Thursday, September 1, 2016

On Foamers, Sow’s Ears, and Silk Purses

Funny how thoughts and memories come at us as we ponder a possible post.  For reasons we can’t explain, in this instance we remembered the silly phone pranks of our childhood in the 50’s.

“Hello, do you have Prince Albert in a can?”

“Yes we do.”

“Then please let him out, he’s suffocating.”


Which led us to think about “Foamers in a can,” and off we went from that point.

You probably wonder why the term “Foamers” came into play.  Well, If you frequent the halls of power in Augusta frequently enough, which we don’t recommend, you’ll eventually hear the accolade “foamers” used by weary and cynical bureaucrats.

Though we suspect it has wider use, in our experience it’s most often applied to describe passenger rail advocates, and especially those seeking millions upon millions of OPM so they can indulge their hobby at the expense of the rest of us.  Our interpretation is that their exuberance for their favored project often causes them to figuratively, if not literally, foam at the mouth.  But it’s a close shave.

Yesterday we had a few moments of clarity.  To begin with, Side and three friends met for lunch at Byne’s Irish Pub at the Brunswick station.  The place was 80-90% empty, and our food was relatively undistinguished, though that matters little in this essay.

At roughly 12:30, we felt the rumbles of the incoming Downeaster and stepped outside to the adjacent platform to view the ridership for ourselves.  We personally counted 14 or 15 passengers gettting off; our friends had a count no higher than 17 as best we can recall.  The Amtrak conductor in charge, however, indicated he had a count of 20 riders to turn in to Amtrak and NNEPRA officials.

Say what you will about Side, but we assure you that no-way, no-how did 20 riders get off that train.  So we’re left, as we have many times in the past, to ponder just how Downeaster ridership figures are collected and compiled.


Back to the foamers.  Two of our favorite in this category include Tony Donovan, Portland real estate developer and head of the Maine Rail Transit Coalition.  He recently had an opinion column appear in the Portland Press Herald, in which he made this assertion:

“A mile of road costs about the same as a mile of rail line, but a road must be rebuilt every decade or so. In contrast, rail lines last more than a half of a century. Also, by reducing the number of cars on our road system, trains reduce road repair costs substantially.”

Along with a dozen or so equally unsubstantiated propaganda claims


Then, of course, there’s our old friend Wayne Davis, Founder and Chair of TrainRiders/Northeast, who humbly assigns himself credit for creating NNEPRA and bringing the Downeaster into being.  The same Wayne Davis who not that long ago said he ‘wished we hadn’t brought the Downeaster to Brunswick,’ and told the Governor’s staff that it was his job to select nominees for the NNEPRA Board, in spite of statute saying that is the Governor’s task.  You can see the modesty and humility in his face in the photo above.

Davis was also quoted in a recent article, in which plans for spending another $9.4 million in capital construction to ‘optimize’ Portland North (Brunswick) service was described:

Constructing the Royal Junction track and completing the layover station will add ridership from Brunswick, which has consistently exceeded forecasts, said Wayne Davis, chairman of TrainRiders/Northeast, a passenger rail advocacy group.

“We are glad that something we recommended over 20 years ago is finally coming to fruition,” Davis said Tuesday. “The ridership figures are way above forecast. July was the biggest July ever. It just gets better, which is wonderful.”

Which sets up the final scenes in this story.  Wouldn’t you just know that NNEPRA recently held a Board Meeting, as they do from time to time.  If you read the briefing  package prepared for these meetings, you’ll rarely see anything that grabs your interest.

In this case, however, we’re extremely grateful to Mr. Davis and his groupies at TRN.  Because they posted a report on the Board Meeting that reads as follows:

  TRN Report August 2016full

Which is to say that they published the truth for a change.  We hope you read the entire page, but if you don’t, please take note of the mention of “the botched tie job” in FY 15 and 16, and the fact that you can already count on Downeaster Service out of Brunswick (as far south as Wells) being totally cancelled for at least two months coming soon.

Looks like you might want to invest in motor coach stock, if you can get your hands on any.

While the service ‘break’ should give the staff at the Brunswick Station Departure Center a well-earned rest from their grueling service, we do expect that the ladies of the AAB will be left agog.

                         Image result for All aboard brunswick

There’s nothing more unsettling, of course, then leaving our town lovelies agog. You know who we mean: Knox, Harris, Boochever, Wilson, Dunbar, and the rest of the All Aboard Brunswick dance team.  We mustn’t mess with the bookies and the schoolies; now we can add to that the trainies.

Oops!  We almost forgot; there is one other teenie weenie little problem.  AAB ladies and the other trainies know that TRN provides ‘volunteer hosts’ riding along on Downeaster runs, ensuring that customers are content and enjoying their sumptuous accomodations, provided at an extremely high discount via the generosity of unknowing taxpayers.


We don’t know whether the volunteers will be told to ‘stand down’ during the months long service stoppage, or asked to (oh, the horror!) ride the buses standing in from Brunswick to Wells.

If they do, they’ll be forced to give new credibility to the old saw about turning a sow’s ear into a silk purse.

We hope they carry spare knitting needles with them on each ride.  If they’re inclinded towards humor, they can always ask passengers whether ‘they have Wayne Davis or Tony Donovan in a can.’


And when riders look perplexed, whip a handy can of Barbasol out of their kit bag, and recite an appropriate jingle from the old days..  If they can’t pull it off, they’ll lose their porcine cosmetology license.


Who says we’re not still crazy after all these years?

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