There are many reasons to visit Harvard Square, Harvard being the least of them. Sure, the buildings are pretty and whatnot, but I barely notice them as I’m trudging through a snowdrift and anticipating frostbitten toes. (Shoulda worn my Uggs.)
If you’re visiting Harvard Square in the summer – prime tourist season – skip the boring tourist tours and take my patently far more awesome tour.
Guide to Harvard Square
Hey tourists, have you ever thought about sightseeing the other tourists? Because I can promise you, they’re infinitely more entertaining than any rando not-actually-a-student Harvard summer school student. See tourists through local eyes by noting how large and homogenous tour groups are – all old people! Haha! All Korean teenagers! Haha!
Maximize your tourist-watching joy by sitting on the steps of University Hall, the backdrop of the John Harvard statue. Watch tourists grope and grasp John Harvard’s foot with glee. Laugh inside, or openly – thousands upon thousands of students have urinated on that thing. I know this, and have seen this, as a fact. But that shouldn’t keep you from indulging your own tourist whims, after all, urine is sterile! Isn’t that comforting?
So I might get flack for being insensitive and all that, but panhandlers are part of what make Harvard Square well, Harvard Square. If the homeless have a religion, then the Square is their mecca, their promised land, their Willy Wonka Candy Factory.
Bazillions of naive tourists = ka-ching!
I haven’t seen a lot of turnover in three years since I’ve been here – there are the same characters day after day, working the same areas with well-worn schtick.
See if you can spot: the guy who wants beer money; the war vet in a wheelchair; the long haired dude with a cheek growth who will stop you on the street; and the guy who plaintively calls “Will you please help me?” when it is dead quiet. The most famous is the Spare Change man who stands outside of Au Bon Pain and solicits you in a charming sing song to buy his papers. He was in Good Will Hunting. Sources tell me that he’ll befriend you if you’re a repeat customer.
Feel free to drop a bill if you must, but if you want to make sure your money goes to its intended purpose, I’d encourage you to check out the Harvard Square Homeless Shelter. Run by Harvard students, it does great work with an incredibly dedicated team of volunteers. If you’re a business, consider donating money or leftover food to a very worthy and well-run cause.
Au Bon Pain
PSA over, some of my quirkiest – if not fondest – memories were sitting in the back corner, near the bathroom, in the big Harvard Square Au Bon Pain by the T stop. If you drop by here late at night – around 9pm-midnight – this is a prime hangout spot for Cambridge’s less well-adjusted. If you want to feel somewhat unsafe, and occasionally heckled, or just observe the human condition, this is it. Your other option would be an elitist, all-male Harvard final club, but you can’t get into those as a tourist, and they aren’t really open during the summer, anyway. Ha. I’m so clever.
The Charles River
Only worth seeing if the weather’s nice, otherwise Boston might look a little depressing. Worthy stop: the bridge where Matt Di Pasquale ’08 dropped trou for an Ivy League nudie mag (NSFW) photoshoot. Just please don’t blame me if you’re arrested for deciding to follow suit and unsuit.