Is Copley Square Boston's Skid Row?
A suspicious transaction takes place in Back Bay, one of Boston’s prestigious neighborhoods, in full view of residents, visitors and tourists.
“I do like girls. And, guys, too. But not in that way. C’mon.”
The above conversation takes place not more than three feet from me.
Money exchanges hands. Minutes later, the recipient of the dollar bills is kneeling against a park bench, nose inches away from a crushed up white substance.
Welcome to Copley Square, Boston on a recent Monday afternoon.
Copley Square – Boston’s skid row?
Over the past several years I’ve seen similar, suspicious behavior take place as I walk through the park, but it’s always just been guys drinking out of brown paper bags. Today, it’s different. I sit down on a bench to watch.
The group that congregates in the Square include three guys who keep slurring their words while sitting on the edge of a landscaped garden, a white guy with a white beard who keeps looking up whenever there’s a police siren, and a black guy with a laptop computer. (Does Copley Square have free wi-fi?) There’s only one woman in the bunch.
The ringleader seems to be a 50-year old white man with white hair, sort of a ‘Whitey’ Bulger lookalike. He reminds me of bassist Chris Squire from the prog-rock band ‘Yes’, so I’ll call him “Squire”. He is the man who gave the $12 to his friend. Squire carries a cloth briefcase with a computer in it … and an oddly shaped cigarette with no filter that he ends up giving away.
The recipient of the $12, who I’ll call “Shakey”, talks to a girl friend, then takes his money and walks across the Copley mall, returning minutes later. He licks his pinkie finger with his tongue, dabs a white pill he holds in his hands, then takes a taste. He encourages the two other guys sitting with him to do the same. Then, he kneels down in front of the bench and, apparently crushed, sniffs the powder of the bench.
This is taking place in plain view of residents, visitors, and tourists.
Attention all units
At 4:51 p.m., I call ‘911’. The Massachusetts state police receptionist transfers me to the Boston police department. The woman who answers asks me what I am reporting. “There’s a drug deal going on in front of me.”
“Where are you located,” she asks.
“Corners of Dartmouth and Boylston streets, in the Back Bay; in Copley Square.”
“How can you tell it’s a drug deal?”
“Because he took a white substance, crushed it up, and then snorted it.”
“Okay, we’ll send someone over.”
A couple of the guys open pre-packaged meals, sandwiches, which may have been purchased from the pharmacy or convenience store across the street although I don’t see any receipts floating around.
I see most of these guys all the time in Copley Square; on Boylston Street, in the CVS and 7-Eleven, at Starbucks, in the Boston Public Library. You can recognize them from the dazed looks on their overly sunburned faces and the way they move and react.
My focus is back on Shakey, the powder-dabber, who has experienced some sort of drastic mood change. When I first saw him, he was highly agitated as he asked Squire for money. Then, he was excited – giddy, even, as he ran across the mall. In the moments after he made the sniffing movement, he was euphoric. Now, he’s just lying down on a park bench, his arm covering his eyes, so motionless you’d think he was dead.
Twenty minutes after my arrival, and three guys sit, arms crossed, doing nothing. “What are you waiting for,” asks Squire.
“They’re waiting for Waldo; he’s late,” says a friend.
“Call Waldo, call him.”
I can’t figure out what Waldo’s role is in this whole affair. When I saw him earlier before he took off, he was wearing a green jersey with writing on it. It kind of looked like a shirt you’d wear if you worked for a landscaping company. (A week later, I see Waldo again, in 7-Eleven; he’s got the same vacant look on his face and same simple smile but again dressed what appear to be work clothes. I’m stumped.)
Around 5 p.m., the crowd starts to disburse. (Is the work day over, already?) Slowly they move away on their own. Shakey and his girl friend head past the Fairmont Copley Plaza hotel while the white-bearded guy walks up the street toward the Copley Square Green Line station.
The three guys on the curb finish drinking out of their brown paper bags. When I leave, one of the white guys is playing housekeeper, collecting the trash and placing it into a trash container. One of the bottles I see says “VODKA” on it.
It's 5:21 p.m. I've waited an hour and a half. No police response, although I'm not sure what I really expected them to do. I've got to get home, so I depart.
As I leave, I walk past Waldo near the Hancock tower, eagerly heading toward Copley Square along with a guy with an odd smile on his face and clothes in a plastic bag.
I guess the fine summer weather is making him happy?