Acton, Massachusetts: Fun facts about my hometown

Acton, Massachusetts: The hometown of Steve Carell, Big Bird, and DeafGeoff.

Acton, Massachusetts: Home of Steve Carell, Big Bird, and DeafGeoff.

Though I was born in California (my excuse for wearing Pacific Sunwear clothing all through my teen years), I grew up in Acton, Massachusetts, a small suburb of Boston. I went to school there for my K-12 years before leaving to attend Syracuse University and staying in the Central New York city after graduation. Although most acquaintances from those years living in Acton I only keep in touch with via Facebook (don’t we all?) I still go back several times a year to see family and my closest friends. So I thought it might be fun to share some fun facts about my hometown.

  • Acton is 21 miles west/northwest of Boston and 10 miles from Lowell, in Middlesex County. The town is essentially divided into five parts: North Acton, West Acton, Acton Center, East Acton, and South Acton.
  • The hilarious Steve Carell, perhaps best known for his role as Michael Scott on “The Office,” grew up in South Acton. He attended private school in the bordering town of Concord, MA, but his childhood home is just a stone’s throw away from mine. The “40-Year-Old Virgin” star told New York Magazine that the hardest, oddest job he ever had before making it big was sorting mail in Acton and then going out on a route as a rural mail carrier.
  • Acton-Boxborough Regional High School’s sports teams are known as “the Colonials.”
  • Tom Barrasso, who played goalie for the Colonials in the early ’80s, went straight from A-B High School to play in the NHL, skipping college. He won back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1991 and 1992 with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
  • The ABRHS football team won the Eastern Massachusetts Division 2 state championships four years in a row, from 2001 to 2004. They also had a 52-game winning streak during that period.
  • The first American to die in the Revolutionary War was from Acton. Captain Isaac Davis died leading Acton’s Minutemen at the Battle of Concord & Lexington, the first conflict of the American Revolution between the Colonists and the British, on April 19, 1775. Actors re-enact the battle every year on the anniversary.
  • The anniversary, observed on the third Monday of every April, is known as Patriots Day. No other state in the union celebrates it, but Massachusetts (and Maine) takes the day off to remember the beginning of its escape from England’s tyranny (as the U.S. History teachers love to describe it). They also use the holiday to watch the Boston Marathon.
  • Caroll Spinney, the puppeteer who created “Sesame Street” characters Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, is from Acton. I met him at a signing for his book “The Wisdom of Big Bird” once. Sweet guy.
  • The town is 20 square miles and has a little more than 20,000 residents despite a huge chunk of it being forests or conservation lands (Acton Arboretum, Nagog Hill, Nashoba Brook, etc).
  • My favorite meal of all time is in Acton at a pizza-and-sub shop called T.C. Lando’s — they make a sandwich/torpedo/hoagie called a “Budster” (first photo on this page) which consists of chicken fingers, bacon, BBQ sauce and cheese in a sub. Delicious, and I have yet to find any other place that can make the same combination as tasty.
  • Acton was named the 16th Best Place To Live among small towns in the country by Money Magazine in 2009 and in 2011.

Acton. It’s a pretty nice place. Stop by sometime.

Tell them Large Marge Geoff “DeafGeoff” Herbert sent you.

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Remembering 9/11: Am I the only person who read what happened first, before watching?

On September 11, 2001, I was 17 years old and working in my high school radio station. I was the general manager of WHAB, a 10-watt station heard in a mile-radius on 89.1 FM in Acton, Massachusetts. That morning, I was working in the station during one of my free periods, gathering news for us to include in our broadcasts throughout the day. We had a continuous paper feed from the Associated Press that came out on a dot matrix printer, an old model that printed paper with holes on both sides, and all the pages were attached with perforations.

At 8:46 a.m., when American Airlines Flight 11 hit the World Trade Center’s North Tower, I was alone in the station with no television or Internet. The only computer in the studio was used primarily for audio editing. Sponsorship identifications were printed on index cards, and daily news reports were either hand-written or literally cut-and-pasted from the AP news feed.

Around 8:50 a.m. a one-sentence “breaking news” blurb said a plane had collided with one of the twin towers in New York City, believed to be an accident — no mention of terrorists, victims or anything that would indicate what would come next. It wasn’t a local news story (Acton is a suburb of Boston, about 25 miles west) but I thought it was at least significant enough to include in the morning’s first newscasts. (At the time, the student-run station was only on the air from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.) So I cut. And pasted. I’m not even sure if I had chosen it to be the lead story.

Someone then walked by and waved at me, indicating that I should follow them to the A/V room. We joined a small huddle of people staring at a TV showing a live news feed of the World Trade Center. It was now 9:03 a.m. and we all witnessed, live on television, United Airlines Flight 175 crashing into the South Tower. Everyone reacted with horror and disbelief — two planes was clearly not an accident. Many began panicking, worrying if they knew anyone working in the towers at the time.

The rest of the school day was a blur as teachers played the role of counselors instead of sticking to lesson plans. As the facts developed, and two more hijacked planes crashed — Flight 93 in Shanksville, PA and Flight 77 into the Pentagon — September 11th quickly became a day we would never forget. My peers lost whatever innocence they had left as we all realized that the world is a dangerous place and no one is ever truly safe.

While the previous generation recalls exactly where they were when John F. Kennedy was shot, 9/11 became our shared moment in grief and we will always remember where we were and what we were doing that day.

I was alone in a radio station with a stack of printer paper. Was I the only person who read what happened first, before watching?

Today, on the tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, I pause to remember the many lives we lost that day and the countless volunteers and respondents who did everything possible to help. We will never forget.