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Saturday, June 17, 2006


The REAL Heart of the Commonwealth

For years Worcester had its share of colorful characters. There was The Whistler. I'm sure many people remember him. Walter somethingorother was his name. I think he lived out in Spencer. I also remember he'd been through some rough times in his life, maybe he'd gone to jail for something he hadn't done ... I can't remember the specifics.

There was Charlie the Yankee Fan, aka just Charlie the Yankee, one of the friendlier characters on the common. He used to keep order downtown and made it his business to warn people if they were vulnerable with their purses open or with cash hanging out of their pockets. Charlie once put a "Billy's Back!" Billy Martin bumper sticker on my car as a joke. He was killed in a fire on Green Street.

Then there was the tiny strawberry blonde woman with the red face who walked relentlessly all over the west side. I never knew her name, but if you ran into her she'd invariably ask you if she looked overweight. She didn't. She must have walked 50 miles a day.

And of course there was Howie Gleason. Howie could always be found hanging out at City Hospital or motoring up Chandler Street, selling raffle tickets for one charity or another. He once puttered up to me as I waited at a stop light, and before the light changed to green he's gotten me to fork over ten bucks for a handful of raffle tickets for the Nazareth Home or someplace. Heck of a salesman. Sweetheart of a guy. I can even forgive him for being a diehard Yankees fan. I think Howie had muscular dystrophy or some similar ailment.

All those people are long gone, and for a while, Worcester seemed a bit devoid of colorful residents. But I've noticed a few new ones lately.

There's the Bicycle Woman. She has to be 70, but she rides every day, rain or shine. Up Chandler Street, down Pleasant Street, over June Street. You know her. She has a look of fierce determination in her face, like she's preparing to take a hill at Ypres.

There's the Park Avenue Screaming Guy. He tends to hang out near the intersection of Chandler. He walks around screaming. Not yelling. He doesn't actually say any words. He just screams. AAAARRRRGGGHHH!!!! Like that. Over and over.

And there's the guy with the Denver Pyle beard who's plastered his entire red hatchback with the craziest far-right-wing stickers available. He drives around with a rabid look like he's just daring someone to roll their eyes at him.

Frankly, this new batch of folks all seem a little crazy. Charlie, Howie and their ilk were normal people who just happened to have colorful personalities. The new characters have a bit of a nightmarish quality about them. That makes them a little cooler, but a little less likable.

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