Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Discovering Castle Island and Sullivan's

I'm surprised to have discovered the foil to New York's trendy-but-delicious Shake Shack, in Southie of all places. The unsurprisingly named Sullivan's, a long-operating burger and seafood shack, serves as the gateway to the best part of Castle Island Park and all the urban treasures it offers.

Last night, I showed up at Castle Island for the first time ever before taking in a show at the Pavilion. I had always wanted to check out the park and fort at the mouth of Boston Harbor. City Point, the location of Castle Island, is only about seven miles from Teele Square. After spending way too much time installing a rear fender on my new bike, I headed out across much of the city at rush hour. No cars drove into me, and I arrived at Castle Island in about 50 minutes, starving.

I expected that once I arrived, I'd take a peek at the harbor and then find a slice of pizza deeper within Southie. Upon biking into the park's crowded lot, though, I noticed that everyone around me was eating crinkle-cut fries. A brick building with the word Sullivan's on it seemed to be the source of the fries. I locked my bike to a tree (where are the bike racks, DCR?) and entered.

Inside, chaos! Picture a Revere Beach street scene on steroids and/or coke--well, more steroids and more coke. To use one of my mother's favorite words, the scene around and within Sullivan's on an average weeknight is absolute BEDLAM. The diverse crowd swelled and ebbed as employees barked order numbers. Behind the counter, nearly a dozen teenage white girls in green t-shirts and shorts took the orders, counted the cash, did the cooking, handed out cardboard trays of food to their more diverse customers. I asked if it was always this insane. Yup, the girl said. I paid her just $4.75 for a cheeseburger, fresh-seeming fries, and a soda.

I ate outside with dozens upon dozens of others, taking in the sickly salty yet soothing and cool air of the North Atlantic. I watched joggers and walkers ring Pleasure Bay, but what I really wanted to see was the harbor, which was just over a hill, behind the the old fort and out of sight. By the time I finished my fries, I was already late to meet my friend at the Pavilion. I took a quick walk to the real waterfront anyway. I checked out the little fishing pier that I've seen a half dozen times from the Harbor Islands ferry, and it was crowded as always. Giant, widebody aircraft roared overhead, beginning their transatlantic journeys. A middle-aged nerd with a giant, old aviation frequency scanner repeated the air traffic commands for his wife. Castle Island seemed the rare place where you could show up anytime with a camera and find great shots of people doing whatever they do.

What makes Sullivan's and Castle Island truly great is their location--urban, yet desolate, at the tip of Southie and nestled behind the Conley Container Terminal. This keeps the people real. Meaning: you'll see families of all colors and sizes, a guy with a horrendous, undressed, facial knife wound waiting next to you for his burger, small children and old men staring upward in wide-eyed wonder at giant aircraft roaring overhead, and no suits whatsoever. I like it there, and I will go back soon.

What do you see? -- Posted like silent sentinels all around the town, stand thousands upon thousands of mortal men fixed in ocean reveries. Some leaning against the spiles; some seated upon the pier-heads; some looking over the bulwarks of ships from China; some high aloft in the rigging, as if striving to get a still better seaward peep. But these are all landsmen; of week days pent up in lath and plaster -- tied to counters, nailed to benches, clinched to desks. How then is this? Are the green fields gone? What do they here?.
--From the few pages of Moby-Dick that I read

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