Why I Love Boston: Small Regula’ and Old Newbury

I lived South of the Mason-Dixon through most of my twenties, which gave me a lifelong hatred of the phrase “90 percent humidity” and a renewed fervor in my love for Boston, where I grew up. Of all the things to miss about this place, though, I missed nothing so much as good record stores and good coffee. By good record stores, I mean good CD stores, and by good coffee, I mean Dunkin’ Donuts.

Dunkin’ coffee is not coffee; it’s crack-nectar stirred into an adorable cardboard cup that doesn’t leak when you tip it upside down to shake the sugar from the bottom. When I go to a coffee shop, I don’t want to order “a coffee with two creams and one sugar,” and I sure don’t want to order anything that’s called a grande and have to stir in my own cream and sugar. I want to order a “small regula’,” and tack on a “hon” if I’m so inspired. I want the patrons to be a mixture of construction workers and Fidelity brokers, Beth Israel nurses and grumpy old men who bitch about the Celtics. And I want an express line so the distracted soccer mom picking up two dozen for the church social gets thinned from the herd.

When I moved back to Boston in ’93, I got a job as a chauffeur, which meant long hours but also a lot of dead time while the client was at a three-hour dinner or a four-hour meeting or a six-hour Sox-Yankees game. This meant I was free to travel, or given Boston’s parking limitations, expected to, as long as I stayed within a few miles. Luckily, downtown Boston contains exactly 6,437 Dunkin’ Donuts, or one for every guy named Sean in Suffolk County. Because I worked for the Ritz-Carlton, a lot of my jobs kept me around the Back Bay, Fenway, or Beacon Hill. All of which are a quick jaunt from Newbury Comics.

So let me describe heaven (or heaven before the wife and children arrived): I’d pick up a small regula’ at Dunkin’, find a parking space on upper Newbury (not as hard as you’d think if you’re a chauffeur; you just double-park and wait out all the other vultures until a space opens up), and then carry my coffee into this hallowed space that sold new CDs, used CDs, and had a bin for the ’BCN Top Ten and another for ‘FNX Recommends. Newbury Comics sold T-shirts and posters and key chains and Bad Motherf#@!er wallets and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Sox ball caps and Mick Jagger bobbleheads. Before MP3s, before iPods, when, if you liked a song, you had to invest in the whole CD, the staff had knowledgeable conversations with you. During the ska phase, if you liked the Bosstones but thought No Doubt kinda blew, they’d tell you whether you should fork over $11.99 for Save Ferris.

It was here that someone first placed a Dropkick Murphys CD in my hand, here that I got into a friendly argument over which was superior, Exile on Main St. or Let It Bleed (it’s Exile; I was right), here that I bought a T-shirt that sported the “choose life” monologue from the opening of Trainspotting, here that I bought CDs by Smashing Pumpkins, Liz Phair, Bobby Darin, Nine Inch Nails, Nina Simone, Machinery Hall, and (okay, I admit it) Hootie & the Blowfish (but only the first one, and so did everybody else). I was there when a clerk loudly proclaimed that Dinosaur Jr. would eclipse U2 in greatness and sales (they, uh, didn’t), and when someone played the single “You Oughta Know” weeks before the release of Jagged Little Pill, and when I heard the news that Kurt Cobain had killed himself.

All this was before satellite stores opened in Dedham and Quincy Market. Back then, it was called Newbury Comics because it was actually on Newbury Street, on the one block that actually had a bit of heart and a bit of grit. (The grit’s still there, but now someone imports it and pays kids from MassArt to sprinkle it strategically and in an aesthetically pleasing fashion.) I never went through that store without buying something, even when I was broke-ass poor. And I never went through it without a cup of Dunkin’ coffee. The two are inexorably entwined for me, as sacred to the local ethos as Fenway, the Garden, three-deckers, cobblestone, the Longfellow Bridge, Kelly’s Roast Beef, and guys who can’t get through a sentence without four “ah”s, one “kid,” and two or three f-bombs.

Dennis Lehane was born and raised in Dorchester and is the author of eight Novels, including Gone Baby Gone, Shutter Island, Mystic River, and The Given Day. His sixth Patrick Kenzie novel, Moonlight Mile, will be published in November.