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It doesn’t take much to convince me to leave home and go on an adventure, especially if that adventure won’t cost me a thing. So when my neighbors asked me if I would be interested in going on a business trip to Freeport in the Bahamas as a nanny for their family friend, I immediately responded with a resounding “YES.” Did I know the family I would be nannying for? No. Did I care that I would be missing some high school graduation parties? Hell no. The only thing that incessantly reverberated in my mind was that I would be going to the Bahamas from June 24th to the 29th and I wouldn’t have to spend a dime.
Prior to leaving for the trip, I checked out the weather forecast so I would know if I should bring my shorts or my short shorts. Turns out I would need an umbrella. True to weather.com’s predictions, most of my days in the Bahamas were hot and humid with little to no sun and crazy rainstorms in the evenings and overnight. This really put a damper – no pun intended – on the week. My visions of sitting poolside sipping a strawberry daiquiri during the day and taking the children on beach walks at night were replaced with the harsh reality of days of endless window shopping and nights of comforting crying children, watching the Disney Channel, and playing freeze dance. Lucky for me, I only had to watch the kids for three nights, so it wasn’t really my problem if they were bored during the day, right?
We stayed at the Grand Lucayan, a resort that is part of the Radisson chain. I had been to the Bahamas once before on a family vacation to the Atlantis in Nassau, and as the week progressed I began to focus on how this hotel and city was nothing like Atlantis. The Atlantis is filled with beautiful beaches, insane water slides, gorgeous décor, and delicious food. Freeport, on the other hand, reminded me of something out of the Twilight Zone. Much of the resort was eerily deserted, and restaurants were only open for certain hours on certain days, probably because it would be too expensive to open all the restaurants for only a handful of vacationers. The service was terrible in every restaurant we went to, but I’ll give the waiters and waitresses a break because they’re probably just not used to actually having to serve people. The resort most likely once boasted three or four large swimming pools in its prime, but during our trip there was only one pool that I would even consider going in, as the water in the others looked cloudy and dirty. My pseudo-family constantly apologized for the company’s decision to bring the business trip to Freeport and to that resort in particular, but honestly, I’m not complaining. My room had a great view and I had fun on the trip anyway.
I arrived in Freeport a day and a half before my pseudo-family did, so for dinner the first night I met up with my neighbors and their kids and parents for dinner at a restaurant on the resort called Iries. I ate at this restaurant two more times, not because the food was exceptional, but because this seemed to be the one restaurant that was always open. The food was hit or miss in terms of quality. That first night I ate there was the most Bahamian cultural experience I could have on this trip. To start dinner off, we ordered mussels, fried conch with a tangy sauce, and an artichoke dip with fried plantain chips. Conch is a specialty of the Bahamas and is the seafood that comes out of those pretty, twisty shells that everyone loves to pretend they can hear the ocean in. Conch meat has a mild flavor and a unique, mushy texture. Once I got over the fact that I was eating a snail, I downed the whole plate. For dinner, I ordered a pan-fried snapper. To my surprise, I was served an entire fried fish, including the head, fins, and tail. The two little girls in my neighbor’s family were shocked and disgusted when I had to pick around the bones of the fish in order to eat my dinner, but it didn’t bother me too much. I was told by our waitress to dip the fish in a hot, peppery sauce. Between the conch and the snapper, I think I fully understood the spicy flavor of the Caribbean. The other meals I had were extremely Americanized and full of burgers and fries, nasty room service pizza, and horrendous American Chinese food. Finding food for the kids to eat was a nightmare. Most nights they would order plain buttered pasta or a pizza and only eat a few bites. When we went to the “Chinese” restaurant on the resort, the oldest child I was watching, a nine year-old girl, ordered only white rice. The three kids I watched are extremely picky eaters, so mix that attribute with traditional island foods and constant restlessness, and you have a recipe for mealtime disasters.
Our resort was located in a suburb of Freeport called Lucaya, which seemed to consist only of our resort and a shopping plaza across the street. This was filled with legitimate stores selling high-end products like Pandora bracelets and of course your classic duty-free perfume stores as well as with a kind of sketchy “straw market.” The straw market consisted of three rows of little shacks where locals would go and sell whatever cheap touristy souvenirs they made. As this was pretty much the only thing to do all day when the weather was crappy, we went to the market every day. Let me just say that kids are really hard to bring to a market. Luckily, I wasn’t bringing them there by myself. The mother of my pseudo-family and my neighbor and her parents were all there with me with my pseudo-family’s three kids and my neighbor’s two kids. The kids have one of two reactions to the people selling goods in the market. They’re either way too comfortable with walking in to someone’s section by himself or herself or they’re way too afraid and won’t even walk in with you. The oldest child I was watching would run around from section to section, chatting up all the vendors and disappearing in to the backs of the sections to look at straw purses. The youngest child I was watching, a four year-old girl, would hardly look at the vendors. Straw markets cause a lot of problems with kids for two main reasons. First, the kids always see a million and a half things that they want, but every item is the same as the one before it. They don’t understand this though, and must cry about not getting every item that they want. Second, when it’s hot and humid and you’re under the age of ten, all you really want to do is drink some water and go in the pool. This is where I came in to play, being the escort back and forth from the straw market to the drugstore to purchase countless bottles of water with the kids.
My second day in the Bahamas was one in which my neighbors and I decided to venture from the confines of the not-so-Grand Lucayan and hire a guy to drive us to some caves to do very minor exploring. Off-resort adventures are something I recommend to anyone on a vacation, but not if you’re traveling with two children under the age of seven. The amount of walking that is involved isn’t conducive to a child’s desire to play on a beach or in the pool. The amount of adventure involved in such activities is also hard to judge when traveling with children. We had heard that the caves were ones in which you just walked into a room-like opening, looked around in it, and then left. We weren’t prepared for the hundreds of live bats that we would see on the roof of the cave, nor were we prepared for the story of two perfectly preserved island native bodies found in another cave. Needless to say, while this journey away from the safety of the resort would have been fun and interesting for the adults, it was not fun and interesting when you have two children clinging to you and asking endless questions about the dangers of the cave.
I wasn’t planning on getting paid for watching the family’s kids, mostly because I thought they were paying for me to go on an international trip. They had told me to book a massage for that first day I was there without them, so I assumed this would be my only retribution from them for ripping me away from my uber-exciting office day job and whisking me away to an island paradise for almost a week. Wrong. I was completely and utterly wrong. The family paid me, and they paid me well. So well that I don’t know what to do with what they gave me and I’m going to try to get them to take some of it back (though let’s be real, as a poor college student, I probably won’t push for that too hard). My case is unordinary, so if you’re given the opportunity to babysit for a family on vacation don’t expect too much. It turns out that my pseudo-family is co-owners with my neighbors’ family and another family of this business, and their company paid for everything on the all-inclusive trip for all the employees who went. Going into the trip not expecting to receive anything for your time and help (because HELLO, this family brought you on vacation) and then getting paid is such an exciting surprise. And even if you don’t get paid, at least your expectations were met and you got to go on a vacation for free!
Leaving the Bahamas and my pseudo-family was hard. The kids loved me, and as we were walking off the plane in Rochester, NY, the oldest daughter asked me when I was babysitting them again. I told her I would make room in my schedule for the business trip for next year, just in case.
Hair wet, invigorated and stubbornly fighting strep throat, I rolled my old black suitcase into the Virgin Atlantic terminal of Logan Airport – rushed and unprepared, but never more ready. May 10 had been marked with effusive notations in my internal calendar since Christmas Break. I was not only headed to Jordan, a country precariously positioned in the center of political and social turmoil, but to even greater places on my personal journey as a reporter. After what seemed like an interminable amount of waiting and anxious chatter with my colleagues, the wheels of our plane left the ground and I was officially on my way.
I was one of the 16 journalism students hand-selected by Northeastern journalism professor and enforcer of tough love, Carlene Hempel, to accompany a group of 47 eager huskies to Amman, Jordan’s lively capital.
Conquering reporting endeavors in the Middle East is a journalism student’s dream. The region is constantly present in front-page headlines, especially the recent uprisings in Syria, and the issues in the area are both groundbreaking and intriguing. Some of the most skilled and fearless reporters ventured to this area during the Arab Spring – a series of intense uprisings calling for a more open government that spread throughout the Middle East -and we were joining them, following up on several related issues in the uprising’s aftermath. I didn’t know it when I signed up, but this trip was the big leagues.
I didn’t know the spoken language, I couldn’t decipher the written language from abstract sketches of ocean waves, and I had no geographical bearings. Three things I really took for granted while reporting in Boston. My usual reporting grounds – complete with the T and countless city landmarks – were replaced by an unfamiliar mess of baritone Arabic, unfathomable traffic chaos and cluster of brown buildings that looked identical until the day I left.
This initially made the thought of the roaming around the city by myself in search of stories and sources extremely intimidating. But realizing I was somehow able to survive Journalism 1 and 2 and Magazine Writing with Carlene, a professor famous for pushing you to your journalistic and mental limits, allowed me to eliminate my looming doubts and trust my instinct backed by my experience over the last two years.
I found that the steps I took in finding and writing stories in Jordan were the same as the ones I would take in the states – they just included more extensive context research, more phone calls, more reading, more clarifying. More time, less sleep. And translators. There was a lot to take in, so I had my all my senses constantly tuned to anything that I might want to write about.
Once I got a lead on a topic, I talked it out with someone who could explain it in context to me, usually Illham Khuri-Makdisi, professor of history and Middle Eastern studies at Northeastern. This was never a short process because I always had at least 457 questions; I really wasn’t too keen on the logistics of the region and I wanted to make sure I was getting everything right, from social norms to religious history. This would also help me narrow down my story pitch, and as soon as it was – hopefully – approved by Carlene, I was on my way to one of Amman’s universities to speak with expert sources – noted professors in my area of interest. From there, I would gather input from students and assess where else the story needed me to go, whether it be a mosque, fitness center, magazine office, or one of the other exciting locations my stories took me.
All but three of my interviews and the majority of my research took place in the hot, dusty streets of Amman. It took gritty, on-the-field, physical reporting. And there was no real safety net of an internet search or a load of phone calls, as there is at home. Another difficulty was something that my instructors referred to as “Jordanian Time,” the general communication lifestyle of people in Jordan that includes late arrivals, last-minute meeting plans and few returned phone calls and emails – making follow-up interviews difficult and the idea of grabbing someone surreptitiously in person much more appealing.
This lack of reliability on any reporting and communicating getting done by means of a cell phone and a computer helped me grow immensely as a journalist during the short five weeks. I have done field reporting, of course, but most of it has been with a starting point deciphered through a Google search or a phone call and all of it has been under direction of an assigned prompt. Oh, right, and all of it has been done in the U.S. …
At home, things seem black and white, simple, bland almost with sources. They want to answer my questions and get on with their day. But in Jordan, through my interviewees, I was constantly face-to-face with the underlying conflict of the country. While speaking to them, the roles often reversed and I suddenly found myself as the subject of fervent interrogation about the Arab-Israeli conflict, King Abdullah II and refugee issues. Carlene has always warned her students “not to become part of the story,” and I didn’t fully understand that until these situations occurred. But there was controversy brewing under the seemingly pacific nation, and citizens wanted me, as an outsider, to know, and wanted me to comment. Sometimes I had strong opinions about what they would ask me, and sometimes I was completely oblivious as to what they’re talking about, but I couldn’t reveal my ignorance or my passion on anything they questioned me about – because then I would become part of the story. Their answers and demeanor would alter and I would not receive an objective interview, yet one subjectively tailored to fit their opinion toward the type of sentiments they thought me to hold.
It was a constant battle getting people back on track to interview at hand because revealing any ignorance or passion toward their topic-in-question could change their demeanor and alter their answers. And with the language barrier, there was an accompanied fear of a misunderstanding. Each interview was vibrant, yet difficult, as I had to focus not only on my story but the story my sources were trying to get out of me.
But being blindfolded and drop-kicked out of my comfort zone and landing dizzily in a land of unprecedented personal reporting was the best means of growth for me. I adapted quickly to my new environment – I was forced to – and easing in to new situations doesn’t suit me as well; I have a bit of a rogue style of doing things. As I left Jordan, I knew I wasn’t returning home, but traveling to the next destination on my journey as a reporter.
Over this past century, fast food has become a staple in American culture. Wendy, the Burger King, and Ronald McDonald are now symbols of a cuisine we have adopted as “classically American”. Despite the plethora of notoriety fast food has accumulated over this past decade—most of it due to our country’s strides towards healthier living—many people still find the efficiency and familiarity of fast food something they’ll gladly incorporate into their diets.
As a college student, I am constantly finding myself restricted by both the time it takes to cook well-balanced meals for myself, and the prices of eating at a sit-down restaurant. Whether it’s co-op, classes, or clubs, sometimes we’re left with so little time in the day, all we can do is grab something on the go.
Unfortunately, most fast food chains contain menus that consist almost entirely of meat products. Lately, I’ve been having a recurring dilemma where I recommend a local burger place because it has great fries and milkshakes and I’m met with the same response: “Okay, but what about the burgers?”
Disheartened by the sad realization that I rarely get to enjoy the true fast food experience, I decided to embark on a quest—a quest to find a restaurant that serves a veggie-friendly version of traditional fast food. It was on this quest that I came across a local franchise called b.good. With several locations in the Boston metro area, it met my criteria for a fast food joint that served the usual selection of burger and fry combos. Feeling hopeful, I decided to bring a friend along to dinner and give b.good a try.
One of the restaurants is located conveniently on Mass. Ave, across the street from Berkelee College of Music. Upon arriving, the first thing I noticed was a sign just outside the entrance reading, “Pineland Farms (New Gloucester, ME) raises our beef, Marcelo grinds our beef, food made by people, not factories.” For those who eat meat, having Marcelo diligently, carefully grinding the meat burger by burger instead of having patties made from a factory is reassuring. For those like me, it’s a nice sentiment—but still no indication of a vegetarian-friendly menu.
My worries vanished after looking at their selection. B.good’s menu functions in the same manner as any other burger joint with the exception of being able to substitute a beef burger with turkey, veggie, or chicken. You can also have sweet potato fries instead of regular fries, and as someone who loves a good batch of sweet potato fries, this was a pretty big deal for me. Filled with joyous anticipation for my fast food, I grabbed a cup and filled it with some of b.good’s homemade mint iced tea, took a seat, and waited for my name to be called.
I ordered a burger they call the “Adopted Luke,” made of course with a veggie patty rather than one made with meat. It was coated in Swiss cheese, caramelized onions, and a tantalizing barbeque sauce. I would’ve initially just liked the sandwich and not loved it, but the sauce saved the day. It had a summery sweetness to it while still doing justice to barbeque sauce’s intended smokiness. It was unreal.
If the idea of a vegetarian, all-American dinner isn’t enough to convince you to try this place, might I bring to your attention the fact that it’s neither pricey nor time-consuming. For less than 10 dollars, I got a veggie burger, sweet potato fries, and the iced tea, and it took almost no time for my order to be prepared. B.good is truly all of the aspects of fast food with none of the meat.
So, I have finally done it—I’ve found a haven where vegetarians can finally turn their fast food fantasies into reality. B.good has really changed the fast food game in a progressive way. Not only do they make their menu available to a whole new crowd, they have achieved that perfect balance between the burgers and fries our country loves so much and our new movement towards healthier, more sustainable living.
Jose Taibot knew something was wrong. His head ached, his blood pressure plummeted and he suddenly felt overcome by sickness. He stepped away from the grill, the one he’d worked at for six years in Northeastern’s Stetson East dining hall, and begged his manager to call an ambulance “Please,” he said, “I think I’m having a heart attack.”
The response appalled him. “Come on, Jose, you just want to go home.” Eventually, the manager allowed him to leave.
Taibot walked out of the dining hall and into mid-August’s sweltering 95-degree heat, knowing he would have to take public transportation to East Boston Medical Center. He arrived after a lengthy two-train commute but before he could reach the front door, Taibot collapsed. He woke up in the intensive care unit hours later, where he was told about the major blockage in a main artery. A doctor explained that if he’d arrived just 15 minutes later, Taibot would be dead.
“The managers [were going to] let me die here. They never apologized – they attacked my life,” Taibot says. “That’s why when I found out that the union wanted to organize, I was the first one to stand up and get in line.”
In mid-March, Northeastern University dining hall workers delivered a petition to Chartwell’s food service administration, stating the their plan to unionize. Employees, like Taibot, have put forth claims of disrespect, mistreatment, abuse, unfair wage and poor benefits. These allegations acted as a catalyst to jumpstart the movement, and the petition was signed by nearly 75 percent of the staff.
In the past five years alone, stories of abuse and allegations of mistreatment by college service workers have been cropping up all throughout the United States. In May 2011, housekeepers at the University of Maryland alleged that they’d been subjected to sexual harassment, racial discrimination and abuse at the hand of their employer. Pomona College in Claremont, Calif. came under fire in 2010 when the vast majority of its food service workers came forward and demanded the right to unionize, reporting severe mistreatment by the college. And for the past several years, service workers at Harvard have been actively crusading for living wages and more humane, habitable working conditions and treatment.
Now, Northeastern is added to the rapidly growing list of colleges being pinned by service workers as complacent accessories to mistreatment.
Northeastern falls into the private sector category of American businesses, which sit under the National Labor Relations Act. “Less than 12 percent of the workforce is unionized in this country, and in the private sector, it’s down to about eight percent,” says Elaine Bernard, director of Harvard Law’s labor and worklife program. “There are a whole lot of barriers and it’s extremely difficult to unionize.”
Taibot still works under Chartwell’s management, despite their nonchalance about the incident that threatened his life. “Do I think they put me in danger? Definitely, 100 times I feel this way. But I need this job, this is the only one I have.”
The Honduras native, banded with his coworkers in solidarity, knows there’s a desperate need for this union. “I want respect, to be valued as a human being and an employee. I want to be paid fairly. I want dignity.”
* * *
Though it’s true that service workers have been increasingly active in the crusade for better treatment as of late, the phenomenon is not a new one. Steven Vallas, chairman of Northeastern’s sociology department, notes that campaigns for improvement in less-favored jobs have been prevalent since the beginning of the 20th century.
“If you go back to 1920, working at a steel mill, there were really horrible conditions. It was dangerous and filthy, and you worked 16-hour days, six and a half days a week. Nobody wanted to work in a steel mill if there was any alternative. But fast forward to 1940 or 1950, those became good jobs and now, people would kill to have jobs in steel mills,” Vallas explains. “What I’m saying is, whether jobs become good or bad jobs is open to negotiation. We can change existing conditions.”
It’s that notion that has driven employees in service and hospitality jobs to speak out, especially in the last decade. But the heightened demand for equality comes as result of overall worsened working conditions.
Bernard, director of Harvard’s Labor and Worklife Program, underscores how the nation’s economic bubble burst has continued to affect workplace unionization.
“It’s ongoing. We’ve had a recession since 2008 so of course we continue to have fights,” says Bernard, “Fights about contracting, fights about wages, benefits and hours.”
In order to stay afloat in the face of recent economic hardships, universities and colleges throughout America have taken to outsourcing companies responsible for custodial work, food service, and other hospitality jobs. However, this cost-friendly solution ends up being less than friendly on every other plane.
“Instead of service workers being employees of the university, where they could go directly to the university, or they could line up with students and other people to stand up against what was happening, they became employees of a third party,” says Bernard. “The university can seek to say ‘Its not us, we’re not the employer, the employer is Chartwell’s,’ and then the contractor can say, ‘Well it’s not our fault, the university gives us a contract.’”
Geoff Carens, union representative in the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers, highlights the reluctance of most universities to accept accountability for outsourced workers.
“The struggle has to be to hold the university’s seat to the fire and force them to see that they control everything. If they tell the outsource company, ‘You have to pay your workers X amount of dollars,’ that’s what they’ll do,” said Carens, who is also a union activist for dozens of businesses throughout Boston. “The university decides whether they employ a certain company or not, so they have a lot of influence.”
Vallas, who authored the 2012 publication “Conceptualizing Power in Work Organizations,” says in regard to subcontracting, “ethical obligations are sticky. There’s no way in the world that a university can outsource its work, and then wash its hands of what happens,” Vallas says. “I think administration had to be educated or convinced that they had to take responsibility for whatever goes on under Chartwell’s management.”
Brian Lang, president of Unite Here’s Local 26 sector in Boston, believes that a university and its contracted companies share joint responsibility for all employees.
“Most universities have a code of conduct for the campus community. All employers, regardless of it they’re on-campus or not, have a social and a moral responsibility to treat people with dignity and respect,” says Lang. He also notes that while that is the best-case scenario, it’s rare that companies act so valiantly. “Employers are more likely to be disrespectful, and underpay, and provide very poor or no benefits.”
The troubles that came with America’s economic downturn gave the working class a new set of problems to grapple with. But often, with claims resembling Bello’s, service workers seek to unionize is in protest of poor working conditions and in a demand for respect.
Lang says that out of work relationships can influence employees to seek improvements. “They oftentimes have friends and relatives that work in a unionized setting, and they’ve discovered that the pay, the benefits, the work rules, and the sense of dignity and respect that people have in a work setting where there’s a union is far superior,” Lang says.
Aside from conclusions made by comparison, there are internal, work-related problems that plague service workers.
“Two factors – labor market vulnerability and a weakened sense of citizenship – take their toll on workers lives,” Vallas says. “The notion is that [these workers] can be replaced at a moment’s notice. When managers need to get things done, they don’t need to worry, ‘Do I need to be nice to this person? Do I need to convince and motivate this person, make them feel a sense of commitment to this organization?’”
Vallas says that the majority of service workers in the United States are immigrants, which further complicates the situation. “They don’t have linguistic familiarity, or they don’t feel that they are considered to be members of American society,” Vallas says of immigrant workers. “They are often times treated and assumed to be second-class citizens.”
Taibot, now an 11-year employee at Stetson East dining hall, is still subject to what Vallas calls “management by intimidation.” After Taibot suffered a work injury, his manager didn’t ask him if he was hurt – but the manager did tell him, repeatedly, how stupid he was.
“I could barely walk,” Taibot says of his injuries sustained after falling from a ladder onto a grill, and then the floor. Chartwell’s managers waited for Taibot in the office, where he was forced to sign a waiver he couldn’t understand.
“I said, ‘I don’t want to sign these papers because I don’t know what I’m gonna sign.’ And then he said to me, ‘If you don’t sign, I’m going to fire you and then you can work at McDonalds.’”
While there are a host of legitimate factors that serve as motivation for unions in the workplace, standing up against management is a nerve-racking act that takes a calculated plan and a lot of courage.
“Right now in the United States, the labor laws are really tilted in the advantage of employers,” says Carens. “Most union drafts fail because management can use dirty tricks: they fire activists, they subject workers to captive-audience meetings and anti-union propaganda, and they make threats that people will lose their jobs, make less money and that unions will interfere in work relationships.”
* * *
Angela Bello is relaxing in a secluded corner of Northeastern’s Stetson East dining hall. It’s minutes before the end of her shift, and Bello, a four-year employee of the dining hall, finally pauses to enjoy a plate of the food she’s been serving for hours. She sits with several coworkers, who quietly smile and watch her as she talks. Though they’re all dressed identically, Bello has added an embellishment to her outfit – not a fashion statement, but a demand for respect. The white button pinned high on her food-stained apron reads, “Vote Yes for Dignity.”
Bello is the spokesperson for Northeastern’s dining hall workers, and leader of the movement that marked the beginning of the employees’ plan to unionize. Since that time, Northeastern workers have voted to join Local 26 in a landslide victory, with 87 percent in-favor ballots.
Bello is elated by the recent success and plans to move forward accordingly, but she won’t forget what drove she and her coworkers to this point.
“I’ve stayed in the job because I need that stupid job. I’ve felt like a worm. They made me feel like a little worm inside a plant,” Bello said. “When people are scared and people are working in fear, that’s when I push myself to say that’s not right. This is America. This is freedom of speaking here,” she asserted. “People work hard, at least give us what we deserve: Respect.”
In Boston, Unite Here’s Local 26 department has long been responsible for more than two-dozen hotels in the area, in addition to three private universities.
As the newest addition to Local 26, Northeastern University workers are on the path to unionization, aiming at the possibility for better treatment. “Now that workers have certified through government-run election that they want Local 26 to represent them at the bargaining table, now the bargaining starts,” says Vallas.
Bello expands on the changes she and her coworkers hope for in the coming months. “We are organized and we want the union because we want a better life for ourselves, we want better life insurance, we want better money,” Bello says. “Treat us with respect, with dignity. We’re not here looking for trouble; we’re here to extend our hands to [the management.]”
Lang knows from experience the incredible changes that can arise from effective unionizing – changes that workers at Northeastern hope to achieve.
“At Harvard, the average wage rate is $20 an hour. They have excellent benefits, they have a defined benefit pension plan, and they know over the course of this next five years when they’re going to get a pay increase because its in their contract,” Lang says. “They have a mechanism demanding that they be respected, that there’s a system of accountability that goes both ways.” Lang believes this is within reach at other institutions, Northeastern included.
After spending 15 years at Local 26 and working on countless cases in favor of equality, Lang anticipates, “The future is bright. When food workers are paid well, given good benefits, and respected, it has an effect on the communities” Lang says. “People can be part of wholesome neighborhoods, where they can raise their families with dignity and respect. Boston is a better place to live as a result.”
Taibot, a friend and coworker of Bello, hopes for a bright future for his three children, ages 11, 17 and 20. “I want to work hard [so I can] educate them – but with the salary I have, it’s not easy.” Taibot makes $15 an hour. The minimum wage for line cooks in Boston is $21 per hour.
Whether in Boston or any other American town, Vallas believes that unionization lays the groundwork for a society that treats people, regardless of origin and class, with dignity, fairness and appreciation.
“You can’t envision a democratic society without a union. People really need the right to organize on their own behalf,” Vallas says. “It comes pretty close to the American dream: that people can just work hard, and earn something to pass on to their children. And I’d like to think that we make that possible for people.”
Back in Stetson East, Bello pauses to reflect on her active crusade for the betterment of her workplace. “I didn’t know I had that much courage. I feel like a superwoman,” she says. “I never thought this time was coming, but it’s here already. We’re gonna win. That will be unforgettable.”
With hundreds of students spending the summer one semester on Dialogues of Civilizations, those students taking classes at the Boston campus may start to feel a bit envious of their friends’ global adventures. Luckily, the Boston museum scene has a line-up that will allow viewers to not only get a glimpse of a distant land, but also a distant time.
Two exhibitions that showcase works of art and literature from ancient Venice are coming to museums only a short walk from campus. Students in Boston will get to feast their eyes on original works of art crafted by some of the most famous, 18th century, Venetian artists. The Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) and the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum have brought the allure and romanticism of Venice to Boston.
“The Invention of Fantasy: 18th Century Venice,” the summer exhibit at the MFA, is a collection of paintings and drawings that capture the mood of the city during that time. It was a time of abundance, refinement, and creativity, and the artistic world thrived during the time. But rather than feeling like a history lesson, the exhibit is a visual manifestation of the spirit of the time. The exhibit will be shown this summer from June 2nd to September 30th in Gallery 144.
The show goes beyond a simple representation of what life was like back then, it instills within its viewers that spirit of creative energy that inspired the artists to create such bold work added valuably to the artistic landscape. According to the MFA website, the work ranges from “Giovanni Battista Tiepolo’s voluptuous painted cloudscapes with figures opened illusionistic light-filled vistas in ceilings,” to drawings “portraying remarkably playful and whimsical scenes of Venetian daily life.”
Another take on Venetian art and artifacts is now on display at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, located just a short walk from the MFA on Palace Road. The exhibit consists of beautifully, intricately decorated volumes that are part of Ms. Gardner’s collection of ancient Venetian books called Commissioni. This museum has a very distinctive setup, as the collection resides in the estate of the late Ms. Gardner herself. This exhibition highlights not only Ms. Gardner’s passion for collecting books but also her admiration of the city of Venice.
This collection, located in the museums Long Gallery, may not be a typical art gallery exhibition, nor originally designed as works of art, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t truly astounding spectacles. The exhibit goes much farther back into Venice’s history than the MFA exhibit—dating as far back as the seventh century C.E.
In addition to getting to view these ancient books that will only be on display for a limited time, the museum is also home to a café that has outdoor seating in the courtyard of the museum. Visitors can take a break from the heat while perusing the exhibit while also enjoying a snack in the freshly planted gardens that adorn the courtyard.
Both of these shows are only temporary, and so is the warm summer weather. Take advantage of both of these opportunities before they vanish and pay a visit to these exhibitions. Venice is waiting.
The city of Boston is nationally renowned for both the abundance and quality of its local dining options—ranging from the small cafes that line Columbus Avenue to the full-blown, five star bistros where the salad forks are freshly chilled and the bill gives you that same sinking feeling you get when you see the “Reminder: your monthly Ebill is now ready,” email. However, many people find that price is not the only factor that limits their restaurant options.
It’s called vegetarianism, and people practice it for any number of reasons. My mother is a vegetarian, and I don’t eat meat outside of my own home, so I was used to living the veggie lifestyle before I got to college. Even so, I still encounter the major disappointment of arriving at a restaurant with some friends, looking at the menu, and realizing there’s absolutely nothing I can eat.
For those readers that share in my displeasure to be the customer at a restaurant that has to go down the list of menu items and ask the waiter, “Does this one have meat? Yes? Is it possible to get it without meat? No? Okay, well then what about this one?” I may be about to change your life…or at least your choice in restaurants. After four full semesters of scouring the city for places that cater to vegetarians, I have compiled a list of some of my all-time favorite Boston veggie meals.
With the gorgeous summer weather approaching, it seems appropriate to share a particular favorite of mine that requires a stroll through town. Café 472, conveniently named after its street address on Commonwealth Avenue, lies not quite within the realm of Boston University but is nestled in the basement of a beautiful brownstone that, at night, is illuminated by the distant flashing of the iconic Citgo sign.
Maybe it’s the armchairs and sofas, or perhaps the incredibly friendly service staff behind the counter, but as soon as you walk into Café 472 it feels as though you’re in your own living room and not a sidewalk cafe. With the option of both indoor and outdoor seating, you can enjoy dinner surrounded by the bustle of the city and retreat indoors for dessert when it gets chilly. Also, there is really no more fitting summer dessert than a heaping pile of homemade frozen yogurt.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though—dinner first. Their website clearly states that they cater to both vegetarians and vegans, which means the days of asking for no meat are finally over. Many of dishes do include meat, but the menu contains so many items that there are ample choices even among the vegetarian options.
I must confess that I am a huge sucker for a well-made salad. For me, nothing is more satisfying than getting that perfect forkful of dressing-coated goodies. When I ordered the hearts of palm salad from Café 472 for the first time, it took me to a whole new level of salad appreciation, maybe even worship.
For those readers who aren’t salad enthusiasts, the Café serves wraps (they call them “Roll Ups”), paninis, soup, and Napolean style pizza. Whatever vegetarian delicacy you crave, you’ll find it there, and your friends that do eat meat can enjoy the N.U. Sandwich, which is—you guessed it—named after the University itself. This sandwich includes pastrami, corned beef, Swiss cheese, cole slaw and Russian dressing, and it’s rated as a favorite among customers.
Despite my devotion to salads, I do understand that some people don’t find them quite substantial enough to be a meal. However, filling up on dinner at Café 472 would be a mistake.
As I said earlier, the café serves homemade frozen yogurt. You start by choosing a base yogurt: vanilla, chocolate, sugar-free tart, or tofu based, I’m talking to you, vegans, and then have your choice of over 30 mix-ins and toppings to add in. Don’t worry, vegans, the toppings are variations of fruit, candy, nuts, and chocolate, so you have plenty of toppings to add as well.
A small caveat—Café 472 does not skimp on the froyo. The portion is probably enough for two people to split, like Pinkberry on steroids. So long as you and a friend can agree on what toppings you want to try, you’ll be in business. My personal favorite is chocolate yogurt with banana mixed in; it’s my own twist on the classic summer dessert of chocolate covered, frozen bananas. It’s spectacular.
Café 472’s outdoor seating, noticeably fresh ingredients, and generous portions of frozen yogurt are a recipe for a perfect summer dining destination, not only for us vegetarians but our friends that eat meat as well. So when you get a chance after a long day of summer classes, take a break for the evening and venture over to Café 472.
There’s this game I play whenever I take a vacation. We’ll call it big-kid make-believe. Basically, I try to imagine what my life would be like if I lived there, deciding who I’d be friends with, where I’d live, what I’d wear, what I’d eat and everything in between. At the end of the trip, I come to my final decision about whether the location should be added to my list of possible future homes. Failing this test doesn’t necessarily mean the trip was a bust—I’ve had great stays in Ireland and Mexico, for example, but would never settle down in either country—but the places that feel like could-be homes are always special. And lucky for me, I recently got to play my favorite game in a place I’ve always wanted to visit: Provence, a region in southern France.
Thanks to my mom’s masterful trip planning skills, my family ended up renting a villa for the week we were in Provence. The villa was part of a large, gorgeous estate run as sort of a B&B on steroids, with the property divided into separate cottages surrounding the owners’ mansion. Cooking our own meals, getting slobbered on by the owners’ dog and having a backyard all made the stay more comfortable, but the true test of Provence’s living appeal happened after we left the estate.
The region automatically won points for beauty. Everything we saw, from adorable villages and vineyards to fields of poppies and mountain ranges, looked like it could have been on a postcard. Idyllic beauty isn’t all Provence is good for, though; it’s also bursting with history. It seemed like every single village, no matter how small, had some sort of thousand-year-old ruin. A 7th century village here, a 10th century castle there—and oh, hey, it’s the Pope’s palace from the 1300s. And I thought Boston was a great place for site seeing.
Provence is worth the trip for the scenery alone, but beautiful places are dime a dozen. The culture and feeling of a place is far more important in my quest for finding the perfect place to live, and the way the Provençal locals live is certainly done with style. My family referred to this lifestyle as “French Chilling.” In short, the locals have made an art form of chilling out. Businesses flagrantly contradict their posted hours, closing at will and observing any and all holidays. Throughout the week, school-aged children seemed to be anywhere but school. One brochure we came across non-apologetically stated that many shops close from noon to 3:30 p.m., “when all of Southern France sits down to a long lunch.” These people truly linger over their meals, putting the American in-and-out mentality to shame. They eat multiple courses and then sit and talk for another hour over espresso—and then go lounge in cafés again after they get out of work a few hours later. Okay, then. Not a bad way to live.
And while we’re on the subject of eating, the food was phenomenal. This is one livability category I could absolutely get used to, though my skinny jeans might begin to object after a while. Baguettes and croissants left and right, bottles of rosé that cost less than a gallon of milk and pastries to die for—sign me up. Part of the reason the cuisine is so good, aside from the—literally—heart-stopping amount of butter used, is that all the ingredients are fresh. This is not a country of leftovers. Street markets are all over Provence, and people get the majority of their perishable groceries there. They buy their baguettes, produce, meat and spices fresh, daily. It would be hard for the resulting meals not to be delicious, so the only reasonable course of action was eat myself silly for seven days. No regrets there.
If I were to live in Provence, however, I’d probably occasionally have to stop stuffing my face with pain au chocolat and, you know, talk to people. Luckily, the locals defied the snotty French person stereotype Americans have come to believe. Nearly everyone we encountered was kind to us, and humored us by pretending our French had some semblance of grammatical correctness. Everyone was more than willing to give directions, recommend restaurants or just chat. Maybe people just have more time to be friendly when they’re allowed to take afternoon-long lunches, but it was certainly a welcome change from the sullen cashiers and harried waiters I come across so often at home.
So, with all these things to consider, would I award Provence future home status? To be honest, probably not. The thing that made the vacation so great—the fine art of French Chilling—is the thing I can’t picture myself doing forever and always. I love to relax as much as the next girl, but I’m a born and bred New Englander. For better or for worse, I’m all about efficiency and productivity. So while it felt like heaven to feast on three-hour dinners and spend mornings leisurely strolling through markets for a week, I know I couldn’t do it forever.
The truth is I’m just not sure I could abandon my rushed American ways for good. I’m hard-wired to be outraged if my Dunkin’s coffee isn’t ready in a minute or less, multitask like its an Olympic sport and risk being hit by the Green Line train if it means getting to Marino a few seconds earlier. I always have and always will love all things French, but I must say au revoir to French Chilling. Those baguettes, on the other hand, I could live with.
If you’re staying on campus or in Boston this summer, don’t let classes and co-ops start to stress you out too soon. Take a break from the daily grind of work and homework and check out some of these festivals this June.
Cambridge River Festival
June 2nd, Memorial Drive, Cambridge
This free, daylong celebration of all types of art forms annually draws crowds of roughly 20,000 people, hinting that perhaps making the trek across the Charles River for this festival is worth it. Musical performances of all genres, dancing, art demonstrations, family arts and crafts, and hundreds of food and craft vendors characterize the Cambridge River Festival. The festivities, located on the Cambridge side of the Charles River along Memorial Drive, are just a T ride away from campus. So get out of Club Snell and get over to Cambridge to experience a day of art! Vendor information, performance schedules, directions, and more can be found on their website.
Jimmy Fund Scooper Bowl
June 5th-7th, City Hall Plaza, Boston
While many people wouldn’t turn down an all-you-can-eat ice cream festival, the Jimmy Fund Scooper Bowl, located at City Hall Plaza, presents a more philanthropic incentive to attend as well. All proceeds from the festival are donated to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute housed in Boston’s own Longwood Medical Area. With ice cream companies like Ben & Jerry’s among the donating ranks, the Scooper Bowl is sure to be a hit, as it has for the past 30 years. Tickets are $10 for those aged ten and up, however groups of 15 or larger can purchase tickets with a $2 discount. Also available are Scooper Passes, a $20 ticket that allows the purchaser to visit the Scooper Bowl three separate times. Grab some friends and donate to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute while eating some of the country’s best ice cream. Check out www.scooperbowl.org for information about event times, contests, tickets, volunteer opportunities, and more.
This festival is in honor of the late Chinese poet-patriot Qu Yuan, who died in 200 B.C. The festival includes a 500-meter long dragon boat race, with 30 to 40 teams participating from across the U.S. and Canada. Event-goers can attend performances and demonstrations of traditional Asian dances, music, and other cultural traditions, including the dragon boat race, for free. Enjoy authentic and traditional Asian food representing a plethora of countries as well as arts and crafts, all just a short trip from campus. Get cultural and visit the bank of the Charles River to experience this unique festival. Head over to www.bostondragonboat.org for more information regarding performers, food, race times, vendor locations, directions, and more.
This film festival celebrates and showcases works of upcoming and already established independent filmmakers of color. Perhaps the largest attraction of the festival is the film screenings, taking place at the Museum of Fine Arts, Wentworth Institute of Technology, and Northeastern University’s own Cabral Center at the John D. O’Bryant African-American Institute, among other sites. In addition to film screenings, this festival offers workshops, panel discussions, Q&A with filmmakers and special guests, and many more interesting opportunities that are perfect for those looking for an alternative to expensive summer blockbusters at the theaters. Take a break from co-op or homework for a few hours and check out some of these sure to be fantastic independent films playing right on campus! To learn more about the events of the festival, exact locations of screenings and events, and how to volunteer to help, visit roxburyinternationalfilmfestival.org.
June 28th to July 4th City Hall Plaza, Boston
Is there really any better place to start celebrating the 4th of July than Boston, the city bursting at the seams with patriotism? This festival is full of reenactments of key events of the American Revolution such as the Boston Tea Party, concerts, and historical tours, totaling to over 200 events. Main events, such as the Opening Ceremony, Children’s Day, and Chowderfest will be located on City Hall Plaza, with other daily events spread throughout the downtown and waterfront districts. The events vary in prices, ranging from free to $175. Don your finest colonial garb and celebrate the birth of our nation in historic Boston! For more information regarding events, prices for each event, and more visit www.bostonharborfest.com.
Looking to escape the summer heat of the city? With the swipe of a Charlie Card, you can find yourself relaxing on one of these sandy beaches in Boston and letting the sound of the waves erase the stress of your summer co-op.
Location: Castle Island
Travel: Take MBTA Bus 9 from Copley Station (Green Line) or Broadway Station (Red Line)
Amenities: Free parking, bathhouse and local favorite Sullivan’s snack stand
About the Beach: Pleasure Bay is known for its sunny shores and clean waters. Visitors can expect top-notch swimming conditions due to Castle Island’s treatment as a state park. But be warned, big waves are not common to the tranquil beach. National historic landmark, Fort Independence, sits nearby. The five-pointed structure was built on the island in the mid 1800s and was used in several wars including the American Revolution. It is quite the tourist attraction today. To see both, visitors can take the Harbor Walk that extends along the beach and detours to the famous fort.
Location: South Boston
Travel: Take Red Line T to the JFK/UMass stop and walk about 5 minutes to the beach; Take MBTA Route 5, 8, 11, 16, or 41
Amenities: Free parking, bathhouse with restrooms, changing rooms, showers, water fountains, chess tables, bocce courts and snack stand
About the Beach: Carson Beach is best for land loving visitors. Its expanse of sandy beach is rarely crowded and perfect for sunbathing with a summer read, or for starting up a game of Frisbee. But don’t work up too much of a sweat, because its waters receive less than satisfactory reviews. The most common complaint of Carson Beach is the rocky, murky, and occasionally jellyfish inhabited wading area. For swimmers willing to brave the water, consider bringing along a pair of water-shoes.
Travel: Take the Blue Line to the Revere Beach T station
Amenities: Nearby restaurants, picnic tables and pavilion
About the Beach: Revere Beach is an expansive stretch of sand for being located so close to a city. Established in 1896, Revere is America’s first public beach, previously known as the Coney Island of New England. Its sandy shores gradually slope out into the ocean, creating a shallow but clean swimming area speckled with seashells and the occasional hermit crab. The sand is extremely clean and goes on for about 2 miles. The street lining Revere offers beachgoers a variety of choices for lunch and dinner. Unfortunately, the neighborhood surrounding Revere Beach is not the safest area. An excessive amount of police officers is a regular fixture in the surrounding area. Walk quickly from the T to the sand.
Special Events: During the 12 to the 15 of July, the beach will be transformed into an art exhibit with the arrival of the Revere Beach National Sand Sculpting Festival. This year’s event planners expect to attract about 500,000 spectators and15 sculptors traveling from as far as Mexico and Canada at the 9th annual competition. Another attraction to catch is the Revere Beach Farmers’ Market, from July 23 to October 29. The market features a variety of vendors including local farms, bakeries, and fish markets.
Savin Hill Beach and Malibu Beach
Travel: Take the Red Line to Savin Hill. Take a right on Savin Hill Avenue, and a right onto Denny Street. The beach is at the end of Denny Street (5 minutes); Take MBTA bus Route 6 or 18
Amenities: Free parking, bathhouse, ball fields, boat launch, lifeguards and a protected swimming area
About the Beaches: Although two separate beaches, the shores of Savin Hill and Malibu run together and are almost impossible to distinguish between. They were extremely popular with Bostonians before deteriorating during the 1960’s. Luckily for beachgoers, re-sanding, landscaping and other upgrades have returned the beaches to the city oasis they used to be known for. From the shore you can see the Keyspan Gas Tank, a landmark of the Dorchester waterfront. Some see this as an obstruction of their view, but to others it is a chance to see the bright rainbow-colored stripes painted on the massive gas tank: the world’s largest copyrighted piece of artwork.