Tagged: boston

Now you T it, now you don't

Do you know what you were doing five years ago today? Well, according this this blog, I was in Santa Monica, but according to the MBTA, I was unboxing a brand new Charlie Card. I know this because today, five years later, that Charlie card, suddenly and without warning, expired.


By “expired” do I mean kicked the bucket, shuffled off its mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the choir invisible? Apparently not, because the helpful MBTA resurrectionist customer service person in the station keyed in a secret code on the Charlie card vending machine, tapped my card and read off the balance and passes on it.

So what gives? Well, it seems that what gives is that older Charlie cards like mine have a replicant-like five year lifespan. A new one you get today will last ten years and unlike mine, have the expiration date printed on it.  Why does it expire when the electronics inside are still working? Why do I get no warning in advance of this expiration? That’s not for me to ponder, it’s for me to drag my sorry early-Charlie-card-adopting ass to the one and only “Charlie Card Store” at Downtown Crossing three days before the end of the month and get my paid-for passes transferred to a fresh card. I’m sure it won’t be busy at all, since it operates during the commuter-friendly hours of 8:00am till 5:30pm, Monday through Friday.

In New York City, you can exchange an expired MetroCard for a fresh one (as long as it’s less than a year since expiry) at any token booth with a customer service agent, and I’ve seen those in nearly every station and at all hours of the day and night.

On the way home this evening (after 5:30), the MBTA employee let me through after verifying that my card had a pass on it. In the morning I’ll probably have to pay to get to Downtown Crossing to get this fixed.  What are the odds that I’ll get my fare for that trip reimbursed?

Bus stop, T woes, stop goes, speed grows

Via the estimable newsmachers at UniversalHub, a report that the MBTA is eliminating some stops on 15 of the busiest bus lines in the city this summer. The idea is that snipping out some redundant stops and refurbishing others will reduce end-to-end trip time and cut back on bunching. One of the stops to be eliminated is right in front of limeduck world headquarters, but the T maps show it to be as little as 260 feet from the nearest stop, so I can hardly complain.

Kudos to the T for what seems to be a data-driven harvesting of low-hanging fruit. People close to the soon to be former stops will be inconvenienced, but probably only at one endpoint of their bus journey, and substantially all riders of these lines will reap benefits.

What the always entertaining comments at UHub don’t bring up (yet) is what will happen to the former bus stops? Will more (metered?) parking be created? Bike parking? Ghost stops where parking is prohibited but buses never stop? Pocket parks? Time will tell. Until then, watch this:

This chocolate pudding could be A+

I’ve called out food trucks before for obfuscating the name and content of common dishes, but when Mei Mei Street Kitchen put Sanguinaccio Dolce on the board, they helpfully, if bluntly, glossed it with “Taza chocolate, John Crow farm pigs blood.” $2, what could possibly go wrong? If there’s going to be blood in my dessert, I’d rather it be local.

Mei Mei Street Kitchen Menu

Sanguinaccio Dolce (don’t you just love saying that?) is a traditional carnival dish of the Basilicata region of Italy, the arch of the foot of the boot, if you will, or maybe a spat, since it has coastline on both the Tyrrhenian and Ionian seas. It’s more or less chocolate pudding with some fresh pig’s blood in it, sometimes served with biscuits.

Mei Mei provided no biscuits, but did include a nice dollop of cream and some sesame(?) seeds. The characteristic flavor and texture of Taza chocolate was evident in the apparently creamy pudding. There was no obvious or intrusive blood or pork flavor, not even the saltiness that I was expecting. It’s just a subtle twist to the chocolate, a bitterness that I doubt you’d even be able to identify as blood if some evil person gave it to you without disclosure.

Sanguinaccio Dolce

Ingredients aside, $2 for such a small serving of pudding may seem a little steep, but you do get to say that you ate it. Plus, how much chocolate pudding (and blood) belongs in a balanced diet? If you need to load up, go get yourself a venti chocolate cookie frappuccino with two strips of bacon. [N.B., at the time I wrote this I was as yet unaware of the Dunkin Donuts bacon egg and cheese on a donut breakfast “sandwich”.]

I applaud the Mei Mei team for putting something different out there and also for making an effort to use the whole animal. Their menu is ever-changing and seasonal, so get your sanguinaccio dolce while you can. Maybe as summer heats up they’ll add ice cream and call it Sundae Bloody Sundae.

Also, if you haven’t heard, Mei Mei is opening a brick and mortar restaurant, and you can support them on kickstarter.

Pop over to Clover for a popover

According to the Hobbits, second breakfast is the second most important meal of the day so when I found myself in Dewey Square one morning this week, it seemed only natural to get a food truck breakfast even though I had already eaten. I was tempted by Area Four’s breakfast sandwich, but it seemed on the heavy side for a second breakfast, so I returned to Clover for one of their massive popovers.

Clover Popover

A popover, for those unfamiliar, is a hollow muffinesque confection of egg batter. The name seems to have something to do with the gusto with which a popover overflows its muffin tin. At $2, it’s a nicely affordable (and surprisingly filling for being hollow) inflatable comfort food.

Free tree from a pocket park in a parking spot

In addition to National Poetry Month, April was also National Landscape Architecture Month. Who knew? Not I, that’s who, at least not until the very last day of the month when I noticed that two parking spaces on Portland street had been converted into a temporary park on the sunny side of the street.

Park in a parking spot Landscape Architecture Day

I parked myself on the bench and ate my lunch. I would happily have fed the meter if that were necessary, but the good folks at Stantec had done their permitting homework and the park was free and clear all day. And, they were giving away little pine tree seedlings!

People sitting in a public park that used to be a couple of parking spaces

This is not an isolated incident. There is a movement of a sort called park(ing) that temporarily (re)claims parking spaces as parks, and there’s even park(ing) day on the third Friday in September, so mark your calendar for 9/20/13 and stock up on quarters and astroturf.

Notice, by the way, what’s in this park, designed by landscape architects, that’s not in the North End pocket park I noted not too long ago: seating. Just a thought.

Amazon book showroom in South Station may reopen

The ever-alert Boston Business Journal reports that Barbara’s Bestsellers has closed but might get a new lease on life – literally – in a smaller space in another part of the station. The 417 square foot book stall appears to have gone to the dark (roast) side for five times the rent paid by the bookseller.

A commercial real estate source familiar with the deal said Starbucks (Nasdaq: SBUX) is planning to open in the former book stall space at about $500 per square foot. Barliant was paying about $100 per square foot or $4,000 a month, not including maintenance, real estate taxes and marketing, on a lease that was signed many years ago. The store had been at South Station since 1994.

You’re probably thinking that I’m going to deliver a teary eulogy for a dearly-departed brick and mortar bookseller, as I have done for a stationery store. Well, yes, I will miss it in a nostalgic kind of way, but the truth is that I haven’t browsed or even been tempted to buy anything there for years. My reasons for not patronizing the South Station book stall are probably not so unusual and will furnish some clues to why Barbara’s can’t or won’t pay as much rent as Starbucks seems to.

The bookstores of the 1990s called, they want their business model back.

I think the book market has simply passed shops like this by. Barbara’s had pretty much one thing going for it: location. Location in a place where people are waiting around before being stuck in a metal tube for a while is pretty sweet – until everybody has a bookstore in their pocket and can download ebooks in seconds. This was not a discount bookstore, it wasn’t an antiquarian bookstore, it didn’t have a nice cafe or a friendly bookstore cat or comfy seating to make it a nice retreat from the bustle of the train station (sadly, the whole of South Station has neither a nice cafe nor comfy seating), it didn’t offer author events like readings or book signings. The busy business traveler waiting for the Acela to New York is most likely packing a smartphone, tablet, e-reader or laptop computer, if not all four, and despite the crappy wifi in South Station proper, these travelers are probably hooked up to the mobile network and they know there will be free wifi on the train, too. By and large, they just don’t want paper books anymore.

Just as all the traditional comforts of a bookstore are absent in a kiosk in a train station, all the traditional comforts are reading are nullified by having to read on the train. It turns out that poor lighting and crowded or cramped conditions make reading on a device a better choice than a paper book on many trains.

Know when to hold em, know when to fold em

A business closing is generally a sad thing, but I’d rather that this one realizes that times and preferences have changed and either closes down or changes. It appears that they’ll reopen in a smaller and less well-located kiosk in the station, and that is probably the start of protracted and painful exit. Could they reinvent themselves and sell ereaders and the sort of travel accessories today’s Acela and commuter rail traveler want? Perhaps, but that sounds more like those Brookstone outposts in the airport that charge you $25 for a USB cable. Few businesses shrink to greatness and I think it might be best for this one to see the writing on the wall and move along.

I’d rather have some decent food (your best bet now is to go across the street to the Dewey Square food trucks) or decent seating in South Station than a Starbucks, but I’m pretty sure that Starbucks will provide something that commuters really want – charging stations for their precious mobile devices.

Fast Movers at Slow Money Boston

Last night I dropped in at Greater Boston Slow Money’s sixth Entrepreneur Showcase. As the organizers say,

We will be bringing together investors, sustainable food entrepreneurs and leaders working together to rebuild our local food system. Learn about investment opportunities and how you can participate in rebuilding local economies based on the principles of soil fertility, sense of place, care of the commons and economic, cultural and biological diversity.

And deliver on that they did.  Six businesses in various states of startupness presented, each allotted five minutes and five slides to present, and five more minutes for audience Q&A.

OK, not the sexiest name, but this contraption, described as a “…pedal powered tractor for cultivation and seeding, built from lawn tractor, ATV, and bicycle parts” apparently does the job cheaper and not all that much slower than a diesel tractor does, and it’s better for the health of the operator and the environment, too.

Mei Mei Street Kitchen
I’ve kvelled about the Mei Mei food truck here before, but at the showcase they unveiled their plan for an immobile restaurant, and also showed how they could use this restaurant as a base of operations for the food truck business and increase its efficiency in the bargain.

Full Sun Company
Did you know that they grow sunflower seeds in Vermont? I had no idea. I also had no idea that most of the oil seed grown in this country is exported for processing and then we re-import the stuff as oil and meal and other finished products. Full Sun aims to process seeds locally and sell the oil and meal locally, reducing costs and greening the process along the way.

Fresh Truck
I briefly met the Fresh Truckers at Mass Innovation Nights Foodie Edition.  They are setting up a retrofitted school bus as a mobile farmers market to try and green some of the fresh food deserts of the Boston area.

Fresh Food Generation
Starting with some sobering information about obesity and diabetes in Boston’s neighborhoods and following up with a map of the food options nearest a community pool (three fast food chain outlets and a liquor store), FFG’s pitch for a “farm-to-plate food truck enterprise that serves healthy cooked foods in low income communities” had real impact.

CERO (Cooperative Energy, Recycling & Organics)
This team of employee owners, multicultural and multilingual, is trying to bring the trash hauling and recycling business in Boston out of its “wild west” state by shifting the economics from favoring tonnage to landfills to favoring source separation for recycling and re-use in the community.

These capsules just scratch the surface.  You can read a bit more at the event’s hashtag #SMESbos and of course from each firm’s site. What’s even more inspiring to me than each individual business plan is that these entrepreneurs are so supportive of one another and are already sharing information, mentoring one another, even working together at this early stage.

If you care about the food system in Boston and New England, these are people and companies well worth getting to know.

Three things you can count on in the South End

Great food, such as this plate of paper-thin finocchiona and chunks of pecorino tartufo with some pickled veggies at Cinquecento.

Finocchiona and Pecorino Tartufo at Cinqocento

Great art, such as Replicant Hybrid by Julia Csekö, on view at Laconia Gallery.

Replicant Hybrid by Julia Csekö, on view at Laconia Gallery

Great public trasnit amenities, such as this self-serve heated bus stop shelter on the Silver line.

Press for Heat