The other day, an older gentleman called to talk to me about the Paris Cinema in Worcester, which was being demolished as we spoke. It had been derelict for years at that point, and honestly I had only ever known it as a downtown porn theatre. I academically knew it had a history before that – playing regular movies, arthouse films for a while – and that it was once beautiful inside, with a chandelier and a Mighty Wurlitzer, but I'd never been inside. Now, talking to this gentleman, I kind of regretted that. Worcester's a city that I love exploring. I've lived here for almost 15 years now, and I keep finding things. Hidden pockets of coolness, of history, of art.
People call or email me all the time to tell me about things, or to complain about what's happening to the city. My messages at work are a whirlwind of enthusiasm and negativity.
I'm not prone to boosterism, but I get a little annoyed when people start bashing Worcester, especially since – let's face it – a lot of the complaints are really racist, and the rest are pining for some golden age of the past (which might actually have existed in some form) even as they're deriding any attempts to build something new downtown, or any attempt to save pieces of history in the face of development, or ... really, anybody doing anything. It's beyond negativism. It's being in love with stasis. Nothing will ever be good enough for them because they are in love with being unhappy.
No, I have my concerns about development and gentrification, and I think they're valid fears, but the answer's not "do nothing," and if you can't stop the juggernaut of progress, you need to begin finding ways to make sure that the people who actually live here are able to participate in the changes, and benefit from them, rather than being pushed out. That's a daunting task, but it might also be the only way forward to not only growing as a city, but as a community. I don't have any answers, though. I can only articulate the problem.
I'm a journalist, and journalism isn't really about providing solutions. That's a job for politicians and community leaders. But what I can do is present portraits of the city, to show what's out there that's interesting, the people and places that make Worcester such a neat place to live. These are my "Exploring Worcester" stories, and I can only write them intermittently, as they're time consuming, but each time I dive into a new aspect of life in the city and its surroundings, I'm amazed at what I find.
Here are a few. Not every place I talk about is still here, but hopefully, they provide a portrait of a place that's very much worth exploring, that always seems to have something to discover.
And that's what pops up off the top of my head. Writes the Gin And Tonics Across Worcester blogger Dante, "Everyone should tour their city, find a reason to go to places you didn’t know existed. I was just driving by, after doing an errand and saw Herbie’s (on Southbridge Street). I had to figure out it was a bar and then said, hell with it, I will go in and check. And here was a packed place, filled with drinkers and eaters and a large swath of people who found this place too, having a good time. Now I know a place for cheap, hearty food (don’t know if it’s any good, because on this tour I have a strict rule, one gin and tonic and nothing else. And then I move on, like Shane.)”