Hunkered Down In South End
"You got any disposable cameras?" I ask the men behind the counter.
"Yep," the tall, black man replies, turning around and reaching for one of many hanging from a rack behind the counter. "Kodak okay with you?"
"Sure," I say, not really caring. I doubt there's really much difference when it comes to disposable cameras. It doesn't look like they carry any other kind anyway. "You wouldn't happen to have umbrellas too, would you?" I ask with a glance out the window. There had been an impending storm brewing all afternoon, and it was starting to look like Mother Nature might make good on the threat.
"We certainly do," the other man, a short and cheery Arabic fellow, says as he ducks underneath the counter and pulls out a small umbrella in a clear sleeve. He places it on the counter and raises his hands above his head in triumph. "We have everything you could possibly need at 7-11!"
"Thanks. You guys are awesome." I pay the men and step outside, turning left to head toward Tremont Street. I fumble with the packaging for the camera and finally manage to remove it, depositing the wrapper in one of the many trash cans lining Berkeley Street. I pop in my iPod's headphones and resume listening to Coldplay's Viva la Vida album for the thirtieth time in three days.
Chris Martin's crooning falsetto echos in my head as I cross Berkeley and head down Tremont. There are a few choice areas with gorgeous architecture that I spotted on a walk the night before that I want to photograph. Gray clouds start to roll in from the east, cascading over the tops of the red brick buildings, and I pick up the pace, hoping to get some shots in before the rain comes. "Yes" starts to play as I take a picture of a gorgeous side alley. Red brick row houses surround a street with trees springing up out of its center, their lush green branches reaching out to shelter the cars lining the sidewalks in front of the buildings.
But night makes a fool of us in the daylight
As if on cue, the clouds grow darker, and the wind begins to pick up. A light rain begins to fall, and people start walking faster. Two girls rush by me and duck into an entryway. I quicken my pace as well and continue to make my way down Tremont, hoping to take shelter in the beautiful old church which I had seen open the other night. Lightning flashes close by and reflects off of the windows of the skyscrapers piercing the clouds behind the smaller businesses lining the road. It's one of those flashes where it's so bright that you know you're going to feel the thunder more than you're going to hear it. A second later, and the roaring percussion rips down Tremont Street, rattling door knockers and vibrating in my chest as if I were standing in the front row of a rock concert.
The wind answers the thunder's challenge and swoops down between the buildings with a ferociousness approaching hurricane strength. It tears at my umbrella, yanking it inside out and nearly wrenching it from my grasp. I break into a full sprint as the rain starts to come down in sheets. I cross a side street and duck into a little corner store, soaking wet after only a few seconds of exposure. It smells of unburned incense and stale coffee. I manage to fix my umbrella and close it, laying it on a plastic shelf. I attempt to dry my glasses with the hem of my shirt, which itself is only partially dry despite having been tucked in. An old man with wrinkled ebony skin and a charcoal mustache is perched on his motorized wheelchair inside the door looking forlornly out into the ensuing storm. A woman with large bug-eyed sunglasses finishes making her purchase and joins us near the doorway.
Tink. Tink. Tink.
The constant hiss of the rain is now interrupted regularly as small hailstones pelt the windows and sidewalk. I take a few steps forward to take a picture of the chaos outside. My camera flashes, and suddenly there is a large black man in a basketball jersey in front of me.
"Look at this!" he exclaims, pealing the drenched clothing from his body. "Two blocks! Two blocks!" No one seems surprised. You couldn't make it two feet out there without looking just like him. "And I was getting hailed on! And when I say hail, I mean hail!" He puts his thumb and forefinger together to illustrate his point and heads to the refrigerator in the back of the store for a two liter of Coke. The rest of us continue to stare at the tempest whipping its way through the city.
Suddenly, the wind shifts and starts throwing hailstones into the store entryway, and the young Asian woman working this shift steps out from behind the counter to close the door. "I've never seen anything like this in all my life!" the buy-eyed lady exclaims. The elderly man in the wheelchair concurs, and they go on for several minutes comparing this storm to others they've seen over the years. I only half listen, my attention mostly focused on the storm and the people still running around in it, some trying in vain to stay dry, others not even making an attempt.
The black man with the soda pays the cashier and steps up to the door. It's stopped hailing now. "Well, here goes," he says with a resigned shrug and runs out into the pouring rain. I'm pretty sure he'd already reached maximum saturation, so I suppose he concluded that it didn't make a difference whether he waited out the storm or just ran the two blocks home.
A few minutes later the rain lessens, and the wind lulls. The old man sets his jaw and gives me a resolute look. "Well, I think I can make it now. It's only just over there." With a nod of the head, he indicates a building a little ways down the street. I hold the door open for him and wish him luck. I decide to take my leave as well, thinking my chances might not get any better. I reopen my umbrella, which is miraculously still functional, and start heading back down Tremont Street the way I had come. Photography would have to wait for another day.
I hurry down the sidewalk, passing a man stubbornly braving the rain without an umbrella, cigarette gripped tightly between his lips. He puffs at it with each step, fighting against the rain to keep it lit. My stomach informs me with a growl that it's time for dinner, and after a couple of blocks, I duck into Emilio's, one of the small family run diners that have sprouted up all over this particular area of South End. Two slices of pizza later, and I'm back in the rain, heading toward my hotel, hoping the storm doesn't pick back up before I reach the sanctuary of the lobby.
I cross Berkeley Street and turn north to follow it a couple of blocks to where it intersects Chandler Street at my home away from home. Along the way, I pass the 7-11 I had patronized earlier. The black man is leaning on the wall in the entryway having a smoke and watching the storm. I tip my umbrella to him and smile. He smiles back and gives a friendly wave as I continue on, my shoes sloshing satisfactorily as I make my way down the stony streets of Boston.