Monday, April 27, 2009

Billy Kidd's Sub and Pizza

There was a sign in the window:
"Closed for Renovations - April 19th"
Just like that, it was an end of an era.
Billy Kidd's Sub & Pizza has been sold.
Jenna and I sat quietly in the car. She pointed out that already the front windows had already been replaced. "This is sad," I said.
"Yeah..." she replied.
We pulled out of the parking lot towards Mike's House of Pizza in Hanson. It was the only sandwich shop I knew nearby. I used to get my pizza there when the guys and I gamed 4-5 nights a week. However, whenever I wanted a sub, it was always from Billy Kidd's.
As we drove down Plymouth Street, Jenna said "Have you ever been disappointed by something that you didn't know that you were expecting until it didn't happen?"
"What are you referring to?"
"I expected us to know when they were closing. I mean, its not like they were going to pick up the phone and call us but I always thought that we would know when they were going to close."
It wasn't until that moment that I realized that I had expected the same thing.
Damn it.
"I know, right? We were supposed to know when their last day was so we could plan one last trip down and get one final sub to take to the Herring Run. A 'last hurrah' kinda thing."
Billy Kidd's has been in business for a long time. If I once knew the exact date Billy Kidd's Sub and Pizza first opened, I have unfortunately long since forgotten it. My Dad can remember when his place was a donut shop before Billy bought it but he thinks that it has been a pizza joint since I was three years old. My brother Mark even remembers walking up to Kidd's to get pizzas and he even remembered that our sister Barbara always got a tuna salad sub, Mark always got an Italian cold cut and I always got a large cheeseburger.
Bill has been trying to sell the old restaurant for a few years. He's not a young man anymore and he and Mary have put their lives into this place. It was time to retire. However, none of his children wanted to take over the family business; neither did any of his grandchildren. So, reluctantly I think, he put it on the market. He had a few nibbles but they all fell through for one reason or another. Bill always seemed surprised when people talked about coming in and radically changing the business. This always seemed ridiculous to him and to me. The sub shop has been successful and profitable for forty years. If I was to buy the shop I would have kept Billy on for a few months so he could teach me the way he prepared all his food, he bought his product from, and the way he got things done. I would have kept the name and it would have been business as usual.
After all, they are successful for a reason, right?
No matter where I have lived I have always come back to Billy Kidd's for lunch and dinner. I first took Jenna there when she was four years old. In those days she wanted a bologna sub with nothing on it. Just bologna on bread. She would eat it, too. For me, I always get a large cheeseburger, medium rare, with extra onions, pickles, salt and pepper. Jenna knows my order by heart. So does all the staff at Billy Kidd's. The old-timers just ask me if I want "my usual" and it never took long to break in a new kid as to what my order was going to be. Sometimes Jenna and I would take our subs and drive down to J.J. Shepherd Field to watch a baseball game while we ate. Other times we went over to the Herring Run and quietly ate from atop the giant rock that was deposited there sometime during the last ice age. I love these moments with her; these times when my childhood and hers merge together. Like the rock at the Herring Run, I always wanted Billy Kidd's to be there for us. Like many other things in life, this too, is gone.
Bill and Mary Kidd will never read this, but I want to thank them for a lifetime of great food, fun conversation and fantastic memories that we built around their awesome food.
Jenna and I decided to give the new place a try when they open for business. Maybe they plan on doing everything the way Billy Kidd and his family did for forty years. Maybe not. In any case, they will have one chance to impress us. Otherwise, we have to find a new, favorite sub place.
As we drove away from Billy Kidd's Sub and Pizza Jenna and I realized that a piece from both of our childhoods is now gone.
We were silent as we pulled into Mike's House of Pizza.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Cool Hat and Blue Skies

The air is thick with exhaust fumes as I exit from the train onto the platform at Back Bay station. I take the steps two at a time as I exit onto the street, gulping in fresh air, due to the carbon monoxide and the fact that I just can't sprint up stairs like I used to.
Street level the air is cold and full of commuter noises. The train pulls out of the station below and the sound of its engines mix with the cacophony of sound from the traffic on Route 93. A quick gust of wind catches me unaware, forcing me to conclude that my thin spring jacket may have been a poor choice this morning.
As I walk past the Hancock Tower I glance up at the early morning sky. It is a panorama of bright blue color, filled with promise. High, wispy clouds are like fleeting thoughts as they move about. In my mind I imagine the clouds forming, churning and dissipating at high-speed film like during an indie film. A woman and her two young boys cross the street in front of me. The youngest, maybe five, also looks up at the sky. His harried mother hurries him along. Even five year-olds have a schedule this morning.
Walking towards Newbury Street a young woman is towing very large suitcase on wheels in one hand with a grande drink from Starbucks. She looks at me; I catch her looking at me. She smiles as she looks away, hurriedly sipping from her drink. I smile to myself as I wait for the pedestrian signal to give the all-clear.
Once on Newbury Street the sun is out in full force, shining brightly from over the Boston Common. I pull my fedora down closer to my eyes. I love this hat. I bought it at Salmagundi in Jamaica Plain. It is a combination of the fedora worn by Harrison Ford in "Raiders of the Lost Ark" but it is closer to the hat worn by Humphrey Bogart in "The Maltese Falcon". How could I not like it? I have always wanted to be a "hat-guy" but I really couldn't pull it off when I was in my twenties. Now in my forties, it looks just fine. Perhaps a little grey and a few crinkles around the eyes add to its character?
As I near the end of Newbury I see a gentlemen driver leaning standing next to a large black town car, waiting for his employer. He looks at me coldly. I smile and say "hello". A bit startled, he smiles back and says "Hello". When I look back at him, he doesn't seem as distant now.
I enter the Public Garden and I am overwhelmed with green. Everything is flourishing here. The morning dew on the grass reflects the light from the rising sun and the air is full of a rich, earthy scent. It's pungent, but in a really good way. Dogs are walking their masters and people, a dozen or so, are just walking leisurely around the duck pond. Its very quiet here right at this moment.I contemplate finding a bench and just stopping for while to listen to the silence. Usually I have to go to Vermont to listen to this much nothing. However, my daydream is ruined when a truck lays on its horn just outside the garden. I begin my march once again. Work is waiting.
By the time I am crossing over the bridge in the Public Garden I realize that I am very warm. What a difference ten minutes and some actual exertion can do to a man. I consider removing my jacket. I decide against it.
Passing through Boston Common I can see the Loews Cinema - Boston Common across the park. In fifteen days I will see "Star Trek" there. I am fairly giddy at the prospect. I have remained spoiler-free for this one. I only know what I have seen in the promos for the film that have been shown on TV. I also read the "prequel comic"; a four-issue series giving some back story for Ambassador Spock. Other than that, I will see it with clear eyes on Friday, May 8th. Bridget is coming with me, so is George, along with his seventeen year old son, Christopher. Jenna opted out, choosing instead to stay in school for the day because it is near the end of the school year and she has much work to do. I applaud her work ethic but I wish she was coming with me. Weren't George and I seventeen when we first went to see "Star Trek II - The Wrath of Khan" together on opening night? Damn.
Before I know it I am walking down Winter Street, then Summer, then onto High Street. As I walk past 100 High Street I am amazed at the redesign of the whole front lobby and the facade outside. Instead of the dark and sterile building that once held the credit union it is now two full stories of windows and marble columns. While I'm sure the marble is fake the light streaming into the lobby is not. It is a change for the better.
I pass the garage entrance and walk into Brueggers. I pay for my iced-coffee and I go to the side board to add cream and sugar to it. I wave my goodbyes to Gwen and Marcia, exit the store and cross over Congress Street. I turn off my cell-phone as I enter my building.
Once on the elevator, my lone, unknown companion says hello and comments that "You almost don't need that jacket today. Soon enough, though." A moment passes and he adds, "Cool hat."

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Great Expectations

The twilight sky was resplendent as a cool breeze followed me across the Yard. Moments earlier, my professor had returned our mid-term papers to the class, complete with his written comments for each. I received a "B" on my paper.
The darkening sky matched my mood.
While I have yet to read the comments that accompany my grade my thoughts whirled as I second-guess my paper. Where did I go wrong? Was I not clear enough? Did I miss a citation or two? Did I not transition well enough between paragraphs? Too many questions and no time to find the answers. I will have them once I sit down on the train, though.
We only have two papers to turn in for this class - the midterm and the final. All week long I was nervous about this paper because I have yet to receive a grade in this class and I have no idea how the professor grades a paper or what his expectations are when he reads a paper. Logically I know that this class is harder then others I have taken previously and I should not have great expectations of getting an "A" right out of the gate. Illogically, that was my expectation.
After riding a short while on the red line with my classmate Justin (a smart, smart man who received an "A" on his paper and is deservedly pleased) he disembarks at Central and I take the time to read the comments on my paper. In the end, Professor Donoghue feels that my topic sentence was a bit too broad and he wishes that I had narrowed the scope a bit more. However, he likes my work. Still, I wish I had done better.
When I was in college for the first time (in 1983) I would have been ecstatic with a "B". Heck, I would have been beyond happy with this grade in high school. Now, not so much. While my time at NEU was not always as intellectually stimulating as I would have preferred (thanks, on-line classes) I was proud of the "A"'s that I received in my English courses both on my tests and for my final grades. Now I am taking classes at Harvard precisely because I wanted to be challenged more. My bachelor's degree - when it finally arrives - needs to be worth something; to me, anyway. I have to know that I worked for my grades and learned something in the process. I simply have to.
Thanks to the sage advice of people close to me, I realize that a "B" in a class at Harvard is worth an "A" anywhere else. Also, I was reminded that this is a graduate-level course that is also available to undergraduates like me and it should be more difficult. Finally, this is my very first class at Harvard and, according to a fellow Harvard student, a "B" on my first paper is excellent. Most importantly, all involved told me they were proud of me.
So, for today, I will be happy with a "B".
Tomorrow I'll be going for the "A".