For all intents and purposes, I don't really like Boston, or at least in the everyday way that you need to like a place to truly like it, and live in it. And yet, when the city is besieged by cruel Internet attacks, I am as eager to jump to its defense as anyone. So let me defend it to you now.
You see, yesterday The Onion posted an article called "Pretty Cute Watching Boston Residents Play Daily Game Of ‘Big City’," a mean/funny satire of both Boston's provincial ways and of bigger city residents' often condescending disdain for a city that's not nearly as small-town as they think it is. Clever and a little biting, the article was a nice bit of teasing, something Boston residents could laugh at along with the outsiders. No harm, no foul. But then some other jerks had to go joining the Boston hate parade, this time in earnest, and so it falls on the city's sons and daughters to defend their proud, icy home.
I am one of those sons, though I no longer call Boston home. No, I fled the city when I was 23, having grown up in Brighton and going to college ten minutes away, at Boston College. I lived in Somerville for a year after school and then decided it was time to get out of Dodge, heading off to New York like so many starry-eyed, and Boston-tired, youngsters before me. Of course I still go back to see family and the few friends who still live there, but mostly my connection to Boston is purely one of a shared past. I don't live in Boston now because I don't want to live in Boston. But that doesn't mean that Boston is unworthy! Though it is often accused of terrible things, of being boring or mean or worse, I am here to tell you it is anything but. If you live there, stop idly thinking about moving to Portland. If you don't live there, stop your hissing about a city you don't understand. Boston is a place full of wonders. Let me explain.
I'd say the most common complaints about the city are sociological. The big, serious issue is of course the city's less-than-stellar — OK just plain terrible — history of race relations. But come on, the busing riots were years ago. I'm pretty sure things have changed. Beyond that criticism, the rest of what people say about Boston's social structure is, I think, a little unfair. Sure people are cold and unfriendly, but what do you want, people coming up and hugging you on the street? That's ridiculous. Boston is a good place to learn a healthy level of reserve, of proper Puritan closed-offed-ness, a skill that can protect you in situations as diverse as iffy foreign travel and scary parties. Plus not everyone is so aloof, it's really just most people. There are plenty of friendly folks in the city, you just have to wait for them to come to you. They will. Eventually.
And sure, everyone dresses terribly. I know people in Boston think it's acceptable to wear a polar fleece jacket out on a Saturday night. I know they're still wearing shell-toes. And oh god I know that most men have never purchased a single item of clothing that actually fits them properly. But come on. Isn't that a good thing? A lack of pretense? I have never felt less fashionable or poorly put-together than when I first moved to New York. And I've since spent likely thousands of dollars over the past seven years rebuilding my wardrobe and getting fancier haircuts (sometimes — Supercuts is still my main jam) and doing all that other frivolous stuff. And what have I really accomplished? I'm still nowhere near as cool or fashionable as the cool and fashionable people in this city, and I'm a total jerk when I go home. "Look at all these dumps," I think, rolling my eyes as I trudge through South Station. What an awful human being New York has made me! We're just talking about clothes. Everyone looks really comfortable in their North Faces and sweatpants and oh sweet god their Uggs. What's wrong with that? What's wrong with a grown man thinking that pointy black loafers, baggy jeans, and some sort of sports jersey is an acceptable thing to wear to a public establishment? Bostonians are not fussed with the trappings of "cool" and that's just fine. Admirable, even.
Everything closing early in Boston can certainly suck. Try finding something decent to eat past midnight and you'll likely end up browsing a 7-Eleven, if there's even one near you. The T shuts down ludicrously early and the taxis are far too expensive. Bars have last call at like 1:15. It's frustrating. But really, who needs to be up so late? What are we really doing? When I first moved down here I stayed at a bar until last call because that was just what you did at bars, I assumed. But of course it was not 1:15, it was something like 3:45 in the morning and I ended up staying up until five or six in the morning and felt terrible the next day. Who needs that?? That's ridiculous! No, it might seem unfun and spoil-sporty, but Boston has the right idea. People should be going to bed earlier. No one needs to be out carousing til sunrise. It's no good. It might feel like mandatory bedtime or curfew, but it's for your own good.
Red Sox fans are ungodly annoying, but plenty of people who live in Boston think that too. It's not all rah-rah yahoos, you know. And some of those rah-rah yahoos are actually a lot of fun, they just seem crazy and awful when they're in large packs. And it's pretty easy to avoid them. Just don't go anywhere near Kenmore Square on game day. OK, well, sorta don't go near any bar on game day unless it's in the South End or something. But that's all right. How many games can there really be in a baseball season?? Not many, I'm sure. And hey, maybe you could actually get into it, the sports aspect. I remember watching the whole post-season when they won in 2004 and except for the rioting it was really exciting. And it could happen again!
Uh, what else do people hate about Boston? Oh yeah there are too many students, but there are students in every big city. And they mostly stick to their territory, so just don't go out in Allston on the weekends. Or in Harvard Square, or anywhere near Emerson or Northeastern. It's not that hard. What, did you want to go to Mary Ann's? I didn't think you did. The winters are undeniably terrible, but winters in New York are no picnic and winter is demonstrably worse in Chicago and Minneapolis. (Are we really considering Minneapolis in this category? We probably shouldn't.) If you're going to live in the northern half of the U.S., you're just going to have to deal with unpleasant winters. So that doesn't really count as a specific Boston complaint, I don't think. And yes, the pizza is bad and the food scene in general isn't great, but if you're some kind of food snob, you're worse than Boston could ever be, so there.
But enough with disproving negatives. Let's talk positives. Boston is one of the prettiest cities in America when the leaves are out and it's not too hot or too cold. The people are often smart and funny — look how many comedians come from Boston! People like Jay Leno and Dane Cook! That's not an accident. You're a short drive to the Cape or the Martha's Vineyard ferry. Distance-wise, anyway. Traffic can be a bit difficult. It's a reasonably clean place, at least in the nice parts of town. The rents are lower (than New York or Los Angeles at least) and you don't need a car. You're never without a good public radio station, which can come in handy. Uh, the libraries are good? People like libraries. Oh, and some liquor stores are open on Sundays now, so they've got that goin' for them.
Calm down, I'm not saying I'm moving back. It's just that there's plenty to like about Boston; the hate is often wildly overdone and misguided. I mean, it's not like we're talking about San Francisco for god's sake. If you want to talk about awful, let's start there.
Image via Flickr/Thomas Roessler
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