Wednesday, February 16, 2005

It's a Gritty City

It’s a Gritty City

Dixie, the Airedale dog, and I have been living in Waltham for exactly a week today. We moved into our apartment about a week after the area’s second major snowstorm. What I immediately wondered as we took our first walks around the south Waltham neighborhood in which we now live, was whether there was any grass around the houses. To be fair, there was about 3 feet of snow piled up on the sidewalks and along the streets. It seems that most folks are solely concerned with getting out of their homes and into their cars, so virtually no one shovels their walks beyond their own immediate need. It made our walks occasionally perilous, what with the way people like to drive to the next intersection as quickly as they can. It reminds me of a story I was once told about New York City drivers who race from red light to red light. It doesn’t matter that they all get to the traffic light when it’s still red anyway, it seems it’s a matter of how quickly can they get there and then impatiently wait for the light to change. Gas, brake, horn, yell obscenities, and pound on the steering wheel seems to be the way for a NYC driver.

Here in Waltham it seems to be more reserved. So far all I’ve noticed is that every once in a while someone will blow their horn at someone else. The times I’ve noticed this occur have been when the person being blown at was doing something like turning at an intersection and the horn blower wanted them to cut off the oncoming car, as if creating an even more dangerous situation for them all was somehow a solution.

A few days ago Dixie and I walked over to the Waltham commuter rail stop to scope out how I’d be getting to work in downtown Boston. While we were standing in the parking lot watching the rituals of the morning commuters and the general goings on a guy driving a service truck stopped in the lot to talk about dogs with me. “Don’t see many of this kind of dog anymore, do you?” He said. “Nope,” I said. “Sure don’t.” “Hey, what kinda dog is that? Is that a Bedlington?” “No,” I replied. “It’s an Airedale.” And so the conversation went on like that for another minute of two. All of a sudden, behind him, a car that had been and was still pulled over starting beeping at us.

I looked at the car and saw a big fat guy behind the wheel, a dumpy woman in the passenger seat and a large German Shepard dog barking its head off in the back seat. Apparently, this dog was upset because of seeing Dixie getting some positive attention. So, the guy, instead of taking his dog out of the car and exercising it while waiting for his wife to catch the train, decided to spread around his frustration. The service truck guy wished me a good day, said goodbye to Dixie and went on his way. The German Shepard guy gave me a dirty look. I always thought that dog people shared a kind of common bond, but apparently there are always exceptions.

As it turned out, the guy spurred me along to go across the street and check out the bus stop. I wanted to compare/contrast taking the bus into Boston vs. the train. Or is it more accurately stated taking the T into Boston instead of taking the T? I asked a young guy standing at the bus stop what the difference was between taking the 505 and the 554, since they both went to downtown Boston. He said it depends on where you’re going. Duh.

Dixie and I left the Waltham T stop and headed north through the Common and went up to Main Street. We walked west along Main over to Prospect St. and looped around, crossing back over the Charles River and eventually getting back to Newton St., which is where we live. Along our way we stopped at a car service station that also did State Inspections. Given that I have to register my car and also get a Massachusetts drivers license, I thought I’d check the place out and find out what I needed to know. Two guys were talking together when we entered the place.

At least one of them apparently worked there; the other seemed to be a friend or perhaps a regular customer. I asked them a series of questions related to registering my car, chief among them where the Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) was located. The guy that I believe worked there answered me by saying it was over in Watertown in the Mall off of “Ahsinahl” Street. I asked him to spell that for me. A-r-e-n-s-a-l, he spelled out. Ok, I said, I got it. Arsenal Street. The other guy just looked at him and smiled. Last Saturday night I’d gone to a swing dance in Watertown and so asked him if Arsenal Street was anywhere near Mt. Auburn St. He said that Mt. “Aubuhn” was a “hahd” left off of Main, and that I wanted to go left on the “diaghanahl” onto Ahsinal St. and not onto Mt. “Aubuhn.”

Then the two of them got into a discussion about how long I’d be there and how slow it was at the RMV and how if I drove over to the Vineyard I’d get waited on much more quickly and could have my plates mailed to me. I told them in my experience with the motor vehicle administration in my home state I’d had to wait for hours on end and so I was prepared to take a book and sit for a while.

Since Dixie and I do a lot of walking, I tend to notice things like how gritty the streets, sidewalks, and sides of the buildings are here in Waltham. Waltham is a gritty town. The snow, while nice and white in the local playgrounds and really pristine, by contrast, at Prospect Hill Park, is black along these streets. I wiped Dixie’s underside off when we got back home and the towel looked like the rag I use when I change the oil in my car.

Now that we’ve had a few days of above freezing temperatures, the snow is rapidly melting. What it leaves behind is the salt, sand and grit. These three items permeate one’s clothes, nose and mouth. I’ve had this salty taste in the back of my throat for two days now and when I sneeze I get this weird nostalgic feeling like I’m back at the ocean’s edge in summer. It’s a strange hallucination. This state, like so many others in the USA, likes to pound its streets with salt and sand during the winter. In the Northern European countries, they plow the streets leaving a layer of snow that the cars compact down. They add a little sand for traction and call it even for the winter. Here, we have to mow the streets devoid of snow until the plows cut scars, then salt the streets down until the macadam comes loose and makes potholes. This results in the car drivers, while racing to and across the intersections, to swerve around the potholes, all the while beeping at the seemingly abhorrent behaviors of each others’ driving habits and curse you-know-who and the government for not doing something about “it.”


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