I can’t seem talk about Boston without talking about New York. And maybe because of that, I judged Boston too quickly. Any comparison to New York is improper, because the most inane street corners have been eulogized by Poet laureates, even though at the end of the day it’s still a slab of concrete. New York City is shrouded in cultural mythology, in the same way Disneyland is shrouded with magic. And living in New York City is like owning a part of that ethereal real estate, which is filled with giants and skyscrapers. But that is not Boston, and perhaps that is why I never let it be home. And for that, I resented it.
Usually journalists feel a sense of duty toward the town they serve, but in Boston that reflex had to be cultivated within me. In fact, I did not even live in Boston; I lived in Cambridge. But no one minded, except on election day. I could say I’m a “Bostonian” without much repercussion, which is something a Jersey resident only wishes they could say about the word “New Yorker.”
Perhaps because of this easy acceptance, I took for granted what Boston had done for me. It could’ve been disastrous; it could’ve been scary. But it wasn’t, and I survived.
I spent much of my time in Boston stuck in traffic. I often said that getting through a Boston rotary required a mix of bravery and skill. But really, it just required time. I learned that this city gets constipated, and pushing only makes it worse.
I lived in Boston during a year when a hurricane, snow storm and terrorist attack shut down the city. The phrase “Boston Strong” sounds like something you would say to keep spirits high, but it is simply a descriptor, and nothing more. This is a city that was audacious enough to think they would win the World Series every year, when it hadn’t for 86. It’s a city that begs you to stay off the roads during a massive blizzard, but does so with a mother’s conviction and Mayor Menino’s mumbles. It’s a city that wants to trust everyone from suburbanites to newcomers, so when that trust is broken by 20-somethings who explode rice cookers at a place where we celebrate human triumph, it feels betrayed. But it’s a city that recovers quickly so it can help anyone who needs help within its bounds.
(After the marathon bombings, I set up an online form that allowed people to offer up their homes to stranded runners. Within 10 minutes, more than 2,500 people signed up. At the end of the day, 6,000 people were on the list. Only 625,000 people live in Boston.)
Now, it’s very possible that these impressions of the city have more to do with the people who welcomed me than the city itself. As I drove out of Boston in a U-Haul, I didn’t feel the same sadness I felt when I left New York. But as I passed by the Boston Globe building — a place where I was welcomed by some of the most talented, kind and humble people I’d ever known — I felt an incredible sense of loss. And it wasn’t exactly the company, because the next day the company was sold and I had no real feelings about it. Rather, it was the way many people in that building treated me, which gave me the impression that all Bostonians were like that.
When I say that Boston is not like New York, I’m not trying to rub salt in the wounds it suffered while battling the Greatest City in the World. (Couldn’t resist.) Rather, I’m saying that Boston seems to concern itself with people and homes, not giants and skyscrapers. And being a person who arrogantly refused to make it home, I’m forever grateful for how warm of a host it was.