This past week, I returned to Boston for my longest visit since the summer of ’89, when I rented a flat in Cambridge with some friends from high school. By the time of my mid-June arrival (UCSB wrapped up just days before), most of the decent summer work had disappeared. I didn’t have the freedom not to work, so I parsed the classifieds daily, made plenty of phone calls, and landed a gig as a valet, working evenings on the North End and north of the city on Route 1. Most restaurants hired out for valets, contracting with a company.
Davide occupied a lower level space on Commercial Street, seated 70 maybe (I was only inside once), and for years was a favorite ristorante for well-respected Italian families (read: mafia). Like any valet job, the cars pulled up, you tagged their keys, provided the driver with a receipt, and parked the car alongside a loading dock, just shy of a 1/2 mile away. I was a runner of sorts, so on the weekends, when we had two valets, the work was easy enough.
During the week, though, I was on my own, and I remember well the birthday celebration of the mother of a local don, to which no one apparently dared arrive late. Just as I was greeting the first guest, eight more cars arrived: the drill was to tag the keys, toss them under the driver’s seat, greet the next guest, and repeat. Then, once all the cars were tagged, I drove the first one down to the dock, parked it, locked it, pocketed the keys, and sprinted back for the next car. The cars up-for-grabs included three BMWs, a Jeep Cherokee, two Lincoln Towncars, and three Mercedes sedans. At the dock, during those few seconds I had no sight lines back to Davide. In one of the BMWs hung a prayer card for St. Christopher, the patron saint of drivers. As I locked the driver door, I made my own offering to St. Christopher and, with five pounds of car keys bouncing in my pockets, ran.
When David, my boss (and no relation to Davide), arrived later, he asked about the party. “Did you park the Cherokee?”
“Yes,” I replied.
“Did you look under the seat?”
“Oh, there’s typically a shotgun there, and a revolver in the glove box.” David smiled. I was 20, he was maybe 24. I liked Marty, the company owner, and admired his moxy and grit. David was simple by comparison, though he never struck me as dishonest. He savored my suburban naivety, and his own self-satisfaction, especially when he could bestow life lessons to his new Californian charge. “I could never live in California,” he told me. “I could never leave the culture.”
This past Friday, I wanted to see what was left of the North End I knew, and biked into town from Jamaica Plain along the southwest corridor. I improvised my way to the North End, to see what was left of Davide, which had served its last meal late last year: the awning remained, and little else. Down the street, the loading dock had given way to townhouses. Oh, capitalism: I stand in awe of your capacity for creative destruction.
More on my time in Boston before too long.