Stony Brook: now and then

On Monday morning, from about 8 to 9, I collected nomination signatures for Mayor Marty Walsh, at Stony Brook station on the Orange Line in JP. Stony Brook lies on the border between Ward 19, where I grew up, and Ward 11, where I now reside. Leaving my apartment just before 8, I realized that (as on every Monday morning) several sides of local streets were slated to be swept, and an inevitable few vehicles would fall victim to the merciless machinery of the state, in the form of the tow truck man.

I sprinted to the home of the neighborhood watch lady, who quietly observes everyone and everything, and asked if she could tell me the identity of the owner of the blue Honda Accord parked on the corner, beside a flashing-yellow Boston Transportation Department vehicle. I crossed the street, rang the doorbell of the owner’s apartment, and warned a female occupant of the urgent need for a parking alternative. I was the town crier, warning neighbors of an evil’s approach, making the common law hue and cry in the face of a legal larceny.

“Ma’am, would you sign for Marty?”

I brought my blue, plastic 14″ clipboard (with an interior compartment good for keeping sheets of signatures safe) and displayed my chosen candidate by placing a red, white & blue Marty sticker on the backside, where it would be visible to approaching AM commuters. I wore a red baseball cap featuring the JP little league’s insignia, and avoided sun-glasses. I brought a few extra pens, and was aided at the station by the somewhat recently-installed digital monitors, which show the number of minutes until the arrival of the next Oak Grove and Forest Hill trains. This morning, trains were arriving every 4-5 minutes.

Stony Brook station roughly replaced Egleston Square station, which had featured several street car lines in addition to light rail, before the bustitution transition of the 1940’s and 50’s. When the El came down, Egleston was left with a vast, vacant look to it and seems stuck in a state of underdevelopment. Will the rush of construction, now plowing up Washington Street from Forest Hills ever reach Egleston? Perhaps the southwest corner of Roxbury will benefit in the future from a better-designed, taller, mixed-use anchor building; and a calmer, more pedestrian-friendly urban environment?

“Sir, do you have a second to sign for Mayor Walsh?”

As a kid, I rode the old elevated Orange Line a few times. I best remember the rides I took in 1987, with my father, who had recently bought a Panasonic home video recorder, one of the first ever to use VHS tapes. It fit comfortably on one’s shoulder, and he would have been excited to use the cutting-edge device, especially on so important an archival mission: preserving the memory of the City’s last elevated light rail line, just before it was to be torn down and replaced, from the front window of the first car of a hurtling, dirty piece of Boston history.

The new Orange Line’s southern branch was placed into the Southwest Corridor, an old railway right-of-way that had been widened in anticipation of a brand-new highway planned to extend from downtown Boston, through several residential neighborhoods, all the way to Rt 95. Construction was halted after community activists laid down in front of bulldozers. Many homes along Columbus Ave and Lamartine St were demolished to make room for the aborted road, and some of the parcels still sit empty today, eagerly eyed by developers and attorneys.

“Hello, will you help me nominate Marty Walsh for a second term?”

When the new Orange Line was completed, a linear park was created with the left-over land: I grew up next to it. I rode the train to the Back Bay, for music and dance lessons; I played long toss in the big, green fields along the tracks. I was bitten on my arm by a kid at the playground. It was into the bushes that the robber threw the camera bag containing all of my family’s undeveloped rolls of film from our first trip to Ireland. I ran on the granite stones lining Lamartine, leaping at gaps where trees never took, while my father strode the walk beside me, reading his folded-over newspaper, his leather back pack keeping time.

Halfway through my signature gathering effort, I was approached by an older man, with a bag and with a small notepad in his hand. After 45 minutes of repeatedly questioning strangers, someone asked something of me, instead. “Can I use your pen?” He scrawled some numbers onto his pad. I told him he could keep the pen, and he asked – twice – if he could keep it. “It’s yours,” I said, and neglected to ask for his signature, though I’m sure he would have been happy to give it to me. I was glad I’d brought a few extra pens.

“Morning, Miss, will you be kind enough to sign for the Mayor?