Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Yvonne Abraham: A hub's pulse and grit

The debate over how to fix Downtown Crossing shouldn't obscure one important fact: There is much in this part of the city that is seriously cool.
Yes, the immense pit where Filene's used to be is a depressing sight, a monument to poor planning and bad luck. The empty stores that dot the streets make the whole area seem down-at-the-heel. And it's barren at night.

But despite all of that, if you like your city quirky and real, Downtown Crossing is packed with gems.

At the top of Winter Street, devotees line up at the Falafel King. Kadhim Al Zubaidy greets them all with "How are you brother," and "Hello my friend," and hands them free, hummus-dipped falafels. "I always give the falafel, one in the hand, one on the plate," he says.

At the Corner Mall food court, customers shovel gyros, chicken curries, greasy fries, or a dozen other cuisines from plastic foam containers. They sit alone, their heads buried in novels, or in groups, wearing business suits or paint-spattered pants.

It's an enormous mix of people - blacks, whites, Latinos, Asians - sitting shoulder to shoulder. And that's rare in this still-tribal city.

With its blue neon and glass-brick decor, the Corner Mall is utterly dated. But that's the charm here, and all over Downtown Crossing.