In Love with The Olde Towne

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In Love with The Olde Towne

Courtesy Blair Cohn

Courtesy Blair Cohn

Courtesy Blair Cohn

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I love Boston.

There, I said it. It may sound like sacrilege to some folks, but I love the City of Boston. Yes, I love Long Beach, and I love the City of Angels, but I was instantly charmed by “Beantown” once I got there. As a child, I used to be fascinated with the Revolutionary War and Boston’s role, especially places like Bunker Hill. Later it was the city’s mystique from movies like Mystic River, The Departed, and Good Will Hunting that had me hooked. And the song “I’m Shipping up to Boston” by Dropkick Murphys is a much more edgy city anthem than “I love LA,” and seems to capture the vibe of a place— it evokes the image of Jack Nicholson as Frank Costello (aka Whitey Bulger).

I never went to Boston as a kid or young adult even though we had cousins who lived in the area for years. However, I did live through the storied rivalry of Magic vs. Bird, and how the two cities had a fierce hate for each other. I have always known that Boston was a rival of the Kings and Angels. I knew of the mythic northeastern accent of “pahking the cahr in the yahd.” And I sure learned about the uppity-WASPy-swagger of the Kennedys. Other than that, I never really planned to go across the country to see it for myself.

But what a city! I fell in love immediately. What’s not to like? I mean, the city had both a tea party and a massacre! There is no way I would could ever fit in as a resident and I’m certainly not a Bostonian-type, but I was the grinning tourist the times I have been there.

I finally made it there in 2006 and have been under its spell ever since I touched down. I just had to take a quick look around at all the significant landmarks and became totally mesmerized by the city’s history. To me, the Old South Church stands like a symbol of the colonies and formation of our nation. I could quickly sense the absolute love for the city from its residents the more I talked with the locals. I could feel the ghosts of our founding fathers. And I stood where Paul Revere raced past yelling about Redcoats. How awesome is that? Boston is a fascinating mash-up of that history within the modern city.

I love that it is one of the oldest cities in America, founded in 1630 by Puritan settlers from England, and has a lot of famous locals like William Blaxton, Daniel Webster, Ben Franklin, Sam Adams, Tom Yawkey, Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, Matt Damon and Mark Wahlberg.

I dove into the city’s storied past and looked up some funky facts and found: The Fig Newton is named after the Boston suburb of Newton; The largest art heist in history occurred in Boston when 13 items worth about $300 million were stolen from the Gardner Museum–– the crooks got in by dressing up as cops; Red Sox have patented the shade of Fenway Green and don’t even think about using it; During the Boston Tea Party, protesters dumped more than 92,000 pounds of tea into Boston Harbor and George Washington wasn’t too happy about it; In the 19th century, it was supposedly illegal to take a bath in Boston without a prescription; In 1919, a tank holding 2.3 million gallons of molasses exploded, sending a 15-foot wave through the streets and killing 21 people.

Did you ever see the movie “This is Spinal Tap?” After a concert was canceled, the arrogant cavalier manager tells the band members, “No big deal, Boston’s not much of a college town.” Classic line. In reality, “there are a total of 52 institutions of higher education in the defined region, including four junior colleges, 15 colleges that primarily grant baccalaureate and master’s degrees, eight research universities and 22 special-focus institutions.” I had the good fortune to walk around both Harvard and MIT. I felt smarter and very academic just by being there, especially when we walked into a lecture hall at Harvard. I felt like I needed an argyle sweater vest and loafers, or at least a pair of khakis, to really be a part of it.

It was my days with the Long Beach Marathon that finally got me to Boston that first time. We had rented a booth at the Boston Marathon Expo to promote our event and we also signed up to volunteer at the finish line for the race. (It would probably be the closest I would get to ever running it.) I went back not long after that with another buddy to volunteer again and spend more time as a tourist. We got to explore the city on foot, and one cold, gray morning we walked across the Charles River and got to see the Ivy League crew teams training. Later we caught trains to Somerville and Cambridge and wandered from sight to sight. We also took the train to Salem to look for witches. We learned a lot about them but didn’t see any, so I settled for getting a witch and moon tattoo. It just seemed like the right thing to do.

The day after volunteering for the marathon we rented bikes, took a train as far we could get to Hopkinton to find the official starting line and rode the whole Boston Marathon course back. What a gorgeous route and we felt a real part of that tradition. I could almost hear the girls from Wellesley College cheering us on. And to have a more authentic experience, I actually had to walk my bike up Heartbreak Hill, so I felt at one with all the runners who had done the same thing the day before.

In April of 2013, I was sitting at my desk following the marathon’s progress online when there was announcement that two bombs had exploded near the finish line. Then I saw the footage and the carnage that followed. I told Alissa that we were going back the next year to volunteer no matter what.

And so, we did.

We were accepted in the volunteer lottery to pass out food at the finish line. The day before the race, we spent some time wandering around the photo ops at the marathon’s finish line at 665 Boylston St. trying to imagine the unthinkable horror as participants finished the race. The official memorial had been set up in the Boston Public Library and we saw the shoes, medals, and other belongings left behind as well as hundreds of messages from runners and spectators. Out near the finish line we saw the flags and banners from the previous year still hanging from the church. It was a solemn time.

The next day we were ready to cheer everyone in and celebrate the city. Some of our volunteer team members looked at us funny and asked, “You flew all the way from California to do this?” Absolutely.

Throughout the event there was a palpable sense of city pride and Boston Strong! I still apply to be a volunteer every year for the marathon just to keep a connection to the event and the city.

Alissa and I walked the Freedom Trail together, seeing all the historic spots and carrying a list of the “Best of” making stops at taverns and bakeries. All the modern buildings disappeared as I imagined the colonists walking around doing their daily things. We strolled around in the cemeteries that dot the city and got to pay our respects to John Hancock. We could imagine the clickity-clack of horseshoes along the cobblestones, and we caught the hustle and bustle in the financial district.

We saw all the old things like Old Corner Book Store, Old South Meeting House, Old North Church, and the Old State House. I got to salute Colonel Shaw and the proud 54th Massachusetts regiment in the Boston Common. I thought of the great Irish migration to Boston in the 1840s. We went to Cheers, of course, and the Bell in Hand Tavern (around since 1795) and the Union Oyster House (oldest restaurant in Boston).

And please, don’t be offended, but I cheer enthusiastically for the Red Sox when I go there. I made the pilgrimage to Fenway Park three times and the Green Monster greeted me like an old friend each time.

At the Red Sox game in 2014, I shed a private tear when Augustana’s “Boston” played over the stadium’s PA system. The song made me feel even more bonded with city that was still healing after the bombing. Alissa and I were all-in with the locals singing Sweet Caroline during the seventh-inning stretch. We had a great time and laughed in disbelief at the vendor walking the aisles selling “Chowdah” during the game. It seemed as normal to everyone else as Dodgers Dogs are to us. We even saw a kosher vending machine at the stadium.

I was afraid to mention the name Bill Buckner to anyone.

And be honest, didn’t you cheer when the Red Sox won the world series for the first time in 86 years? No more Curse of the Bambino. I certainly did and loved watching it all over again in the romantic-comedy movie “Fever Pitch” with Jimmy Fallon.

I think it might be hard to put my finger on just one reason why I immediately became such a fan of the city. Maybe it was just being a tourist in a new place; maybe it was me being older and appreciating the history and getting to be up close to it; or maybe it was being around new people, their accents, comparing the east coast to west coast; maybe it was the smells of the North End mixed with the Atlantic Ocean air; maybe it was imagining those old wooden ships in the Boston Harbor and the whole maritime lifestyle; maybe it was the sense of angst from taxation without representation and people yelling “Revolution is imminent!” on State Street.

I am eager to go back and walk the streets again and be immersed in that history. I want to visit our American cousins from the other coast, and be the grinning tourist who receives an extra special greeting from a local when I ask, “How’s it going?”

“Go [explicit] yourself!”

It’s a wicked good town.