Don’t worry, this is not a “love letter.” What are you, some fawning schoolgirl who’s going to blush at my little puffs of poetry? I don’t think so. For one thing, you’re nearly 400 years old. And I know you’ve been with a lot of writers, some of them, uh, pretty good…so I don’t imagine I’m going to impress you with literary flash. [
You know who writes “love letters” to Boston? People from other cities. Public displays of affection aren’t exactly your thing. Indeed, in all the years I’ve spent with you, I only saw you with a real spring in your step once—for exactly seven days in 2004, between the Red Sox sweeping the World Series and hometown boy John Kerry losing the presidential election—after that, the grumpiness was back and, frankly, it was a relief. Bostonians aren’t supposed to walk around smiling at and congratulating each other. That’s fine for other cities, but it’s not our deal. [
Our deal, in short, is this: You kick our asses and burst our bubbles. We grow up tough and smart and grateful for it.
Am I creeping toward sentimentality, Boston? You may want to point out that most of my formative years were spent in your more affable suburbs—I’ve barely set foot in your meaner streets. In fact, I probably couldn’t find most of them. You don’t make it easy with your one-way lanes-to-nowhere, counterintuitive curves, dead ends, and neighborhoods that seem physically designed to reject outsiders. You still retain plenty of mystery for me. But I’ve done my time with you. I have surely sat in about a hundred of your Dunkin’ Donutses, known every color and branch of your T. [
I have seen your snowbanks piled high, seen them quickly turn from pure white to revolting dirt-and-exhaust brown, little mounds of which cling to the curbsides impossibly long, like, well into summer. And I have known your “post-” winter sucker punch, when you allow us the complacency of several gorgeous spring days only to toss off one more outrageous afterthought of a blizzard. Most of all, I have complained about you alongside your world-class drunks as the bars shut down unreasonably early and some young person moans pathetically that the bars stay open until 4am in New York. To that, I say: Well, young person, go ahead, seek your fortune in NYC, if you must. It’s a fine city, [expletive withheld] Yankees aside. But Boston made you and me both. That very crappy attitude you’re expressing—that’s our crappy attitude. [
And then...I’ve only left out the most important thing—your elitists! They walk among us, indistinguishable from the general populace. That jerk trying to save the parking space she shoveled out by leaving a folding chair in it, or that other jerk removing your folding chair so he can steal your space, or the Red Sox nationalist glued to NESN on the bar’s big screen...any of them may well be a professor at a well-regarded university. Or at least an egregiously underpaid teaching assistant. And you are not you without them.
“Elitist”—it doesn’t have a nice ring, does it? I never thought I wanted to be one, until we spent some time apart and it was pointed out to me that I already was one. Now, I’d like to think that I wasn’t an entirely condescending schmuck…but you taught me to believe that there were valuable things in this world beyond whatever decadence my television might show me. That being creative was cooler than being rich. [
I grew up assuming everyone knew that striving for something outside the norm was a worthy enterprise. But, having spent plenty of time away from you, I’ve seen that notion dawn on people, usually a happy revelation. How did they live without that ideal? Who would I possibly have been without it? Well, Boston, I promised I wouldn’t embarrass you with the “l” word, so I’ll just say that all that damned shoveling and windshield-scraping…all those hours spent circling for a nonexistent parking spot…every passing frown on the street…they were all worth it. I’ve moved away and back more times now than I can count, Boston, but I’m yours, now and always.
The GOOD Cities Project is a five-month collaboration with Ford, exploring how we make our cities and how our cities make us. As part of the project, GOOD and Ford have commissioned cultural creatives across the country to help illuminate and celebrate the rich and vastly diverse points of view that make up each city's individual character. Each week, we will be exploring attributes that we believe are fundamental to living meaningful urban lives.