Saturday, December 06, 2008

Coolidge Corner vs. Field's Corner

This runs a little longer than usual but I think it is important.

People who live there can have their Brook-line. I prefer the Dot. In Morse code "Save Our Ship" consists of three dots, three dashes, and three more dots. When communicating important, imperative information, dots obviously matter more than lines.

You end your definitive statements with a period. You go off on leaps of fancy with a dash. I dashed to Coolidge Corner in Brookline today, taking the Red Line to connect with the Green Line's C train, but I would have spent my time better going in the opposite direction. I give Coolidge Corner a passing grade of C, pretty much like the train that serves it. I don't mean to insult the typically efficient service the MBTA delivers on its surface trolleys. I will say the Green Line above ground is no Mattapan High-Speed, and then I've said enough about that.

What makes Coolidge Corner so good? It has a theater and it has a collection of shops. Field's Corner lacks a movie theater but national chains are nearly non-existent in this (and mostly every) part of Dorchester. I passed a Walgreen's. I stepped into a Lens Crafters. I can finagle a bagel at Coolidge Corner when the nearest real bagel to Dorchester is about two miles away. This is not an endorsement for either the Finagle a Bagel or Bruegger's chains; I'm happy with the Vietnamese bakeries in the Dot or the kindly, neighborly service at the Mud House on Neponset Circle.

I don't need to ride to Brookline to get a cup of Dunkin' Donuts' coffee. I visited the Brookline branch of Trader Joe's but America's Food Basket is just a short walk from the Field's Corner T station and the food is just as wholesome, just a fresh, and a good deal less expensive. The ride is shorter and faster, and I don't need to change trains. There are just as many bank branches, nail salons, hair dressers, pizza ovens, delicatessens, travel agents, opticians, physical therapists, electronic stores and cell phone vendors at either location. What makes Coolidge Corner better than Field's Corner? Nothing but cachet.

Field's Corner doesn't do any marketing as an entity. It is sui generis and self-sufficient. Coolidge Corner does. Field's Corner exists to serve the people who live around it and who will benefit from its services, both entrepreneurs and customers. Field's Corner is an enmeshed part of Dorchester. Coolidge Corner is part of Brookline, but it identifies with greater Boston. It is a tourist destination for the families of college students. Dorchester is an official part of Boston in the raw, but even students at UMASS Boston don't take their families a little farther outbound down the Red Line than they need to go. If they did, their benefactors would see the real city working and churning, dirty, getting by and getting things done.

Students direct their tourist family members inbound to taste the delights ethereal, history-dreaming Boston has to offer. It's a captivating, squeaky-clean world where everyone feels safe, but that isn't where life is lived. Nobody takes a tour of life in the round. Life is lived through fisticuffs and struggle and diplomacy. If Dorchester has anything in common with Boston proper, it shares traits and experience with Roxbury, East Boston, South Boston, and Hyde Park. Pick your neighborhood. If it isn't Beacon Hill or the Back Bay, chances are that if you're scratched, you'll bleed the same color as a Dorchesterite.

We recently screened the 1970s movie 'Westworld' at Whalehead Central. It depicts a resort for the wealthy where those who can afford the price can participate in a themed scenario: Roman World, Medieval World or Wild West World. The writers may as well have included American Revolution World. That is what Boston is becoming, not a working city but a sterile tourist destination that mimics visitors' expectations. Parts of Boston resist this temptation to chase the easy money. Many parts of Boston would like to make money the old-fashioned way, earning it by providing valuable products and services more than just providing a pretty setting for cocktail parties and debutante balls or movie openings.

Comparing Coolidge Corner to Field's Corner is like comparing an orchid to a potato. One looks and smells nice while the other provides nourishment though it seems rather plain to the eye and the palette. Field's Corner is like nowhere else in America and it doesn't realize it and it doesn't care. Like every other part of Dorchester, it aims to get by, making a buck and trying to be the best it can be. How fancy do you have to be to be happy?

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Strangely enough, I saw "Westworld" for the first time at the Dorchester Park cinema.

It's now the Radio Shack, one national chain in FC.

'Whalehead' King said...

I have it in my head that this building was a theater but I'm not sure why. Was the entrance on the Park Street side or through Radio Shack's front door. The corner entrance would be the most obvious but I seem to remember a reference to a theater entrance on an older sign kitty-corner from the library.
Thanks for sharing. The neighborhood could use a good theater again. I recently saw Slumdog Millionaire at Kendall Square. I recommend it. WK

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