In winter I don’t get around the neighborhood as often on foot. The last week or so has been a pleasant exception to that rule and I found that each experience brought with it different insights regarding the state of the city.
I got down to the box office a little bit early to get T-birds tickets as last week’s Throwback Game had sold out, and that is starting to occur with wonderfully alarming frequency. I had the chance to thank the new general manager of the club for “saving hockey in Springfield”. I told him that I was a fan going back to the Coliseum days. He asked me my name and thanked me for the kind words.
My Baby Boomer self always arrives much too early to these things, and my Millenial friend arrived, as usual, neither early nor late. In the interim I saw an old high school acquaintance, a friend of a friend of a friend, waiting for his date to arrive. His demeanor and speech reminded me of my white working class roots. Nearly all of my friends from high school live in the inner ring of suburbs around the city, if they still live in the area, and that is where the culture in which I grew up still exists. Hockey is one of the things that can lure them back; at least for an evening.
My Millenial friend is a committed urbanist and brings the zeal of the convert to his efforts in the city. He describes himself as coming from a much more environmentalist starting point, but he has undergone a shift to more systematic green urbanism which includes everything from economics to transportation. He’s got the right mentality: it’s about fighting the fight, not about winning…at least in the near term.
Big crowd, big T-birds win, invigorating conversation, and more than a little nostalgia.
After my Community Preservation Committee meeting I walked back through Court Square. As winter evenings go it was pleasant, and so there was something unnatural about how empty this most beautiful of public spaces was. Having spent so many years in Spain, the idea of such a space being so empty at eight thirty in the evening was disheartening, if predictable.
Court House Walk, what should someday once again become the city’s most popular, as it is the city’s most authentic, pedestrian street was brightly illuminated and so I walked through that desolate pathway to the entrance of the MGM South End Market to use the facilities there. As starkly abandoned as was Court Square, so was this place surprisingly vibrant; dozens eating in the ersatz marketplace and hundreds more on the gaming floor.
It has been a least a dozen months since we were told an announcement was coming regarding MGM, Peter Pan, and the Court Square Building. Perhaps no news is good news.
My wife and I had a parent conference for Luna at her school. As I had taken a few hours of personal time during mid-term exams to attend, and none of my classes were scheduled for that day, we took a few minutes to have some breakfast and debrief.
It was 8:45 and so we decided on a breakfast panini and coffee at Hot Table. We hadn’t done that for a while and it turns out that the owners had acted on that behavior and were no longer serving breakfast. Strike one.
My wife remembered a place on Market Street that was touting its breakfasts on social media; opening at nine. Strike two.
Peeked around the corner; “Nosh” wasn’t open. Strike three.
Luckily, breakfast isn’t baseball; Palazzo was open “already”. We each got a coffee and a breakfast sandwich brought to our cute little table in a back room from which we could see the magnificent architecture of some of Springfield’s best 19th century buildings. Dozens of people were wandering through what has been made the most dynamic urban space in Springfield; C’mon Evan, you’re making everybody else look bad!
I’m sure if these places don’t open until nine it must be that not enough people stop in on the way to work to grab coffee and a croissant. Evan’s is the largest building downtown without on site parking, perhaps his tenants don’t stop at the drive thru on the way in to work because they know they will walk by Palazzo. If someone works at Tower Square or Monarch Place on site or skywalk connected parking encourage different behavior.
The Student Prince. 5 times a year Springfield’s most famous eatery hosts a 6 course Beer Dinner. My wife and I attended the very first one just over a year ago and haven’t been able to go since either due to schedule conflicts or because they had sold out and we couldn’t get tickets. As odd as it may seem, neither one of us is a beer connoisseur, or even a beer aficionado, but the food has been spectacular, the company engaging, and the beers, interesting.
Last time we sat with some interesting people and spent much of the night discussing the food, the beer, and the absolute ridiculousness of much of modern art and architecture. One of our table mates was enamored of the avant-garde. He tried the old “you just don’t understand it” ploy; ah yes, “The Emperor’s New Blank Canvas”!
This time the primary topic was MGM, though we spent some time discussing drama as an outlet for adolescent creativity, Mayor Sarno, and, as the men seated near us were all suburbanites dining in downtown Springfield, the changing attitudes of people in suburbia towards the city. The two brothers and their step-father were headed to MGM after the meal. Their experiences had matched ours; the design and physical plant of the project were top-of-the-line, the quality of the food and customer service, not so much.
I expressed my view that I’m happy that it is so. I was concerned from the very beginning that MGM’s dining options might be of high enough quality, and low enough price, to siphon away customers from classic downtown and South End establishments but, honestly, anyone with any knowledge of the area knows you can get better food at a fraction of the cost if you walk a block or two; Red Rose being the prime example. I do wish the customer service at MGM would rise to the level of what I’ve heard one sees in Vegas, instead of sinking to Springfield’s less rigorous “oh, are you still here” standards.
Our table mates were passionate about this being Springfield’s shot; what we need is for local entrepreneurs to fill the vacant storefronts across the street from the casino. From an urbanist perspective the buildings are the best, nearly perfect in every way…except for the almost total lack of anything happening I mean.
My wife and I enjoy reliving one of our first great adventures from the early days of our relationship. On one of her first visits to Springfield she got snowed in and we wandered down Main Street in the aftermath of the storm, sometimes swimming through waist deep drifts of fine, powdery snow, until we made it to Panjabi Tadka. After yesterday’s storm then we wandered down to MGM, knowing that, while just the hotel restaurants are open on most Sunday mornings downtown, and we had eaten recently at La Fiorentina, the one place open on Sunday’s in the South End, and in the aftermath of the storm it might not be open.
The TAP sport’s bar at MGM had been advertising its weekend breakfast options and we knew it would be open. With Luna in tow we trudged through the sleet and made our way down to the resort casino. There was one very overwhelmed waitress in a half empty dining area, the table had either salt or sugar all over it, it took a while to get us our food (though we weren’t in a rush), and the food was average, which is to say aside from being in larger quantities, roughly on a par with Friendly’s…but at 3x the price.
On the other hand, it was actually open. One very deeply held Springfield tradition is to just not be open even when YOUR schedule says you WILL be. My wife and I got up early one Sunday, years ago, to have brunch at Chef Wayne’s Big Mamoo…their last brunch of the season…through June…and on that last Sunday in June on that bright Sunday morning…closed. Nadim’s went to great pains to push its New Brunch Tradition…a few weeks in, having purchased a Groupon…off we went…to find it closed, and Nadim’s no longer offering brunch.
As Woody Allen might have said, “90% of restauranting is just being open.”