Somerville Survival Guide


Gone are the days when Harvard students were told to travel to Somerville using the buddy system. Somerville has settled into its post- industrial role as a mecca for folks from all sorts of places and backgrounds.

With September serving as perhaps the city’s busiest month for newcomers – with college students and new lease holders abound – we’re offering you a supplement to your standard welcome packet from the City.

Scout contributors Gabi Gage and Adam Bezigian took the time to answer some frequently asked questions. Adam is a 20-something who was brought to Somer ville by a series of fortunate circumstances. Gabi is 20-something who was brought to Somer ville via her mother’s womb and the wombs of her foremothers. They both graduated from college in the past decade, and therefore are experts on life.

Representing two sides of a perceived chasm between Old and New Somerville, Adam and Gabi recently met at the Switzerland of Somerville, Mike’s Food & Spirits in Davis Square. Their task was to address some frequently raised concerns by lifelong residents, newcomers, and students alike in order to further promote integration and foster camaraderie.

The meeting also set the stage for the first King of the ‘Ville competition, which will take place Sept. 22 and send teams of old, new and ever ything-in-between Somer ville throughout our city to prove who will reign.


Why can’t I just park my car in the street?

Gabi Gage, Old Somerville: It is what it is. Please don’t block my mother’s driveway with your car.

Adam Bezigian, New Somerville: This isn’t the ‘burbs and not ever y house can have two garages. Resident permits are an egalitarian way to solve the problem of parking scarcity in the surprisingly dense City of Somerville. Deal with it.

Davis Square seems to think it’s all that. Is it?

OS: It possesses cer tain advantages such as the movie theatre, Red Line, and bowling, but I prefer the authenticity, random assortment of random things, and proximity to my home that Union provides.

NS:I’m with Gabi. Davis Square has its charms – a variety of bars and restaurants, Red Line access, and an awesome theatre and I certainly spend plenty of time there. It’s a destination, but it’s not a place I’d like to call home.

Are rats really a problem here?

OS: Prior to 2009, I had never seen a rat in Somerville. I miss the good old days when giant raccoons lived in harmony with neighborhood skunks, and “Beware of Dog” signs outnumbered the actual dogs defecating on the sidewalk. My fear is that single-sort recycling has not only instilled laziness among residents who don’t rinse their recyclables, but also created a hyper-intelligent, organic food consuming breed of rat.

NS: You’ve got a rat problem? I’ve got a rat solution: hawks, hundreds of them. These majestic pest control agents, kings of the sky, cost nothing in upkeep and are thrilling to behold. However, once the job has been done, don’t expect them to leave so easily (see:Turks in post-war West Germany).

Who coined the phrase: Somerville, the Paris of New England? Have they been to Paris?

OS: Who says that? People from Medford? There is a tower (Prospect Hill), just like the Eiffel, but without the lines and tourists, possibly because it is closed year-round. I’ve often heard it called God’s Country, but I think that’s an entirely different mythology. Recently, I’ve heard ‘The Brooklyn of Boston,’ though perhaps that’s more of a five-year hipster plan than reality? To me, Somerville is the Somerville of New England, and therefore, the best place ever.

NS: The similarities between Paris and Somerville are scant, though both do have sewer systems and are home to people who eat food with their mouths.


So what do I do to get in compliance with Somerville Parking law?

OS: I don’t drive. Ergo, I do not park.

NS: Practically, just update your registration with Somerville as the city where the vehicle is principally garaged and visit the Traffic & Parking Department with proof of residency and $30 and you’re golden, easy peasy. Owning a permit, however, will not prepare you for the nightmare of winter parking in a city where a not quite legal but widely accepted method of securing your parking space is to use a folding chair. This constitutes due process in Somerville. Legal restitution served to the plaintiff includes shoveling the offending car into the spot or peeing on your windshield.

What are the grocery options?

OS: I shop at Market Basket or the Union Square Farmer’s Market.

NS: I try to get most of my shopping done at either the Saturday farmer’s market in Union (22 Bow St., 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. through Nov. 17) or the Wednesday one in Davis (Day and Herbert St. 12 – 6 p.m. through Nov. 21). The winter farmer’s market at the Armory at 191 Highland Ave. is a nice new addition (I like to eat in the winter, not just in summer) and Sherman Market (22 Union Sq.) helps fill the gaps.

We hear the Somerville Market Basket is a veritable paradise of low prices and a sweltering pit of humanity the likes of which we’ve never seen. True?

OS: Oh, you mean DeMoulas. It’s a beautiful, soul-crushing place. There needs to be international tribunal forcing Basketeers to atone for their crimes and agree on a code of ethics regarding inter-aisle negotiations. If it seems I’m suggesting a Communist regime, then you’ve understood me perfectly. Instead of having your oxen die whilst fording the river known as the back aisle, follow these simple rules:

1) Don’t shop on Saturday.
2) Never leave your carriage.
3) Don’t feed the gremlins after midnight (common sense)
4) Never show weakness or hesitation.To do so will trigger the following scenario: An old woman rams your carriage with hers after she has just stolen your bag of potatoes.This charming lady looks at the potatoes, promptly throws them in a neighboring freezer aisle and finally offers you a harsh, judgmental look for picking out subpar potatoes.This is the food chain.

Market Basket is trending right now; I’d like another question.

NS: As The Yuppie Menace, my experiences at Market Basket are limited to avoiding becoming the victim of vehicular manslaughter while trying to walk on the sidewalk outside.War is hell.

I like to exercise outside – basketball, running, biking, kayaking. What are my options?

OS: There are countless parks and athletic leagues throughout the city. Embrace the Somerville competitive spirit. Read my online column for more common Somerville gaming traditions.

NS: I’ve written a letter to City Hall requesting that Somerville sponsor a bounty system for rat pelts. Rat hunting is a physically active sport and would be in line with the mayor’s landmark Shape Up Somerville campaign.Write your alderman today!

What are some ways to get around the city that don’t involve a car. And also how do we get this boot off my car?

OS: I generally walk or take the bus. Bicycling is a popular choice,which is fine, but try to comply with local traffic laws. As for the boot, I warned you not to park in front of my mother’s driveway.

NS: Walking around Somerville is fairly practical, but I prefer to bike if I’m going more than a mile. Somerville is surprisingly tolerant of given how provincial its interpretation of traffic laws seems to be.The easiest way to get rid of a boot is to simply remove the offending tire, but you have to be ready to commit to a life of crime (not recommended).


I’m a college student hanging out in Davis Square because that’s where the bus takes me. Where is the fun/ price ratio highest?

OS: The Burren is always interesting. It’s one of the few nightlife locations in which students and residents old and new, routinely come together as part of a social experiment conducted in Ireland.There’s live music nearly every day and a free comedy show every Wednesday night. For daytime affairs, I think Mike’s is also a great choice.

NS: If you’re looking to minimize price, check out Mike’s; if you’re looking to maximize fun time delicious drinks, go to the recently-opened Saloon. On one hand, Mike’s is a sort of a Somerville Switzerland, a neutral zone where townies, college students, high schoolers and families can all go, yet where you can also order a “small” (one pint) or “large” (one quart) draft beer. Saloon, on the other hand, serves an overwhelmingly large number of whiskies and some impressive mixed drinks.

I hang out in Davis Square and come September it’s flooded with college students. What do I do?

OS: Either ignore or embrace them. September is a hectic time around much of Boston, so there are few places devoid of wandering students. Students are already getting acclimated come the holidays.

NS: As long as you like skipping over piles of vomit,keep on truckin’ to Davis. College students are ubiquitous and the only way to avoid them is to avoid places where they congregate. Step it up, denizen, and head somewhere classy instead. Union Square has plenty of great places to chill your hams.

OS: Chill your hams?

NS: Yes. Chill your hams.

As a college student, how can I be respectful of Somerville while enjoying all it has to offer?

OS: Some cities essentially develop as college towns. Despite its proximity to several major universities, Somerville is not such a place. It’s primarily a residential city with a rich history, an industrial grit, and a unique multicultural identity.There are countless city-wide and localized events dedicated to exploring all three. Somerville will never be Cambridge, nor does it want to be.

NS: When you encounter a woman in sunglasses at 3 a.m. in the parking lot of Dunkin’ Donuts on Broadway and Medford, wearing once-white Juicy Couture sweat pants, chain smoking alone while rasping incoherently on a Betty Booped-out cell phone, just walk away. Trying to make sense of the situation by using what you’ve learned in sophomore-level women’s studies classes isn’t like bringing a knife to a gunfight, it’s like bringing a beach towel to the lifeless dunes of Mars.

As someone enduring the presence of college students, what are some of the ways I can encourage them to be respectful of our community?

OS: Patience is ever the virtue of necessity when dealing with students. Just remember they are new and that the best future Somervillians are not necessarily born out of traumatic experiences dealing with locals. Give them the metaphorical Somerville hug by not flipping them off.

NS: Remember that unless you are of their generation you are saddling Gen Y with government debt that will spell the end of Social Security. Let them have their fun.

Is it true Harvard used to tell its students to only visit Somerville using a buddy system?

OS: As a verifiable Good Will Huntress (please let that catch on), I can attest. As freshmen, we were encouraged to explore ‘surrounding  communities,’ but told to bring a buddy when entering Somerville. Both the kid from Charlestown and myself quickly became everyone’s “buddy” for off-campus trips until we were accused of insider trading and wanton donut theft. Given the Ville’s ever-increasing popularity, “The Somerville Experience,” is probably now a mandatory, letter-graded walking tour for incoming students.


Is the Green Line Extension actually a thing?

OS: I’ve been hearing about it since I was a child and much like Fluff, it’s more of an amorphous blob of expectation at this point.

NS: I’ve got high hopes, but let’s remind ourselves that the extension occupies the boondoggled intersection of federal, state and local governments.Your rats will not live to see Green Line stations in Somerville, but perhaps your great-grand rats may.

Maybe if I just explain why this ticket is wrong Traffic & Parking will understand?

OS: You fool.

NS: You’re probably not going to avoid the ticket, but always be at your best behavior whenever you go to Traffic & Parking. The clerks there have to deal with the last dregs of human civility on a day-to-day basis. You cannot intimidate these people and they alone can help you in your fruitless quest.


What are some of the important historical landmarks I should get to know?

OS: The Dunkins on Broadway, the Mount Vernon, Obama’s grad student housing, the Somerville portion of Paul Revere’s historic ride reenacted every April, Prospect Hill, Milk Row Cemetery, things you dig up in your yard, old houses everywhere, and Trum Field, where I won fastest girl in Somerville from 1997-1999.

NS: There’s a sign pointing to IKEA Way at the intersection of Highland Avenue and McGrath Highway. Please remember that memorial displays are discouraged on state-owned roads.

So many festivals/fun-type stuff this time of year. What are some of the best?


OS: I’m partial to the What the Fluff? Festival in September. While I don’t enjoy eating Fluff, I find it texturally innovative and aesthetically pleasing.

NS:My favorite is the boisterous HONK! festival, which takes over Davis Square with big horns and community activism. Not recommended for anyone with tinnitus or noise-fearing dogs. Definitely not recommended for anyone who isn’t dead on the inside.


If you could change one thing about Somerville, what would it be?

OS: I might add some of those antique street lanterns and bring back Somerville Recreation park program to its glory days. Also, I’m going to ignore the fact I don’t drive and go ahead and say that reverse angle parking is silly and has turned Union Square into a traffic-laden parking lot.

NS: My biggest frustration has always been the poor or non- existent road signage and street markings.The entire greater Boston area street system is obviously an out-of-control Dadaist experiment but there’s no reason Somerville has to follow suit.

For the sake of improving communications, tell us about the Somerville vernacular.

OS:The Somerville accent is a distinct variation on the Boston accent which doesn’t translate to the written word. As far as ‘conversating,’ I’ve been accused of overusing both the imperative voice (i.e.“You gotta do [X] followed by [Y,] and Bob’s your uncle;”and hyperbolic expressions (i.e.“There were a thousand people in line at Market Basket ,” to which critics smugly respond,“Oh, so there were literally a thousand people?”) I’d also say that profanity is not necessarily meant to offend, rather it’s often just an emphasizer used in the same vein as ‘wicked’ is used  by people not from Boston.

All too often our passionate storytelling and natural charisma are mistaken for lies and belligerent anger. Are you not entertained?

NS: As an out-of-towner, I can’t teach you any new colloquialisms to impress your ‘Villen buddies. I can tell you, though, that I secretly affect my best Somerville accent when I need to get attention on the street, in a bar, or wherever a genteel “pardon me” would only be ignored or scorned.

Finally, who is to blame for the rats, and/ or, who stole my single sort recycling bin?

OS: I’m going to say it was Adam. He stole your recycling bin to start a large compost which is now attracting swarms of health- conscious gluten-free rats.

NS: Just because my rats ride preposterously tall tiny bikes and drink small-batch vodka made from responsibly sourced quinoa doesn’t mean you can prove I did anything.


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