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Boston's political machine of old still alive in West Roxbury

Promising myself I'd explore Boston in ways I haven't previously, I marched myself to West Roxbury for the Ward 20 caucuses. In the process, I ate some tasty donuts and witnessed a side of Boston I'd only read about in history books.

Passing the threshold from semi-dreary grey daylight to the inside of the West Roxbury Pub brought with it a number of surprises, none of which should have actually been surprising. First was the sheer number of people. There had to be a hundred people crammed into this little function room. At the sign-in desk, I was questioned by a trio of pleasant, preened ladies who needed to know my precinct. I didn’t know what it was, and they were kind enough to look it up for me. While waiting, I was pushed and pressed back and forth by the deluge of democrats coming through the door. Finally, I was given the precinct number and instructed by a friendly middle-aged woman in a red suit who seemed to know what was going on that I was to sign in, take a ballot for female delegates, and move along.

I made my way through the room and took in more of the second unsurprising surprise: I had just walked into an Edwin O’Connor novel. The room was darker than the lights in it should have allowed, with dark wood-panel walls that went almost to the ceiling. In the gap between wood and ceiling was heavily patterned wallpaper that I know I’d seen in my earliest days before my great-grandmother died. The room was full of round tables, all filled with middle- and old-aged citizens, with the very occasional late 20- or 30-somethings. The back walls had long tables pressed up against them where men who work harder one Fridays than I have in my whole life leaned up against them.

Folks kept coming in as the big hand passed 12 on the clock, while city councilors (I counted four) circulated around the room, shaking hands and working magic. I made my way to the far back corner, where I found a place to stand between the end of a long table and the back exit. Admittedly, I wasn’t introducing myself to people. Being in the guts of Boston’s fabled Democratic party machine was overwhelming me, and I was admittedly distracted by a combination of the cultural value of the room, an almost total lack of any but white people, and little bets I was making with myself about who would start smoking first before everyone pulled out their packs of Pall Malls and began the process of tobacco-curing the entire delegation.

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