Best of Boston

Park It

We had our first significant snow storm a couple of weekends ago.   When my brother and I finally ventured outside, shovels in hand, and peered at all the chairs scattered in the street, he muttered, “here we go again.”

If you read this re-post from March 2018, you’ll know what he meant.

My old roommate texted me four snowflake emojis, and my friend called from Florida when they heard about the latest Nor’easter that dumped 20 inches of snow on Boston.   A snow emergency was declared and a street parking ban went into effect.  When the parking ban gets lifted, what happens next may sound crazy to anyone who’s not from Boston.  Or Chicago, Philly, or Pittsburgh.  This phenomenon, depending where you live, is known as “space saving,”  “dibbs,” or “chair parking.”

Most everyone does it in Beantown because we believe that when you spend several back-breaking hours shoveling out not only the snow that fell, but the surplus snow the plows have dumped in front of your house, you’ve earned this spot – that you can pahk ya cah – and Gawd help the person who tries to pahk there the moment you drive away.

The unofficial rule to this decades-old practice is that once you shovel out your spot, you have exclusivity to the spot until all the snow has melted.  Which could take a while.  This practice is so sacred that some people have been known to leave threatening notes warning that whoever takes their hard-won, shoveled-out parking spot risks bodily harm, and mysterious damage to their vehicle.  However, New Englanders are generally polite so the more accepted way of laying claim to the parking space is by putting a chair in the empty spot.  Any chair will do – a folding chair, a beach chair, a bar stool.   Over the years, I’ve seen some pretty funny stuff: an old toilet bowl, an anchored down Barbie Dream Car, and a plaster bust of Elvis.

I now live on a street that vehemently adheres to space saving and my brother and I are facing a dilemma.  We don’t have a chair we’re willing to sacrifice to the elements and place in front of our house.  Do we go to the nearest discount department store to buy a cheap, dispensable chair?  Or do we put something more unorthodox in front of our house as a space saver?  We have plenty of rubble from my on-going house renovation.  A discarded kitchen cabinet?  The old stove?  Or perhaps a slab of counter top with the sink still attached?  My brother believes in the “go big or go home” approach, figuring the heavier the item, the greater the chance no one will move it and park in front of our house.

In the end, we’ve decided to follow the “when in Rome” adage and  we’re going with the chair.

 

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Best of Boston, Life Lessons

Hear the Angel Voices

The following is a re-post from December 2017.

“Are you ready?” friends kept asking.  And it was starting to vex me.  Ordinarily, I would be ready.  But with a week left before Christmas, there were cards not yet written and cookies still to be baked.  Moving in November had really messed with my holiday preparations this year.

When a dear friend invited me to her son’s Christmas concert the final Sunday before Christmas, the left side of my brain flatly rejected the notion.  I had too much to do to spend a whole afternoon at a concert.  But the right side of my brain which, for southpaws like me, runs the show had me blurting out, “Sounds like fun – I’m all in.”

Intuitively, I knew I needed some Christmas spirit.  And an afternoon of Christmas carols sounded like just the thing.  But as I traveled the long, convoluted train ride to Dorchester I wondered if my time might have been better spent preparing for the holiday.  I was behind and still had so much to do before Christmas.

The concert was held in a beautiful old Catholic church with magnificent jewel-tone stained glass windows and majestic statuary.  Even thought I had not been there before, I felt welcomed amidst all the familiar symbols of my faith.

Shards of late afternoon sunlight streamed through the stained-glass windows, and I settled into my seat in the crowded church pew.  The young singers and musicians were middle- and high-school aged and they represented four different Boston choirs and musical ensembles.  As they gathered on the steps of the altar, I couldn’t help but notice that these youngsters were a diverse group – in age, in height, in ethnicity, each one beautiful and perfect in his or her own way.  I knew by reputation that they were talented and the moment they began to sing, their pure, sweet voices touched my heart.  This, I thought, is what angel voices must sound like.  A peace I had not felt for some time came over me.  Yes, I thought, I am ready.  I am ready for Christmas.

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Best of Boston, Girl Talk, Pop Culture

The Basement

It’s Thanksgiving night and the holiday is winding down.  At least for me, that is.  But in a few hours, some of you, armed with a travel mug full of coffee, will be headed out to the malls for Black Friday.  This shopping frenzy makes me nostalgic for “The Basement” so here is a re-post from February 2016.

Let’s meet at The Basement on Saturday.

Wanna go down to The Basement after work?

These phrases were on the lips of Bostonian women of all ages.  That’s what we called it.  The Basement.

I am, of course, referring to Filene’s Basement, located on two floors beneath the art deco flagship Filene’s department store and cornerstone of Boston’s Downtown Crossing.

The Basement folklore was plentiful.  The Running of the Brides, so named for its resemblance to Pamplona’s Running of the Bulls, turned ordinarily polite young women into fierce competitors the moment The Basement doors opened, as they fought over designer bridal gowns offered at a fraction of their original prices.  And men would actually stand in line waiting for The Basement to open on the mornings of the semi-annual men’s suit sale.  But the outrageous bargains were only part of it.    A trip to The Basement could cheer you up on a rainy day.  It was as loud, as crowded, and as chaotic as Times Square on New Year’s Eve.  The Basement was pure joy.

The three-dollar Christian Dior bras I pulled from the depths of the lingerie bins were mine for the taking.  And the shoes!  I thought nothing of squeezing into incredibly cheap Ferragamos and Via Spigas that were only a-half size too small.  There were no dressing rooms in The Basement so I’d angle for a spot near a mirror then strip down to the Danskin leotard I’d worn under my clothes.  Some women were so intent on getting a bargain that they tried on their finds right over their clothes.  Others, caring nothing about modesty, were on full display in their bras and slips as they tried on a pile of potential purchases.  It was divine pandemonium.

In 2007, Filene’s Basement closed its doors for good and shopping has never been quite the same.  I’ll always miss the tradition and the spectacle that was The Basement.red poppy

 

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Best of Boston, Pop Culture, Writers and Writing

Honoring Jack

The following is a re-post from October 2017.

Pumpkins, large and small, adorn nearly every window box and doorstep in my neighborhood.  Along with the usual ghosts and witches, we here in the Bay State have easy access to the ultimate Halloween spectacle.  Salem may be a quaint New England town steeped in history, mythology, and magic – but Salem in October is way too touristy for me.

Instead, I take a day trip to Lowell to visit the grave of one of my literary heroes – Jack Kerouac.

The first time I visited Kerouac’s grave, it was just before Halloween, and the anniversary of his death.  I arrived at Edson Cemetery with a crudely drawn map that a kindly gentleman at the Chamber of Commerce had given me and, as I made my way along the neat little rows of tombstones and markers, I marveled at the extraordinary shades of yellow, orange, and red leaves underfoot and overhead.  Kerouac’s grave was an unassuming flat slab that was flush to the ground.  This is what it said:

“TI JEAN”

JOHN L. KEROUAC

MAR. 12, 1922 – OCT. 21, 1969

– HE HONORED LIFE –

STELLA HIS WIFE

NOV. 11, 1918 – FEB. 10, 1990

There had been many recent visitors to the grave, fans, and writers perhaps, because they’d left unopened bottles of imported beer, packs of Camel cigarettes, flowers, and sheets of poetry, some handwritten and some typed, in several different languages.

I sat on the ground and took out a bottle of champagne and my worn paperback copy of On the Road.  I purposely shook the bottle so that when I popped the cork, the bubbly came gushing out just like it does in the winning team’s locker room.  I took a small drink before pouring the entire bottle onto the grass, letting it soak right into the ground so he could enjoy it.

Then I opened my book to a random page and started reading.  There in that graveyard was all the history, mythology, and magic I needed.

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Best of Boston, Girl Talk, Mothers and Daughers

The Staycation Vacation

The following is a re-post from July 2016.

Here in Boston, tourists abound.  I regularly see them taking pictures in the Public Garden, walking the Freedom Trail, milling around Faneuil Hall.  Beyond the city limits, they visit historic Plymouth and Salem, scatter all along Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket.  Sometimes I see them struggling along our cobblestone streets with their luggage, but mostly they look as if they’re having a good time.

At the risk of sounding like “Trip Advisor,” Boston’s a great vacation destination with its rich architecture, abundant historical sites and museums – not to mention great seafood.  In fact, not long ago when friends visited for the weekend, we went on a harbor cruise and took a tour of Fenway Park.  And of course, we ate delish Italian cuisine in the North End.

My vacation is coming up and, this time around, I won’t be getting out of Dodge, but I’ll surely dodge the usual travel hassles, lost luggage, and second-rate hotels.  I also won’t end up more exhausted than when I started, and I won’t spend a fortune doing it.  Call me crazy, but I’m taking a staycation.  I’ll sleep decadently late, go to the Museum of Fine Arts, meet a friend for lunch, stroll through the Copley Square Farmer’s Market, get pampered at my favorite Newbury Street day spa, and spend the day at Singing Sand Beach.

No matter where you live, a staycation could be the ideal way to spend your leisure time.  I’ll bet there are some places you’ve been meaning to go – a day trip, perhaps – or a show you want to see.  Maybe go hiking or biking, or try that restaurant you’ve heard so much about but haven’t gotten the chance to try.

Remember, like Dorothy once said, “There’s no place like home…”

Staycation 2018 was my first staycation in my new home.  It was not so much about sightseeing as it was about luxuriating.  I’ve not only had a glorious week, but my best friend came to Boston and spent it with me.  Instead of the Charles River, we had a view of the glistening Mystic River.  We drank sweet tea while lounging on lawn chairs in my backyard and nibbled on French pastries in a neighborhood cafe.  Our spa day featured a mani-and pedi- and a botanical face mask.  And we shopped until we dropped.  She left this morning, and I already miss her.  Who’s this best friend?  She’s my mother, of course.red poppy

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Best of Boston

Park It

My old roommate texted me four snowflake emojis, and my friend called from Florida when they heard about the latest Nor’easter that dumped 20 inches of snow on Boston.   A snow emergency was declared and a street parking ban went into effect.  When the parking ban gets lifted, what happens next may sound crazy to anyone who’s not from Boston.  Or Chicago, Philly, or Pittsburgh.  This phenomenon, depending where you live, is known as “space saving,”  “dibbs,” or “chair parking.”

Most everyone does it in Beantown because we believe that when you spend several back-breaking hours shoveling out not only the snow that fell, but the surplus snow the plows have dumped in front of your house, you’ve earned this spot – that you can pahk ya cah – and Gawd help the person who tries to pahk there the moment you drive away.

The unofficial rule to this decades-old practice is that once you shovel out your spot, you have exclusivity to the spot until all the snow has melted.  Which could take a while.  This practice is so sacred that some people have been known to leave threatening notes warning that whoever takes their hard-won, shoveled-out parking spot risks bodily harm, and mysterious damage to their vehicle.  However, New Englanders are generally polite so the more accepted way of laying claim to the parking space is by putting a chair in the empty spot.  Any chair will do – a folding chair, a beach chair, a bar stool.   Over the years, I’ve seen some pretty funny stuff: an old toilet bowl, an anchored down Barbie Dream Car, and a plaster bust of Elvis.

I now live on a street that vehemently adheres to space saving and my brother and I are facing a dilemma.  We don’t have a chair we’re willing to sacrifice to the elements and place in front of our house.  Do we go to the nearest discount department store to buy a cheap, dispensable chair?  Or do we put something more unorthodox in front of our house as a space saver?  We have plenty of rubble from my on-going house renovation.  A discarded kitchen cabinet?  The old stove?  Or perhaps a slab of counter top with the sink still attached?  My brother believes in the “go big or go home” approach, figuring the heavier the item, the greater the chance no one will move it and park in front of our house.

In the end, we’ve decided to follow the “when in Rome” adage and  we’re going with the chair.

 

Standard
Best of Boston, Life Lessons

Hear the Angel Voices

“Are you ready?” friends kept asking.  And it was starting to vex me.  Ordinarily, I would be ready.  But with a week left before Christmas, there were cards not yet written and cookies still to be baked.  Moving in November had really messed with my holiday preparations this year.

When a dear friend invited me to her son’s Christmas concert the final Sunday before Christmas, the left side of my brain flatly rejected the notion.  I had too much to do to spend a whole afternoon at a concert.  But the right side of my brain which, for southpaws like me, runs the show had me blurting out, “Sounds like fun – I’m all in.”

Intuitively, I knew I needed some Christmas spirit.  And an afternoon of Christmas carols sounded like just the thing.  But as I traveled the long, convoluted train ride to Dorchester I wondered if my time might have been better spent preparing for the holiday.  I was behind and still had so much to do before Christmas.

The concert was held in a beautiful old Catholic church with magnificent jewel-tone stained glass windows and majestic statuary.  Even thought I had not been there before, I felt welcomed amidst all the familiar symbols of my faith.

Shards of late afternoon sunlight streamed through the stained-glass windows, and I settled into my seat in the crowded church pew.  The young singers and musicians were middle- and high-school aged and they represented four different Boston choirs and musical ensembles.  As they gathered on the steps of the altar, I couldn’t help but notice that these youngsters were a diverse group – in age, in height, in ethnicity, each one beautiful and perfect in his or her own way.  I knew by reputation that they were talented and the moment they began to sing, their pure, sweet voices touched my heart.  This, I thought, is what angel voices must sound like.  A peace I had not felt for some time came over me.  Yes, I thought, I am ready.  I am ready for Christmas.

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