The Thursday Travel Section: Wonderland and Haymarket

BY KAREN TENENBAUM

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This is the first of what I hope will be a semi-regular column about places to visit in the Boston area. The premise is this: I will pick a T/bus/commuter rail/commuter boat stop (or you can send requests), and then I will report back about what’s happening there.

Wonderland is the last stop on the Blue Line, and what’s most obviously happening there is a vast parking lot. The parking lot belongs to the Wonderland Greyhound Park, a large greyhound (dog) racing complex that opened in 1935, immediately after the relevant variety of betting was legalized in Massachusetts. When you walk into the Park, a board to your right announces the day’s major televised dog and horse races for betting. Just inside is the Lower Clubhouse; a dark, cavernous room littered with old lottery tickets. Although live racing doesn’t take place in the colder months, you can still bet on dog and horse races elsewhere on simulcast TVs. Out back is the actual track, made of sand and clay and just over a quarter mile long. An enclosed grandstand overlooks the track, where you can sit during races with a cocktail or pizza and heckle the dogs to the detriment of their self-esteem. My brother Danny and I didn’t stay long – just long enough for me to force him to pose like a greyhound on the straightaway and look like a moron in front of the gamblers so that I could take a picture. Live races begin on April 8th at 6:30 pm and take place 5 nights a week during the season.

On the other side of the T station is Wonderland’s real attraction: the beach. Yes, you can get to a real live oceanfront beach on the T! Revere (ruh-VEE-uh) beach spans two T stops and, contrary to what you may have heard, one does not need to watch out for syringes abandoned in the sand, at least not during the off season. The visit reminded me of MIT grad student Simcha Singer from Minnesota; the “North Star State” is landlocked, so it doesn’t have any ocean beaches, but it does have a lot of lakes, and you can probably swim in some of those.

Danny and I visited Wonderland on that unseasonably warm weekend that prompted HLS to cut its losses and replace the week-old ice rink with an equally inappropriate volleyball court. The beach was surprisingly busy, mostly with families toting some combination of children, dogs, and kites. Revere is very much a city beach, bordered by a concrete running/biking path and apartments and condos beyond that. We had packed a lunch and ate our tuna sandwiches under the pavilions along the shore that were also featured in the movie Next Stop Wonderland.

On the way back to Cambridge, we stopped at Haymarket (Orange and Green line) to get some veggies for dinner. Haymarket is Boston’s ridiculously inexpensive open-air market, where you can buy produce, seafood, and flowers on Friday afternoons and Saturdays until around five. The stalls are makeshift structures of tarp stretched across wooden poles, but along the side are the permanent halal meat shops, a cheese store, and a pizza place. Do you need sixteen heads of cabbage? An entire box of mangoes? A man-sized bag of onions? Then you definitely need to go to Haymarket.

The typical exchange is as follows:

Vendor: You want tomatoes?! How many pounds?! Three pounds a dollar!!

You: I only need two tomatoes…could I just give you a quarter?

Vendor: No – you gotta buy three pounds or more. Here. [Vendor reaches under the tomato display to a hidden source of tomatoes – invariably less appealing than the ones on display. A major feature of Haymarket procedure is that you are generally not allowed to choose which tomatoes you want.]

You hand the vendor a dollar, and he hands you a shopping bag with more tomatoes than you have ever consumed. A good third of them are already partially or totally unusable, and my theory of Haymarket is that the money you save reflects the fact that you must discard the rotten tomatoes yourself. This is less true of the permanent shops, which I like to imagine are more regulated by state sanitary codes. There you can purchase nuts, raisins, bread, olives, or almost any part of a cow. As a general rule of thumb, try to smell any fish before you buy it, and always check the dates of items in the refrigerators. However, feel free to suspend all rules in the cheese shop, which is located in the busiest gauntlet of Haymarket, and where nothing worth buying is refrigerated. You can purchase goat cheese there that is worth killing over, and they’ll let you sample pretty much anything.

At around 5 pm, the market shuts down, and the area becomes a wasteland of wilting cardboard and unsold produce. Then the only thing to do is race home to start cooking before any more of your purchases go bad.

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