Second to Seattle

The benefits of the Pacific Northwest, without the lutefisk

My reputation as a whiny Seattle grump was well-established even before my first semester at Harvard was over. Incredibly homesick (or rather, citysick, since I didn't miss my folks at all), I would take the T to Boston Harbor just to feel the wind whipping over the water. I'd walk all the way to Fresh Pond just so I could smell some evergreen trees.

I missed seeing mountains and, like all Seattlites, was suspicious of this sun thing. A city without mist seemed incredibly depressing. To make things worse, I couldn't even find a decent cup of coffee.

This was 1989--before "Twin Peaks," "Northern Exposure" and Nirvana made Seattle hip. In 1989 fellow Harvardians were still asking me if I'd ever seen a polar bear. My friends saw Seattle as either incredibly provinicial or incredibly exotic--about the only thing anyone knew about the city was that it rained all the time.

My roommates soon grew tired of hearing me whine. As I became infamous for introducing Seattle into every conversation, my friend Nirit developed a parody of this habit, which became a popular request at gatherings of my friends. Nirit was also the one who began referring to it as "the S-word." As in, "Lori, you are not allowed to use the S-word for at least the next twenty minutes."

Even after four years, I still talk about Seattle a lot. It crops up in sections, my editorial columns--even in Torah discussions at Friday night services. But as I get ready to celebrate the ultimate in cross-coastal happiness (Starbucks, the definitive Seattle coffee roaster, is opening a branch in Boston) I feel the need to reveal a long-held secret:


I like Boston. And actually, I always have.

I spent my first fall here in utter amazement at the colors of the trees. In the Evergreen State, trees change color only in picture books. Last weekend I walked around the Fens with a friend from Seattle, watching the ducks swim through the leaves that had fallen on the water and marvelling at the clear skies and unseasonably warm November weather.

I've even come to like the snow. Sure, blizzards in May are a tad excessive, but at least when it snows, enough of the white stuff sticks around to turn the campus into a gorgeous winter wonderland. (In Seattle, a few inches fall, the entire city shuts down in panic and by the next day, it all turns to grey slush.)

And, although it amazes me that a city the size of Cambridge hasn't yet figured out the concept of street drains, I've come to appreciate how nice a non-hilly environment can be. I often walk across the JFK St. bridge into Allston and Brookline. Covering the equivalent distance in Seattle would mean going up and down at least two major hills.

Flat landscape aside, Boston is a great place to take long rambling walks. One of my favorites is through Charlestown and across the bridge into the North End and Haymarket. It's difficult to be an American History concentrator and not find this area fascinating. The Bunker Hill monument even allows me the rare Boston privilege of climbing a hill, something for which I occasionally get nostalgic. The Hill also puts everything into proper historical perspective: Forget the battle itself; at the time the monument was built, Seattle was barely a village.

Even without historical monuments, Boston's neighborhoods are wonderful. I'm a big fan of both Central Square and Beacon Hill, although for different reasons. The Asian groceries in Chinatown remind me of home and Haymarket almost makes up for that nearby tourist atrocity, Faneuil Hall. And as much as I might miss really good Mexican food, the Indian food around here is terrific.

The North End alone is probably worth a few hours of silence on the subject of Seattle (and, anyway, it's tough to complain while your mouth is stuffed with pasta). The main European ethnicity in Seattle is Scandanavian. Let's face it, ravioli beats lutefisk any day.

Boston may have a deplorably bad theater scene, but Fenway Park is a nice panacea. Growing up a baseball fan in Seattle is tough. One has to resort to fantasies of blowing up the Kingdome and building a real ballpark to survive. And even though I don't have the connections to see the Celtics play in the Garden, it's nice to know they're nearby.

And then there's the T, which is cheaper, faster and cleaner than the public transportation system of any other city I've ever been in. (It could run a little later at night, but this is supposed to be a positive Endpaper.)

I'm still not planning to stick around on the East Coast any longer than I have to. But as I walk around Cambridge in my Eddie Bauer (from Seattle) coat and Nordstrom (from Seattle) shoes sipping poorly made coffee (not from Seattle), I can't help thinking that Boston is rather nice as Eastern cities go.