I went to Boston to see my great friends Peter and Nadya this past weekend. I've been to Boston a couple of other times to see Nadya, but this is the first time I've been up since Peter moved to Beantown. And it just so happened to coincide with the week he moved into a new (sweet industrial-styled) apartment with his lady friend. So I had plenty of reason to make it up to Boston without even having to think about the scant possibility of seeing fellow Greenville, South Carolina-native and new Celtic, Kevin Garnett walking down Newbury Street.
Anyway, that's just background, what really went on this weekend can't be summed up with "I went to Boston to visit my friends". Honestly, I went to Boston hoping to figure out if I could start liking the New England hub. My past trips to the city have been fun, but I've always left with a bad taste in my mouth...something along the lines of "fun to visit, not to live."
I have a few, if not dozen, friends and colleagues that have grown up or lived in Boston and it's pretty consistent: people from the area love it, people not from the area don't. This may not be universal, but it's very true within my inner circle. But why is that? What is it about Boston that rubs "outsiders" the wrong way? What is it about Boston that won't let me get over the hump and appreciate it the way I appreciate places like Chicago and New York and D.C. (Austin's on another level, by itself)?
First, let me tell you what I like about Boston. Fenway Park. It's a major sports city. Newbury Street. Boston Common. Good fashion. The way the neighborhoods each have unique personalities.
But I'm not as big a fan of Fenway as Camden Yards as far as traditionally-themed baseball stadiums go. To some extent Dallas, Houston, New York and Chicago are all as good, if not better, sports cities as Boston. Newbury Street is only cool during the day before everything starts to close. New York, Chicago and L.A. are much better places if you're into fashion. The neighborhoods also have distinct racial and socio-economic characteristics as well (not that this makes it any different than any other major US city, but more on the racial part later).
Regardless, I still like those things about Boston. It's not the best at any one thing - no matter how many New Englanders will tell you their seafood is better than that of New Orleans or Charleston, SC - but it's pretty damn good at a lot of things.
But then I get to the bad. These are the things that have turned me off to Boston over the years.
First and foremost, the racism and prejudice in the city must be discussed since I'm a black man and Boston isn't exactly the capital of places for black men to enjoy life (unless you're Kevin Garnett or any other Celtic). The Red Sox aren't as bad as say the Houston Astros or Atlanta Braves (who somehow missed the memo on having a black player on their teams even though some of the best players of all-time are black (Robinson, Mays, Aaron, Bonds, Griffey)), but did you know they only have one African-American player on their entire roster? I find myself thanking Theo Epstein for keeping Los Angeles-native Coco Crisp on the roster this year.
Even before I went to Boston, I heard it wasn't a good city with regard to black-white relations. This was something I've heard in interviews, read in magazines, and seen in movies and on TV (think Departed when the word "nigger" is used casually by non-blacks). Before KG finally OKed the trade to the Celtics, it was rumored he didn't want to play in Boston because of the city's reputation for not being good for black athletes (Allen Iverson nixed a potential Boston-Philly trade years ago for the same reason).
On my last visit to Boston, last October, a friend of a friend who had recently moved to the city noted that there really aren't many places, if any, for young African-American professionals to go and be around other African-American professionals...unlike say, U Street in D.C.
And last weekend, while walking to the T, a white woman told a Latina to "go back to Mexico" simply because she was walking down the wrong side of the stairs to enter the T stop. I apologize if I'm sensitive to any sentence that begins with "go back to..." because I've seen too many documentaries and read too many books about the Civil Rights Movement where Southern whites were saying the same thing, only telling my predecessors to "go back to Africa."
Okay, so that's enough for the racial aspect. Honestly, Austin isn't much better. I've heard too many stories of Austin police officers profiling...and I myself have been profiled on more than one occasion in just about every major city between Los Angeles and Boston. But something about Boston being one of America's oldest cities that makes me believe it's also going to be one of the last to figure out that segregation and racism, albeit closeted, isn't exactly a good thing for America.
The next reason, of only slightly less importance, is the lack of friendliness/hospitality among the locals. On the flight up, the pilot was sounding very chipper when he said "welcome to Boston, the temperature is 86 degrees and I hope you enjoy your stay here...". Fittingly, a Boston local sitting behind me chimed in and said "he's definitely not from Boston." Even the locals know their city's reputation as not being a warm place and I'm not talking weather.
To my surprise, I did have a few good experiences with customer service while in Boston. A cashier at CVS was as friendly as a South Carolinian and the parking attendant at the pool in Manchester went out of his way to be kind to us in saying that the lot was reserved for club members. But then I get on the beach or go to a bar and notice that people just feel and look cold as ice. This may be because I was just-about the only black person in sight, so there could be feelings of "what are you doing here?", but I don't want to play the race card here so I'll just attribute it to the city's (and the area's) lack of hospitality toward "outsiders."
And I keep bringing this word - "outsiders" - up because that's what kills me about Boston. Here you have this history-rich, academically-infused and metropolitan region where people come from all over and it's still a place that can make newcomers and non-natives feel like they don't belong. It's not like the South where everyone, even racist people, say hello or pretend to be friendly. It's not like the Midwest where people move at a slower pace so they're willing to take some time to get to know you. It's not like the West Coast where people are so laid back they'll let you be yourself.
Instead, whenever I go to Boston I get the feeling that I have to rush to a decision. Either assimilate and become a die-hard Red Sox/Patriots fan, hate New York, love the Kennedys and aristocracy, have a private-school degree or two, wear Brooks Brothers sweaters and drive a Volvo. Or finish your visit and hurry back to where you were (belong).
I must also note a few smaller things that I don't like about Boston: 1) everything closes early, it's not at all a night city like D.C. where all the shops in Georgetown and DuPont stay open past 6 or 7; 2) the cold, long winters; 3) the elitism that comes from an old, segregated history; 4) as good as the academic scene is, like D.C., there is a predisposition to frown upon public schoolers; and 5) the roads/highways...everyone in Boston has a GPS so they won't get lost.
I'm sure there are some friends/colleagues of mine - from Boston, no doubt - that will defend the city and refute each of my points until the end of their lives, but until I meet a single person that wasn't born in Boston or the New England area that tells me they a) love Boston, b) would raise kids in Boston, and c) think Boston does not suffer from major racial problems, I refuse to qualify the city as one of my top US favorites (Austin, DC, Chicago, New York) or a place I could live.
In all honesty, it may just be the racial thing that is making me so unfavorable toward an otherwise great US city. On that note, I've started thinking about the possibility of moving to Boston for a year or two and writing a book called "The Black Man's Guide to Boston" based on my experiences. I bet Kevin Garnett would buy this book in a New York minute.
*I look forward to any and all of your comments.*