Monday, July 7, 2014

An excellent adventure

Friday is my virtual Monday, but it's become more fun by virtue of a taco restaurant that just opened about a month ago in Harvard Square.

Begun as a food truck, this tiny bricks-and-mortar place has chicken, beef, pork and fish tacos, some decent sauces and a handful of other Mexican-type menu items. It's pretty good. Best of all, on Fridays and Saturdays, it's open until 2 a.m. Those hours work for me, and the food is light enough to make for a solid late-night snack option. We've probably already been at least a dozen times.

Last Friday was July 4th; work was unusually frustrating. It was a holiday, a lot of people have been on vacations, we had a sort of irregular mish-mash of staff. It also rained all day from the remnants of Hurricane Arthur off the coast. Just a weird day. Best to cap it off with something good, like tacos.

Around midnight we found parking in the square and darted through the raindrops to get to the restaurant. Two of the three staffers there already know us; the third was a young girl, maybe 19-21, we hadn't seen before.

She seemed nice, and the three of us struck up a conversation.

She didn't usually work nights, but had taken someone's shift because she had needed the previous day off to attend her mother's GED graduation ceremony and swapped out. That's a wonderful story, right?

But for this girl, it meant getting up early enough on July 4 to take the T to Harvard Square by 8 a.m. And then... she worked for 18 hours, until the 2 a.m. closing.

"How are you holding up?" we asked.

"I'm OK, but my shins are hurting a little bit."

"Do you live nearby? How are you getting home?"

"I catch the last bus to get to Dudley Square, then I have to walk the rest of the way."

"Wow, that sucks! How long does that take?"

"Well, the bus takes about 30 or 40 minutes, then I have to walk about a mile or so. So I get home after 3, maybe 3:30. Then I have to get up at 6 to catch the bus coming back because I have to be back here at 8."

Can you imagine?

I work hard. Most of the people I associated with work hard. But I haven't had many 18-hour days bookended by public transportation travel of at least an hour each way. And I haven't had many 18-hour days followed up by returning to work just six hours later. That's brutal.

M and I looked at each other and conferred. Should we offer a ride home?

Of course we should.

"Hey, we could take you home if you want a ride."

"Really? You sure?"

"Yeah, that's a long day, we'll save you an hour of sleep that way. I just got off work so we're awake anyway."

"That would be great, thank you so much."

We finished our meal, exchanged phone numbers, and headed home for a bit. At 2, still under a light rain, we were back. She came out a couple of minutes later and hopped into the back seat.

"OK, where do you live?

"In Roxbury. It's a little rough."

Well, too late to worry about that now. Besides, we weren't going for a hang. And if the neighborhood is rough, that's even more reason a young girl shouldn't be walking more than a mile through it in the dead of night. She's around my daughter's age.

We set off down Memorial to Mass Ave., crossing the bridge toward the roads we've traveled many times en route to Northeastern. We have figured out that once past Tremont Street, the neighborhood starts to get a bit meaner. Two blocks past Tremont, we turned right on Washington Street.

We perhaps should have stayed on Washington, but I missed a turn at Malcolm X Blvd. and instead wound up on Warren Street toward Dudley Square. Malcolm lived near here as a teenager, and worked in a store at the corner of Humboldt and Townsend.

As we drove down Warren, I saw a white cop waiting to cross at a light. We briefly made eye contact. He seemed to have a bit of a quizzical look on his face.

Moments later, a white older car passed on my left. Two black dudes glanced over at me. I started to realize there weren't a lot of white people around. Passing MLK Blvd. was also an indicator. But no matter, this was going to be brief.

At Townsend we turned right, past a stately old school called Boston Latin Academy. Down a few blocks... the streets here, curiously, had a lot of names that started with the letter "H." Haley, Harold, Harrishof, Hazelwood, Hollander, Holworthy, Homestead, Howland, Humboldt, Hutchings. We passed six of them in mere moments before turning down the destination street, Harold.

At the end of this narrow, one-car-only-at-a-time street, an SUV appeared to block the end. That made me a little nervous, but it was actually just a car parked where the street T'ed out on a one-way circular street off of Harold. I went down the street.

We were there. She hopped out and we waited as she got inside. It was about 2:25 a.m. Our good deed had saved this hardworking kid an hour of sleep.

But now, we were getting a little freaked out. A left onto the narrow one-way street circling back out took us between large project housing on either side of the street. On our right three guys stepped from the shadows toward the street. Just passing through, not staying, ta-ta!

I moved as quickly as possible down the skinny street and got to a larger street, turned right, and quickly found well-lit avenues and headed toward Mass Ave.


I spent a lot of time Saturday and Sunday looking closer into this neighborhood. What I found out scared me a bit. Boston's streets are a mess; very little here was laid out on a grid. The streets twist and turn and curl and undulate and ramble in a way that would be great if you have "home-street" advantage, but otherwise, you're going to get lost.

Getting lost here could have been a problem. I found that I was mere blocks away from Blue Hill Avenue -- the most notorious street in Boston. It runs right through the heart of the city's most troubled neighborhoods of Dorchester, Roxbury and Mattapan -- charmingly called "Murderpan" by some of the more cynical locals.

These H-named streets are known collectively as the "H-Block." The H-Block gang is one of Boston's most feared. Look 'em up.

Boston PD regularly update crime statistics. The district we cruised through is B-2. Have a look.

If you want more specifics, try this. And this map if you're so inclined goes into greater detail. Follow our path to see teh stoopid!



Would we do this again? Would we have done it if we knew how rough that neighborhood was beforehand?

I don't know. At one point M and I wondered... how sad a time we live in when doing something nice for someone is something you second-guess.

A lot of big questions. On this street once lived Melnea Cass, a woman with streets named after her, a giant in the historic Boston black community. It's kind of a shame that her neighborhood now is Ground Zero for gang violence.

I guess I'm naive in thinking that just doing something good for someone is enough protection to get you through a rough place. I'm not Gandhi, I'm just a guy who admires seeing someone work an 18-hour day because they wanted to attend their mom's big day. Those are real values that not enough people seem to have these days.

It just seemed like a nice thing to do. Maybe it was stupid. But we both felt like even a little gesture might be worthwhile in helping each other out.

We are all in this together, you know.


  1. I gave an old co-worker a ride home after we got out late one night, and he made me stop a block before his housing development. When a group of guys started to approach my car anyway he jumped out and told me to just turn around and get the hell out of there. It sucks that being nice can jeopardize you.

  2. Bad things can happen to good people . . . . I'm so glad they didn't happen to you, nephew! You're one in a million!