Head west from Boston five to ten miles and you’ll find yourself in one or another affluent suburb: Newton, Needham, Belmont, Lincoln, Weston, Wellesley, Lexington, Concord or Wayland.
Then there’s Waltham. It’s actually a small city sitting more or less in the center of the ring of upper-middle class Boston suburban towns. It’s tired in a characteristically New England factory town kind of way and as such it is a kind of reverse crown jewel in the midst of relative affluence.
But it has its considerable charms nonetheless, in part due to its interesting domestic and factory architecture,
its location on the Charles River,
and its multiple ethnic influences, particularly Asian and Hispanic on top of the historic core of Italian and Irish.
Because Waltham is cheek by jowl with nice suburbs, there is a steady stream of upscale visitors seeking out interesting places to eat. Over the last couple of decades, Moody Street, near downtown, has emerged as a destination for those seeking good, and usually inexpensive, ethnic food. As such, it has a wide assortment of places to eat from downscale to midscale (no real upscale yet, thank you). These run the gamut: Indian, Pakistani, various Latin (Guatemalan Mexican, Costa Rican), barbecue, brewpubs, Vietnamese, Chinese, Thai and (still) Italian.
When the suburban crowd comes to visit, their eyes range up and down the street, quickly looking over the hair places, convenience shops, laundromats and doo-dad shops in a visual hunt for this or that eatery. But Moody Street has a very large life of its own beyond food.
The first day of winter in Waltham this year was quite warm, with the snow from a storm several days before almost melted. At this latitude and longitude, sunset is at 4:15, so by 5 o’clock it had already been fully night for a while.
Night has its benefits on Moody Street. The buildings along the street are for the most part untouched by the hand of the 20th century, but that appears to include upkeep as well as new construction. Accordingly, the building exteriors give off what could at best be called a faded glory. But after dark, the faded glory fades to black, and the exteriors vanish except for their ghostly forms. And then the lights come on! The old fashioned storefronts face the street almost uniformly with large pane glass windows, so when the lights go on–ping, ping, ping–the color and vitality of the building interiors is placed on full display. So on this dark 5 o’clock hard by Christmas, the shops were filled with light, and life.
There were people everywhere. Bright fluorescent light spilled from the pane glass up and down the street, making for a series of tableaux. People filling all available barber chairs, and then lined up along the wall waiting for a trim. People in tiny crowded bodegas or huge Indian grocery stores. People in dollar stores stacked with cheap but colorful goods buying Christmas gifts. The overall effect was slightly Hopperish, but in a brightly lit, stage-set, ethnic, colorful kind of way.
So here are some snaps of my walk down Moody Street, from the street, outside-looking-in at the tableaux. I skipped the restaurants to emphasize the life as lived in the other places.
Hair and nails are a big deal.
The shops are crowded with stuff.
The attractions in the store windows hold interest.
One adult superstore, inside, down the stairs, tucked away but with a sign visible from the street.
Not one but two bookstores–mostly used.
An art gallery and a photo print gallery sponsored by Boston University.
One empty storefront for rent.
And when you are done, time for food. $1 tacos.
Great visual portrait — thanks!
In a testament to how poorly designed these cities can be, I would like to report the following:
I work for a company based in Waltham. I work remotely, and only visit the mothership a few times a year. When I do visit I see hardly *any* of this because the office building is near a freeway exit, and the hotel at which we have a rate is at the other side of the freeway exit. Can’t even conveniently walk between the two despite they fact they are a half mile apart.
And this downtown can only be accessed by car. If you are traveling in– like me– chances are you are tethered to a cab service, or the good nature of a colleague giving you a ride. Hence the people working and visiting our office park have almost zero access to the downtown.
Ah, but those complexes give great tax base ;-(
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