Three mornings a week, I ride the red line to the top of Charles Street, walk down Charles, then 15 minutes more through Boston's Back Bay. Charles Street, with its antique shops, gas lamps, lumpy brick sidewalks, and tony boutiques, is on every Boston tourist's agenda. But in the mornings, before the shops open and the tourists hit the streets, you realize it's also a living, breathing neighborhood. Paper bags filled with fresh bread lean up against restaurant doors--and apparently no one steals them. An orange and black cat sits in a pool of sun, staring at the passersby, waiting to be let back inside before the crowds arrive. Neighbors out for the paper or a coffee stop to talk on street corners. And anyone who owns a dog is out walking.
Week to week, I see many of the same people--and dogs. There's the scrappy terrier in a Burberry sweater. Gus, the bulldog, who walks at a snail's pace off-leash, periodically stops to stare at the ground, as if he's pondering exactly how and when life passed him by. And my favorite couple, an old man/old dog pair: The gentleman is as grey as his husky, but tiny by comparison. Every morning, they walk to where Charles meets Beacon Street. To the left is the Boston Common; to the right is the Public Garden. As though it were choreographed, the gentleman turns the corner, heading to the left, and dog leans to the right. They stand there for a moment, in a fierce battle of wills. Man yanks on the leash; dog hunkers down, putting his weight into it, until his front end is anchored to the sidewalk, back legs braced for stability. Like a crabby old married couple, they stand there for a few minutes, in bitter and public disagreement. Eventually, the man gives in, but not without a fight. "You are so STUBBORN," he growls from between tight lips. The dog, unbothered by the insult, trots off to the garden.