Summer in the City

By Phineas J. Stone

Boston turns into an entirely different place once June 1 hits, and really the warm up for that comes in late May.

The early morning sunrise, pleasant temperatures, the return of the birds and the overall slower pace – not to mention the absence of several hundred thousand college students – makes for a different town.

I know it’s tradition and, perhaps, herd mentality – and those aren’t bad things so much – but I remain after many decades dumbfounded at the rush to get the the Cape in the summer. Hey, I’d be the first to get out of here in February or December or even April, even if it’s just a short trip to the Cape. In those months, whether it’s winter, dark mornings, dark afternoons or the swell of stressful activity, one needs to get away. But in June, July, and August, why leave Boston?

Sitting comfortably in an emptied-out City on Monday, I tuned my radio in the afternoon to WBZ to see what the people were going through.

“It’s a 15-mile backup on the Cape already,” said the traffic reporter. “And that’s just the beginning; get ready to spend some major time getting off the Cape today and tonight.”

I just imagined the hapless families sitting in the sultry afternoon sun in their cars, going nowhere, wasting a perfectly nice day listening to the engine hum and breathing the exhaust of the equally frustrated family one car in front of them. That, of course, followed the insane rush on Thursday afternoon and into Friday morning to get out of Boston. These days, you could fly somewhere quicker than you can drive to the Cape.

Sure. The Cape has the beaches, but so too does Revere – and it’s no longer a public trash pit. It’s pretty nice, in fact. Plus, on the Cape they have those biting flies on the beach, and I hate those things.

After all these years, I still remain mystified that so many use their time off to fight the herds rumbling down on Thursday, and then rumbling back on Monday. That, of course, goes on all summer long.

I’ve waited in enough traffic during the regular year to sit around in a car during open-window weather.

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After a brisk walk of about 10 city blocks on a wonderful summer evening in Boston the other day, I got into my car for a quick drive.

The walk was invigorating. In the public spaces, the grass was cut, and the fountains worked. All the restaurants and coffee shops were bustling with people and activity.

I paused and looked at little green areas that were once very dangerous, full of crack dealers and blight. One of them I can actually recall having large trash bags basically dominating the landscape. The rats had long since purged the bags of anything edible and the contents were strewn all over the so-called park. It occurred to me that back then I had done a bit of a countdown as to how long the bags might lye there uncared for or uncared about. I know it went beyond 100 days.

Now, the place was immaculate, and the fountain flowed – assuredly with a circulating pump to make sure we were environmentally in step. I heard people talking about healthy eating and another man reading a book quietly with a friend – who was reading a phone.

One bag for one day in that park today would elicit hundreds of calls to City Hall, and a response from the Public Works that would make your head spin.

What a change.

I was disturbed, however, as I drove further into the “other” neighborhoods how quickly things changed. Not even two minutes had clicked by on my car’s clock that I was suddenly in an area with sidewalks that were filled with weeds and were crumbling.

Old televisions had been dumped right in the pathway – and were obviously there for a long time.

A couple were off in an opiate la-la land on the curb – one lying prone half in the street and the other sort of holding her head in her knees. It would be a good hour before they were ready to move from that spot.

It was dirty; it looked awful, and it was just mere minutes from what had seemed like paradise recovered in the City. This is something we all likely need to think about, as the paradise that is emerging can become quite an oasis that becomes a bubble as we follow the trend of walking, biking, shopping, working from home and generally staying much closer to home.

  • • •

 

One of the gems of summer living in the city is to see the oddball things folks will try to pull off.

Friday night as everyone was still in pre-Memorial Day bliss, I observed a man coming from down my street with some sort of heavy load. He was smack in the middle of the street and a line of about five cars were following him, headlights blazing and horns blaring.

He was unfazed; just kept going on.

As he got closer I could see that he was loaded up with two queen-sized box springs and two queen-sized mattresses on top of an orange Home Depot shopping cart. He was making slow progress as he pushed on and the caravan of cars followed impatiently – not being able to squeeze by him on the narrow street.

Soon they were in front of my house and I had a front-row seat for the urban drama.

The drivers in the cars cursed the man, and the man cursed them back.

More cars were now following and the tension was really mounting as the man continued to struggle with his load up the slight hill on my street.

Suddenly, a driver in the second car back yelled out, “What in the *%&# do you think you’re doing?!?”

The man paused from pushing, turned around, and yelled back, “I’m moving, okay, and I need to get to bed soon. I have to work tomorrow.”

Naturally.

He continued on, and the drivers were actually a little more patient.

About 30 minutes later, the same guy came back by with the same Home Depot shopping cart, but this time he was loaded up with a vanity topped off by the kitchen sink.

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