Dear America: Massachusetts

Sunday, November 06, 2011

I think if you live anywhere long enough, you develop a love-hate relationship with the place. That's definitely how I would characterize my relationship with New York, and sometimes how I describe my relationship with Massachusetts.

Whoever put this video together did a good job of capturing Boston ... but where's the Citgo sign!?

When I was in elementary school and fascinated with U.S. history, Boston seemed like a dream city. And when I found out about Harvard? Forget about it! I had it all figured out: I was going to move to Cambridge with one of my friends from elementary school, and we were going to share a studio split down the center with a bookshelf -- my room was going to be a shade of purple and hers a shade of blue.

My first visit to the Boston/Cambridge area was when I was in the fourth grade. We did some of the walking trails, visited Faneuil Hall, the Museum of Science, and The Paul Revere House. We paid my "future school" a visit, and I think I even rubbed John Harvard's (statue's) shoe, in hopes that it would get me into the university (it didn't). I visited again when I was 13, and this time I got to see the more "normal" parts of town, like Newbury Street and Long Wharf. And then I visited a couple more times during the college process in high school.

When I did finally go to college, it was in the suburbs of Boston. While I didn't exactly think Boston was going to be the magical city I once thought it was, I did imagine all these beautiful New England college scenes. You know the kind I'm talking about -- paths leading to beautiful colonial academic buildings, covered in red and orange leaves. And I'd watched enough Gilmore Girls that I imagined that maybe life would resemble Stars Hollow.

It was nothing like that. Before the end of my first semester, I was living vicariously through friends who had chosen to attend NYU or Columbia instead of an out-of-state college. I missed the coffee shops that stayed open until 1 a.m., the all-night delis. And by the end of my first year, I pretty much hated Massachusetts.

My greatest grievance then (and now): for a state that gets so much snow so regularly, it sure does not know how to handle snow. Unlike New York City, anytime the state was struck with 4 inches of snow or more, the school system shut down. Another grievance is that winter lasts about 6 months there. And yet another was the hostility (sometimes playful and sometimes not) I got for being from NYC ... even though I cared not an iota for baseball or sports in general, many of my MA friends told their friends of some imaginary rivalry with me over sports. That wasn't fun. For a time, it seemed that almost everyone I met who had been born and raised in Massachusetts was very close-minded and set in their ways ... but then, maybe so was I.

The bus rides back up to school after a school break were torture. Four-and-a-half hours of readying myself to return to a school I hated, nine hours after the Thanksgiving weekend.

I spent the entirety of my third year of college away from my school (which was probably the cause of my hatred of Massachusetts more than anything else), and when I returned for my final year, I had distanced myself enough from the school that I began seeing the charm Massachusetts had to offer all over again. I met some open-minded people and saw a completely different side of the state. In the end, I had most of my worst times and most of my best times in Massachusetts.

I miss little things about it from time to time. Like how ice cream is its own food group in Massachusetts, and is eaten in any and all weather. I miss taking the T with its strange characters, and knowing the Red Line like the back of my hand. I miss South Station's old train schedule board, the one that was made of wood and would send a thunderous series of claps as it was updated (I noticed it was replaced with an electronic board during my last visit, which was a bit of an eye-opening experience for me). I miss Marathon Monday. I miss Rosie's Bakery and J.P. Licks, and that you can pretty much find anything you need on Newbury Street. I miss how desolate yet freeing the city felt, especially on the Mass Pike at 3 in the morning. I miss the small-town feel the city sometimes had. And autumn in New England really is incomparable.

Commuting to and from my internship at The Boston Globe, I would pass through some of the wealthiest towns in Massachusetts, and I always saw beautiful houses with a warm glow radiating from the living and dining rooms. Weston was always my favorite town along the route -- I'd make sure to stay awake as we passed through just so I could marvel at the beauty of the town.

Today, I feel I know Boston better than I know New York City. New York City is so big and changes so much and so quickly that it's pretty much impossible to keep up. Boston is a manageable size and moves at a slightly slower pace. The four-and-a-half hour trip is a breeze now, without all that emotional baggage. For many years after college, I thought I couldn't go back -- partially because I'd had as much of Massachusetts as I could handle, and partially because I didn't think I wanted to "ruin" the little good experience I'd had. Now I'm okay with the idea of going back, maybe for graduate school. And maybe I'll finally get the studio I've always wanted with purple walls.

A sign next to the door of a store in Harvard Square

Marathon Monday

DJ AM at Gypsy Bar, the place I'd go to dance in Boston

When this song came out, I was trying to get to California from Boston, which is
the exact opposite direction the girl in the song was trying to go in. I couldn't 
imagine why anyone would want to leave California for Boston, but now I get it.

And a song that reminds me of Massachusetts, for whatever reason:

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