Newbury St. and Clarendon St.

Saturday, November 13th, 4:17 pm

I am not the only person who thought to take advantage of a warm, fall afternoon to stroll, window-shop, see and be seen on Newbury Street. Keeping my eyes peeled for a spot on some corner to sit and observe, I peek in a bookstore, follow the sound of live music inside a clothing store to find a band playing there unexpectedly, and admire scenes of Boston skillfully rendered by an artist peddling his masterpieces on the sidewalk. Threading my way through the crowds, I make it all the way from the Hynes T stop to Clarendon Street before deciding on the first corner seat not already occupied. The low curb/wall on the broad open sidewalk outside H&M hardly provides an ideal bench, but I am losing daylight.

Shoppers walk by as teenagers lean on the railings of the abandoned patio of a closed-down cafe

As I try to get comfortable, I see a father attempting to reel in his young son with his right hand, while the cigarette in his left hand emits secondhand smoke, wafting over the head of his child and into my nostrils. He departs, but the smell does not. I turn to my right and see two teenagers seated uncomfortably next to me. They have just emerged from H&M, set down their red and purple shopping bags, and lit up. Soon two of their high school friends happen to walk by. After exchanging hellos and handshakes, the friends decide to join for a smoke. We sit at the edge of a mulched area ringed with small bushes surrounding the thin naked tree which rises from the center.

Approaching this end of Newbury Street, I had hoped to sit on the patio of Tealuxe, the corner café across Clarendon Street, a familiar spot for me on past visits to this street. I am shocked to see the patio abandoned, a sign in the window indicating that Snappy Sushi will soon inhabit this space. Next-door on Clarendon, I see now that Frank Stella Clothiers advertises its store-closing sale, with prices 65 to 85 percent off. The store has hired a man to stand kitty-corner from me, amid the sea of pedestrians, with a bright yellow sign whose large, red letters proclaim “LIQUIDATION”. A bell is ringing somewhere.

The sun on this surprisingly mild fall day has now disappeared behind the five-story brownstones that line Newbury Street. As I look up and around me, I see the afternoon light fading into dusk through trees with now only a few spare yellow leaves, if any at all, to shield them from the gathering cold. To my right, across the street, the American flag droops unmoving from a flagpole that protrudes above the entrance to the large stone building of the New England Historic Genealogical Society.

The afternoon turns to dusk as the street lamps switch on

Despite the morosity of this scene – the cigarette smoke, the dimming light, businesses closing up, wintry weather settling in, nostalgia for the declining American empire – the street and sidewalk are still buzzing with happy pedestrians lured outside by the day’s beautiful weather. In every direction, they walk loaded with shopping bags; they push babies in strollers; they jog; they are yanked along excitedly by their dogs’ leashes. All the while they maintain their lively conversations, so happy to be out and about mingling with everyone else.

Frequently I cannot even see the intersection through all this pedestrian traffic. The disfavored cars at this intersection of one-way streets have the twofold joy of waiting for the light to turn green only to wait again as they yield to the pedestrians who now see a walk sign, shining bright and white through the twilight. Breaking this cycle, a loud revving of engines announces the arrival of almost a dozen brightly colored motorcycles, which weave dangerously through the traffic, roll up to the red light at different openings between the cars, and then conspicuously speed through the intersection two and three at a time at the first sight of green.

In the same spot previously inhabited by the cigarette-smoking father, a new dad now takes hold of his son’s wrists and spins him around in circles. The child laughs loudly with carefree delight.