A Tunnel to Boston's Past

All right. The last time. I did this, I got in trouble. I wrote about sports--about the hockey team, about the boring alumni fans who with their bench cushions and espresso warmers couldn't even bother to sit through both games of the Beanpot. I wondered what cosmic force turned strapping young men and women such as we into old bores who would rather plan the quickest route back to Duxbury than scream "Sieve" till their face turned blue.


By the next week, the Harvard cheering section had made up a pleasant cheer about me, involving the word "sucks." Even my loyal roommate didn't bother to explain that I was complaining about the old farts in the rafters, not him and his friends up front. But before the cheer started up, with my name to be broadcast over the airwaves to rabid hockey fans around the city, disaster was averted. I don't know how, but since then, I haven't said one word about sports, never mind write about it.

Not that I've had much to say. But the announcement last Wednesday from Gov. William F. Weld '66 that the third harbor tunnel is to be named "Ted Williams Tunnel" was too perfect for this sports-[illiterate] to pass up.

As soon as the project to build the third harbor tunnel was announced a few years ago, my father had predicted with chagrin that it would be named the "Thomas P. "Tip' O'Neill Tunnel." I liked it. The Tip O'Neill Tunnel. The Tip Tunnel. Tip's Tunnel to Town. It has a nice, absurd ring to it--unless, of course, you're a Republican. But in a city so unified on party lines, where Tip O'Neill seems to represent the personal interests of every man, woman and child, Republican governors don't have much choice but to go with the donkey.

Weld's only other choice, it seemed, would be to name the tunnel after a North End hero. That may have avoided party politics, but would have caused a neighborhood-based battle just as fierce. The North End had gotten cheated when the second harbor tunnel ran straight through their Italian neighborhood. Not only did it disrupt the unique life of the North End, but the city added an extra insult. The tunnel was named "Callahan"--not the most Italian name around. So when the third harbor tunnel was slated to run through South Boston, the most Irish neighborhood in America, pundits thought Weld might do the North Enders some justice.

Even the suggestions which some (including me) thought would have united the city would have turned out less than profitably. "The Martin Luther King Jr. Tunnel" would have given voice to a part the city which is all but ignored, celebrating the city King called home for much of his young-adult life. But [evil] like Senate President Billy Bulger would never have let a bill like that pass. The King Tunnel would never have been a reality, and the city would have had the scars to prove it.

So nothing could have been better than this, the Williams Tunnel. By 1995, Williams will link South Boston to East Boston, providing a traffic connection between the South and North Shores which doesn't pass straight through Downtown Boston. Once that's completed, the Central Artery, the 1950s monstrosity which courses through the heart of the city, will be torn down and replaced by a long, green park. Maybe they'll even put a baseball diamond where the Rowes Merge used to be.

My mother tells me that when she was growing up, there was only one channel on TV: the Red Sox. She would sit with her father on weekend afternoons, listening to him call his own plays, and, like so many other fathers of his time, shout at his team, "the Red Slobs."

One of his and my mother's favorite players was Ted Williams.

The Splendid Splinter still turns up in commercials every once in a while, but most of us don't need these occasional glimpses to remember him.

Even someone as young and sports-ignorant as I am has a connection to the legend, and to the era he represents in our history.

Each family had their own saint (Carl Yastremski was my mother's and grandfather's), but Ted Williams was part of everyone's Boston, including my mother's and grandfather's.

So it's fitting that a tunnel which links one side of the city to the other, which connects the towns on the North Shore with those on the South, would be named after someone who, through his own heroism and talent, gave the city a common bond.

All that's left is to imagine how the tunnel will become part of everyday Boston life. In traffic reports, we'll hear about the jam on the Expressway, all the way from Neponset to Williams. Nicknames will start--Bob Ryan from the Globe wants to call it "The Thumper."

Drivers, stuck somewhere between Southie and the airport, are sure to come up with their own ideas.

But no matter what we end up calling the tunnel, our city will end up more unified, with cars zipping from one neighborhood to the next, thanks to a public works project named after one of our greatest common heros.