By Phineas J. Stone
That’s the feeling I had when I went to the new Boston Winter village on City Hall Plaza over the Christmas and New Year’s break.
Boston is a winter city; let’s face it. Yet somehow we’ve all forgotten that.
As much as the summer can be gorgeous and the fishing, boating and shellfishing are key elements to any Boston experience, we have about eight months of winter weather to contend with. It can be horribly brutal at times, and pleasantly cold at other times. That means we should all – like the legions of Bostonians before us – get used to being outside during the winter months.
That means taking some cues from cities like us. Everyone wants to compare Boston to New York, Atlanta, Houston or Seattle. The truth is we have more in common with Montreal and Buffalo than anywhere else – perhaps even Cleveland but without the gloom factor that prospers there. Montreal and Quebec City used to be the places that Boston looked to for answers to snow removal and winter suggestions. They were our biggest rivals in hockey and a place many from here vacationed in the summer months.
Somehow that changed in the 1980s or 1990s, and I think we lost touch with Quebec when they lost their storied pro hockey team – the Nordiques. In any case, when we stopped comparing ourselves to winter-heavy cities, we stopped thinking of things to do in the winter. So it was no one for almost 30 years looked at the vast expanse of the relatively flat, hard surface of City Hall Plaza – a vastly underutilized tract in any season – and concluded it would be perfect for a temporary ice rink.
What were we thinking all those years?
I mean, honestly, this is a city where people once tore out the garden plot in their backyards or in a community garden in November so they could put down a plastic tarp – fill the space with water – and have a personal ice rink for about seven weeks of the year. Everywhere you went, one could find a kid with a backyard rink, or a neighborhood in the downtown area where the Fire Department would fill up with water a Bocce court or large sandboxes in public parks in the winter – just so there could be some low-tech hockey and skating going on. If that didn’t happen, there would always be a pond or patch of standing water frozen over that seemingly was never emptied of recreational ice skaters.
Growing up, I didn’t really know many folks who didn’t have a pair of hockey skates, figure skates or even the old skate blades that one could affix to their boots with leather buckles. Many kids carried those strap-on skates in their napsacks.
Most houses in the old days even had snowshoes propped up next to door – always leaning on the radiator to dry out after having trudged through the snow and ice. Most of my life, my neighbor would take out the garbage in the winter with a pair of snowshoes on.
However, the 1980s and 1990s saw people wanting swimming pools where backyard rinks used to be, and the state began building more and more indoor rinks with televisions and protected environments for the kids. It was safer, and a nod to having more summer fun, but it took all ingenuity out of the equation for most of the cold part of the year.
And so Boston forgot that it was a winter city.
That’s probably why no one for years looked at City Hall Plaza and saw a natural ice rink – something that Bostonians of the past would have seen in 10 minutes, and truth be told, would have probably taken matters in their own hands by now to make some sort of illicit Mickey Mouse rink on the Plaza with tarps and 2×4’s.
I attended Boston Winter on the Friday before New Year’s, and I have to say, it was a fun time.
Granted, it was cold, and if you don’t go to skate, you might as well not go. I have to give kudos to Mayor Walsh on bringing in a company to bring winter fun back into our minds, breaking the trend we have gotten into of hibernating for eight months of the year, only to obsess for four pleasant months about the coming eight months. There’s a lot of potential at Boston Winter, but here are a few Mr. Boston type ideas to make it even better.
- First of all, there needs to be more places to get warm. On a cold night, there’s a lot of fun to be had, but they need to have places to warm up when one takes a break from the ice. No, we’re not going to go the Newbury Street route with the expensive warming towers. Let’s bring back the old fire-in-a-barrel. It doesn’t have to be a hobo-type setup; it can be done tastefully, but with the rustic flare of a real fire to sit around.
- And once we get those fires cooking, I’m pretty darn sure we need to have people from the company making S’mores and selling them for $1 around the fire barrel. Let’s even get some culinary advice from some of our top Boston chefs that we have to listen to so often talk about things we could never replicate at home. I think I hear the words, “Fire roasted Twinkie sandwich.”
- People are going to complain about the line to rent skates, but I say, get over it. You live in Boston. Buy a pair of skates. They only cost about $30-$50. Three trips in one winter pays for them. We buy snow shovels; why not buy skates?
- The rink has to be bigger. I suggest getting rid of the little stores around Boston Winter and making the loop track longer and wider on the top end of the Plaza. Then, we can have a much larger open Pond feature on the lower tiers of the Plaza – perhaps even with some scheduled games on them. In the old days, we would play a game where someone would drop a hankie on the ice and the first person to spot it and pick it up mid-skate would win. It doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive to be fun.
- Institute a fast lane on the skating loop. Somehow or another – like with most everything else – we have to accommodate the goofs from out of the city who come in for a night of city life. Of course, a night of city life is what we experience every single night, so this isn’t new for us. For them, they come into our City and act like they would never act in their cozy towns. So, let’s put a separate fast lane for all the Brockton teen-agers and former Pembroke hockey stars who think they have to come into Boston and impress us by skating too fast on the loop and knocking over children and slower skaters. Problem solved.
- We’ve got to have more warm places to hang out. A lot of things are right about the Urban Lodge and the Wine Bar. Let’s have more spots like that. Put in a Beer Garden with sports on televisions. We can have a Wine Bar with live music. The Urban Lodge can be for Millennials or those too cool to have a beer and watch hockey. Meanwhile, there has to be an option for families. I like the chocolate stand, but it has to be open late. Also, these places need to be huge, bigger and bigger and bigger.
- Finally, since Fenway Park is closed for the season, let’s bring all the peanut guys over to Boston Winter and have them skating around and walking around selling hot chocolate and warm treats like they do in the summer at Fenway. I can hear it now: “Hot Chocolate here! Get your hot chocolate here! Only $10.95 a cup!” Well, maybe when they come, they can leave the Fenway prices over at Fenway…