Friday, April 15, 2016

But it's over at Au Bon Pain:

But it’s over at Au Bon Pain: 
Boys of Summer Part II

photo:  Steve Stepak
Today: 60+ degrees, wonderful sunlight: what ran through my mind was I can’t be there but my buddies are there having a grand old time. Then it struck me: But it’s over at A Bon Pain.  For years; when I’m captured by my job or personal activity; I would have a warm moment dreaming how my buddies are carrying the Great Karma in my absence:  But it’s over at A Bon Pain. All the close friends, all the personal advice, all the street talking, all the political discussions, all the chess: But it’s over at A Bon Pain.  

Gone are the masters, gone are gamblers, gone are players, gone is the brain trust, gone are the gawkers watching Cambridge’s metaphorical and physical demonstration of intellectual power and activity.

photo:  Steve Stepak
Never had a chance to tell my buds goodbye or that I’d be working through my summer for the first time in 6 years. I am missing their lament saying that my priorities are messed up:  But it’s over at A Bon Pain. Although everything has a beginning and end; What a personal and collective loss. Might as well work this summer. 
photo:  Steve Stepak

What do you miss because the Boys of summer are gone? 

Mike Griffin 

(graphics by Bob Oresick – photos by Steve Stepak & Tony Cortizas)


Well, if you're going to show photos of the boys of Harvard Square, I was one of the originals starting in 1980 when the Au Bon Pain Opened.

So if you could put this photo in your post too, that would make me happy.


( Mike is quoted in a good article about Harvard Square chess in New In Chess,
December 2014. )

Here is Mike's  original Boys of Summer:

Chess at the A Bon Pain 2010 season: Goodbye Boys of Summer

photo: Tony Cortizas Jr.

I see you boys of summer in your ruin.

Man in his maggot's barren.

And boys are full and foreign in the pouch.

I am the man your father was.

We are the sons of flint and pitch.

O see the poles are kissing as they cross.

-Dylan Thomas

"Is that the mind's last, soundless, dying cry? Who will remember? There was no rustling of old crowds as my long, wrenching, joyless voyage ended, only the question, 'Who will remember?" and a sign in the renting office at New Ebbets Field apartments saying, as if about the past, "NO VACANCY. Files closed."

- Roger Kahn Boys of Summer

Chess has it's Boys of Summer: the crew that congregates outside the A Bon Pain on a daily basis. Weather this spring and summer permitted a tremendous amount of outdoor chess. My unemployment status allowed me to participate often with this group.

Typically this area is known for gambling "lessons" but there are a group of folks, a mixture of all various types and backgrounds of bright brainiacks, that converge to play chess. Or simply hang out across from Harvard Yard and absorb the ambiance of the powerful forceful Thought Karma. I was taken by the camaraderie and friendship developed with these guys who promoted the social component to a high place.

Typically players paired off in threes and played blitz, playing "risers" where the winner continues to sit and play, while the loser rises to be replaced. If a draw, then white sits.

Three highlights this summer were:
  • One Sunday afternoon for over two hours I watched Ilya Krasik
photo: Tony Cortizas Jr.

play Billy Collins photo: Robert Oresick

and Gerry Williams. photo: Robert Oresick
It reminded me of Paul Morphy games: where the superior player was a level better than two pretty good players. The way in which Illya approached each position was extremely educational. I made the comment that a particular variation played reminded me of a Fischer v Bisguier game. To which Illya called time out and reproduced from memory said game for us. Fischer unleashing a hellatious sacrificial attack from a Sozin. Illya never lost that day.
  • Throughout the summer Ben & Jainping Yuan
photo: Robert Oresick
would arrive. Ben would play blitz and attract a crowd.

photo: Tony Cortizas Jr.

  • The Marc Esserman Challenge with crazy odds of: 5 minutes to 45 seconds; an extra queen (5 to 5 mins); or piece odds created an excitement. One time Marc played thru the night and thru the second day, with bodyguard Krasik by his side. There were times when hundreds circled the chess board.

Then one Sunday after Labor Day it happened: weather was good and upon arriving at A Bon Pain there was no one. I sat for a while waiting for another comrade to appear, but it didn't happen. Alone we approach the end of the year feeling the cold, staring into the bleakness, dreaming about spring.

What are your A Bon Pain stories?

Please Comment
Thank You

Mike Griffin
(Graphics by Bob Oresick & Tony Cortizas)

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I'm glad I got my 6 year kid to smash a few tourists over the board last summer before it closed up. The Boston area needs a summer chess hang-out spot alternative.