It was the summer of 1986, between my junior and senior years of college. A weekday morning, around 6:30 am. I got off the subway, on my way to the breakfast shift at my summer job. Traffic was light, by Kenmore Square standards anyway, and the sidewalks were almost eerily deserted. Just a few poor slobs like me whose workday started too early for real humans. It was going to be hot. It was already sticky. And I didn’t want to be there. I trudged past the Rathskeller with my head down, so I didn’t have to see the too-bright sky.
I cast about for the source of the voice, and stopped dead in my tracks when I located it. A lanky black man with long dreads was standing outside the club, wearing most of what had once been a pretty nice suit. And, yeah, he was talking to me.
“Morning,” I mumbled back, trying to be polite, just wanting to get on with my day. Then he smiled at me as broadly as any carefree ten-year-old and I couldn’t help smiling back.
That was the day I met Mr. Butch. Musician. Poet. Folk icon. I made that gods-awful early trek through Kenmore for the rest of that summer, and if he was there (as he often was), he always had a smile for me. It never failed to make my morning.
More than 20 years later, I still consider it one of the highlights of my college days. I imagine there are hundreds, maybe thousands of people out there with similar memories. Because Mr. Butch was a fixture in Kenmore Square for years before all the new construction in the 90s changed the character of the neighborhood. Before the BU police harassed him and the rest of the area’s homeless population into exile. He made his home in Allston after that.
Yesterday, Boston lost a little part of its soul. Yesterday, Boston lost Mr. Butch. He leaves behind a lot of friends.