It was a couple of years ago this happened. My wife and i were having a quiet lunch outside at the back of the Peddlar's Daughter. It was a lovely day in late Spring. Or, was it early Summer. No matter, the day was just fine, and the venue just fine, too.
Why, you are entitled to ask, did we choose to eat our lunch way back there away from the madding crowd? The question provides its own answer. I have sat at table in front of Martha's Exchange on lovely evenings, and tried to carry on a conversation. One gets distracted among the rumble of cars and trucks, the roar of Harleys and the sight of their middle-aged riders' unruly mullets, floppy tattooed arms bared to the shoulder under their leather-vested colors. And, that's just the women bikers. It is a problem to carry on a conversation above the roar. It is worse, though, eating while wondering what delicious coating of petro-chemicals was softly descending onto my crusted salmon.
Lest you think I have an animus against Martha's, please let me put you at your ease. I do like the place very much, and especially enjoy their craft beers. We need Martha's. We need The Peddlar's, too, and all the other downtown venues. But, you know, every time I drive in either direction on Main Street during the summer I feel two things. I feel sorry for the folks outside trying to have a nice meal in all of those nice places that line those few blocks, and I feel guilty about being there in my car among all the other vehicles spitting noxious gases, making indecent noises. And, I think, there must be something we can do to make this a more congenial place. After all, cars don't vote.
That is why we chose the back of The Peddlar's over the front where we could "be seen" and admired as we believe we should be.
I know that the folks down at City Hall have ordered up and darn near completed a bit of a makeover for that part of Main Street near Peddlar's Daughter. I happen to think they did a nice job. The six lights give the bridge there a kind of 19th century retro look. The granite posts, while they won't prevent a terrorist in a bomb filled pick-up from crashing into the bridge and ruining river traffic for months, do remind me of hitching posts. I see them and say, "You know, a horse drawn carriage would look good tied up along here." And, I day dream, imagining a scene from a Sherlock Holmes film.
My wife and I escaped for a week long cruise up the Rhine a few weeks ago. We stopped along the way in several old towns and cities. I remember one sight among many pleasant ones. In every one of these places, these old towns vehicular traffic is banned, more or less, from the center. Town centers, town squares, are flooded with people. Even in November, by God, the squares are full of restaurants and cafes with tables in front of them playing host to substantial numbers of customers enjoying coffee and other lovely things. Alongside the cafes, and in between, shops carry on a brisk business. Those places are people magnets, especially now, when they fill up with outdoor Christmas Markets; as I imagine they do regularly on other occasions throught the year.
The sight we saw? That was in Cologne in the central square before the huge hundreds of years old cathedral. There in the middle of the place, crowds of people flowing by it, was a Mercedes limousine, brand new, black and shiny; a vehicle of power and authority. Inside of it was the driver... trapped. He was trying to get off the square and could not move. How he had gotten on was a mystery to me. How he would get off was an even greater one.
Why not here as well as in Cologne?
After we left our delightfully serene lunch in the back of The Peddlar's Daughter that day, we strolled out along the walk and began to cross the bridge. There were two couples, tourists obviously, taking pictures of each other on the bridge facing toward the old power station that is now Margarita's. Strolling by I asked one of the couples had they seen any of the "fresh water sharks" which inhabit the river. "Sharks," they said questioningly. I nodded, and added in my most sincere voice that they swim upriver froim the Merrimack to spawn every summer. These folks called their friends over to the rail as we walked on, leaving them to search for and get a picture of Nashua's fresh water sharks.
I do happen to think they were satisfied in their quest though the Nashua River shark is a rare animal, but can't help wondering how many sharks would return, and how many other animals with them, did we make some room for people downtown where now the automobile rules and roars. Perhaps, we might see the very rare and very gentle New England Manatee again?