Getting around the Square
Somebody in the administration said recently that you had to be either rich or desperate to go to the Harvard Summer School. If you fall into the second category--say you're taking Chem S-20 and are fleshing out your free time with Physics S-12--forget it: you'll be out of the bars and off the streets starting shortly. For the rest of us, well, we're richer than about 95 per cent of everyone in our country, and it's even rumored that if anyone cared to compute the figures, the net national income of the Summer School student body is greater than that of Bolivia.
What that means is that you have plenty of money and, barring pre-med doldrums, a lot of time to fill spending it. In short, you really couldn't have come to a better place. Gone is the Cambridge and the Harvard Square of the '50s and the first half of the '60s: Ye Olde College Shoppes with owners who knew the boys' names like an Eliot House Master, Harvard pennants on the wall, and fine wood interiors. Gone, too, are the head shops, clothes stores and coffeehouses of the late '60s and early '70s, and with them the hippie vendors in front of Holyoke Center, removed by University edict last year over some Bicentennial nonsense or other. No matter: the chain stores have moved in and blended nicely, the hippies have adjusted themselves to market realities and gone really commercial, and some of the old college pump haunts--J. Press and Andover clothing stores for the young master, Cronin's Restaurant--stoutly remain. The prices are higher on everything, except the newspapers and magazines, than anywhere but Anchorage, Alaska.
Faced with this, the worst possible traffic and driving in the immediate area, and a boring droner from the University of Nevada at Reno as your sole course instructor, you might feel the need for a stiff drink. Don't worry: you'll be well taken care of in the immediate vicinity, and as you go further out, the variety increases. Some people's favorites are the consciously unpretentious bars--though that doesn't necessarily mean they're cheap. First, there's the aforementioned Cronin's, with large 70 cent light draft on tap and real atmosphere. For example, ask Mr. Cronin (the short graying guy with the cigar behind the bar) about Norman Mailer '43. He'll remember Mailer only as the guy who didn't pay his bills. Anyway, Cronin's is filled with working people who talk about local sports--"if only that kid from Chelsea hadn't dropped the punt in the second quarter B.C. wouldn't have lost 41-15"--and empathetic intellectuals; it's enormity, size-wise, gets you psychically out of cramped Harvard Square.
Likewise, you might check out Whitney's and its 30 cent beers, patronized largely by B and G workers watching "Candlepins for Cash" on the television, or Charlie's Kitchen, where the huge run of students doesn't seem to intimidate the generally townie crowd which still dominates a bar, over which hangs a faded autographed photo of John F. Kennedy '40. Fathers Six allows the jukebox to play hellishly loud, and while the favorite place for freshmen and other youngsters, is sufficiently worried to check i.d.'s at the door. Fathers is worth trying; under another management and another name, it came perilously close to achieving teen-age leather bar status, but that's changed, thank God. A final note: the Wursthaus has a huge selection of foreign beers, but seriously over priced.
Of course, this list excludes the really interesting places you might not stumble across in seven weeks at the Summer School--like all those bars down Massachusetts Avenue in Central Square, and up Cambridge Street toward Somerville. Those are the neighborhood places: O'Connors, on Beacon Street, rivals Whitney's in price, and the ambience is strictly Irish neighborly and close-knit; Studley's, on Kirkland, is a little less homey and more corporate, featuring a 6-foot high color TV screen and professionally frosted steins of draft beer. Kevin's Club, in the same area, features country and western bands many nights and a slick, dress-up interior, the sort of place where working people go on a night out with their families minus their youngest children. In general, try the neighborhood bars in all sections of Cambridge and Charlestown, too; the less gaudy of them are the nicest places and have the best bargains in the area.
A Schlitz is a Schlitz, etc. There is, naturally, a lot more variation in price--if not surroundings--among restaurants in the Square and out. Let's get one thing out of the way immediately: by general consensus, Locke-Ober's in Boston is the best restaurant in this section of the country, at $15 a person. See you and your parents over at Anthony's Pier Four tonight, and likewise for brunch next Sunday at the Prudential Building's Top of the Hub, where bloody Marys and eggs abound at a moderately high expense. For the same meal, local hacks say, the Newton Marriott has everyone beat, with its endless and relatively cheap supply of bagels.
Now that the Rockefellers have found their niche, we can praise some other fine, and often more inexpensive local places. What is not so inexpensive is also the latest area food craze, at least among the elites: Sezchuan-style Chinese cuisine. That's easy at about five different Harvard, Central and Inman Square restaurants. For lunch, the Square abounds in the $2.50-$3.50 meals: The Rendevous, with some fine Vietnamese cuisine downstairs (owned by Saigon's former ambassador to Burma), Bartley's and Buddy's Sirloin Pit for hamburgers, Nornie-B's for reuben and sandwich esoterica, the 1955-like Tommy's Lunch for more conventional sandwiches and pinball, and the Underdog, which restores one's faith in the possibilities of cheap lunches and great American hot dogs with various trimmings. Ferdinand's is surprisingly inexpensive and very high in quality also.
To eat and drink solely would be pretty dull, even for the summer. There are, short of visiting Maine or Western Mass., closer range methods of rural escape, fortunately. This one will kill you, but Mt. Auburn cemetery in West Cambridge, near Coolidge Hill, is simply beautiful, with a great view of Boston. You'll know that Nathaniel Hawthorne would have been proud of your ability to confront the forces of darkness. Harvard happens to own another close-to-home retreat, the Arnold Arboretum in Jamaica Plain (Boston).
Decadence, however, has its points--flight from gesundheit is as easy as a trip down Soldier's Field Road to Sammy White's for tenpin or candlepin bowling. The best of all, if you want to travel and have a car, is Boston Bowl down the Southeast expressway--open 24 hours and, we're told, something out of a George V. Higgins' novel.
The summer months are traditionally slow for new movies, and this year will be no exception. A couple of things look promising but basically it's time to catch up on things that you missed during the year. You're in the right place to do it. Harvard Square Theater changed hands in the spring and is now run by the people who manage Cinema 733 in Boston. There's a different double-bill every couple of days of recent flicks, the price is right ($1 before 6 p.m., $2 after that), and it's air conditioned.
Just up the street is the Orson Welles Complex, one of the best theaters around. The Welles specializes in the slightly off-beat, and has three screens. So if you ever want to bliss out for about seven hours, this is your place. For Charles Bronson, Clint Eastwood's latest and other sometimes good trash, check out the neighborhood theaters and drive-ins in the Northern and Western suburbs.
Harvard Square's charm will begin to wear on you pretty quickly. What there is to see you can do during the week; for the weekends, a car and getting away is the highest priority. The parking situation in Cambridge is detestable--count on collecting reams of tickets, but not necessarily on paying them, particularly if you're from out of state. Just keep away from the really bad violations like double-parking, which will get your car towed and will help continue subsidizing three local towing companies--Pat's, Chico's, and the Ellery Street garage--in the handsome style to which they have become accustomed.
You have a wide range of stations to turn to on your car radio. For mindless bubble-gum noise, there's WRKO, 680 on the AM dial, and WMEX at 1510. You know the style: abrasive disk jockeys, mind-numbing disco, "free" give aways, etc. For those into classical music, WCRB-AM at 1330 and FM at 102.5 is the place to turn. Boston has also been blessed with an excellent jazz station, WBUR, 90.9 FM, run by students at Boston University. If you're into country and western, WCOP at 1150 AM is probably your best bet.
Like its counterparts in other big cities, WBCN at 104.1 FM has undergone a steady degeneration. It started out in the early '60s as an underground outfit, willing to take chances and experiment with new material. Now it--like you, me, and everything else--has been coopted. WBCN is slick, commercial, and bland. Listening to it, you might think it was still 1969--Jimi and Janis live, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young are together, the Beatles are the hottest thing going. Occasionally there are high spots--Andrew Kopkind's commentary and the Liberation News Service among them--but generally it's pretty innocuous stuff. WCOZ at 95.5 is no better, no worse. The least pretentious station around is WCAS at 740 AM, which mixes country, soft rock, and folk nicely, and goes easy on the ads.
Make it a point to get yourself up to the Berkshires this summer. The most important thing going on there, as always, is the Boston Symphony at Tanglewood under the supervision of Seiji Ozawa, and the program for this summer looks particularly good. For $3.50, you can guarantee yourself a spot on the lawn for a picnic and listen to, on July 18 for example, Ozawa conduct an all-Haydn program. Access is easy--exit 1 on the Mass Pike, and buses from Boston.
Even if you're not one for longhair entertainment, the area still may have something to offer you. The Popular Artist Series at Tanglewood is presenting Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie, Gordon Lightfoot, James Taylor in the next few weeks. Ticket prices are steep--$5.50-$7.50--but what isn't? Allow yourself a little time to wander around nearby Stock-bridge and Lennox, quaint little villages where you can spend a fortune. Some basic familiarity with these places is de rigeur for anyone who wishes to hold his/her head high in Harvard Yard.
Your main objective this summer will be keeping cool, no easy task. Here too a car will come in handy. You could invest $15 in a pass to the pool at the Indoor Athletic Building, which is a good deal, but doesn't solve the all important beach problem. The best ones are up on routes 1A and 1B--Plumb Island, Salisbury Beach; Crane's Beach and dozens of others. Parking will cost you up to $3. If it's sailing you're after, you might do well to check out Community Boating, Inc. at the MDC Boathouse on the Charles, where you can get unlimited access to boats for $18 a month.
Are you upwardly mobile and insecure about it? The Boston area may be just the place to feed your anxieties. There are lots of families around here who've had money for a while, like around 250 years, and they wear it well--no monograms on their mansions. The greatest concentration of these people is on the North Shore, in towns like Manchester, Beverly Farms, and Pride's Crossing. If your idea of a good time is playing voyeur to the rich, you might make a point of getting to these neighborhoods. Frankly, it's a neurotic activity.
During the next couple of months, keeping posted on what's happening in the area will be easy. The Real Paper and The Phoenix have followed a course of development similar to that of radio station WBCN--starting out as alternative, radical papers, they have become increasingly non-political, showy and slick. Nevertheless, they are pretty good at what they do--their listings of special events, services, and the arts are very comprehensive. The Boston Globe is strongest in its local and sports reporting, but on the national level its coverage is at best erratic, with the exception of two fine journalists--Curtis Wilkie and Martin Nolan. For national and international news, protect yourself by picking up a copy of The New York Times in the Square. (This is, by the way, one of the best features of the Square; between Out of Town News, Nini's Corner, and Reading International on Brattle St., you can get just about any newspaper or magazine in the world you might possibly want.)
For cheap thrills, there is only one place to go--Paragon Park at Nantasket Beach on the South Shore. It has a not very bad roller coaster, although those who fondly remember vomiting at Palisades Amusement Park in Fort Lee, N.J., will not be impressed. This place is surrounded by penny arcades, bad food, and denizens of all varieties. Enjoy.
The important thing in your forays is initiative. Harvard Square is potential quicksand--it's all too easy to get stuck in the belief that there's actually something going on there, when in fact it's just a place where a lot of people are trying to sell you things. Not to be inhospitable, but get out, as often as you can and for as long as you can.