Waking Up to Boston

Last week, while I was walking in Boston with two of my blockmates, I slipped and fell in a huge puddle of clam chowder. Of all the subs¬tances I could have slipped in, clam chowder is certainly not the worst—especially since it didn’t look as though someone had already eaten it—but it was nevertheless pretty disgusting. A smashed knee, a trip to University Health Services, and a tetanus shot later, I was able to laugh about the experience. It seemed almost as if the city itself were taking one last crack at me before I departed.

As an east coaster, Boston didn’t feel particularly foreign when I arrived here freshman year. I lived through plenty of snow days back home; I, too, had never participated in a tornado drill; and when I looked at brick buildings, unlike west coasters, I didn’t start thinking about earthquake regulations. Besides, I had seen Good Will Hunting and read Johnny Tremain.

As a New Yorker, however, Boston felt kind of hostile. One of my blockmates is from Boston; she frequently recites Red Sox-Yankees scores to me (never mind that I’m not a Yankee fan), and could barely look at me when the Giants beat the Patriots freshman year. Being a Bostonian, my blockmate is not unusual in her dislike of my hometown. A recent ad on the T for reruns of Seinfeld read: “Finally, some New Yorkers we can get along with,” or something to that effect. If George Castanza is one of the only likeable New Yorkers, I’d hate to imagine what Boston thinks of the rest of us.

Then again, I would be just as remiss to base my image of Boston on Johnny Tremain. I don’t remember very much about the book’s plot, but I remember learning the term “personification” from its opening passage: “Boston slowly opened its eyes, stretched, and woke. The sun struck in horizontally from the east, flashing upon weather-vanes—brass cocks and arrows, here a glass-eyed Indian, there a copper grasshopper—and the bells in the steeples cling-clanged, telling the people it was time to be up and about.”

Now that I’ve experienced it myself, I know that the sounds of Boston waking up are a bit different. In Pfoho, at 6 a.m. I can hear what I believe are trucks unloading in the courtyard behind Comstock Hall. Sometimes at around 7 a.m., a car drives down Walker Street announcing some sort of parking regulation. By then, if it isn’t pouring, the birds will have started chirping. At 8:25 a.m. the bell for the elementary school rings. It’s already light out, but if the sun has flashed upon any weather vanes, it has also flashed upon the neon-red letters of the Sheraton Commander.

It might sound as if I’m complaining; I’m not. Over the past few years, I’ve grown accustomed to this particular morning symphony, and it will be odd next year to wake up without it. Bostonians might not appreciate New York and its residents, but during my time here, I have come to appreciate this city, despite its attempts to turn me against it.

During senior week, I’ve had an urge to complete a Boston bucket list, exploring parts of this city that I haven’t managed to visit during my four years of school here. It would be easy to use this moment to urge future generations of Harvard students to take better advantage of the place during their time here. But I know as well as anyone else how easy it is to end up primarily campus-bound, caught up in classwork, extracurriculars, House life, and more. And as I’m about to leave campus, it is not that cancelled trip to Revere beach that I will look back on regretfully. Instead, I will be missing the sights, sounds, and smells of the little pieces of this city that have become my familiar haunts.

I might be happy if I never have to ride the green line again, and if I never have to worry that an escaped boa constrictor might show up in my subway car, but I will miss that moment when the red line emerges aboveground at Charles MGH to reveal the harbor and the Boston skyline. I am not sorry to leave Fenway behind, but I will miss random Thursday night trips with my roommate to the Museum of Fine Arts. I will hopefully never have to live through another Boston winter, but I will miss walking back up Garden Street to the Quad in the spring, passing crocuses, tulips, and lilacs on my way.

And let’s be honest—I’m a total nostalgic. I might even end up looking back with fondness on the slowness of the T, the insanity of Red Sox fans, and the treacherousness of black ice in January. After all, most of the time my complaints are just attempts to bait my New York-hating blockmate.

But really, I could have done without that clam chowder.

Rachel A. Burns ’11, a Crimson arts writer, is an English concentrator in Pforzheimer House.

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