Thursday, March 31, 2005

Boston Starbucks: The EI,CL Starbucks

The Extremely Incovenient, Conveniently Located Starbucks

At the opposite end of Cambridge Street from the Over-Friendly, Gay Starbucks is the Extremely Inconvenient, Conveniently Located Starbucks, also known as the Triangular Starbucks owing to its shape. The EI,CL Starbucks is located at the corner of Court & Cambridge Streets, at a site of some fame, for not only is it built adjacent to the Sears Crescent Building & on the former grounds of old Scollay Square, but it is also situated underneath the steaming tea-kettle. What's more, the EI,CL Starbucks can be found mere steps away from the site of Dwight Moody's rebirth as a Christian!

Ironically, it is because of this illustrious location that the EI,CL Starbucks earns it admittedly peculiar sobriquet. You see, dear readers, the EI,CL Starbucks is extremely inconvenient because, while being the Starbucks nearest to yr humble correspondent's place of employment, it is also a good five minute walk away, which simply does not do on cold winter mornings. Of course, yr humble correspondent could get off the Government Center Green Line Station in the morning on his way to work & from there simply bop in, grab his latte & and head into the office some half-mile away — & trust me dear readers, he would, if it were not for the fact that the EI,CL Starbucks is also inconveniently busy.

The EI,CL Starbucks is always, indeed invariably, busy during those hours of the day during which it would be most convenient for yr humble correspondent to obtain his much-needed lattes.

8:50 a.m., on the walk into work? Busy. Line out the door busy.

1:50 p.m., after lunch? Busy & crowded with people sitting along the window-facing bar.

5:05 p.m., on the way home from work? Busy, in addition to the fact that yr humble correspondent would have to walk all the way down Cambridge Street simply to get there.

Thus it is that the only times yr humble correspondent goes to the EI,CL Starbucks is between 10 a.m. & Noon, when the line is usually much-diminished & he can obtain his latte in under ten minutes. This necessitates going into work, settling into the morning routine, then getting up & leaving again to walk down Cambridge Street, however.

Obviously, this then begs the question as to why the EI,CL Starbucks earns the Conveniently Located portion of its nickname & the answer to that question, dear readers, is this: the EI,CL Starbucks is convenient for almost everyone else in the Cambridge Street, Government Center and Court Street area. These lucky souls need only walk a few yards to obtain their drinks, and so it is that the EI,CL Starbucks is extremely convenient for them. But their convenience translates into inconvenience — nay, extreme inconvenience — for yr humble correspondent.

Still & all, the EI,CL Starbucks is not a particularly bad Starbucks. The staff tends to be friendly enough & are prompt with the drinks (though they have, on occasion, forgotten yr humble correspondent's latte, thereby increasing his wait & solidifying their inconvenient reputation). Note also that the EI,CL Starbucks is not a lounging Starbucks by any stretch of the imagination. There is almost no seating in the establishment, owing to the small size & awkward shape, save for a bar which runs along the Government Center-facing windows (which does make for good people-watching, if one is lucky enough to get a seat). Indeed, the EI,CL Starbucks is a "wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am" Starbucks: one goes in, orders, obtains drinks & perhaps food & then leaves. It is unsurprising, therefore, that the clientele tends to consist entirely of business people & tourists, who are simply getting their morning caffeine before heading elsewhere.

Monday, March 28, 2005

A Guide to Boston's Starbucks

A while ago, Mr B—, of Wellington Street, the South End, proposed that a guide to the Starbucks of Boston be published. Now, in the event that my loyal readers are unaware of their humble correspondent's love for Starbucks, allow this post to serve as notification of that fact. Yr humble correspondent is indeed a most loyal fan of that august corporate giant, thus he would truly welcome such a guide.

Sadly, however, Mr B— is a notoriously busy Gentleman & he, as noted in his original proposal, most likely will never find time enough to write such a guide. So & all, this task falls upon the shoulders of yr humble correspondent, who will, for the weeks to come, be providing reviews & descriptions for the many Starbucks locations in our fair city.

We begin, then, in Boston's West End, at 222 Cambridge Street.

The Overly-Friendly, Gay Starbucks

This, my dear readers, is the Overly-Friendly, Gay Starbucks, as yr humble correspondent calls it. It is located near to the Charles Street / Massachusetts General Hospital Red Line station, & is rather unobtrusively placed on the first floor of a nineteenth-century apartment house.

The O-FGS, to use a handy acronym, is one of Boston's rare "U-shaped" Starbucks, in that it's design accomodates the stairway used by tenants to access the upper floors. One enters the O-FGS on the left-hand side, at the corner of Cambridge & Irving Streets & exits through the right-hand side, back on Cambridge Street, effectively circulating in an upside-down "U."

Due to its small size & unusual shape, the O-FGS is not considered a "lounging" Starbucks, where one goes to sip coffee with friends, read a book & so forth. Granted, some people do engage in such activities at the O-FGS, but they are rare & are more frequently found at the Greater Charles Street Starbucks (a post about which is to follow). During the day, customers are generally employees of Massachusetts General Hospital (doctors in their full "scrubs" are not rare sights), with the occasional student from nearby Suffolk University. On the weekends & after standard business hours, the number of students increases, as does the number of Beacon Hill residents.

Yr humble correspondent refers to the O-FGS as such owing to its staff, which is, as the name suggests, gregarious to an occasionally off-setting degree & possessing of a fair number of homosexuals (or, if not, than individuals who play into the stereotype well enough to fool yr correspondent). Their friendliness, beyond the usual banter and good cheer exhibited to most customers, extends to an unusual practice which yr humble correspondent has encountered only th ere. To wit, the staff of the O-FGS frequently asks its customers "Questions of the Day," which range from "What hospital were you born in?" to "What was the name of the person you took to prom?" Strange, but intriguing — yr humble correspondent has certainly learned some interesting facts about his fellow customers in this manner.

Yet even on those days which lack the Question, yr humble correspondent has found the staff to be quite talkative; certainly, they are more talkative and social than the average Starbucks barrista. They joke with their customers over any little thing, and are quick to rib their own corporate practices or the complex beverage orders of others. Truthfully speaking, they are both fun & entertaining, so do not think, dear readers, that yr humble correspondent disapproves of their attitude. Only at first are their jovial banter & eager smiles slightly unnerving, especially on those bitter winter mornings when yr humble correspondent is not entirely happy to be alive. Thereafter, expectant & prepared, the employees at the O-FGS can be a charmingly refreshing encounter.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Riding Ever From Boston

The last time Rugg spoke to me he inquired how far it was to Boston. I told him just one hundred miles.

'Why,' said he, 'how can you deceive me so? It is cruel to mislead a traveller. I have lost my way; pray direct me the nearest way to Boston.'

I repeated, it was one hundred miles.

'How can you say so?' said he. 'I was told last evening it was but fifty, and I have travelled all night.'

'But,' said I, 'you are now travelling from Boston. You must turn back.'

'Alas,' said he, 'it is all turn back! Boston shifts with the wind, and plays all around the compass. One man tells me it is to the east, another to the west; and the guide-posts too, they all point the wrong way.'
If, dear readers, you have not heard the legend of Peter Rugg — the Missing Man in search of Boston, riding always before a storm — than do yourself the service of reading his account over at Gaslight. 'Tis truly one of Boston's most intriguing tales, though it is scarcely remembered by most of our fair city's inhabitants these days.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Exiled to Longwood

Interesting tidbit, dear readers: the Longwood area of Brookline was once the estate of a certain David Sears, who named it for Napoleon's home on St. Helena.

Of course, this begs the question as to why anyone would name a property after a place of exile.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Take THAT Calgary!

Emporis, the database on buildings and real-estate, has ranked Boston as possessing the world's 43rd most impressive skyline. Topping off the list was Hong Kong, New York, Seoul, Chicago & Singapore, with Cleveland, Edmonton, San Diego, Tulsa & Mandaluyong coming in at the bottom.

Montréal came in 42nd, beating Boston out by a scant 10 points (the rankings were determined based on a point system that is explained at the top of the list). Watch out, you Québécois! We're coming for you!

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Christ in Holton's Shoe Store

It never ceases to amaze yr humble correspondent what odd bits of history one stumbles upon while strolling the streets of Boston. Take, for instance, this plaque, which yr humble correspondent found along Court Street this morning:

Who was D. L. Moody, I hear my loyal readers ask? Why, none other than Dwight L. Moody — one of the great evangelists of the nineteenth century & the founder of the Moody Bible Institute, Moody Publishers, the Mount Hermon School & the Moody Church of Northfield. By the time of his death in 1899, it was said that he had won a million souls over to Christ.

Copious information about the life & times of Mr Moody can be found on-line, although yr humble correspondent is primarily concerned with the plaque on Court Street and the seemingly bizarre incident of the shoe store conversion.

Apparently the story goes that, while Moody was working at his uncle's shop one day, his Sunday school teacher (one Mr Edward Kimball) resolved to "speak to him about Christ & about his soul." He entered the shop & found Moody in back wrapping up shoes for delivery. Placing his hand's on the boy's shoulders, Kimball "told him of Christ's love for him & the love Christ wanted in return." Mr Kimball himself admitted that, afterwards, he though his message "very weak" — though apparently it did not matter, for from that moment onward Moody was a changed man. He relates how on the morning after his awakening he came out of his room to find that the "sun shone a good deal brighter than it ever had before — I thought that it was just smiling upon me; & as I walked out on Boston Common & heard the birds singing in the trees, I thought they were all singing a song to me." He was now, as one source put it, "running over with zeal & love for the Master."

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Walking Along Old Byways

Image: Boston Byways & Highways

Kellscraft continues to amaze with its on-line collection of rare, old books, which it offers to the public free of charge. Yr humble correspondent's latest find at that august archive is Boston: Its Byways & Highways, by John Albert Seaford, published circa 1914. The text itself is of no particular historical significance, merely summarizing the histories of various famous buildings and neighborhoods, but the sketches are of superb quality (as evidenced by the one posted above).

For the artwork alone, yr humble correspondent heartily recommends Mr Seaford's work.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Freezing for Omelettes

Yr humble correspondent spends a good deal of time in and around Somerville's Ball Square, where his boyfriend resides. It is a generally charming little half-block, lined with quaint, Main Street-style stores — a bakery, a wine store, a coffee house, a diner, a cafe, et cetera.

It's the cafe yr humble correspondent wishes to discuss; specifically, the cafe called Sound Bites.

This is the line outside of Sound Bites on a typical Sunday, and a cold one at that. On any given day of the week, this line is present. Granted, the line is not always as long as evidenced in the photographs, but it is there nonetheless — four or five people, or two or three groups, standing outside, waiting for breakfast or brunch. Regardless of whether it a work day, weekday, holiday, there they are.

Now, yr humble correspondent is sure that Sound Bites has a fantastic and delicious menu. However, one must wonder how fantastic and delicious any menu can be to warrant standing outside, in the cold of a New England winter, for what is surely at least a half-hour. What are in those omelettes that makes people wait outside, freezing in the wind, sipping quickly-cooling coffee? Especially when there is a diner up the block and another cafe across the street?

Yr humble correspondent recalls a particular day, not too many weeks ago, when a snow storm of fairly sizeable porportions hit the area, dumping some four to six inches of snow. Heading down to Ball Square for coffee and breakfast, yr humble correspondent remarked to his companions that there was no conceivable way that Sound Bites would have a line outside its doors on a day like that day, with no sunlight, a biting wind and snow piled everywhere. Indeed, many of the sidewalks had not yet been shoveled!

But, lo, there it was, visible even from a distance — a sizeable line standing outside, in the snow, waiting to get inside for brunch. Baffling. Clearly, their brunch must be of divine nature, although yr humble correspondent has no idea because he refuses to stand in line, outside, simply to get brunch.

Why, I am sure my dear readers are asking, does our humble correspondent bring this issue up? Simply because, sirs and ladies, the weather outside is godawful, and yr humble correspondent is quite sure that there is a line outside Sound Bites at this very moment.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Klaus Comes to Cambridge

If, dear readers, you are to see but one documentary about an utterly avante-garde German New Wave vocalist with an operatic background who rocked Manhattan's underground music scene during the early '80s, then please do go see The Nomi Song. It is currently playing at the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge, but only through March 10, so purchase tickets now.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

The Buyer of Bad Memories

It would seem that Lacuna Inc. does not have the market cornered in memory-removal. Of course, yr humble correspondent must question the legitimacy of any business that locates itself in Chelsea, & wonders what individual would wish to collect bad memories.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Boston on the Silver Screen

Yr humble correspondent would to like to thank the entirely exceptional Mr D— for pointing out the "First Films of the City (1901 - 1905)" collection over at the Boston Public Library. These little movie-ettes are available for viewing on-line — ah, will the wonders of the Internet ever cease? — & any lover of Bostonia ought really to check them out. Yr humble correspondent's favorite is "Seeing Boston," a six-minute trolley tour that takes one on a "whirlwind ride through the busy streets of downtown Boston past Jordan Marsh and along Boylston Street to Copley Square passing by the Boston Public Library."

Mr D— has, once again, earned my undying gratitude.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

You Can't Get There From Here

Loyal readers interested in dead streets ought to read Mr B—'s explanation as to why Boston lacks a Front Street.

(Though it would seem that the dear Mr B—'s finding were not entirely accurate; scholars, academicians & the like should consult Mr C—'s comment on the aforementioned post.)

Lazy Map-Makers

By 1617, European-borne disease had reduced the Native American population of Massachusetts Bay from three thousand to around five hundred. Although the situation was everywhere devastating, it was particularly horrific on the peninsula that would one day be known as Dorchester Point (or Dorchester Neck, or Dorchester Heights, depending upon what eighteenth-century map one consults), & in 1804 would be annexed as "South Boston." There, disease was so rampant that surviving tribe members were forced to leave their dead unburied, in piles & in mounds. They took to calling the place "Mattapannock," roughly translated to mean "the place where evil is spread about."

Decades later, English cartographers found themselves in need of a name for the southern-most region of Dorchester. After what was undoubtedly not much consideration, they opted to use the original "Indian" name, but only in part. Mattapannock was such an awfully long word, after all. So, Mattapannock became — well, what else? — "Mattapan." It would, along with Dorchester, be annexed by Boston in 1870.