Old School: Boston accent, Newton slang

I usually speak "standard" North American English. The kind you hear on TV, or can find in almost any big northern or western city from Vancouver to Philadelphia. At my elementary school (Davis, now the Newton Community Education Center, on Waltham Street) the Boston accent/North American accent split was about 50/50, but on my particular street in the 70s and 80s it was almost all standard among the kids. The next street over, however, it was mostly Boston accent.

Well, most of the time. Some words and phrases were always pronounced in the local way, and/or mixed in with local slang:

Whadaya, retahdid?


Goin down to the packie to get a couple beeiz

That's quistiah!

Hey, Mush

(Can anyone provide translations of all five of the above?)

The last two terms came from the Lake (Nonantum, a village of Newton) where Italian, English, and (I've heard) Romany influences created some special slang words. There are a few other ones I came to know -- for instance, "Quakiz" (Quakers) for quarters -- which I heard in High School, when kids from all over northern Newton were thrown together at Newton North.

I hate to say it, but the Boston accent is definitely on the decline in Newton. When I take my kids to Franklin School park to play, all of the younger kids and most of the teenagers speak standard North American English. The reasons are understandable. Lots of families in Newton are now from outside Massachusetts, whereas when I was a kid most of my friends had roots in the area. Additionally, now most Newton households have at least one adult with a professional occupation, which is a big difference from the 70s, when a cop, city worker, or tradesman could afford a home. The former group are less likely to speak with local accents compared to the latter. The explosion of national programming on MTV and other cable outlets has also had an effect on what kids hear at home, and from their friends at school.

But maybe not so much in the Lake -- I went to the Carnival last year, and most of the kids and vendors were still speaking with Boston accents. Ditto for Waltham -- I hear a lot more Boston accents (and now, foreign accents) than in Newton. Most of the people I know in Waltham are from the area, or their families are from the area, including lots of Newton transplants.

And sometimes I find the accent slipping into my own speech. Yesterday, I mentioned to a coworker that "I'm awed" when looking at a rainstorm outside our office. He thought I said "I'm odd." I didn't even notice until he pointed it out to me (my reply -- "That's what I said!" and later, "Maybe I am odd!"). But most people with Boston accents will pronounce the words in the same way, except for people with blueblood Boston accents where the rules are different.


Bad MCAS news for Waltham schools

My post yesterday about school choice preceded an article about problems in Waltham schools. Waltham MCAS scores are down, writes Carrie Simmons of the Daily News Tribune. I am particularly concerned about the elementary school results for 4th grade
... The percentage of fourth-grade students who achieved either advanced or proficient scores in English fell 13 percent to 46 percent. Statewide results showed a 6 percent drop in the number of fourth-graders scoring proficient or higher in English. Advanced and proficient math scores for the fourth grade also dropped 10 percent to 30 percent, while the percentage of third-grade students achieving proficiency in reading dropped 4 percent to 53 percent. There is no advanced performance level for third graders.

That's not good. Like many other Waltham residents, we have young kids, and want the best possible learning environment for them. If scores are down in the elementary schools, and similar drops are not apparent elsewhere in Massachusetts, something is wrong and needs to be fixed.

Newton and Waltham residents screwed by Pike toll tax -- again!

Breaking news: The toll tax on the Mass Pike (I-90) will once again shoot up to pay for the Big Dig, while the people who actually use the central artery (I-93) continue to pay nothing.

Should you be angry? You bet your ass you should. Paying an extra 50 cents per day adds up to well over $100 per year. When the Pike was built, the toll tax was only supposed to be temporary, to pay for construction. But guess what? The independent state agency that runs the Pike (the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority) couldn't resist cutting off this regular stream of money, and of course the state was happy to let this practice continue, as it allowed them to avoid raising other tax rates to fix and maintain the highway.

Then, when the Big Dig was envisioned, the fact that the end of I-90 was extended to the airport allowed the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority to raise the Pike tax to support the project. Commuters south and north of the Boston continued to pay nothing to use I-93, even though they were primary beneficiaries of Big Dig work. There is a practical reason for this -- the traffic jams are already bad enough, especially south of the city -- but a political one as well: local reps and the governor wouldn't want to take the heat from voters in these areas for allowing tolls and traffic.

There's also the mistaken attitude that people living west of Boston are better off than those living North or South. Never mind that rich towns like Duxbury, Gloucester, and Manchester-by-the-sea use I-93, and people from less well-off towns like Framingham, Waltham, and Worcester use the Pike, people in the state government have the stereotype lodged in their brain that we deserve to pay more. Check out this excerpt from the Boston Globe from 2000 ("Driving A Hard Bargain Can Take Its Toll", by Scott Lehigh), talking about how state officials under Cellucci (Mitt Romney's friend and predecessor, and a Republican) viewed this issue, when outrage over Pike toll increases was building:
Administration officials, however, refuse even to acknowledge the fairness issue. Asked about commuting complaints, Andrew Natsios, secretary of administration and finance, said if east-west commuters don't want to pay tolls, they should take public transportation into town. Anyone driving into work on the Mass. Pike makes enough to pay the tolls, insisted Natsios.

"It is not a poor region," Natsios said. "It is one of the richest regions in New England."

There you have it. We're all rich, so once again we deserve to pay a larger Pike toll tax, while the people who derive the greatest benefit from the Big Dig pay nada.

If you're pissed off about this, contact the governor. Here's his contact info.

School choice for parents

Interesting article in the Herald , about bussing in Boston. They even bus elementary school kids all over the city (I had thought it was older kids only).

In explaining why many parents are looking for other alternatives, such as parochial schools, this parent made the following comment:
"I don't make a lot of money, but to put him on a bus to one school while kids from his street are sent to another (with) no sense of community, I would never do that."

I wouldn't do that either, but doesn't the alternative -- sending him to a parochial school, which is probably in a different neighborhood (he lives in Beacon Hill), lead to the same "sense of community" problem?

No wonder we see lots of parents in Boston and other communities sell their homes and move to places with better schools when their kids reach kindergarten age. I know someone who moved from Brighton to Brookline for this reason, and I know Newton is magnet for parents as well -- which helps explain the high real estate prices.


Cure for the hiccups!

I just discovered a cure for the hiccups -- I think. Someone needs to verify that it works.

What you do is sit down on a sofa or reclining chair, leaning back about 15 degrees, put your hands behind your head, and then turn your head 90 degrees to the right, breathing slowly. I did this and they stopped immediately (usually they taper off).

Tell me if it works!


Motorcycles too loud?

In reading an online discussion about iPods, I came across the following quote, regarding excessive noise levels from motorcycles:
"What about all of the unmuffled motorcycles ALL of us are FORCED to listen to if we are anywhere near a highway? Why does the constabulatory do NOTHING about that? If my car was that loud, guess what would happen?"

This poster has a point. If someone's car is driving around without a muffler, the cops will eventually pull him over. If someone is having a loud party, the same thing will happen ... neighbors or the police will tell them to keep it down.

Yet people drive around Newton and Waltham with loud motorcycles and the cops don't do anything. Many of them have modified exhausts which deliberately increase or amplify the sound of the engine to ear-splitting levels. Other makes -- like Harley Davidson motorcycles -- are designed to be loud. My son starts to cry when they go by. And the drivers of these machines are proud?

Message to the loud-is-good motorcycle crowd: Stop showing off, and start showing some respect for your neighbors.

I know not every motorcycle rider is like this -- there are a few local residents who obviously tries to drive slowly and quietly when going through nearby streets -- but they are exceptions, it seems.

Demonstrations at Our Lady's in the Lake

Newton churches have caused a lot of trouble for the Boston Archdiocese recently. Last year, parishioners at St. Barnard's in West Newton forced the archdiocese to abadon plans to shut it down.

Now it's Our Lady's in the Lake (official name: Our Lady Help of Christians). The archdiocese has forced out the popular priest there on questionable ethics charges. Supporters of the priest, Rev. Walter Cuenin, suspect other reasons are behind the transfer. Jessica Fargen and Bernie Smith at The Daily News Tribune has the story.

I predict yet more problems for the archdiocese on this one. The folks who attend this church are ready to demonstrate their displeasure to the TV cameras, and the fact that the replacement priest is an archdiocese insider isn't helping matters.

I used to attend Our Lady's with my family, and went to CCD there. Maybe fodder for a future "Old School" post ....


History of Waltham newspapers

Despite my post earlier this week taking the News-Tribune to task for its real estate coverage, I don't think everything the newspaper publishes is crap.

Last Friday, for instance, there was an interesting historical piece by reporter Galen Moore about the half-dozen or so newspapers that have been published in Waltham since the early 1800s. There were a few failed attempts at weeklies, but by the late 1890s there were three dailies: the Daily Tribune, the Free Press, and the Waltham Evening News. After a bunch of mergers and acquisitions, we were left with the Daily News Tribune. The article has all of the details.

And the Brandeis and Bentley papers (which the article don't mention) but they are in a special class, and not available off campus.


News-Tribune sucks up to the realtors ... again

The News Tribune has another pro-realtor article, describing the market in Newton and Waltham. There're high prices, a large inventory, and uncertainty over rates. But what does correspondent Janet Spiegel find from her sources in the real estate industry?

"I don't predict a crash."

"... A great opportunity for on-the-fence buyers."

"Anything can happen in the market, but it's a sound investment to make."

Well, surprise, surprise. Aren't these types of things exactly what the realtors want everyone to think?

What about caution? What about waiting for prices to drop to levels that ordinary human beings can afford? The News Tribune and Spiegel don't bother asking those types of questions, or for that matter, interviewing ordinary human beings who might be interested in buying or selling a house.

See my past commentary on the News-Trib's pro-real estate industry bias.


Gift shopping on Moody Street

For the past three or four years, my wife and I have done a majority of our gift shopping on Moody St.

And no wonder. You get very special, unique gifts that aren't in the superstore bins. Where to start? Well, there are two super gift shops (one next to Lizzy's, the other next to the Tara Restaurant) that sell all kinds of artsy and decorative things for kids and adults, as well as great cards; the gaming shop, which is good for card sets, poker paraphanelia, and the like; Frugal Framers, which will do a professional framing job of a photo or newspaper article (last year's Red Sox team photos and article announcing the World Series win were popular last year); a florist; and the Construction Zone, which has an incredible assortment of Legos, blocks, and other toys that will really bring out the builder in your little ones.

The only thing that's missing from this picture is a place to buy decent clothes, for kids or adults. At one time there was such a place (Grover Cronin's, RIP) but now we have to go out to Natick or Framingham to do clothes shopping, for gifts or for ourselves.

But still ... if there's a birthday coming up, or Christmas is just two days away and you need something quick, Moody Street is the place to go. It's nearby, parking is easy, it's fun to browse, and there's lots of gift ideas you definitely won't see in a mall or Target.


Old School: Candlepin Bowling Alleys

Where have all the bowling alleys gone?

In the 70s candlepins were king. You could go to Riverside Bowling in Pleasant Street in Watertown, Wal-Lex on Lexington Street in Waltham, and Sammy White's Brighton Bowl on Soldiers Field Road, in that strip mall near iHop. There was a TV show every Sunday morning around 11, "Candlepins for Cash" (right after Davey and Goliath, the Catholic claymation kids show). Bowling was big.

Now it's not. Those places are all gone. Riverside closed down sometime in the 1980s; the building now houses a biotech company. Sammy White's closed down in the 80s because of multiple factors including a quadrupal homicide; I remember the front page of the Globe had a story about handcuffed bodies found inside and a picture of hundreds of people gathered outside. Wal-Lex shut down just a few years ago. Now you have to go to Needham or Natick to bowl, or Boston.

What killed candlepins? My guess is more home entertainment options like VHS and cable which kept adult players at home on the weekends, as well as videogames, which are more interesting for kids. And an attitude that bowling is a "working class" pursuit. A third idea that I have is candlepins are a New England thing, and people who have come from other "big ball" states have no idea about how fun it can be.

And it is fun. I played in Natick at the Fairway (on Rte. 9) a few months back and surprised myself at how well I could still hurl the ball down the lane. It was a great environment, and the shoes, sounds, and other trappings of the lanes were all the same.


When advertising and "news" get too close, watch out!

I just spotted this tidbit about newspaper restaurant "reviews" that were actually written by the same person who sold ads to the restaurants appearing in his column.

Reminds me of the News Tribune's real estate coverage, and the Boston Globe's automotive coverage by Royal Ford, who, for reasons that should be both obvious and shameful, decides to give a nice "review" of the new Hummer with gas prices approaching $3/gallon.

When I review restaurants on this blog, I tell it like it is. For proof, look at what I have said about local Japanese restaurants. I also give honest appraisals of local media and politicians, and when I make a mistake, admit I was wrong.

This is something you won't see elsewhere. Newspapers are often part of the establishment owing to personal or commercial relationships, and writers at local media outlets (reporters, columnists, and editorial writers) seldom personally admit they got the facts wrong.

I'll make a few exceptions: Brian McGrory at the Globe has personally admitted he made a mistake when he trashed the character of a rich executive at one of Boston's financial companies. Brian has his faults, but I respect him for that. Additionally, the Herald is not afraid of taking on the political establishment -- in fact, it seems to revel in uncovering government abuse of power, nepotism, cronyism, etc.

It would be good if the Tab or News Tribune was as aggressive as the Herald in this respect. Until they get some backbone, I am willing to take a hard look at local pols. Send tips to me at borderlineblog@gmail.com.


Excursion: New Riverwalk segment, Waltham to Watertown to Newton

The final, missing piece of the Waltham to Boston riverside trail was filled in late last year. It's the segment that stretches from Farwell Street on the Waltham/Watertown border to the intersection of California and Bridge streets in Newton. We had a chance to explore it a few weeks back.

There's always been a rough path going through the woods on the Newton side of the Charles River. I remember in the early 1980s going with my best friend to this area. We'd follow Albermarle Road and the Cheesecake Brook through quiet neighborhoods to where it empties into the Charles, and follow the dirt path through the forest to Bridge Street, cross over to Pleasant Street in Watertown, and hit Donkey Kong and other videogames at the Riverside Bowling Alley. In those days the river was in pretty rough shape; sewers and drains still emptied into it upriver and the banks were lined with weeds and lots of trash. But in the deeper part of the woods we could still pretend we were soldiers in Vietnam ...

In 2005, the picture is much different. The local authorities which designed and carried out the project really did a stellar job. On the Waltham/Watertown side, in back of Stop & Shop and those other industrial buildings behind Russo's, the wide path passes through beautiful, arching old trees. In places they've made a wooden path with railings to get over catchbasins or other depressed features. It's a wide area of woods stretching back from the river; you're hardly aware of the big buildings on the other side of the trees. Then the path crosses the river via a beautiful little bridge. On the Newton side, the path continues through mainly younger trees. There appears to be some construction still taking place, judging by the machinery and piles of gravel next to the trail, but it is still usable. A lot of the trash, undergrowth, and other impediments have been cleared away, and of course the river is much healthier now. And instead of playing soldiers in the forest, I tell my kids that we are walking through the Hundred Acre Wood (but Pooh and Piglet are hiding from the adults).

We couldn't walk the whole segment, because it was near lunchtime and the kids were hungry. But the path is getting a lot of use. It opens up the Waltham Riverwalk to all of the riders and joggers from points east who otherwise would have turned back at Bridge/California streets in Watertown and Newton. I've seemed to have noticed more bikers, and have even given directions to Moody Street to bikers who have come from Boston and Cambridge. Going in the opposite direction, it's possible to take the path all the way from Waltham to the Museum of Science and Beacon Hill.

Now if they can only get the Rail Trail project back on track ...


Gattaca and futuristic fiction

Rented Gattaca from the Waltham Public Library over the weekend. A very interesting movie that I totally missed when it came out. Sci-fi, yet not really sci-fi ... I would call it futuristic fiction, with an apocalyptic vision of humanity threatened by ideology and technology, like Asimov's I Robot or Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. In fact, I told my family that Gattaca reminded me of Orwell's 1984 -- "The 1984 of genetics".

Gattaca has an interesting 1940s retro feel that Blade Runner, Dark City, and a few other movies have showcased in the past few decades. Will the movies of the 2020s have a 1980s retro feel? Kind of scary to contemplate!


Excursion: Wollaston Beach, Quincy

It's easy to forget that most of Newton and parts of Waltham are about 10 miles from the ocean. There are a few hints: seagulls are a fairly common sight, and on a few days each year a strong easterly or northeasterly wind will bring the tang of the sea deep inland.

Today we surprised ourselves at how close the ocean is, with a trip to an actual beach -- Wollaston Beach in Quincy -- which was less than 30 minutes away. No, really. At 12:15 we piled into the car. At 12:45 we were standing at the ordering counter at Tony's Clams, ordering a seafood platter. After a meal of fried sea things, we went to the rocky beach and played with the kids for an hour.

It's not the best beach experience -- too many rocks in places, and the water is muddy -- but it was still fun for our littlest one, who had never seen the ocean (and desperately wanted to play with the water!). The seafood was great by New England standards, but we've been spoiled by ethnic food. I'll take Italian calamari, Mexican fish or Chinese shrimp over deep-fried stuff from Tony's any day -- although I'll admit the fried scallops and fries were tasty, and the clam chowder was heavenly!


New bookstore in Waltham

A local blogger, Lisa, has happened upon a Waltham store that I didn't know existed -- Back Pages Books. Yes, a bookstore finally comes to Moody Street! It's not a chain store, but rather an independent. It sells used and new books, has a place to sit and read, and will be highlighting local authors too. Check out the website, and the store, when you have a chance.

Interesting note on Lisa's Cadence90 blog: It's been around for over five years. I've only been around for five months, and I can really appreciate the dedication she has put into it. She also maintains a separate blog dedicated to Watertown, http://h2otown.info. Keep up the good work!


Concerned for the children, and people who can't escape

I think everyone is horrifed by what's coming in from the media in New Orleans. Dehydrated babies? Old people in wheelchairs, parked in front of a convention center for four days? What kind of country is this?

I am also concerned about people who are trapped who we may not even know need help. We see pictures of folks on rooftops, but we also see pictures of submrged houses, with only the roofs visible, and I wonder how many people were forced into their attics, and don't have the strength or ability to break through the roof. That's the only way out for them, until they start draining the water, and that won't happen for weeks. I'd have trouble breaking through my own roof without tools, and I can't imagine a single mother with babies, or an older person attempting this.


Another great reason to live in Newton & Waltham

I think a lot of people this week who live many miles from their places of employment are probably wishing they'd considered Newton or Waltham when they were house-hunting. I know people that live in Rhode Island and New Hampshire, and even one guy who lives out near Springfield. They commute 40 or 50 miles each way, or about $6.50 (if you drive a Corolla) or $10 (if you drive an SUV). One way. Going to work is as expensive as going to the movies for some people.

I don't like gas prices either, but the great thing about Newton and Waltham is that they are very central to points east and west, and, to a lesser extent, north and south. Boston is 10 miles away down the Pike or Rte. 9, and a lot of the suburban office parks in the western suburbs are not too far away either. In the entire time I have lived in Waltham, I have worked in four separate locations, and never had to commute for more than 45 minutes, one way.

Even if you change jobs, there's a good chance that your commute won't be too far or too long, and, if you work downtown, you can hop on the commuter rail or bus to get to work. When I worked in town, I used to ride my bicycle on sunny days, which is another perk of living where we do.