Patriot’s Day in Somerville

Paul Revere, as portrayed by one of his living relatives. What a smile! Notice the kids gathered atop the laundromat. © The Middle Ground, 2012.



Observed the third Monday in April, Patriot’s Day commemorates the 1775 Battles of Lexington and Concord. On the night of April 18, 1775, Paul Revere made his historic ride toward Lexington to warn patriots of the impending arrival of British troops in that area. Revere left the North End, headed through Charlestown, and took the inconspicuous route through what is now Somerville. He then travelled through nearby Medford and Arlington. Somerville, aka Charlestown beyond the neck, served as a key crossroads during the Revolution and several of its hills provided natural fortification in battle.

Each year on Patriot’s Day, a re-enactment of Revere’s ride takes place, usually with some descendent of Revere playing the starring role. A Somervillian feeling particularly patriotic can normally intercept Revere on Broadway in Winter Hill, between 10:30- 11:15AM on the morning in question. Foss Park is the most popular of viewing locations, given its proximity to both Dunkins and the occasional slush stand if weather is permitting. (Weather was permitting today.)

Not to be outdone, my family has its own traditional Revere vantage point at the fork of Broadway and Main Street, right before Main Street changes from Somerville to Medford. There’s a little island in front of the 391 Broadway Apartment complex with a couple of tiny Revolutionary monuments (see below). This little island is across the street from T&T Ocean Liquors (formerly Paul Revere Beverage) and the Spin Cycle Laundromat. For a very long time, the laundromat was the home of the  M&S Police Supply store (short for Medford and Somerville I believe) and it had a picture of Paul Revere riding on the sign. I’m not sure if we go there because it’s a more intimate viewing experience of Revere, or simply just to be different, but my family has gathered at that spot for generations now. There are always a couple other random people there too and plenty of people sitting on their porches on Main Street.

So today, like always, my family gathered at the Broadway-Main Fork ready to see Paul. He was running a bit late, perhaps because of the unexpected heat. As a kid, I would get ridiculously giddy when I would see the flashing blue lights of the police motor brigade approaching, followed by the unfamiliar sound of horse hooves galloping on Somerville pavement. Today was no different.

Prepare Yourself. Paul is coming. © The Middle Ground, 2012.


While we were waiting, some nice old biddies slowly walked by, remarking, “I’m glad we aren’t the only ones waiting for Paul!” A few other guys drove by proclaiming, “Paul’s coming! Paul’s coming! Get ready!”.  In fact, no one really mentioned the name Revere. When Paul finally arrived, he was greeted with the enthusiasm and familiarity of an old friend who had been missed  all year. Paul’s the kind of guy Somerville wants to bump into and share an impromptu beer with. Everybody loves old Pauly. Poor Willy Dawes just can’t compete.

These people are wicked excited to see Paul. © The Middle Ground, 2012.

Close-up on Paul. © The Middle Ground, 2012.



This year’s Revere was a pro. First of all, he was sober. Not even a rosy glow despite the heat. Secondly, he actually looked a lot like his ancestor. The phrase “real deal” was definitely tossed around by onlookers. Thirdly, this Pauly  was engaging and friendly. Past Reveres have had varying degrees of composure and friendliness, with a Revere or two appearing “three sheets to the wind.” This Paul Revere briefly  stopped in front of our group to say hi to the kids and of course, to let us know that, “The Regulars are coming up!” My mom couldn’t help but respond with a simple, “Hey I think we’re gonna win!!” Paul took it in stride and gave us all a smile and wave before galloping onward through the pits of Medford. You can’t help but miss the guy as soon as he turns to leave.

One Patriot’s Day many years ago, we actually tried to follow Revere all the way up to Lexington. We thought it would be exciting stalking Revere and evading the red coats. We hopped in our old battle axe jalopy and drove through towns that progressively grew less welcoming to our automobile. Turns out, following a dude on a horse and a bunch of staties on motorcycles is not fun.  Also, no one was chasing us. You just seem crazy rolling down the windows, screaming “Kill the Brits! They’re after us!” when no one is behind you. Our historical pilgrimage ended up  being more like a really long and frustrating traffic jam.

We learned that day that although Paul Revere is a good friend to us all, he’s best viewed once a year, from a distance, for a brief 20 seconds of historical magic.

See ya next year, Paul!

Bye, Paul! © The Middle Ground, 2012.




A memorial stone placed by the Somerville Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1909. It reads: "To the Memory of Anne Adams-Tufts. Born 1729. Died 1813. A heroine of the Revolution who did active patriotic service after the Battle of Bunker Hill. This was the door-stone of her home which stood about 130 feet southwest of this spot." © The Middle Ground, 2012.




Stone marking the site of Revere's ride and the Winter Hill Fort. © The Middle Ground, 2012.



© The Middle Ground, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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Somerville Encounters: March 16th Edition

A necessary addition to a Somerville stop sign. © The Middle Ground, 2012



I recently took several long, leisurely strolls around Somerville to enjoy the unseasonably warm weather. I had a few errands to run, including taking some preliminary photos of an unmarked land plot that I am investigating for a forthcoming blog post. March 17th was Evacuation Day in Boston (and Somerville), which is basically a made-up holiday that people in Boston use as an excuse to have a long weekend to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.[1] Needless to say, tons of people were off from work, out and about, enjoying the weather on Friday the 16th. I decided it would be a great opportunity to chat with fellow Somervillians and do research for the blog. I’m admittedly not the best at sparking small talk, and I generally don’t make a habit of walking up to random strangers and inviting their crazy upon me. It’s not like I’m a horribly awkward person. I can certainly be borderline charming when necessary, but I tend to have a suspicious nature, one that makes forced conversation or networking (I even hate the word) a challenge for me. I look fairly harmless and young for my age, but it still comes across as inhuman and unnatural when I try to force the beaming friendliness vibe from my eyes. My wave ends up looking robotic and foreboding. But I decided to go for it and talk to EVERYONE I met on the streets of Somerville. If someone looked like they had a story to tell, I gave them the old charm. At first, the old charm just got me a few hollers and one lecherous wink, but after a while people spoke to me. Here are a few highlights from my Friday 3/16 encounters, though most of my meetings were pretty uneventful. Sadly, I didn’t chance upon any crazy people. Next time.

FIRST ENCOUNTER: Old Man on High

Location: Just outside Union Square.  Time: Noonish.

I’m not having much luck until an old man sitting five stories up in Properzi Manor (known as “old folks home” to some, but I don’t think it’s all elderly housing) calls down to me.

OLD MAN: Hey you there.

I am confused. I look around. I think I spot an old man on high.

OLD MAN: You there. Down there. You!

I am the only person in sight. He’s definitely talking to me.

ME: Oh. Hello?

OLD MAN:  How ya doin down there?

He seems nice. I am very excited about this conversation. He might share stories with me, and I can learn about Somerville in the 1930s!

ME: I’m doin well, sir, how are you?

OLD MAN: Ohhhhhh, I’m good.

Then he goes inside, shuts the balcony door, and walks out of my life forever. Old Man is all done with me. I feel sad.

I recover. I engaged with a stranger and I *think* it was a success. Part of me worries Old Man found me inadequate, but at least I wasn’t awkward. I also didn’t get stabbed. The whole thing was very neighborly, right?

SECOND ENCOUNTER: Artsy Guy by a Church

Location: Trull Lane, next to Mission Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ on Highland. Time: 2ish

I am heading towards Trull Lane from Highland Ave because it’s one of my favorite areas, but then I hesitate when I spot a hipster man sketching something. This means he is artsy. I assume he’s sketching the awesome church behind him, but turns out he isn’t. I fight my unfriendly instincts and proceed downward the lane. He is staring at a very unremarkable old house with an equally unremarkable old shed. It is red. Again, I am guilty of not initiating the conversation. He sees my big camera and decides I must be an artist too. I SMILE and prepare.

ARTSY GUY:  What do you think?

He stares intently at the ubiquitous shed.

ME:  Of what?

That didn’t come out as friendly as I had hoped. No matter, he’s staring hardcore at the same shed.

ARTSY GUY:  The house. Doesn’t it look like an old country house?

I am not so sure about this. I think I hate this house. It doesn’t seem historic.

ME:  Um, yeah. Definitely. Are you going to draw it? Cuz you know the church behind you was built around the turn of the century. And that other church across the street is really creepy and cool if you go to the back lot… like behind where they keep the dumpster…

System fail. I try to not look like a crazy person who hangs out in creepy back lots (I totally am). I am smiling.

ARTSY GUY:  Creepy or cool?

Um.

ME: Both. Yeah, both. Very cool though.

ARTSY GUY (disinterested):   Interesting. Maybe I’ll check it out.

Shit. That shed was definitely some sort of a litmus test for artistic minimalism. Can’t help it if I go for the obvious, but I like me some big church.

ME:  Yeah! Do it.

I resist the urge to run away shouting, “Enjoy that shed, motherf*****!”  Instead, I smile and walk away.

THIRD ENCOUNTER: Lady with a Really Nice House on Prospect Hill

Location: Prospect Hill   Time: 2:30ish

This one was all me. I see a lady on the porch of a really nice house.

ME: I REALLY LIKE YOUR HOUSE!!

LADY:  Oh. Thanks.

ME:  Yeah, I really like your house. It’s really nice. I’m from Somerville. I have always really liked your house. It’s really nice.

The lady starts to walk down her front steps, presumably to leave and walk her dog. She has a dog with her. I like this dog.

LADY:  Thank you. That’s very nice of you. Take care.

Cue to me that she is leaving.

ME:  HI DOGGIE!

She walks off.

ME: Yeah, have a great day!

We didn’t get to talk longer, but I was definitely friendly. I really wanted her to invite me into her home, perhaps even take me on as her ward.

FOURTH ENCOUNTER: Gardening Couple, also with Nice House

Location: Highland Ave  Time: around 4pm

This one went much the same as the last. Again, I use my awesome people skills to start the conversation.

ME:  Hi. I like your house!

Husband turns around. Wife keeps digging a hole.

HUSBAND: Thanks.

I am very enthusiastic. I like this home. It’s definitely not a house, but a home. I want in.

ME: Yeah, it’s really great. When was it built?

HUSBAND:  I think around 1895.

ME: You don’t have it registered with the Historic Preservation Commission????

HUSBAND:  No, we thought about it a while back, but then they could tell us what color to paint our house and stuff. We didn’t want to be bothered with all that.

ME:  I hear ya. They restrict my dad all the time with his house. Cool, well have a nice day.

HUSBANDYou too.

That was pretty successful. They really should register that house. I decide to walk north of Highland towards Winter Hill.

Things are getting less yuppie. People are more suspicious, but still friendly. I see a house with a bunch of bird cages and live birds on the porch. I like these birds, but realize I am too easily distracted and could spend all day recording my conversation with said birds. I keep walking.

FIFTH ENCOUNTER, OR THE FINAL ENCOUNTER IN WHICH I GET OWNED: Punk Kids (not as in kids who listen to punk, rather, kids that are turds.)

Location: Around Medford Street. Time: Around 5pm.

I’m walking. I see two teenage boys, probably between ages fourteen and seventeen. They look like punks. Real Somerville kids. I’m excited. I used to be a punk Somerville kid too. One is wearing a red cap, the other a blue Sox cap.

RED CAP KID:  Hey. Sup?

Awesome. He’s talking to me.

ME:  Hey! Howya doin’?

GUY SITTING ON THE PORCH BEHIND ME TO PUNK KIDS:  Sup.

I realize red cap kid wasn’t talking to me.

This is bad. They are giving me dirty looks now. I am passing them by. They are detecting I am lame. I think they think I am a yuppie. Shit.

I pass them.

PUNK KIDS (RED CAP, then BLUE CAP, then in a mocking CHORUS):  Hey, Oleeeve Oil! HEY OLEEEVE OYL!!!! OLIVE OYL!! OLIVE OYL!!! OLIVE OYL!!!! OLIVE OYL!!!! OLIVE OYL!!!!

Well, shit. They are making fun of me. What’s worse,  they are calling me Olive Oyl, the fictional gangly love interest of Popeye the Sailor Man. This isn’t the first time punk kids in Somerville have called me that. These little punks have struck a nerve and unknowingly tapped into a quarter century history of people calling me frickin’ Olive Oyl. Bastards, totally got me. I am tall and skinny, and I guess slightly resemble the fictional character in that way, but I swear the resemblance stops there. Course, I am wearing an Olive Oyl-esque ensemble, but it looks way more Zooey Deschanel than Olive Oyl, right?? I look damn good. I thought the Olive Oyl days were behind me. ALSO, how do they even know who Olive Oyl is??? I’m pretty sure they don’t air the old Popeye cartoons like they did when I was a kid. Lucky shits. I DO NOT START CRYING. I tell myself I am ‘losing the light’ and there’s no point in taking any more photos of Somerville or talking to anymore strangers today. I convince myself that I am happy that those two little shits even know who Popeye is, and that the whole encounter was awesome. IT WAS AWESOME.  I make my way home, having been owned by two kids nearly half my age. I do not look like Olive Oyl. I will not look like Olive Oyl. [2]

Those kids were punks, but they were true Somerville punks, and you have to respect that.

© The Middle Ground, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.


[1] Yes, the British did evacuate Boston and head north during the Revolution, but the holiday wasn’t observed until the 1930s, and it was at the bequest of the large Boston Irish population. It’s really quite an awesome day and I’m glad Somerville observes it because  we were after all part of Boston during the Revolution. I’m also a quarter Irish myself (aren’t we all?).

[2] I later checked Wikipedia for more info on Olive Oyl’s background, and I’m sad to say I only discovered that Olive Oyl and I do in fact have a great deal in common. To make matters worse, I also discovered that she was once portrayed by the actress, Shelley Duvall, another person that people I dislike will often say I resemble. Sometimes these people even make slashing gestures and ask me to make grotesque faces of fear, à la The Shining. I can no longer deny that I look like Olive Oyl. This information is quite disheartening.

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