(Click on Buster to make him bigger.)
( It's July again and once again I'm frantically writing toward a deadline on a magazine article, so I'm running this post over again. It's a tribute to Worcester, MA ,which is still as quirky and full of surprises as ever, and to Buster, who is back once again, telling us to eat crab.)
We who live in (or near) Worcester MA, population 170,000, are fiercely loyal, even though big city papers like The New York Times tend to refer to Worcester as a “sleepy industrial backwater”.
Worcesterites fondly refer to their town as “Wormtown” and “The Paris of the Eighties”. The Worcester Historical Museum even sells a T-shirt (below) that makes fun of the way people always mispronounce the city’s name . (The correct pronunciation in the local accent is: ”Wusta.” If you call it “Wor-chester” everyone here will think you are wicked lame.)
With its rows of three-deckers and its mostly deserted brick factories, Worcester is like a time capsule that was sealed in the 1950s or ‘60’s. (It’s also a great place to shoot a movie—and several have been filmed here.) We have at the moment an airport with no scheduled commercial flights (well, I think there’s one to Florida), an auditorium,a courthouse and a vocational high school that stand empty (making great movie sets) and a central downtown discount fashion mall that has been deserted for years awaiting the wrecking ball.
Worcester has a quirky history full of rebels-- from Isaiah Thomas, who took his printing press and exited Boston ahead of the Tories (the Declaration of Independence was first read in public on our courthouse steps) to Abbie Hoffman who grew up in one of Worcester’s three-deckers (they were built for the families of the factory workers.)
We still have Coney Island Hotdogs with its famous neon sign, and the Boulevard Diner where Madonna ate spaghetti after a concert at the Centrum, Table Talk Pies and Sir Morgan’s Cove (now Lucky Dog, I think) where the Rolling Stones in 1981 gave an impromptu free concert. Worcester boasts seven colleges and universities including Holy Cross, WPI and Clark (where, in 1909 Freud gave his only American lectures.)
Luminaries who came from Worcester are a motley bunch including S. N. Berman, Emma Goldman, Stanley Kunitz, Elizabeth Bishop, Dennis Leary and Marcia Cross--the red-headed desperate housewife. Also the Coors twins, Diane and Elaine Klimaszewski.
Worcester is especially proud of its “famous firsts”, including barbed wire, shredded wheat, the monkey wrench, the first commercial Valentines, the birth control pill, the first perfect game in major league baseball and, most famous of all, the ubiquitous yellow Smiley Face icon.
In Worcester, the perennial sign of summer, as sure as the fireworks and concert in Christopher Colombo Park on the Fourth, is the arrival of the gigantic figure of Buster the Crab, lying on the roof and hanging over the Sole Proprietor Restaurant on Highland Street.
My husband and I ate there last week. There was a special menu of crab dishes, in addition to the regular Sole offerings. From the menu, I learned the following fascinating facts: This is Buster’s 17th year at the Sole Proprietor. Buster is the world’s largest inflatable crustacean. It takes 45,000 cubic feet of air to inflate him. He has a 75-foot claw spam. Buster could feed 200,000 people if he were real. That would require 35,116 pounds of butter and 45,447 lemons.
The crab dishes on the special menu ranged from fried tomato and crab Napoleon with smoky tomato dressing , Spyder Maki with soft-shelled crab, masago, cucumber and asparagus, to crab, mango and pickled cucumber cocktail and Crabmeat Casserole au gratin. I had crab and shrimp salad, which included avocado and tomatoes and sweet lemon herb vinaigrette. My husband had the soft-shelled crabs (sautéed, not fried). It was delicious. On the way out, I even wangled a copy of the Buster the Crab coloring book, usually meant only for kids. When we left, the wind was blowing and Buster’s giant claws waved good-bye.