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Posts Tagged ‘Boston’

We visited Boston this past week to see my older daughter who is working over the summer between her first and second year of graduate school there. Our younger daughter stayed with her sister, and my wife and I got a hotel room in Brookline, a nice neighborhood within walking distance of the universities and nearby to shops and cafes.

The hotel was in a 19th century brownstone with fewer than a dozen rooms, all high ceilings and big windows looking out onto the street. Below I could see joggers in the rain and young people waiting for the train that stopped up the block.

Everywhere, everyone was young, like in that movie Logan’s Run where everyone dies when they turn 30. I thought constantly of that poem by Yeats, Sailing to Byzantium:

That is no country for old men. The young
In one another’s arms, birds in the trees
—Those dying generations—at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.

On Saturday morning we walked through some of the neighborhoods near Brookline, taking stairstep walks down to the streets below. Everywhere the young women carried their yoga mats rolled up and hanging by their hips, coming or going from a class. The young men, sleek and tattooed, filled with attitude and energy, stroked their smart phones on the trains, chatted in line with their dates waiting for a café table.

There are more than 50 colleges and universities in metropolitan Boston. It seemed like we walked past at least a dozen – Boston College and Boston University, Northeastern, Berklee School of Music, schools of technology, the arts, medical schools, small liberal arts schools and campuses that spread for dozens of blocks – my daughter’s college, Simmons, known for its library science and archiving master of science degree, and next door to a beautiful small museum built in the early 1900s for a woman, Isabelle Gardner, who collected art from around the world and brought elegance and culture to Boston’s North End. As we wandered through the rooms of art, looking down on the interior garden, the rains came heavy beyond the windows and we watched pedestrians struggle with their umbrellas in the wind.

We walked for miles through the city, through the public gardens and the Boston Commons, along the Freedom Trail, past Paul Revere’s statue and the Old North Church where the lanterns were hung at the Revolution’s dawn. We took trains everywhere we didn’t walk, clanking and grinding on the turns, old but efficient, like me, maybe.

When I last spent any time in Boston, I was 22 years old, on a road trip for a long weekend, and I knew nothing, not like these sophisticated youth with their bright minds and cosmopolitan sheen. I had never set foot in a fitness club or ordered a meal in an Indian restaurant. I thought of tattoos as something sailors got on a drunk on shore leave. You got a hair cut from some barber who could do a crewcut or a trim, and sneered if your hair was longer than his. But even then I liked the city, the first all-science fiction bookstore I had ever seen, the first Irish pub, the same trains, and the feeling that something life-changing could happen around any corner.

I had my youth in another city, San Francisco, though it was long ago. And my life was changed around some corners, on the N-Judah streetcar, out on the foggy streets near the Pacific Ocean, and on Russian Hill on golden afternoons, following the stairsteps down San Francisco hillsides to North Beach, looking out toward the bay. Oh, was I caught in that sensual music…

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We drove through a storm that was like a precursor of our future under climate change on our way to deliver our older daughter to her new apartment in Boston. Somewhere on a highway in Connecticut, the skies opened up and lightning split the clouds. Torrents of rain followed us into Massachusetts.

The next morning we discovered that a tornado had touched down a few miles from where we had spent the night. Strange weather, but we can expect more of it in years to come the climate experts tell us. The weathercaster called for intermittent showers and temperatures in the high 80s on Labor Day, when we, along with a hundred thousand students and their parents, would converge on Boston for the city-wide move-in day.

The streets of the city were clogged with double-parked moving vans as we circled the neighborhood near Boston College looking for a place to park our overloaded rental pickup truck. Lucking into a spot less than a block from the apartment building on busy Commonwealth Avenue, we waited while the real estate agent showed up with the keys to the apartment, which our daughter would be sharing with two other Simmons College graduate students on the second floor of an attractive prewar brownstone.

We unloaded the truck for the next ninety minutes, making a few dozen trips down the street and up the stairs, jostled by movers and joggers, past Boston cops standing around welcoming new students and warning them about the perils of underage drinking while generally standing in everyone’s way. I was on the verge of heatstroke, my t-shirt as soaked as if it had been pouring rain, when the second roommate arrived with her mother, and we did it again.

When it was finished, I lay on the floor of my daughter’s large, high-ceilinged bedroom with a fan blowing across my limp body while the women unpacked and chatted in the other rooms. I thought about college and what it was like to be young and doing everything for the first time, the excitement of it and the anxiety. I remembered how it felt in the long ago days when I was I was a young student in Norfolk, Va., going to classes and hanging out at Ward’s coffee shop across the street from Old Dominion University with my friend Tim or drinking the thin brew you could legally drink if you were 18 in Virginia in the dark era of the Vietnam War.

Those days I heard from my parents in Florida once a month or so in a letter or an expensive long distance call. The technology boom that would put computers and instant messages in everyone’s pocket was still decades away. But I heard its first ticking on a new machine perched on the counter in Ward’s coffee shop in the form of a video game called Pong – a black screen, a white ball bouncing between two thin white lines that moved with a knob on each side of the machine. Students -like Tim – lined up to play it. I scoffed and read the English poets.

And then the war was always with us, a storm on the far side of the world that pulled us toward it while we held on by our fingertips and a thin piece of cardboard in our wallet called the 2-S student deferment. The excitement and the anxiety of it is read on my daughters’ faces and in their texts, heard in their phone calls, and in the other rooms, where the women come and go. I lie among unpacked boxes while the fan blows me away.

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Road Trip

My daughters are off on their first road trip without us this week, visiting the colleges they are interested in applying to. They left Thursday morning for Boston, where my older daughter is interested in the graduate school at Simmons. They planned it all out ahead of time, booked their lodging, wrote down directions to nearby restaurants, checked bus routes, arranged meetings at the colleges.

On Friday they drove across the state to Amherst, one of the liberal arts colleges my younger daughter is interested in. Last night they texted their mother that they loved both of the schools, that Boston was exciting and Amherst was beautiful. They attended a class, visited the library and this morning will take a campus tour before starting the seven-hour drive home. Yesterday afternoon they visited Emily Dickinson’s grave at a little cemetery in the town of Amherst.

They get along well together. They like the same music and read the same books. They rarely squabble, unless the younger sister borrows her older sister’s clothes and doesn’t give them back. They are, I would think, best friends. If we were to suddenly leave them orphans, they would take care of each other.

I got along well with my older brother, and we took the occasional road trip together. Only we never planned anything ahead of time. One long weekend in Miami, we got the idea to visit Tim in Norfolk, Va., so we borrowed a car and drove across to the west coast of Florida to pick up Richard, then north for another 14 hours to Tim’s apartment on Stockley Gardens in the beautiful old section of Norfolk. Tim, who hadn’t known we were coming, welcomed the three of us and let us sleep on his living room floor. I remember the songs playing on the radio that night from the tiny FM station a few blocks away as I lay sleepless and happy in the darkness.

My daughters’ trip to Boston also had me thinking about a road trip from Norfolk to Boston I took with a couple of friends not long after college. We were all fans of Hunter Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which is a deranged tale of a road trip from LA to Las Vegas fueled by hallucinogenic drugs and tequila, and along the drive we took turns reading the book out loud, laughing insanely and feeling reckless and alive.

In Boston, we stayed with my friend Judy, a nurse at Boston hospital, rode the subway to Cambridge, had a beer at an Irish bar across from Harvard and visited their bookstore, named, as I recall, The Co-op. I spent an afternoon in the first and only all-science fiction bookshop I have been in, called, now it comes back to me, The Million Year Picnic. Judy took us to a famous seafood restaurant on the harbor, and we wandered around the Boston Commons, a lovely green space busy with families and students taking in the sun.

These road trip memories stay in the mind for many decades, as I’m sure they will for my daughters. They are a break from our ordinary lives, and they come to define a certain moment in time when we were different than we are now. We were on the road to somewhere, but we knew not where.

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