A few years ago I wrote a column praising the gentrification of Southie, the blossoming of words like “Foodie” and “Provisions” on the storefronts of Broadway. A rising tide floats all parking cones, and I figured that natives and transplants alike would agree that Southie could use a touch of South End upward mobility and maybe 10 percent fewer stabbings. Now, after spending the better part of a week at my place near East Broadway, I have a confession: I was wrong. Enough with the damn yuppies in Southie.
While I don’t have a shamrock tattoo or a cousin who can get you anything you want, we did buy our place in 2004, long enough ago that it was an entirely different neighborhood. I’m not a native, but I have a claim to the past, when there was an independent department store on East Broadway that sold mostly Irish paraphernalia—it was always really busy about two days before the St. Paddy’s parade and mostly empty the rest of the year. Back then, there were two dozen places to grab a steak bomb and nowhere to get sushi. I’m pretty sure a row house on my street was a full-fledged meth den.
Now? The crack house is a luxury condo building with two sprawling garage doors facing the street—thus claiming three precious street spaces. Damn yuppies. The hardware store was replaced by a store that sells “wares,” which are artisan/curated/useless. Damn yuppies. I was in Stop & Shop when I overheard a guy in the beverage aisle ask his Lululemon-clad wife, “Is Poland Spring good enough?” Is Poland Spring good enough? No, you’d better get the Voss. It’s right over next to the DAMN YUPPIES.
Don’t get me wrong: There are upsides to the demographic swing. There’s sushi now, and I like sushi. They brought sand to the beach—literally—and now the Dorchester Bay waterfront is a summertime destination. Also, property values in Southie have increased roughly 95,000 percent since the era when the neighborhood’s main industries were racism and parades. But I feel like the urban-Deadwood frontier vibe is on the way out. And the change happened in a hurry.
I mean, the plot of Good Will Hunting hinges on the idea that Matt Damon should want to get out of Southie. Remember Ben Affleck’s speech to him? Chuckie says, “You know what the best part of my day is? For about 10 seconds, from when I pull up to the curb and when I get to your door, ’cause I think, maybe I’ll get up there and I’ll knock on the door and you won’t be there.” Recent Southie arrivals might wonder why he wouldn’t be there. Ooooohhh! Did he rent his place on Airbnb?
When I moved to town, Southie was a place where you could make margaritas on the sidewalk with a gas-powered blender on a Sunday morning (as long as it was the Sunday nearest March 17). It was a place where we invented a game called “P-I-G darts,” which was like P-I-G basketball but with darts. (That led to riding a bike inside a bar while throwing darts, a situation that nobody there had any problem with.) And the crowds were always lively. I know a fellow who went home from a bar with an older lady we dubbed “Red,” and he reported that when he got back to her place, her laptop was open with porn on the screen. Go Red!
I’m not saying that you can’t have similar adventures today, but there’s a certain link between gentrification and social mores. When there’s a bevy of meth labs and nightly sidewalk fistfights, the pleasures of low-level hooliganism slide under the radar. But as property values go up, tolerance for shenanigans goes down. Could I still ride a bike inside a bar while hucking darts? I kind of doubt it. And I suspect the clock is ticking on rampant double-parking. Which is a shame because double-parking is really convenient—for me, when I’m doing it.
During the past few years, I’ve driven through Southie and noted all the gleaming new condos and swank businesses. The change looks inexorable. But when you actually hang out there for a week and walk the streets, the granular view is quite a bit different. On Emerson, I strolled past a guy on the sidewalk passed out in one of those walking wheelchair-stool things. Next to him, in a parked car, a woman smoked a cigarette while listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd (“Free Bird,” obviously). I was coming from the West Broadway Bank of America, where an armed security guy wearing a bulletproof vest guards the ATM, suggesting that “bank robber” might still be a viable occupation in Southie. Edgy! Actually kind of scary!
Hang in there, old-school Southie. Maybe I can buy homemade granola, but I still like dem apples.