Chris Hayden: Good-bye to Pittsfield
Pittsfield, we always knew it would come to this. It’s time to bid you adieu. We’re moving on out.
As with any transition though it’s instructive to take stock. What did we learn from our time together?
First of all, I have to thank you for two beautiful girls. In ‘07 and ‘11 two perfectly healthy humans graced me with their presence and, so far, unconditional love. For that, I’m eternally grateful. You did exact your revenge though. On a bitter cold February night you took my brother from me, for which I’ll never forgive.
As a hockey player, I’m forever grateful for the Boys’ & Girls’ Club hockey rink. Don’t lose that, Pittsfield. That’s a damn landmark. Walking up three stories with a bag of hockey gear over your shoulder to play in an almost square rink with wooden boards that, when you’re sitting on the bench, barely come up to your knees? That’s old-time hockey. Eddie Shore is right around the corner.
When my wife and I first moved to Pittsfield, we lived on Pomeroy Avenue. Our neighbors were fantastic (great neighbors were something this city always afforded us somehow) and upon our first meeting told us how wonderful the city was and how it was "on the way up" which my wife and I both believed. Well, that was 2005. The same storefronts continue their rotation. A high-end lingerie store didn’t last? Well, color me surprised. How Steve Valenti perseveres I’ll never know, although I heard it has something to do with unicorns.
Your library -- sorry, athenaeum. Previous to Pittsfield, I’d never entered an athenaeum, never mind tried to spell one. Regardless, as a kid I lived in my town’s library and Pittsfield was no different, except here I had little ones to introduce. Your staff was forever helpful, polite (most of you anyway) and patient. Not to mention my kids loved those damn fish.
One thing I’d never embraced before Pittsfield was living among toxic waste. Ah, bless your polychlorinated biphenyls. Urban legend has old GE employees bringing the stuff home for gardens. Delicious. Will dredging that river and piling rocks on the side really cure GE’s legacy? Will anyone ever develop Stanley Park? Would you eat at a new restaurant there? It’s a tough sell. Maybe a nonprofit could be formed to try and develop that parcel of land.
How many nonprofits can you really support? Do you really need a nonprofit to organize the rest of the nonprofits? Doesn’t that seem a little over the top? I know. They contribute a lot to the economy. I’ve seen the stats, but you do realize they run on donors, right? It’s a narrow pool of people (looking at you, South County) supporting the joint. Pretty soon hospitals will start closing -- wait, that really happened?
Pittsfield, I worked your nonprofits, your best bar (technically Lanesborough, but I don’t care), a stellar marketing agency and the county’s best museum. I even got hired by the mayor. Twice. I turned him down twice. Sorry, Jimmy. I worked at the county’s charter school as a substitute teacher where I tried to explain the genius of Keith Richards to high school kids, and labored away for this newspaper. I certainly didn’t love all of it but I learned a boatload and take that with me.
I came to appreciate those who labor away for their nonprofits. Most, even some directors, work harder than you can imagine for pennies on the dollar what they’d make in the private marketplace. I met people who moved to this country for a better shot at life only to work three jobs and smile about it. I met recovering addicts who bust their humps to keep their demons at bay and veterans whose memories won’t forgive them to get out of bed every morning to face another day. I saw friends marry, families welcome children and people reach for the brass ring and actually grasp it.
In short, I saw the American Dream in an environment not meant for dreaming. I saw people without a lifeboat or a light in the dark feel their way around and find the way out. It’s amazing and despite all the grief I give you, Pittsfield, you’re all right with me. Despite our imperfections we’ll continue to get up every day, work hard and keep reaching for that brass ring.
After all, now we’re both well preserved by those PCBs, right?