Is Boston Cool?

View from Cambridge side of the Charles near Harvard.

Where to start with you, Boston?

Thinking about why I moved here and why I stay here makes my head feel squeezed from all the cognitive dissonance. Graduating from college I had no sense of direction. There was the band, and we had decided we wanted to stay together. One of us had to stay in Providence for another year and the closest big city to Providence was Boston. I tottered in between the two, whether I should move to cheap, tiny Providence, or bigger, pricier Boston. Then an opportunity to live with two college friends in Somerville presented itself and I jumped at the chance to have roommates I knew and liked. So Boston it was.

I moved to Boston to be in a band. People don’t move to Boston to be in bands. At least not most people I know.

Everyone I know who moved to Boston did so because they had a job that paid them a lot of money, or because they’re from here. My job was nonexistent when I moved up here and it still does not pay me a lot of money. I’m from New York, the place where people do move when they want to “make it.”

No one “makes it” in Boston. Boston is for the local, and for the established. The rents alone tell the story.

The band still plays together. We practice somewhat sporadically in stretches, sometimes we stick to a regular schedule. The music is still great, always getting better. We’re writing new songs. We’re supposed to record an album this summer (which is trickier with one of our members in Switzerland, but who can blame him?). I have a girlfriend here, my first real relationship in almost five years. I have a “gig” that I wouldn’t quite call a “job” yet, but it’s a gig and it gets me by.

I’ve put down the beginnings of roots.

I don’t know how long I plan to stay here, but it looks like another year at least. Long enough to make me really ask why I stay here…

I guess I’ve answered that already. It’s the people. It’s her, it’s the band, it’s them.

Still…the two other cities I’ve lived in for extended periods of time, and the city I grew up near and lived in for about a month — this is Providence, Rome, New York, respectively — had an energy, a feeling all their own. And whether it’s my fault for not exploring, wandering enough or whether it’s something about the place itself Boston has been strangely cold and elusive towards me. And that is reflected in what I read from others about the city.

Take one passage from this Junot Diaz story, “The Cheater’s Guide To Love”:

Boston, where you never wanted to live, where you feel you’ve been exiled, becomes a serious problem. You have trouble adjusting to it full time — to its trains that stop running at midnight, to the glumness of its inhabitants, to its startling lack of Szechuan food. Almost on cue, a lot of racist shit starts happening. White people pull up alongside you at traffic lights and scream at you with a hideous rage, like you nearly ran over their mother. It’s fucking scary. Before you can figure out what the hell is going on, they flip you the bird and peel out. It happens again and again. Security guards follow you in stores, and every time you step onto Harvard property you’re asked for I.D. Three times, drunk white dudes in different parts of the city try to pick fights with you.
You take it all very personally. I hope someone drops a fucking bomb on this city, you rant. This is why no people of color want to live here. Why all my black and Latino students leave as soon as they can.
Elvis says nothing. He was born and raised in Jamaica Plain, knows that trying to defend Boston from uncool is like blocking a bullet with a slice of bread. Are you O.K.? he asks, finally.

Of course my feelings on the city aren’t anywhere near that extreme and I’m not at much risk of racist shit happening to me. Boston is also generally tamer, from what I can tell, compared to its heyday of drunk white dudes throwing shit out of car windows.

Still, the trains do stop running at midnight, and the most prestigious public school in the city is roiling from allegations of prejudiced behavior by administrators, and living here rather than in New York does feel a bit like self-imposed exile.

I just so often feel ambivalent about Boston. Like I’ve been on dozens of dates with someone and we just don’t seem to click. Maybe I could try harder to see Boston’s great qualities, and maybe there’s something there to love. Maybe if and when Boston is in the rearview mirror one day I’ll miss it more than I can imagine.

I can imagine one day becoming nostalgic about Boston, just probably not for the city itself. Many of the things that make Boston unique in my mind are neutral to negative, the positives being mainly that the Charles River is nice to look at and there are a lot of bookstores. But the screeching, crawling MBTA trains, the horrendous drivers and horrendous experience of driving, getting screwed over trying to find a cheap apartment with no transcendent city-living experience to show for it, the complete and utter provincialism of everyone over the age of 35…

I don’t know. It’s just not love and I want to love my city.

Things change. Weather gets warmer, exploring easier. This weekend maybe I’ll finally go to Jamaica Plain and see the Arboretum. Maybe soon I’ll finally see Mount Auburn Cemetery, or go to the Institute for Contemporary Art or the JFK Library. Maybe I’ll start reading in the Boston Public Library and see more underground shows in Allston. Maybe Boston and I will hold hands and walk along the Esplanade together and stare into each other’s eyes.

Or maybe this will forever be chalked up in conversation as “when I lived in Boston” and that will be that. And that is fine too.

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