Tag Archives: COVID-19

Getting in two steel wheel in complicated times

31 May

Covid-19 makes bikes more important than ever; It also complicates everything about getting one

A line forms Saturday outside Ace Wheelworks between Porter and Davis squares in Somerville. (Photo: Marc Levy)

When gyms and parks were restricted and shuttered by the coronavirus shutdown, cycling saw a surge as a means of exercise, recreation and transportation – biking by definition has social distancing built into it, a sterling alternative to a crowded subway car where one good sneeze could have a devastating effect. As Massachusetts seeks to get back to normal, bikes will stay important for summer recreation and commuter options. Cambridge just announced a “Shared Streets” initiative to pair with Somerville, and over in Boston, Mayor Marty Walsh announced a “Healthy Streets” plan, safer paths encouraging new riders who were formerly deterred by the crush of regular motor vehicle traffic.

If you don’t have a bike and want to get on one, how do you do it with the Covid-19 restrictions still in place? One way is a bike share such as Blue Bikes, but most people will want the comfort and convenience of owning their own steel steed. Buying off Craigslist and the like is one option, but brings with it questions about bike size and other factors – including whether the bike was stolen. Bike stores offer professional advice and a better understanding of quality and cost, help for first-time buyers and assurance of help and service down the line.

Bike stores were deemed “essential” by Gov. Charlie Baker during the shutdown, and most in the Cambridge/Somerville area remained open. Now all are back online with the exception of Quad Bikes, which operates out of a Harvard-owned facility on Shepherd Street. During the stay-at-home mandate, maintenance and repairs were by curbside appointment, and it’ll be largely the same for the first phase of Baker’s four-phase return plan. One of the big challenges presented are hands-on sampling and test rides. Carice Reddien, owner of Bicycle Belle368 Beacon St., near Porter Square in Somerville, a specialist in cargo bikes, e-bikes and family-friendly extension bikes (and just reopened) said, “We’ve been doing socially distanced test rides outside the shop, and it seems to work.” Jason Paige, co-owner of Ace Wheelworks145 Elm St., between Porter and Davis squares in Somerville, whose shop was open for the duration, said, “We do a pretty thorough sales job on the phone, but the first time they ride it is when they pick it up curbside.” That model is flipped from before Covid-19, but Paige said the store has adopted a relaxed return and exchange policy to make shoppers more comfortable with a big purchase. “If you call with a price range and type of style, we’ll make something happen,” Paige said.

The bigger problem is supply and shipping in times of high demand. “Be patient,” Reddien said. “Supplies are low and shops are stretched thin trying to work in new and safe ways.” Paige said Wheelworks at one point had to stop taking orders over the phone because a salesperson would take an order only to have an online shopper beat them to the last SKU. (On the day that I wrote this, the website had a message saying “Sales temporarily suspended.”)

Other stores coming back are trying novel approaches to meet demand and their customer’s needs. Crimson Bikes, the Cannondale retailer at 1001 Massachusetts Ave., Mid-Cambridge, offers mobile visits to your home as well as curbside appointments; Cambridge Bicycle259 Massachusetts Ave., The Port, has something of what shop manager Josh Smith describes as an “Old West countertop service,” with accessories and helmets exhibited at the door for customers to review and try out. Cambridge Bicycle also offers limited test rides.

One thing all agreed on was that the shutdown has been both a boon for cycling. “More people now see cycling as a more attractive and viable thing,” Smith said. Paige said that he’s doing a lot more family sales, with overall sales in units notably up from last year, but accessory sales down. “Families are getting out and biking together,” he said. “That makes me emotional.”

The best way to buy a bike in these socially distancing times seems to start with online research, then a sales call before a scheduled test ride. And to remember, as Reddien said: “Be patient.”

The Brattle and COVID-19

18 May
The Marx Brothers’ “A Night at the Opera,” a repertory staple, plays to an empty house at The Brattle Theatre, which closed its doors to the public March 14. (Photo: The Brattle Theatre)

A four-phase strategy for reopening Massachusetts businesses and public facilities was announced this week by Gov. Charlie Baker. The plan was vague on details and dates leading up to a final “new normal,” which is something like where we were before Covid-19 turned Boston into a hot zone, though Phase I presumably kicks off May 18. Just what that means and for whom seems to be a bit of a moving target. Among those with questions is the “gathering industry,” as Ivy Moylan, executive director of The Brattle Theatre, explained was how the Harvard Square repertory institution and other arts venues were tagging themselves since the coronavirus outbreak.

“We’re hoping to heal and rebound and bring back the joy,” Brattle creative director Ned Hinkle said, “but not be too quick about it. The goal is to open as quickly as possible when it’s safe to do so.” The Brattle ran a survey of its members recently to gauge what “safe” means.

A smattering of drive-ins have opened around the country, and Universal released “Trolls World Tour” digitally (making more than $100 million in three weeks of digital release, something Hinkle says likely happened due to lack of competition) while art houses such as The Brattle and Somerville Theatre have been running Virtual Screening Room selections – smaller releases such as “Deerskin” and arthouse and foreign language classics with a portion of rental fees benefiting the theater you rent from.

“As a small business, we’re pretty agile,” Moylan said. “We could come back pretty quickly.” When shuttering March 14, The Brattle did not have to furlough its employees. “Most are part time,” Moylan said, “but when we shut down, they were our first priority. We want to protect them.” Moylan said at first the shutdown was terrifying, but as things went on managers realized going offline for a while and coming back was doable. “A couple of months,” she said. “A year would be hard.” The nonprofit theater has taken in a good sum through donations and has received Payroll Protection Program funding for its employees.

There’s also the dollars rolling in from the Virtual Screening Room. “It’s great,” Hinkle said, “but a good chunk of what we and theaters make is from concessions.” The Brattle during this time has also engaged filmgoers through virtual programing (movie lists, such as our Film Ahead section has morphed into), a podcast and Friday movie nights co-sponsored with the city.

Aside from slow openings, there’s another problem that will face mainstream theaters relying on the studio system for films, Hinkle said: a dearth of product. The latest James Bond (“No Time to Die”), the next two “Mission: Impossible” chapters, “A Quiet Place Part II” and the next “Wonder Woman” installment have all had their release dates pushed by months. The Brattle, on the other hand, which plays smaller releases and repertory fare, isn’t so reliant.

“We want to bring a rich experience back to our valued patrons,” Hinkle said, “people are hungry for that type of communal experience.” The looming question remains when.

 

The Bellmen

10 May

 

bellmen

“The Bellmen” is the kind of weak-kneed, cheeky comedy David Spade or Rob Schneider might have made a decade or so ago. It’s a lo-fi romp about a posse of misfit bellhops at a fancy Arizona resort that plays its thin premise loose and fast for sophomoric laughs; what deepens it are the inadvertently topical plot developments that involve hand sanitizer and a white person hijacking another’s heritage for their own gain.

The film centers on a boisterous, posturing hunk named Steve (Adam Ray), something of a throwback to the blow-dried salad days of Scott Baio and John Travolta. Steve’s proud and boastful of his station as bell captain, and a professed bellhop for life. His main ambitions besides quality service and landing a big tip are Kelly (Kelen Coleman, of “Big Little Lies”), the cute head concierge, and his frat boy hazing of new bellhops – if only Jerry Lewis could apply. People check in and people go, as the ribald bellmen bite their knuckles over statuesque check-ins while barely maintaining professional standards. Then there’s the big weekend where the hotel is filled with folks teeming to see a self-help spiritual guru named Gunther (Thomas Lennon, “Reno 911!”), who plays up his mystic Indian roots and arrives with a pair of comely attachés in bikinis who administer hand sanitizer liberally and regularly to a cult of wide-eyed worshipers. That hand cleanser, it turns out, does more than just sanitize: It opens your mind to the power of suggestion and loosens your purse strings. Steve smells something amiss, but he’s waived off as a goofball control freak to those slathered in the stuff.

Written and directed by Cameron Fife, extending a 2017 TV short, “Bellmen” runs freely with its shaggy dog underbelly of paradise concept, a genre for which “Caddyshack” (1980) remains the gold standard. The slack comedy notches its laughs mostly from Lennon’s slippery guru, who has an answer for everything from under a knowing, raised eyebrow, and his slinky twosome as they mind – and libido – control the masses with ease. The core story about Steve and Kelly’s budding romance never fully grabs, but Ray does get a solid opportunity to spread his comedic wings when his despondent Steve goes on a tequila bender south of the border. He’s holed up in one of those spare adobe dwellings you’d find in a Sergio Leone film, an unwanted houseguest of a señorita and her son who take pity on him but are also deeply annoyed by his drunken babbling and chest-beating bravado – which the language barrier serves only to deepen.

One can’t image Fife was tapped into the whole Covid-19 hand-sanitizer hoarding spectacle at the time of writing and filming. The timelines just don’t marry, which makes “Bellmen” both oddly timed and timely. It’s trite, innocuous fun. Just ring the bell and forget your bags.

Restaurants in the time of Covid-19

24 Apr

Season to Taste, Pagu mix it up after Covid-19, giving to-go meals the flavor of improvisation

Robert Harris prepares a to-go meal Tuesday at Season to Taste in North Cambridge. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Before the Covid-19 crisis, we were preparing to profile two semi-finalist James Beard best chefs from Camberville: Tracy Chang of Pagu and Carl Dooley, over at Table at Season to Taste (the other locals on the list, Seizi Imura of Cafe Sushi in Harvard Square and Cassie Piuma, serving up Turkish infused plates at Ana Sortun’s Sarma in Somerville, are repeat nominees). Both shut down before Gov. Charlie Baker’s St. Patrick’s Day mandate to close restaurants. But the ovens have remained hot, reflecting where we are and where we are going.

While Table at Season to Taste remains shuttered, chef-owner Robert Harris has continued to evolve catering at umbrella company Season to Taste. “I’ve got a plan to get us back to normal,” said Harris, who was on a ski trip in Colorado when the mandate came down. He returned to Cambridge to lay off 30 employees. Part of his plan is to make Season to Taste’s traditionally “bespoke” catering for corporate events, weddings and parties – with menus dictated by the client – into a Season to Go, a food pickup service at the 2447 Massachusetts Ave., North Cambridge, storefront. Continue reading