HACKTREKS IN AMERICA
- A Weekend Getaway?
in the birthplace of Edgar Allan Poe
and baked beans
the leisurely pace of Boston life make a flying visit possible?
Before, during and after a long flight, I always enjoy a good drink.
And so I head by fast cab through the night from Boston Logan International
Airport to a downtown bar. But not just any bar. 84 Beacon Street. The
most famous bar in the world. The Bull & Finch, opposite Boston
Common, is the spiritual home of Cheers, the classic TV show. All the
external shots of Sam Malones beloved watering hole were filmed
on Beacon Street. Unfortunately, all the internal shots were filmed
in a huge studio thousands of miles away in California. Inside, the
tiny Bull & Finch bears no resemblance at all to Cheers which, given
that a million tourists like me turn up every year, means everyone is
a little too close for comfort. I feel as if I have wandered into one
of those challenges to see how many people you can squeeze in a Mini
Cooper. I could get back to England quicker than I could get through
to the bar.
Having given up on the idea of a drink, I hit Bostons theatre
district for a late night stroll. Lots of theatres, certainly, but hardly
any shows or plays running at the moment. I head to my hotel.
As I fall asleep, I cant help thinking that Boston had better
get better. Fortunately, in the morning, Boston does.
The birthplace of Edgar Allan Poe and baked beans, Boston (pronounced
Bwoston by the locals, as if impersonating Elmer Fudd with
a sore throat) is the largest city in New England, with a population
of nearly 600,000 people. Once described as "a picnic of contrasts",
which is surely among the worst metaphors ever written, Boston has also
been called The Athens of America, which must raise eyebrows
in Athens, Georgia.
I take a sightseeing boat trip around the harbour. The gentle ocean
breeze from the Atlantic is relaxing but, yet again, Im denied
the drink I crave. I dont have photo ID to prove Im over
21 at the on-board bar (Im 30
) so I have to sit dry-mouthed
as we chug around the bay between the city and the airport. The waves
chop harmlessly at the boat, mocking my thirst. I shouldnt complain
though because its a blessing in disguise. American beer, bland
and weak, is really just water that went near a hop once.
Although one of the best-looking, classiest cities in the US, Boston
has not exactly been dressed up for show lately. The Big Dig
is in progress, a massive construction project which basically involves
taking the major roads through the city and putting them out of the
way, largely underground. Costing £9 billion and stretching nearly
eight miles, the 10-year-plus project is similar in scale to the building
of the Chunnel or the Panama Canal. Workmen shuffle up, down and around
The Big Dig will not be finished until 2004 but all is far
from lost for tourists in the meantime. If the tastes and sounds of
drilling are not your idea of a holiday, you can always head for the
serenity of Boston Common, where the people of the city meet to walk,
talk and unwind. Stroll around and you will soon be captured by the
gentle pace of New England life.
Alternatively, you can take a train across the Charles River to Cambridge
on Bostons so-called T, the oldest subway in the US.
Home to Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology,
Cambridge has the same leafy charm as its English counterpart and, wandering
around, there is a similar sense that at any moment you could be walking
past a student whose intellect will one day change the world.
I sit among the trees by the river and look back toward downtown Boston.
The jabs of early afternoon sun bring out every dash of green and blue
Mother Nature has to offer. As I drink a coffee and watch the yachts
and rowing boats mingle, before me is a city seemingly without a care.
Massachusetts unemployment is under 2.5% and Boston radiates the wealthy
contentment of a financial centre. Tastefully merging the past and the
present, many of the elegant nineteenth-century townhouses now host
prosperous shops and offices.
Lured by the smell of baking bread and pizzas, I head for Bostons
cobblestoned Italian district. The houses may not be quite as charismatic,
or anywhere near as old, as the real deals in Italy, but the people
are awash with the spirit of the nation. Standing on their doorsteps,
they indulge in the traditional Italian pastime of gesturing furiously
at the drivers weaving at reckless speed through the narrow, twisting
streets. Then again, anyone who slows down or even thinks about parking
is screamed at passionately for no reason at all. In the midst of this
chaos, a woman who must be nearly 80 sits placidly on a chair on the
pavement selling lemonade from a bucket.
In the late afternoon I look around the sumptuous shops and restaurants
of Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market, established hotspots for street performers
and tourists with money to spend. Having long since given up interest
in a beer, I wander into a café and ask for a soft drink. The
waiter says he will happily sell me one, but points out I can buy a
bottle for half the price in a store across the road. This small but
significant gesture sums up Boston for me. Classy people. Classy city.
© Barry Dunstall June 2003
Journeys in Hacktreks
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