Archive for June, 2013

Let the Feeble Wait!

June 20th, 2013

I visited the Charlie Card Store in  downtown Boston for the first time yesterday. The well-lit, clean room is at once a marvel of efficiency and a bureaucratic torture chamber.

The MBTA has consolidated its special services — things you can’t get or do online or by phone. Those include transferring stored value among cards, replacing damaged cards, and reduced fare cards for seniors and the disabled including blind riders. There is a little joke there. To get your T services, including reduced fare, you really need to take the T to get to the location, paying full fare on the way. Nearly no one lives near downtown crossing.

The room is rather like an attractive, sit-down-while-you-wait deli counter. The receptionist and clerks at each of six stations are pleasant and efficient…within T policy. When you arrive, you explain what you are there to do. The receptionist performs triage and produces a deli-style ticket with your number, like E917.

As it turns out, your fate was determined at that moment.

fairmountstopThe office hours are 8 AM to 5:30 PM, Monday through Friday. Right away that means that both white-collar and blue-collar workers take off work time. As with most bureaucracy, the citizens serve at the pleasure of the overlords. That’s typical and not really unusual or punitive.

However, as I watched, waited and then listened, the nefarious aspect revealed itself. Many of the elderly and disabled squirmed and some complained as they saw others get their numbered chits, get served and leave. They sat and heard and saw the number-being served at which station announced and shown.

An unctuous worker eventually walked through the room past the seats of gumblers. He explained in a monotone. This clearly was not his first time giving the little speech. It seems some services take longer than others. Those troublesome ones would include the likes of senior and disable cards. Those require taking a photo.

That process is highly automated. a wee camera at each station captures an image of the rider and a fancy printer behind the clerks spits out the ID in well under a minute. The only time-consuming part seemed to be typing the name and address off the license or other ID.

At first I didn’t quite believe I heard right. Yet, there is no FIFO here. First-come means squat. If you can’t see well, can’t walk agiilely, or are just old, you are at the back of the line. The fitter take precedence. You wait.

I guess for the old or disabled, the attitude is this is good practice for the larger world. You wait as the younger and able-bodied pass you by.

I hadn’t expected philosophy to be built into the system.

Little Guides

June 20th, 2013

geminioutlineMy maternal grandmother, Mable, had a few odd yet predictable routines. While she was quite bright, in at least two areas, she went gut and hope.

The closest the eastern panhandle of WV had to a local but city newspaper was the Cumberland Times, from 28 miles away on Route 28. While a silly and slim rag, it had area news as well as comics, advice columns, word puzzles and of course a horoscope.

If you are an astrology believer be aware that I am not and never have been. I looked through my usual combination scientific and experiential lenses. I don’t see any value with the possible exceptions of entertainment and reinforcing what you want to be so.

It’s been many years since I even looked at one, other than the spoofs in The Onion. As yesterday was my birthday, that somehow inspired me to look. The result was:

TODAY’S BIRTHDAY (June 19). In the past, you’ve had fewer options, but now you’ll find yourself in a position to be discerning and selective. What happens in July makes you more interesting and also more interested in others. A certain someone or something enthralls you in August. September brings a self-imposed challenge and a well-won victory. Capricorn and Sagittarius people adore you. Your lucky numbers are: 3, 22, 39, 42 and 15.

That’s vague enough to fit almost anyone. The specifics about my adorant one-sixth of the world was a coincidental nice touch, as in that my long-term wife was born under Capricorn.

Yet come each morning, Mable would read her horoscope and seem to get some satisfaction. As far as I could tell, she remained rational enough that she did not alter her behavior or feel any trepidation.

Later in the day, she also sat solo at the dinner table with her Bible and The Upper Room. That wee weekly magazine has cites some scripture and has a homily on it, along with some pretty specific steps for being cool with Jesus. She’d read and meditate. She was always calm and composed afterward.

We were a Methodist family and she certainly was a believer. Among other credal tenets, heaven was one she fully accepted. She fully expected a personal identity after death, including eternal bliss. Unlike say Presbyterians with there predestination, Methodists were of the good deeds and thoughts got you right with God and in line for a spot in this heaven.

I see anything destructive or particularly negative about Mable’s two foibles. The horoscope did not control her or upset her. The devotional may in fact reinforced positive thoughts and deeds.

Neither was rational, rather emotionally, a.k.a. faith, based. So what?

 

Soft Opening, Solid Thrill

June 5th, 2013

grillebarFive of us at one table and two at another were among the fairly joyous Hyde Park sorts who noticed the Fairmount Grille’s Facebook announcement of a soft opening last evening. Only a banner hung outside the 81 Fairmount Ave site in Logan Square called passersby not to pass by.

As someone who really liked the previous Townsend’s in that spot for its four years, I’ve been figuratively pacing. Townsend’s shut last winter, but the owners passively obstructed the transition. For some reason, they held liquor license, which of course is essential for a bar/restaurant. The arcane, anachronistic Boston licensing does not allow even nominally for two licenses to be affiliated with one address. So the old license had to be revoked before another one could apply.

Perhaps more parochial and old-fashioned, there really aren’t enough liquor licenses to go around. Trot to any other sizable city and see that they are not afraid that something awful just might happen if there are two bars in a block. Bacchanals nightly! Anti-Puritan indulgence!

Regardless, with the Clarke’s in South Station becoming yet another drug store, that license migrated as Townsend’s went back into the treasure chest.

It seems Christopher Rassias got the restaurant and booze licenses and set up shop. He’d worked for numerous other such joints in town, mostly with Glynn Hospitality (Black Rose, Purple Shamrock and more). He told me last evening he was really ready to start his own.

Timing is superb. The popular The Hyde a little over a block away closed suddenly two weeks ago. The owner supposed retreated to Maine. Compounded with Townsend’s closing, that left a considerable hole in Logan Square. Rincon is across the street from the Hyde. Its limited Caribbean menu is good (particularly its goat stews), but it doesn’t have a full bar and seems to thrive with its DJ/dancing nights and its lunches. Around the corner on River Street, Master McGrath’s is a formidable, drink-all-day beer joint that sells a little bar food, and El Rancho has OK West Indies fare.  A little farther on Maple, Las Vegas Seafood (eh?) has good Haitian food, but is really a take-out joint.

fgrille

Logan and Cleary Squares didn’t have a good sit-down with booze…you know, a place with adult choices.

Same and different

So, The Fairmount Grille is likely to get business from the Townsend’s loyalists. The food is similar, priced about the same. The wine and beer selections are also reasonable in variety and cost. It was super to see the bar (in the same location) with stools shined again by singles and couples sliding into place.

All of that written, the soft opening had its predictable glitches. Moreover, some details are still unattended to by Rassias and his minions.

Perhaps most obvious, in addition to no marquee or sign visible driving on Fairmount Ave., the web presence really isn’t present. The Facebook page is OK. However, it doesn’t have enough info. The restaurant website it displays is not only incorrect (thefairmountgrille.com instead of fairmountgrille.com), but the real site is not active. You can’t see the menus and anything else. Rassais told a customer yesterday within my hearing that would be fixed real soon.

At our table we ordered a cocktail, some wines by the glass, a soda, and an ale. We had an appetizer touchstone for Boston eateries, fried calimari, and the house burger, fish and chips, Cobb salad, and stuffed poblanos. Our chums at the other table tried duck wings, a steak and something I’m blanking on with a couple of beers.

Everyone liked the food. I think the winner was Sara with the vegetarian poblanos. They were big, just spicy enough and not cooked to mushiness as so many restaurants pre-prepare them. Objections were real but minor. For example, those who put the house butter on the excellent (Fornax?) bread didn’t care for the stuff with some kind of sugar or homey mixed in unrequested. Also, Tallon spoiled customers with his great, regularly changing range of mussel dishes. For those of us who like such, that was a big selling point, but not represented here.

Beers were in the $5 to $7 range. They weren’t as varied as Townsend’s, where Michael Tallon took great pride in a large number of superb ales on tap.  Still, there were nothing beers like Bud, augmented by a dozen or so good ales and beers, with malty, hoppy and Belgian sorts to satisfy almost anyone with dinner. It was not a selection for a road trip to taste.

Wines by the glass were similar. Reasonably priced at $7 to $11, No one was going to feel ripped off. The selection of 8 or 10 whites and reds each had a range for most tastes. They didn’t have everything in stock yet. On a clumsy sidenote, I knocked over a glass shortly after the waiter arrived. He brought us cloths to clean up my spill but still charged for the replacement. It was my boner, but a savvy restaurant would not have charged, particularly with new customers.

At the end, one of our party wanted to split the bill and pay her part with her credit card. The staff and even the cash register troubleshooter who apparently wanted to be there for the first night could not make it work. A few minutes headed to a half hour, even with a couple of my visits to the register hallway. They didn’t get it working and eventually, I had them put everything on my card.

We also peeked as several other customers to see what shape the small back patio was in, as it was popular in its Townsend’s life. As my wife put it, right now it looks like the inside of our garage, with coiled hoses and such cluttering the space.

We’ll go back and look forward to trying their brunches when they get that together. Rassais seems open to comments and criticisms. I’ll see if I can get some more, better ales, for example. He seems already to know he has to get someone to give him a web presence.

Train Rant

One more notable aspect of the Logan and Cleary Square biz life. The inane MBTA zoning lets locals travel to West Medford or Malden or Chelsea for the subway fare ($2 with a Charlie Card). Down here, but in Boston city limits instead, the fare is $5.50 for Hyde Park, Readville and Fairmount. The Indigo Line proposal requests dropping the zone from 1 to 1A to put it at those suburban rates. That would definitely encourage business traffic, including to local restaurants.

Get your act together, MBTA. Let logic rule here!

Banks of the Muddy Dan

June 2nd, 2013

Back to key childhood town today via the NYT opinion piece, I recalled Danville, VA. Tess Taylor, likely the age of my eldest son, wrote on how early Civil Rights protests hit even her white, establishment granddad.

In the very segregated setting only three miles above North Carolina, I went to elementary and junior high. Separate black/white schools were the norm. Even Greyhound was the white bus line versus the black Trailways. Some accommodations were not quite blended. I think of the Rialto movie theater, which kind of accommodated black folk, so long as they sat in the balcony. In fact, when I was eight, a friend thought he was tricking me by sending me upstairs with my bag of popcorn. When I noticed that the white people were downstairs and I was among rows of exclusively black people, I wasn’t bothered and watched the double feature (always at least a double and the Rialto had the Westerns and other action flicks). Later I wondered whether anyone in the balcony resented a white kid in their seats. If so, they didn’t let me know. After the movies, my classmate met me and looked chagrined. I think maybe he tasted his own racism and found his joke unfunny.

Taylor’s piece is on her grandfather’s modestly foolish upbraiding of a racist judge for coming heavy on black protesters for integration. It gives nice background on Danville as well as the perceived praise of her relative.

I’ve written on Danville here before. I lived there longer than anywhere until I moved to Manhattan after college and those were formative years.

Fortunately, my mother was not a racist and we were not infected by the malevolent disorder. She ran the Red Cross chapter, where black folk as well as white volunteered and received such services as blood, transportation, first-aid and home nursing training and such. Black folk were as welcome in our lives as whites. There were a few Jews, including the physician who rented to us, although I don’t recall knowing or even seeing Asians. It was a two-colored world.

Danvillelibrary

We moved to a far more rural Chester — middle of the same state, but not at all a city, before going to Plainfield, NJ for high school. PHS was half black. Plus my classes were a quarter to half Jewish students. I took the bus to Manhattan every chance I got. I experienced intense culture shock, almost entirely in a good way. I did hear and see Yankee de facto segregation and overt racism though, as I did and do during my decades in Boston. The first time I heard anyone openly using the N word was in my first few days in New Jersey. The separation of races in old Danville seems to have minimized open disdain, plus likely the veneer of civility in the South.

Pic note: The building was my public library and had been the site of the last capital of the Confederacy. Danville came with extra baggage.

On a far more prosaic level, I can draw light lines to other cultural transitions. I think of common tools, such as computers. I went from a manual typewriter to an electric one, on to when being a computer user meant bringing your task, like data analysis to a programmer who typed out punchcards and handed them to you to pile into a huge computer for calculation, I went on to batch processing in a shared environment and to paper tape mainframes before dedicated (and very expensive) word processors before workstations and then personal computers.

The improvements in integration and race relations have not been as linear or incessant. Yet integration advances, even in places like Boston, although there’s still a lot of happen. To return to the weak tool analogy, much as occurred in my lifetime and my towns. I think of my wife’s late grandmother, who grew up from the era before electricity and automobiles. Like Mable Thames, I have seen and benefited from much. Keep it coming.