1. Nearly everyone I know who has lived in Boston hates Boston.
2. Four of us —me, LauraBeth, her brother Tim, his fiancée Keri—drove to Boston overnight after watching the Flyers lose game six of the Stanley Cup Finals. We were all in our twenties and we thought we were still young enough to power through a sleepless night on the road. I don’t remember most of the drive, and I’m not sure how we got there safely. The first thing we did was take a long nap in the hotel room. Our return trip would be an overnight drive too, but none of us were so confident anymore.
3. Usually I’m very self-conscious about going to places that are obvious tourist traps, places that have three tour buses parked outside and idling, waiting to vacuum up the groups of seniors and schoolchildren who have descended on the place. It makes me feel dumb. It makes me feel lazy. When I enter, I want to announce I am here under duress. I would much rather blend into the crowd on vacation; partly this is a defense mechanism because I don’t want to make myself a target, but it’s also about my vanity. I want to feel somehow above all the other travelers there, like I’m enjoying a more enlightened experience of the place than the fanny-packed masses. The desire to defend myself just for going to a popular place reflects badly on me, I realize. But still I feel judged by the locals who see me entering any place with a gift shop. The point is: we had lunch at the Cheers bar, and it was a fine lunch. I think I had a burger. I’m pretty sure I bought a beer glass.
4. We were in Boston primarily to go to a Phillies game at Fenway Park. Fenway Park is like any other baseball park, except that it’s old and therefore less comfortable than modern parks. When something is uncomfortable but also very old, we say it is charming, because we are a sentimental nation afraid to let dead things die. The Phillies’ 47-year-old starting pitcher Jamie Moyer gave up nine runs in the first inning, which freed us to explore the park. We met the Red Sox mascot, Wally the Green Monster, a clear derivative of the Phillie Phanatic. One of us asked him how it felt to be a second-rate mascot, and Wally’s human handler made fun of Tim for wearing jean shorts. This insult, delivered from a native Bostonian, seemed like a quintessential instance of the pot calling the kettle black. Later, we ate ice cream out of souvenir helmets. The rhythms of an endless baseball season are better for my mental health than football’s weekly explosions of anger. When I was young, I wanted sports to save my life. As I get older, I mostly want them to distract me for a couple hours.
5. I went back to Boston for a writer’s conference in 2014. Every time I go to another city for a conference, all I end up doing is eating and drinking in the same three places within a block of the convention center. These places are hollow and soulless and designed to be malleable enough to appease attendees of any convention, from creative writing to duck hunting. There’s something about their practiced adequacy that makes me very sad. There’s a reminder that what you’re doing isn’t really traveling so much as going to different places. There’s the nagging feeling that everything is the same everywhere.
6. On the second night of the conference, I followed everyone to the convention center-adjacent bar that shared a name with a famous misanthropic writer. It was hard not to feel like a cliché entering this place, where so many writers were still wearing their nametags, drinking brown liquor, and engaged in so-called networking. This bar was a sad footnote in Phillies history, as it was the site on which former Phillies pitcher Brett Myers had been witnessed punching his wife in the face. Nobody in my group was interested in this story. I ran into a friend who introduced me to another writer. It was loud, so I asked him to repeat his name. “You should know my name,” he said. “I am a famous poet.” He walked away, clearly offended. I’ve been a part of the literary and academic worlds for over a decade, and still sometimes I’ll have an encounter that makes me want to disavow the whole thing and just get a real job around some normal fucking people.
7. The bartender took a twenty from me for one beer and never gave me change, effectively giving himself a fifteen dollar tip. I told him he owed me change and he pretended not to hear me. Probably he does this to new convention-goers every week, counting on them to be too drunk to notice or too docile to put up a fight. I wanted to grab him and tell him I was not like those other people he’d robbed, I was somehow more streetwise than them, and I'd caught on to his scam. But instead I sat there and sipped as angrily as I could for an hour, muttering terrible things about Boston and its people. When I left, I stole two salt shakers out of spite. I spiked them into a mound of snow before I got back to my hotel.
8. The thing I remember most about my 2010 trip to Boston is that the valet in a parking lot downtown killed my car battery by leaving my lights on, then crossed the wires when trying to give it a jump. This meant LauraBeth and I got to ride in a tow truck with a driver who did very little to defy the stereotypes of either tow truck drivers or Bostonians. We waited at a stop sign for a line of Asian schoolchildren to cross the street with their teacher and he laughed. “There’s just something fucking hilarious about a bunch of Asian kids, you know?” he said. He went on to share with us a number of theories about Asian women and the shapes of their vaginas. He dropped us off at a Honda dealership, where we spent most of the day waiting for them to check if they had the eleven-dollar spark plugs I needed. We arrived in the middle of what seemed like a seven-hour break for the mechanics, who had just settled in to an intense game of Uno in the parking lot. In the afternoon, we took a walk around the neighborhood, where we saw, but did not enter, JFK’s childhood home. As of the date of this writing, I have been alive for 12,505 days. This was perhaps the most pointless of them all.
9. I’m sure there are people who love Boston, for what I’m sure are perfectly valid reasons.
10. On the return trip with Tim and Keri, we drove overnight again. Within a couple hours, we were all nodding off in the car. We rolled down the windows, cranked the music, pulled over frequently, drank more soda than any of us had in years. We were a danger to everyone on the road. Somewhere on I-95, we saw flashing lights ahead. Flares indicated a lane closure. We drove cautiously past the scene of an accident: a single mangled car, a body being loaded into the back of an ambulance. They moved with no urgency, and we knew the driver had died, probably just minutes ago. The next day, we would try searching for more information on that accident, the cause, the name of the driver, something to put it in context and make sense of it, but we found nothing. The driver was dead and we were not. I wished we could pull over and never drive again.