Saturday, 2 July 2011

Boston: A city of Hope...


I am a strong believer of first impressions, yet at times it’s important to acknowledge that they can be completely reversed, suggesting that your initial evaluation was incorrect or you saw things via an isolated paradigm.  This is not the case with Boston.  My initial impression of Boston was: a city of hope.  It really appeared to me as a shining light, demonstrating that all classes, races and personalities can intertwine to make a city a wonderful place to live.  Obviously, not every city can boast of such diversity, thus Boston has left a lasting impression on me.

From day one, I was very surprised at how friendly people are.  I came predisposed to the idea that Americans are arrogant, overly proud, rude and inconsiderate.  At least in Boston, this is NOT the vibe I received.  It was the complete opposite.  If someone gets in your way they apologise, if you thank them, they always (I mean ALWAYS) return the sentiment.  Strange?  Not really.  Perhaps we’ve been brought up with the idea that a ‘how are you?’ does not really suggest you want someone to give you a full answer, rather it remains a conversation ‘gap-filler’. 

The next of my ramblings relates to the Public transport system.  There is no doubt Boston is ahead of cities such as Melbourne.  By being ‘ahead’, this does not imply technologically.  Their trams, trains and buses may be old, but they sure know what it means to be on time and their network of transport is extremely logical and efficient (at least to a certain degree…) – we still had trouble understanding inbound VS outbound services, but it’s only a matter of time.  Sure, their trains may be old, noisy (we cover our ears at the deafening sound of each turn in the tunnel), and difficult to keep balance on.  However, this is all irrelevant.  As longs as you get from A-B in a timely manner, why bother complaining about the ‘look’ of a train.  Here in Boston, the Public transport Authority is realistic and aimed at serving the needs of citizens.  In Melbourne, oh let’s forget it…  We know our transport sucks, despite the fact it has great potential…  Critical?  Nope!  Just very impressed with the fact that you can navigate within a city, and spend more time on other activities.  You feel safe, you know where you’re going (well, we tourists do need to work on our knowledge of lines) but in due time, citizens seem very pleased with the work of the MBTA (transport system).  In one of our visits to the Transit Police, we were shown the preparedness of the team in case of any terrorist attack, self-harm or pure stupidity.  You may frown at the ‘terrorist’ notion but you’ve got to be here to understand.  They’re not ‘paranoid’, but rather prepared.

The culture is something that is worth a very big mention.  I loved it from the first day, and I feel sad that I will be leaving Boston in a few hours.  People seem to work together, people dress as they please, there are more police but they hassle you less.  It all just…. works!  There is no thinking twice about calling someone black or white, we have only been predisposed to believing that such ‘name calling’ is inappropriate.  It’s different here, it’s seems ingrained in the culture, nobody takes it as racism (contrary to popular thought).  There are buskers, there are singers, they are all allowed to perform all over town, whether it be down in the subway, up on a bridge or in the downtown district.  They express their thoughts, feelings and personalities in their work.  Sure, earning money is important for them and no one doubts that.  It’s just that when they busk, they really put their heart into it, no matter how disappointing their performance turns out to be.  Some artists are humble, others are proud, it just allows them to connect and communicate with the community around them.    

Dunkin Donuts is a craze, and so is Starbucks.  There are more of them on each street corner than McDonalds believe it or not.  Their food is reasonably priced; their food is served with smile.  That’s what makes it worthwhile!  Tipping is another thing that seems to scare the tourists.  This is not because they do not want to tip, but rather because they don’t know how.  We are brought up in a culture that does not require tips, even in higher-class restaurants.  Here, they depend on tips; it just takes time to discover how much it takes for you to ‘make their day’. 

Boston is a city where you never need to think twice.  If you know it’s right, don’t hesitate as things are there to be explored and shared.  Us tourists seem quite tense at first, but after a few days this city becomes your best friend.  If you respect Boston, it equally respects you.  Talking to random people on the street is no easy feat for tourists.  It can be quite a challenge but you really appreciate it once you break into conversation.  They hold Australia in high esteem (something I honestly didn’t believe).  Some thought we were French or Canadian but smiled when they found out we live with the Koalas and Kangaroos Down-under.

The most moving experience on this leg of the trip was this one on-going encounter.  Rising very early in the morning to buy hot chocolate, I was watched very carefully as I entered the shop.  It was quite an uncomfortable gaze, yet there was a smile hidden beneath this man.  I turned away, but continually acknowledged his presence without turning my head in his direction.  After ordering my hot chocolate, I saw something moving in the corner of my eye.  It was quite awkward; I didn’t know how to respond.  He outstretched his arm, patiently waiting for me to return the gesture of a handshake.   I struggled at first, as he seemed quite a strange man to be around.  His eyes looked in opposite directions, and he sniggered.  Of course I met his gesture, and I was surprised how inviting and friendly his grip was, yet I soon realised it had a ‘dual purpose’.  I had very little on me, but what grabbed me was just how grateful he was.  Sure, many such people live in Boston and walk around collecting money for substances. 

I saw him several times during the last week, each time different locations.  I can’t be certain he recognised me, but I sure did.  It wasn’t until tonight that I saw him for the one last time.  A friend and I went out for a beverage at McDonalds and for some strange reason I was not surprised to see him again.  Some may call him a ‘local’, others yell out ‘he’s just a homeless guy’ but to me he was purely a citizen of Boston.  What really hit me was when he leaned over the counter and ordered what appeared to be a meal.  I instantly felt goose-bumps as I watched him count his small change.  This was the biggest sense of pain I felt on this trip.  I tried not to show it, but can’t deny I felt it.  He left the store with a soft-serve cone, but it was his smile that encouraged me most.  He achieved his snack, and that was it.  He knows tomorrow will yet another tough day, but what’s remains important is what he achieved today.  Often, we spend so much time hoping and planning for ‘tomorrow’ that we forget about ‘today’.  We fail to recognise the experiences and friendships we form along the way.  From what I could see, he still lives hoping to discover the American Dream.  It’s precisely hope that builds him, protects him and provides him with the motivation to get up each day and have the guts to extend his hand and beg.         

Why the story?  Because it touched me.  You can visit buildings, dine at fine restaurants, visit cinemas, stare are the marvellous cityscape of Boston from the 50th floor of the Prudential, but if you don’t know and interact with the people, you can’t appreciate the true culture of the city. 

In one of my first journal entries for the trip, I titled it ‘sights, sounds, smells and tastes’.  It took me a week to see that I was ‘way off’.  If anything, it’ll always be the people… 





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