It was about half way through banging a left turn at a new green light in front of an astounded Canadian that I realized how aggressive and jerkish we can be in Boston.
The Boston left is as common as caterpillars here in town, but out on vacation in the hinterlands – where I was for a time, they don’t do that.
“You’re not in Boston, you old fool,” my wife frequently said. “You’re going to get us both arrested. You for driving like an idiot, me for beating you for driving like an idiot.”
How funny it was at the time.
But back here, she never says anything about such moves behind the wheel, and most people on the other side of the light expect folks to rip in front of them instead of waiting.
We can often forget the old Boston attitude when we’re living the old Boston attitude.
I’ve always defined it for the uninitiated as kind of a mindset that “I’m going to get you before you get me.” Added to that was the sense that if you successfully ripped off some unaware tourist or newbie, then you scored big points with the rank and file.
High-fives all around.
No situation illustrated all that more than a buddy I had who ran a bar years ago.
The bar was a dive, a real rat trap and he ran it as such. There were bars on the windows and the windows were small slits that barely let any light in the dump.
One of my favorite moments of the week was on Friday at 6:30 p.m. sharp when this overweight guy who “worked” for Boston Edison would show up. He wasn’t drinking, nor was he there to eat.
He would take a straight shot, limping and huffing, behind the bar and get the notebook that was stored under the counter next to the telephone. After deciphering all the scribbles in the notebook, he would take out a wad of cash and start counting out bills.
After a short talk with my buddy, he would gather up a host of bills from a crayon box next to the notebook. Swapping the wads of cash, his business was done.
He was the number runner, and that’s how the operation ran.
Now the only redeeming thing about this dump was that it had been in a seedy movie and was in a spot that was beginning to become a popular new place to live.
My friend kept the “good stuff” on the shelf, but mostly no one drank it. Occasionally a guy would win a scratch ticket and splurge, or maybe there was a milestone or promotion on the job site to celebrate. Mostly, though, it sat there.
However, as the neighborhood transformed more into a high-end area and the tourists with tangy tastes began to wonder in after having seen the movie, the “good stuff” became more in demand.
It was on a slow winter afternoon when it gets dark around 3:30 p.m. that my friend concocted his idea.
“Start saving all those expensive vodka and rum bottles,” he told the bartender as he walked out the door. “Put ‘em in my office.”
So the “good stuff” began to flow like dirty faucet water at the bar, and all along my friend was laughing because he was taking the new customers for all they were worth.
You see, he had saved the expensive bottles, but had gone down to the liquor store and bought the cheapest rot-gut liquor he could find. In his office, using a funnel after closing time, he would fill up the expensive bottles with cheap crap – then place the bottles back behind the bar.
It was like an extra $2 take per drink.
For the first time, my friend smiled all night while tending the bar.
The smiles soon turned to frowns, because the new folks that had become regulars also had discriminating palates. Soon, they were wise to the ruse, and someone reported him to the liquor board.
He and his bartenders had also gotten careless, often refilling the bottles at a table in the back at opening.
Soon enough, they were caught.
My buddy lost his liquor license, and the bar was sold to a high-end purveyor who was a Cambridge straight-arrow. Nevertheless, he still smiles when he tells the tale, still gets high-fives from the rank and file when he relates how much money he made off of cheap booze in a luxury bottle.
It wasn’t right, but it wasn’t banging a left either.