Name a somewhat dirty or distressingly clean food chain location in Boston and chances are I’ve loitered in it. The Panera Bread on Comm. Ave.? Yep. The Burger King on Tremont Street? Check. The Subway on Summer, down the street from South Station? A million times.
A couple years ago, on the morning of the Head of the Charles, I spent hours in the Starbucks on the corner of Beacon and Charles waiting to race. My teammates and I cycled in and out of the bathroom, waiting in line with moms and babies, getting antsier and antsier until we had to leave and hop in a boat. We didn’t want to be outside because it was cold, but being in that Starbucks might’ve been even worse, tempted by stomach-binding banana bread and generally getting in everybody’s way with our enormous backpacks piled high and lanky bodies sprawled everywhere.
But here’s the deal: I know a thing or two about getting in everybody’s way. I’ve spent countless afternoons in the city with hours to kill and $14 burning a hole in my pocket, stranded between high school rowing practices. Back then, and still now, when I’m home, we went to Chipotle what feels like every day, so often that I’ve been to seemingly every one of them in eastern Mass., so often that I can crush two burritos, easy—one isn’t nearly enough, two is pushing a big lunch, if that. I’m versatile, too: I know where you can get killer bubble tea. I know that Caffè Nero is lame. I know that I could survive a nuclear holocaust in Trident. I know the spots to sit around at, people.
So I’ve embraced and take pride in my vast resume of overstaying my welcome. And yet, I’m not even technically loitering anymore. Despite allegedly being an adult, I haven’t shaken the feeling I still have when I go anywhere that my presence is annoying. I haven’t quite processed yet that I can sit around with no fear of being heckled by a cashier or getting a vicious look from a lady who’s just tryna have a coffee when all these loud young people come in and ruin my peace and quiet this is ridiculous. I no longer have hours to kill. I’m just a snacker doing some homework. I’m allowed in these rooms with these people. And so even though I don’t need to, even though, as would once happen, no employee will associate my face with that group of kids who were a total pain in the ass yesterday, I’m always looking for new spots to try out. It’s a little psycho, definitely. But holy moly, sometimes it really pays.
Do me a favor: take your cute self and a pal down Boylston, bang a right on Washington, and stop at the end of the block. Look where you’ve ended up. Take a deep breath, or six. Go inside, have a seat (nobody will help you—you have to find this yourself). What you want, as far as you can tell, isn’t on the menu, so you’ll have to look up and order with your eyes, pleading with the server, inviting them into your soul. “Soup dumplings…?” you’ll say, your heart a drum. They’ll give you a nearly imperceptible eye roll, jot something down, and stroll off. Wait 10 minutes, not quite agonizing, but nearly so. Out will come a steamer basket, dripping with condensation, its layers locked together in a crisp kind of anticipation. You’ll have chopsticks and a deep spoon, and when you lift the lid and the steam rises, the dumplings will seem almost to dry and stick together, and you’ll have to be careful with the chopsticks not to tear the delicate dough. You’ll wiggle and negotiate the dumpling onto the spoon, find a corner to bite off, and get some soup out—it’s salty and rich; you can practically taste the fat; it’ll spill out if you don’t do it right, the dough tearing just like I warned, goodness wasted/paradise lost—and then you’ll work your way to the filling, which is good, yeah, but not why you’re here. Only together does it all make sense. You’ll get to the end of the first one and it’ll be annoying, you’ll wonder if maybe this isn’t how it’s supposed to be. But then you’ll figure it out, and have five more, and they’ll be messy and stressful and who-gives-a-shit good, and then you’ll sit back, completely at ease, having conquered Beantown for the day. Pay, leave, go home, take a nap. You won.
Featured Image by Kelsey McGee / Heights Editor