Wednesday, May 02, 2007

These days in Boston there's always something happening on the T and it usually isn't good. I found myself unexpectedly in the middle of THE news story of the night last night when I left a new author book reading at the Harvard Coop and tried to get back to MIT.

The event in Harvard Square--known universally here simply as The Square, no matter how many Squares there are in the Boston-Cambridge area--was a meet-the-author reading with Johnny Diaz, Boston Globe writer, published author, and gay Boston blogger: Beantown Cuban, one of the few but proud is Johnny's blog and a rare connection to gay Hispanic news and community. While with the Miami Herald staff Johnny was part of the team reporting on the Elian Gonzalez story that won a Pulitzer Prize, and he published "Chicken Soup for the Latino Soul." Since moving to Boston, he's advanced in the Globe's Living/Arts section and recently joined the gay mini-migration to the city's Dorchester neighborhood.

Johnny started his first novel, "Boston Boys Club," as a creative outlet on Friday nights after a week of exclusively objective, factual writing. He began last night by reading a big chunk of the first chapter of the book that tracks a year in the lives of four young gay Bostonians whose lives revolve around regular Thursday nights at the Club Café in the city's South End. He then opened the evening up to questions that explored the writing/editing process; the extent to which the book is autobiographical (it came out pretty quickly that he's spent many years as a regular at Club Café on Thursdays and Saturdays and is obviously a keen observer; and his second novel "Miami Manhunt" that went into development even before the first had been published.

I discovered Beantown Cuban this last winter and have had some enjoyable comments back and forth with Johnny in the months since. The brilliant smile in the photo is real, unforced and breaks out frequently as he talks with people or speaks with complete ease at the lectern. He took time with each member of the audience and wrote at length, personalizing his dedications to everyone who purchased a copy. I asked if he'd be interested in coming to speak with the gay book group of which I'm a member and when he said yes, I said I'd bring up his book and the idea of a visit at our next meeting on the 13th of this month.

As I left the Coop and headed down into the Harvard Square T station, I saw that entrances onto the platforms were being guarded by T employees who weren't letting passengers in. There was no information on what was happening, only walkie-talkie communication that there was a complete stoppage of all red line trains due to some kind of emergency. The obvious alternative for me was the #1 bus to the west side of MIT with a walk across campus to my car. I stopped in to the news stand in The Square where the extremely handsome young man who had sat behind me at the reading was asking directions on how to get to Central Square. I said "follow me."

We got the third bus because of the crowds who had come up from the T station, and he asked if he could sit with me. It struck me, in addition to having this radiant young guy sitting with me, that I was transitioning out of an academic career in Cambridge just as he was beginning one. It turned out that he was from Oregon near Portland and we found a lot to talk about. It was a longer ride than the distance we traveled should take because of the crowds trying to get on at all the stops with the T out, so we had an enjoyable conversation before he left and I continued on to MIT and then home.

The eleven o’clock news revealed the mystery of the T stoppage; Boston's venerable Longfellow Bridge, colloquially known as the salt and pepper bridge for the salt shaker shape of its granite towers, had been closed due to fire.
Under the bridge and within its lower girders the mattresses and other possessions of a homeless colony had caught fire when one homeless man discarded his cigarette into the mass. Short on flame but extremely smoky, the fire brought car traffic to a halt on the bridge itself as well as on Storrow Drive that passes under one of the bridge arches that was most involved. As smoke filled the Charles Street T station, shutting it, train service was halted. Most of the bridge was eventually enveloped in thick white smoke.

By this morning, the fire was out, the bridge was declared structurally undamaged, commutation has resumed and all is normal again.

When I visited my brother living in Boston, I liked to see the salt shaker, as it seemed a comfortable marker.
I'm glad it was nothing major - the bridge I mean. I'll have to check to see if the library here has Boston Boys Club. I'm always keeping an eye out for new gay writing for the ol' lib to purchase.
Thanks for that post Will...Note to self: Learn the bus routes 'before' relocating to Boston! Up until now I thought just mastering the T was enough...
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