Friday, September 10, 2010
When I first arrived in Boston, Cassie took one look at me and did the thing that best friends do. She dragged me bodily out of her apartment, down the street and directly to her hair stylist to schedule a same-day appointment. She said tilted her head to the side and said, "you look profoundly stressed." And I nodded and said, "tough week." And she took care of it from thereon out. On Newbury street, we ducked in and out of expensive, colorful boutiques like the wooden birds on a wind up clock. She put different flowered headbands into my hair and held me at arm's distance, hands on my shoulders, examining each one with her designer's eye. She murmured things like "The blue one is nice, but the green one will pop more..." as if maybe it was the most important decision in the world, and the entire direction of both our lives hinged upon which silk hair flower we bought. Then we sat down at on outside cafe, she ordered us both coffee and slapped the new Patagonia catalog onto the table for the next hour's indulgence.
We swept through the city beneath the sidewalks, in the dark place that smells like steam and metal and popcorn, and the sound of avalanches and screaming wheels rush through every fifty seconds. I'm still just as fascinated and terrified by the third rail as I ever was. I swear I spent the first eight years of my life trying to stay as far away from that thing as possible, never fully trusting myself not to just run across the yellow line and jump intentionally, the way part of you is afraid that you'll just throw yourself off the cliff after you've topped out. Are you familiar with this feeling?
Then again, I sort of love the third rail. It so perfectly embodies the take no shit attitude of Boston. There is a live wire going running through the train, if you touch it you'll die. And if you die it's your fault. So stay back. Or not. Whatever. Every living creature in Boston, from kid to rat, knows you'd better stay behind that yellow line. That, and the only way to ever cross the street is to run for it- which is a very dangerous thing in Seattle, not because of traffic but because even the most minor jay-walking offense will get you arrested, and a string of clueless Seattlites will bumble along behind you, assuming the light has turned.
I'm glad I still know enough about my home city to find obnoxious ways to educate my friends who moved there from elsewhere, like singing the complete Get Charlie off The MTA song and doling out the history of the Big Dig. Unsolicited information, maybe, but still worth sharing. And I'm happy to know that there is still so much about Boston that's buried deeply but permanently in my brain. Like I said I wanted to get a pair of shoes and Cassie suggested Government Center on the green line and I instinctively said, "Well how about downtown crossing on the Orange Line?" And I thought, it's been 17 years since I've lived here, how could I possibly have remembered that? I guess the childhood years are formative or something. Especially since we didn't own a car back then and dad made his career out of Boston's public transportation.
In the evening, Austin took us out to a fancy French Cambodian restaurant where everything was a 'fusion' of something or other and the drinks all included cucumber vodka. The menu was a prix-fix deal where we ordered everything up front and it just kept arriving on little plates throughout the night, from the crispy jasmine rice with ground pork in coconut curry to the almond-lace cups of papaya mouse. The three of us have so much in common, from the dramatic bullshit of elite Ultimate Frisbee to a shared history of both the Academy at Adventure Quest and Woodstock Union High School, 8th grade theater, 10th grade French class, white water and photography and everything in between. The only thing we don't share is religion which really doesn't come up unless I ask some stupid question like, "Wait- do you guys pray- like, actually pray? Together? What should I do tonight when you pray, should I like- take a walk or something?" I guess you could say I'm as uncomfortable with religion as I am with people doing lines of cocaine in front of me. Kind of like- I know it happens but- woah. The fact that Cassie and Austin are two of the kindest, most generous, most fun, most compassionate and most 'with it' people I've ever known just makes it all the more confusing to me. But so far, well, they're pretty damn tolerant of my intolerance.
Well that was officially a tangent.
Anyway, Boston was a nice little foray back into city reality, where people walk everywhere, and walk really fast because they're in a great big hurry, and girls get up an hour early to put a solid effort into looking good, and there are all these places to eat, everywhere. Exactly what my let's-sit-here-and-watch-the-leaves-turn- ass needed. Plus I got three pairs of shoes out of it.
Now I'm back in the ultra gorgeous slow lane watching smoke roll out of my chimney and the grey fog of autumn settle down over the tall grass in the pastures. But I'm not sitting anymore, I'm packing and cleaning out the car, because it's time to get a move on and book end this country. Boston to Seattle and every (Northern) thing in between.
Decaffeinated coffee and a full country atlas awaits.