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Just back from four exciting days in Plymouth, Massachusetts.

A close family member was married off, the kids saw the Rock, and we all went into Boston.

Sadly, it was not a fully successful trip for me: There’s a holy grail in New England I couldn’t quite get my hands on.

Those of you who know New England know the storied past of Narragansett Beer. Brewed in Rhode Island, it was the dominant beer of southern New England between the end of Prohibition and the early ’80s or so.

The company sponsored Boston Braves and Red Sox broadcasts for many years, making its name and slogan (“Hi, neighbor, have a ‘Gansett!”) familiar to millions.

The beer is also visible in the movie “Jaws,” in a scene where Robert Shaw’s crusty Captain Quint crushes an empty can of ‘Gansett in his fist.

In the ’80s, the brand changed hands, the old brewery closed, sales declined and the beer disappeared. Then, maybe 10 years ago, new owners relaunched the brand.

Unlike other historic beers that have changed hands — Ballantine Ale comes to mind — the new ‘Gansett might actually be better than its predecessor. I’ve never seen a kind word said about the old ‘Gansett, but I’ve heard the new version is pretty good for what it is.

(The new ‘Gansett, strictly speaking, is not New England-authentic; it’s contract-brewed in Rochester, N.Y. But since that’s my hometown, I’m OK with it.)

Anyway: In some sort of cross-promotion with “Jaws,” the brewery recently announced that it’s bringing back its distinctive 1975-style yellow, orange and red cans this summer.

They could not have devised a better promotion to draw me in. I’m a sucker for southern New England, for nostalgia, for history as lived by the average Joe, and for beer.

“Jaws” also happens to be one of my favorite movies.

So, as the kids on the Internet say: WANT.

I eagerly looked forward to some beer-hunting as part of this trip. But visits to five beer-and-liquor stores in the Plymouth area failed to turn up the old-school cans.

I think one of the stores might have had a 30-pack. It was hard to be sure from trying to peek inside the sealed package. At any rate, 30 cans were more than I wanted — especially considering the stuff was gonna spend six hours in a warm car on the way back to Pennsylvania.

All the ‘Gansett lager I could find was canned and bottled in the current packaging. While I wanted to try it, I was too stuck on getting it in the ’75 cans to want it any other way.

(On a secondary level, I was also disappointed not to find any of Narragansett’s porter, which is supposed to be good. I see now it is apparently a winter seasonal. Gonna have to go back when the snow flies, I guess.)

All is not lost for the beer hunter. I am going back to New England next month, and will renew my search then.

I’ll be in western Connecticut — the very edge of New England, and an area more aligned with New York City than Boston. So I’m not sure what the odds are that I will find my great white.

But I will take up the search with single-minded devotion. Quint would expect no less.

And until then, I will fill my glass with something else when I talk of home:


You had to be there.

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Another tease for the previous post before we begin this one. You like anal-retentive quizzes about the kinds of details you can only learn by staring for hours at album covers? Well, we have just the thing for you, Bunky. Go check it out.

I get hung up on music trivia sometimes — like a certain lick on a record, or a cryptic liner note. The post mentioned above will attest to my flights into detail.

But what really gets me going about pop music is the role it plays in people’s lives … the way it sets a backdrop for personal events, and sometimes even seems to comment on them.

By and large, it’s more interesting to imagine the real-life interactions that took place to the tune of “#9 Dream” than it is to imagine Klaus Voorman in the studio laying down the bass track.

(I spent some time on that very exploration once; the results can be found here.)

I was reminded of this yesterday, when I spent some time surfing a scanned-in high school yearbook from the 1970s — specifically, the Norwood (Mass.) High School Tiot, 1976 edition (incorrectly labeled as 1978 online.)

To answer two questions that will inevitably arise: I lived in Norwood about 20 years ago, and a random Google search for my old address led me to the yearbook. And no, I don’t know what a Tiot is.

Anyway, the members of the Class of ’76 were allotted a few lines of commentary along with their senior portraits.

And damned if it didn’t seem like one out of every six seniors had been to the Beach Boys-Chicago concert at the old Schaefer Stadium in Foxboro on June 29, 1975.

References to the show came up time and time again, even from people who left only one or two other notes behind.

It must have been the social event, not just of that year, but of the full four-year enlistment of the Class of ’76. I read the entire senior section of that yearbook, and no other inside joke, reference or event had the shared staying power of the Beach Boys-Chicago concert.

A concert at the end of June would have been a marvelous beginning, not just to the summer, but also to the senior year of the Class of ’76. It must have seemed like a party set up just for them.

Chicago and the Beach Boys were both very successful and in good fighting trim in the summer of ’75, too. So the actual performance was probably pretty solid as well.

As I read the yearbook, my imagination was populated by the kids of Norwood High meeting, greeting, getting together, hanging out, breaking up, hooking up, snogging, arguing, pondering philosophy, scoring mood-enhancers and drinking beers — all set against the backdrop of a summer night’s musical party with 55,000 other people.

And of course, my mind also ran to the unfortunates — those seniors who couldn’t get tickets, or who were otherwise occupied that night.

In particular, I’m imagining some sad-sack senior committed to work that night at a pizza place, putting in time to pay for his gas and grass … and at 11:30, about a dozen of his classmates come waltzing in, ripped to the gunwales, telling him about everything he missed.

I might be over-romanticizing things, but this concert reminds me of one I went to myself, 13 years later.

It was June 10, 1989, and the Steve Miller Band was playing the Finger Lakes Performing Arts Center in Canandaigua, N.Y.

The venue’s management had apparently expected a middling crowd of aged hippies, since Miller hadn’t had a chart hit in six or seven years. But Miller’s ’70s greatest hits album was hugely popular among teens in those days, and the hill of the amphitheater was crawling with kids, like a pre-graduation party for dozens of high schools.

You could probably open a 1990 yearbook from any high school in a five-county range and find at least one or two senior wills with references to the Steve Miller Band at Canandaigua.

The Beach Boys-Chicago show sounds like it was one of Those Shows, only even bigger and more epic.

I wonder if there are members of the Norwood High Class of ’76 who can still close their eyes and go back there … smell the smoke, see their friends and hear the horn section.

I imagine so.

Five For The Record: Massachusetts town line signs.

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A recurring feature in which I look at something I enjoy but have never thought deeply about, and force myself to clearly state five reasons why I like it.

Today’s subject: The big white signs that delineate town boundaries on state-maintained highways in Massachusetts. Proof that you have, in some roundabout way, gotten heah from theyah.


And here’s why I like them:

1. Tradition. It would probably be easier and cheaper to use smaller, plainer square or rectangular signs — the way they do here in Pennsylvania, where the town-line signs are about the size of a mail slot.

But when it comes to signs, Massachusetts is uncharacteristically not much for frugality or plainness. The state has used the big white signs for generations now, in a welcome triumph of tradition over the bottom line.

(The signs, which were once hand-painted and made from wood, are now metal; so in that regard, they are cheaper and longer-lasting than they used to be. They’re still a visual link to the past.)

2. Even more tradition. In a nice touch, the big white signs display the founding year of the community you’re entering.

Massachusetts, especially the eastern half, has some seriously deep roots, and you don’t have to drive far to find communities that date to the 17th century.

I used to go to work every day in a community founded in 1637; and seeing that on the town-line sign made me sit up a little straighter and pay attention. You can’t be a history buff and not like that kind of thing.

(Of course, this argument does a disservice to the Native Americans, who were on the land countless years before Anglos carved it into pieces and put big white signs on every edge.)

3. They’re one thing the richies can’t have. If you can afford a place on Nantucket — or even a long-term rental — there’s probably not much you can’t have.

One thing on the short list is a classic town line sign. That’s because the island of Nantucket is a stand-alone town connected to no other. No town line means no white sign.

You can buy magnets and coffee cups with a white “Entering Nantucket” sign, and there’s even a stock photo of one on the ‘Net, but it’s clearly a Photoshop job. I find no proof online that Nantucket has a classic white sign.

While I imagine wealth can buy all sorts of happiness, I don’t think Massachusetts seems quite the same without those signs around. They’re part of what makes the Bay State what it is.

(The island of Martha’s Vineyard, in contrast, is divided into six towns; and you can find the familiar white signs there. When I hit the Powerball, I know which island I’ll be moving to.)

4. There are 351 stories in the naked commonwealth. For reasons I probably once knew but can no longer remember, the town-line signs are shaped like open books.

The original generation of signs — which apparently began to be retired in the 1970s — had a more defined literary profile, so to speak, as shown in this photo my grandfather took circa 1958:


I love the subtle support for literacy — the idea that books could be so fundamental to society that they would lend their shape to a ubiquitous feature of municipal life.

(Yes, I suspect the Bible may have been the source of book-shaped inspiration here, which does not thrill me. But still. They’re books. Hooray for literacy and learning.)

I also dig the equally subtle suggestion that each one of Massachusetts’ cities and towns has its own story, which is yours to discover — or maybe even help write a chapter.

5. They double as America’s coolest state-line signs. Yup. Take a state highway out of Massachusetts and you get one last book-style town line sign, just to remind you what you’ll be missing up the road:


Edit, December 2018: A commenter mentions that MassDOT standards now call for town and city names to be lowercased on these signs. I recently saw my first such sign in that format, and thought I would post it for anyone looking for such a thing.


Knocking heads with the Sons of Ephraim.

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Now that I’m back home, expect a string of boring travelogue posts over the next couple days talking about where I was and what I was doing over the weekend.

For one thing, I went to the third college football game of my life.

The first was in the fall of ’94. Boston University, which was not yet my alma mater, played James Madison. It rained. We lost.

The second was in maybe ’03 or ’04. The paper I worked for sent me to the Penn State-Iowa game to write a story about local people who tailgate at Penn State games. I got to sit up in the press box and write the story while the game was going on.

I have no memories except that the stadium seemed huge; I got lost looking for my car on the way out; and Penn State lost in overtime, by which point I had found my car and was on the highway home.

(I always disliked Penn State, even before the Jerry Sandusky child-abuse saga went public. It always seemed like Pennsylvania’s collective lips were pressed a little too firmly against Saint JoePa’s hinder.)

This time around, I decided small-college Division III action was the way to go.

So I drove east on the fog-choked Taconic Trail to get to Williams College, where the home-team Ephs took on the Bates College Bobcats against a backdrop that would have been remarkably scenic if it hadn’t been so overcast.


Real men wear purple.

I got there early, had a beer and mingled with the Williams Classes of ’58 and ’63. (By “mingled” I mean “stood by myself within earshot of the tent where they were eating while I looked at their parked Saabs and Volvos.”)

Now *that* is a sweet ride to take to your alma mater's football game on a mellow October afternoon in Massachusetts. I assume they left their fur coats and megaphones in the trunk.

Now *that* is a sweet ride to take to your alma mater’s football game on a mellow October afternoon in Massachusetts. I assume they left their fur coats and megaphones in the trunk.

Once the game got going, I ignored distant family ties to Williams and sat on the Bates side, along with a good, noisy crowd of burgundy-clad State-of-Mainers.

The two teams had at each other using the familiar tools employed by gentleman footballers since the dawn of time — an option here; a pitch to the running back there; plowing off-tackle runs everywhere; and at the end of each sequence, a good healthy punt.

Surprise! A Bates handoff! (I do not think I saw Bates complete a forward pass in the entire first half. In retrospect, I am not even sure I saw them attempt one. Amos Alonzo Stagg smiles upon them from the great beyond.)

Surprise! A Bates handoff! (I do not remember Bates completing a forward pass in the entire first half. I am not even sure I saw them attempt one. Amos Alonzo Stagg smiles upon their single-mindedness.)

Each team scraped across a laboriously earned rushing touchdown.

A goal-line stand for the Ephs' defense. Love the old-school white diamond design in the end zone.

A goal-line stand for the Ephs’ defense. Love the old-school white diamond design in the end zone.

With three seconds left in the first half, Williams’ kicker — whom I’d watched nailing field goals pre-game — hit an especially long effort to give his team a 10-7 lead. (I learned later it was 46 yards, a school record. No wonder he was so happy afterward.)

And then, after a hard-fought 30 minutes of football, with the game very much up for grabs, I got up and left.

For one thing, Williams doesn’t sell tickets; anyone who shows up at Weston Field can watch for free. So I didn’t feel any great regret about walking out on my investment in a ticket.

Also, it had started to rain lightly, and I’d realized that the thick fogbank over my one route back to New York wasn’t going to lift. I had obligations on the other side of the fog, and I decided I’d rather drive through it earlier than later. So I got going.

Watching football close up also reminded me how much trouble I now have accepting the game’s inherent violence.

There weren’t that many injuries, really — not like some NFL games, where somebody seems to go down on every fifth play. And nobody got hurt at this game who couldn’t get up and walk off the field within two minutes.

Still, seeing a bunch of otherwise intelligent young men crash and sway and topple and bend in weird ways kinda lost its interest for me after a while.

I wondered whether it was worth it … whether creaky joints and punch-drunkenness later in life were a justifiable price to pay for stuffing a running play in the backfield on second and 8.

I fear that football, like federal politics, has lost my endorsement — even in the honorable, graft-free precincts.

And that’s a shame, because game day at a place like Williams College is still a great atmosphere, with pride, tradition, lovely scenery, and touches of low-budget ragtag to keep things from getting too fancy.

The Williams pep band, in its entirety. They do a mean version of "Call Me."

The Williams pep band, in its entirety. They do a mean version of “Call Me.”

Weston Field will be significantly revamped after this season. Hopefully they start with the men's room.

Weston Field will be significantly revamped after this season. Hopefully they start with the men’s room.

If I go to another college football game, it will be at someplace like Williams College.

I seem to be averaging one game a decade; I’ll have to re-examine my opinion on violence for sport’s sake in 2023 and see how I feel then.