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.

Tremont St. and St. Alphonsius St.

Thursday, December 9th, 12:05pm

As I walk along Tremont St. from the direction of Brigham Circle, straight ahead I see a hearse, bedecked with flowers, preparing to lead a funeral train around the corner and down St. Alphonsius St. A police car bursts out into the intersection and parks diagonally right in the middle. The cop jumps out and stops traffic in every direction, as the hearse takes its right turn and the funeral march begins. The line of cars is seemingly endless and now traffic is backed up in every direction.

The police stop traffic as a funeral procession rounds the corner.

After some time, the cop hops back in his car and zooms toward the front of the line.  With careful timing a second officer immediately takes over his position, ensuring no interruption in duty. Finally, the last car makes the turn and a third police car vacates the intersection. No time to linger and help clean up the mess. Cars speed loudly through the intersection with pent-up aggression. Tremont St. soon clears up, but the unfortunate souls on St. Alphonsius remain backed up for some time at the mercy of the short light cycle they face.

With the funeral gone, the walk signals now beep loudly to announce that it is safe to cross Tremont St. Church bells chime from the high towers of Mission Church, just up the road. I remember that this is where Ted Kennedy’s funeral was held a summer ago. As I recall, it was pouring rain that day. Today, the sun shines bright and blinding in a perfectly clear blue sky. But at this bitterly cold lunchtime, the sun provides no warmth. My instantly condensing breath clouds my view. The pedestrians nearby seem generally undeterred by the cold and well-prepared with their hoods pulled up and their hats and gloves pulled on tight.

Hearing ambulances from the direction of the Longwood Medical Area, I glance down St. Alphonsius St. toward Huntington Ave. Directly behind me stands a brick high-rise apartment building called the Longwood. A banner across the wrought-iron fence reads “Now Renting.” I notice these high-rises are germane to the North side of Tremont St, which functions as a distinct architectural border between two neighborhoods. The south side of the street is lined with archetypal Boston triple-deckers that wind up St. Alphonsius St. onto Mission Hill.  To my right I hear coins rattling. I turn to see the bundled meter maid emptying a parking meter into her cart.  I don’t envy her task on this day.  It is time for me to seek warmth.

The towers of Mission Church through the trees.

The view up St. Alphonsius St. toward Mission Hill