There was a wonderful tobacco shop on Tremont Street in Boston; Pipes, tobacco, and cigars. A model of the fishing Schooner Elsie figured prominently in the window. Even if you didn’t smoke, you could spend an hour inhaling the wondrous odors and looking at the carved meerschaum and briar pipes. The handmade humidors lined with Spanish Cedar seemed too good for mere stogies, and in fact, the best cigars were available from the carefully maintained stock that made the shop famous.
A stop there would make me tardy for other appointments like browsing the model railroad hobby shops, touring the Granary Burial Ground, or the Old Statehouse with its carvings of lions and unicorns.
Then I’d take a brief dive into the financial district and pass by the gracious architecture of the Old City Hall before heading over to an as yet un-tourist sanitized Fanuel Hall and the old public market. Leaving these after looking at the remains of old ship chandlers and ghost signs for Sailmaker’s lofts, I’d dive into the North End, grab a fresh cannoli and espresso, and head over to the Haymarket. Taking time to fix my tangled shoelaces, I’d watch the crowds shopping at the pushcarts for anything fresh you might desire.
From there, I’d head back towards Beacon Hill but stop briefly in the herb and spice shop for some unique ingredients the Monk wanted for Sunday dinner. Then, crossing under the elevated highway, I’d whip as fast as I could through the new City Hall Plaza. This sterile wasteland had recently replaced the vibrant but tawdry Scolly Square. Urban renewal creating urban deserts.
Crossing over to Cambridge Street, I’d eventually reach Grove Street. Stopping at the Harvard Gardens to wet my dry throat, I’d spend a half-hour passing the time before heading up the street to help cook dinner.
It was 1965. Malls were just a myth becoming a reality, and the internet was not even a gleam in a programmer’s eye. In an hour, I’d walked and shopped through sights more wondrous and deep in history than Amazon could imagine.
The miracle that was a vibrant downtown was something that had been slowly making for centuries. Instead, the malls and the internet are things thrown up in the shadows of history. They have utility but little charm or historical depth. So you’re saying, “Lou, you are such a Luddite.” No, I’m not. I use the malls and the internet, but I recognize them for what they are – commercial conveniences – not fascinating places to people watch, tune into the history of my community. And browse in person a worldwide marketplace.
It takes time to create a wondrous place. It’s like Miracle Max says in the Princess Bride: “You rush a miracle man; you get rotten miracles.”