Saturday, August 14, 2004

Go directly to Boardwalk

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My wife and our dog went out for a walk the other day. I was supposed to go with them, but by the time I freed my finger from a knot in my shoelaces, they were long gone. So I stayed home to catch up on my drooling.

After a while, they came back home. I asked my wife how the walk went.

"Very nice," she said. "We went up and down the boardwalk."

"Aw, honey, you have sunstroke," I said, stuffing a fistful of crackers into my mouth pensively. "The big black flat thing outside that runs from one place to another is called 'the street.'"

She stared at me for a very long time, deciding whether to kick me in the shin. "I mean the big wooden and concrete boardwalk thing that runs along the Taunton River waterfront in a boardwalk-like fashion," she said. "It takes you all the way from Battleship Cove to Bicentennial Park. It's really nice."

"We have a boardwalk?" I asked. "In Fall River? Since when?"

"You tell me--you make the newspaper, Mr. Newspaper Guy."

"I only read the Jumble and the crossword puzzle," I murmured, hanging my head in abject shame.

To make a long story a little bit longer, the next day we headed down to Bicentennial Park on foot. I wanted to see the boardwalk for myself. The sun was shimmering off the concrete desert at the bottom of President Avenue. Over the burnt stink of car exhaust I caught a trace of salt.

A guy walking in front of me spotted my Red Sox hat and raised his arms straight up over his head, as if hanging on the rack.

"How does somebody like Curt Schilling get beat by the Devil Rays?" he yelled, not particularly in my direction.

"I have no idea," I said.

"And not just beat. He got his [pretend he said 'fanny'] handed to him." I couldn't hear anything else over the hiss of traffic. He kept on yelling and waving his arms, even as he ambled over to Globe Liquors. It was not yet 10 a.m.

When we got to the park, my dog was particularly fascinated with the spot where all the stray cats live. It's right at the entrance. None were around that morning, but we've seen them swarming around before. Once, weeks before, we saw one fall out of a tree, crashing to the ground like a coconut.

Two ladies were playing tennis in one of the four courts they have there--pretty well, actually. They volleyed for a while. It reminded me of a time last year, when my wife and I had tried playing tennis at Bicentennial. We'd driven over there and lugged our gear over to the courts, only to find that both cages of courts locked. Except there'd been two couples somehow inside, playing doubles.

One of the men had jogged up to us, on the other side of the fence, and told us, "I called the city to unlock it, but they wouldn't."

My wife nodded. "Oh," she'd said, and gazed up at the fence. It's at least 12 feet high. I'd looked around for holes in the fence and found none.

The man went back to his tennis game, and we'd walked back to the car, wondering how the hell they got in--or how they'd get out.

But I digress. Getting back to the boardwalk, it hugs the end of the park and flows south along the river toward the Braga Bridge. When you enter it, you'll see two big metal poles sticking out of the ground.

"So nobody drives a car onto it," I explained to my wife.

"What moron would drive a car onto the boardwalk?"

"We're in Fall River," I said. "Some moron will eventually drive a car onto the boardwalk."

A cool breeze brushed the sweat off my forehead. It does something to people, being down there. Maybe it's the smell of warm seawater, the swaying trees across the river and the lap of waves. Maybe it's the sizzle and pop of the electrical transformers by the park.

Whatever it is--Fall Riverites are friendly on the boardwalk. They smile as you stroll by. People laugh. More than one person said "hello" and "good morning," which was pleasant. There were people fishing over by Point Gloria. Some people were sitting around and enjoying the view.

I think I saw a gazebo somewhere--you can use it for gazeebing, I suppose. You can get to the Regatta from the boardwalk. You can make your way on the waterfront without driving. It's cool and breezy there for hot days, and it'll be a beautiful spot to go for a brisk walk in the winter.

Trust me. It's wicked nice.

All the boardwalk needs is a Del's Frozen Lemonade truck, some more trees and a Marcucci's franchise to make it perfect.

It doesn't lower anybody's taxes or create any jobs--unless there's a guy who gets paid to de-splinter the woodwork once in a while, or perhaps the friendly strollers were paid actors--but it's still wicked nice. It's not all about money.

You should probably go visit it now, while it's new and unspoiled. Enjoy the little things that make the city nice, the things you can only see on foot.

We don't have very many wicked nice things like it in Fall River. Most of our recreational water sources are gone--like the waterfall; remember the waterfall? that was nice, wasn't it?--or have highways streaking over them, or have nasty, ugly factories nearby using the water as an industrial toilet. The people who took care of this city before us saw fit to sell off Fall River's nice things for quick cash.

Some people are still hot to do that. They know who they are. Before you know it, the Taunton River will reek from dredging, and you won't be able to see across to Somerset with the liquefied natural gas tankers in the way.

We're lucky to have the boardwalk, so enjoy it. But any Fall River native knows our luck eventually goes down the shitter.

I was thinking about that as my wife, my dog and I made our way home on the boardwalk. One of the fishermen at Point Gloria grunted at us. He shook his head and showed us his bare line.

"Fall River water," he said, then chuckled and cast off again.

I knew exactly what he meant.

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