directors, your presidents of the major 500 companies in the world. They work for their money mind you. They weren't born into it like in Palm Beach or South Hampton. They didn't entertain to make their fortune like in Beverly Hills. Westport residents are the people the environmental community, the social justice community, the anti-globalization demonstrators at all the Bilderberg, Trilateral or Davos summits protest regularly. Westport is a haven of peace and quiet for those who elsewhere around the country and the world are seen by some as the main reason we are now faced with Global Warming and other such planetary calamities.

It's a hard responsibility to bear, and that's why Chris Shays, Westport's Congressman, is so dedicated to his fight against terrorism, and educating people about the dangers of chemical and biological weapons in our little harbor of quiet suburbanism, for fear they may strike in our own backyard. Something isn't quite right in Denmark, to quote the old bard, if indeed he did exist in the shape and body of the individual we now all take for granted. I've been speed reading Martha Inc. and frankly the author was kind to good ol'Martha. She got off easy. Behind this veneer of Laura Ashley perfection lies a madly perfected well oiled machinery. Westport is like Westworld and Martha became the living, breathing incarnation of the Stepford Wife, ready to kill and maim to get her way if she had to.

That's what Westport is on the surface. Calm, quiet and beautiful. But underneath the gloss, there's this mad cap clawing frenzy to retain one's pole position. The only people left in Westport or Weston who have lived here for over 30 years are those who were lucky enough to own enough land to keep their head above water all these years. 50 years ago people came here from New York, artists, musicians, poets, and bought 10 acres for $20,000 bucks. They made the town what it was before the chain stores came in and destroyed its character. Today those same 10 acres can be worth in excess of 10 million dollars in the right places. So old families stay here by selling a little here, a little there, until there's nothing left. Others come and go. A CEO will move into a 2 million dollar home with his new family, hang in there for 10 years, at most, till all the children are grown, and then exit stage left, usually after a messy divorce, to some lesser digs elsewhere more affordable. Westport is like the Hollywood of corporate America. A place to park its business stars while they shine bright. It's all about how big is your SUV and how much you've plundered the earth and exploited poor people around the world. It's guilt ridden Republican liberalism, if that makes any sense to you. Do 10 secret dirty deeds. Publicize one decent one!

OK, so I'm sounding like a communist. Let's be fair, a socialist. Maybe. Maybe we're seeing it happen all over again. Instead of the regional king and queen holding court in the castle on the hill, now we have winners of the global brass ring holding court in Westport, protected by a psychic force field keeping the angry global peasants at bay outside the global inner circle. If you don't have what it takes to live and be here, you stick out like a sore thumb. What better protection could you hope for. 

So I'm flipping through the Westport News, I'm flipping, I'm flipping, a lawsuit could delay senior center project... The governor's power moratorium is vetoed by Attorney General, this after months and months of struggle by local town's people to try and keep these ridiculous gigantic power lines from destroying what's left of the site lines of towns like Bethel, Redding and Weston. Buy solar panels, why don't you? Get a windmill for Christ Sake. You can afford it, OK? Of all the people in this GREAT nation of ours, YOU, of ALL people, should be setting the energy example!!! And with your business luck, chances are you'll ALL become multi-millionaires all over AGAIN by cashing in on the new energy craze once it finally gets into suburban gear! Give me a break. Don't whine and groan about your property values and your tax brackets. If people in Oregon can do it, why can't YOU? What is it with OIL that's got you so addicted? Why is it that to become a Westport dwelling affluent executive you sold your soul to EXXONMOBIL? Hey? WHY? What's the deal here? Afraid to lose your house and kids if you tell them to go take a hike?

OK, I'll calm down a little... When my dad came to visit from France his favorite place to go eat was Allen's Clam House. We all loved the way the floor boards used to buckle and shake when the waiters ran back and forth
from the kitchen. It was part of the charm. It was the only place left in town where you could eat a good lobster and still feel like you were in Maine. Then one day, poof, it didn't re-open for the season. Why? Because the town got all this money to create more parks and Allen's Clam House was an easy target. So they shut it down and put out-of-business a local institution loved, cherished and patronized by all Westport old timers. Made me sick to my stomach. A little fix up here, and a little fix up there, and the building would have been as good as new. Instead the town's pinkertons estimated necessary repairs at $2 MILLION DOLLARS? You gotta be kidding, right? This is like a bad dream of bureaucracy gone mad. What happened to Save Westport Now, which in case people out there don't remember, was Save Gorham Island before it was renamed after Leo Nevas, Paul Newman's lawyer, built his monument to super market laser scanning machines?

I'm skimming, I'm skimming... State Cites Violations In School Referendum. Oy Vay. The Weston school renovation committee gets into hot water for sticking advocate literature in student backpacks for their families to see
and read, to save themselves the price of a stamp I guess, I don't really know. Too lazy to read all the way through. All I remember is that when Weston announced they were going to spend almost 100 million dollars to renovate their schools, next thing we know, the lady in charge of the project commits suicide because she couldn't take the pressure of having taken a bribe. In these days of ENRON, she couldn't cope? So the whole renovation was put on hold while they sorted it all out. You'd think in the meantime they would have created a renewable energy committee, or a green
construction committee for the new school buildings. But, Oh Nooooo... back to business as usual. Stick the furnace in the basement. That's their motto. God forbid Gault home heating oil doesn't get their contract. Not that I have anything against Gault mind you. They've been terrific. They are there when you need them the moment your furnace goes on the blink, in the den of winter, under feets of snow! But why isn't Gault also selling solar hot water systems, and double pane glass, and solar atriums, and dozens of other technologies which could reduce our dependence on oil, foreign or Alaskan?

Here we go again, these damn leaf blowers. There should be a law, another law... Didn't we pass a law years ago preventing leaf burning because it made too much smoke? But at least it smelled sweet, like what fall should
smell like. It was the smell of New England. So instead now we have whining noises heard miles around, and the smell of low grade unleaded! Sometimes there are so many lawn services whining at once, it's like this mind numbing cacophony of rrrr and zzzz and that fowl smell, oh that smell... Hey, who am I to want to take away the job of some migrant worker. But wouldn't an old fashion leaf rake go just as fast as blowing this one little leaf down the
asphalt? Just curious... Maybe I'm imagining things. Then again, maybe it's the MEGA-MONSTER-OIL-CORP conspiracy winning again. The bastards! Off with their heads I say... Hah... If only Martha could become the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland instead of just the Queen of Mean in plasticland! Then we might get somewhere... Imagine if Martha suddenly became this Queen of Green? Ah, behold the wonders of wishful thinking.

I'm still skimming, I'm still skimming, but I give in. It's hopeless. I don't want to be labeled as being against this and against that and fall into the trap George Guidera, a former Weston selectman set for his detractors. Let me paraphrase out of context: "Their answer is always negative. They demand one study after another and studies of studies. They are master of raising doubts, appealing to crass self-interest, and setting one citizen against another. It is disastrous to Real Estate values and our long-held sense of community."

Well if our sense of community is the result of a Faustian pact with the Petroleum Devil, and if Real Estate values are all we care about, they I'll just keep setting one citizen against another, until the crack in the floorboard collapses from the weight of their own sloth. I won't rest until I see PV vans cruising the streets of Westport selling photovoltaics to
courageous home owners! I'll be the death of the oil tyranny, which is sucking the air we breathe all over the globe, drowning children in pools of toxic slush, and poisoning our wells with MTBE. Make ethanol fuel out of lawn clippings, OK? Drag comfy Paul Newman out of his hiding place, and have him fess up. If he can drive his race car on what amounts to be 190 proof grain alcohol, why can't the rest of us?

Remy C.