On Holmes Road, the many things they'd rather be thinking about

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PITTSFIELD — People, we have a little situation. Can we all listen up for a sec?

This is very simple. And by the end of this you're going to be like, "Oh, that's what those painted white X's on Holmes Road are for? You're kidding me! Sure, I won't block them."

Also, you're going to be like, "Yeah, I'll drive slower and turn my radio volume down. And no, I absolutely didn't realize how a simple lane closure has royally yanked the day-to-day life of some Holmes Road residents into something they barely recognize."

Together, we can be reasonable people.

And, by the way, all the while please realize that there are 400 gazillion things in the world that Holmes Road residents would rather be thinking about than lane closures and honking horns and middle fingers.

Hank Packard, for instance, would rather discuss things like the black Labrador puppy he rescued in 1993 from inside the former Palace Theatre on North Street moments before the demolition crew knocked it all down. Did you know he did that? The crowd cheered. His mother brought the puppy home and named her Paley. Paley would fetch the newspaper and ring the doorbell.

Did you know Packard had a kidney transplant 10 years ago? He's got great kidney transplant stories.

But for now he's on the front porch of the home his father built in 1954, and he's doing a play-by-play on the tedious topic of Holmes Road traffic. It's the porch where his mother used to sit and knit things for Catholic aid organizations. He now lives here alone with his dog, Tess, who also fetches the newspaper.

"Watch this," he says. "When the light turns green, all the cars will start moving, and then when it turns red, you'll have about three more cars gunning it and blowing the red light. Watch."

Have you been on Holmes Road recently? If so, you've noticed that the bridge over the railroad tracks between Miss Hall's School and the Herman Melville homestead has been squeezed to one lane with a set of temporary stoplights. State inspectors this spring deemed the bridge structurally unfit for two-way traffic due to aging. On April 3, Ingrid MacGillis watched from her yard as a crew arrived with traffic lights and jersey barriers.

"You knew it wasn't going to be good," she says.

The state says the lane will be closed for at least a year. Residents have taken that to mean that the situation will likely remain as is for at least two years. For motorists, it's just another traffic hassle. For residents closest to the bridge, it's a breathtaking upheaval to peaceful existence when there are so many things they'd rather be thinking about.

Like, get this: Did you know that for three whole days, until she revealed her findings, Ingrid may have been the only person on the planet who knew that the Italian composer Giacomo Puccini had a German lover named Rosa? Ingrid deciphers old handwritten letters and manuscripts for dealers, collectors and scholars — writings by people like Kaiser Wilhelm II, Catherine the Great, and, yeah, Puccini, that naughty little doggie.

"It was clearly a carnal relationship," she says.

Sinful, yes — and also 400 gazillion times more interesting than traffic woes on Holmes Road, which residents cannot help but talk about. You would, too, if you lived here. When the light is red, you can stand in front of the MacGillises' at 654 Holmes Road and watch the cars stack up as far as the eye can see, radios blaring.

You can also see a painted white X in front of driveways. Few motorists understand that the X means don't stop there.

"The anger people express at you for just trying to get in and out of your own driveway," says Ingrid, shaking her head.

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Since the lane closure, the MacGillises, who have enjoyed hosting friends at their home since 1975, no longer entertain here. That's understandable. Try pulling in and out of their driveway a few times and you'd only choose to do so if you absolutely had to — like, for instance, if this was where you slept and kept your toiletries.

Don is a former editor for The Berkshire Eagle and serves today on the newspaper's advisory board. The MacGillises try to cherish their pretty flower gardens. Their daughter Lucy's landscape paintings are being shown this month at the Hoadley Gallery. And the weather, well ...

"The weather's been great ...," Ingrid says and stops herself. "Now, look at that, right there."

A sedan, idling on her X.

Next door, Don and Sonya Daly would much rather be talking about their four grown children and all the happy moments they've shared over the years — the elaborate ice rinks Don would build out back, and that giant snow dragon Sonya and the kids sculpted and dyed with green food coloring.

Did you know that Don blows things up for a living? It's true. He works at the Electric Power Research Institute off East New Lenox Road. So, for example, in order to prevent underground explosions, he helps create underground explosions to study them. Get this: One out of every 10,000 manholes will someday blow like a pressure cooker.

"Don't ever stand on a manhole cover," Don says.

As a man who pursues solutions, he's got one for the hazardous area known as Holmes Road: The town needs to enforce the ban on heavy trucks with no business on the road. For one thing, such heavy loads are probably destroying what remains of the bridge in question.

"It's a drag," says Sonya.

"Yep," Don says.

Back down the road, Packard continues the play-by-play.

"Look at this guy," he says, pointing to an SUV stopped at the light on Packard's X.

Think happy thoughts. Like this: Ten years ago, Packard was at his son's stag party at Fenway Park, watching the Red Sox shellac the Braves, when his pager went off. It was his doctor. A matching kidney had become available. Packard had been waiting more than two years for this day.

His son and buddies promptly saw to it that the scoreboard above the right field bleachers posted the words "Good luck, Hank!" for the whole park to see.

He's got a photo of it somewhere.

"Wait here," he says, "I'll go find it."

Felix Carroll can be reached at felixcarroll5@gmail.com.


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