Earlier this week, I unexpectedly found myself wandering around in a Somerville neighborhood I haven’t visited in a couple of years: Union Square. Union Square has always intrigued me, but it isn’t a place where I ever spent much time, mainly because despite the many promises of the MBTA to expand the Green Line here, it still isn’t on any T line or a bus route convenient to anywhere I’ve lived. But it’s a pretty cool neighborhood. The area has slowly gentrified while retaining a lot of its more interesting aspects, like Asian, Brazilian, Indian, and Italian grocery stores, independent music venues like PA’s Lounge, and tons of neighborhood bars. For history buffs, it has a past steeped in the Revolutionary War and includes the Prospect Hill Monument, a stone tower with amazing panoramas of the Boston skyline. And as I walked down Kirkland toward Harvard Square, in spite of my freezing fingertips, I appreciated the reminder of how walkable Boston and much of the greater Boston area is. Yes, the 86 bus wasn’t coming for an entire hour (for some inexplicable reason given that it was the middle of a weekday), but I knew it was possible to walk to Harvard and catch my connecting bus in less time than that, theoretically anyway.
Issues with the bus aside, mainly what comes to mind when I think of Union Square is two places: Machu Picchu, a Peruvian restaurant I’ve been meaning to try for ages but never seem to get to, and Market Basket, the local grocery store with which I have a love/hate relationship (let’s be honest, it’s mostly hate). Market Basket is a Massachusetts/New Hampshire chain, and I don’t know what the other stores are like, but shopping in this one is more intense than your typical supermarket experience. We used to go there a lot when we lived in the area because it’s cheap and we had no money. (Their slogan isn’t “More for Your Dollar” for nothing. Yesterday, thanks to a friend, I discovered that you can still get about 50 of those tiny, potent Thai peppers for a mere two bucks. Why I’d want that many at once remains a mystery, but at least it’s a cheap one.) But it is not an exaggeration to say that my blood pressure spiked every time I went into the place. No matter what time of day we went, the parking lot was packed, the inside of the store was chaotic, and I got run over by some ten-year-old pushing a shopping cart full of orange soda. The money saved felt worth it in most cases, though sometimes the meat was so cheap I was afraid to buy it. But let’s just say that I look back on my Market Basket shopping days less with nostalgia than with relief that now I’ve found another reasonably priced grocery store that doesn’t make me angry.
There is one more random thing about Union Square that I feel compelled to mention. I confess, I didn’t know about this before doing a little research while writing this post, but apparently Union Square is where marshmallow fluff was invented. In honor of that lovely, sticky condiment, about 6 years back Somerville started hosting a party in its honor. The What the Fluff? Festival sounds so totally weird and wonderful that I may have to check it out this year. (What exactly are Fluff Hair Dos? Fluff jousting? And how did they get the former Cindy Brady to show up to sell fluff-inspired artwork?) If I can just keep my mouth shut about kind of hating fluff, maybe I’ll get to enjoy some jousting and a dinner at Machu Picchu, all in one day.