By lex, on August 10th, 2010
I have been here before, but it was a depressing space of time ago: I was a lieutenant down at Key West, having completed my first sea tour and working as an adversary pilot. Forward quarter missiles and tactics was my subject matter of expertise, and Raytheon had something new in the works, the development of which it was though I could contribute to, at least from a user’s perspective. I was scarcely 30 years old, and the town has a very different feel today than it did back in 1993.
Or maybe it’s just me.
No one can spend a few days in a major city and pretend to know its rhythms, but the things that jump out at one are still worth noting: It is a city of blended modernity and antiquity, or at least what passes for antiquity in America. Street names in the jumbled city center speak of purposes as much as proper nouns: Battery Street intersects with Pearl Street, which in turn collides with Purchase. Commercial Street rings the north end. A little to the west is Market.
Boston may no longer be the commercial center of the eastern seaboard, but neither has it forgotten its roots.
Freeways hurl themselves fitfully over and between thoroughfares that were themselves widened from cobblestones. Side alleys spring surprised upon main avenues in seeming random fashion. Everything appears to be under re-construction, and pedestrians treat the sidewalk crossing zones as decorative curios left over from a gentler time, crossing when and as they will with never even a sideways glance for oncoming traffic. The inevitable consequence of these historical and cultural artifacts is that traffic is routinely horrendous, and parking at a premium. It is a city to walk, or take the public transport. These things appear to the outsider as historical accidents, but there is a self-satisfied air among the locals, who seem to have seized upon them as accomplishments.
Much has happened here, and the southerner is routinely surprised to find that such storied names as Lexington and Concord fall within a 15 mile ring of impatient Boston, while Cambridge – home to Harvard and MIT – is a mere stone’s throw away across the Charles River Basin. Tufts is even closer to hand. For sheer brainpower, it’s a tough bit of turf to top.
We drove down to the Back Bay last night, found commercial parking, ate a wonderful meal and talked afterward as colleagues do. My companion is a younger man than me, his children are 3 and 5, and we spoke a little about the intervening years. My recommendation to him was to do his very best to make happy memories while they are still young and look up to you. Do not forget to take photographs for evidence that such times ever existed, for the teenage years creep up on you and they are most definitionally turbulent. Ten years hence it will be a blessing to be reminded that it was not ever thus.
We decided to walk off perhaps 80 of the 100o or so calories we had consumed, and headed down Bolyston randomly, pausing before the Old South Church a moment to admire the stained glass windows from the outside. Just a little further down the track is Trinity Church of Boston, and my colleague was impressed that I had correctly guessed its age to nearly a year, merely by looking at the architecture. Architecturally, it is the only church in the US – and the only building in Boston – to be recognized as one of the country’s ten most significant buildings. It is an Episcopal Church, and the current rector is the Reverend Ann Bonnyman. Of course.
Right across the street stood the Hancock Tower, an I.M. Pei design of stark modernity. It is an upward vaulting Babel of glass walled sterility thrusting an accusatory finger towards the sky, standing in stark contrast with the Romanesque statuary of downward looking saints at Trinity. My sense was that Pei had seen his tower as a kind of competition with Trinity’s Henry Hobson Richardson, and if so perhaps he won by sheer weight of functional mass. But my comrade – lacking any form of religious education at all – experienced what he described as a spiritual moment, and it was not inspired by Pei.
I believe that was the point, I murmured quietly. Sometimes you get the one ray of light. Then you must decide what you will do with it.
He’d had a drink or two, while I had abstained. I drove, trying vainly to follow the orders of his Garmin GPS unit: “Turn left”, it would say at a construction barrier followed by, “Recalculating” as the horns brayed behind us. We spoke lightly of such things as the cosmological proof of God’s existence, against the reality of childhood cancer while attempting to navigate our way home. Finally arrived, I made my way through the hotel lobby to bed heavily, an old motorcycle injury having recently become aggravated. The orthopods, I fear, will want to go at it with the big sticks.
I don’t have time for that, but not quite 50 is starting to feel a lot like 60+. Something must be done.
After the conference today I stole out to tour the USS Constitution. More on that tomorrow.