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An Old Friend in an Old City

I camped that night at the pleasant (but hard to pronounce) Mashomouquet State Park in eastern Connecticut, only a few miles from the wolf den made famous in 1742 by my cousin, Israel Putnam, as I described in my last entry.  There were a few campgrounds in the park to choose from but I had selected, of course, Wolf Den Campground. 

 

The next morning was sunny and warm, and after leaving the park I got on Interstate 95 heading to Boston.  That's Boston as in Massachusetts, but obviously I don't need to say that since, to my knowledge, there's only one Boston in the United States.  But that's only because of a coin flip many years ago.

 

 

Above:  My hometown of Portland, Oregon.  Thanks to a coin flip in 1843, we don't call it "Boston."

 

Back in 1843 in the newly-established Oregon Territory out west, two pioneers cleared a few trees on the banks of the Willamette River.  The men, Asa Lovejoy from Boston, Massachusetts and Francis Pettygrove from Portland, Maine each wanted to name the new settlement after their respective hometowns, so they decided to settle it with a coin flip.  Well, actually it was two out of three flips and with the last toss, the new clearing was named "Portland."

 

I'm glad Francis won, because few people today confuse the two Portlands, mostly because Portland, Oregon has over a million residents while Portland, Maine has only 60,000.  Things would've been a lot more confusing with two large Boston's in the U.S., a situation that would be even worse than the "Washington state" vs. "Washington D.C." thing.  By the way, that particular coin is now sitting in the lobby of the Oregon Historical Society's museum in downtown Portland.

 

 

One of my favorite groups, The Story, hails from Boston.  Here's their hilarious song about dieting, called Fatso

   

I hadn't been to Boston since 1976 when I was in high school.  I flew from California to Boston that winter to spend Christmas with my brother Don and his wife Debbie, who were living there at the time while Don was attending Harvard.  I'd grown up in a pristine California suburb and had never visited a large Eastern city before, so I'd never seen things like a gritty subway or a Christmas Boston Pops concert with Arthur Fiedler.  And it had been many years since I'd seen snow or ice.  I spent five days visiting Don and Debbie and it was a very memorable trip.  I was awestruck by Boston and have had a warm spot in my heart for the city ever since.  With memories of that 1976 trip fresh in my mind, I was looking forward to seeing Boston again.

 

I was also looking forward to seeing an old friend, Julie, who lives there.  Julie and I met in Colorado in 1983 when we worked with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on a three-person trail crew that summer in the Rocky Mountains.  It was one of the best jobs I've ever had and, although it didn't pay much, I had a great time -- so great that I went back to work there as a ranger for five more summers.  Julie and I have kept in touch ever since and a few years ago, she flew out to the Northwest for the first time, so I showed her around the best part of America for a few days.

 

Above:  Julie and I -- that's me on the right -- met in 1983 when we worked on a three-person BLM trail crew in southwestern Colorado.  We've been good friends ever since.  This trailer was our home that summer.

Probably more than anyone I know, Julie has always followed her own drummer.  She sharp, with a couple of college degrees to prove it, and in debates can tie me up in knots and make me look stupid (but then, a lot of people do that).

 

Not content with a high-profile office job and a comfortable life-in-the-burbs, and seeking more fulfillment out of life than your typical 9-to-5 can offer, Julie works for a company called Equal Exchange.  Instead of reaping in big bucks for some large Boston firm, she earns a modest salary and works directly with small coffee growers in Central and South America, trying to ensure that they get a reasonable price for their crop.  Don't mention the word "Starbucks" to Julie or she'll start convulsing like a caffeine addict because, in her mind, coffee companies like Starbucks are mostly interested in making a quick buck and then moving on to the next grower.

 

When I had called Julie the day before (Friday) from Connecticut, she told me that she'd be working all day on Saturday at a street fair in Somerville, the city just outside of Boston where she lives.  After I got to Somerville on Saturday afternoon, I parked my truck and walked around the street fair.  It took me a while, but I finally found Julie at an Equal Exchange booth pouring coffee and "spreading the word" (as well as the cream and sugar).  After the fair closed about an hour later, we headed back to her place, and later that evening we drove into Cambridge and had dinner, then she gave me a brief nighttime tour of Boston from her colorful van.  It was great to be back.

 

   

Above left:  After getting to Boston I found Julie, who was working at a street fair.  That's her serving up iced coffee.

Above right:  Always devoted to noble causes, Julie currently works for Equal Exchange.

Julie's Jolly Tour of Boston

Early the next morning, Julie and I walked to the nearby subway station in Somerville and hopped on the "T" for a ride into Boston.  Folks in Massachusetts, as Julie told me, abbreviate just about everything, like cutting the "Massachusetts Turnpike," which I'd driven the day before, down to just "Mass Pike."  People here are in a hurry, dammit, and don't have time to utter non-essential syllables.

 

They've also pared down the subway transit agency, officially known as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority -- not to M.T.A., as you might suspect, but all the way down to the T.  That's it:  just the T.  Back in 1773, Bostonians rejected tea (from England at the Boston Tea Party) but now they love the T and many of them use it every day.

 

Here's the Kingston Trio singing their humorous song, M.T.A., about Boston's transit system.

 
   

For the rest of Sunday, Julie and I rode the T all around Boston as she showed me her wonderful city.  She even showed me the largest construction project in U.S. history, a massive freeway tunnel complex known as the "Big Dig" that's being built under the Boston Harbor.  I had heard a lot about the Big Dig, especially since my company, Parsons Brinckerhoff, is one of the prime contractors for it.  Mike Wallace and 60 Minutes broadcast an expose on the Big Dig a few years ago, but in fairness to PB, the project has been one headache after another, similar to the kinds of projects I worked on at PB in Portland but on a much larger scale. 

 

Above:  My tour guide, Julie, walking on the Freedom Trail in Boston.  This trail links many of the historic sites in Boston.  I could spend weeks here trying to see everything.

It was good to see that, despite the Big Dig, Boston hadn't changed much since the last time I visited back in '76.  With enough historical sites to satisfy even the most fanatical history buff (like me), the city has one foot in the past.  However, with 60 colleges and universities located here, the city is youthful and energetic, and it's clear that Boston has the other foot planted firmly in the future.  Boston has a reputation for being a little snooty, which may be true, but in the two days that I spent there it seemed like a pretty terrific place. 

 

One of the lighter moments of the day occurred as Julie and I sat outside historic Faneuil Hall and I read aloud from a Boston tour book about the correct way to pronounce the name "Faneuil."  Quoting from the book, I said, "The hall should never be pronounced 'Funnel' or -- horrors -- 'Fennel'."

 

Julie looked puzzled and said, "Whores?"  I laughed, then I said, "No, not whores.  Horrors."  As we talked loudly about "horrors" and "whores," several passersby stared at us, causing us both to bust up with laughter.

 

Late in the afternoon we visited the Bull & Finch pub, better known as the setting for the T.V. show, "Cheers" and I took a peek inside.  I found it dark, noisy, and packed, so I didn't linger there too long.  Before I left, though, I struck up a conversation with the pub's doorman, a nice guy named Justin.  After I told Justin that I was heading to Australia soon, he said that he'd been there a few months earlier.  He gave me a few tips, then said, "And by the way, Australian women are less, um, reserved than American women."  That piqued my curiosity and I wanted to pursue it, but Julie was waiting for me outside.

 

After my requisite pose and photo in front of the Cheers pub, Julie and I found a hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant in Beacon Hill and had a delicious dinner, then we rode the T back to her place.  It was a terrific day, certainly one of the best of my trip so far, and it was nice to know that, 25 years after my first visit, Boston was still a great city. 

 

But I guess coin flips or not, there could be only one Boston.

 

   

Above left:  Julie's house in Boston.  That's her multi-colored Equal Exchange coffee van in the background with its solar-powered electric coffee brewer.  My truck is in the foreground.

Above right:  Riding the M.T.A. subway (or just the T) into downtown Boston.  The subway system in Boston works great.  If you come to Boston, don't drive and deal with those -- and I'm quoting here from my AAA book -- "aggressive" Boston drivers.  Just take the T.

 

       

Above left:  The new and the old. 

Above center:  Downtown Boston from the top of the John Hancock Building.

Above right:  Commonwealth Avenue, known as "Comm Ave." (they shorten everything in Boston).  This is a snooty section of the city, according to Julie, and a place where I could never afford to live.  There were lots of beautiful women on Comm Ave but they weren't my type.

 

       

Above left:  Here's what Boston looked like in the 1700s.  The city used to be connected to the mainland by a narrow causeway.  Modern Boston is shown in the light blue shade.

Above center:  There are lots of interesting old gravestones in the Granary Burying Ground in the middle of downtown Boston, including those of Paul Revere, John Hancock, and the victims of the 1770 Boston Massacre.  To make mowing easier, though, they moved the gravestones several years ago and no one knows where anyone is actually buried anymore.

Above right:  Here's the gravestone of Mother Goose (a.k.a. Mary Goose, wife of Isaac Goose) who died in 1690.  Until I saw this gravestone, I didn't realize that there really was a Mother Goose.

 

   

Above left:  Old glories.

Above right:  Boston is a photographer's paradise.  I shot over 250 pictures here in just a few hours.

 

   

Above left:  South Market near Fanueil Hall is lively on a Sunday afternoon.  Julie and I had a animated discussion here about "whores" and "horrors."

Above right:  The Union Oyster House opened in 1828 and is the oldest continuously operating restaurant in America.

 

       

Above left:  The Bull and Finch pub in Beacon Hill inspired the television show, "Cheers," which ran for 11 years starting in 1982.  Of course, this is the place "where everyone knows your name" (as long as your name is Norm). 

Above center:  A dorky tourist outside Cheers.

Above right:  I went downstairs to the bar but nobody knew my name.  They shot the opening scene of "Cheers" here, but the inside is very different -- much darker, for one thing. 

 

       

Above left:  This is the Central Artery Project, known locally as "The Big Dig" and the largest construction project in American history.  It's a huge hole that sucks up taxpayer dollars.

Above center:  Here's our Big Dig (into the fried rice) at a Chinese restaurant in Beacon Hill.

Above right:  The State House, where the "Boston Massacre" occurred in 1770, is dwarfed today by modern skyscrapers.

 

   

Above left:  Waiting for the T to head to Cambridge.

Above right:  A tower at Harvard University.  Established in 1636, a few years after my ancestors settled in this area, Harvard is the oldest university in America. 

 

       

Above left:  A Harvard gate at sunset. 

Above center:  Memorable sign in a Harvard Square shop -- for those sophisticated Harvard students, I guess.

Above right:  Julie and I taking the subway back home.  Thanks for the great tour, Jules!

 


 

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