Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Candidate Flaherty is tag teaming together with Dorchester's own Sam Yoon, against the incumbent in what is turning out to be an interesting mayoral election in Boston. When I first heard the news at Saint's Diner this morning, I wasn't impressed. I've had some hours to think about it though and I've heard a range of opinions and I think I am for the coalition (thanks, Yellow-Eye!).

There's always been a strong Southie-Dot axis (we call it Dot Ave in both neighborhoods) and marrying these two councillors-at-large into a single ticket brings out both of their strengths. Flaherty's been around awhile. He knows whose bread needs buttering. I'm sure he's got the dull knife ready to do it. Yoon has a heart of gold and he's smart enough not to tarnish it. Yoon may be relatively untested, but he hasn't compromised his principals yet. Not an easy feat for a politician. If Flaherty and Yoon are an odd couple, so were Oscar and Felix and, years after the fact, you know exactly who I am referencing. Flaherty-Yoon can make an enduring mark.

In twenty years, no one will know who Menino was or why his name appears on odd monuments around Boston. That's a statue that will make babies cry so let's hope it never gets cast in bronze. While I don't necessarily think Flaherty is tinder, I know that Yoon is spark. The two of them together just might generate enough heat to fire up Boston's potential more than the status quo. Maybe.

I'm skeptical and I am not in favor of change for change's sake. That said, I also think there is such a thing as too much mediocrity. I don't think any Bostonian would complain about a little more meritocracy. That's what Yoon promises and that is what Flaherty is introducing to his platform by inviting Sam Yoon into his administration. It's a win-win for both men and a win for Bostonians.

Another 4 years of Menino anyone? You can unbuckle your seat belt. Despite whatever enthusiasm the Flaherty-Yoon ticket generates, the incumbent's minions and henchmen can be counted on to turn out in force. Some zombies are kept breathing with a promise of regularly scheduled trash collection. It will be an interesting election but I suspect the result will be a bit more of plus ca change plus c'est la meme chose. A revolution is coming, but will it be this year?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Alive and in technicolor

Though full of slapstick, melodrama and overacting, Dorchester, Mass. is no silent movie. Quite the reverse. Firstly, it's real life. Secondly, it's quite noisy.

The heavy rumble of the Red Line rattles Dorchester's spine and, where the Red Line ends at Ashmont, the Mattapan High-Speed Trolley carries on the work. The High-Speed is a tad less loud, but it passes through Cedar Grove Cemetery and the T wouldn't want to wake the dead, would it? At least the T stops running some time after midnight. Dorchester is home to an elevated highway (I-93) that runs at second story height and is clotted and congested with cars and tractor trailers all hours of the clock.

Babies squawl in Dorchester. Kindergartners swear like soldiers. Their pipsqueak voices lend an alarming novelty to trains of connected curses and anatomical combinations they cannot really understand...or can they? After becoming accustomed to the local argot, playground profanity becomes a part of Dorchester's atmosphere, like the sound of flower petals gently patting the pavement when a zephyr blows inland off Dorchester Bay.

Pots and pans clatter over the course of a day. They make as much noise as the shopping carts pushed by the can men and bottle collectors who start their rounds an hour or so before sun-up and continue the rest of the morning until a little after dawn has faded into noon. Garbage day is a busy day in Dorchester as rag men and scrap dealers patrol the curbs. There is treasure to be found in Dorchester.

Coffee shops, diners, lunch counters, fine restaurants, pizzerias, Chinese take-out joints, bakeries, and barrooms buzz with the talk of the neighborhood. Dorchester is anything but silent. It is busy and burbling, percolating with vitality and street smarts, with pep and persistence, with zip and with zing. Silent Dorchester? Far from it. Dorchester is alive and loud . It's also in technicolor.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Vermont Sweetwater

If you've ever scored a maple tree with your Barlow knife and licked your finger after sticking it into the bark's wound, you know the reason why maple sap needs to be boiled down to make syrup. While maple sap has a hint of sweetness and a hint of maple goodness, it isn't anything nearly as concentrated as what Mrs. Butterworth or Aunt Jemimah serve up. Maple sap straight from the tree is as thick as water.

Travelling a little farther afield than usual, we visited City Feed and Supply in Jamaica Plain yesterday. Nice shop and deserving of its reputation and crowds. We were en route to dinner so we didn't try the sandwiches, but we probably will another day when we find ourselves in that part of Boston.

We did pick up a 12 fl. oz bottle of something called Maple Seltzer that sported the official Vermont 'seal of quality.' This was tucked into a backpack and we drained the bottle this afternoon. The verdict: a hint of maple, a hint of sweetness; the way maple sap tastes. An aftertaste review of the bottle's label revealed the reason. The bottle contains "100% filtered and carbonated maple sap. No water added." Brilliant. You can charge a dollar seventy-nine a bottle without all the boiling down in the sugar house. Just add CO2 and you've added value. It works with Coca-Cola, why shouldn't it work with maple sap?

This Vermont Sweetwater is good but I can't say I'll be buying it again. The lady of the house agrees. I understand it isn't exactly cheap to gather, but, while it is a pleasant, sparkling drink I'm not convinced it's worth the price. Of course I don't eat much maple syrup, neither the kind stamped with Vermont's seal of quality nor the kind poured out the top of Mrs. Butterworth's head. I prefer clam cakes to pancakes.

Speaking of which, City Feed also offers some premium, top shelf clam juice. Sorry to say, we didn't purchase any yesterday in order to toast each other this afternoon. That's an errand for another day and another report.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Estrogen and tonic

Dorchester, Mass. is home to Boston's most refreshingly resilient women. You can cast your vote for mayor, but the real people who can turn this city around reside between Washington Street and Blue Hill Avenue. While some talk about charter reform has been bandied about the electorate recently, no one has proposed what would probably be the most effective form of reform: a Dorchester-based matriarchy.

You may argue that this form of government has some reverse sex-discrimination issues. I reply, let the best women do the job for which they'll be elected. I'm not talking about an Amazon kingdom [sic] but a council of legislators who have experienced the best and worst Boston has to offer: the single mothers, the married mothers, the mothers who are involved in commited relationships without the benefit of legally binding contracts, the women who know how to balance a budget with no fat to cut and keep miniscule economic units running within an unfathomable machine between booms and busts. With that much common sense and hard sense around one table, Boston would have the best bond rating in the world.

Bad economy? The women of Dorchester know how to weather that and come out ahead at cycle's end. Tight credit? Dorchester's women know how to haggle and leverage advantages. Slow job growth? Dorchester women know how to keep many hands occupied and out of mischief.

Sam Yoon was right about this: Boston needs change. Business as usual is working but business could be better and Boston needs a shot in the arm. Mr. Yoon was partly right with his prescription. There does need to be less testosterone at the top. Boston needs a shot of estrogen and tonic. What neighborhood is better equipped to provide it than Dorchester, a place where households defy all odds to keep their hearths welcoming, nourishing places where the next generation of upwardly mobile citizens learn their lessons, get their bearings and learn to stand on principals.

There is a League of Women Voters in Dorchester. It's about time there was an official League of Extraordinary Gentlewomen ensconced in City Hall. This would at least be a layer of bureaucracy that people could identify with. Everyone has a mother and most people have a sister. Quite a few men have girlfriends. Few Bostonians have their own lawyer.

A citizen of Dorchester is called a Dorchesterite, this includes both genders because English doesn't distinguish. In Italian, they are divided: Dorciestriano for a man and Dorciestriana for a woman. In the 1960s and early 70s Dorchester's women would be called Dorchesterettes! with an exclamation point added for extra allure. If I may borrow a hackneyed metaphor to title Dorchester's women, I suggest we call each one a pillar of the community. Every man in Dorchester should wear a hat. That way they can tip thier hat in respect to the Dorchester women they pass on the street.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Boston's Gyro King

Grove Hall: that nebulous intersection that is one part Roxbury, one part Dorchester, one part suburban shopping center and one part inner city. Boston's Gyro King has planted his throne on the corner of Blue Hill Avenue and Grove Hall's Mecca. You can't miss the palace. It's gate is crowned with a blaring yellow sign with green letters flanked by two three-dimensional, plastic cones of gyro meat. At dusk, the sign glows; a beacon for the hungry.

The shop's grand opening was this past September 9th and the Gyro King is attracting some repeat business. I was there last night to test the menu, ordering the signature dish, naturally. If you're are going to call yourself the Gyro King, you'd better to be able to put your shawarma where my mouth is.

While I was waiting, a woman and her child came in and she was on her phone taking an order to deliver for takeout. The man behind the counter waved and the woman cut her conversation short. "I forgot," she said to the counterman, "You don't take debit cards do you?" He nodded NO. She said she would be right back and in fact she did return after five minutes as I was leaving.

In the meantime, however, a rather husky gent came into the shop and he read the overhead menu that wraps around two walls. "What's the chicken cheese steak?" he asked, pointing at the picture of a long sandwich. The man behind the counter said, "It's a sandwich with chicken, cheese and steak." The husky man looked at the picture a moment more. "Yeah," he said, "I'll have one of them, the chicken cheese steak. Make it the one for $5.99." The almost-six dollar model comes with french fries and a soft drink.

My order was done before I got to see the chicken cheese steak get prepared, which is probably just as well. My take home: two gyros for ten bucks, tax included. Were they good? Yes. They were as solid as bricks with pressed lamb and spices, some lettuce, tomato and onion and yogurt sauce wrapped in a light, grilled pita. Thus far, two people have made four snacky meals out of them. There is about a quarter of one left that I'll probably have as a midnight repast or for breakfast.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Vote for Mayor

You get to vote for up to four councillors-at-large when you vote in the mayoral primaries today. I admit I have only been following that 'race' out of the corner of a three-quarter closed eye but I did recognize most of the names and made my decision based on what little I know. The power of an uninformed electorate.

I just got back from the polls. As I was leaving a pickup truck with the Mayor's signs all over it was ladling hearty beef stew to Menino's supporters. A nice young lady at the door had given me a Sam Yoon sticker but I wasn't wearing it. That wasn't enough to get me an offer of stew though. I don't mind, the whole operation didn't look very sanitary.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

She inspected restrooms for a living

It's been a long time since any parent was pleased by the prospect that their child decided to become a professional poet. Among the arts, this is the most cash-poor of professions, with low entry barriers and paltry rewards beyond the boasting rights of being published. I think the last poet to actually make a living from this craft was Rod McKuen, so that shows the depths to which poetry's respect has sunk. If you aren't familiar with Mr. McKuen's work, spare yourself the trouble of looking it up. Write a poem yourself instead.

I usually get lumped in with the poets wherever I land rather than with the more important kinds of writers. I'm no journalist no matter how hard I try to report the facts as I find them. Though I do write essays, I craft them with a turgid, alliterative prose fond of lists, a-la Walt Whitman, and dense with hermetic allusions. Too clever by half, I allow my free associations to guide my plot, such as it is, and even I never know where we will end up by paragraph's end. This is my style, for good or ill, and I enjoy it. What this gives to the reader, I have little idea but I haven't received many complaints beyond a recurrent observation that I sometimes resemble a donkey's back side. Be that as it may. In the right light, though I may not be the man some girls think of as handsome, being WK has its advantages.

I was once acquainted with a poet who, like most, couldn't make a living writing poetry. Her day job was travelling from town to town as a public rest room inspector. She would rate the general conditions and cleanliness of public toilets. As far as I know she never visited Boston. Who knows how many pages of demerits she could have written here? The funny thing is, she would boast about her paying profession. For her, it was a badge of authenticity. She could spin poesy as ethereal as gossamer, one syllable hinged to the next in a Jacob's Ladder that, when read aloud with halting...emphatic pauses, would allow the listener entrance to a world of spirit past the grime of day-to-day existence. Her passion was poetry, something which no one cared about. Her work was inspecting toilets, something that everyone does though few of us are paid for passing judgement.

She considered herself a poet of the highest order. The more she was acknowledged as a poetess, the more haughtily she would proclaim, "I'm a restroom inspector by day!" She wasn't a pretty woman. She looked like what you would expect a restroom inspector to look like, no insult intended to those who practice this trade. She would bring her infant daughter with her, one of her criteria being, "Would I change a baby's diaper in this stall?" She would brag that she brought her daughter to highway rest areas all over the Northeast. This isn't the kind of childhood I would wish on anyone but it may explain a social misfit's most deeply seated motivations. The poet in question didn't come from a long line of restroom inspectors. She seemed to have landed into it by chance and, having found something she was good at, she stuck to it. Like her poetry.

What does this have to do with Dorchester? A frequent critique is that I praise Dorchester much as this poet crowed about her career. I have landed in a place that isn't quite where anyone would want to spend their days and, to compensate, the Dot Matrix is dedicated to spinning gold and self-esteem out of manure. This isn't exactly true and I will tell you why.

Dorchester is not a pit stop where people answer the call of nature and don't care what they leave behind. Dorchester is a place where families are raised and futures find their foundations. It is a place that people move to by choice because it is the best option available, not because it is the only option available. Decisions aren't reached randomly in Dorchester, they are by design. After Dorchesterites make their move by conscious choice, they start to build on the community's strengths to enrich themselves and their surroundings. Though fertile ground, Dorchester is not where people flush their deposits. It is a place where they deposit their wages into bank accounts and all their actions accrue accumlated interest.

When I publicly state my affection for my surroundings, it isn't because I am trying make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. I am genuinely glad and grateful to live in the biggest and most diverse part of Boston that coincidentally happens to be the best. I am not masking shame with false pride. Dorchester is a place with a deficit of hubris. I report events as I find them, pressed through my patented Whalehead filter which many have tried to copy or mock with only partial success. Dorchester is good and there is no changing that bedrock fact. If you don't believe what you read on these pages, this says more about you than it does about Dorchester. I am happy and I know many other people who are equally happy and they wouldn't trade Dorchester for any other locale in the world. Dot pride is more than a state of mind. It is a way of life.

Saturday, September 19, 2009


The door in Dorchester is always open. The porch light is always on. There's always some soup being kept warm on the stove top. There's always room for one more at the table. Strangers welcome. No one leaves this house hungry.

Do you like coffee? Do you like tea? I bet you'll like Dorchester and it will like you if you give it a chance. Do you like soda pop? You'll find Dorchester sufficiently fizzy. Do you like sweets? Do you like romance? Do you like to daydream? Do you like clean streets, manicured parks, decent schools, friendly neighbors, efficient public transportation and room enough to stretch your legs, exercise your muscles and reach your hands to the stars that twinkle like promises overhead. You can reach the stars in Dorchester. They are caught in the waters of Dorchester Bay and they wink against the lapping shores of the Neponset River. You can touch them. You can drink them. They tickle.

Wanted: a good, loving, capable woman who lives in Dorchester. Send a picture of apartment. You can't swing a yardstick in Dorchester without hitting a good, loving, capable woman. You can't walk a block without bumping into some Dot-bumpkin who will excuse himself and say, "Golleeee, Mister, I'm sorry!" He'll shake your hand, dust off where his shoulder hit yours and offer to buy you a cup of coffee. If you really lost your balance, he'll offer to buy you a sandwich to go along with the coffee.

From the northernmost tip of the Polish Triangle, along Dot Ave's hypotenuse, to the third point on Morton Street, Dorchester is full of the salt of the earth. Some people feel small, confused, crippled, almost. They move to Dorchester and they have a secret word that gives them strength and power to overcome their limitations. People excel in Dorchester. They make good despite what others may think. In Dorchester, a little goes a long way and a lot of good things happen where the sun shines. What's the secret word? If you have the urge to ask, "What is it?" you should come and make a visit.

You bet your life in Dorchester. You take your chances and you roll your dice. Every Dorchesterite's a winner. Luck is always a lady in the Dot.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Accidental contentment

I didn't choose Dorchester. It chose me. For that, I am grateful.

I took the train up from New London, Conn. in the spring of 2007. The trees were in blossom and I walked the length of Dot Ave between JFK/UMASS and Savin Hill, detouring along side streets between the T tracks and Upham's Corner. I was hooked. Not all of Dorchester is as nice as the neighborhood I inhabit, but most of them are close.

I had a few hours to kill before the lady I was visiting would be free so I made the most of my time, wandering aimlessly while enjoying the sights and the sounds and the smells. I stepped into the shops, this part of Dot Ave is crowded with tiny, busy storefronts, and I sat in the parks, watching the life of the neighborhood go by with an easygoing rhythm.

On subsequent visits, I drove my motorcycle to Dorchester and I wiled away my visits exploring the all the sub-neighborhoods and parishes and hilltops. Most parts of Dorchester are much like the others. All of them are attractive little nodes of commerce and community bound up into a larger boundary that, itself, is bound up with the life of the greater city beyond the Dot proper. There are varying income levels and different corners have different vibrations, but all in all Dorchester is a tidy place in which to experience a sense of contentment. I know. I've been content since I moved here shortly after my first visit.

Perhaps I have low expectations or, rather, I have high expectations that are easily met. I suppose I would be happy living in Beacon Hill or the North End or the South End or Back Bay. I haven't tried but I have been in all those places and, frankly, I am quite content in Dorchester. If I don't know all my neighbors by name, I know them by face and vice versa. We exchange pleasantries and news as we pass on our errands. I have never been made to feel unwelcome and I never been made to feel I don't belong. I don't think anyone who inhabits Dorchester feels that way. I may be projecting. Dorchester really is a melting pot where dissimilar people of dissimilar backgrounds gather, communicate, and get along.

There is such a thing as a Dorchesterite. It is a certain kind of Bostonian who lives in Dorchester, the city's biggest and most diverse political subdivision. Dorchester was once it's own town and though it is now just a piece of a larger metropolitan puzzle, it retains a unique identity that grows on the people who live here. As home to the first public school, Dorchester respects and encourages lifelong learning, be it book smarts or street smarts. That is why UMASS Boston is located in Boston. It is also why the savviest card sharps play poker in its American Legion halls. It is why small businesses thrive in Dorchester.

Dorchesterites are always learning how to get along. Dorchester is a work in progress. Every generation and every day bring new ideas as much as they bring new people. Dorchester is flexible and adaptable. It is open-minded and affable. I have yet to meet anyone who lives in Dorchester who regrets their address. Some may move away but just as many move in. It is an organic part of Boston, an organism that changes and grows as its decades turn into centuries. It is not a time capsule or set piece as much as a living place that is a setting for life's many, little, individual glories to unfold.

It's not infrastructure that matters so much as the people who make use of it. Dorchester is inhabited by people who have their feet firmly planted on it's pavement. They live in their homes as much as they live in the wider community by extension. There aren't any highrises, there aren't any skyscrapers, there is little glamour. Dorchester is the best part of a city without feeling like a city. When you move to Dorchester, you feel like you've come from the end of the world to your home town.

Home is where the heart is and Dorchester has heart. Home to more than 100,000 souls, it contains more than 100,000 beating, vital hearts. You can't have love without a heart. You can't measure the amount of love contained in a place that is home to more than 100,000 of them. Dorchester is like that. Facets of it can be described, but it cannot be felt except through intuition, a gut feeling, an empathetic instinct, with the animal brain more than reason, with sympathy more than logic, by its aura more than its bones or reputation.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

I dream of Yoon

In my dream, Mayoral Candidate Sam Yoon walks into the New Store on the Block (847 Dorchester Avenue). He's buying a bag of pork rinds, a bottle of Mountain Dew and a pack of honey-berry flavored Backwoods cigars.

The guy behind the counter says, "Scrubby! I thought you gave up on vices. You know this stuff's no good for you." In my dream everyone calls Candidate Yoon 'Scrubby.' I have no idea why but he doesn't seem to mind.

Yoon pulls out a cigar and puts it in his mouth. "I'm a politician now," he growls around the butt end, "I live large, a man of the people. I enjoy blowing good smoke and I like to nosh on pork products, the more deep-fried the better." He lights up his cheroot indoors and, this being Massachusetts, I realize this is only a dream. Yoon seems puffed up, taller than he appears in photographs. He grins like a buffoon and there's a hint of malicious twinkle in his eyes. He pays the counterman with corroded pennies that he counts out twice before handing them over.

I'm next in line, holding a twenty-five cent box of Boston Baked Beans. As Candidate Yoon turns to make his way out of the store, he bumps into me. "Sorry about that, sport!" he exclaims. "I've got my eye on the election so I didn't see you there. Going to vote for me?" he asks.

I reply that I'm undecided. "I'm sure you'll make the right choice when the day comes," he says and he slaps me on the back so hard he knocks the wind out of me. I am deflated by his enthusiasm. "Now excuse me, gents. I'm headed over to Eagle Liquors to pick up a liter of eye-opener to go with my Mountain Dew."

"Hold on Scrubby," the guy behind the counter says. "Something's wrong with you. You're not yourself. Keep this up and you'll turn into this!" The guy hands Yoon a photograph and Yoon's face drains of color. He looks like he's seen Marley's ghost. Chagrined, he hands the photo back face down.

He says, "Can I buy a comb?" and he offers up a crisp dollar. When the purchase is complete, Candidate Yoon combs his hair. He tucks in his shirt. He puts down his pork rinds, his Mountain Dew and his cigars. "You can keep these," he says, "I think I'll just be myself. Being a politician can do horrible things to a man."

As Candidate Yoon leaves the store, I call out to him. "I hope you win, Scrubby," I say.

Is it only a dream?

Movie premier in Upham's Corner

The movie 'Mind Game' is having its Grand Premier at the Strand Theater in Dorchester on September 27th at 7:00PM. Tickets are $25, more than double the price of a film at the Loew's on Boston Common. Why a Grand Premier in Dorcheser? It stars a Haitian actor and publicists think the local Haitian community will be enthused to buy tickets.

Apparently, this is a Nigerian movie about a man on the down low, that is a man who has intimate relations with other men while being married to a woman who catches him in the act. This isn't the kind of plot I would expect from an African film, but then again, there's no reason why not. I don't really have any idea what an African film would be like. Thinking of Africa as a single entity, of course, is like thinking of North America as single unit, a fallacy, so I am correcting my world view as I write this. This film is a product of the Nigerian film industry which I recently learned is nicknamed 'Nollywood." I was surprised to discover there is a Nigerian film industry, let alone one productive enough to earn an industry nickname as a dream factory.

What if Dorchester, which has been the setting for a recent film, became home to a movie industry, using the Commonwealth's film tax credit system to its full advantage. Would Dorchester be nicknamed 'Dollywood?' That name is already taken. There is already a Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tenn. More likely, Dorchester would rely on its already memorable moniker as 'The Dot' to become Dottiewood.

Monday, September 14, 2009

An overlooked minority

Dorchester is a large neighborhood within Boston that contains a kaleidoscope of ethnicities. Most famous and enduring over the past century has been the Irish, but there are others. Vibrant South Vietnamese, Cape Verdean, Haitian, Latino Carribean, African American and WASP communities also have a strong presence. The Native Americans that originally inhabited Dorchester's shorline and hillsides have all but disappeared, but there is another ethnic group that has been here a long time and that has largely escaped notice.

I was strolling Mt. Ida Road that borders Ronan Park in Dorchester's highlands. This is a tidy neighborhood of three-deckers, much like you find elsewhere in the Dot, the main difference being the spectacularly sweeping water views of Dorchester Bay far below the hilltop's summit about a half mile away, if that.

Tacked next to a basement door was a sign written in a curious script, sort of a cross between Norse Runes and Greek. It didn't make any sense to me so I collared a passing teenager and asked him what the sign said. "I can't read it," he told me, "but that's the local soccer club's headquarters. They play in the park on Wednesday nights." He held out his hand and I gave him a quarter for his translation. Then I knocked on the door.

It turns out this cellar is home to Dorchester's own Etruscan-American Football Club. A man with an easygoing smile let me in and I settled onto one of the formica chairs that were arranged around a scattering of formica tables. There were twelve other people in the room, an equal mix of male and female, all of them affable and ready to answer whatever questions I had.

My first question: "I thought Etruscans were extinct. How is it that you are in Dorchester?"

A young lady with a thin nose, dark, curly hair and a complexion like a fava bean, answered, "The Etruscan community has been in Dorchester for over 20 centuries. We don't like to make a big deal over it. We don't have much political interest and so we don't have much political influence. Our community has been based up here on Mount Ida for longer than most of Boston remembers. Nobody bothers us so we don't bother anyone else. Etruscans learned a long time ago that it's easier to keep a low profile and not challenge the majority."

My second question: "How come there isn't a newspaper like the Haitian Reporter or the Irish Reporter available at convenience stores so I can keep up with developments in the Etruscan community?"

An aquiline man in his mid-30s stepped up to answer. He told me that the Etruscan community is well-knit, everyone knows everyone else and that Etruscans, as a rule, don't like to air their business for anyone else to see. "We take care of ourselves," he said, "We don't need a newspaper to know what's going on. After all, as you can see from the sign out front, our letters don't have a regular type font a publisher can pick up at wholesale. Our native tongue doesn't translate easily anyway, so why bother?"

This prompted my third question: "Is Etruscan a dead language?"

An old woman wearing the same beatific smile as everyone else in the room except me stood up with the help of a walker. She curled a limp fist and and tapped it on one of the tables, "As long as one of us breathes, Etruscan will be no more dead than Latin." She sat down again and sipped at a chipped teacup of grappa.

Dorchester is a big neighborhood full of many secrets and many small communities that escape the wide angle lens of the major media. Dorchester's streets are full of surprises. You never know what you'll find in Dorchester, be it the solution to ancient mysteries or the next big boy band. After I left Mt. Ida Road, I headed over to the New Store on the Block in the Polish Triangle. I bought a couple of scratch off tickets, and a Dorchester Reporter. I asked the Dominican guys behind the counter if they knew any Etruscans. The eldest of them answered, "We don't get many Etruscans here. Our customers are mostly Polish and students." His younger apprentice added, "We also have a few Dominican regulars, though."

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Exhibit A: Mayor Thomas M. Menino

The good news is that Boston isn't broken. Boston is not Detroit and the lack of crisis plays into the hands of Mayor Menino, who was the hand at the helm for the past sixteen years. Sixteen years is a long time. Is it too long? Will twenty years be too long? How about twenty-four? As the incumbent says, he faces a term limit at the end of every term.

I think the city's ship could use some barnacle scraping in order to tack more efficiently. The current administration has built up a lot of ballast over the past decade and a half, but the ship isn't sinking, yet. Is now the time to fetch a broom and sweep a bum out of office? Despite what some critics suggest, the city is not running on inertia. I don't get the impression that Menino is a lazy bum resting on his laurels.

Boston's government may be shady. There is plenty of gray and very little that is black or white. With someone in charge who is actively seeking reelection, his motivation comes from keeping voters happy and no one will say Menino is a slouch toward his responsibilities. Like Buddy Cianci, Menino will attend the opening of an envelope if he thinks voters will be around. Unlike Cianci, Menino isn't flamboyant or colorful. He doesn't have a cult of personality for obvious reasons. The lack of hardwired rules and zoning ordinances allows Menino to make things happen as he gauges the political winds in any given situation. Holding as much power as he does, he is able to make things happen. Being a politician, he makes them happen the way he thinks will propel him toward reelection. The majority, theoretically, are getting what they want. Menino knows that when he really screws up he'll be pedalling his bicycle around Hyde Park without a job he loves doing.

The Boston Globe recently wrote an editorial about Mayor Menino's record on neighborhood issues, and that includes all neighborhoods, not just downtown and not just the ones with money. On this score, the incumbent has proven that he is, as he describes himself, an urban mechanic, keeping the far flung mechanisms of Boston running with all the chipped gears falling where they hopefully should. There isn't a lot of blight in Boston. Even the pockets of the major neighborhoods that are eyesores have something positive going on in them. Could he have done more? Someone is always going to say so. Boston's mayor is not an emperor though. He cannot make changes with a wave of his hand. He cannot grant something as inconsequential as an extra liquor license within the city's limits and what should be his jurisdiction.

It is a fact that Boston's neighborhoods have improved over the last sixteen years. People will complain that there is still crime in Dorchester and Roxbury. There is crime everywhere. The mayor is not a hypnotist and he isn't allowed to taint the drinking water with tranquilizers. No matter who is in charge there will be crime. The fact of the matter is, there will always be miscreants.

Today's Boston Globe runs a front page article on the Mayor's political machinations while simultaneously being the city's chief executive. If I recall, the Globe states that Menino's machine is the largest and most efficient since Mayor Curley's infamous reign. Unlike Curley, though, Menino is no rascal, at least not in any obvious way. I don't begrudge the incumbent for serving his constituents and setting up a bureaucracy to do just that. Nor do I begrudge him taking credit and expecting reelection because of his attention to details. I find it more palatable than reading his name on every picnic table umbrella, neighborhood sign and public trash can. If and when he gets voted out of office all those things will cost money to be replaced. All the goodwill he earns by resolving people's complaints is of a more fickle and transitory nature.

Mayor Curley, like Buddy Cianci, was a colorful character and people rallied behind both not only because they delivered, but also because they were entertaining. Menino is not entertaining. Opinion on that point seems to be unanimous. If he is popular, it is because he has done his job well. Is that enough to grant him an unprecedented fifth term in the top office? Some people think so. It's true Menino hasn't delivered everything he's promised, but considering the contention that any mayor confronts in a city in which people are free to air their every idea and grievance, that's no surprise no matter who is in office.

I've given this election some thought. I'm no Menino fan, as any skimming of past political posts on this site will show. I do think he has earned the chance to prove that he deserves to be mayor again. There is nothing stopping him, after all, besides whatever personal dignity he'll earn by stepping down and becoming an elder statesman in the city. While old ideas and the current administration aren't causing any undue wear on the city, fresh ideas and streamlined ways of conducting the city's business should always be welcome.

Candidate Kevin McCrea justly decries the wasteful spending of taxpayer dollars and demands more transparency in city government. Candidate Sam Yoon likewise demands more transparency as well as limits to the mayor's authority through oversight boards and he has a lot of smart ideas about making government work better through institutional reform. Both are good alternatives to Mayor Menino if you think the incumbent deserves a vaudeville hook while he's at the podium.

Candidate Michael Flaherty is entrenched enough to mayor. If we can damn a man with faint praise, he is more handsome than Menino and this challenger is different from the incumbent in that respect. McCrea isn't as easy on the eyes but he looks and talks the part of chief executive. As for Sam Yoon, enough has been written about his boyish good looks for me to bother commenting further.

It's only primary season at the moment and Menino looks like a shoe-in for a slot on the final ballot. He has earned voters' loyalty through hard work. It's not a job I would want to perform but it obviously suits him. There but for the grace of the angels go I. I would love to see a final choice between McCrea and Yoon in alphabetical order. I doubt that's going to happen and Mayor Menino will inevitably end up in the final running. He's chosen to run and that't his right. Who should be his opponent? Space constraints limit me to putting this question off until next week. McCrea fired some well targeted volleys during this week's debate. Yoon was Yoon and it's a shame he couldn't have built up his political capital sooner, but after all this is politics and whoever best expresses the will of the people will win. Yoon may not win this round, but this year is just one battle in what he should be looking at as a war. Both McCrea and Yoon should look at this outing as a bivouac, a reconnoitering to assess the enemy, and strategize for the next round. Flaherty would love the top job, but I get the impression that he is antsy to move up, he is more chafing for career advancement than advancing a vision of what Boston can be in the future. He will just as content as a senior City Councillor ad nauseum until he reaches retirement.

I hope I haven't tried your patience. To sum up: Menino -not preferred but proven okay. Yoon - not proven but good ideas. McCrea - not proven but good intentions. Flaherty - 'nuff said.

If you would like to look over the the incumbent's website, here it is.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Dorchester's mass transit

Prior to the days when the car became king of intra-city transportation options, most of Boston's neighborhoods were served by street cars. That tradition is perpetuated by the various Green lines and the Mattapan High-Speed, but every other route has been demolished and replaced by concrete meridians, most of them sterile concrete curbways in mid street where pedestrians must pause between lanes of traffic. Blue Hill Avenue is the most eye-displeasing example, especially on the Mattapan approach (or exit depending on whether you are heading inbound or out). Blue Hill Ave along much of its length is split by a wide expanse of raised cement that is dotted with light poles and ornamental planters at regular intervals. Despite the greenery that straggles over the brims of the pots, this is a dead zone that could be put to much better use.

The Dorchester Reporter, this part of Boston's paper of record, feautres a thoughtful assessment of the proposal for a mass transit upgrade along Blue Hill Avenue, that goes by either the unattractive or futuristic name, depending on your viewpoint, of 28X. This is basically an extensition of Silver Line type service from Ruggles to Mattapan Square by way of Dudley. I'm for it, but I think it needs a better name. I'm not in marketing but 'Silver Line South' or, more evocatively, 'Silver Line Zephyr' would be better names pointing to the relatively more efficient nature of the proposed service. Buses in dedicated lanes with enclosed stations would run more like trains than like the current Bus 28 route.

The Silver Line has a bad reputation in some circles, but I've always enjoyed using it. I've never taken it to Southie but I have taken it to the airport. Though this branch of the Silver Line is a mass transit option that seems to have been designed by a committee of camels, it gets to the airport in convenient, hassel-free time, even when most passengers are stowing oversized suitcases. I prefer taking the Washington Street branch to taking the Orange Line when I need to reach parts of Boston east of the South End proper. It's not an elevated train and it doesn't run through Eggleston Square all the way to Forest Hills (and I fault it for that) but it ably serves the areas it is designed to serve. It is also much quieter than a train, which is something the neighbors probably appreciate.

Much like the E Line was "Mayor Tobin's Baby," able to be constructed because of funding by an infusion of New Deal dollars, the construction of the 28X (can I call it the Silver Line Zephyr?) hinges on the support of federal funds available under another Democratic federal administration. Without the infusion of federal funding, Blue Hill Avenue may be serviced by more inexpensive, regular bus service for infinite years. Why is this proposal being green-lighted now? Because funds are available. This is not "Mayor Menino's Baby" however. Influence over mass transit has been stripped from local control and it a thing only indirectly addressed by mayoral canditates. There is no use discussing something over which you have little influence. Governor Patrick is the party responsible for putting this baby in the bath. I appreciate him doing it, but it highlights how much control Boston's 'strong mayor' has over developments in what should be his or her jurisdiction.

My advice: strike while the iron is hot. Upgrade when you can. Upgrade to a dedicated bus right-of-way and get the infrastructure in place. If demand exceeds supply, muti-car light rail will be easier to deploy in the future. A train line is an expensive thing to build. The tracks won't get laid on virgin land. Is there any virgin land left in Boston? I think dedicating a section of public thoroughfare to efficient public transportation will make future upgrades more palatable if and when they are needed. Contentious people will demand platinum service when they could settle for gold. It may not be 24-karat gold, but it will be something more than gold plate over cheap zinc. Niether Rome nor Mattapan Square were built in a day. Both are still works in progress, and both should take advantage of whatever opportunities are available to be viable for the next few decade. Given the chance to build on what you have on hand, roll the dice and wax.

28X will be an improvement over current bus service and it will also construct stations right now that will be a needed component of a more heavy-stock network should it be built in 2020. That will result in a cost savings and reduce the price tag should the decision be made to expand rail service to Blue Hill Avenue. Needless to say, a more efficient transit line along Blue Hill Ave. will provide some construction jobs and will provide easier access to the neighborhoods it serves, boosting businesses and raising potential property values. To those who are against improved service, I ask, "What are you afraid of?"

I once read a maxim that many people seem to subscribe to: "If you are over thirty years old and rely on the bus, you are a life failure." I haven't owned a car for more than twenty years but I know that car ownership is a part of the American dream. This is all very nice if you live on a farm or in the suburbs, but I, like most Dorchesterites live in a city. A car can be as much an inconvenience as it is a neccessity. City living isn't about driving. It is about interacting with your fellow citizens. City dwellers do it on the street when they walk, they should do it when they travel by every other means beside their feet, except by car. The bus allows it. 28X will do it with added convenience and efficiency.

In other related news, the Ashmont bus stops have been taken off Dot Ave. I noticed this two weeks ago when I went to Ashmont to take the Mattapan High-Speed Trolley to Lower Mills. I was amazed to see the amount of space dedicated to boarding and disembarking the many bus routes that serve Dorchester. Ashmont Station has been closed for construction since I moved to Boston two years ago. It seems to be an efficient arrangement off the main road. People bad mouth the MBTA. I have a few quibbles, but they are too few to mention. Having lived in a city with hourly bus service that wended its way to take an hour to travel three miles on some routes and an hour to travel ten miles on others, how can I complain about the MBTA's schedule?

Dorchester is blessed by the past investments in the Dorchester Tunnel and the Red Line, the Mattapan High-Speed. It is hard to walk away from the costs that were sunk to build this infrastructure and the benefits that still accrue from them keep this part of Boston vital and active. Dorchester isn't written off as a backwater because it is still an interconnected part of the city's fabric by industrially engineered mass transit lines. The more the better. The more capital outlays, the less anyone wants to abandon the past expense. It's already built, we may as well use it. Dorchester is one of the most vital parts of Boston because it is one of the most well connected. It cannot be ignored. Anyone who looks at an MBTA subway map can see that.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Dot is a lady

Dorchester is a lady. She may be a little bit brawny and bloated, but she is yet elegant, like a ballerina in work boots, a debutante who made her debut in 1630 and married in 1870, a dowager still full of spunk and spitfire. Dorchester, Mass. isn't a widow and or a frustrated wife nor a divorcee, Dorchester is a part of Boston, Mass., the biggest and best part of the city,and any one will agree, and a willing helpmate. Though she's put on a few pounds and her conversation can seem a bit dotty and meandering at times, Dorchester still keeps her wits and her grit. You can't keep a good neighborhood down for long.

A voluptuous temptress, Dorchester, Mass. is skilled in the ways of love and adoration. Fecund and suspended off the body of Boston like a pregnant belly, Dorchester is plump with feminine wiles, emotional wisdom, intuition, and indirect communication skills. In polyglot Dorchester, body language is the lingua franca. Affirmative nods, handshakes, and friendly waves are the most common words spoken. Fourth most common is the knowing wink. After that, the sidelong glance that takes disapproving measure of bad behavior.

No drudge or charwoman, this Dorchester, she works hard nonetheless, thanklessly and thankful for her chance to add to the harlequin, parti-colored tapestry that is Boston, the Athens of America. If Boston is akin to Athens, Dorchester is a match to Thessaly. Scored knuckes, chapped hands, sore elbows, calloused knees and a splitting headache to match, Dorchester gives and gives its best. Enduring legends cut their teeth and make their mark in Dorchester's warren. There are no monsters, no minotaur, no centaurs. A senator was born here. Any monsters are those conjured by the overactive imaginations of people unfamiliar with Dorchester's civil manners. No one eats children in Dorchester, raising children to be responsible citizens is the neighborhood's mission.

Have you been to Dorchester much? Even if you've only been once it takes nerves of steel to resist its charms. Stronger men than you have been sucked into Dorchester's vortex and come out the other side better for it. If you are a woman, have you experienced Dorchester? If you have, you know what it is like to be in the company of supportive friends, a sorority of camaraderie, you and the Dot. Dorchester is the best friend you never had...until now. Nothing bad happens in Dorchester except bad decisions and then you have no one to blame but yourself. You can't blame Dorchester, a neighborhood of milk and cereal and meats cooked so thoroughly there's no chance of contracting salmonella.

Dorchester's enthusiasm is infectious. Once bitten, not a bit shy. Once bitten by the Dorchester bug, it gets under your skin. Though Dorchester is big it can lodge like a chigger producing an invisible itch that demands scratching. The only cure: a return visit. The permanent cure: becoming a Dorchesterite in deed as well as sympathy. Dorchester has experienced a rash of new home buyers descending on properties that a decade ago no one would give a second look. People look twice at Dorchester now. They do double takes and crane their necks as they pass her curves. Dorchester has a hamburger and fries to go with her shake.

A bicyclist passed me on Dot Ave this evening. He was whistling a familiar tune as he pedaled past the Blarney Stone. His phrasing mimicked Sinatra, justly so. The song was "I've Got You Under My Skin."

Come on you fool, you've got to give into the Dot. This lady is no tramp.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

The guy with the Spanish Fly

A black market haunts Dorchester. Illicit substances are being offered up for sale on street corners in Field's Corner and Codman Square by shady characters who don't have pharmacist licenses. Potential customers looking to spice up their love lives or attract someone of the opposite gender, or the same gender, are warned not to trust street vendors offering love potions. What you think you are buying may not be what you are getting.

I was riding my bicycle along Freeport Street last evening and one such suspicious character waved and hissed, "Psssssssst!" I slowed down. "I think I've got something you might want,"he said and he held out a vial, cupping his hand so that only I could see its contents. "Pure Spanish Fly, the best kind," he said. "Guaranteed," he added, flashing the USP label promising 10mg of powdered lytta vesicatoria per tablet.

I demurred, "I don't think I'll have much use for that. I rely on my natural animal magnetism." The pusher wasn't so easily dissuaded. "This is a hot ticket," he said, "It's the real deal. Look, bub, all the real players are buying off of me and scoring like Madoff if he were a gigolo. I have so much repeat business, I'm running out of stock." I said I'd think about it. I told him I was headed up to Codman Square and if I changed my mind between here and there I'd be back. "No need for a return trip, my friend," he said. "I've a partner in Codman and his merchandise is just as good. Go to the corner of Washington and Melville. Ask for Squinty. He'll set you up."

As often happens, I got distracted and ended up in Neponset rather than Codman so I never met Squinty, not that I ever intended to. When I got home though, I did a little due diligence. It turns out that Spanish Fly is illegal in the United States and, labeling notwithstanding, most preparations don't contain what they promise.

Today's lesson: don't buy drugs off the street. There's another lesson too: don't buy illegal drugs, but that isn't demonstrated very well by this story. Dorchester is a neighborhood of many temptations.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

A poetaster

We came across this less than lovely line of poetic commentary: "...Dot smells like urine, diesel, sour milk, and ass. But if you want to romanticize that, great." Needless to say, some would disagree.

I live in Dorchester and I enjoy it. My neighbors are friendly, the locale is convenient, affordable and, really, lovely. My street does not smell like urine, diesel fuel, sour milk, or any one's fundament. If these articles are romantic, so be it. I am a romantic along the lines of the moods depicted by my favorite painter, Caspar David Friedrich. He painted the picture at the top of this editorial and I like to think of it as a portrait of Whalehead King standing at the summit of Dorchester Heights, in South Boston, looking toward the Blue Hills out yonder but studying the lay of the land in between.

Dorchester smells of urine and diesel and sour milk and sour opinions in some alleyways. It also smells of blood, neglect, burnt gunpowder, overflowing dumpsters, rats' nests, and barrels of toxic chemicals. When the breeze blows off Dorchester Bay and rattles the leaves into a murmuring sussurus and garden flowers' full heads bob and weave their perfume through the air, that is also Dorchester's scent. There are more back gardens than there are back alleys.

When kitchen stoves are lit en masse, pots and pans exhale steam through fly screens and whole blocks smell like pasta fagiole or corned beef and cabbage or homemade pho or ginger or chili or basil or fennel. Is that romantic? No. That's dinner. As I travel from one three-decker lined canyon to the next, I am treated to an olfactory symphony that tickles my nose, my tastebuds, my appetite and my appreciation for my surroundings. That's Dorchester. I know. I experience it every day.

Poverty is relative. Money may not slosh around Dorchester, but people buy and sell as well as haggle. The typical Dorchesterite's lifestyle isn't that of the rich and famous but neither is it of the down and out. People get by. They make do. They earn their paychecks and they pay the rent on time. You won't find many fancy cars in Dorchester but you'll find serviceable vehicles. You won't find much trash. Parks and lawns tend to be well maintained and both types of property, public and private, are respected.

If you think you know Dorchester, you may know a part of it. It takes many hours over many weeks and many years to appreciate every aspect Dorchester offers and hides. Dorchester is uglier than you think in some spots but overall, Dorchester is more beautiful than you imagine.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Dorchester smells like sweat

Labor Day. Dorchester, Mass. is home to the headquarters of organized bricklayers, masons, carpenters, electricians, welders, ironworkers, sheetrockers, framers, subcontractors, pavers, stevedores, teamsters, railroad workers, teachers, firefighters, policemen, government janitors, postal carriers, and healthcare workers. Labor Day passes, a restful break for all the busy hands that keep Boston running on time and on budget.

Hot dogs on the grill, a bun in the oven, relish on the side, sweet potato salad...these are the things that make Labor Day in the Dot a holiday to be savored. It's not just the enjoyment of rest between routines that makes Labor Day Dorchester-specific. It is because Dorchester, like few other parts of Boston is a neighborhood where people have dirt under their nails and grease in their pores that a scrub brush can't erase after only one pass. Dorchester is a sweaty place, where garbage men retire to sleep the sleep of the exhausted and their wives and girlfriends get accustomed to the smell. Dorchester is a place where a worker earns a paycheck from the sweat of his or her brow and the ache of overextended muscles.

It isn't easy being a hod-carrier. It isn't a walk in the park to dig ditches, shovel to soil hour after hour. It isn't easy to maintain the skyscrapers and office parks that information workers take for granted. Someone has to tighten an elevator's cables and someone has to fine tune the escalators. Dorchester's working folk trudge up and down endless flights of stairs and ladders to get into and out of tight places, making sure everything transpires as it should, without a hitch. If a belt doesn't slip, if the gears turn as intended, if everything is well-oiled and all the parts fall into place, if a toilet flushes, chances are that a Dorchesterite has done the job to spec.

Dorchester smells like sweat: clean, honest sweat that pours out of a working person hard at a thankless chore. A wet forehead gets mopped by a wet hand swung cavalierly without any thought but to keep a hammer swinging without missing a beat. No candles or perfumes can disguise the scent of Dorchester. It is as natural as Adam and Eve being cast into the Garden of Dorchester and laboring to build a home for themselves. There is no shame in being ripe.

Dorchester, Mass., brawny and savvy Dorchester, Mass. Boston would be weaker without the good folk who inhabit the Dot. Boston wouldn't be Boston. It would be frozen without lubricant, without electricity, without workers, without hope, without anyone able to jerry-rig a broken part in a complicated, interlocked machine. Labor Day is Dorchester's day. Boston should observe a moment of silence in respect for the people who inhabit Dorchester's three-deckers while they stroll the Common and the Esplanade.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Yoon in Byzantium.

Sam Yoon is the thinking person's candidate for the position of Boston's Mayor. He graduated with a major in philosophy, so that qualifies him as an egghead. Yoon brings a lot of fresh ideas and out-of -the-usual-box thinking to how to run Boston. Not all of it is original and not all of it will play well in a place so entrenched in habits, but it is refreshing to see it out in the open, challenging the status quo.

Mr. Yoon has a good head on his shoulders. The proof: he lives in Dorchester. Though he's a brainiac, he sleeps in a neighborhood where people have dirt under thier nails. Though he's spent his time in an ivory tower and certainly more hours than I would want to in an office in City Hall, he is grounded in the world of the hoi polloi. He's no elitist and he has certainly experienced some of the inconveniences most regular Bostonians do, whether they live in the Dot or one of the outer neighborhoods. Most Bostonians live in the outer neighborhoods. It has been a long time since Southie had any rough and tumble street cred.

I was going to write about Boston's mayoral election today and, in a rare move I had written the editorial the day before. In another rare turn of events, I bought the Sunday Boston Globe (I read the weekday editions) and they published an article about this upstart candidate. Oh well, back to the drawing board to make everything up-to-date and relevant.

To extract a short quote from the Globe's article: “... to say that I don’t understand Boston politics means that basically half of the city doesn't understand Boston politics.’’ I'm with ya there, Yoon. I've only lived here two years and many Bostonians are DBC or another neighborhood By Choice. I can't make heads nor tails about how the city is run except that it is constipated. There's no shame in admitting it. Boston is the not just the Athens of America, it is the Constantinople of America also. The byzantine structure of city government and the cross currents and back stabbing boggles an observer's mind. I think the only person who understands how things work is the puppetmaster at the top of the hierarchy.

If voters are disinterested, they can hardly be blamed. It's like learning chess without being able to see the board.

I will take a moment to again disagree with Mr. Yoon about one thing, and that is his weak mayor platform. I invite Mr. Yoon, if elected, to bring more transparency to the process of government and to rely on proven processes while using his sharp mind to invent new ones. If I vote for him, however, I want him to use every tool in his kit to bring about our shared vision of what the future Boston can be. I do not want him to handicap himself by delegating responsibility to an already far too powerful web of interest groups and agencies. I think a city's mayor should hold the reins tightly and choose the course without caving to too many opposing voices which often shout at cross purposes. If I disagree with the mayor I'll voice my opposition, but I only get to vote for him once. After the election, he is free to choose his policy directions until the next cycle and come Hell or high water, he should stick to his vision. If it veers from what I initially believed, shame on me; not shame on him. I was the poor judge of the candidates character.

Like Mr. Yoon wants to fix what's broken in Boston, I'm going to change my brake pads tomorrow, Labor Day being a fitting day to engage in some minor mechanics. I'm not approaching the task by saying I won't use a wrench. I'm going to drag every crescent and socket and monkey wrench I have in my toolbox into handy reaching distance, and many other things besides, in order to make sure I have what I need to get the job done. A mayor should likewise have everything available at this disposal to make things work as snag-free as possible.

I don't think anyone has misjudged Sam Yoon's character so far. The candidate has garnered almost universal respect as someone who brings a lot of book smarts and earnest charisma to the election.

Here is Sam Yoon's website so you can get his viewpoint straight from the horse's mouth.

Here is the incumbent's website, so you can see what the challenger is up against.

You'll have to look up Flaherty's website yourself. This candidate doesn't interest me as an agent of progress. I intend no offense to the man himself, but he seems more business as usual. As he says in his posters, Menino was good in 1996 and Flaherty is better in 2008. So what? I don't want a new model. I want a new machine. Yes, I used the word machine intentionally when discussing Candidate Flaherty. The Firefighter's Union endorsement doesn't help him in my eyes, though it probably ensures him a predictable number of votes.

You'll also have to look up McCrea's website yourself. Though I have nothing but respect for Kevin McCrea and I think he is a valuable piece of the puzzle that shines light into dark cracks of the current administration, I feel a full term of McCrea as mayor would be too much of a good thing. I think he belongs more on a soapbox rather than behind the center desk in the mayoral suite. I may be wrong and he may be just what Boston needs at the top, but I tend to think not, my respect for his opinions and due diligence notwithstanding.

In the spirit of fairness, I will be pondering the pros and cons of the incumbent and reporting them next Sunday. I don't think the incumbent is a bad mayor. I think, as he likes to allude to himself, he is an able urban mechanic and he has served Boston well during his tenure. Five terms though, seems like two too many.

Until then, read the papers, watch the candidates and come Election Day, vote for whom you think is best suited to lead Boston into the future.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Vehicular homicide

Two rats were reported missing last night and I heard the news at C.F. Donovan's a half hour before last call. A fellow barfly stumbled in after spending the evening listening to his police scanner. He was breathless, but he managed to pant out to anyone who could hear his gasps, "Two rats are reported missing." Most of us stared into our beers or at the televisions. Laughter unconnected to the news rang out from the dining room. Just the usual boisterous bunch of roustabouts enjoying their cups and plates on a Friday night in Dorchester, Mass.

Old McNulty grumbled, "Two rats, who cares? They deserve what came to 'em"

Big Gut muttered into his shot glass, "Rats! I hate 'em. They give me the heebie jeebies so much that I get the blues. Sometimes I get the shakes just thinking about rats crawling all over me."

Swan Neck Malloy posed the rhetorical question, "Why's the BPD getting involved in missing rat cases? Don't they have enough to do?"

I wasn't too much interested at the time, but this morning I was making my rounds running bicycle errands around the neighborhood, picking up the next week's supply of sundries from area shops, when I peddled past the solution to both the disappearances. The answer: vehicular homicide. These rats had been run over with intent and the intention was that their remains wouldn't be identifiable after the deed was done. Does one rat look like another? These two are obviously different.
I admit, I don't know the rats' names or their original addresses. I suspect they will be missed by someone. That's why their absence was phoned in. I saw one on Elton Street and I saw the other on Savin Hill Avenue.

Witnessing the aftermath of the carnage, I admit I felt a little sad for the little rat babies that will be missing a parent. Being run over is no way to die, ask any bicyclist or pedestrian. Better to die in bed at peace, unless you are a viking. Dorchester knows its share of mayhem and the smallest crimes are comitted in the dead of night. Because it happens after dark and the absence is negligably noticed, doesn't mean a thread of the community's fabric hasn't frayed irrepairably loose. Some basement will be one less rat today. Who will takes its place? For all I know these were honorable rats who caused nobody any trouble beyond the drivers who couldn't bother to swerve.

A corpse is a terrible thing to contemplate.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Where was Ted Kennedy born?

An imposing building stands on the corner of Dudley Street and Columbia Road. Etched in granite are the words "Masonic Hall." Two stories down, the lettering inelegantly split by a flagpole, another legend is carved in another slab of granite: "Columbia Square Building." Since Senator Edward M. Kennedy passed away a more ephemeral sign printed on card stock has been been propped up in the curved, second story window of this building overlooking the intersection. It reads, "Upham's Corner. Birthplace of Senator Ted Kennedy."

I don't know if this is metaphor or documented fact. It may be a mixture of both. If literally true, it suggests that the most recently deceased Massachusetts senator breathed his first breath in Upham's Corner's neighborhood. That would be an invigorating initial taste of the freshest air in Boston, if that's the case; the kind of air that swells the lungs with promise, expectation and seabreeze mingled with a smidge of working class city smells and kitchen aromas. If this is the case, it would explain a lot about the late senator's character and inspiration.

I'm not that interested in doing the research, but if this is true, I extrapolate that Edward M. Kennedy was born at Saint Margaret's Hospital at the summit of Jones' Hill which lies directly southeast of this intersection behind the Strand Theater. There is a building up there that seems to have been built as a small, community hospital that is now operated by Caritas Christi as a "women's health center" that, because of its layout still seems to be an inpatient facility. All of this is passing-by conjecture on my part, again, without research. I know that Blessed Mother of Theresa Church used to be St. Margaret's Church and that the Sisters of St. Margaret lived in a convent nearby. I know there was a St. Margaret's Hospital, so this building on Jones' Hill seems the most likely location.

I know the Kennedy family lived on Ashmont Hill before they were associated solely with Hyannisport. Ashmont is closer to Carney Hospital, but perhaps, at the time, St. Margaret's offered better birthing facilities. All my conclusions are pure speculation and I won't bore the reader with more red herrings that lead me to this conclusion. Connecting the dots without knowing too many facts is a pasttime of mine. My local big picture grows with the more random things I learn and observe. My haphazard understanding of Dorchester becomes a more concrete, never-ending story much like the Columbia Road sidewalk. Is it fact or fancy? Like most things in Dorchester, Mass. it is somewhere in between.

Senator Kennedy certainly worked for the interests of the denizens of Upham's Corner. Whether this is because he was born there or because he felt a natural affinity, I don't know. The citizens and voters who live in this part of Dorchester, and most any other part of Boston, identified with him. Was Ted Kennedy born in Upham's Corner? I don't know for sure. All I know is that he lived here in spirit, and I sit next to the giant pear statue in Edward Everett Square, named after another great statesman, and I think of Senator Kennedy and his legacy.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Strong mayor or weak?

I like Sam Yoon. Who doesn't? He's an earnest, likable chap.

Like many other people, I'm ambivalent about the incumbent Mayor Menino. Boston functions. Better the devil you know than the devil you don't. Is that really a campaign platform? I don't think Boston is broken as much as it is a little gummy in the gears and anyone who thinks about it realizes that when it comes to campaign contributions, the incumbent's sticky fingers are in just about every jam pot. I don't scent any more than a whiff of corruption, despite some of the remarks made in last night's debate. It isn't the kind of corruption that drags a city down, at least. Boston is doing rather well and, I admit, we have the current administration to thank for that. We can thank them for the school system too, and the pot holes.

Sam Yoon is charismatic. He brings charm to the table and book smarts too. He did make a remark last night that gave me pause. Mr. Yoon is in favor of limiting his power if elected. He feels a strong mayor is a bad thing. Mr. Menino made the point that he is the Chief Executive Officer of a multi-billion dollar operation (multi meaning more than two and billion implying it is more responsibility any regular voter will ever have to contemplate in their lifetime). If Boston were a private company, which it isn't, I would want a strong executive in charge. I would also expect that the executive has been schooled in budget management and personnel management and efficiency equations and cutting the bottom line to maximize investor returns. A politician isn't schooled in any of these things. The mayor learns his job on the fly. You don't get your PhD in mayoralty and then move up the ranks to the top spot. You make compelling speeches, you become a personality people can relate to, you promise things you needn't necessarily deliver, connect with the voters and, if you do these things go well, well....Hello, Mr. Mayor.

I moved to Boston from a small city with a weak mayor form of government. Let me tell you, it is better to have someone in charge, even someone with no experience, who has to make decisions and take the blame as well as the laurels, than it is to have no one accountable. New London, Connecticut's city charter was hatched in the 1920s when voters were afraid of popular will, machine politics, demagoguery and political corruption. Want to know why New London has been in a recession for decades before the current national malaise took root? It's because New London's weak mayor/strong city manager/impotent city council system stinks. I'm talking stink from the feet up. The kind of stink that reeks out of every pore and alleyway. You want to talk about civic malaise. Look up New London, Conn. in a dictionary and you'll see an illustration of a pock marked soul. If you kick a dead dog it will move. New London is dead in its picturesque harbor for no good reason beyond dead inertia.

The masthead on the city's website will show you it is a beautiful place. A day spent in its borders will prove that it is full of vibrantly beautiful people. A month living there will make you feel like you've planted your shoes in quicksand and the mud is thick with the muck low tide and low expectations leave behind in their trailing wake. If I vote for a mayor I want him to have all the power he can muster to promote the vision I'm voting for. I don't want my candidate to tell me he'll have too much power and he won't be trusted to exercise it wisely. If I'm voting for change I want to empower the candidate who will bring it on with both barrels blazing. The candidate who tells me he'll tell other people to clip his wings? I'll clip your wings for you at the ballot box, buddy.

As for Flaherty and McCrea? Flaherty is as much a part of the system as the incumbent. It's like switching the jack of hearts for the jack of clubs. A meaningless trade. Firefighters endorse Flaherty. I'm all for firefighters but, like many Bostonians, I could do without their union. I can do without Flaherty too. This brings us to McCrea. I like him and I don't at the same time. He is colorful. He is sharp. He is right on target with what he criticizes and I agree with him 100%. Menino has been in office too long. Fresh blood keeps a city's spleen healthy when McCrea vents his spleen, civic discourse is better by it. A little bile goes a long way, however, and that is why I am more inclined toward Yoon.

Sam Yoon is a thinker, a wonk, a man of theory more than practice. I suspect that if he gets elected he'll see the advantages of a strong mayor form of government. Power does tend to corrupt. With power comes responsibility. I think Mr. Yoon will take that responsibility seriously and do what he was elected to do. I think the incumbent does the same. I just think the incumbent has been in office too long and it's time to take the broom and the scrub brush to the scales the current administration has built up around the ugliest city hall in the nation.

This is one man's opinion. 'Nuff said. "Sicut Patribus Sit Deus Nobis"

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

The bikers' wave

An intriguing comment on yesterday's post reminded me of something I omitted from yesterday's dispatch for brevity ("What? Brief?" I know, I tend to ramble). I know that by advocating a fraternity/sorority of two-wheeled travellers, I seem to be separating fellow travellers into classes and that isn't my intent. When we are all on the road, we are all fellow travellers. We should look out for everyone, respect their right to use the road, and make accommodations. We should drive wisely and without arrogance or competition. In a democracy, compromise and accommodation make the rules we live by. Concensus of how to act accordingly within these limits makes life enjoyable for all.

I don't live in a perfect world (even I don't consider Dorchester, Mass. perfect, just close) and I know my argument for mutual respect runs a tad against the grain of human nature, but I don't think it hurts to speak out in favor for a peaceable kingdom. If you can be civil to a grocery store clerk while she checks her text messages while she is scanning your groceries, you can be civil to a stranger on the road. No one wakes up in the morning thinking, "I'm going to be a bad person today." I never have and I've never met anyone who's admitted to this.

If a car cuts me off at an intersection, I should be anticipating it. Though my motorcycle is small, it packs a lot of power under its gas tank and I don't gun the throttle willy-nilly through downtown. To do so would be foolish because in an accident I know who has the best chance of spending time in the hospital and it won't be the automobile driver. A helmet is no air bag and an armored jacket is not as safe as four walls, a roof and a floor, no matter what the advertising copy says. Do I drive fast? Sure. Do I skirt around the edges of traffic laws and sometimes break them outright? Sure. I do these things when it is expedient and it seems safe. I may make misjudgements, I ruined a good pair of pants that way and scratched my front fairing, but I don't make them with malice.

Do bicycles cut me off? Sure. Cars cut me off too when they don't have the right-of-way. Do pedestrians cut me off? Of course, but you know what? A pedestrian has the right of way. Like a customer, a pedestrian is always right even when I think they're wrong. How much inconvenience do they cause me? Not enough for me get my dander up. If bodily harm has been avoided, someone has been driving right. I hope it will always be me, but sometimes it's not. I'm the one who suffers arthritic knees from so many impacts and scrapes and an arm that looks like raw hamburger.

I don't want to generalize or stereotype, because there are exceptions to every rule and people are individuals not castes, but stereotyping is human nature and as long as you can see the trees from the forest, I don't see too much harm in it.

There are different classifications of motorcyclists and this is apparent outside city congestion. In the city, motorcyclists are usually too focused on the hazards around them to acknowledge fellow bikers. That's not true on twisty, scenic, country drives however. Out in the country, motorcyclists offer each other the bikers' wave when they pass. You may have seen it: both cyclists take their hand off the clutch handle and extend their arms downward, palm forward in the direction of the approaching cyclist. Sometimes all fingers are extended, sometimes only one or two. Never a fist. It's an acknowledgement that two fellow travellers are out enjoying the day, enjoying the road, and indulging in a common love of two-wheeled transportation.

Motorcyclists don't usually extend this gesture of camaraderie to pedal cyclists. This may be because, from my experience, the pedal cyclists don't know how to respond. They are focused on their legs, perhaps. Motorcyclists don't usually extend this gesture to motor scooterists either, probably for the same reason but, as a former little engine driver, I can tell you I was always thrilled to be acknowledged as being part of the same tribe. A weaker, extended cousin.

Another informal rule that, happily isn't always enforced: Harley riders wave to Harley riders, sport bikes to sport bikes, choppers to choppers, scooters to scooters (rarely though, they aren't used to being waved to). When I've travelled the back roads with a passenger, she (and it is usually a she) often remarks that Harley riders are arrogant, "They never wave. They just stare straight ahead." I won't comment on their arrogance but I will admit that their wave ratio is well below that of other sport bike riders. A Harley isn't as nimble as a Ninja so maybe they have to be more focused when they navigate. My neighbor drives a Harley and he is one of the most likable chaps you'll ever meet. He's Dorchester by Birth and, presumably, Dorchester by Choice since he hasn't moved yet.

If you drive the back roads of Oklahoma, everyone waves when they pass whether they are driving a pickup truck, a jalopy, a mini-van, a Lexus or a Ford Focus. With a simple gesture they say, "Hello, neighbor." They say, "It's a beautiful day for a drive." They say, "Nice to see you're safe." Nice sentiments and they are sentiments that civilized people should be extending on a regular basis with their fellow citizens.

Courtesy starts with small gestures. Maybe everyone on two wheels should acknowledge each other with a friendly wave when they pass. After that it may spread to the general population. It's much more cordial than brandishing a middle finger. "Busting each other's balls for being slightly different" doesn't seem to be a good strategy to me for getting along and reducing the tension any journey encourages when you are the littlest thing on the road.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

A real super hero!!

Here’s a super hero people can relate to:

Dorchester Man! Dorchester Man! He does what no other Bostonian can! He lays bricks, he wires kitchens, he empties trash barrels, he figures out your taxes. Dorchester Man patches sheetrock, he re-shingles your roof, he re-sides your house, he cleans your gutters, he tightens your plumbing, he fixes your appliances, he fills potholes, he fills cavities, he sells fresh vegetables and bottled soft drinks, he aligns your tires, changes your oil, adjusts your spine and pours a pint of beer off the tap with just the right margin of foamy head. He makes a good sandwich and a satisfying cup of coffee. He is as good a listener as he is a storyteller. Dorchester Man gets the job done right the first time.

Who keeps the streets free of snow in winter? Dorchester Man. Who makes sure your children have supervised after-school activities? Dorchester Man. Who rips up the parking ticket when you get to the car just as he’s tucking that citation under your windshield wiper? Dorchester Man. Who makes the best pizza in the Bay State? Dorchester Man. Who keeps the parks well-groomed, the swing set chains oiled, and the cemeteries respectable? Dorchester Man. Who is a good male role model? Dorchester Man.

Is he strong? Listen, bud…He’s got the most Dot-tastic blood. Wealth and fame, he’s ignored. Action is his reward. Dorchester, Mass. packs more action than Mohammad Ali’s six pack abs ever saw. Six times six is thirty-six but Dorchester’s spirit is bigger than that: it is the spirit of ’76. In the chill of night, at the scene of a crime, like a streak of light, he arrives just in time to set things aright. That’s Dorchester Man. He’s an honest man and a good one. He knows how to roundhouse and he knows when to buy the house a round. People like him. They can’t help themselves. Dorchester Man is a homegrown hero.

Take a look overhead. The stars twinkle like Dorchester Man’s eyes.

The ladies swoon when Dorchester Man passes. He approaches and they say, “Look! Here comes Dorchester Man!” He goes on his way seeking further adventure in this biggest and best of Boston’s neighborhoods. The little girls sing, “There goes the Dorchester Man.” Then they collectively croon, “Oooooo-ooooo! There goes the Dorchester Man!”

Wherever there’s a bang-up, life’s not a great big hang-up when you swing like the Dorchester Man.

Bikes and bikes: friends not foes

I stepped into a gentleman's washroom this morning to, well... wash my hands. There was a table in this washroom and on it was a backpack and a bicycle helmet. Someone with bare calves and bicycle shoes was making use of the other facilities available. I put my motorcycle helmet next to one of three sinks and proceeded to go about my business.

His errand completed, a slender gentleman with a bicyclist's body girdled with spandex began washing his hands next to me. He said, "You know, it's cheating when you use a motor." I chuckled and replied that I have heard that before. His comment stuck in my craw, however. When I was done washing up I addressed his reflection in the mirror. "At least we both have two wheels," I said as I reached for a paper towel.

"You're right," he answered, "I guess we are sort of on the same team."

Yes. We are. I don't see any need for rancor or rivalry in what should be a fraternity of two wheel drivers. There is also a sorority, which combined would make everyone a well-balanced family. If we are balanced between two pivot points in the unobstructed wind, it doesn't matter how we get between one end of our journey to the other. We face similar obstacles and dodge the same hazards. Don't make an enemy when you can make a friend of a fellow traveller.

I haven't owned a car since I was eighteen years old and, after many years of being the littlest thing on the public thoroughfare, I know that daily doses of excess adrenaline can make a person battle-hardened, scoffing at those who don't subscribe to the same philosophy about transportation options. That's no way to get through a day. Life's long road beckons and there is room for everyone to share, especially those on two wheels. Two wheels set a person free.

I drive a motorcycle. I also drive a bicycle. For many, many years I drove a motor scooter, which gets the least respect of all after mopeds, which I've never owned (though I someday may). I zip around Boston faster or slower depending on my means of propulsion, but I don't see any need to get upset or to feel better or worse because of what I choose to drive.

My grandfather told me he was a Democrat because he rooted for the little guy. I don't always follow his political persuasion but I tend to side with the little guy too. As someone who navigates traffic on two wheels, how can I not side with the most vulnerable. A motorcycle may be bigger than a bicycle but they are both related. One is no better than the other; both share the same perils.

Having an engine isn't cheating. I can't call something that will propel me over the highway at 110mph a motor, and it is insulting to compare the power train of even the littlest Ninja with what powers a vacuum cleaner. There is no point in disparaging another person's steed. "I guess not walking barefoot is cheating." No, it's not. It is a choice. There are bigger fish to fry than steaming over someone who doesn't travel exactly as you do. If everyone rode bicycles there would be velocipede traffic jams, the fallacy of numbers clashing into the Law of Unintended Consequences. It is better we all get along, looking out for one another and driving safely and responsibly.


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