The following is a glimpse into a day spent in the city not long after we moved to the Boston area, a return for me after decades living in the Midwest. I have enjoyed reacquainting myself with this beloved place—a process that continues nearly three years later.
Morning started at 50 degrees and quickly moved up into the 60s and then broke 70 by noon. I had brought along my flip-flops, hoping against the October chill that the prediction of warmer temps wasn’t a lie, and I would be able to switch out my suede knee-high clunker boots for the scantier footwear, and it looked like I was in luck.
What was the reason for my urban adventure? Turns out this was our first tradition in Massachusetts since moving here summer of ’14: take-your-kids-to-work day at my husband’s employer in Cambridge. I, on the other hand, having just begun a newish part-time “mom hours” job to supplement my creative writing and teaching, took the day off to spend the day city-side—and, I hoped, get some writing done.
So we rose at our usual school-day time on this sunny Columbus Day, rushing through consumed-at-the-counter zucchini bread punctuated by verbal pushing from the parents to get the two girls out the door, neither one happy about the early departure on a holiday. We make it to the train station in plenty of time—if only because the train is running late—and have a few minutes to breathe on the platform as we wait for the train to screech into view from Salem.
As always, the train ride itself is a swift 25 minutes, easy with banter and window-gazing. The morning sun casts shards of light onto the water as we wheel through derelict industrial areas and swampy tidal flats before reaching the river, the Tobin Bridge arcing overhead, and into North Station. On this day the train is not packed, but with a Boston Bruins game brewing that afternoon at the adjoining TD Garden, the station is abuzz with sagging jeans, sneakers, and backwards baseball caps with the iconic spoked black-and-brown “B.”
As the train cruises to the end of the line in a clickety-clack woosh, we line up in the aisle, my 8-year-old announcing “I love walking in the train while it’s moving.” This, of course, suggests a great deal of experience doing just that; and while we’re relatively new to this adventure of train riding to and from our new home city, she’s taken to it like a little pro.
We leave the station stage right so my husband can take the girls via bus to Cambridge; soon after, I head to the left to find a coffee shop, ending up at Boston Common Coffee on Canal Street, strictly by accident. I order a vegan bagel sandwich and take a seat. As often happens when I’m in the city, there’s too much static for me to write anything of depth or profundity. All I can manage is a brief and dull description of where I am at the moment.
Giving up on penning anything meaningful, I give up and start my three-mile trek across town to the Museum of Fine Arts. While on foot, still in my clunky boots, I make the mistake of returning a call to my mother and proceed to get quite lost—ending up in China Town amongst the chatter of spoken and written mandarin and cameras slung about the necks of slight men with salt and black pepper hair wearing loosely fitting windbreakers. China Town feels like an alternate universe. I stand out as a non-Asian amongst high-heel clad young women with glistening onyx hair, older women with short cropped or piled grey hair shuffling past in embroidered slippers. Despite the sushi and sashimi signs everywhere, not a fishy smell is to be discerned, just the intoxicating odor of baked goods wafting from pastry shops.
I push on through the same intersections I’d passed moments ago—retracing my once over-confident steps back to where I first took a wrong turn. Finally I find the right path, turning at Copley Square and its famed russet church with tourists clumped in front as the guide waxes on about Boston history. Now I can reach out to my college-age daughter, having spoken with Mom already, this time sure I won’t get lost. I’ve been down this road before.
After I find my way to the MFA, logging more than 4 miles when it should have been 3, I see that the Rembrandt and Vermeer exhibition is on view—it had just opened the day before—so I decide to take a look. And that’s all I can manage: the crowds, the frenetic energy carried over from downtown Boston into the museum, is just too much for me to process in my tired brain. So after an hour and a half I find my way to REI on an errand for my husband who is in need of a new helmet to go with his commuter bike.
From here I begin the walk back: this time a bit more sure of my footing, pulling out the flip-flops after stuffing my clunker boots into the bag with the helmet. I happily flip-flop across Boston on Boylston Street passing the New England Conservatory, Berklee School of Music, Back Bay shops and restaurants, and Beacon Street neighborhood, finally arriving at Boston Common where a foot race is underway: I look for the break and jog into it, computer and REI bags slapping on my shoulder. I make my way through the park with the scattering of other folks—those who have finished the race flushed with exertion, mothers and grandparents pushing strollers, homeless snoozing on park benches, burka-clad women in clusters, sneakered teenagers in spandex—and find my way back to the North End.
I cruise past the West End branch of the Boston Public Library, the Government Center, and then past TD Garden to my second Boston Common Coffee Shop of the day—this one in North End. This is where I sit now, contemplating the city and its many travelers: shoppers and sightseers, businessmen and businesswomen, park regulars, music students lugging their ubiquitous black cases, parents herding their children through the city on their school holiday. I may not have accomplished what I set out to accomplish, but I did enjoy the show: Life in Boston.