Because it's a pain in the butt to find me on the Boston Globe website.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Q&A: Paul Demakis

Published 11-27-5, City Weekly

By Peter DeMarco
Globe Correspondent

Paul Demakis (cq) doesn’t look like the other graduate students buzzing about the main lobby of Tufts University’s Fletcher School (cq) on a recent afternoon. He’s got textbooks under his arm and a backpack over his shoulder, but where’s the all-mighty laptop?

“Oh, it’s at home. It’s on the fritz,” he says.

Demakis, of course, stands out in other ways as well. He’s the only student in the Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy program who’s served 10 years with the Massachusetts state legislature. The only student who’s been a hearing officer with the state Appellate Tax Board. And at age 52, he’s about twice as old as his 20-something classmates.

A Back Bay liberal known for battling former House Speaker Thomas Finneran (cq) when few others would, Demakis disappeared from politics about a year ago to become a fulltime student. But his decision to leave the life he knew was hardly a mid-life crisis: Demakis says he’s thought for years about putting his skills as a Harvard-trained lawyer to use promoting development and democracy in the third world.

“Even as early as my second term, or certainly by my third term, I started to think about the future,” he says. “You have to do that. I don’t think (working in the legislature) is the kind of job you should spend your whole life in.”

Demakis, who expects to graduate in 2007, is in Venezuela this semester working for a non-profit group fighting governmental corruption. City Weekly caught up with the former 8th Suffolk District representative during a recent visit home to find out what life as a student is like the second time around.

Q: What’s tougher: cramming for a house bill debate, or cramming for a test?
A: Both jobs require lots of hard work, but in some respects it’s tougher being a student than it is a legislator. And the reason is, you and only you are accountable for your work product in the end. Here I turn the paper in or I don’t turn the paper in. I take the test and pass it or I don’t take the test and pass it. A problem set is due the next day. You can’t say, ‘I’ll have my aid do the problem set for me.’ You do it and you’re up until it’s done.

Q: While in politics you were known as a contrarian. Are you the one guy in class who gives the professor a hard time?
A: (Smiles) No. Not at all.

Q: But your experience lends you views on the world that other students may not have.
A: I’ve had some experiences that have had some relevancy to here that other students have not had. But you know, they’ve had some experiences that I haven’t had. And so I don’t see this as me being sort of another teacher for them.

Q: When did you reach the decision to quit politics and start Fletcher?
A: I had a difficult primary challenge in 2002 because of redistricting. I ended up winning quite easily… but I came back and suddenly I found that my attitude toward the job was changing. I was getting tired of being out every night. I was getting impatient with people asking me to do things that they had every right to ask me to do. I was starting to show the signs of burnout because I had really approached the job in a very intense way for 10 years. I think it is so important to recognize warning signs on the job as soon as they start flashing. And I did.

Q: Your interest in the third world – has that always been something inside you?
A: I’ve always had a great curiosity about the world. But for a lot of reasons, and I kick myself for this, I did very little traveling. Then in 1992 I went to London and, you know, the genie was unleashed. And so I started doing a lot of traveling. In 1998 I went to Asia for a month, followed by Rio de Janeiro in 1999, Uruguay in 2000, and that was when I saw that I really enjoyed traveling in the developing world. When I was in Harvard College (as an undergraduate) I had no interest in international relations. I was an American government guy all the way. Funny the way life evolves.

Q: You announced you were leaving office in April 2004, just five months before Thomas Finneran announced he was stepping down. Had you known he was leaving, would you have stayed?
A: I had a very deep suspicion that he was leaving soon; I even told a colleague of mine. I asked myself would it make a difference? And the answer was no, because there were many other things that were causing me to leave. A desire for more time for myself, just a general fatigue with all the responsibilities of the job, many of which have nothing to do with the speaker of the house. I was ready to go.

Q: This took a lot of courage, didn’t it?
A: I hate to use the word courage to describe myself. I prefer the word risk. There were certainly risks involved, but in evaluating the risks I decided that they were not unreasonable - they were manageable. The most serious risk for me was financial because I felt that I had not saved enough for my retirement. And doing this for two or three years doesn’t help. But I decided in the end I was financially secure enough that I could do it and that the potential benefits outweigh by far the costs. So it was worth taking a chance.

Q: How much pizza have you eaten?
A: It’s a funny question that I’m going to answer in a serious way. (School) has had a negative effect on my eating habits and my exercise. The only exercise I get is walking from Davis Square up to here and back.

Q: You’re happy with your life right now?
A: I am happy with my life right now. And I am having fun.

- 30

Mike's Automotive

City Weekly, 11-27-05

By Peter DeMarco
Globe Correspondent

Auto mechanic Mike Pedersen (cq) doesn’t just have a brain for business. He’s got nearly 20 brains.

And they all showed up at his Union Square shop last Thursday afternoon.

Pedersen, proprietor of Mike’s Automotive Services, (cq) belongs to a small club of auto shop owners stretched from New England to Wisconsin who swap strategies on how to wow customers (offer free Internet access in the waiting room), improve marketing (advertise a “lifetime” oil change service for $169.95) and get in on the latest technology (give technicians touch-screen writing tablets instead of messy paper forms.)

The shop owners even share their finances with each other, pointing out ways to trim expenses, alter prices or change staffing when a member’s shop isn’t doing well.

“In your lifetime, how many automotive facilities have you seen come and go?” Pedersen asked. “It’s not that they’re not good mechanics. Ninety-nine percent of the time they’re not business people. It’s a huge problem in the industry.”

Enter Bottom Line Impact Groups, the Washington state-based organization that put together Pedersen’s club and several like it around the country. Pedersen heard about Bottom Line while at a seminar in 1997. Since joining that year his business has more than tripled in size thanks, in large part, to the innovative and creative practices he’s learned.

“In three years I went from roughly $350,000 to $1 million in gross sales,” said Petersen, 54, who was in business for 17 years before joining the Bottom Line group. “We had muddled through the years, so to speak, and I just knew there had to be a better way.”

Pedersen’s success with Bottom Line hasn’t motivated other local shops to join, however. He remains the only Boston-based member of a group. Just three shops in all of Massachusetts – the others being Browne’s Garage in Norwood (cq) and E & G Automotive of West Springfield - belong.

Pedersen said it’s often difficult to convince shop owners that customers aren’t just looking for lowest price. (His prices are above average, he said.) Joining Bottom Line, meanwhile, requires significant commitments of both time and money. Dues are about $4,000 a year, and members are required to travel several times annually - sometimes flying 1,000 or more miles - to critique fellow members’ shops in person.

Which brings us to last Thursday, when a Peter Pan bus rolled into Petersen’s parking lot shortly after 1:30 p.m. Immediately, shop owners in Pedersen’s club from as far as Illinois stepped off and begin inspecting each aspect of Pedersen’s operation, checking everything from the lines in the parking lot to his employee sick-day policy to the overall happiness of his mechanics.

Because Pedersen has been a group member for so long, and because his shop is almost brand new - he moved from a former horse stable on Medford Street into a state-of-the art facility in Union Square in October 2004 – there were no glaring problems. Nevertheless, Pedersen’s fellow shop owners found nicks in the armor.

“You’ve been making follow-up phone calls to all your customers?” owner Charles Browne (cq) asked Pedersen’s younger son, Mark, (cq) the company’s business manager.

“We haven’t been doing that steadily,” he replied.

Over by the car lifts, shop owner Bill Art (cq) of Edwardsville, Illinois watched as Pedersen’s employees went about their work.

“The customer car had no seat protection,” he said afterwards, clipboard in hand. “We recommend that most shops use a plastic sheet cover in case they get grease on it.”

As usual, group members also learned a few things during the inspection. Several crowded around Pedersen’s older son, Mike Jr., (cq) as he showed off the computerized touch pad that’s supplanted written charts. Others did a double take at the free Internet station and flatscreen television Pedersen placed in the customer waiting room, or marveled at his fleet of nine loaner cars and the cleanliness of his home-quality restroom.

“You see all these things and go, “Wow, can I do this,’” said Browne, one of the group’s newest members. “Your thinking has to be twisted. But once you get educated into it, it’s simple.”

An hour later he and other group members re-boarded the bus and returned to a Woburn hotel, where they compared notes on Pedersen’s shop and wrote up a report card. Following policy, they’ll check back in a few weeks to make sure Pedersen follows their suggestions.

“I have probably 99 percent of my ducks in a row,” he said. “But I knew they’d find something.”

- 30

Postscript: I invited Dad to join me at the last minute, but he had to show somebody some space or something.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

The Great Turkey Walk

Inside Scoop: It's Thanksgiving, so I'm resurrecting my best-ever T-Day story, published 11-27-03 on the front page of the City & Region section. (My second best: Turkeys thumbing their noses at Route 62 traffic in Danvers on Black Friday.) Thanks to my mom, who had her students read a book called the Great Turkey Walk, I actually came up with a new angle for Thankgiving. I remember the morning the story came out - it snowed, and I was in my plowtruck when I picked up a copy at the Melrose Dunkin Donuts.

A real turkey trot
By Peter DeMarco

The image, on today's tableau, would be ludicrous: hundreds and hundreds of gobbling turkeys, farmers at their heels, walking 10, 30, even 100 miles to Boston's markets for Thanksgiving Day, leaving a trail of traffic jams and exhausted (or expired) birds in their wake.

But in the days before railroads, and even up to about the Civil War, when horses and stagecoaches were the favored modes of transportation, the harvest-time turkey walks along what are now Route 20, Route 9, and Route 2 were as much a part of Thanksgiving in New England as the turkeys themselves, historians say.

Farmers regularly prodded the birds from as far as Worcester and southern New Hampshire. A good pace was 2 miles an hour, assuming you didn't need to stop and chase a wayward turkey. Because the journeys sometimes took days, farmers would rest at taverns along the way, giving the innkeeper a bird for the night's stay as their flock roosted in a nearby tree before the next day's march.

''There are a couple of cases where turkeys actually walked from southern Vermont to Brighton. That's the longest walk I've ever seen,'' said Jack Larkin, director of research, collections, and library at Old Sturbridge Village. ''I think that would be a fairly heroic feat of turkey-trotting, as you might call it.''

The turkeys of the early 19th century, historians and agricultural specialists say, were not nearly as rotund as today's commercially bred specimens that seem to stagger just to stand up. Nor were they as large: A big bird in those times might weigh 15 pounds, said Debra Friedman, also of Old Sturbridge Village.

Despite such strenuous exercise, the turkeys did not lose much weight on their journeys, provided they were well fed and given water.

''You might lose a half-pound. Let them stand around in market and let them eat a little bit, and they might put that back on,'' said R.G. Brown, a retired animal science professor from the University of Massachusetts. ''Also, you would take your time. Remember, the turkeys were certainly in no hurry to get where they were going.''

In Boston, the main point of sale was Brighton, where various livestock, from cattle to sheep to pigs, were herded to stockyards that spanned hundreds of acres. But turkeys were also walked to Hartford or Providence or New York City to meet the demand. ''The Great Turkey Walk,'' a children's book by Kathleen Karr, loosely recounts an actual turkey walk from Missouri to Denver.

The droving of animals to slaughter, oftentimes dozens of miles by hoof or foot, was necessary because before the railroads, meat could not be carried great distances without refrigeration.

While cattle are the animals primarily associated with droving, turkeys were equally as adaptable to long walks, said Judy Adams, who owns Adams Turkey Farm in Westford, Vt., with her husband, David, and has researched turkey droving as a hobby.

''They're very easy to herd, especially if the grower is the one who manages the flock. They'll follow a grower,'' she said. ''If you had a cart with shelled corn in front of them and fed them along the way, you could walk them to Alaska.''

''I always think of Gary Larson and the Far Side,'' Larkin said, referring to the satirical cartoonist. ''We know that all these kinds of animals were marched to their doom. What would the turkeys be saying to each other on the way?''

Though farmers were bound to lose a few birds on every trip, even very long walks could be financially rewarding because turkey was considered luxury food.

Whereas a large farm today raises several hundred thousand turkeys, a large farm 150 years ago might have raised a few hundred. Meanwhile, there were few wild turkeys to hunt, said Friedman, coordinator of historical foodways for Old Sturbridge Village.

''People are more likely to see wild turkeys today than people in the 1830s,'' she said. ''New England was almost deforested back then. There wasn't the habitat for most game to survive.''

Although Nathaniel Hawthorne and Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote about the awful traffic jams caused by the annual livestock drives in New England, there are few mentions of turkey droving in history books, historians said. ''It was so commonplace, they rarely mentioned it,'' said Brown.

Local turkey farmers today said they knew little of the lore of the walks. John Pierce, proprietor of Bongi's Turkey Farm in Duxbury, found it hard to imagine any turkey walking more than a few miles.

''I don't think they would have stood up for a longer journey,'' he said. ''I think they would have been exhausted.''

Monday, November 21, 2005

Like the place it's named for, Dotini has a flavor all its own

The recipe was kept secret until Tuesday night, when, before a packed house at the Blarney Stone in Fields Corner, Dorchester’s very own martini - “The Dotini” - made its grand debut. “We’re not the sexiest charity,” explained Bill Richard, who helped organize “Martinis on the Avenue,” a giant fundraiser for both the St. Mark’s Area and Fields Corner Main Streets programs. “So we need to have a sexy" drink. Made with lemonade, Chambord, citron vodka and colorful, stick-to-your-teeth Dots candies, like the kind at the movies, the ultra-sweet Dotini was a hit. Still, we couldn’t help but ask attendees what drink they would concoct if challenged to bottle the many flavors of “Dot” Avenue. “A dirty martini,” barked one local, “because Dorchester is a little gritty, yet a neighborhood with real substance.” “A nice, single malt,” said Fields Corner resident Yvonne Ruggles. “Not everyone likes it, but if you’re a connoisseur, you will find that the flavors mix in your mouth. That’s the joy of Dorchester.” Local insurance agent Karlene Valente would make her drink with ginger – bitter at first, but with a pleasing aftertaste. Larry Slotnick, a Zip Car executive who lives in the neighborhood, said his beverage would taste like a southern barbecue. “I have a ton of neighbors whose families come from the south. People do tons of barbecuing, usually right out in the front yard.” Newcomers Adam and Allison Hodges Myerson, who left cozy Davis Square for the wilds of Fields Corner six months ago, suggested a shot of hard alcohol followed by lime soda from their favorite local Vietnamese restaurant. “You gotta have the contrast,” Adam said. “A shot of Jagermeister is what it feels like when moving to Fields Corner. But then it tastes kind of sweet, and it feels good.” Others said they wouldn’t change a thing about the Dotini, the brainchild of FCMS board member Peter Sasso. They’d even order another. “If you look at the (candy) colors – red, green and yellow – it’s diversity,” said party-goer Treng Huynh, 27. “To me, it does represent Dorchester.”

- Peter DeMarco, City Weekly 11-20-05

Inside Scoop : For a tiny story, this one took mucho effort. Of course, I made it hard on myself. My assignment was to attend the martini party and come up with some quirky angle. But after three hours there, I had nothing. At 3 a.m. I awoke and smacked my head. How could I not have asked people how they'd create a dotini? I spent the morning re-calling everyone I'd interviewed and the piece fell together nicely. Well, I think. Thomasine, my editor, never said boo. Then there was a small crisis because I put the work "drink" in parens in a quote and a copy editor called me on it. You know, he was right: I used a crutch. I was lazy - Richard said the word event, not drink, which was more convenient - and promptly did more reporting. Naturally, Bill Richard's full quote didn't make it in the story because it was too long, but here it is, for the record:

“Does the martini night have a little bit of sex appeal? I suppose it does. We’re more or less telling people, ‘Come out and try the Dotini. Come out and try Dorchester.’”

A few of the more colorful answers - the dirty martini, the barbecue drink - were also cut from the print version of the story because it was too long. Still, it held together well.

A helping of history

Published 11-20-05
Table hopping – Historic neighborhood restaurants

By Peter DeMarco

Thanksgiving brings to mind turkey dinners, football and, of course, local history. So with the holiday approaching, we turn our attention to Boston’s oldest restaurants. The Union Oyster House and Durgin-Park (both founded in 1826) are the obvious choices, but what about historic neighborhood restaurants? In Southie it’s Amrheins, est. 1890. Cantina Italiana on Hanover Street claims to be the North End’s senior ristorante. And in Chinatown, China Pearl has been serving dim sum on and off for decades. If only the Pilgrims had such choices.

1. S&S Restaurant
(Est. 1919)
1334 Cambridge St.
Inman Square, Cambridge

The photographs on S&S’s walls retell Inman Square’s history, from the days of horse drawn carriages to the tumultuous 1970s, when the restaurant’s windows were paneled over out of fears of vandalism. But no photo is more striking than Rebecca “Ma” Edelstein’s (cq) large portrait behind the register. “There she is, keeping an eye on the cash receipts for us,” jokes co-owner Gary Mitchell (cq). Mitchell’s great-grandmother founded her Jewish deli on the simple principle of getting good value for your money. Its success has been dizzying: since opening in 1919, S&S has served more than 64 million cups of coffee, 15 million omelets and 2 million slices of apple pie, Mitchell estimates. There’s a crowd be it breakfast, lunch or dinner, and with more than 200 items on the menu - where else in Boston can one order a bagel and lox, Asian chicken salad or a filet mignon? – S&S has a dish for literally every appetite.

2. Santarpio's Pizza
(Est. 1903)
111 Chelsea St.
East Boston

Cantina Italiana on Hanover Street, founded in 1931, is the North End’s most senior restaurant. But the oldest Italian restaurant in all of Boston stands in Eastie, where Santarpio’s started out in 1903 as a humble bread bakery. “There was only one meal prepared a day, whether it was beef stew, macaroni or tripe on Saturdays. Whatever my great-grandfather felt like making,” says Carla Santarpio, (cq) who runs the restaurant with her brother Frank (cq) and sister Joia. (cq) Their famous thin crust, thick-cheese pizza came along in 1933, according to the family’s 96-year-old matriarch, Anna Timpone (cq). Other than barbequed lamb and sausage plates, it remains the only item on the menu. With lines out the door most nights, no need to ask why.

Frank Santarpio and two freshly made pies. The one on the right is mine. Mushroom!

3. Marliave Restaurant
(Est. 1868)
10 Bosworth St.
Downtown Crossing

Then again, Frank Iacoviello (cq) thinks his (italics) restaurant is the oldest Italian eatery in Boston. “When they had cows up on the Common, we were here,” he says. The Marliave, established in 1868, predates almost every other local restaurant. But it was a predominantly French restaurant – the first in the city to offer haute cuisine, Iacoviello says – before transitioning to Italian fare in 1935. (As for the cows, they were banned from the Common in 1830.) Regardless, in its day, Café Marliave was as famous as any North End ristorante. Generations of Downtown Crossing shoppers still attest that a trip to Boston wasn’t complete without a bowl of the Marliave’s minestrone soup or a plate of its veal parmigiana, both of which are still on the menu.

The sign is so old, the date has worn off.

4. Doyle’s
(Est. 1882)
3484 Washington St.
Jamaica Plain

A saloon. A general store. A betting parlor. A speak-easy. Doyle’s has been them all. JP’s eldest restaurant embodies Boston history, from the wooden booths where generations of city politicians talked shop to the photos of Ted Williams on the walls to the 1907 phone booth once used by bookmakers. “Everything you see here is the real McCoy,” boasts mainstay Gerry Burke, (cq) standing near a 1946 menu board featuring a broiled scotch ham dinner for 30 cents. Burke recently passed the business along to his son Gerry Jr. (cq) and partner Chris Spellman, (cq) but nothing’s changed. Crowds still pour in for Doyle’s 32 tap beers – the restaurant was the first ever to serve Sam Adams – tons of dinner specials and hearty weekend brunches. You might even catch Mayor Thomas M. Menino (cq) dining in the room named in his honor.

5. Amrheins
(Est. 1890)
80 West Broadway
South Boston

Downtown businessman Rick Putprush,(cq) beer in hand, surveyed Amrhein’s spacious new bar room early Wednesday night and gave his review. “Welcome to the 21st century,” he said. South Boston’s oldest restaurant re-opened this week a year after closing for a massive renovation, and while the dark wooden façade on West Broadway remains untouched, returning customers are bound to be surprised when they step inside. Owner Stephen Mulrey (cq) has gone from three rooms to two while replacing every seat, table, booth and lighting fixture in the 115-year-old establishment. Even the bar’s old tin ceiling has given way to a richly lighted vaulted one. Still, efforts have been made to retain much of the restaurant’s old-time character. Photos of legendary mayor James Michael Curley, the restaurant’s adopted patron (he never really dined there, Mulrey said) are omnipresent; the new furniture is rich and dark like before; the carved wooden bar back, dating to 1890, still rests behind the beer taps. New executive chef Janice Silva, (cq) formerly of Le Meridien, says more upscale dishes will dominate the menu. (First-night customers raved about the pork chops and pan-fried chicken parmigiana.) Still, a smattering of old favorites, such as the grilled marinated sirloin tips, are sticking around. “The building was showing its age,” says Pamela Coe, (cq) Amrhein’s president, about the 8-month renovation. ‘‘We tried to mix the old and the new.’’ Will some regulars miss the outdated but familiar version of Amrhein’s? Probably. But far more, customers said, will be glad it’s back. “It was tough when it closed down. My whole family used to come here for dinners and brunch,” said Tim Berardinelli, (cq) 24, of Dorchester, dining with friends. “The food’s better now. And we like the new flatscreens.”

6. China Pearl Restaurant
(Est. 1960)
9 Tyler St.

Chinatown’s first restaurant, Hong Far Low, (cq) opened in 1879 and thrived for about 75 years, locals say. But try finding a present-day eatery with such longevity, and you’ll be out of luck. China Pearl on Tyler Street, which opened in 1960, comes closest to patriarchal status. For years its grand dining room drew customers from across the city in search of late night food, and its dim sum was not to be reckoned with. China Pearl’s current owners close up at 10:30 p.m. and have changed the restaurant’s Chinese name to Lung Fung, which means “the dragon and the phoenix,” traditional symbols of China’s emperor and empress. But the restaurant façade still reads China Pearl, the place still serves a great dim sum, and its large, albeit dated, dining room is still one of the top places in Chinatown for parties and celebrations.

Inside Scoop: I bit off more than I could chew with this topic. The printed version got significantly trimmed for space, but I credit David Abel with maintaining the integrity of the piece. It's really my fault: I turned in 1,000 words for a 700-word space. But the topic was so rich and interesting and hadn't been written about. I've got to learn to save such good ideas from table hop and pitch them for bigger spaces, or even the Food section. Mark my words: my next table hop will be under 800 words.

Since Tom Sheehan has bagged me on a few mistakes recently I took extra pains to report the hell out of this story. It took me a week, and I made just $325 on it, including photos, which sucks. But it's a good piece of journalism. My source list, ala Columbia days:

The Boston Business Heritage Project report, 1997, city office of business and development
Pam Dunaroma, editor, The Post Gazette, North End’s newspaper
Chinese Historical Society of Boston
Wing-Kai To, Bridgewater State College professor
Charlie Rosenberg, Jamaica Plain Historical Society
Frank and Kay Chan, former owners of China Pearl
Interviews with about a dozen restaurant owners not mentioned in the story
Somerville Historic Commission
Somerville Museum
Cambridge Historical Society
Cambridge Chamber of Commerce
Ernie Torgerson, director east boston main streets
Central Square Business Association
Charles Sullivan, City of Cambridge planning department
Extensive Internet research
Zagat Survey 2005/6

One other thing that didn't make it in the story, though I wish the hell it did: Santarpio's really is a dive, and it's so cramped that people picking up take out walk into the kitchen and pay for it there. On weekend nights like a dozen people can be crammed in there as if they were family. It's insane, but it works, and you know, it's kind of nice. Almost forgot - Amrheins is in blue because it appeared as a seperate story in the paper, though it was orginally part of the table hop.