In 1984, when Los Angeles faced the coming of the Olympic Games, my old musical acquaintances Catfish Hodge and Paul Barrere decided to get out of town and go on tour. They figured traffic and crowding in would turn L.A. into such a zoo, they just didn’t want to be around.
Surprise, surprise: Those two weeks in the L.A. basin proved to be one of the easiest times to drive in the recent history of Southern California. The Games took place at venues from Malibu to the Coliseum. I saw heavyweight weightlifting at Pepperdine and part of the marathon in Culver City. There was, by regular standards, no traffic at all on the major freeways.
Now I live 28 miles north of Boston, where residents await, in stunned horror, the arrival of the Democratic National Convention July 26-29. The Democratic National Committee insisted on meeting at the Fleet Center, the flossy replacement for the old Boston Garden. The Fleet Center sits right next to Interstate Highway 93 as it enters the new Big Dig under-city tunnel system. From the new Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge, you could hit the Fleet’s roof with a mortar. Hell, you could hit it with a well-thrown baseball.
And of course that’s the concern, as the Secret Service has come down like a ton of boots on the old brick city with new announced security restrictions almost every day.
Initially, we were told that North Station, right next door to the Fleet Center, would be closed, along with Route 93 downtown, during convention hours from 4 p.m. to midnight. We now find out that 93 will be closed from the Route 128/95 intersection (the ring route well north of the city) to the Mass Pike, south of downtown, along with all the major feeder roads. They’re saying that closure will take place only during convention hours, but think about the struggle to use those roads before 4 p.m. — and then get off. North Station, and therefore all northern commuter rails, will be closed all week long.
“We’re Road Kill” said the big black letters on the front of the Boston Herald when the news hit.
YOU HAVE TO UNDERSTAND two things about Boston. First, it used to be an island. So was present-day Southie, and so was Charlestown, just north of the city, where the Battle of Bunker Hill was fought. So close are even these subsidiary islands that, in 1776, the British, camped in the North End, could hear the colonials building a fort on Breed’s Hill in Charlestown across the harbor. That fort, the site of the Battle, lay within muzzle-loading cannon shot range of today’s Fleet Center.
Second, Boston is small. If you want to do a bunch of municipal errands, as we had to do when we adopted our second child, you walk: from the Secretary of State’s office to the INS to the passport bureau in the Thomas P. O’Neill Federal Building. You could drop in on the Governor and the legislature without going out of your way.
How small is Boston? You know that garden in front of the Louvre, the Tuileries? Louvre on the East, Place de la Concorde on the west, the place where they used to chop off heads and now park mini-cars? You could drop all of Boston in there. You know how far it is from Times Square to Columbus Circle? Same thing. Know the general layout of Santa Monica or Anchorage? You got it.
Mix in our prevailing island roadway system and the draconian Secret Service closings-down, and you have the equivalent of a four-day blizzard. As we have found out in more than one for-real four-day blizzard, Boston holds only a three-day supply of food. Has the Secret Service thought about groceries?
Most people will do just what Mayor Thomas Menino has started telling us to do: stay home. That includes (chuckle) restaurant workers, hotel employees, and bartenders, as well as the truckers who supply those venues. If you live right in Boston or Eastern Brookline or Charlestown or Cambridge, and you can skip work, you ought to have a fine old time, walking around in the glorious weather we usually have at that time of year, visiting friends and sitting outside — providing you’ve stocked up on food and toilet paper.
But I also figure out of town Democrats mostly won’t be doing that. I figure the Democrats are going to have a perfectly rotten time.
Couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch.