Monday, September 29, 2008


Flora was talking to Bo'sun Jones this morning. They were enjoying coffees from the Mud House on Neponset Avenue while tidying up the club house after last night's supermarket sushi-and-pepperoncini blowout. The food was washed down with longnecks of Narragansett lager and beer and pickle juice was spilled everywhere. It was a night to forget, especially the moment Tweedledum laughed so hard some orange roe came out his nose.

Flora gets off work early at the wholesale Boston Flower Market and she doesn't mind being assigned clean up patrol. Someone has to do the dirty work and Bo'sun has taught her to handle a mop like a professional. As for Bo'sun, he does whatever task is demanded to keep the Peppermint Squad on an even keel.

Flora was sweeping up bottle caps and picking out the ones with rebuses printed on them. These were destined for the 'Puzzle Jar' that inductees use to show they have the smarts to join the Peppermint Squad. She said to Bo'sun, "I don't like Widowmaker. I don't know why he's allowed to be a squad member."

Agent Widowmaker earned his name honestly. He rides a no-brand scooter shaped like a Chinese insect that has the name "Princess Go-Go" in factory, chome-colored plastic over both rear wheel wells. The scooter is pinkish, more salmon than pink. It stands out in traffic and that is why he chose it. Widowmaker used to be known as Mr. Clean, but he was involved in some reckless lanesplitting around Roxbury Crossing and he killed a man who was trying to read the Metro and cross the street at the same time. Pedestrians have the right of way and Mr. Clean was at fault. The papers called him Widowmaker and the name has stuck to this day.

Bo'sun said, "The man rides two wheels and he keeps his engine under the seat. That makes him one of us."

Flora said, "But he's a convicted killer. Having him in the Peppermint Squad gives the squad a black eye."

Bo'sun dunked his mop in the bucket and pulled it out. He sloshed the mop head on the floor. "Even a black eye can see a good man," he said. "Nobody's perfect and it takes guts for a man to get back on a scoot again after he's taken another man's life. It takes guts for a man to ride a girly scooter. It takes guts for a man to be able to ride in formation with the Peppermint Squad."

The phone rang and Bo'sun answered it. When he hung up he said, "Saddle up, Flora. That was Peepeye. Someone's taking candy from a baby in front of the Ashmont Grill. We've got to intervene. We can continue this conversation later."

Flora put on her helmet and gloves. Bo'sun put on his. They mounted thier scoots and fired the engines. Before they sped off to trouble they flashed each other the Peppermint Sign. Their differences of opinion were left on the clubhouse floor as the buzzed out on patrol.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Skirt Alert!!

Tweedledum careened into the Peppermint Squad's garage that is conveniently, if secretly, located off Codman Square. He killed the engine and shouted to all who could hear: "We've got D-cup Skirt Alert on Melville Street!" It was Friday evening and things were slow in Dorchester's motor scooter community, owing to the rain and all.

Cherrypicker was reading the Financial Times. She looked up and asked, "What are the details?"

Tweedledum stood at attention while addressing the night's shift leader. He said, "A woman approximately 5'6" tall and 145 lbs was seen on a Tomos Streetmate in the vicinity of Shawmut Station. She was heading west wearing a full face helmet and travelling approximately 25 mph under slippery conditions. Peepeye is following her awaiting further instructions."

Cherrypicker asked, "If the subject is wearing a full face helmet, how do you know he or she is female."

Tweedledum grinned. "There's no mistaking the gender in this case ma'am. This is a D-cup alert."

Bella Donna also happened to be on duty on Friday. She rolled out of her beanbag chair and said, "Oh for the love of Pete! Do we have to go on anther bra measuring patrol? Isn't the Pepppermint Squad about treating all motorscooterists as equals? This is just demeaning. You didn't accept me for membership because of my female attributes and Cherrypicker here, no offense, Shift Leader, is no lady. Let's let this subject pass through Dorchester unmolested without ogling her."

Cherrypicker looked Bella Donna up and down. She looked at Tweedledum, who had a mischevious gleam in his eye. She looked at the other members manning the clubhouse this rainy, Friday night. She made an executive decision. Cherrypicker said, "Donna's right. Show some respect to a lady. She doing twenty-five on a rainy night. She doesn't need us bothering her. She's got enough to look out for. Signal Peepeye to desist his bivouac."

Tweedledum went to the Peppermint Squad's official cell phone and tapped out a message in code. He went back to Cherrypicker's desk and stood at attention. He said, "Your orders have been executed." Cherrypicker waved him away and said, "Why don't you reconnoiter with Peepeye and bring us back some rotis from Upham's Corner?" Tweedledum said, "Aye-aye," and mounted his motor scooter to brave the elements again.

When Tweedledum had gone, Bella Donna looked at Cherrypicker. She said, "It would be nice to see how a Tomos Streetmate handles in inclement weather."

Cherrypicker said, "Hindsight is twenty-twenty and I wouldn't go faster than fifteen on a night like tonight."

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Why Peppermint?

Why does a bunch of rowdies rough around the edges, obviously capable of holding thier own in a brawl, choose a name at odds with all appearances? It is true the members of Dorchester's most visible motor scooter confederation have thier sweet side but can anyone take a gang called The Peppermint Squad seriously? People should and they do.

The name Peppermint Squad, like most things out of context, seems odd to the unitiated but it has a proud history. We are forbidden to tell all the details that surround this choice of monniker but we can put some rumors to rest. Some theories posit that breaking down pepper-mint down to its component words reveals the intent behind the name selection. The gang's members are indeed spicy and refreshing at the same time but that isn't the reason. It is true that oral hygiene is important to club members and they do engage in a group brush-in before embarking on patrol so that they display winning smiles without spinach in thier teeth, but toothpaste wasn't a deciding factor in picking thier name. It is also true that they have pep at the throttle and thier flagship scoot is a 1954 Vespa PX that is painted mint green where it isn't rusted. The Vespa PX, affectionately nicknamed 'La Fuomo del Campo Fillegro' doesn't figure into the equation.

The choice of name rests in the Squad's archives. This is a literate bunch that knows they are performing a historic act, cohering together in a selfless act of community involvement, one motor scooterist at a time. They have kept records that are deposited at the Boston Athaneaum every ten years since the club was founded. Their is one volume currently on file and Volume II is due for delivery in 2010. The club has stipulated, however, that public access cannot be granted until the year 2061 when Volume VI is completed and deposited and settled on the shelf.

We have been given permission to drop a clue because the Board of Directors is tired of repeatedly being asked, "Why are you called the Peppermint Squad?" Squad members love a mystery and they love a treasure hunt and they love a puzzle as much as the next person. Tiny Phillips, current club president has issued this statement with the tacit approval of his compatriots:
Schrafft's Candy Company is involved in the choice of the club's name.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Wise Bo'sun

Bo'sun Jones and Peepeye Culpepper were at Peppermint Squad headquarters off Codman Square in Dorchester during a squally night last March. They were involved in the perennial club project of rejiggering the gear box of the squad's flagship, vintage, mint green-around-the-rust-spots Vespa PX.

Peepeye laid a wrench on the dropcloth and said, "I got a catalogue from a gambling supply wholesaler the other day."

Bo'sun took a swig of Red Bull then reached with an awl to clean some rust and oily build-up out of the third gear sprocket. He said, "What of it?"

Peepeye said, "It got me to thinking. This outfit in New Jersey sells roulette tables for $2,700 a table complete with wheel, cash box, a full felt playing board, and chips in six different colors. I was thinking about how we're always looking to raise money for orphans and stray dog adoption programs. I was thinking maybe the Peppermint Squad could get into the casino business. You know, I was thinking we could run roulette games to raise money for the club."

Bo'sun picked up Peepeye's wrench and handed it back to him. He said, "Tighten that cowl hook will you?" He said, "Peepeye, we live in Massachusetts. The only people who can host that kind of gambling are Indian tribes and the mob and that is only theory. The lottery doesn't count; the Commonwealth runs that racket all by themselves and roulette is very different from running numbers anyway. We'd have the law all over us in no time. Nobody is allowed to play table games in Massachusetts, that's why people go to Connecticut. "

Peepeye said, "We're the Peppermint Squad. We're like a tribe. We're a tribe of scooterists. We're vesperadoes, lone wolves banded together in a bond of blood brotherhood and blood sisterhood. There isn't anything I wouldn't do for a fellow Pepperminter."

Bo'sun replied, "It's not the same. The Squad isn't a recognized 503(c)(3a)(k) charitable, sovereign organization. Sure we do our part for widows, orphans, abandoned pets, veterans, the homeless, the underemployed, debtors behind on thier mortgages, barflies behind on thier tabs, students behind on thier tuition loans and rakes behind on thier alimony, but the goverment doesn't officially recognize us. We play by our own rules; that's what makes us the Peppermint Squad." Bo'sun flashed Peepeye the Peppermint Squad hand signal.

Peepeye threw his wrench across the room. He was frustrated. He said, "I just know a roulette wheel would keep all the hungry babies between Mattapan Square and Codman Square in powdered milk for the winter!"

Bo'sun calmed him down by saying, "You're right Peepeye, but that isn't the way to go about it. We'll raise money the honest way, the way the Commonwealth of Massachusetts prefers. We'll have rallies and show off our scooters taking up collections wherever we go. We'll participate in parades to raise awareness. We'll be active wherever there is space enough to park our scoots. We'll hold scrap metal drives, bake sales, raves, and beauty contests. We'll be visible and we'll tell people what we're about. Raising money for a good cause isn't about gambling. It is about investing in the community. That is what the Peppermint Squad is all about."

Peepeye fetched his wrench out of the pile of empty Good 'n' Plenty boxes and ladies' undergarments where it had landed. He looked seriously at Bo'sun for a moment and then shook his head. He offered to shake Bo'sun's hand. He said, "I guess your right, brother. I still want a quick fix, but I guess your right. Let's raise money legally. The legal way is the Peppermint Squad way."

Bo'sun shook Peepeye's hand. He grinned ear to ear while he exhulted, "That's the Peppermint Squad way, brother!"

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Eastie Contingent

With a girly name like the Peppermint Squad, it is safe to assume that this Dorchester-based motor scooter gang has always had a strong co-ed component. Boys and girls like to play together and the people in Dorchester always feel the female compliments the male in more ways than one. Despite thier pansy-style monniker, the members of the Peppermint Squad keep the trunks of their motor scooters well stocked with brass knuckles, blackjacks, collapsible batons and rusty chains. One never knows when a rumble will break out.

The East Boston Contingent buzzed into Dorchester last night, crossing the border on Dot Ave at 7:37 PM under cover of a gibbous moon. The Peppermint Squad is tough, but it has its softer side. The Eastie Contingent is a rough-and-tumble gang of roustabout scooterists who are as flinty and unyielding as the tarmac at Logan Airport. The Peppermint Squad welcomes women in the ranks. The Eastie Contingent would welcome them too if any applied for membership. What woman wants to congregate with a group filled with brutes named Dark Horse, Spaz, Mumbles, Iron Butt, Pollo Loco, and Musty Jake? Members of the Eastie Contingent are ugly, dirty, mean, and cheap.

A flurry of text messages reached Peppermint headquarters and the Saturday Night Watch was dispatched to see what the Easties were doing so far from thier home turf. According to reports, the interlopers looked like they meant trouble. They were riding down Dot Ave with a hungry look in thier eyes and with thier tongues hanging like thirsty wolves.

The Peppermint Squad intercepted the Eastie Contingent at Field's Corner. Dark Horse hailed Tiny Phillips who happened to be on duty at the clubhouse when the alarm was sounded. The two gangs circled each other is a buzz of 50cc droning in the parking lot in front of the Food Basket supermarket. Once the pagentry had been exhausted, Dark Horse and Tiny met in conclave apart from the throng of parked scooters. It turned out the Easties had spent all their money on tolls in the Ted Williams Tunnel. Dark Horse asked Tiny if the Peppermints would spot thier across-the-Charles scooter brethren a beer before they headed home. Tiny Phillips agreed. Courtesy is the Peppermint Squad creed. The Peppermints and the Easties shared pints of Pabst Blue Ribbon at Tom English's before the Easties headed home. Thus violence was averted in Dorchester again and the Peppermint Squad was promised reciprocal treatment should they ever be found north of Maverick Square.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Pitching Woo

One of the Peppermint Squad's more recent members is Susan Batchelder (not her real name). She is aged 32, 5'4" tall, 175 lbs, and has shoulder length, blonde hair. She generally wears Dickies brand clothing in keeping with her occupation, which is a forklift driver at one of the flower warehouses along Albany Avenue (name withheld by request). If you want to know Ms. Batchelder's real name, she will respond to 'Flora' which is her nom-de-pax since she joined the Peppermint Squad.

Flora is the Squad's self-appointed Emissary of Woo. Her position has been written into the club's constitution since she was recruited into the fold. If you see a stocky woman scooting around town with a satchel stuffed full of variously colored carnations over her shoulder, you will know that Dorchester's Peppermint Squad is involved in community outreach, trying to build a more romantic Boston, one couple at a time.

As Flora explains it: "I've had a lot of dud boyfreinds in my time. A lot. What woman hasn't? Since I work in the flower business I decided to do something about it. I get to the flower market before most of the city is awake. The flowers arrive on trucks from Logan and some come up from New York. We unload the trucks and give all the florists in Boston thier quota and there is always a palette or so left over. These keep til the next day but like milk, who wants flowers about to expire? My boss used to throw them away but now I take the carnations and I go about my mission."

Flora says: "I take my scooter out after 5:00 in the afternoon and I stuff my messenger bag with as many carnations it will hold. Carnations can take a lot of abuse and the streets really jostle the parcel around. Whenever I see a couple hand in hand, I stop and give the swain a carnation and tell him to offer it to his or her date. I suggest a little poetry or I talk to the recipient and ask what he or she would like to hear. In this way, I encourage expressing emotion and building emotional connections through the use of flowers. I'm the FTD boy but I'm a woman and I don't have winged shoes; I just have this no-name Chinese scooter to make my deliveries."

Flora continues: "I'm like cupid. I see love blooming and I try to make it ripe. I see a connection and I try to make the contact spark. I'm not a florist. I don't make arrangements and I don't sell anything. I stop where I seem to be needed to turn the romance up a notch from simmer to, maybe, parboil. I can't work miracles but I can brighten some couple's day and let them know there is more to dating than spending time together. Romance is about gesture and quality, not just face time."

Flora is currently single and that is why she requested her real name not be used.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

America's Oldest Restaurant

One of the Peppermint Squad's most esteemed epicures is a Yamaha Vino rider who goes by the code name "Oyster Stew." Though not a soup man, Oyster Stew, or "Stewie" as he's known in the heat of battle, parks his tricked out burgundy and aluminum Vino in front of the Holocaust Memorial in Haymarket when he pops into the Union Oyster House every Wednsesday night.

The shuckers expect his arrival between 7:00 and 7:15 and they reserve a seat at the raw bar. He has been a regular at the Oyster House for a decade and a half. He doesn't take vacations or leave Boston on Wednesdays which means he is the longest continous customer. He has no business that takes him out of town during the week.

In the 1990's Stewie used to order up a plate of Narragansett little necks but the crop turned south in the summer of 1997. Never order shellfish in months that don't contain the letter 'r' in thier names. After weathering a bout of the 'Narragansett Trots' that was the bane of many a New England oyster affecianado, Stewie switched to Delaware cherrystones. They didn't quite do the trick so in 1999 the man named Oyster Stew sampled the gamut of oyster varieties the world's harbors offer. If it is a bivalve classified by Linneas, our man has tasted its flesh.

Since 2005, Oyster Stew sticks to Prince Edward Isle oysters; wild, not farmed. They are not as good as the Stonington (Conn.) three points he remembers from when he was a tyke but they'll do the job just fine when washed down with the appropriate accompaniment. Oyster Stew doesn't take his standing order of a bakers' dozen with cocktail sauce or lemon. He eats his oysters with a pint of hard cider at the ready and on the side. Daniel Webster would be proud.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

New York vs. Olde Boston

No one off the baseball diamond enjoys comparing Boston to New York City. Boston can be compared to parts of NYC. Boston can be compared to Brooklyn, for instance, but all of Boston cannot be compared to the whole of America's financial and cultural capital. One can compare parts of Boston to parts of New York City; Roxbury, Jamaica Plain, Roslindale and Hyde Park to Staten Island, perhaps, but what's the point?

Anyone can compare a seven course meal to a cold, egg hard boiled the day before. The egg has all the building blocks of life and can satisfy an appetite, but there is really no comparison. Boston may cradle powder kegs between its legs, but New York City is the place that shoots off sparks, using its stockpile of ammunition to showy, profitable, pyrotechnic advantage. Both cities are of similar age, but one is a tall man and one is a short one. Every shrimp quickly learns that a Napoleon complex won't get you the girls or respect in the end.

Boston keeps itself content doing what it does best. New York City is two states removed by rail. Boaton well knows that the higher one reaches the harder it is to keep balanced on tippity toes. The higher one swings, the harder the tumble. The faster the boom, there's no stopping the bust. Step on a crack and you'll break your mother's back. There isn't a smooth patch of paving in Boston. This is a city that steps gingerly, minding its peas and queues.

Boston is wise.

Friday, September 05, 2008

What is Bravery?

Boston's crooked streets are peppered with inattentive college students unused to the hustle and bustle of a big city. They lace thier way between opposite sidewalks with all the authority of the inattentive. Very few get killed.

There is never an ideal time to ride a motorcycle in Boston except 3:00 AM. The traffic and the road conditions are atrocious. September is an especially loathsome month out of twelve that all have thier particular bad points. New students are the bane of cautious speedsters tacking along the congested road's shoulder. Jaywalking and lane-splitting don't mix like two wrongs don't make a right. By October new pedestrians and seasoned scooteristas will be coexisting with few troubles. A new obstacle will menace those hearty souls who ply the roads on two wheels while a different manace will imperil those who travel by two legs. City living.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Wonder City

I have a desktop calendar featuring old New York brochure covers that tout that metropolis as "The Wonder City." It may have been true, but isn't every city full of wonders. You cannot have civilization without a city, the Latin word 'civitas' is the root and the route to better living with one's fellow citizens.

There are good things to be said for country living, but they are not in the scope of this essay. There is very little good to say about the suburbs and we will leave that subject dormant, as usual. Your author lives in a black-or-white world, where things are either good or bad, and he has little tolerance for half measures and the middle ground. He prefers a stew to a meal of broth or jerky, but that is about the only instance in which he likes to mix extremes.

Boston has never hosted a World's Fair, so that sets it apart from New York and Chicago. It also sets it apart from Knoxville, Tenn. which may be the proof that a World's Fair isn't all its cracked up to be. Boston has never hosted a winter Olympics. It isn't in the same catagory as Lillehammer, Norway or Calgary, Canada or Lake Placid, NY. Boston may be peaceful, but it is much too busy to be considered placid. This is a sports-oriented city without rival and a winter Olympics wouldn't ripple Boston's Frog Pond if the Red Sox, the Celtics, the Patriots, or the Bruins were playing. Are there sports other than baseball, basketball, football and hockey? Not all sports require a ball, see hockey, but they require teams...Boston teams.

What makes Boston so wonderful? I can't tell you in four paragraphs. You have to walk it to learn it. You have to get out and get your hands and nostrils dirty and let the wind blow the cobwebs between your ears. The amplified sound of traffic needs to drown out your petty, self-centered thoughts. A city is made up of people pressed close together. A good city is made up of the best people. What makes Boston so wonder-full? If you live here, look in the mirror. If you don't, you are due for a visit.


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