Saturday, August 22, 2009

Summer Scenes

After two months of monsoons and cool temperatures, summer finally arrived in Boston this August. June and July were so wet and awful I practically had mushrooms growing between my toes. I had a fare from Seattle telling me how she looked forward to going home, being that it was the sunniest, warmest summer in memory. Usually, she said, summer is cool and wet, kinda like, like... Boston. I felt like stopping the car and demanding that she give us our summer back under threat of making her walk the rest of the way to the airport.

But now summer is here. About 90 degrees, 90 percent humidity. Hot and steamy. Things are, relatively speaking, back to normal. You can not only feel it, you can see it: Kids selling lemonade from makeshift stands in front of their houses, backyard barbecues, late-night games of softball.

Only that's not what I see. Here are a couple of the sights, sounds and smells of typical summer day from where I sit:

4:30 p.m.

At one of the busier intersections along Massachusetts Avenue, there's a large, black woman pushing a baby carriage with her two young children. She's in the crosswalk, stopped dead, glaring at a taxicab trying to turn onto the street. They are in a stand-off. Traffic is backing up in all directions. I have no idea what she's saying, but while she's yelling she's boring a hole in the driver with her eyes. She's waving, screaming now at the top of her lungs. Her two children stand by her side bewildered, frightened. Should they stand my their mother and risk getting run over? Or should they continue across the street and wait? They decide to stay put by their mom, who continues to yell above a rising chorus of car horns looking to move.

Now she's shaking, completely enraged. She's pounding on the car hood, then stands straight up and flings an empty plastic water battle at the car, which ricochets off the windshield and hits another woman crossing the street. The woman jumps at first, then looks perplexedly at the black woman, who glares back, daring her to say something, anything.

The taxi driver gets out of his car, pointing to the woman, then to the windshield and back to the woman. But the mother isn't moving. She steps forward, putting her finger right in his face. The driver takes this for about a minute, then turns around, throws up his hands and gets back in the car.

The woman steps back behind the carriage, gathers her children, and slowly, ever so slowly, begins to move on, throwing one last hard look back at the cab.

6:30 p.m.

At the entrance to one of the city's few budget hotels. There's a swarthy, heavy-set man with a thick moustache wearing a cheap sportcoat and waiting with a suitcase held together by duct tape. I pop the trunk and put the bag in the back.

"Where to?" I ask, guessing he's headed to the bus or train station. "Logan airport" he answers in a heavy, slavic accent. "Beetish Airways.

I'm pleasantly surprised. "But first, we wait for my daughter." It's hot, and the car is air-conditioned, so I decide to wait in the cab. "Not a problem," I say, inviting him to wait inside also, which he does.

I turn down the radio and grab my copy of the Herald when I notice the car is filling with a horrible stench. What is that smell? It's nearly overpowering. My nostrils are stinging and my stomach begins to churn. Where is it coming from? Then I realize it: It's him. Did he just get off a fishing trawler? Or is that body odor?

Oh my god, it's B.O.

I step out of the car and start fiddling with the windshield wipers trying to kill time until his daughter shows up. She's a sullen, sallow, thirtyish woman with stringy blond hair and wearing an ankle-length dress made of what looks to be burlap. She silently puts her suitcase in the trunk and gets into the back of the car with her father. I close the trunk, get into the driver's seat and throw the car into gear.

I fairly peal out of the entryway while simultaneously rolling down the window, sucking a few gulps of air before putting my seatbelt on. Father and daughter are in the back arguing in whatever language it is that they are from . Usually, it's about a ten-minute drive to the airport from where I started, but I'm looking to shave that by about half--running yellow lights, weaving in and out of traffic, consistently breaking the speed limit. If I don't, I think I'll pass out or throw up, maybe both.

In the tunnel, I pull up besides a hulking, noisy bus. The thick, black exhaust fumes are a welcome relief from the rolling cesspool I'm driving. How does this guy not notice how he smells? More perplexing, how does she not notice?

I get to the airport. The fare is $21.50. The guy hands me thirty bucks and I count out eight singles. He raises an eyebrow over the missing fifty cents, and I explain that I don't have coin.

"Okee-dokee," he says, handing me a buck for a tip. I feel like I should tell him maybe he might want to "freshen up" before getting on the plane, but hold my tongue. Let the airline suffer for a change. The two turn and plod into the terminal building.

2:30 a.m.

I'm waiting at another intersection on Mass. Ave. On the opposite end of the intersection there's an all-night convenience store. A couple of bums outside the front door are duking it out, rolling on the sidewalk, moving in slow-motion, flailing ridiculously at each other. My guess is that an argument over who was there first has escalated into fisticuffs. Soon, the police will show up and neither of them will get the spot. In the meantime, a couple of guys looking to go inside have stopped short. They look down at the bums. They appear to be assessing the best route to bypass this comic spectacle. After a few moments, they move down the sidewalk to to one side of the door and gingerly make their way around the entangled bums. Wrestlemania continues.

The guy behind me honks. The light is green.

It's time to go home.

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