Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Bella Luna Common House — Steve Chiasson

The weekend before Thanksgiving, at the instigation of our super-motivated Boston-based contingent, a bunch of cohousers from Maine traveled south to help “Plaster Boston” with posters and brochures, tapping this significant market in an effort to uncover ten more families — TEN! — for whom Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage is the perfect fit. We know they’re out there. We just need to find each other.

The caper was well planned. We all arrived at North Station around 1:00 and sprang into action, jazzing up our standard marketing posters with dayglow pink and green stickers — “Sustainability, Community, and Affordability!” “Only ten units left!” “One BR units starting at $150,000!” “A fraction of Boston prices!” “Super energy-efficient!” All true.

Our team leaders equipped us with lists of businesses plotted on Google maps, stacks of flyers, tacks, tape and directions to Bella Luna in Jamaica Plain, where we would regroup for dinner at the end of the day. Four teams fanned out to comb four sections of the city, looking not just for places to hang posters, but also for any businesses that might allow us to put up a display or host a presentation. It was an ambitious undertaking. And I had misgivings from the start…

Let’s just say I’ve had some seriously unpleasant experiences involving asking complete strangers for favors, dealing with noisy, fast-paced environments, and getting lost in Boston. Even with Jim, Bill, Sarah and Atkins (Sarah’s service dog) by my side, I felt a slight heaviness in my gut as we headed up the street toward Boston’s North End. At a corner coffee shop near North Station, Bill and Sarah headed off on their own while Jim and I inquired inside. The folks in the shop gladly let us post our materials, supplied the name of the manager, and came over to study the flyer as we were on our way out. So far, so good. At our second stop, Jim slid into a neighborhood laundromat while I crossed the street to another coffee shop. No room for posters there, but they did have space for brochures next to the door. The manager even cleared out some old materials to make space for ours. Maybe this wasn’t going to be so bad.

Back outside the coffee shop, I squatted on the sidewalk and scanned the printed list Jim had previously given me for the name and address of the shop I'd just "postered." Boston Commons Coffee. Check. I looked up, but didn’t see Jim on the street, and so I assumed he’d finished postering the laundromat and had moved on to the next business on his list. OK then. I had a map. I had a cell phone. I knew how to proceed. Feeling somewhat emboldened, I decided to strike out on my own.

First I pinpointed my location on my Google map and headed off toward the next business on my list. At the next intersection, I opened the map to double-check reference points and street names. Hmmmm. The major street directly in front of me was not identified on the map. I walked a few blocks in either direction and still did not find any other streets I could identify on the map. In short, I was lost in Boston. Again! With a map!! Fighting off my upset feelings, I decided it didn’t matter. I could just walk up and down the streets in the immediate area, simply moving block by block looking for any place of business where I might leave materials.

I walked past rows of upscale restaurants, too intimidated to walk through the doors. A couple of pastry shops with lines of patrons stretching out the door were clearly too busy to even speak with me. A butcher shop? Wrong clientele. A small organic grocer looked promising, but I could find no place inside where materials might be left. Same with the gelati shop. I hung a poster in a dingy laundromat and plowed on, struggling now with quickly growing feelings of discouragement. When I found myself leaving the neighborhoods of shops and entering a sort of warehouse district, I turned to retrace my steps only to discover that I now truly had no clue which way to go. On top of that, I was getting cold. And my back, which I’d injured at work earlier in the week, was becoming seriously painful.

I hunkered down against the wind and pulled out the large Boston map Jim had given me, ”Just in case.” It might as well have been in Greek. The streets were too numerous and densely packed, and many were not identified by name. Having no idea where I was, I had no point of reference. I stared at it in dismay. I could have gotten my phone out and called Jim. I could have asked a passerby for directions. I could have done any number of things that involved rational thought, but the reality was that I was completely in the thrall of discouragement, despair and self-recrimination. Blinking back tears, the most coherent thought I could seem to muster was simply, “I’ve got to get back to North Station,” and I started walking.

Fortunately, my choice of direction was sound. Soon things started to look more familiar, and I came out upon the broad avenue that runs down toward the Zakim Bridge and North Station. Now that the worst of the crisis had passed, I felt calmer. I sat on a curbside bench and took out my map and my list of businesses for one more look. Still nothing made sense. The brief thought that I might just resume systematically canvassing the neighborhood vanished in an eyeblink when I realized that daylight was waning. No way was I going to let myself be caught out there in the dark. It was 4:00 o’clock as I rose and headed down two blocks to North Station for a 5:30 rendezvous with the members of my team. I had three businesses listed on my sheet, and felt miserable. A wimp. A total failure.

I spent the next hour and a half watching commuters and Bruins fans come and go, sometimes standing to knead the knot in my back, sometimes sitting with with my head in my hands, staring at the floor. I was in this position when Jim walked up. I was immediately comforted by his companionable compassion. It made absolutely no difference to him that I had only three names on my sheet. Nothing could have mattered less. What mattered was that we were there, together. I almost felt like crying again, this time for completely different reasons.

A short time later at the restaurant, Lindsey gave me a hug and a look that clearly said, “I care about you. ” Denise offered to swap seats so I wouldn’t have to sit apart from the group. From the far end of the table, James noticed me kneading my back and came over to apply some on-the-spot massage therapy. It was heavenly. In the midst of the hustle and bustle of a busy Boston restaurant, two dozen members of Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage sat together, sharing a meal and stories of the day. That evening, the Bella Luna restaurant in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts became our Common House. Looking at those familiar faces around the table and hearing the laughter and conversation I realized that for the rest of my life, unless I consciously choose to, I will never, ever have to be alone in this world. I love these people.

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