Thursday, August 29, 2013

My summer fling with Boston

Boston and I never clicked.

I had hoped for an immediate connection but what I got were coldness and distance. Incompatibility. I soon learned things wouldn't progress to anything long-term. Not then. Perhaps I expected too much too soon or maybe those who tried to sell me on Boston's best qualities erred on the side of misrepresentation. Their experiences were full of excitement and grand memories but what about the downsides because my experiences were heaps of disappointments and a literal hunger.

Honestly, I hated Boston.

My move was eight Augusts ago to a tiny furnished student apartment with no air conditioner, mind you, on Buswell Street. The studio was depressingly dark for 22 hours of the day. The brightest spot was the bathroom with all sparkling white fixtures that I accented with fuchsia and practically vaporized with a clean-linen scent. I actually loved the bathroom.

Sunlight peeked into my bedroom disguised as a living room sometime between 6 and 8 a.m. It sneaked in and out as quietly as a booty call with no note. Most mornings I missed its departure.

I spent my days desperately trying to get to know Boston, ignoring every sign to break up and move on to the next city.

My car was still in Virginia so I initially traveled everywhere by foot. I walked those streets entirely too much, quickly twisting my ankle on an uneven sidewalk near the towering Boston University Barnes and Noble. Never mind I wore flip flops.

The person who advised, “Don’t bring your car because Virginians know nothing about New England snow,” should’ve warned my clumsy ass that I needed to hopscotch down the sidewalks.

An excruciating pain crept in later that night. I managed to numb my injury with a bag of frozen peas that lingered in the freezer. I had stopped cooking days (or maybe weeks) prior when one of those insects with antennae that usually travels in packs crawled across the counter top. It and its family and friends could have the kitchen. I didn’t need it after all.

There was a 7-Eleven on the corner to which I managed to limp the next morning. As I approached the door, a kid ran out with a handful of goodies. I heard the cashier yell, “Get back here!” I turned around and limped back to my apartment. I didn’t need the snacks either.

And so I dropped eight pounds in a matter of weeks. Perhaps my daily destination should’ve been some real food spots.

But diversity in ethnic foods wasn’t that popular in my neighborhood, although I acquired an addiction to the hot and sour soup at this particular Chinese restaurant at the basement level on Commonwealth Avenue. I sniffed after every slurp. And smiled, maybe even laughed a little bit, because mostly everything else I tasted in the city was bland.

Italian cuisine, which was served at every other Boston establishment alongside seafood, wasn’t one of my favorites. During that time pasta and bread were at the bottom of my culinary must-haves. I had to be in the mood. Or in Italy. I was a Virginian who craved artery-clogging, calorie-laden, heartburn-inducing soul food. I was desperate that I fed the stereotype and asked a stranger where I could get some fried chicken and I wasn’t referring to a chain restaurant, either.

He knew exactly where to go, but he didn’t share. “But you don’t want to go there,” he uttered instead.

I later realized he may have been referring to Roxbury. I’m still not sure if he didn’t see color, momentarily forgot I was black or thought I was too suburb-smart (instead of street-smart) to venture into the neighborhood. The conversation abruptly ended – because I was offended – and so did my quest for good food.

At a minimum, Boston couldn't even sustain me. I really didn't ask for much.

It was 30 degrees cooler outside my apartment so I started to wander aimlessly down Commonwealth Ave. to Massachusetts Ave. to Newbury or Boylston Streets. I focused on any object – real or imaginary – ahead of me so I didn’t have to acknowledge the same bouncers outside restaurant lounges, doormen outside the hotel near Mass. Ave. or the construction workers who paused to watch me embarrassingly walk by. I had never felt such an intense sense of not belonging before but for the first time I wasn't worried about street harassment; no one smiled my entire stroll and no one so much as uttered “Hi.”

Instead I heard their chuckling inner thoughts. “Here comes that tall, lanky, Black chick again today,” they probably said. “She knows she can just ride the T, right?”

“You do know I know what you’re saying, right?” I would’ve replied. “And I would if I knew how.”

Of course this was nonsensical considering I maneuvered DC and New York City’s subway systems like a local. I was never confused as long as I saw a fare machine and a map. The only difference between the other cities and Boston was Boston’s fares were paid with tokens instead of fare cards.

I even visited other cities solo, immersing myself in the culture like a proud resident instead of a lost tourist. Once I intuitively drove alternate routes from the Westin Bonaventure Hotel in Downtown LA to Venice Beach for a week. My sense of direction was oddly clear and I felt secure. I felt “at-home” as I conversed with the locals. But unlike other cities, Boston left me uncomfortable, disoriented and out-of-place. Its actions said, “Fuck the starved, lonely Southerner. Go back from where you came.” And so I ended things after a mere two months.

But exes have a habit of reappearing – albeit in my nightly news and Twitter timeline – and triggering regrets and rare memories of good times. They force us to doubt, rationalize and eventually oblige, even if it's nearly a decade later.

Well there was that fancy dinner and cocktail at the trendy lounge attached to Hotel Commonwealth, where my name was on the phone display upon check-in, although it was misspelled.

I still felt special, though.

And I do remember how my mouth watered almost daily for the chunky sausage and artichoke pizza and tangy side Caesar salad at the café on the bottom floor of 580 Commonwealth.

And I can't forget about the best chicken biryani (and I'm generally not a fan of chunks of meat in my rice) next to my friend Nishat's version near bustling Harvard Square...I'm still not sure how I managed to save half until the next day.

Oh! And Jamba Juice! I indulged in my last (literally since it's now a retired flavor) tart Cranberry Craze on Boston University's campus.

So what about the intricacies or characteristics I may have missed? Could there have been a misunderstanding on my part?

Maybe Boston and I can reach a mutual agreement on the rebound.

Just maybe.

But I'm doing things a little differently and taking things a little slower this time: following selective Boston entities on Twitter; glancing at flights for special fares; and researching must-try spots myself instead of solely relying on natives who don’t look like me. And, no, Boston doesn't necessarily have to woo me with my one major weakness – food. But it does help. It always does.

Still, reminiscing isn’t enough for me to permanently recommit to Boston. I've set my sights on another major city. Or at least that’s my stance for now. But it is enough to lure me back even if it’s just for a one-night stand.

1 comment:

  1. Wow! I absolutely LOVE this article and how you likened it to a relationship! Your writing is so authentic.