Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A Minnesotan’s impression of Davis Square in Somerville June 9, 2016

Banners mark Davis Square in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Banners mark Davis Square in Somerville, Massachusetts.

UP UNTIL RECENTLY, I was unfamiliar with squares. Not as in geometric shapes, but as in a geographical location in a city. When my son, who lives in Somerville, Massachusetts, would talk about Davis, Harvard and Porter Squares, I pictured a park-like setting centering cultural events.

A streetscape in Davis Square.

A streetscape in Davis Square.

Well, a square is not exactly or solely that. Rather, the two squares I visited (Davis and Porter) recently are the convergence of about a half-dozen streets with businesses surrounding them. These seem city versions of small town Main Streets with a mix of retail, restaurants, professional, service and entertainment oriented businesses and nonprofits packed into a compact area.

A biker squeezes around a bus in busy Davis Square.

A biker squeezes around a bus in busy Davis Square.

Sure, there’s a bricked area with picnic and patio tables, benches, trees and art in Davis Square. But lacking are the lawn, abundance of flowers and water features I expected. Hard surfaces handle the heavy pedestrian, bike and vehicle traffic that make this place visually chaotic for a rural Minnesotan like me.

A snapshot of pedestrian traffic.

A snapshot of pedestrian traffic.

When my husband, son and I—all native Minnesotans—waited for the “walk” signal to cross a street, we found ourselves standing alone while others hurried around us, intent on getting wherever they were going. Pedestrians obviously rule here. People just step right in front of vehicles, seemingly oblivious that they could be struck. That, more than anything, scared me during a recent trip to greater Boston.

Mass transit is a necessity in this densely populated metro area.

Mass transit is a necessity in this densely populated metro area.

As for the converging streets in the square, you better know where you’re driving. Sort of like roundabouts but not, these intersections are confusing to someone unfamiliar with the streets and how the traffic pattern works. I understand why public transportation, available at the squares, is the preferred way of getting around.

On a beautiful late May afternoon, we chose to dine outside The Boston Burger Company.

On a beautiful late May afternoon, we chose to dine outside The Boston Burger Company.

That all said, I enjoyed people-watching in Davis Square where the three of us dined at The Boston Burger Company late on a Monday afternoon.

The 420 burger was way too thick to fit in my mouth.

The 420 burger was way too thick to fit in my mouth.

I ordered the 420 burger (mozzarella sticks, fried mac & cheese, onion rings, fries, bacon, golden BBQ sauce and American cheese) available at 4:20 for $4.20.

That sandwich board would be for a burger.

That sandwich board would be for a burger.

And, yes, 420 was explained to me as I was totally clueless that it references cannabis. Anyone who knows me well would also be surprised that I actually ate a burger.

My son let me sample his King burger. I loved it. And the beans were great, too. Authentic Boston baked perhaps?

My son let me sample his The King burger. I loved it. And the beans were great, too. Authentic Boston baked perhaps?

The husband, as I expected, ordered his predictable burger, one topped with blue cheese. The son chose The King, a burger featuring peanut butter, bacon and a fried banana dusted in cinnamon and sugar. It was delicious.

I regret not taking the time to step inside this theatre.

I regret not taking the time to step inside this theatre.

I’d highly recommend dining outside The Boston Burger Company across from the Somerville Theatre for a front row seat to people-watching. I was thoroughly entertained.

Most cyclists take biking safety seriously. And they should given the heavy vehicle traffic.

Most cyclists take biking safety seriously. And they should given the heavy vehicle traffic.

The list of characters was ever-changing. From the inebriated man whom we worried was about to pee in public, to the young man dribbling a basketball, to the cyclist businessman with his pants legs rolled up to the woman with crimson hair to the chain of daycare kids to the man shouting to himself, I could have penned a dozen stories prompted by the people I saw.

I noticed lots of kids with their parents when I was at Davis Square.

I noticed lots of kids with their parents when I was at Davis Square.

One thing was particularly noticeable to me. With the exception of parents and their kids, I noticed few people interacting. It was as if all these individuals crossing Davis Square were in their own little worlds, en route to wherever they needed to be. The pace was hurried. The scene reminded me of the ants in the Ant Hill Farm my oldest brother had as a kid.

This is the most unusual cyclist I saw with his son riding in front.

This is the most unusual cyclist I saw.

I understand that those who frequent this area may not view Davis Square as I did on a late Monday afternoon in late May. And that’s OK. I was, after all, simply a visitor from Minnesota not widely-traveled outside the Midwest.

BONUS ART PHOTOS:

This colorful art creatively disguises a utility box. I love this type of street art.

This colorful art creatively disguises a utility box. I love this type of street art.

One of two sculptures I spotted.

One of two sculptures I spotted. The bronze masks on the Davis Square sculptures were installed after the original sculptures were vandalized. The sculptures are based on actual people who lived in the Square area.

I spotted this sign while dining, but then forgot to check out the park once I finished my burger.

I spotted this sign while dining, but then forgot to check out the park once I finished my burger.

Lucky for us, there was room to park in one of the public parking lots late on a Monday afternoon.

Lucky for us, there was room to park in one of the public parking lots late on a Monday afternoon. That’s where I photographed the colorful car art.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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