Archive for the ‘South End’ Category

Big Box Bourbon

August 14th, 2013

costocobooze

Oh my, late to the game again. I discovered that Costo private brands a small-batch bourbon. Today I was in the Avon, MA, store, which has a company liquor department and vot!

Turns out that everyone, his brother, cousin and niece already bought and tasted it. A net search gets lots of hits. For both flip and savvy comments, I point to a few:

I’m not a bourbon snob, but I do like like it. I started drinking in the South, where the choice was bourbon or beer. Also a mixed drink meant with ice cubes or maybe if you really had to a splash of ginger ale.

Now living in Yankeeland — a decade in Manhattan and three in Boston — I’m delighted that bourbon has come into its own. There are fascinating bars, like the 5 Horses (Somerville and soon the South End), and Beacon Hill’s Tip Tap Room for example, that have a good selection and knowledgeable barkeeps. Liquor stores too have a wide selection at many price points and even the most ignorant bartender doesn’t think Jack Daniel’s is bourbon.

I figured I’d try it. Costco’s bourbon also fit another criterion my chums and I often use, is it a good value? We like to find superior wines for $9 that blow away $39 ones, for example.

Turns out that I paid $19.99 for a full liter of the 103-proof stuff. (There’s no state tax on booze here.) Some of the net comments carped that for only $3 or $4 or $6 more, they could buy Knob Creek or some other familiar bourbon, but they don’t think that that is a third less booze for the price, making the Kirkland bottle that much more of a bargain.

A few things I did learn from the mash heads and blowhards commenting (sometimes without tasting the distillate in question) was that this definitely comes from Jim Beam. Also it is aged for 7 years instead of Beam’s Knob Creek version, which is 9 years in barrel. It is also that 103 proof (51.5% alcohol) instead of the more common small-batch bourbon release of 90 or 100 proof, or Wild Turkey’s 101 variety.

Some went though serious research, badgering Costco employees for all our benefit. The best finding was that this is not an open item. That suggests that for whatever reason, Jim Beam did a one-off for Costco, who like Job Lots or Building 19, bought something the distiller didn’t want to sell itself. Likely when this batch is sold out, it’s gone. Following this evening’s tasting, I’ll likely go back to Avon and buy a couple more bottles.

costcotasteHere, three of us tried it two ways. I set out six bourbon low ball glasses (actually made for Woodford Reserve, a fine sipping bourbon), three nude and neat, with three holding a single ice cube. Each glass got a half ounce or so. Who knows what the demons did to me in pouring?

Uxorial Unit, Son #2 (great to have children of drinking age), and I went at it. We certainly did not keep pace with the florid, hyperbolic, pretentious posts pointed to above. Yet, we tried to judge.

The punchline is that this is good stuff, worth more in market terms than competitors. There are other bourbons I like more, but this is a fair entry.

If you extrapolate the local price for Knob Creek ($26.99 for 750ml) and weigh it against Costco’s very own bargain bourbon ($19.99 for 1000ml), the differential is 1.8. That is Kirkland small-batch bourbon is 1.8 times cheaper per liter. So you ask, is KC worth almost two times more? Of course, in the larger scheme, Knob Creek at effectively $35.99 per liter is a relative small differential over Kirkland. As we learned many years ago, a $200 retail bottle of Chablis is not 20 times better than a $10 bottle. It’s a judgment call.

So, this evening, without hyperbole or poetry, we found the neat glass pleasant, powerful, a little too alcohol nosed. That was no surprise for over half alcohol. Certainly there was the predictable vanilla scent, but we didn’t the myriad herbs, spices and fruits the other online commenters strained to ID. We liked the look, smell and taste of the neat bourbon.

I like to sit with a snifter of great Scotch or bourbon neat and dwell on it. None of us thought this was worthy of that. However, with a single ice cube, it was a fine, fine drink. My wife thought it would be good with ginger ale, but to me that means heading to a lower grade of bourbon, like the serviceable JB Black or Evan Williams. Yet, we all liked it cut with a single ice cube, which I suppose would mean two for a full shot or three for a pony.

I already confess to being late to this party. We found Costco’s bourbon to be good but not great stuff. I’ll lay in a couple more bottles.

 

Snooton Doesn’t Need You

May 10th, 2010

meter man with ticket

Boston has its own parking jokes. In near-burbs like Newton and Brookline, there’s no joking.

In Beantown, for example, many downtown areas have stretched meter times to 8 p.m. from 6. We also have some South End tricks like metered spaces that suddenly turn into resident-permit-only ones at 8 p.m., often with the signs revealing that gimmick largely hidden by common linden branches.

Boston though has this weird by suburban standards idea that meters and on-street parking are for the convenience of residents, visitors and businesses. In fact, the stated concern is that there be adequate turnover at meters to encourage people to use local companies.

Don’t fantasize that this sentiment extends to any of the wealthier burbs. Your warning for predatory parking enforcement are no-overnight and 2-hour-limit parking limit signs where you would expect to see welcome-to (our fair burg) ones.

Brookline has those and they mean it. While they don’t have roving gangs of parking enforcers, they do have some and ticket as freely as they can. Moreover, most restaurants and other businesses with lots in the back contract with relentless contract towing companies who live to snatch cars when the businesses are closed. Ten minutes often means a big ticket, towing fee and the time to retrieve your vehicle. Ptui on you.

Newton though stands alone in its viciousness. It actively discourages visitors from its business districts. They would far rather charge fines than encourage shopping and service usage. They back this up with a huge crew of ticket writers and an unbelievably detailed set of regulations and restrictions.

This came to mind again this morning when the Boston Globe ran a feature on the latest effort to extract every dollar from every vehicle owner who dares to patronize a local business. The city paid $150,000 for three systems to scan license plates and notify passing enforcement crews when a car has been in a space too long.

In the garden city, a chalk mark on a tire to flag a car for a meter man or maid is not efficient enough. Such manual checks don’t churn the fines. You can be damned sure they see that investment as something requiring quick payback, thus tickets and more tickets.

The rules-are-rules types may well love that. Not surprisingly, today’s article quotes some locals as saying it’s not a good idea.

Yet, delve a little into Newton’s thought process here and see the proof of the rabid compulsion. The regs suggest they have made this a moral issue.

Click to the city site and search for parking. You’ll find:

  • parking restriction (453 times)
  • street parking spaces (341 times)
  • parking lot (187 times)
  • parking meters (187 times)
  • long term parking (150 times)
  • municipal parking lots (149 times)
  • commercial permit parking (146 times)
  • Boston College parking garage (126 times)
  • long term parking spaces (123 times)

More telling may be a separate 174-page parking regulation document. There are hundreds of special rules per street. They even have multi-paragraph, per-public school specifications for permits and limits on parking in those lots. Newton is obsessed with parking enforcement in a classic Teutonic way. Only following orders, rules are rules, it’s the law and such come to mind.

Newton doesn’t want you. Newton doesn’t need you. It doesn’t really like residents or businesses. I suspect you can find whatever you need elsewhere and can just drive on through.

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Kind of Getting There from Here

November 5th, 2009

The charm quickly peels awayfrom Boston’s atavistic transit system. Like the crappy Pennsylvania Turnpike, we have the hemisphere’s oldest subway. It seems like it.

Series note: This is part of the Rail-Volution inspired post set.

At the weekend’s conference, I was surprised and pleased to learn about the Fairmount Corridor from two key players. Marvin Martin, who drove this city-train revolution as executive director of the Greater Four Corners Action! Coalition (no website) and Gail Latimore, who heads the Codman Square Neighborhood Development Corp., spoke.

I had sort of paid attention, but not enough, to the news over the years. This has been percolating for nearly two decades and is happening as we speak. I’ll post details in a few days. However, the key concept it that Martin led largely African-American Bostonians between lower Hyde Park and South Station in indignation. A perfectly good commuter-rail line zipped through their neighborhoods, making the trip in 8 minutes. Read carefully to be fully aware that it made two stops on the way (Morton Street and Uphams Corner). In fact, there were no other stations for it to stop at over 8 miles, by design, where most people lived.

The bus or bus/subway alternatives for this large swath inhabited largely by lower-middle, poor and middle class residents of color was different. It took an optimum 45 minutes and more likely 60 to 90 for the same trip from where people live to where they work. There are four stations (New
Market/ South Bay, Columbia Road, Four Corners, Talbot Avenue, and Cummins Highway) \in the works in an activists’ effort that started in 1987 and has continued relentlessly.

pigI must be a typical American. I paid attention when it meant something personal. Moving to Fairmount Hill in Hyde Park after 21 years in Jamaica Plain, I was pleased to hear from the previous owners here that the Fairmount line at the bottom had a commuter rail. In a pig’s eye it does.

Until the Indigo line is complete and the MBTA keeps its promise to increase trips, it is still a white commuters’ line. Specifically, inbound, four trains are scheduled for Fairmount between 6:38 and 8:28 a.m. Likewise, outbound, there are four from South Station from 5:10 to 6:30.

Throughout the day, a few may stop if the conductor notices anyone flagging the train from the platform. The last possible train from South Station leaves at 9:30 p.m. and will stop to discharge only if passengers ask the conductor and that conductor remembers to tell the driver.

Weekends? Forget about it!

Moreover, this in unlike a real city transit system for pricing. With a Charlie Card fair of $1.70 for subway and $1.50 for bus, the irregular and inconvenient Fairmount is $4.25 each way, with no provision for transfers, even to buses.

I figure to go to Mike Capuano’s function Monday at the Park Plaza from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. That should be a good time to see how to get from here to there and perhaps even back.

First, note that the MBTA trip planner truly stinks. On Universal Hub and numerous blogs, they have depressing examples of being routed absurd ways to go short distances. In this case, I also found the T doesn’t use fuzzy logic and requires silly specifics to find the most basic locations. For example, it can’t find Back Bay Station without its ZIP code added, and it knows Milton Ave., but not Milton Avenue, but again only with a ZIP and not just the neighborhood. Lame.

For giggles, I asked about getting to and from the event. By the bye, the number 24 bus through Mattapan Square and up to Ashmont stops a half block from my house. The T doesn’t seem to know that.

The T would have me spend $5.95 each way, with trip times from 63 to 97 minutes. Those using the commuter rail also indicate a flag stop for the train, which I don’t trust from previous experience seeing trains pass vigorously waving potential passengers.

future Indigo Line

I know from a son who commutes to Latin Academy that a shank’s mare version is quicker. A 10 or so minute walk to Cleary Square get a 32 bus in a minute or five, for $1.50. I gets to Forest Hills in 15 to 20 minutes. Then the Orange Line thumps to Back Bay Station in a similar time, for $1.70. So, for $3.20 and under an hour, I’d be done each way with a vastly more flexible schedule than any of the combinations the T suggests.

Were I still on crutches from my leg operation earlier this year, I’d do the 24 close by. I could take it from very close to Ashmont, then the Red Line subway to the Orange Line and get off by the hotel. That would be maybe 90 minutes, or T time.

In other words, it’s expensive and slow, practically mandating a car trip with a pocket of quarters and driving around Back Bay for an open meter. That would be when people are leaving so it wouldn’t take long.

That’s not as significant as the many thousands who live between the Orange and Red Lines with no viable commuter rail. It is inconvenient and unnecessarily expensive.

I think of the much larger, longer, wide and more stop-filled NYC subways. In Manhattan alone, you can travel the 14 miles from the Battery North to Washington Heights local or express and get damned close to where you want fast. The city fare is $2.25 and trains go from where people live to where they work and play. All lines run all the time, frequently and on weekends as well.

Back to Boston and down to earth, we’re never going to be a 24-hour city or have a fast and frequent subway system. However, we can do better.

Through the efforts of Martin and the CDCs, the Indigo Line is coming. I remain to be convinced that the schedule will be convenient. I’d love to be able to go into town day and night on a convenient line.

There’s no reason other than inertia or indifference by the T that we don’t have real urban transit. There’s also no reason other than arrogance why its zone system puts so many parts of the actual city of Boston in zone 1 at $4.25 for what should be the same as a $1.70 subway ride. Absurd and provincial.

Of course, for the upper middle and upper class commuters, these are not problems. The trains run at to- and from-work times. They buy commuter rail passes so they don’t feel the per-trip cost. All the rest of the riders subsidize them and make do with the few off-rush-hour trains.

I see a parallel here with computer software. Most of it requires that the users be programmed for the quirks of the applications. We had to learn absurd commands and procedures to do basics. Likewise, T riders are supposed to adapt to the T’s edicts and caprices.

We oldsters and early adopters recall illogical Ctrl-k sequences for Word Perfect and such. Here, we’re accustomed to transit that just stops at night, trolleys that can’t operate over fallen leaves, and commuter rail that doesn’t accommodate where people live or when they want to arrive.

That future post will discuss how a indefatigable set of activists changed that for the Fairmount Corridor. At Rail-Volution, attendants from around the country could not stop raving at how sophisticated and effective that effort has been. It gives a Bostonian hope

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9/10th of a Loaf

August 18th, 2009

Dinner two nights ago with some charming friends in their South End garden condo brought the expected — satisfying food and drink — and a little cycling surprise. The advent of cycling lanes there brought carping from the riders.

She attended the August 4th public meeting to discuss the pending re-striping from Melnea Cass to Dartmouth on Columbus by September. I could not, as we were in the agony of packing for the suddenly accelerated move from JP to HP.

I thought it was in great hands and mouth and mind, regardless. City Bicycle Coordinator Nicole Freedman was up front. She’s a real bike advocate and power behind our local cycling advances. However, six inches out of five feet seemed to have caused serious contention.

My chum works in transportation and shall remain nameless. I pass along her comments. Normally that would be hearsay. However, the South End News covered the indoor struggle over the outdoor improvement in a piece in the current issue.

My friend expected a love fest. After all, only recently the state and city had spit on us cyclists over Mass Ave. While the laws and regulations require adding accommodations for bikes and pedestrians whenever a road is rebuilt or even resurfaced. The governments weaseled out of bike lanes on the thoroughfare, claiming the plans had been grandfathered before the new regs.

Yet, you squeeze your bike down Mass to the Harvard Bridge to find bike lanes across and then stretching ahead in Cambridge. Clearly, this ploy goes against needs, safety and the current rules. In that way lawyers and engineers can claim literalness over reason, the state and city told cyclists not only where to go, but to get there at their own risk.

So, I too figured the South End wheelers would be pleased if not delighted at the new lanes. Not so.

Many objected to the moderately dumb decision to give parked cars 7.5 feet and cyclists 4.5 feet. To non-cyclists be aware that cars need from 5 to 6 feet and that standard bike lanes are 5 feet wide. The cyclists had an excellent point that we should set the standard with the normal lane and not nibble bikes into traffic. Drivers should simply have to park in the lines as the present law already requires.

Also for non-cyclists, being doored is more what this is about than cars passing in the same direction. A few cyclists around here die annually and many are injured by gormless parkers throwing wide their street-side door without looking. While that is against the law in general and with stronger new cycling statutes, police are notorious about not bothering to enforce such reckless behavior. They are wont to call it “an accident” and save the paperwork and court appearances.

With all the stomping and yelling by drivers whenever cycling arises in the press or orally, a main point of the anti-2-wheelers is that police should catch and punish every moving violation. That’ll show those arrogant Spandex bums.

What’s missing there is the two-pronged reality of cars. Not only are they inherently vastly more dangerous, but at least around here, their drivers’ violations are non-stop — red lights, crosswalks, tailgating, speeding, threatening drivers, pedestrians and cyclists alike with the vehicles.

It may be true that if Boston cops began enforcing state traffic laws we’d have a safer and much more pleasant city. It is also certain as cops claim that they’d have time for nothing else. At least until the paper flood slowed and the courts eventually unclogged, getting to safe would be the kind of cultural upheaval that we have not seen since the American Revolution.

Drivers are hell set against giving up anything. That would include parking spaces (many major European cities just take whole streets of parking and convert them to pedestrian and bike paths). They would love for all those other drivers to disappear, without having to give up anything themselves.

So it was with the cyclists two weeks ago at the discussion. They railed against the 4.5-foot bike lanes instead of 5-foot ones.

One more secret to share with non-cyclists is that there is considerable debate about how safe such bike lanes are. A substantial number of bike advocates contend that shared roads make more sense if the cities won’t clearly separate bike lanes from doors and traffic.

Regardless, Freedman said and I believe that a real value of bike lanes is visibility. The obvious reality of more cyclists along with marked, dedicated lanes makes it plain to drivers that they must share the road.

Even in Cambridge, there is informal accommodation, certainly by cyclists and police. For one, the Mass Ave bike lanes in many places should be called UPS/Fedex parking lots. Package trucks often force cyclists into motor vehicle lanes, slowing everyone as well as increasing risks to riders. Yet, business must continue and we cyclists use our mirrors and hand signals while bypassing the big, old trucks. Cops likewise give the guys in brown and blue reasonable time to drop off their boxes.

Yes, the riders at the discussion are literally right and the city should positively give a full 5-foot lane there. Yet, I’m with Freedman’s larger view here. If 9/10 of that sets the tone in the South End, it is net positive for everyone.

The ideal should be truly separate bike lanes, isolated from walkers and drivers. Short of that, the standard 5-foot lane is in order. The 4.5-foot version is okay…for now.

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Bikes Spring Pointers

June 2nd, 2009

Like wheels attached to my butt, cycling has been a joy. I’ve been back on a bike for over a month following the broken leg/surgery and I’ve discovered a fab plain-folk cycling maggy.

I’ll grant my surgeons the doubt. Let’s say not that they were blowing smoke, but that they under-promised so that I could over-deliver.  When they told me I wouldn’t be able to be back on the saddle until September and that I wouldn’t want to spin the wheels until December, they let me prove them wrong.

I targeted May 15th for a ride to Boston’s City Hall Plaza for the Bay State Bike Week hooha.  In early April when I was just barely able to lift my repaired leg onto the stationary bike-like-object at the gym, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to do it, certainly not kick out of the pedals with my still shattered fibula. I had sent an email to our biking czarina, Nicole Freedman, apologizing in advance.

Well, I wheel more slowly than before, but I hit the road, figuratively, to the Blue Hills, Wellesley, downtown Beantown, and for arrogance and joy, every trip to the physical therapist. So, come that Friday, number two son and I biked downtown.

Nicole is savvy about promotion and passionate about biking. She was funneling folk with any kind of salable tale to Bill Nesson, who teaches visual and media arts at Emerson College. We got a chance to be simultaneously self-absorbed and bike enchanted. Maybe it was the endorphins from cycling in to the plaza. See one of our clips here.

Meanwhile, on that other coast, Momentum magazine is having way too much fun. Number one son found it first and talked up the Facebook group for it.  Join that to get their very frequent updates to online issues, features and events. For the Myers-Briggs S types, the print version is also widely available at bike shops. I grabbed the current one at Community Bicycle Supply in Boston’s South End Saturday.

Unlike the hardcore gear-head slick pubs, Momentum covers cycling in different towns, bike shop, books, safety classes, and a virtually any style of commuting, distance, off-road and other biking. It’s for people and not for pros or Peter Pan types in $200 jerseys. Good on ‘em.

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Not Paranoid Enough?

April 22nd, 2008

There’s a lot of JP, both in length and diversity. Maybe I misdirected my comfort yesterday.

I walked with a newly met woman about 10:30 a.m., assuring her that the Lallement bikepath on the Southwest corridor — tracking the Orange Line — was safe. At the Forest Hills end, she asked whether it was okay to walk then. I told her that yes, in the daytime, but maybe not at night.

She had eyed the seedy sitters and I recalled the late-night bike bandits who’d knock riders down and take their wheels.

I tend, not surprisingly, to bike on that bikepath. When I do walk it, I like to follow the stick figure signs, keeping the bike side for cyclists, even though they are few. I recall the many oblivious strollers often blocking the whole bike side while risking their infants or looking and listening to phones. Don’t be that guy, Mike.

Oddly enough, I was on foot because of my road bike. I finally admitted that those scraping sounds meant I could no longer pretend my brake pads would last forever or regenerate. The Shimano 105/Ultegra pads are hard to come by. International over in Newton had sold me the wrong type already. I was delighted to call at 10 a.m. on Patriots Day and find that Community Bicycle Supply at the far reach of the South End would be open.

I headed up, both to get the right pads and to do a cardio session. That’s about five miles. We live at the very bottom of JP, kind of the pendant on the chain of the long, narrow neighborhood. We’re a mile below Forest Hills in the last couple of blocks of JP.

The woman walker, Wanda, and I headed north. She had dropped her car off in Dedham for repairs, taken a bus to Forest Hills and figured to get a warm-up for her workout at Mike’s gym, a mile or so up the corridor. She is bookkeeper for the Mass Public Health folk and works in JP. She was just not used to walking over to Mike’s.

I’ve biked and walked that path for many years. Quickly she and I got past any thought of evil en route. We spoke of our teenagers, school, sports and gyms.

So that evening, my JP-ness got a jolt reading about Luis Troncoso, the 20-year-old gunned down on a basketball court on the corridor at about 4 p.m. yesterday. That would be the court next to where JP Wakes Up the Earth, the court one half block beyond where Wanda and I parted.

I don’t think I lied to her, not intentionally. I still know the bikepath is safe. It appears his murderer targeted him specifically, so the place and time of death have little implication for the rest of us. The young father is dead still.

I also know that, geographically, fancy folk Pond Side and even Brookline are closer to this violence than we live. Somehow though, as disparate as the various JPs are one from another, the neighborhood link is powerful. I might well have led Wanda right into a scene of death, had timing been slightly different. That’s not what any of us want in our neighborhoods.

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Middle Eastern, No Sirree

September 25th, 2007

Boston is a city that likes its secrets and knows how to keep them. There’s no sense in letting the out-of-neighborhood folk know what street they’re on with signs!

I’ve found yet another store that gets it, the Boston way. By found it, I mean in the French window-licking sense. I haven’t been able to get in after three visits during posted hours.

Yes, yes, I do know of self-defined characters in Maine towns or New Mexican ones for that matter. Their little shop or gallery will have some allegedly amusing note like, “OPEN WHEN THE MOOD STRIKES ME. KEEP TRYING.”

The folk at the Syrian Grocery Importing Company on Shawmut Avenue in the South End are much crueler. They have a faded sign on their front door. It has very specific days and hours, for a schedule they don’t keep.

The sked is flaky enough — Tuesday through Saturday, noon to 7 p.m. That looks like even a sloth or alcoholic should be able to do that. Double ha!

I had been by a few times during hours, but the padlock was on the door. Today, I came prepared. I biked the five miles or so, bought a big coffee and settled in on the front stoop with a cryptic puzzle. That wasn’t a bad way to spend some time. I had arrived precisely at noon and was jolly.

The window looked like a teenager’s desk drawer. It was piled and jumbled with all manner of treasures. When I wanted a stretch, I’d look. I saw one thing I was ready to buy immediately, a brass mortar and pestle for grinding saffron. I was a customer waiting to be relieved of money on my third trip.

When nearly an hour passed, the mailman was on his way. The store owner’s quirkiness was outlasting my patience at the same time. When the man with the pouch arrived I asked if he knew whent the store was open. He paused and laughed heartily before saying, “Whenever the hell they feel like it.”

He added that he’d be by when they were open during the posted times, then long stretches when it was locked. For him, it was not an issue, there’s a goodly gap under the front door. That’s less effective in my circumstances.

Now I know where places like the Eastern Lamejun Bakers in Belmont and Arax Market in Watertown are. I know too that they are quirky in that other way, the one of being open when they say.

The city seems in on the grocery’s plot too. The way to 270 Shawmut is maze-like. You can’t legally turn onto Shawmut from the major east-west street, Berkeley. Then from Dedham Street, it is one-way the other way. If you want to get to it from Mass Ave or further South, you have to take Washington or Tremont and know which of two or three streets will let you into the secret road. Too soon or too late and Shawmut is one way the wrong way.

I”m going to make it my business to get into that store just once, but no more special trips. There have to be real things I can do, like visiting friends in the South End or going to Chinatown. Even languor can’t defeat a determined shopper.