Random Thoughts

Seven minutes at Main and Foster

... living in a special suburbia

by Don Norris

I was downtown on an errand just as a perfectly beautiful sunny New England day turned sour. Within minutes the huge billowing gray clouds swooped over the Fellsland ridge to our west, blanketing the valley in a blue-gray half-light.

The storm was only minutes away.

As I came out of the bank, a police SUV glided silently through heavy downtown traffic -- no siren, but blue lights signaling emergency. He wove in and out of the cars, pushed through the red light at Foster, and was lost among the traffic to the north. I have no idea what he was after.

Interrupted, I stopped to view this new gray-blue downtown. I noticed that the toystore and beauty salon on the east side of main had been boarded up, and there was obviously rebuilding going on. That old building must date back to early 1800s, while the commercial enterprises on the ground floor changed, generation by generation. In the 1930s that building housed Smith Chrysler, which didn't survive the war.

I noticed that East Foster had been blocked with a detour sign -- just as a big shiney black six-wheeler maneuvered past. Obviously Claire and his electric truck had business on Foster and wasn't about to let a little thing like road constuction interfere.

Just then a lady with two dogs on her leash lingered at a store window, just when a fellow dog-lover happened by. The man squatted down to pet the dogs, and the two humans began a prolonged discussion -- he stayed down there with the Boston Terriers (I think) all the while.

That's when the alarm went off. Engine One and the ambulance roared out of the firehouse, right down through the heavy traffic, siren blasting, undulating horn echoing off the buildings along Main Street. It was a terrible racket. The engine, as big as it was, squirmed through some small holes as drivers sought to make way. They went straight south, still darting and weaving through heavy morning traffic.

No telling where they went.

For a few more minutes I watched the pedestrians -- unusually heavy for a Friday morning -- walk through the business district. Funny, but Melrose, which is surrounded by malls in all the adjoining towns, maintains the viability of its quaint Victorian downtown. Thank the Chamber of Commerce for that. And the city fathers.

An overweight bikey on a loud Harley motored around the corner, onto West Foster. One could count the explosions of the V-twin, for he was lugging that engine. Boom-boom, boom-boom. Too loud.

I watched as shoppers paused at the impromptu vegetable stand that sets up two or three days a week in front of the YMCA. Apparently this venture remains profitable, while the farmers' market behind the firehouse is now down to two farmers -- one of whom grows plywood lawn ornaments.

Seven minutes had passed and I had shot some 24 photos. As I walked down Main, I couldn't help but notice, in the window of our gift shop, a beautiful painting, a city painting, by Melrosian Eva Cincotta. It was at that point that the sky opened and rain came in huge half-inch droplets. I ran the remaining hundred feet to the car, but was uncomfortably doused, camera and all.

All in seven minutes in downtown Melrose.

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