(Wei Guo photo)
Four years ago this month the Somerville stringer for the Globe's City Weekly section emailed me to say, well, the baby's coming right now, so you'll just have to start this gig by interviewing the mayoral candidate I was supposed to interview tomorrow.
The city where I live has been my primary journalistic focus ever since—even after the Globe replaced its weekly print coverage with daily online content.
(The former stringer also clued me into the crucial fact that the city televises the board of aldermen meetings—and, now, webcasts them—and thus one can watch the meetings comfortably at home, with a steno pad and a glass of wine.)
It's been the easiest job in the world. Who could run out of story ideas? Somerville is the site of negotiations, shared concerns, fun and occasional clashes between the city's many groups. There are the old immigrants from Greece, Italy, Ireland and Portugal, and the new immigrants, who started arriving 30 years ago, from El Salvador, Brazil, Haiti and Cambridge. The past meets the present meets the possible future: In the air you can almost see the old rendering plant on the Mystic and the outline of an Ikea.
The ordinary e-mails come in to me as usual— the board of aldermen schedule from Peter Forcellese, the transportation advocates discussing the Green Line and the call for DJs to create a "Monster Mash" mashup that doesn't seem to quite grasp the concept of "mashup." Though I'll be at my new job in the WGBH newsroom by the time you read this and the City of Somerville will probably lose its status as No. 2 on my most-frequently-called list, it is impossible to imagine I won't want to know what's up at home.
When you write about a city, your stories paper over everything you see. Walking up Walnut Street, I think about the woman who circulated blank books in Somerville cafes to start the conversations people seemed to shy to speak, and about mayoral spokesman Michael Meehan's casual comment when he first came on the job that he bikes to City Hall straight up that very steep street.
The charmingly irascible Globe North and Your Town hyperlocals editor has asked for a list of favorite columns, so:
GREATEST FAILURE OF A DRAMATIC ARC: My first column as a Somerville stringer site profiled a long-shot mayoral candidate, Suzanne Bremer. My last was supposed to weigh in on the ward 7 alderman race and its fascinating illustration of the tense relationship between Somerville's "progressive" and ordinary Democrats. Time ran out. Many apologies to candidate Katjana Ballantyne, who gave up an hour of her time for an interview.
BIGGEST SURPRISES: I sat the Friday before Thanksgiving, despairing over what on earth I could cover that weekend when absolutely nothing was happening over the weekend. Somehow I came up with the idea of surveying the city's supermarkets. Turns out everyone has an opinion on supermarkets.
Also, Freecycle. After I wrote about the useful free-stuff-swap online tool, a whole lot of people subscribed. Talk about article metrics.
BIGGEST CONTROVERSY: I'd say the story exploring the concerns some parents felt about the school system edged out last year's Union Square "Hey did you hear the city's going to pave over Ricky's Flower Market and turn it into a parking garage" debate. That would be as evidenced by the toll exacted upon me by the city brass: a 75-minute discussion with the mayoral, school committee and superintendent versus a 45-minute discussion with the head of the planning department.
MOST OBVIOUS BID TO WRITE FOR THE NEW YORKER: I call a tie between the scene of the at-large aldermen celebrating their 2009 reelection and the Haitian immigrants waiting to hear from their loved ones after the earthquake. Unfortunately it's called the New Yorker, not the Greater Somervillen.
MOST LIKELY TO BE QUOTED BY ME AT PARTIES: It's remarkable how a good strong recitation of the Somerville Journal's "Speakout" anonymous call-in line can get a party going. I only wish we had mocked up a proper quiz interface to give more visibility to the ways in which Somerville, Massachusetts is a whole lot like Summerville, Georgia.
UNSUNG HEROES: Judging from the lack of comments, no one ever seemed revved by the do-gooder stories—Florence "Fluffy" Bergmann at the Mystic Learning Center, high school valedictorian Jessica Menjivar, the Gartland family making sacrifices to care for their ailing matriarch at home—even if a well-known corporation did jump in to offer hardworking teen Kathleen Portillo a whole whack of free school supplies.
MY EDITOR'S FAVORITE COLUMN I WISH SHE WOULD FORGET ABOUT: I cannot still dance the "Thriller" dance. I do not still own the bloody vintage prom dress. I don't know if the organizer of Somerville's "Thrill the World" world record attempt still works at Bloc 11. The world turns and we all move on with it, even in Somerville.
Mostly. The board of aldermen meets this Thursday. I'll see you on the couch. Someone bring the wine.