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Woog's World / 20-year rewind: Westport's 'good old days' were plenty flawed

Published 7:28 am, Sunday, January 5, 2014
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"Westport has changed so much in the last 20 years."

"I hardly recognize the town anymore."

"It's not the same place I grew up in/moved to/thought I'd grow old in."

We say and hear those things all the time. They must be true. If you repeat something often enough.

But the other day I unearthed my New Year's 1994 column. Twenty years ago, I wrote that we were fast approaching the mid-point of the '90s.

As millennium drew closer, I wrote: "It's pretty clear by now that individualized rocket-cars will not zoom on highways in the sky, a la "The Jetsons."

We will not travel back and forth in time, as science fiction writers of 50 years ago presumed we might. Peace on earth will still be a Christmas dream."

Of course, "Woog's World" is Westport-centric, so I narrowed in on our town. Looking around -- a couple of years into the first Clinton administration, a couple of decades from the second Obama one -- here's what I saw.

"Economically, we seem to have weathered the boom-and-bust Reagan-Bush era fairly well.

"The number of involuntarily unemployed men and women seems to be down; the prices of homes and condos are once again up.

"Rush-hour traffic jams have returned to I-95 and the Merritt, and there's not a vacant storefront on Main Street.

"Physically, this town -- and the people in it -- are as attractive as ever. Though the office building spree is over, old and not-so-old properties are getting gorgeous facelifts. New houses are popping up all over the place, and once homeowners start planting some trees, their properties will look just as attractive as houses that have stood for years.

"Westporters have always cared about their appearances, and that continues to be true.

"The town is getting both younger and older, yet no matter how busy our citizens are, they find time to look good.

"Pregnant mothers pump the Y's Exercycles at noon; businessmen and businesswomen don Lycra to jog the streets well before dawn and long after dusk; retirees walk the beach vigorously all hours of the day."

Twenty years ago, Westport prepared to welcome its first-ever First Night. I predicted it would be "a smashing success."

I gave shout-outs to other volunteer organizations, from the Young Women's League and Westport Arts Center to the Lions Club.

I said they were "percolating along, running smoothly on the ideas, talents and energies of countless Westporters whose main goal is to give something back to the town that has been so good to them."

But I warned, "every silver lining has a cloud. On a couple of other fronts, the '90s have not been so good."

For example, I said, "social service personnel know that beneath the glitter and glitz that is Westport, dangers lurk. More local high school students were admitted to psychiatric hospitals this fall than ever before.

Drug use is on the rise -- and not just old standbys like alcohol and marijuana, but newcomers such as inhalants. LSD is back, big-time. And the latest drug of abuse is Ritalin.

Youngsters legitimately on it sell it to friends and classmates for the rush it gives those who don't need it."

In the 1990s, I continued, when "two parents work long hours to provide their families with the finest cars, vacations, Jacuzzis and home entertainment centers money can buy, things are unraveling quickly.

"More and more children come home at younger and younger ages to big, beautifully furnished, yet emotionally empty houses.

"More and more parents try to compensate for their physical absence in ways that may ultimately stunt their youngsters' growth even more.

"They berate, bully and threaten the schools every time their child brings home a `bad' grade, is reprimanded by a teacher or receives a detention. (Parents) use every means necessary -- dubious and beyond -- to insure that their boy or girl lands the lead role, plays the most prestigious position, or is chosen for the top spot."

I also worried that despite our notion of community, "more and more people choose to isolate themselves from everyone else.

"Look around on your next drive through town. Traditional New England stone walls have been replaced by high, wide and uninviting picket fences.

"They are lavishly designed, professionally built, and seriously big. The message they convey is clear: This is my property. Stay away. What goes on here is nobody's business but my own."

I concluded, "When we reach the millennium, it will not be in a Westport filled with private zoom planes or time travelers.

:Hopefully, it also will be in a town in which every Westporter lives an affluent, self-satisfied life, huddling hidden from everyone else behind high, expensive and exceptionally unfriendly fences."

What's next? Stay tuned for my New Year's column of January 2034.

Dan Woog is a Westport writer. "Woog's World" appears each Friday. He can be reached at dwoog@optonline.net. His blog is www.danwoog06880.