07 December 2008
ode to mill road
When I have occasion to explain to somebody how far from the center of Cambridge I live, I usually give them this metaphor: if Cambridge is the solar system, and you take King's Chapel as the sun, I live a little bit past Saturn. There are plenty of people who live farther out in the sticks than I do, but I still have a pretty hefty commute to most places. That's the downside of my living situation.
The upside is that I get to live half a block off Mill Road, which is Cambridge at its most multicultural and bohemian. Mill Road is roughly two miles of nonstop restaurants, shops, bakeries, cafes, pubs, and small ethnic grocery stores of every variety. It has banks, hookah bars, a thrift store, churches, a mosque, and a cemetery. Here is a true story from Mill Road: after purchasing Filipino beer at the Chinese grocery, I walked past the Polish grocery to a French-themed, Moroccan-owned cafe, where a cute Lithuanian barista serves me Costa Rican coffee. It's the kind of place that would make Thomas Friedman pass out with excitement. A friend suggested I should send him this anecdote and perhaps it could be the basis of a new book. The World Is Mill Road?
My favorite Mill Road haunts include Carlos' Kebab King, where a garrulous Turk serves up delicious £3 falafel, and CB1, which claims to be the world's oldest internet cafe. (The name comes from the first three characters in the postal code that covers this part of Cambridge.) CB1 started mixing coffee and e-mail in 1995, and during the Mill Road Winter Fair this weekend they displayed some of their original computers in the window. The one on the far right is the original Apple Macintosh, which I remember from my elementary school days:
The above-mentioned Winter Fair was a great way for Mill Road to strut its stuff, and the chronically busy sidewalks were even more jammed with humanity than usual. During the fair, as I walked over the railroad bridge that roughly bisects Mill Road, I happened on a scene that captures the spirit of the neighborhood beautifully. There was a band of about 50 or so t-shirt clad people of all shapes, sizes, and ages playing drums and other percussive instruments. There was a small crowd gathered around, with hippies and church ladies and little kids boogeying to the music, and bubbles floating through the air. It sounds ridiculous as I type it out, but I loved it. Mr. Friedman: the Mill Road theory of world peace?