Monday, February 13, 2006

NEPA report: Part II

Two blocks down the street from each other: Snowmaking machines at the Boston Common park and a homeless man standing in front of afternoon traffic holding a cardboard sign with the message, "Please help! Homeless looking for work. Thanks! God bless!"

It was Friday and the snowmaking guns were laying down fresh powder on six acres for the first Boston Winter Festival. The event -- hosted on Saturday in part by Vermont ski areas, including Stowe Mountain Resort -- was themed as a salute to the U.S. Ski Team and the 2006 Winter Olympic Games commencing the same day in Torino, Italy. Boston, like all of Massachusetts and New Hampshire that day, didn't have any snow at all on the ground. Apart from the frigid temps in the teens, you might have thought it was an autumn day in the park.

So, over at Boston Common, the snow guns blasted away. The man who packed up the snowmaking hoses in his van, the elderly woman who walked past the white gusts walking her chihuahua, and even the cop leaning against the tent -- all must have known, as I did, that a big snowstorm was coming. On Sunday, some two feet of snow dumped onto Boston.

A few blocks down Beacon Street: a homeless man with his sign. I snapped his picture and then walked up to the concrete island he was standing at. I asked him his name.

"Was that you taking my picture?" he said.

I told him yes.

"You should ask people before you take their picture," he said, revealing his two missing front teeth. "Someone might take your camera away and smash it."

I asked him if he minded having his picture taken.

"Whatever," he said, lifting his sign up high as taxis, buses and cars passed by.

"Have any cars stopped for you?" I said.

He smiled wide, as if anticipating the question: "Some of them do."

I thanked him for his time and headed down Charles Street. From noon 'till 2:30 on Friday, I had "free time" in between journalism workshops at the New England Press Association convention. I decided to ditch the park plaza hotel for the streets of Boston, camera and notepad in hand.

When I met Debra, a cold north wind was blowing down Stuart Street. I sat next to her on the curb. She could have been my grandmother, except she was black and a city woman. She held a styrofoam cup in her right hand, filled with quarters and dimes. I gave her a $2 bill I had, courtesy of Union Bank in Stowe.

"Never heard of Stowe before," she said, after asking where I was from.

"You got gloves?" Debra, who had gloves, noticed I didn't. I smiled and told her I had forgotten them at the hotel.

"You should get inside. Cold out," she said, getting up. "I'm staying at a friend's for a while. Nice meeting you."

Before I returned to the park plaza hotel, I walk through the park. Geese graze on the ground; blue towers in the distance. A plastic bag in the half-frozen waters of a pond. On a park bench scribbled in black magic marker: "Bloodgang eck311, All dayz every dayz tel tha day I die. Bloodgang." At the crosswalk, a dozen first-graders hold hands crossing the street. Car horns moan as if calling out to whales.

And, from there, I go to a workshop on municipal finance for dummies. Expenses, revenues and rules. That's the order of things.
-- Scott Monroe


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