Moby and the lights on the Charles

I’ve been feeling nostalgic for Boston lately. Anyone who knew me when I lived in Boston would probably find this ironic, because at the time I gladly told everyone who would listen that I hated it there. Living all my life until the age of 26 in the sunny (read: blistering hot) climes of southern Arizona, I decided I wanted to do something more with my life than shelve books in an elementary school library. I got the brilliant idea to apply for grad school, move to the other end of the country, take out a ton of student loans, and get a master’s degree in library science.  Madness, you say? Well, probably. But it was madness my husband was happy to assist with. So we packed up and we went. Leaving my home, family, and everything I’d ever known was one of the hardest things I have ever done… and it turns out that it was one of the best things I have ever done.

Living in Boston was quite the experience. We existed without a car for over a year and I took the “T” everywhere. I ran around like a maniac trying to juggle classes, readings, part-time jobs, internships, and commuting. Our apartment was tiny, with no amenities to speak of, and we lived in Allston which is affectionately known as the “student slum”.  While we were there, Massachusetts had 2 of their snowiest winters in decades (this was before last year’s crazy snow) and I just about froze my butt off. I struggled with bouts of seasonal depression and learned to have a healthy fear of winter. We struggled with money more than we ever had before and it seemed like we were always waiting for my student loan check or my husband’s under-employment check (gotta love the liberal welfare system in MA!). The whole time we were there, I pined for Arizona like it was some mythical land of sunshine and goodness. I even became known around campus as that chick from Arizona. I wanted to go home in a big way and many of my journal posts from that time period are dark, pessimistic, and (let’s face it) down right whiny.

But I also found my niche in Boston. I worked hard and did really well in school. I built up my resume and made contacts I still use today.  I was more active and energetic than I think I have ever been. I discovered the joys of little hole-in-the-wall restaurants, tasty pizza made by guys with heavy Mexican accents, authentic dim sum downtown in China Town, and thoroughly explored the world of beer. I adored this little ultra-green bagel place and spent hours walking around in the Boston Public Gardens and the Museum of Fine Art. I made some wonderful friends who I will treasure for the rest of my life. I grew and changed there. I discovered that I could completely uproot myself (and my wonderful husband) and totally start again somewhere else. I became so much more independent and I found an inner strength I never knew I had.

Perhaps my last two years in Charm City and it’s less glowing social success has got me looking back more fondly on Boston. Perhaps I miss the collegial atmosphere of a graduate program and the ease at making friends among lots of people also looking to build a new life for themselves in a new place. Perhaps it is the fact that I recently rediscovered that my old on-line journal has a surprisingly large amount of positive entries from those days. Most likely it is all three mixed in with a healthy dose of greener grass on the other side. Either way, I found some great music while in Boston. And now I feel like sharing. Aren’t you lucky?

Something that makes Boston unique for me is that much of the music memories I created there are so deeply entwined with location. Listening to The Ting Tings reminds me of driving down a specific hill on Chestnut Avenue towards Beacon Street. Stratosphere by Junkie XL always reminds me of walking through this little green space from the Fenway train stop to the campus. And Invincible by OK Go will always call to mind riding the B-line past the Boston University campus on Com Ave. Most of the time my music memories are connected to the person who exposed me to that band or to a specific event. But with most of my memories tied to Boston music, it is the geographic location that is the key. The activities are mundane, everyday tasks that do not really stand on their own. Except for one…

Like the others I mentioned in passing, this memory and the song associated with it are tied to a very specific location: Memorial Drive, along the Charles River in Cambridge. The song: Ooh Yeah by Moby. It was fall, but not yet cold. I was in the middle of my internship working with a collection of old court docket books for the Harvard Law Library. It had been a good day spent on the job and I’d met up with my friends and my husband. We had probably gotten something to eat and were now heading back home to the other side of the river. The Charles River is  beautiful and winding, bordered by two main arteries: Memorial Drive and Storrow Drive. Street lights and stop lights line these roads and after dark they shine on the water in greens, reds, and whites; almost like Christmas lights. We climbed into our car, my husband driving, my friends piled in the back, and I in the front passenger seat. Getting a sudden urge, I plugged my Ipod into the dashboard and selected this song. We drove home in the dark, looking at the lights shining along the river. I feel completely calm and content, something I can assure you is very rare in a grad student. It was almost a surreal moment and it has stuck with me. Even now, I can’t listen to it without feeling a little of that calm.

I will leave you with one parting anecdote on what life was like in Allston, the student slums that I called home. One day I am walking down Harvard Ave, a unique area with comic books shops, Russian grocery stores, and Korean restaurants. Weaving through the foot traffic past the dingy store fronts, I notice that on the wall in the alley between two buildings someone has sprayed painted the words, “Have a nice day!” That was Allston for you. Sketchy, but friendly.

Do you have a song that reminds you of a certain place?

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