Digits with Attitude

The most noticeable item in the window of Montrose Spa, a small convenience store and sandwich shop up Mass. Ave.

The most noticeable item in the window of Montrose Spa, a small convenience store and sandwich shop up Mass. Ave. toward Porter Square, is a t-shirt bearing the text “02138: The world’s most opinionated zip code.” The sartorial statement has become a best-seller—a testament to confidence (at least among Montrose Spa clientele) in the slogan’s veritas.

Tomas Rodriguez, known as “Tommy” to the regular customers who greet him when they come in for a lotto ticket or sandwich, owns the store at 1646 Mass. Ave. “I have a customer in the t-shirt business. We thought about it and decided it was a good idea to print the shirts,” he says. Rodriguez began selling the shirts (and mugs and caps) last spring and they are flying out of the store. “Some people who live in Cambridge buy them, some for friends who used to live here and some just because they see them when walking by the store,” Rodriguez says.

The idea for this hot item came from a 1991 Boston globe article in which writer Mark Muro “proved” through research (eavesdropping on Cantabrigians’ conversations) that in this city “almost everyone seems to know everything about everything—or at least they think they do.” Rodriguez, who has lived in Cambridge for 27 years, is of the opinion that Muro was correct in dubbing 02138 the most opinionated zip in Massachusetts (though the shirt expands the claim to “the world”).

Rodriguez found the most egregious example of gratuitous opinionatedness at Café Pamplona, where he overheard the following: “Really, to say she capitulates to the patriarchy she critiques every time she posits the supplement is very uninteresting.” While this episode of mental masturbation is strong support for the thesis, FM decided to ask some of the most opinionated students on campus if they thought that 02138 really deserved this label.

They agree, in their differing ways, that the moniker is accurate. “I think it’s certainly an apt description of the political climate inspired by Harvard,” says Gladden J. Pappin ’04, managing editor of the Salient. From the opposite end of the ideological spectrum, Alexandra Neuhaus-Follini ’03, managing editor of Perspective, gives less credit to Harvard. “I’ve found many Harvard students disappointingly apathetic. The urge to get ahead seems to mute potentially opinionated voices. Permanent residents, on the other hand, are extremely politicized on the local, state, and national levels.”

Kathy H. Lee ’03, opinion editor of the Independent, seemed more interested in promoting her publication in a slightly disturbing manner than in answering FM’s questions. Lee writes in an e-mail, “You’d have to come to the comp meeting we’re having tonight (Feb. 14th) at 8 p.m. in Canaday basement, to get an answer for that...and to get sweet loving too.” The Crimson’s own Judd B. Kessler ’04, associate editorial chair, focuses on students and stereotypes: “First, we have ‘section’ more than any other zip code I know. Second, while in 02138 I’ve encountered a copious number of opinions regrading New York sports teams. As for the rest of Cambridge—well, opinions sound so much stronger when they’re pronounced without the R’s.”

But what’s really important is, would anyone wear the shirt? At least one opinionated editor forsakes 02138 for a more famous zip, “Well, wearing it would interfere with the regular use of my Beverly Hills 90210 shirt,” writes Lee. The Beverly Hills bunch may be better-known and more attractive, but thanks to Tommy Rodriguez, the 02138s can now let the world know they are the champions of opinion.