Gainsborough St. and St. Stephen St.

Monday, November 29th, 6:20pm

After my first day back to work post-Thanksgiving, I am sitting on a cold stone wall near the corner of two quiet, residential, one-way streets in the Fenway. The crisp fall evening air gives this intersection a subtle energy. The flashing red stoplights on Gainsborough St. take turns with the flashing yellows on St. Stephen to referee the surprising flow of pedestrians and automobiles.

The traffic is steady, but moderate enough that no one ever has to stop for long on their way through. Cars that just turned off Huntington Ave. or Mass. Ave. – two of the city’s major thoroughfares, each only a block away in different directions – cautiously obey the alternating signals. Walkers might pause just a second if a car happens to block their way, but they soon proceed undisturbed across the street.

There is a gentle give and take between cars and pedestrians at the intersection.

Pedestrians are safe to approach the intersection from the most convenient angle available. They will cross from between two of the parked cars that line both sides of each street and form a protective fence around the sidewalks. They will walk right down the middle of the street if no car is coming. They will ignore the square of clearly delineated crosswalks to cross diagonally to the opposite corner. A bicyclist with a blinking strobe light on her helmet rides the wrong way up St. Stephen St. and then pauses upon reaching the intersection to tie her shoe by the side of the road.

Many of the residents of the three-story, bay-windowed, split-level brownstones on these tree-lined streets must be Northeastern students. Perhaps they are clients of the real estate office on the corner, with pictures of properties displayed in the window. Whoever they are, they have not missed a beat in coming back from the break. They walk their dogs; they walk with friends; they talk on cell phones. They head back from class with their backpacks and messenger bags. They head out to practice with their hockey bags. I notice a different body language in those heading home and those heading back out – people walk with more of a purpose when they just want to get home.

Hardly anyone actually stops here. Just one girl stands on the corner opposite from me. She is anxiously looking around for the companion she is meeting. She stands in front of a wrought-iron fence that surrounds a broad lawn outside a big, cozy church. No one leaves or enters the church. Outdoor lights illuminate the brick walls of the placid building. A warm glow emanates from deep within.

The Pru towers over this residential neighborhood.

The lights throughout the neighborhood project the warmth of the Christmas season, now officially underway. Red, green, and white bulbs adorn the windows of a home across the street. Streetlights up and down St. Stephen St. provide a sense of security for pedestrians and drivers alike. Bright white Christmas lights vitalize the naked trees that line Gainsborough St. as the road kinks to the left just past the intersection. The lighted outline of the Prudential Center tower shines through the winter branches that form the St. Stephen St. canopy.

Suddenly a loud trio of college students is bustling across the street toward me. They surround the blue pickup truck crookedly parked at the curb in front of me, peer inside the cab, then hop in the payload to busy themselves bantering, with cold-defying exuberance, about who will sit in back with the tree. Finally, their friend arrives with the keys. After an exchange of hugs and a brief discussion over her failure to answer her cell phone, the four friends pile into the front cab, some on top of others. Throwing a brief glance around the intersection, the driver hits the gas and motors down the rows of lighted trees, around the corner, and out of sight. The girl who was standing in front of the church is long gone. All that remains is the smell of exhaust that lingers and then slowly dissipates through the brisk night.

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