Monday, June 23, 2008

Free for all

Saturday was my birthday, and I wanted to avoid my normal Saturday routine of cleaning/laundry detail. So, I enlisted the company of my 19-year-old daughter and headed into Pottstown to "Bike Pottstown" with free bikes.
We parked in front of the TriCounty Bicycles shop where the free biking program is headquartered, and since it is next to The Very Best, we stopped in for hot dogs. While seated at the counter, in walked Sue Krause, who I am acquainted with from the Historic Pottstown Neighborhood Association and the World War II swing dance committee and because her husband is Bill Krause, who is involved in just about everything.
Sue sat with us at the counter and chatted while waiting for her grilled cheese sandwich, and then picked up the check as a birthday treat, reminding me why she is one of my favorite people in Pottstown.
We told her our plans for the bikes, and her reaction, like most people's is, "That sounds great - I'll have to try it sometime."
Try it, indeed. And, sooner rather than later.
Bike Pottstown is a delightful, enterprising, user-friendly program designed to bring new life to downtown Pottstown. Yes indeed, give it a try.
Mandy and I were greeted in TriCounty Bicycles with friendliness and efficiency, and we were out on the bright yellow cruisers within minutes. You need a driver's license and a $25 deposit to ride, but they take credit cards and wipe off the deposit charge before you leave if you don't have cash.
We headed down Hanover Street to the AAA office and then to College Drive for the Schuylkill River Trail entrance at the edge of Riverfront Park. Once on the trail, we headed west and rode six miles or so past Douglassville.
We went over the Schuylkill River bridge that is just past Morlatton Village, pausing on the bridge high above the river to watch a canoist navigating the smooth water below.
Flat, shady in some parts and sunny in others, quiet, smooth and uncrowded, the trail offered a relaxing ride. We shared stories of our work weeks past and her college plans future. We got some exercise without feeling exerted and some recreation without the stress of planning the details.
The experience reminded me of those mass transit commercials: Leave the hassle to us. No checking the air in the tires before getting on the bike (the shop checked them for us); no lifting the bike out of the basement or into the car (just pick one and ride); no searching for an uncrowded spot (the river trail is just blocks away from High Street).
I felt like someone had given me a brand new bike in a sunny first-day-of summer c0l0r for my June birthday - and it even had a rearview mirror, cheerful bell, and a basket to carry drinking water.
Every time I tell someone about BikePottstown, they say "I'll have to try that."
So do it. Get a bike on your lunch break. Take a Saturday morning trail ride. Visit downtown Pottstown and take a bike.
It's free, it's fun, and the people are friendly. What's not to love?

Labels: , ,

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Private parts

The story that appears on the front page of The Mercury and at with the headline "Alleged child rapist makes unusual defense request" is certain to be the best read story in the paper today. That is not something I am particularly proud of, but it is a fact.
You see the story is about a request from a defense lawyer for a man accused of raping a 13-year-old girl, asking that his client be allowed to make a plaster mold of his penis in an aroused state to be used as an exhibit in his defense.
The lawyer is quoted in the story as saying his client is reported to be "extraordinarily, unusually large" and his claim is that the jury must see just how large to appreciate the defense that the young girl he allegedly raped would have suffered injury more serious than what she reported.
Repulsive? Yes, particularly because the victim is a young girl, and the defendant allegedly assaulted her while free on bail on charges of assaults against other young teen-agers.
But the story will not be the most read because of the sensational nature of the crimes. It's the absurdity of the request and the "freak of nature" aspect, as his lawyer told a TV news reporter, that will have people shaking their heads.
In the news business, we get these stories from time to time, and reporters, even the most seasoned ones, know they need to be mindful of their choice of words and double-check with editors to make sure they're not crossing the line.
We discuss and weigh our headline words carefully, too, balancing the absurdity with the severity and being mindful of what readers want to know but what they don't want to see highlighted in print.
There is also a line between reporting the detail that shows the brutality of crimes without further violating the victim by telling the world the horrible detail of a rape or torture.
These are debates and dilemmas we have often in reporting news, particularly in a community where readers may know the victim or the accused. We watch our words carefully and steer clear of puns that make light of serious situations.
But, the story today was more about telling the story of a bizarre request without sensationalizing it that about balancing victim-criminal rights.
Today's story was a new one, even for those of us who have been in the news business many years. And while we treat seriously the news that we present, human nature and the newsroom being what it is, I would be lying to say there were no bad headline suggestions or guffaws among reporters and editors today.
We are left with one more dilemma as we look to the rest of this story: When this defendant comes to trial, how will we handle the headline if the jury can't reach a verdict?
Think about it.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Walk with hope

The Pottstown Relay for Life held last weekend was, as always, an emotional 24 hours for all those involved. These were my words offered to the crowd during the evening luminaria lighting ceremony:

A year ago I was honored during this ceremony for the partnership between The Mercury and the Relay for Life and for our newspaper’s role in supporting this community’s fight.
Tonight, I am returning the favor and honoring all of you for your part in this battle, for your commitment to taking up this challenge.
I know there is not a person here who has not been touched by cancer’s reach.
I know that every one of you – and look around – there are at least 3,000 in this stadium tonight – has lost a loved one, or cared for a friend, or celebrated the survival of someone dear to you.
I know that every one of you – team captains, team members, fundraisers, walkers, Relayers, all of you – have embraced this fight with energy and commitment.
Look around you. Each and every person here tonight is writing the story of Relay, the story that we tell in our newspaper headlines.
In the past few months, we have interviewed and videotaped people who are a part of Relay -- the Voices of Relay. We have recorded the stories of what brings people to this cause, and we, as the storytellers, have been touched time and again by the eloquent courage in your lives.
In the past week, we have written a story each day to highlight some of the fundraising and fundraising results of Relay, and again, we have been struck by just what is going on in this town.
Dr. Aliwadi and the team at the Pottstown Memorial Regional Cancer Center are bringing a new quality of care to the local hospital.
Kelli Wolfel and her students at Barth Elementary School have forged a card-sharing partnership with people in 38 states.
Maddi DeGennaro of the American Cancer Society reminds us that ACS chapters throughout the country are copying the trends started here.
Principal Mitchel Edmunds and 11 teachers at Limerick Elementary School showed us that even being slimed is a treat when the benefit is to help find a cure for cancer.
Tonight is a time to honor you – all of you – for the commitment you bring to this cause.
We know this may be a race without a finish line, but that is not what is most important tonight.
What is important tonight is remembering with love those we have lost, honoring for their courage those who survive and always, always, celebrating the caregivers and committed people sitting next to you, in front of you and behind you for the commitment brought here tonight.
What I see as I look around is an entire community caught up in a cause.
I see people who believe in that cause and who are fighting to erase cancer.
I see a community that has taken up the fight and is not about to let go.
This may be a race without a finish line, but it is a race that we will win because we ran it.
Tonight, here in this place, is an abundance of hope. It is a hope for a cancer-free world, and in that hope, lies the chance that it just might happen.
I see a community awash in the light of that hope.
From this spot, on this podium tonight, the view is absolutely amazing.