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Haunts

30 Nov

Andy’s Diner, home of the Cambridge Classic, has become one itself after 60 years in Porter

Andy’s Diner has been serving food in Cambridge since 1958. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Hard to believe Andy’s Diner, the old-school breakfast and lunch spot just north of Porter Square at 2030 Massachusetts Ave., has been slinging eggs and serving coffee since 1958. Over those 60 years there’s barely been a change in process, service or menu. Sure, there was a switch in owners (current owner and chef Jimmy Dres bought it from Andy Sbordone in 1989) and the diner moved locations by a few doors about a decade in, but when you walk through the door, you feel like you’ve stepped back in time: There’s a soda fountain-style counter with fixed barstools that swivel, and the walls are decorated with Boston sports heroes from before the Sox reversed the curse or Tom Brady stepped into the GOAT conversation – you know, guys like Larry Bird, Dennis Johnson and Steve Grogan.

With exposed brick walls and ’70s-style booths, Andy’s, open 6 a.m. to 3 p.m., serves breakfast all day and boasts a basic but vast griddle and deli menu – including homemade soups. Dres describes most of his clientele as loyal, blue-collar workers and regular local families with a peppering of curious collegians seeking a hearty hangover cure or in need of a cozy study session spot-cum-comfort food. 

Andy’s owner and chef Jimmy Dres and server Kelly Butler Pinksen. (Photo: Tom Meek)

If there’s a specialty, it’s the omelettes. Dres has a process adopted carefully from Sbordine. “They’re never burned, and perfectly even, kind of like an egg burrito,” Dres says. Indeed: They are neatly folded, long golden crepes of egg with a perfect distribution of fillings.

Dres, who has an affable, low-key persona, reflects on the joy of serving families with parents who’d been the kids in that booth decades earlier. He’s also appreciative of the people he works with, including Tina Ravanis, one of Sbordine’s granddaughters. During a recent visit, hardworking server Kelly Butler Pinksen – with Dres for more than 15 years – greeted customers by first name and asked if they wanted “the usual.” You really don’t see that in Cambridge so much these days. 

The building Andy’s is in sold recently, and while the rent may have gone up, you can still get a dollar-stretching deal there. The menu, with its “Cambridge Classic” – French toast with two eggs, sausage, bacon and coffee – also has daily specials and rotational items, such as a fish dinner on Fridays. “Everything is fresh and made here,” Pinksen says.

An Andy’s omelette – ““They’re never burned, and perfectly even, kind of like an egg burrito.” (Photo: Tom Meek)

Outside there’s the continual reminders of transformation in the neighborhood, if not the new hotel and Target store in Porter Square then the gaping construction site across the street where the Lechmere Car Wash used to be. Dres shows no signs of slowing amid all the change. Asked if there’ll be a new generation to run the place, he smiles and says only, “It’s a lot of work.”

If a perfectly cooked omelette, low cost and friendly service isn’t enough to draw you in, know that Andy’s also has its own free parking lot – something else that’s not so common in Cambridge this days.

Much around Andy’s has changed, but it remains one of the few true Cambridge classics.

 

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Cambridge Delves Inward on Racism

27 Nov

 

A rally at City Hall held Aug. 14, 2017, responded to a violent white supremacist gathering in Charlottesville, Virginia, but only hinted at some of the racial animosity to come in America and Cambridge. (Photo: Marc Levy)

The city launches its Cambridge Digs Deep sessions Wednesday, a program initiated by Mayor Marc McGovern and city councillor Sumbul Siddiqui to spur a citywide conversation about race, diversity and equity. The program partners with the Disruptive Equity Education Project – a professional development organization that specializes in building community and breaking down barriers based on stereotypes and preconceptions. Deep will lend its services to help facilitate and shape the conversation.

Part of the impetus for the series were ongoing concerns raised by the Black Student Union at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, which also get a hearing at Tuesday’s meeting of the School Committee, and recent viral flares of racism including a July confrontation between a Harvard employee and the mother of a biracial child who was playing “noisily” and a public schools employee who used the N-word with a student. Siddiqui also cited a divisive climate created by the administration of President Donald Trump and national events such as last year’s white supremacist gathering in Charlottesville,Virginia, and the migrant caravan seeking asylum at the southern border.

“Cambridge is not truly the progressive utopia that everyone sees it as,” which makes constant examination and reevaluation necessary, McGovern said.

One of the tools Deep and chief executive Darnisa Amante will bring to the table is the exploration of microaggressions versus macroaggressions, as well as the understanding of intent and impact. As illustration, McGovern cited a scenario in which a teacher on the first day of a high school honors English class asked the lone black student if he was “in the right class.”

“The teacher might not think they are racist,” McGovern said, “but there’s an impact.”

Siddiqui, a Pakistani-born, Muslim woman raised in Cambridge affordable housing, added, “It’s also simply how people mispronounce different names or dismiss them as ‘too difficult.’”

McGovern and Siddiqui believe their deep roots in Cambridge will help give the workshops a historical perspective, and said they hope for a dialogue that will “get people outside their comfort zones and begin to see the ways in which identities – such as race, class, gender, religion – impact our lives.” Expected outcomes are a “bit of a work in progress,” McGovern admitted. “We’re going to be learning as we go.”

“We don’t expect a prescribed list of policies,” Siddiqui echoed, “but we’ll be listening.”

Also on the agenda will be issues of class and inclusion made newly prominent by an affordable housing overlay zoning proposal raised by the Envision Cambridge master plan process. 

“Our goal is to ensure that people can talk about race and inequity – and know the differences between diversity, equity, and inclusion, race, racism and oppression – in a way that does not ostracize others and/or make anyone feel unwelcome,” Amante said. “We will, however, push with love.”

The initial Cambridge Digs Deep session takes place at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the gymnasium of the Fletcher Maynard Academy, 225 Windsor St. Four more are scheduled for the early part of 2019. The sessions are set up to build on each other, but there is no requirement to have attended previous sessions to be part of the conversation. McGovern and Siddiqui said they hope for a strong turnout and a constructive dialogue.

Of all things Kurosawa

20 Nov

Brattle’s full week of ‘Kurosawa in History’ shows how West was won by East’s auteur

 

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One thing I dislike when reading about film: reviews or other critical pieces infused with the word “I.” It’s not about you, it’s about the art, and letting your words about the art convert that “I.”

That said, here “I” go – and I promise to get to Akira Kurosawa, but indulge me for a moment.

Growing up, I wasn’t really that big a film fan. Granted we had only three channels the aerial could catch, and living in a town of 3,000 you had to drive two towns away to find our single-screen theaters, which didn’t get “Star Wars” until six months after its opening. (One was just an auditorium in a town hall.) So for me as a kid, film was mostly John Wayne and Godzilla, and while I couldn’t get enough of the man in the rubber suit, I didn’t like the former much – he seemed phony and too righteous, when the world around me was a darker, less black and white place. You knew things didn’t get resolved by some beefy human with a twangy drawl riding in at high noon, guns blazing.  

The one other movie during this era that grabbed me was “A Fistful of Dollars” (1964). Not only was Clint Eastwood’s no-name badass cool and scruffily handsome, he answered Wayne with moral ambiguity; in those spaghetti westerns the good and the righteous often got their asses kicked, hard. Even with its quirk and dark, tongue-in-cheek humor, Sergio Leone’s cornerstone western felt genuine, authentic from the top down the first time I saw it – and it still does today, hundreds of screenings later. (Though over time there would become many Wayne films I would came to adore – “The Shootist,” “Stagecoach,” perhaps mostly “The Man who Shot Liberty Valance.”)

Flash forward to college. As part of my English major at a small liberal arts school, film was on my eclectic list of elective, dubbed “clapping for credit” and quite popular with athletes (I’ll let you all guess my two sports) because the professor, a man named Roger Farrand used to lecture us for a scant half-hour, then roll film; by the time the lights came up, there was maybe five to 10 people remaining of the 30-plus people enrolled. He loved film so much and was so excited by it that if you paid attention during his preamble you could walk out and still safely get a B – he told you everything you needed to know for a quiz or paper. Continue reading

The Other Side of the Wind

11 Nov

‘The Other Side of the Wind’: Welles’ final bow is a 1960s trip, an artifact, a triumphant mess

 

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Once of the best films you can catch right now, you can’t catch in a theater. It is a new release from an American filmmaking maverick, starring a filmmaking maverick and about a filmmaking maverick. If that sounds recursive, it is, and well-intended – it’s a movie within a movie, and something of an in-your-face takedown of Hollywood, like Robert Altman’s “The Player” in 1992. It’s also got shades of 1960s psychedelic pop (think “The Trip”), gobs of over-sexualized free-love fetish petting by the camera (think “Barbarella”) and, well, the Kardashian butt decades before it became a thing.

The film might offend some, be dismissed by others as a “better left where it was” lesser effort or hailed as masterpiece by more discerning eyes. Still not with me? The late-arriving, posthumous work is Orson Welles’ “The Other Side of the Wind,” a project begun in 1970 that was finally this year pulled together, edited and released for theaters in Los Angeles and other cities and for streaming on Netflix with the not-to-be-missed companion documentary “They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead,” by “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” director Morgan Neville – a making-of film doc that’s worthy of comparison with “Burden of Dreams” (1982) and “Hearts of Darkness” (1991). 

“The Other Side of the Wind” is both the name of the (mockumentary) film about a legendary filmmaker making his last film on the last day of his life, and the film being shot, which is loosely but best described as a surreal road lust flick – more on that later. The filmmaker, J. J. Hannaford, is played by John Huston (“The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” and “The Maltese Falcon”) whose gruff voice and cagey demeanor call to mind Pa Hemingway. His film project’s in financial trouble (as was Welles’, which was financed by the Shah of Iran) and there’s myriad hangers-on including Mercedes McCambridge, Edmund O’Brien, a young Peter Bogdanovich (who would shoot“The Last Picture Show” and more during its filming) as Hannaford’s onset biographer, Geoffrey Land as a Robert Evans-style producer, and Susan Strasberg channeling Pauline Kael for her film critic role.

You can see where where Welles is going with the rambling project, which he shot willy-nilly over the years. At one point, as the documentary tells us, Welles was rooming with Bogdanovich and Cybill Shepherd’s house while shooting. The film within the film stars Welles’ latter-years love, Oja Kodar (co-writer) as simply “The Actress” and TV star Robert Random as a Jim Morrison-looking hunk named John Dale, who says little and mostly provides boy toy pleasure for Kodar’s passion seeker, more metaphorically looking for meaning and her place in the universe. For much of the surreal cutaways, Kodar, a Croatian beauty, appears naked, the camera hanging on her ample posterior. Some of the scenes are brilliantly shot, with a great psychedelic-blues score.

Probably the cheesiest is the bathroom orgy scene, which is lurid and alluring, but then there’s the sex scene in a muscle car when the driver suddenly realizes his girlfriend and a stranger are having sex as he drives. It’s done on a rain-soaked night, shot and edited with a hypnotic eroticism. It’s interesting to learn in the documentary that the car the whole time was stationary, and that the torrential rain was the result of three men with garden hoses – to think back, the scene is even more of a win than initially perceived. The documentary and film deepen each other in unsuspecting ways.

The documentary not only underscores the difficulty Welles had making the film financially (he actually created a shell corporation to game the Shah) but also the struggles the filmmaker had as an outcast from Hollywood, ever tied to his freshman effort, “Citizen Kane” (1941), hailed universally as the greatest movie ever made. 

For those familiar with the works of Welles, “The Other Side of the Wind” is more in line with “F for Fake” (1973) than his more renowned black and white efforts (“A Touch of Evil” and “Chimes at Midnight”). Given his career, it seems fitting that “The Other Side” ultimately made it to the screen. For me it’s an eye-popping wonderment steeped in incredible circumstance. Given the Hollywood history, I was just happy to hear Houston’s indelible voice shouting out direction offscreen to the buxom Kodar, standing in the far off distance of a desert with a phallic something protruding in the fore.

Bike death at the Museum of Scince

10 Nov

 

A bicyclist died Friday after being hit by a dump truck at Museum Way and Monsignor O’Brien Highway, near the Museum of Science. (Image: Google)

A ripple of rage went through the bike community Friday when it was learned a 24-year-old cyclist and Cambridge resident was struck and killed by a dump truck at Museum Way and Monsignor O’Brien Highway, near the Museum of Science.

The truck was reportedly trying to make a turn onto Museum Way shortly before 8:15 a.m., with the cyclist on the right waiting to make the same turn. “When both the truck and bicyclist began to make their right turn, the bicyclist was struck by a tire of the truck,” according to state police.

The bicyclist was taken to Massachusetts General Hospital, where he was pronounced dead from injuries from the incident, police said. The crash is under investigation and police are withholding the name of the victim until next of kin is notified. Boston student media identified the victim as Meng Jin, of Shanghai, who expected a graduate degree in economics next year.

The name of the truck driver, a 50-year-old man from Leicester, will not be released until the investigation determines if charges will be filed.

Last month dump truck driver Daniel Desroche, 54, of Methuen, was charged with negligent operation in connection with the crash that killed Cambridge’s Jie Zhao, 27, who was walking at Magazine Street and Putnam Avenue in the Cambridgeport neighborhood.

“This has to stop,” city councillor Quintin Zondervan said. “It is inexcusable that we continue to allow these dangerous trucks to operate on our city streets without requiring them to have guardrails, sensors, automatic braking, collision avoidance, backup cameras and all other technical and other safeguards to maximally reduce the chances of them running us over.” 

Heather Allen, a Cambridge mother of four children who ride, pointed to the dicey nature of the stretch of road, where cars exceed the speed limit regularly and bicyclists are intimidated from taking the full lane, despite being allowed by traffic signs. “It is unconscionable that the Charles River Dam road still lacks bicycle lanes,” Allen said. 

Bike advocate Jon Ramos of Somerville and Steve Bercu of Cambridge, who serves on the board of the Boston Cyclists Union, were more critical of state Department of Transportation oversight of the roadway, where safety improvements were promised for after the Longfellow Bridge was completed in the spring. “Where are the changes?” Ramos said, “How many deaths is it going to take to fix all of your known problem roadways?” Many in the cycling community shared that upset with the agency’s delay – one using the phrase “blood on their hands.”

The agency, through its communications department, said, “We express our sincere condolences to the family of the victim and will continue to work with key stakeholders to ensure ongoing pedestrian, cyclist and vehicular safety throughout this area and around the commonwealth.”

The agency’s plan for safety improvements – still on the books – is mostly for line striping; the Cambridge Bicycle Safety Group, citing an increasing number of fatalities since 2015, prefers protected bike lanes. Ramos said the solution that would have avoided the day’s tragedy was protected intersections.

Transportation Tomorrow

5 Nov

New ways of getting around don’t get around need for laws and consensus, conference finds

 

An the elevated mass transit pod proposal by TransitX drew attention at Transportation Transformation: A Conference About the New Urban Mobility, held Saturday at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Hoping to explore “how people get around tomorrow,” city councillor Craig Kelley, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Cambridge Innovation Center convened “Transportation Transformation: A Conference About the New Urban Mobility” on Saturday, with panel topics ranging from the future of ride-sharing to “micro-mobility” devices, the need for regulation and even whether urban gondolas seem like a good idea.

Speakers included Kent Larson, director of city science at the MIT Media Lab; Assaf Biderman, founder and chief executive of Superpedestrian, the company behind the Copenhagen Wheel device; and Joseph Barr, director of the city’s Traffic, Parking & Transportation Department.

Regulation for safety, space considerations and pricing on e-scooters, dockless bikes and similar alternative transportation rippled throughout the afternoon. Barr talked in detail about the complications of policy and enforcement and the search for a way to address all in a broad manner so they were not “reinventing the wheel” – so to speak – each time a new e-transit device hits the streets.

The conference drew around 150 people, many in the urban planning sector., (Photo: Tom Meek)

Audience asked whether the new urban mobility movement wasn’t something mainly initiated by and for a socioeconomic class that was educated, well-off, white and male (statistics showed women behind men in use of the alternative transportation), while panelists pitched the ergonomic and environmental benefits of people-powered transit and e-vehicles shared and unlocked by app. Barr cited a Portland, Oregon, study that claimed a 20 percent migration to alternative transportation as a reliable means for commutes, errands and leisure; Denmark was mentioned as reporting that 41 percent of all work and school trips were made by bicycle or alternative means, and Copenhagen officials hope to see that increase to 50 percent by 2025.

Many of the 150 conference attendees at the institute’s Walker Memorial Building were in the urban planning sector and liked the transportation innovations being touted apart from the panels, particularly the elevated transit pod concept by TransitX and an enclosed e-bike that, like driverless nuTonomy cars, can navigate bike lanes without anyone pedaling.

Officials acknowledged challenges ahead for Cambridge, with its growing population, need to address forms of transit as they arrive and population divided over finding space and funds for alternative infrastructure – whether it’s bike lanes now or monorails in the future.

The conference “underscored that the biggest challenge we face in transforming transportation is not technological or even infrastructure, but changing people’s mindsets, habits and behavior,” said vice mayor Jan Devereux, who attended.

Bus/Bike lane lands as pilot

30 Oct

Bus priority lane is opened on Mount Auburn, speeding mass transit and allowing in bicycles

 

A bus takes advantage of a priority lane last week on Mount Auburn Street. (Photo: State Sen. Will Brownsberger via Facebook)

The first dedicated bus lane this side of the Charles launched Friday, a pilot program in collaboration with Watertown designed to give MBTA buses and local business shuttles priority over cars along the normally sluggish Mount Auburn Street corridor.

A project study revealed that cars represented 97 percent of road traffic and buses just 3 percent – yet those public vehicles carry nearly 60 percent of all commuters along the corridor. Now those bus riders get an austere, red-striped lane that cars are barred from using, though like for bus lanes used by the Silver Line in Chinatown, bicycles are allowed, neatly increasing bike infrastructure in the most bike-unfriendly stretch of Mount Auburn Street.

Because it’s a pilot, the one-mile stretch between the Fresh Pond fork by Mount Auburn Hospital and Cottage Street in Watertown (just beyond Greg’s Restaurant, 821 Mount Auburn St.) had to use low structural impact materials such as paint and signs, but also tweaked traffic light timing so approaching buses would get a longer green than private cars.

City councillor Jan Devereux speaks Friday at the official launch of the bus priority lane. (Photo: The Barr Foundation via Twitter)

The project was made possible through a community grant from the Barr Foundation, working with the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy. Tegin Teich, a transportation planner at Cambridge’s Community Development Department and project manager for the bus priority lane, noted the “impressive coordination across agencies and two municipalities” that included not just the MBTA, but the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation.

The next steps will be collecting data to review; more bus rapid transit red lanes might follow – something “essential,” Teich said, as the city expands.

“We are watching the new bus lane rollout closely,” said state Sen. Will Brownsberger on Facebook. His Second Suffolk and Middlesex District includes Watertown as well as Belmont, Brighton, the Fenway and Boston’s Back Bay. “The Mount Auburn buses are reporting great improvements. Auto drivers are not as happy. We are working to improve the overall throughput for drivers too. We are in a shakeout period.”

Similar transit and safety improvements, including a separated bike lane, are planned for the lower end of Massachusetts Avenue by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology this month. A daytime bus priority lane is also planned for the redesigned Inman Square; the idea has been explored by city councillors for Pearl Street at Central Square and requested by bicyclists for Porter Square.