Friday, January 8, 2010

like seeing a carrier pigeon

After Dad picked me up at the airport and I dropped him off at work, I decided it would be fun to get some coffee and navigate my way back to the old neighborhood, see what might have changed, and look at the old house. The coffee part was important, coming off a red-eye flight.

I wandered steadily out of downtown, ideas and directions softly floating up from dusty corners of memory. I think Tony the barber used to be here, and there's the sporting goods store I don't remember going to, and...hmm, that place. I knew I'd never been in there, but some dim recollection told me it was run by real Italians, and it said "CAFFE" in neon, so that seemed hopeful. I pulled over and realized that I'd never, ever walked in this part of the South End. Never had a reason: when I was a kid, it was an Italian area slowly shifting to be Puerto Rican, and we felt something a little unsavory about the area. It's not a super-shiny area, it's got serious problems, and last year there was a mob hit outside the nearby Mount Carmel Society, "founded by our Italian forefathers on March 14th, 1897".

I walked in, and there were a couple elderly gentlemen, neatly dressed, with straight, brushed-back white hair. I thought,
"Well, they look like old Italian guys, but who knows. Time has wiped out all the European ethnic enclaves in the U.S."
Then I notice the guys are all drinking single shots of espresso with a packet of Equal mixed in, all in one gulp. And then they start chattering back and forth in Italian. And then some more came in, and they all knew each other, and a few more stood outside on the curb.

I started giggling inside, knowing that in 2010, there was a still an Italian coffee house somewhere in America, full of old Italian guys, downing espresso shots and hassling each other. Not only that, but I found it here in my hometown, just by being willing to go someplace I'd never been.

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