Near Tremont St. and Ruggles St.

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011, 5:13pm

It is surprisingly lonely and eerie outside the front entrance to the Boston Police headquarters on a cold January night. There is not much foot traffic here: the building is recessed from both Tremont and Ruggles by a broad sidewalk and an open plaza. I am sitting on a cool slate bench on the inner rim of an ovular memorial area, set off toward the right side of the entrance and distinguished from the rest of the plaza by elegant stone slates underfoot. The memorial is crowned by a shiny police badge.

To my left, the U.S. and state flags ripple on short flagpoles flanking a plaque displaying the Boston Police mission statement about “sharing responsibility to ensure safe, secure and livable neighborhoods.” A blue fence behind the plaque surrounds an empty snow-covered playground area attached to the building. A few footprints through the snow lead from the memorial plaza to a sparsely lit park filled with trees. Separate bike and walking paths wind through this dark and shadowy space away from noisy Tremont St.

On the opposite side of the memorial, a neon blue light rises as a police beacon through a twisting metal sculpture. The Pru and its shorter offspring building stand as a backdrop in the distance. City buses emerge from the road leading from Ruggles Station onto Ruggles St. They merge with Boston school buses and other traffic, their engines rumbling as they wait for the light to turn at Tremont St. The Orange Line and Commuter Rail tracks that pass through Ruggles Station, combined with the major thoroughfare of Tremont St., form a distinct barrier separating this area on the edge of Roxbury from the downtown lights of the Pru.

A Christmas tree still stands lit into the new year at the foot of the large metal antenna tower in front of the police headquarters. The building’s entrance is through a large rotunda surrounded by plates of opaque black glass, which merge with modern stone masonry to encase the building. The only peeks inside are presented through the odd transparent pane. A childcare center near the playground with the letters of the alphabet peppering the indoor walls. The treadmills of an exercise area on the second floor. An old discarded tube TV pushed up against a third-floor window.

The modern brick high-rise across Ruggles St. must be a Northeastern dormitory. The occasional rectangles of light through broad glass windows provide similar glimpses into this building. A long, well-lit hallway lined with cozy red chairs arranged in seating areas. Rows of student mailboxes. A student center. Upstairs, more tables and chairs in the opening at the end of every hallway, few of them occupied. Across Tremont St., toward Roxbury, the high-rise housing looks older. The state of relative disrepair suggests these buildings are not tended to by the university. The new year is a cold one thus far.

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.