Monday, June 04, 2007
Fun on Route 9
The clock thermometer on the second floor balcony tells me it's seventy degrees out at 5.30 in the morning. The peninsula of Nahant, really two islands connected to the mainland by a causeway, fills a quarter of the horizon out to the east. Spring haze obscures the city southwards. We're all still on London time, my wife, my daughter and I, and we shuffle around the house barefoot, talking in whispers. Broad low waves exhaust themselves on the beach a few yards away, you don't really hear them after a while, and an occasional gull shrieks, waiting for the tide to recede, waiting for breakfast in the exposed sand. We're hungry too. I eat a three day old doughnut - surprisingly good - my daughter eats her imported cereal straws, my wife swigs from a bottle of water.
The top floor of the house is full of light. Tall windows extend almost the whole way around. Without moving you can see back toward semi-industrial Lynn, right around to the airport, where the taillights of landing Boeings become visible through the morning mist, as we wait for the rest of the house to wake.
The girls are off shopping today, and I'm headed to Fenway, for some conspicuous consumption of my own. There's some hassle with the surround sound, meaning that my daughter has to watch Playhouse Disney in dumbshow. Her tiny niece attacks her lovingly, biting, pulling hair, leading with her head and shoulders.
We get on the road just after ten. My brother's driving a Navigator. It's black, and, as he puts it, loaded. TV, DVD, GPS, refrigerator, jacuzzi. The interior of this great tank of a vehicle is about the same size as our hotel room. We head south, past the dog track at Wonderland, past the horse track at Suffolk Downs. He hands the toll booth guy some crumpled notes and we disappear below ground, emerging close to the hotel.
The Plaza must once have been quite grand. It occupies a triangular block of the city, close to the Common. Nowadays it's cheap enough for us to stay there, along with flight crews from various airlines, and other British middle-income types (all sporting long shorts, polo shirts and sunburn).
I kiss the girls goodbye and manage an awkward handshake-cum-hug with my brother. I dump our bags and change out of my long shorts and polo shirt.
Boston calls itself, amongst other things, "America's Walking City". Compared with, Venice, say, ("Europe's Floating City") this title seems a little, well, pedestrian. It's meant to indicate that because of the relatively compact layout of the city centre it's a great place to walk around. And so it is. But it also captures the pleasant, if unspectacular character of the place. Boston is nice. The people are nice. Even the tramps are nice. I stop in Starbucks on my way up Boylston Street. I'm walking to the park, obviously. On my way out a softly-spoken vagrant who thinks my name is Buddy asks me for change. "There you go, Buddy, " I say, emptying the foreign coins from my pocket. "Thanks Buddy," he says. He looks pretty well-groomed for a homeless guy and has no detectable street odour, despite the swelling mid-morning temperature.
I shift onto Newbury Street which runs east to west, parallel to Boylston. Pavement patios are being swept or hosed down. Dogs urinate against trees. Childless couples stroll along slowly with their heads on each other's shoulders. It's all vaguely Parisian. Until I come across a U-Haul truck double-parked further up the street, obstructing the traffic and attracting vehement insults and instructions in Massachusetts English and Arabic. An unabashed college-aged guy is waving off the barrage while struggling with a mattress.
Back on Boylston I slip into Saint Clement's, a modest but satisfyingly murky Catholic church, and light some candles. The candles are colour-coded in some way which I can't decipher. The three other patrons are all deep in prayer so it seems inappropriate to ask. I leave a tip, being in America and all.
It's very clammy now. A few yards further west and I can see Fenway Park, squatting unassumingly on the other side of the street. And here are the Fens, soft-looking ground with marsh grasses. There are public allotments here, staked for tomatoes and runner beans and sunflowers.
I'm early, so I slip on my iPod. Nirvana is playing, which seems apt.