Welcome to the weird- The Hartford Chronicles

I moved to Hartford a couple days ago.  I moved to Hartford a couple days ago.  Had to say that twice just to make sure it was reality.  Already this place has struck me as the weirdest place I’ve ever been.  Let me explain.

“Varsity”, a long lost friend from high school, labeled as such for his penchant to show up on nearly every sport’s roster, was in the area.  I was tasked with finding something for us to do.  We set out on foot and immediately noticed that something was amiss here.  Block after block of wide, inviting city side-walks almost completely devoid of people.  We were surrounded by ancient, beautiful brick buildings.  The best way to describe it was a museum or maybe one of those tiny replicas of cities encased in glass.  It was as if we were ants walking in a display case while the behemoth metropolises of Boston and NYC observed us with delight.  The only sounds heard were police sirens and eerie opera music emanating from an auto shop.

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Gorgeous red-brick building…with no one inside

After having had enough of strolling around in post-apocalyptic Boston, we decided to try our luck with the local bars.  The Russian Lady had endeared itself to Yelp so we decided to give it a go.  The place was empty.  I appropriately ordered a White Russian and Tabby, the bleach blonde bartender, placed it onto the “Hammer and Sickle Vodka” coaster along the bar.  “How’s this hammer and sickle vodka?”  I asked without really needing or wanting the answer.  “Terrible”, she replied.  The first glimmer of that Northeastern bluntness I had been so eagerly awaiting.  “So what the hell is there to do in Hartford?”, I asked in a more serious, seeking tone.  The conversation quickly devolved into a stern warning to never, under any circumstances, go into Bushnell Park after dark.  Bushnell Park is the main city park (and, per Wikipedia, the oldest publicly funded park in the US).  I had earlier gotten my tourist fix by snapping numerous daytime pictures of the beautiful park.  However, it’s apparently filled with crackheads at night and, as I learned, sometimes in the morning as well.  Tabby fondly recounted walking her dog at 7 am on a picturesque Sunday morning.  She was greeted with a homeless man attending to the finer things in life directly beneath the iconic arched entrance to the park.

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Not exactly what the esteemed architects of this beauty envisioned

After a couple of drinks there, it was time for dinner.  We headed over to the The City Steamer, a cool restaurant near my apartment that brews its own beers.  The doorman quickly told my friend, “no muscle shirts”.  We both burst out laughing.  Varsity is a tall, somewhat gangly figure who isn’t exactly packing the pythons.  We could, however, sit in the bar area if we wanted.  We found this funny as well, given our recent discussion on the haves and have-nots of Hartford.  Hartford is the insurance capital of the country so, naturally, the haves work in insurance and the have-nots don’t.  White haired insurance executives in the dining area and bearded men in cut-offs in the bar area.  A simple, albeit close-minded, social order.

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A “White Hair”

After an enjoyable meal, we elected to try our luck with the bars again.  This time we found a place much more alive.  Being from Texas, we instinctively gravitated towards The Rocking Horse Saloon.  Decent live country music and 40s of Old English in brown paper bags.  I didn’t even bat an eyelash.  Yep, this is Hartford.

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Yep, they’re up here too

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4 thoughts on “Welcome to the weird- The Hartford Chronicles

  1. Just read your Hartford piece. You’re right, of course, about the barren downtown. Downtown has never been ‘Hartford’ though. The real city has always been the people. An amazing mix of culture and cultures.

    Festivals and parades all summer long, jazz every Monday night in the (scary) Bushnell Park. Great art, music, and movies at Real Art Ways. Astonishing food at El Mercado on Park Street (and that’s where you can buy your Rosca del Reyes before Three Kings Day). I count six authentic bakeries (West Indian, Portugese, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Italian, Vietnamese) but I’m sure there are more. Pretty cool farmers markets that are more liike weekly parties. Don’t get me started on food.

    More park space than seems possible in a small city. You’ll find cricket played in at least two of them, golf and baseball, dragon boat racing and fishing in others. I could point out where Jack Kerouac, Emma Goldman, Eugene Debs and Dr. King walked when they visited, where 3,000 healthcare workers marched and 10,000 suffragists paraded.

    Three theaters within walking distance of each other. Free Shakespeare on Mark Twain’s lawn. The HartBeat Ensemble’s new home, where professionals and local folks tell the city’s stories. Charter Oak Cultural Center.

    In terms of civic activity (not always an indicator of a city’s attraction, I know), you could go to Rawson School in the Blue Hills neighborhood on Election Day and see lines around the block, crowds of people (and pols) who remember Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner. Very old churches where social action campaigns were nurtured and where Cesar Chavez, Coretta King, Jesse Jackson spoke. The Catholic Worker movement’s two houses of hospitality, rooted in the neighborhood and run by some great folks (when they’re not in jail for civil disobedience). Where Occupy Hartford camped and where welfare moms set up their tent city.

    Some of the coolest and weirdest outdoor art and memorials, all with their own stories: Calder’s Stegosaurus, Andre’s Stone Field Sculpture, the Roberto Clemente monument, the manhole covers made from melted- down guns collected by the police, graffiti all over the skateboarders’ “Heaven.”

    Anyway, you get the idea. And if no one has said it yet, Welcome!

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