John Whelan: Thoughts At Year End

“Bye Bye Miss American Pie

Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry

And them good ole boys were drinking whiskey and rye

Singing this will be the day that I die

This will be the day that I die.”


Don McLean had a huge hit with American Pie in 1971. Don wrote it and sang it and the entire popular music industry was stunned when it reached number one in the country. Eight minute songs had never had much air play, and Don McLean was an unknown performer, so reaching number one was a big surprise.

Last month, I ended my column by saying I would revisit the First Light Boatworks and write about its history and particularly about the time when F. Spaulding Dunbar owned and ran the yard. I have changed my mind and plan to write about the boat yard next month. This month I will focus on the holiday season and the end of 2018.

First, the holiday season: By way of introduction for those who might not have known, for the past eight years, I have volunteered as a DJ on a radio program on WOMR-FM. The program is called American Pie and it is on Saturday mornings from 6 to 10 a.m. I share that time slot with Tina Lynde and her program, Memory Lane. So, every other Saturday I rise a 4 a.m. and leave for Provincetown at 4:30. I can report that there are very few cars on the roads between Chatham and Provincetown at that hour. Traffic has never been an issue. Waking up at 4 a.m. is more problematic, but so far, with the help of alarms, I have been able to do it. I play oldies rock and roll from the '50s, '60s and '70s. I feature the founders of rock and roll along with some doo wop, and usually finish with a bit of soul. The program is a lot of fun for me, and each week I try to play songs from that era that are seldom heard on commercial radio. The program can be heard on FM radio anywhere on the Cape, and now, because of the internet, it can be heard all over the world. So the internet has definitely changed my program. I have small pockets of popularity around the country, with the biggest being at The Villages in Florida and in Madison, Wisc. How and why is beyond me, but I’m very happy to have the listeners.

Today, I am planning my Christmas Show which was heard on Dec. 22. Two things occurred to me while picking the songs to play. First, I was just amazed again at how much Christmas music is available, even with my music genre being somewhat limited. I played rock and roll artists whenever possible and still found more than 35 Christmas songs. The second occurrence was that it felt like I had just done this process a few weeks ago. Of course, I know it has been a year, but it does point out that, for me, 2018 raced by in a flash.

In Chatham, 2018 was a good year. We had a wonderful warm summer with lots of visitors. The shark problem clearly exists and will have to be dealt with. But stores and restaurants were busy, and for most part, the traffic was manageable. I think the Chatham Police Department does a good job alleviating much of the summer traffic issues. The long term problem of downtown parking is being addressed by the acquisition of the Eldredge Garage lot. The town is making progress with its big items. The site for the new senior center has been chosen. And, also, there is a multi-pronged plan to try to attack housing issues in town.

The Chatham Affordable Housing Committee has the revised Chatham Housing Production Plan on its website. The plan is a lengthy document, over 100 pages, but there is lots of interesting information about Chatham inside. I invite readers to take a look.

One ongoing trend is that young families and seniors are being priced out of the housing market. The percentage of young people [25-34] has fallen from 11.1 percent in 1990 to 6.4 percent in 2010, the last time we had a proven number to work with. The estimate for 2016 is even lower. Many homes that once served as rentals are being removed from the market as seasonal visitors purchase them and renovate the homes for seasonal use. We have all heard the expression of how hard it is to turn around a battleship. In my mind, trying to stop this trend of conversions will be like trying to turn around a battleship. It isn’t likely to happen.

One troubling fact in the report is the number of demolitions. The report estimates that 66.55 percent of new dwelling units constructed between 2010 and the present was offset by demolitions of existing dwellings. The demolitions usually are being done to create new, larger homes. While it is sometimes hard to deny a homeowner his or her plans for a modern but larger home, I believe it is not necessarily good for Chatham. The distinctive, traditional architecture is being lost, home by home. I understand some demolitions, but it is my view that the standards for allowing demolitions are too easy to meet for builders and architects. The totals for 2017 were 36 new dwelling units and 30 demolitions. At that rate, Chatham will soon look dramatically different and the change will not be for the better.

Another troubling set of facts are the statistics on poverty in Chatham. A visitor might never imagine much poverty here, but it certainly exists. Poverty is determined by the level of an individual’s income. In 1990, 311 Chatham residents were below the poverty line and in 2016 that estimate is 780. Many are aging seniors on fixed incomes and single parents with children. But some are fishing families or service industry workers with low incomes. Since that number more than doubled since 1990, the trend is an upsetting one. The efforts of local charitable organizations are to be celebrated because the need certainly is great.

I am encouraged by the fact that the town of Chatham, through its various committees and boards, is trying to make the housing situation better. Sometimes recognizing you have a serious problem is a useful first step in addressing that problem. Solutions will not be easy, but small steps can go a long way and we should support the efforts being made.

Finally, this is my last column of the year and I would like to thank all of you who read and comment on these columns. I’d like to thank Hank Hyora, publisher of The Cape Cod Chronicle, and Tim Wood, the editor, for allowing me to write and express my thoughts. A most Happy New Year to all!