Thursday, July 30, 2009

Really on hiatus

Whalehead King and company are travelling far afield without a laptop and with no intention of going online. Destination: Boston's evil twin and antipode: The Crescent City, NOLA, The Big Easy, The City That Care Forgot: New Orleans, Louisiana. Your humble narrator intends to stay out all night in public establishments that are legally open for business and let the good times roll in a round-the-clock metropolis enjoying homegrown cuisine and mixology. Your humble narrator has reluctantly stocked up an overfull store of slumber during the past two years in Boston and it is time to draw down that account.

Regular reportage, such as it is, will resume around August 10. Your Man on the Dot may need a while to recover from the culture shock and predicted katzenjammer. In the meantime we have something like 480 articles to peruse in the archives, tracing back to our humble beginnings in Connecticut's Whaling City, idyllic and romantic New London (apologies for the colored typography issues, this blog used to have a black background and our editor lacks the stamina to reformat everything to straight black and white). You can always look over the Dot-centric merchandise on offer if you are looking for a nice coffee mug or tee shirt to give a co-worker or loved one. And of course, in the meantime, you may want to take the time to follow WK on Twitter. Upon return, Whalehead Enterprises is sure to keep up the habit of broadcasting a daily, pithy aphorism or observation of the state of affairs in Dorchester, Mass. on the website that enabled the Iranian revolution. Our motto, however: "No high hopes. Guaranteed."

Enjoy the next week or so. With a tip of the fedora to our faithful readers who make this endeavor worth continuing. With every bite of muffuletta and every sip of Sazerac , WK will be wishing he was at the Dot Tavern watching the Sox instead of at the Absinthe House.

Cheerio, Hip-Hip, chin-chin, to your health, godspeed,
.....Whalehead King.

How to park a scoot in Boston

Legally, you park a two-wheeled, motorized vehicle with license plates this way: taking up a whole curbside parking space. People will think you're a jackass, but the law is the law and we have to obey, don't we? I've never done this myself since it only seems like a good way to incite enmity, and I've rarely seen another motorcycle or large scooter do it either. Who wants to look like an ass? I'll tell you: the legislature knows what's best for Massachusetts. Let the Law of Unintended Consequences be damned. Nobody voted on that one.

I'm all for order but I'm not too keen on laws meant to protect me from myself or from being inconvenienced. Yes, the world is full of jackass-ery but living among fellow human beings demands that we have to put up with it. Hopefully, our fellow citizens will grow older and wiser and see the error of their ways. Asking the police to intervene by statute rather than standing up in person for civil behavior when we see a transgression abdicates our responsibility as citizens. We are all social policemen. If we don't chastise infringements on basic good manners, we are chattel. I'm not recommending citizens' arrests, but stern words or correction would go a long way if bystanders spoke them more often.

Some motor scooterists ignore traffic laws. Granted. So do truck drivers, car drivers, airplane pilots, hang gliders, surfers, bicyclists, pedestrians, and even motorcyclists. I will tell you straight-faced and without a smidge of regret that I have broken laws governing most of these modes of transportation. Try to sue me. No one was hurt or even endangered. I don't ignore the law. I disregard it when it serves no purpose. Good sense and common sense and respect for one's surroundings and situation are all the same thing. If you run a red light at an empty intersection after midnight in Boston, nothing is damaged but some fussbudgety witness' sense of propriety. "The law is the law," they'll say. The law is a pointless hindrance in this case and the person who sits at a red light in the dead of night is a jackass who thinks a dumb machine is smarter than they are. They may be right. I think, therefor I am and I think I am smarter than a timer set to regulate rush hour traffic at 3:00 AM.

Hubris? Perhaps, but I haven't been proven wrong yet. If you have any sense of propriety you would be complaining about the casual sex and violence that permeates popular culture, not the fact that a motor scooter is unobtrusively locked to a parking meter.

I'm no closet occultist but I don't disagree with the Law of Thelema: "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law." I tend to vote Republican but I still have a whiff of youthful Anarchy about me. I don't like being told what to do if my actions inconvenience nobody but myself. I am what used to be called a Goldwater Conservative, not that I have any love for nuclear weapons. What I have a love for, which I think most people share, is the right to be left alone if I am not bothering anyone.

I have gotten my share of parking tickets in Boston, ranging from $40-100 dollars for the basic infraction of taking up space with my little Ninja, every time in no body's way and not blocking any access or egress or thoroughfare. For most of my tenure in Boston I have driven a small motorcycle to get around town, a Ninja 250R. When I want to do something besides drive, I park and I do it as I am supposed to in a parking space. I feel guilty taking up a full parking space as the law requires so I usually squeeze into some available void that has ample room at either end and park the way motorcycles are supposed to: with the back wheel against the curb for stability. Illegal in Boston. Perpendicular parking will earn the city $45.00.

I parked next to another Ninja in Brighton one day and met the driver as we were both leaving. She said, "Thanks for taking this spot with me. I feel like a jackass taking up a whole parking spot but I got a ticket last week for taking up less." I said, "We're not the jackasses and neither are the cops. It's the law that makes us all look like we should be braying."

Massachusetts law is changing shortly requiring more vehicles to have license plates. Vehicles with plates are required to take up a full parking space on the street. Motorcyclists are used to this and have been ignoring the rule for years, paying the penalty at random intervals to let other drivers be able to park their cars. Now scooters officially won't be allowed to park on the sidewalk, even if they are discreetly out of the way where no one walks. The city says they won't enforce this rule. We'll see how long that lasts.

If I ever park in a way that impedes a wheelchair or blocks a crowded sidewalk in the least way, feel free to move my Little Ninja aside or kick it over if it's that much in your way. If I am not bothering you, our lives are as they should be: co-equal, co-existant and harmonious, with better things to do than try to regulate each other's behavior.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The man named Lorre

Four months after the fact, I'm rather surprised that a dispatch on the subject of Mr. Peter Lorre remains one of the Dot Matrix's most visited pages. Who would have predicted?

While the human interest aspect of young Ms. Laurie Masters' adolescent infatuation with the late actor has legs, it seems to be a near-universal fascination with the late Mr. Lorre himself that is driving traffic. People want to learn more and share their affection for this talented thespian.

What's the appeal? He was certainly suave, debonair and exotic. He had an endearing way about him. Even when he was playing a rat or, regrettably, a raven, people felt an instant bond with this fellow. He was a tragic hero even when he was a villain, and he was never very villainous. Was it the accent? His voice? Yes and more.

No summary would be complete without mentioning Peter Lorre's eyes. Limpid pools of tender humanity, a woman could lose herself seeing her reflection in those peepers. What did Mr. Lorre see? It's written on his world-weary face. Greatness and humility are conveyed by every tic and arch. When Peter Lorre cried, I imagine he cried by the bucketful and those weren't crocodile tears. They were the tears of a man who seen both top and bottom. They were tears that pluck at a nourishing lover's heartstrings.

What do men see in a fellow man like Peter Lorre? He never came across as particularly macho, but he could smoke a cigarette like no body's business, relishing carcinogens like they were candy. He sometimes came off as cravenly, but in a tight spot, wouldn't any man be to save his own neck in order to try again another day? I would. So would you, Buster. Be honest.

Though not a politician, Peter Lorre was a man of the people in the widest sense. People identified with him even if they had nothing in common. They still do, though regrettably, Mr. Lorre hasn't worked since 1964 when he passed away. Like any great actor, he could communicate the human condition in a way everyone could relate to. No small feat, and a talent many politicians lack.

So, back to the Dot Matrix's raison d'etre, what does this have to do with Dorchester, Mass? Much like Mr. Lorre, the Dot has a certain je ne sais quoi, an appeal that is hard to pinpoint but that is irresistible nonetheless. The parts shouldn't work together, yet the fact that they do is undeniable, to a degree no one would reasonably expect. Peter Lorre had his magic. Dorchester has its.

If you haven't gotten your Peter Lorre fix yet, and you shouldn't just reading this, there is a Peter Lorre News Blog, that covers all thing pertinent to the appreciation of the man born Laszlo Lowenstein. A tip of the fedora to Cheryl Morris who tends this flame.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Plutonian ode

One could argue that Dorchester is the first neighborhood to be annexed to Boston when the city took over Dorchester Heights to make South Boston (1804). Maybe again when Washington Village was annexed in 1855 as the third addition after Eastie. Conventionally speaking the date set for the Dot's surrender of sovereignty happened in 1870, the fifth neighborhood to be added to Boston proper. See the timeline maps about midway down this link.

Much like Dorchester, the planetoid Pluto has seen its status downgraded from a full-fledged entity to something a bit less than what it was once regarded. Pluto: the ninth mistress of the Sun. Comparing Pluto to Dorchester is like comparing Hyde Park to Mercury, the Earth, and Jupiter combined. In fact, Hyde Park is the ninth neighborhood annexed to Boston, in 1912 according to wikipedia, and it is the most remote from the golden dome of the State House.

That said, comparing Dorchester to Jupiter is apt. It's the fifth planet to our non-astronomy buffs. The Dot is the biggest part of Boston by far. Comparing Dorchester to the Earth is equally fitting (the third planet in the solar system, equivalent to Washington Village...Does anyone use that name anymore?). The Dot is the most fecund and lively part of the Boston universe. Comparing Dorchester to Mercury? We'll leave that part to Southie, which was the first and is the closest to the heat and flares that radiate from downtown. We aren't suggesting Dorchester's neighbor to the north is an inhospitable, lifeless wasteland by any means by making this comparison. Just pointing out that Southie was the first neighborhood to accrue and be trapped in orbit around the central city's gravity.

Dorchester gave up its independence during a popular vote in the summer of 1869 and its resolution was made binding on January 3rd, 1870. Some thought this day would live in infamy but people adjusted and now, Dorchester is the best part of Boston, adding its vitality and lending its boundless energy to the rest of the city. You don't need to look through a telescope to see Dorchesterites. They are all around our fair city, contributing value, keeping the whole shebang running in good, working order.

Have there been any regrets? Surprisingly few as one intrepid reporter discovered doing his due diligence.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The scooter bug bites (again)!

I've complained before about how driving a motorcycle in Boston can be a frustrating affair, even a bike as small as Kawasaki's Ninja 250. As much as I am enjoying my bicycle (and I am!) I've become addicted to engines and I enjoy the speed and freedom a motorized bike provides when I'm not actually stuck in gridlock. I haven't always driven a motorcycle. I'm a scooter man from way back.

I started off, many years ago on a 50cc Honda Elite four stroke, and I've driven many a 50cc Honda Metropolitan to Death's doorstep. It wasn't until I got a Genuine Stella, however at 150cc, that I needed a motorcycle license.

The Stella and I had a love-hate relationship. It had style. It had a spare tire. The technology was antiquated enough I could figure things out and fix them myself. There are any number of chrome accessories available that I bolted on like a character from the classic scooter film "Quadrophenia" though I didn't dress the part, which isn't to say I am not fashion-obsessed. The downsides were that the scooter is made in India and subcontinental engineering justly doesn't have the reputation of Japanese. While there aren't any plastic parts on a Stella, the whole thing is machined out of a solid block of pig iron. It is heavy. Then again, it had style and chicks dug it.

Like many people, including the Boston Globe, I've been thinking a long time that a motor scooter is the best way to get around our shared metropolitan area and I'm thinking something bigger than 50cc will be more up my alley, spoiled by power as I am. I was headed home on Old Colony Avenue today and I passed Scooters Go Green. What was parked out front but a beautiful avocado Stella... I had to make a tight U-ey over cobblestoned over trolley tracks for a personal inspection. Yeah, the scooter bug bit me again confronted with a replica of my old, trusty steed that gave me more scars on my knees than I can count and dislocated my shoulder. This one had white wall tires and was painted a darker shade of green.

I went into the shop and took a brochure. No shop talk. "This is all I need," I said and I left. Had we discussed the Stella and its price, I am afraid they would have reeled me in with the hook in my mouth. I'm still on the fence. I'm not ready to give up the Ninja and I don't really need two bikes (three counting the one with pedals). Though inexpensive by most standards, I'll be racking up bills for crash bars and other accessories.

My life may be about to get more complicated and if there is anything I don't like it's complications that contain more headache than mischief. Hopefully this reactivation of my scoot-fever will die down if I don't think about it too much. The brochure is within easy reach though.

A tip of the fedora and gratitude to April Streeter (from Sweden!) on for quoting my recent article about sharing the road and providing both attribution and a link. That's professional and we here at Whalehead Enterprises appreciate it.
It's not that great a movie but the final scene scooting along the White Cliffs of Dover feels like many a trip I've taken in other places.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Dot Aquarius

When the Moon is above the William Clapp House and the two ends of Dot Ave are aligned, then peace will guide elections and Love will steer the Red Line.

Let's tally the signs, shall we? One: The moon does regularly raise above the headquarters of the Dorchester Historical Society on Boston Street in the Polish Triangle. Two: While Dot Ave doesn't really run as straight as a rifle shot from Gilette's World Shaving Headquarters to the Walter Baker Chocolate Factory, it is easy to get from Point A to Point B with minimal leaning on the handlebars. Three: If the slowly unfolding yawnfest that is the upcoming mayoral election is any indication, politics in Boston are as worry-free as Tom Sawyer's float down the Mississippi. Four: Love does steer the Red Line, a love of professionalism and a fervent devotion to superior customer service.

We have all the signs of the dawning of the Age of Dorchester.

Harmony and understanding? Check. Sympathy and trust abounding? Check. No more falsehoods or derision? Check. Golden living dreams of visions? Check, depending on what this is supposed to mean. Mystic crystal revelation? What??? I suppose so. And the mind's true liberation? Oh, definitely check. Definitely. Dorchester is a helluva town.

Ready to topple the Back Bay and Beacon Hill as Boston's premier address, The Age of Dorchester is dawning. Rumor at Brothers Diner has it that Senator Kerry is shopping for a pied-a-terre in Mattapan.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Fantastic Four review

A rant about comic books. Please trawl our archives if this doesn't interest you. It shouldn't.

When I was a kid I read comic books. I was a fan of the Legion of Super-Heroes in the 1970s, what is usually called the Bronze Age of comic books. I recently purchased three volumes of collected Legion stories from comics' Silver Age, roughly the 1960s. I enjoyed them so I thought maybe some more modern light reading would be an asset in the house. Since the Legion is no longer published, I paid a subscription for Marvel Comics' Fantastic Four. I think it was $21 and change for a year's worth. I should have handed that 21 bucks to a panhandler downtown.

I'm into my third month of my subscription and I won't renew when it expires. The magazines are printed on good paper, the art is professional, the colors are vibrant, but I have little idea what is going on. There's a lot of action, but little of it makes any sense. The stories seem to be about characters in motion, without explanation or purpose beyond filling the space between covers with robust eye candy in lieu of storytelling. When the last issue arrived, I unwrapped it and put it next to my side of the bed and forgot it for three days. I read it last night in five minutes. There's that many words in the 28 pages that aren't ads. I tossed it aside, forgetting it except for my rue that I've been ripped off.

The Legion stories contained lots of third-party, omniscient narration while the pictures complemented the words. The dialogue served as further exposition. An example: In Adventure Comics # 367, Karate Kid is in a future version of Japan. He is walking under trees shaped like bonsai and there are kanji on the Oriental-style skyscrapers. He thinks to himself, "JAPAN! ONE OF THE FEW PLACES ON EARTH IN THE 30TH CENTURY TO MAINTAIN SOME OF ITS DISTINCTIVE CULTURAL FLAVOR! JAPAN! IT'S BEEN TOO LONG!" In the next panel, as an Asian woman in geisha dress looks his way, he thinks, "I GREW UP ON THESE STREETS! 'VISIT MY PARENTS,' BRANIAC 5 SAID!...WISH I COULD! OF COURSE, I DIDN'T TELL THE LEGION THAT I NEVER KNEW MY REAL PARENTS...THAT THE 'FOLKS' I TALKED ABOUT WERE THE PEOPLE OF TOKYO, WHO RAISED ME AS A FOUNDLING! YET IN A WAY, I'M VISITING MY PARENTS...OR THE NEAREST THING TO THEM!" [ed. note: transcribed directly from comic book conventions of all caps, bold face for emphasis and exclamation points instead of periods.]

Needless to say the current issues of the Fantastic Four (once billed as "The World's Greatest Comic Magazine") doesn't have any narrative boxes or any thought balloons. It doesn't have many panels either. In the old days you got one, maybe two, 'splash pages', a full page illustration. The old comics had a story to tell and didn't like to waste space. Marvel comics don't seem to care a whit about paper costs. In FF #568, that I currently have in front of me, one full page illustration is an aerial view of Manhattan around the Chrysler Building, probably courtesy of Google Maps. Two small, silhouetted 'figures' seem to be riding trails of smoke. The dialogue: Figure One, "THE ORANGE ROCK CREATURE HAS ARRIVED." Figure Two, "I FEEL THEIR HOPE. THEIR NOBILITY. SUCH MEAT." I subscribed for this? I pity the schmuck who pays the $3.99 cover price. [ed. observation: no exclamations points used, with good reason.]

So what happens in FF#568? You've got me. I thought the last issue, a prolonged, obvious dream sequence that didn't do anything but employ people to produce it, was a waste of my time and (my) money (not theirs...I'm the one who was fleeced). Ditto this month. The issue ends with a 'double splash' that is a mess of pencil and ink diarrhea. The following page (mercifully, the last), proclaims "Next Issue!" and shows two of the title characters faces. Great! I'll see two members of the Fantastic Four in the comic I bought that has the same name. I foresee future issues heading straight to the recycling bin.

Comics didn't used to stink. They may not have been fine literature but they didn't leave me feeling used. Maybe most still don't stink. In my humble opinion, Fantastic Four is a COSMIC STINKEROO!! Comics don't have to be bad. I think I'll be swearing off the Marvel titles and trying something else when this subscription runs out. I may try something by DC (Marvel's main rival) but none of their subjects really appeal to me [Sorry Batman and Superman fans].

Until then, the mailman has a reason to visit my house once a month even if I don't appreciate it.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Obama and beer

Seems like our President has spent some time in Dorchester, Mass. and learned the local custom for conflict resolution. Disagreeing sides should sit down together, have a beer, and chew the fat that separates them. This is an old Dorchester tradition that plays out every evening, sometimes earlier.

Henry Gates Jr. and James Crowley shouldn't have to fly to the White House to meet with President Obama. That's two plane tickets at taxpayer expense, while the President only needs one to fly into Logan. He can pick up the Silver Line to South Station, then the Red Line to JFK/UMASS. The perfect place for a summit is Tom English's Tavern, less than a quarter mile west of the station and amply equipped with Pabst on tap. There's even a pool table where the participants can unwind will discussing their differences. Should the President need a quick smoke, the back parking lot will keep him from prying eyes and cameras.

Dorchester beer is cold, crisp and clean and has been known to cool many a temper. Dorchester is a part of Boston built on talk, the kind of talk that brings people together. It will be neutral ground as Dorchesterites as a rule are without prejudice and don't seem to be taking sides on the inflammatory matter that divides these two participants in the recent kerfuffle.

I've just sent Rahm Emmanuel the address for the President's consideration.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


Why should expectations be low about Dorchester? It is Boston's biggest neighborhood. Opportunites abound. Life is lived large and in the round in the Dot. It is an empire of goodwill, glad tidings, low rents, cheap food and high living that will fit in most people's budget.

Thin wallets have their place in Dorchester, Mass. Fat wallets are acknowledged, but they don't garner any special treatment. "Pay me what you owe me," is Dorchester's mantra. Dorchester doesn't only rhyme with Poor Chester. It rhymes with More, Chester. I've never met a soul named Chester in the Dot, unless we're talking about Chesty Rivers, but her nickname doesn't have anything to do with the one on her birth certificate.

People don't move to Dorchester to slide down Boston's economic ladder. They move here for the chance to climb up its rungs. Ability, technical skill, and silky palaver go a long way in Dorchester, Mass. If making good is about making good connections, Dorchester is a spider web of interlocking threads easy to navigate for those with multifaceted eyes and nimble legs.

Some people get sick in Dorchester, whether with ague, vapors, Montezuma's Revenge, the Hottentot trots, catarrh or the croup. You don't need to cough in Dorchester to whoop. The contagion of accomplishment is infectious. People disembark from the Red Line and say, "I'm in Dorchester! Hooray!"

Illness is endemic everywhere and the Dot is no exception. Despite that, Dorchester isn't the Sick Man of Boston. It is the most robust organ in the metropolitan body, a veritable spleen that will take all the abuse it is given and never deviate from its evolved purpose. Dorchester filters the lifeblood of Boston, fortifies it, boosts it up, cleans it out, chastens what's not working right and discards what's dirty into the trash. What works in Dorchester has run the gantlet of scorn and come out purer and stronger for it.

Long live the Dottoman Empire!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

City living

I went to Pantry Pizza, at 931 Dot Ave the other day to order a pie to go. The lady of the house had been out of town for a month and she wanted a taste of some good Dorchester pizza after a month in Europe. Can you blame her?

When Pantry opened last year, we went a few times. It's not our favorite pie. We've recently been going to the Upper Crust on Charles Street and carrying an "Uncommon" to the Public Garden to eat next to the pond for our pizza fixes. After 8 hours on a plane, the lady of the house wasn't in the mood to take a trip on the Red Line, so, without any debate, we decided on Pantry. Not only is it convenient, it is more than good enough.

I went alone and even though we haven't been in months, the lady at the counter asked how the lady of the house was doing. She asked me if I was riding my bicycle that day, the weather being good for it. She sees me every day as I pass and when I see her noticing me, I wave and vice versa. I asked how long the wait would be. She thought about it. "Ten, maybe twelve minutes tops." I went for a stroll around the block.

I popped into Cappy's Convenience next door to pick up some Boston Baked Beans, the candy kind, thinking this would be a nice treat for someone who'd only had Haribo gummi bears for a month. The handsome kid from Nepal was on duty and he said, "Nice motorcycle weather, isn't it?" I replied it couldn't be beat but I was getting my exercise pedalling at the moment. I asked him if he's thinking of getting a motorcycle since he once told me he drove in Nepal. "No, no," he replied, "Not just yet. I take the T."

Exiting Cappy's, I stood on the corner of East Cottage Street and Dot Ave and I looked took in my surroundings. I use every business at this intersection. I shop at Gene & Paul's Fresh Meats, the oldest meat market in Dorchester. I get my clothes tailored diagonally across the street. I regularly patronize the package store, Eagle Liquors. I get my hair cut by the barber next to Pantry Pizza. I used to go to Pat Jay's Drug Store while they were still in business. I visit Tom English's Tavern from time to time for the best Pabst on tap and to watch the Sox.

None of these businesses are chains. They are locally owned and most of the employees live within blocks of each other. We pass each other while I'm running errands and they are walking their dogs or running errands of their own. We wave to each other from opposite sides of the street and exchange chitchat and gossip when we meet on the same side. This is city living in a way that was once thought of as small town living: everyone knows everyone else.

The order of things has been turned head over heels. Big, impersonal, faceless, homogenized conglomerates are in the suburbs where people don't see or interact with their neighbors. Hey! You out in Weymouth! Do you know the clerks in your supermarket anywhere besides behind the register? Does the lady you take your dry cleaning to chastise you for always dipping your sleeve in the soup week after week? Does she recognize which restaurant is responsible for the stain and know the right mix of solvents to erase a spot of the Harp and Bard's clam chowder? Are you happy to exchange money for goods and services along with pleasantries with the people who serve you, or do you drive to the next shopping mall to save a few pennies in retail if not in gasoline? Do you breathe more recycled automobile air conditioning than fresh breeze? Is your most frequent companion the radio or your cell phone? I'll take my company on Dorchester's sidewalks, in the flesh and in the round, randomly, whatever friendly, familiar face I meet.

Where I live, small business owners and their employees are not servants. They are fellow citizens. They may provide me with goods and services, but I provide them with a livelihood, while they provide me with the niceties of life. The bottom consists of supporting each other. Service with a smile. Patronage with gratitude. A community in which one hand washes the other makes the whole civic body is clean in the process.

Something is lost outside city limits. City air sets one free to be you and me. 'Nuff said.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Everybody's doing it

Birds do it and bees do it. Houseflies do it too.

I was reading the Globe in Ryan Playground this morning when a pair of flies landed on the comics page. These flies were attached, and not at the hip. They landed right smack on the middle panel of "Get Fuzzy." They rolled around a bit, buzzing contentedly the whole time, and then flipped over to interrupt my reading "Arlo."

Feeling voyeuristic but not having much choice since they were determined to take their shenanigans to wherever I diverted my eyes, I watched the couple with growing interest. It wasn't pornographic and it certainly wasn't anything anyone would buy a ticket to see. The smaller fly clung onto the larger one's backside. The larger one buzzed her wings in a flurry and moved the couple a few inches away, rested, and did it again. The smaller one didn't move much. He was what's called a 'lazy lover'.

This went on for ten minutes and finally, since the drama was lacking climax and I was getting antsy to check out today's celebrity news on the the back page of the Metro Section, I brushed the conjugal pair away with my hand. With the momentum I gave them, they buzzed on the female's pinions into the grass a few feet away to continue thier housefly pleasures.

I washed that hand as soon as I got to work. It just didn't feel clean.

Boston is a big, crowded city. You never know what behavior you're going to witness when you leave your house. Some of it is in good taste. Some of it makes you wish what happens in public were kept a little more private. The flies didn't seem the least bit embarassed as much as I blushed at their public display of affection.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Motorcycle vs. MBTA

We rode out to Lexington today on the little Ninja 250. Nice weather made this a nice project to undertake. Always irksome traffic lights made it unpleasant on the more citified parts of Massachusetts Avenue.

Mass Ave runs from Edward Everett Square in Dorchester to the entrance of the Minute Man National Park in Lexington. We left the house, close by Everett Square, around 11:00. The only pleasant part of driving the first leg of Mass Ave is the bridge over the Charles River connecting Boston and Cambridge. The view is nice, the air is bracing, and there's nothing stopping a motorcycle from just going from one end to the other. It took about twenty minutes to travel the, I don't know...three the bridge.

Cambridge was no better. One light turns green so that cars can reach the next light just as it turns red. Who thought of this traffic pattern? I know that "Traffic Engineer" is a profession. Can't Cambridge (or Boston for that matter) hire one? We started and stopped our way over the face of Cambridge until we reached Porter Square and after that the trip was a bit speedier, but it wasn't until we got out of downtown Arlington that we could really make good, needlessly unimpeded time.

In Arlington Heights, my passenger said, "This is a really long ride." I checked the odometer. We had travelled exactly eleven miles in an hour. Long in time and frustration but a pittance in distance. After that there were few lights and we got to Lexington Green, four miles away, in under ten minutes. The picturesque, suburban/colonial landscape zipped by like frames in a nostalgic movie dream.

We walked around the Green and then headed to Concord for lunch. Nice town and we enjoyed the tour after we left Arlington, but we live in Dorchester so we had to head home. I had an idea in my head. I said, "Why don't I drop you off at Porter Square and race you, motorcycle vs. T? I'm sure you'll win but we should prove it." My companion agreed though she was dubious that she would win.

I pulled up next to Porter and my companion disembarked. I didn't seem to be able to make a left turn back onto Mass Ave from where I was, so I headed down the street and crossed the train tracks intending to get back on Mass Ave. The temptation was too much though. There didn't seem to be any lights or traffic on the road I was on. Taking advantage of this, I headed down Beacon Street (Cambridge) through Inman Square, and then down Hampshire Street, which did have lights, but far fewer and less cars than Mass Ave.

I felt guilty. Whereas before I was sure to lose, I now felt sure to win and I had subjected my companion to a long, needless T ride. I hooked back onto Mass Ave just before MIT and headed back to Boston over the Charles River. The traffic gods were kind. I didn't get stuck as often as I expected and actually made good time, Boston-wise. I even just made it from the light in front of South Bay Center across Columbia Road to Dot Ave without needing to idle. Of course I was forced to stop where Dot Ave intersects with East Cottage Street and Crescent Avenue. It is a fact of life I've come to accept.

I pulled up to my unoccupied house victorious. I went inside to grab my wristwatch which read 14:30. I wanted to accurately measure the margin of victory. I then headed down to JFK/UMASS the wrong way down a one-way street but there weren't any cars and, as a motorcycle I can easily get out of anyone's way when I'm in the wrong. Before I could kill the engine, who was walking up to me? My fellow racer. The time on my watch: 14:32.

She said she had waited seven minutes for the train at Porter and her whole trip took 35 minutes as clocked by her cell phone. If I had taken Mass Ave I would have lost hands-down. As it is, taking less travelled streets, I feel the MBTA beat me fairly and squarely. Well done, Red Line, well done. I have met my match. Next time we'll take it on the open road.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Roxbury-Dorchester border

I was reading an article about OpenAir Boston describing how they brought wireless service to "the Grove Hall neighborhood of Dorchester." I remember when the service started and it was likewise described as being in Dorchester in the Globe.

The funny thing is, I was in Grove Hall this morning headed down Blue Hill Avenue to the Stop & Shop located in Grove Hall's Mecca. As an aside, 'Grove Hall's Mecca' is the most inappropriate name of any shopping center located next to a mosque. Anyhow, headed from Franklin Park, the typical blue oval sign that announces Boston neighborhoods reads, "Welcome to Grove Hall/ ROXBURY/ City of Boston/ Mayor Thomas M. Menino."

To my mind Dorchester has always ended at Columbia Road. I know it's not a perfect or official boundary but it works well enough in my mind. I travel the length of Dudley Street everyday, and when I cross Columbia Road in Upham's Corner, from Stoughton Street onto Dudley, my head knows I am still in the Dot, but my heart tells me I am entering Roxbury territory. In the opposite direction on Dudley Street, after the East and West Cottage Streets intersection I feel I am entering Dorchester, but I don't feel I'm home free yet until I cross Columbia Road at Upham's Corner.

I had a conversation recently with an acquaintance and he assured me Grove Hall is part of Dorchester. I'd known of the overlap but I've always thought it a part of Roxbury. It's a little off my radar to be Dorchester proper to me, just far enough to be somewhere else. That somewhere else is the next nearby neighborhood: Roxbury.

I'm sure real estate agents represent it as either, depending on their client, but the two neighborhoods are of similar essence. It is like comparing platinum to gold, one is somewhat more desirable, but both elements have high intrinsic value worth the investment.

Who decided that the official sign should designate Grove Hall as part of Roxbury? Surely, the incumbent mayor who is ever-sensitive to popular perception wouldn't have allowed his name to be attached to an erroneous attribution.?

In the end does it matter? It is Grove Hall, Boston, after all, another example of parochial hair-splitting. It is like my personal decision to end Dorchester at Andrew Square. That seems to be where the Dot's magnificence ends and Southie's begins. I've talked to people from South Boston who have debated me that Andrew is definitely, solidly part of Southie, stomping grounds of Whitey Bulger and Michael Flaherty. Who am I to argue? These things are hazy. The important thing is that all of these places are Boston.
A book about Dudley Street. I recommend it.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

I like Sarkozy

There are many things the French are good at, though I don't think government is one of them. Despite that, I have a lot of respect for the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy. He is very French: dapper, amorous, talking with his hands, passionate. He is a politician but he seems to be himself. Even if it is sometimes a tad larger than life, his persona appears grounded in his personality, that of a bon vivante who also wants to accomplish something and do right by his republic.

He is labeled a conservative and got along well with the last American president. He is French though, so his perceived conservatism may be be difficult for American eyes to discern. He's no McCain or Palin or Bush or Cheney. He maybe wants factory workers not to threaten to blow up the factories they're being laid off from. He may want to cajole, though not force, people to work something like a forty-hour week for lavishly subsidized benefits. He seems to like government accountability for money spent, in France. And he is more business-friendly than most Frenchmen, even French executives who are usually publicly apologetic about every decision they make. Atlas didn't shrug in France. He moved to Idaho to tutor libertarian militiamen. It was a direct flight to Boise without entering Logan or enjoying the hi jinx played out under the watchful eye of the Sacred Cod.
Even when he's in hot water, Sarkozy swims with aplomb and grace, with a world weariness and acceptance that doesn't cramp his style or diminish his joie de vivre. The photo above is not provided with any context and I don't want to discuss how the American president was really turning to help someone off frame down a steep step. Let us take the photo alone and admire Sarkozy, a man who has seen his share of debauchery, no doubt, and who knows how to sum up events with a knowing eye. He's not exactly smug, just contented as a cat that has eaten its share of canaries.

I haven't done much investigating on this photo, but I doubt there is as much reaction to M. Sarkozy's pose as there is to Mr. Obama's. Everyone is aware the French President appreciates curves in the right places and he also enjoys the play of sparks when boy meets girl or man meets woman and all the trouble and pleasure that follow. He's not Berlusconi. He is younger, more dashing, and better equipped to get away from a naughty kerfluffle without political ramifications. He's Sarkovy, a ladies' man, but a man of France. A president not a demagogue.

What does this have to do with Boston or Dorchester? Do a little photoshopping in your head. Replace Obama with Mayor Menino. Replace Sarkozy with Sam Yoon. Their personalities are not close parallels, in fact people compare Yoon to Obama, somewhat unjustly, more often than not. Sam Yoon is no Barack Obama though he may be a candidate for change. The differences between them are more than the similarities. Yoon's rhetoric doesn't soar, but the bar is set an increment above pothole level in Boston so it doesn't take much height to gain traction and then eventual liftoff. Yoon isn't an orator from what I've gathered. He is pretty smart though from all available evidence.

I'm not sure what people compare the incumbent mayor to and I'm not sure all of the comparisons would be flattering. If Mayor Menino had a current European president as a doppelganger, I don't know...the president of Belgium? Luxembourg? Lichtenstein? There isn't a ham-handed, inscrutable Soviet bloc anymore so it's hard to say.

Anyhow, I can picture the incumbent mayor being snapped in a compromising backwards glance to help a constituent down a steep step and, in the moment of the flash bulb, it may seem like he was ogling some passing girl's shapely hindquarters. The documentary evidence would provoke a chuckle because, as every Bostonian knows, the Urban Mechanic is focused on doing right for Boston every minute of every 24-hour day without time for frivolous thoughts or passing fancies. The pillow talk in Hyde Park is geared more to curing insomnia than stoking passion.

As for Yoon replacing Sarkozy? That's a tough fit too. This boyish, exuberant candidate has a young family and doesn't appear to be a tomcat. What he does when no one is watching is none of our business and we are not watching. We are looking to Boston's future and how the city should be run. Sam Yoon certainly doesn't have as much experience under his belt as Nicolas Sarkozy. Few men do. If Sarkozy had chosen to vacation in Boston instead of on the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee father north, Bostonians would have a chance to see a world leader up close in repose instead of the usual panorama of parochial leaders in action. Yoon is always earnest but he also always seems relaxed, comfortable in his own skin.

That fact alone makes him more like Sarkozy than the current incumbent mayor. The incumbent is comfortable in his role as Boston's mayor but, obviously, not comfortable being anything else. If he were, he wouldn't be maneuvering to be in office longer than anyone else in this old city's history. He could find another arena in which to play his talents to their fullest to better social benefit. If you are good at one thing, you may be better at others if you give yourself a chance. Human Resource professionals catagorize this as either personal or professional growth depending on the circumstances. People stuck in one view of themselves are sometimes called Peter Pan by laymen. You can't go home again.

Sarkozy will be voted out of office some day as will Obama, no matter how much or little leering either of them do. One of them, because of term limits, doesn't have a choice. I haven't looked into the details of the current French constitution, but I doubt Sarkozy will mind passing on the reins of power and going on enjoying his life at its next stage as an seasoned, elder statesman. That says much of a man, and a leader. We all have our roles but only when it is appropriate to the play. Actors don't stay on stage after their lines don't add to the plot. Politicians shouldn't either.
It's up to the voters of course, but I posit this: If you caught the incumbent doing something out of character in his role as mayor, would you be embarrassed for him? I would because even when he rides a bicycle, which is out of character despite the health claims he's made, or the reversal on whether charter schools are good, the incumbent is more wind sock than mechanic. Whoever is the next mayor will be granted public goodwill for awhile and then outlive their usefulness. A Wang computer in 2112. We upgrade every other device when they wear out in everything other aspects of our lives, why not Boston's executive office>
Maybe Thomas Menino has a few good years left in him. Whatever the upcoming election reults, he's no Nicolas Sarkozy.


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Flaherty and the bell curve

Michael Flaherty supporters were out in force to support their mayoral candidate on every corner of Edward Everett Square's many converging sidewalks this afternoon sporting signs. They weren't really engaging the public when I passed, just chatting amongst themselves in tightly knit knots leaning against their sign supports. It wasn't so much a revolution as a layabout.

This busy intersection is just outside the current City Councillor's political stronghold of South Boston, Southie, in which you can't swing a dead cat without hitting a campaign sign stuck in available dirt. Everett Square is in N'orchester and while there are some Flaherty signs in lawns and porch windows, there are also signs for Yoon and the incumbent. Not so many for McCrea. From a conventional viewpoint Flaherty has an upper hand among the challengers. The incumbent, of course, holds most of the cards and most of those are pressed close to his chest and he's not debating about whether he holds a winner.

Flaherty is the strongest candidate because he is the most entrenched in Boston's government echelons. I understand he has been in office a long time. The argument can be made that Michael Flaherty can walk down any City Hall corridor and say hello to the marriage license clerks he passes and ask about their grand kids. He has a long-employed staff that can do the same, so Mr. Flaherty's support network is well connected with the pistons and gears that keep the city running. Much like the current mayor he has the advantage of incumbancy and familiarity. These are not really ingredients one looks for in a recipe for change.

Boston isn't broken. It hums along well enough, making incremental progress. It is still a provincial city with a world-class reputation. The tourists keep coming and the hospitals and universities still make the news and employ citizens and keep the urban economic engine chugging along, chuff, chuff, chuff.... Leadership? Vision? Promise? I don't see much of these things at play in the current political ring.

I like Yoon. He seems like a genuinely nice guy, a mensch, and he's got his policy and his poli-sci down cold. McCrae, the dark horse in this race, likewise has good ideas, but again, most of them are about how to govern, not about why. More openess in the goverment process and trimming the budget a smidge here and there are commendable goals. Boston's government should be more efficient and accountable, but I would like a candidate to tell me what Boston should be besides more efficient and honest. I'm all for crooked government if it brings results and I won't ask any questions if everyone gets their slice of the pie, myself included, and every other tax-paying, voting citizen. If there is gravy to spread around spread it thick and even. Even a thief can be elected time and time again to the top office. Mayor Curley knew this and he knew how to do it: vision and results.

To my mind, Flaherty is another incumbent. A schlub who can organize people to stand lackadasically on streetcorners as human signposts. They may be volunteers but if that's the case they will be paid one way or the other in the end. I passed through another Flaherty sign-bearing posse in Roslindale a few weeks ago on an errand, they seemed as disinterested in campaigning as today's squadron in Everett Square, enjoying the weather and each other's company but not much else. I haven't seen any Yoon supporters on the streets, but I don't usually stray too much from my commuter route and Yoon seems to have my part of town, if not sewn up, then solidly behind him.

I've never seen a McCrae rally. I've gotten emails from his campaign, all of them as dull as dishwater pretty much just asking me to attend a speaking event or contribute money. I read McCrae's emails and I think, "Weeeeelllllll, maybe I should get more involved." Then I think I'll just be guilted into giving a donation and asked to help someone who isn't really helping himself. I think again: "Probably not. If I don't have nothing else to do, I'll go to what McCrae is hosting." Well, I haven't seen the man yet in person nor any of his cheerleaders. I always have something else to do that takes precedence. Believe me, its nothing that can't be put off til tomorrow. I like his honesty but he doesn't tempt me. It's too bad, because I think he is the best person for the job. I relish a businessman used to looking at the bottom line in office, delivering the best services possible. I'm not convinced McCrae is focused on the city's bottom line as he would be for his company. He seems to be hamstrung about accountability. It's important, but delivery is more imporatant. Accountability doesn't matter if everyone is content. McCrae seems to be a share-all, public business zealot, a goo-goo. There is nothing wrong with that if the city works, but the focus is on something other than what I care about: the working. I don't think he's as nimble and sharp as Yoon, who I have also never met. Yoon is the better politician.

Wheels within wheels and Boston's future direction at stake. I don't think this city will change course after the upcoming election from what I've seen so far. Another Menino term, anyone? The odds are in the incumbent's favor. He doesn't do a bad job and middling is better than disaster. A cheery prospect: more mediocrity. Well, there is nothing wrong with being in the middle of the bell curve.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A drink with something in it

I'm no connoisseur. I'll drink whatever's put in front of me, in moderation of course. Today we feature a little Ogden Nash. The poem is titled the same as this article.

There is something about a Martini,
A tingle remarkably pleasant;
A yellow, a mellow Martini;
I wish I had one at present.

There is something about a Martini,
Ere the dining and dancing begin,
And to tell you the truth,
It is not the vermouth--
I think that perhaps it's the gin.

I'm not a Martini man but I was a big gin drinker at one time: gin and tonic, but the quinine would make me sleepy (perhaps it was the gin?). As I've gotten older hard liquor agrees with me less but I have taken to ordering Manhattans when I go out which is really a Martini made with whiskey. It's a sipping drink that keeps me occupied over the course of a meal. I had the worst Manhattan yet at Tavolo in Peabody Square.

No offense to the staff, who were all gracious and professional, and no offense to the young lady who made this particular Manhattan. It was just bad. It was an off night for the place anyway. The reason I wanted to go was because I wanted the white anchovy appetizer and a goat cheese pizza. I know: anchovies. An acquired taste, but the white ones are very good and not as deep, fermented, distilled low tide-tasting as the kind out of a tin (which I also relish. I know.). I'm sure they come out of a jar instead of a can, mild and mouth-filling without being overpowering. Well, a chap came by after I placed my order and informed me: no white anchovies tonight. At least they're popular enough to sell out. I said I didn't want a substitution, just a pizza would be fine. Then I got my Manhattan.

I've been ordering Manhattans for a few months and they've come in a Martini glass sans ice, crystal clear and as burnished as the eyes of a passing pretty girl on Tremont Street. Not this one. It was in some other kind of squat glass, mixed with ice and foamy. It didn't taste like any other Manhattan I've had in Boston. Maybe it was the whisky. As I say I'm no connoisseur and I didn't request a particular brand. I doubt is was the vermouth. Whatever well this came from tasted tainted. I didn't finish it even though I sat in the establishment over an hour. This was a real sipping drink, which in the end was what I wanted. I've enjoyed cough syrup with more gusto.

The pizza was okay. The kalamata olives on it tasted more like prunes that had been soaking a few hours too long, draining them of any flavor. Sauce squirted onto the bar when I folded a slice in half and took a bite. It was on off night for Tavolo, a restaurant this neighborhood needs that has gotten mixed reviews. I'll be back. I like taking the Red Line to this Dot outpost where gentrification hasn't yet taken hold but is in the air as thick as the fog off Dorchester Bay. The murals in the dining room, where I didn't sit that night will keep you entertained. Out of five stars, I'll give this visit two and a half. Other visits rated fairly close to a full fiver, and that's not including the discount I took on toothpicks then. The drinks have been better in the past too.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The entrepreneurial candidate

A quick once-over of Boston's mayoral candidates' web sites reveals that only one of them offers products for cash. All ask for donations but only one offers product, a little something to hold in your hand for money out of your pocket. The rest is all vague promises without a souvenir of your civic engagement. Only one candidate offers tangible results for you contribution. If he starts out this way will he deliver in the end? If elected, let us hope so.
Sam Yoon (rhymes with 'soon' as in not soon enough) is selling an extensive fashion line that will have a shelf life that ends after the next election, unless he wins. Color choices are limited: white shirts with red and blue typography. With all the effort Mr. Yoon is putting into his campaign to unseat the incumbent, one would think he could hire a graphic designer to come up with a logo that has some visual oomph. Despite that, I like this shirt written in a smattering of the languages spoken around Boston. It says this is a candidate for many constiuencies. That seems to be his intent.
Yoon signs are all over my part of Dorchester. They aren't as thick as the Flaherty signs that seem to occupy every square inch of free space in Southie but it's a respectable showing. Not many McCrea signs, unfortunately, and this is the candidate who is a true entrepreneur, a businessman, and a successful one at that, a goo-goo from the get-go despite the hurdles City Hall has set in his path.
There are Menino signs in Dorchester too. There is one weatherbeaten sign tacked to the wall of the bottle redemption center just south of Grover's Corner on Dot Ave. They have a Yoon sign in the window, hedging thier bets.
It's early in the race and the horses are still just trotting up to the gate, loosening up. Is a Republican running? This time next year, I'll be wearing my Sam Yoon tee shirt whether he wins or not. It will be twenty dollars well spent on political paraphenalia that I can sell a few decades from now, lightly used only on special occasions.
No official endorsement yet from Whalehead King, for whatever that will be worth. I like McCrea but I think he has a snowball's chance at Castle Island in August. I like Yoon, for a number of reasons but none of them substantial. I have no opinion of Flaherty who, like the incumbent mayor, seems as much a symptom as the disease. As for the incumbent, sometimes you just have to say enough is enough. Even if you like the taste of it, you can have too much of the same old stuff. It's not good for the body and it's not good for the soul.
Here is a Dorchesterite commited to Yoon. Here is a song I don't agree with in this mayoral race. I think there is such a thing as enough, whatever good intentions make the paving stones in the road:

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Mayor's madness

The parallels aren't exact but, reading today's featured book, I was struck by that old truism that power tends to corrupt. Does Boston need a five-term mayor? That's for the voters to decide. I have a lot of admiration for what Mayor Curley, that Rascal King, accomplished, but even he didn't have serve back-to-back-to-back terms. He gave the public a little breathing room.

Mayor White has an oversize statue downtown where he is depicted walking with purposeful stride on his way to conduct urgent city business. His neck tie flaps in the wind of history. Mayor Curley has two statues, side by side, both life sized. One statue depicts him puffed with pride, full of power, a bull pulling the plow for his constituents' harvest. The other depicts him contentedly sitting on a bench, a man resting in the midst of the fray of city life, both observer and player. What will Mayor Menninno's statue look like? I picture a squat, stocky pygmy wearing overalls and pointing a monkey wrench at a topographical map of Boston. The Urban Mechanic set in bronze with a few crescent wrenches hanging out his back pocket.

What is today's featured book? A little light reading from Tacitus that illustrates what happens when people get too used to thier office. The volume is slim enough to fit into your back pocket to read on the T.
No offense intended toward the incumbent should I ever need to apply for a permit. No endorsement for Messrs. Yoon, Flaherty or McCrea either. The voters will decide who they want to run the city. Let us hope Boston won't be like Rome.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Sharing the road

I first rode a motor scooter in Naples, Italy. It was a one day affair. If you think Boston's traffic is nerve-wracking and Boston's streets are narrow and tangled, there are other congested cities that make Bean Town seem like a cake walk.

I haven't owned a car for twenty-six years. After my first and only automobile, I never wanted the hassle, the expense, or the experience of being a car owner again. I ride in them from time to time and I do know how to drive one, but an automobile isn't for me. For twelve years, a bicycle was my only means of getting around aside from my feet. For ten years after that, for reasons that were simple at first and more complex afterward, I rode a motor scooter. For the last four years I have owned a Kawasaki Ninja 250R, the smallest bike Kawasaki makes and its best selling. When I moved to Boston, the Little Ninja came with me.

Though my Ninja is small, it likes its engine to rev at 8000 rpm. It can travel at 75 mph for hours cool as a cucumber, purring contentedly all the way. It wants to race. It doesn't like Boston. Idling in traffic, the thermometer needle is always just shy of hitting the red zone. I ride a bicycle most days now to get around the city. It is usually quicker, but sometimes I have to take the Little Ninja out for a trot, rarely downtown but through Roxbury or Hyde Park or Dorchester, or along Day Boulevard bordering the Southie beaches.

After so many years being one of the littlest things on the road, I feel I am smarter than automated traffic lights. I've spent many hours navigating tight spaces on two wheels no matter what means were employed to propel them. I've always driven/ridden defensively. I think one drives a bicycle a scooter or a motorcycle, not rides one so I will use the former verb hereafter. People ride in things over which they don't have control. Bicyclists, scooterists and motorcyclists have control, they must. To call what they do riding is disrespectful to what a two-wheeled navigator actually does. I don't trust that all people on two wheels are smarter and more aware of their surroundings than the average driver but I trust them more than the people who drive on four while listening to the radio or talking on the phone.

Anyone who drives on two wheels will tell you that there is a world of difference between country roads and city roads. Among motorcyclists, an urban driver is called a 'street warrior.' Like any warrior, an urban motorcyclist has his or her senses honed keen, ready for anything. The adrenaline and endorphins are not pumped for aggression, rather, they flow for use in defense and escape. The same razor sharp skills are required of bicyclists and motor scooterists. Pedestrians too. City living sets ones senses alight for fight or flight. Good, common sense is usually the best option. Know when to push forward. Know when to yield.

Cars take up a lot of space. They are the main cause of gridlock. Trucks are less worrisome. Someone who drives a truck, no matter the size, all day does it as a profession and truck drivers are usually the most experienced and talented drivers on the road. I wouldn't go so far as to say cars are enemies to two-wheeled vehicles, how can any fellow citizen on a public roadway be an enemy? They are like any other annoyance in a public place, something to watch and avoid if you don't want any trouble.

A line of cars stuck behind a red light, with road rage understandably simmering is something to be avoided and bypassed if possible. There is usually ample space between the passenger side of the travel lane and the curb for two-wheeled vehicles to pass without bothering anyone else. All two-wheeled vehicles can share this space in peaceful coexistence with the right attitude: we are all in this together and we are not the ones causing this collective misery. Being small sets one free.

Boston's automobile drivers tend to obey the rules of the road. Anecdotal evidence to the contrary I have generally found Boston drivers tolerant and gracious, much to my surprise. According to the last Census, roughly 5000 people commute in the Boston Metropolitan area by motorcycle, about 1% of the total. 17% commute by walking or bicycling, which legally includes most motor scooters. Bicycles and scooters with engines under 50cc capacity are regulated by law to use the right side of the road.

Nobody looks dumb on a motor scooter or a moped. They look different, perhaps, but in Naples, Italy they are as common as pizza. The same is true in many cities all over the world. I am a scooter man from way back and I take umbrage when someone disparages a scooterist, or Vesperado, if you prefer. Between leg power and a five speed drive train harnessing 4000 horse power, small scooters dwell in a gray middle range that is respected by few and harmful to none. After all, in a scooter crash, who is most likely to get hurt? The driver with two hundred or so pounds of metal grinding him into Boston's rough pavement.

Motorcycles are not supposed to drive in the breakdown lane. As licensed vehicles, they are supposed to behave like cars. Only a fool would expect a zebra to behave like a horse. When opportunity knocks and a motorcyclist can get ahead, can you blame him or her for doing a little lane splitting? Only if it endangers anyone else, and it rarely does if the driver is smart, experienced and sharp. No one appreciates a show-off, a drunk driver or a menace. A sober technician can weave through traffic like a surgeon cutting around a bowel obstruction. It doesn't matter what motor is employed. Everyone envies a hero who acts outside the paradigm.

There is plenty of room on the side of the road. It is unfenced and expansive, where people of different inclination can get to know each other, communicate their intentions and move along peaceably with malice toward none.

Everyone needs to be patient and tolerant to travel from one side of Boston to the other and arrive at the destination with a level head and contended sensibility. A little camaraderie goes a long way to make a trip not only tolerable, but pleasant. If you steer two wheels, you and I are of like minds no matter what you are driving and no matter what I happen to be driving at the time. Everyone is trying to get from Point A to Point B as quickly and with as little trouble as possible. If we communicate our intent to pass and signal where we are going, all the rules of the road the Commonwealth has written into statute won't matter. Driving two wheels needn't lead to anarchy. The collective act should build a broad community of fellow travellers that the majority of road-sharers respect and envy.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

A silver lining for Blue Hill Avenue?

I don't depend on the Silver Line, but I like it. I don't depend on the MBTA as a whole, and I like all the lines. It's probably because I don't rely on it that I enjoy it as much as I do, I admit.

To me it is an adventure, a diversion, a different way to get around in a pinch, a convenience, proof that I live in a big city. The Red Line runs through my back yard (it's rattling my dishes as I write this) and I live a block from a station. Except in winter, I don't take the train too often even though I purchase an unlimited pass to do so every month. I should get a thank you card from Dan Grabauskas; I pay for service I rarely use. That's the kind of customer that keeps a business in the red, ask any gym.

I usually travel by motorcycle, bicycle or shoe leather in order of technological advances.

Granted, it is quicker for me to drive to the airport than to take the Silver Line, but the Silver Line, despite its many marvelous hassles, is a marvelous construction of electricity and diesel and I rather like idling while the bus makes the switch from one power source to another at a stop in the middle of nowhere. I'm always amazed when people are waiting to get on at Silver Line Avenue. How did they get there? From where? I have to go to the airport next Thursday and I'll be taking the Red to the Silver and then back again. It will take twice the time but it's a Boston experience.

The Silver Line from Downtown Crossing to Dudley is another matter. It's a long bus. It is a convenient one though. It runs more frequently than a regular bus and the view out the window is better than tunnel walls. It's not quick but it's faster than walking. I've chosen to take it from one point to another and I've found it convenient. Again, I don't rely on it, but the trips I've taken have been as pleasant as public transportation can be, which I know is faint praise.

To me, extending the Silver Line from Dudley to Mattapan is better than the 28 bus. 28X, as this new line is called at the moment, will be an upgrade in service. The plans are to run 28X (whether the 'X' stands for 'extra' or just an unknown quality requiring aspirin hasn't been revealed) like a train, every ten minutes or so, and to upgrade the shelters into real stations and, thus, provide some real shelter. If, like along Washington Street, the stations on Blue Hill Avenue will have signs reporting when the next bus will arrive, I see a benefit over the existing Route 28 catch-as-catch-can schedule.

The Dorchester Reporter is providing its usual informative coverage of this issue. There is some community opposition because the community wasn't consulted. I admit I am a mostly disinterested party. I will take the 28X as much as I take the Mattapan High-Speed: occasionally. When I don't, I'll take my bicycle when I have business along its route which will be quicker and more entertaining and healthy. A Silver Line extension to Mattapan will never be as good as an Indigo Line, but the Indigo isn't proposed to serve the same purpose from what I understand. The 28X will make a continuous MBTA loop of service more reliable than a regular bus. It will be the only loop in the whole system.

Is the scheme perfect? No, but no scheme ever is. I'm in favor of 28X. It's better than what is now available. Who would argue that it's better to have the status quo? Opponents can close down the scheme and hope for a subway that may never get built. Better 'Carpe Fortuna' seize the chance. Take what you can get and then build on that. Reliable service, even if it's not on train tracks is nothing to sneeze at. Blue Hill Avenue was once served by trolleys but a Green Line extension seems unlikely. A Silver Line down the middle of Blue Hill Avenue is an idea that deserves to be built and tested. It isn't a perfect idea but it's a worthwhile one.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

America's best bad writer

'America's Best Bad Writer' isn't yours truly. I don't have that great a claim to fame, though he and I do share some common literary mannerisms. It's none other than H. P. Lovercraft who earned that sobriquet, among others like 'America's Master of Horror.' Howard Phillips Lovecraft (1890-1937) deserved the last name he was born with, rather unlike one Whalehead King. He lived all his life in one place except for a brief stint in New York City, which he loathed. Two more dissimilarities.

He loved two cities. One was his beloved Providence, RI where he spent most of his days. The other was Boston. Lovecraft's grave bears this legend: "I am Providence." I will never be audacious enough to put "I am Dorchester" on my tombstone. There are many more people who are more deserving. I've met them. They walk past my porch every day at all hours.

Lovecraft loved nothing more than strolling around Boston long before urban renewal. He loved the crooked streets. He loved the North End. He set a story in Boston called 'Pickman's Model' set near either Copp's Hill or the Granary Burial Ground. I forget which. You'll have to read this bloodcurdling tale to find out. He had the eye of an antiquarian and he loved Boston, like so many people do, because it was so old.

Why is he the 'best bad writer?' Firstly, he is best because he labored over his manuscripts and polished and agonized until they really were a product of his love of craft. The man really could write by the ream and his imagination knew no limits from the bowels of the earth to the farthest reaches of outer space on a time continuum that was infinite. Secondly, he is considered bad, not because he tells a story badly, just in his own way. His plots are tortuous, bogged down with obscure words, piles of adjectives and a style that was old fashioned before 1900. Little happens in a Lovecraft story except the unfolding dreadful, paralyzing realization that in the mindless machinations of the universe, human hopes are not even a flickering mote in a gibbering, blind god's eye. That's a Lovecraftian sentence right there. If you enjoy the way it rolls, Lovecraft may be for you.

'Pickman's Model' is another kind of story written in the same style with a theme that only touches on Lovecraft's obsession with a universe in which man is as much as naught, a flotsam of dimly phosphorescent plankton on the tides of eternity. It is set in his present, around 1920. It captures old Boston quite well through his appreciative eyes and it is a horrible, weird tale. No Dorchester stories, unfortunately, but we make do with what we have. Boston, like Providence, features in many of his stories, and Massachusetts as well. He was the quintessential, weird, New England author, the kind of crank we love.

The first book, from the Library of America, contains everything he wrote. It's more for the confirmed devotee. The second contains 'Pickman's Model' as well as some of his better stories for those on a budget.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Some drink champagne

Some drink champagne and some die of thirst. Better bubbles down your gullet than gall.

There is nothing wrong with monomania as long as it brings you joy. While I have not always been delighted by Boston, especially in winter and during prolonged rainy, summer weeks when the temperatures hover in the sixties instead of the more summery 80+plus degrees Fahrenheit, I am quite content to live in Dorchester. The details that unfold as I pass along the now familiar streets day after day continue to pique and satisfy my curiosity. I am glad to be neighbors with the people with whom I gratefully share this neighborhood, full of foibles and friendliness and honesty and hokum on all our parts. I've never had a bad day in Dorchester, though I've had my share of disappointments within the rest of Boston's city limits.

I haven't seen a lot of champagne bottles uncorked in the Dot. I've seen more pint glasses of Bud Light being hoisted in toasts and then drained. Better bubbles down your gullet than gall. I've seen some bitterness, but a swallowful of beer makes the medicine go down and all in all, life seems to be good for the people who spend theirs in Dorchester. Complaints? I've heard a few and they are enough to mention, but now is not the time. Coming home to Dorchester after the rat race through a dog-eat-dog day downtown doesn't put one in the mind for complaining. It is time to relax. Out of Dorchester endlessly rocking on the shores of Dorchester Bay, the surf laps the shore with a sussuruss that hushes frayed nerves and the Bay's breeze is a rum that is balm for an aching head.

Not every sourpuss will turn his or her frown upside down, but it's easier to do so in Dorchester. It's why people move here. It's why people stay. It's why I've stayed I don't regret it a lick. DBC is what they say around here: Dorchester By Choice. Some natives think that by birth is better. I can't really comment on that but I am glad I settled here.

Hope for the best, expect the worst. That worst hasn't come to Dorchester yet. I don't see any signs it will.

A tip of the fedora to Mel Brooks, James Lileks, Mary Poppins, Sinatra and Walt Whitman for providing all the phrases I've recalled and appropriated to write this essay.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

A most honestest hero

Truth, justice and the Dorchester way. What is the Dorchester way, exactly? We met "Tubby" Tunlum in his back yard this day after the Fourth of July and he was carrying around a metal garbage can lid painted with a red and white striped target and, instead of a star in its center, a rendition of the all-but-defunct Dorchester seal. You may have seen it. It's a heraldic shield with a schoolhouse and a farmhouse and the Blue Hills in the distance. "What are you supposed to be, Tubby?" I asked.

"I'm Captain Dorchester," he answered while puffing out his chest not quite as far as his belly. "I stand for truth, justice and the Dorchester way! Beware evildoers!"

He was wearing just shorts and a plain tee shirt as well as carrying his shield, not a full superhero uniform. He wasn't wearing a mask to hide his identity. "What's the Dorchester way, exactly?" I inquired.

Tubby struck a pose and flashed his home made shield in my direction as if I were about to fire on him. "It's the right to sit on your front porch unmolested," he said, "It's also the right to be served Smithwick's on tap anywhere you go. And shepherd's pie too. It's the right to buy Asian vegetables at your corner grocer if you choose and the right to speak any language you want to speak at home or on the streets. It's standing up to ignorance and prejudice with a kind of ignorance and prejudice that's better than the kind that tries to beat you down and make you feel like a crumb. Dot pride is an ennobling pride that includes room for everybody. Long live the Dot!" He stuck another pose after pretending to fight off some assailants.

"What flag do you fight for Captain Dorchester?"

"The Star-Spangled Banner is my flag," Tubby replied. "That's my first love. My second is the flag of Dorchester, where I grew up and where the most honestest people on earth need defending. After that, it's the Boston flag and after that its the Massachusetts flag on which the Indian holds his arrow point down in peace." He was serious.

"Is there a Dorchester flag?" I asked.

"I'm working on a prototype right now in my bedroom. It is a Red 'D' on a field of blue. The D is shaped like the Sox B. When I get my mom to sew it, we'll fly it in front of our three-decker with a spotlight on it at night."

Well, graphically, it beats a schoolhouse, a farmhouse and the Blue Hills in the distance.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

History of the Dottoman Empire (part VI)

The Icelandic Dotland Saga (c. 1245) tells the story of Bjarni Blood-Axe Sturlnorlasson and his troop of intrepid adventurers who ventured to meet Leif Erikson in Vinland but were blown off course to a place Bjarni Blood-Axe called Dotland. They seem to have landed where the English did a few centuries later, at Savin Hill, which has always been a nice place for newcomers.

Bjarni and his band encountered some of the locals, whom they called skrylings rather than Massachusett and, hungry for fresh meat, they engaged in a little trading. They traded deer haunches for blocks of good Greenlandic cheese they had picked up en route. The Native Americans, being strangers to cows and dairy products, were lactose intolerant. They took their cheeses back to the village and feasted on this new food and woke up the next morning with aching bellies and other, unpleasant digestive symptoms.

After sharpening up their arrowheads and stocking their quivers they made their way to Malibu Beach where Bjarni had beached his long boat (named "Wave-biter" by the way) and drove the vikings from the shores of Dorchester. They were the only Europeans to visit Dorchester until the good ship Mary and John arrived a few centuries later, in 1630 on this very same shore.

What proof do we have that the Dotland Saga contains even a smidgeon of truth? In 1888 a shiny Icelandic dime was recovered from where it was wedged between some puddingstone boulders on Savin Hill. It is another crypto-artifact along the lines of the Dorchester Pot that can only be explained by having been put there by these travellers from a dimly remembered past.

Friday, July 03, 2009

History of the Dottoman Empire (part V)

When the moon collides with the sun, Swiss cheese will rain down in Dorchester Bay to be washed up in man-sized chunks on Savin Hill Beach, Malibu Beach, Tenean Beach, and up the mouth of the Neponset River. The discombobulated chunks of cheese will be sliced into layers for spukies 'n' pizza. The price for submarine sandwiches will drop like a stone tossed off the shore of Victory Park.

An old Dorchester myth-story: some day the moon will hit the sun a little after mid-day when the fog is thick and dull. When that happens Beacon Hill will collapse, one side into the Charles River and the other side in a mudslide slurry race down Milk Street to bury the aquarium. Dorchester, of course, will emerge from the cataclysm unscathed, as it usually does from events beyond its control.

Everything stays the same in Dorchester, Mass, the 'Sick Man of Boston.' Ague and catarrh don't bother this part of town one bit. It is used to aches and grippe and gout. It gets along okay with neither a limp nor a hiccup. It will take more than a solar collision to shut this old town down for good eternity. People have lived in Dorchester since time immemorial. They've made a good run of it too. They'll continue their track record until history's end. The sun shines in Dorchester, Mass. It shines brightly like a newly minted penny.

Your thoughts in Dorchester are like dimes rained down from Heaven. Ten of them will buy you a newpaper or a a box of candied peanuts. Three hundred thousand can lease you an apartment for year in the nieghborhood.


Related Posts with Thumbnails