I was fortunate enough to spend some time in Boston this week during a conference for work. There is never quite enough time to actually see the city when you’re at a conference, but we were afforded some breaks. On one of my breaks I walked down Boylston St. to the place I had read about so much online.
I sat on the side of a public library merely steps away from where the Boston marathon finish line is etched in the ground (fun fact, this library is the first publicly supported municipal library in the United States). As I watched people walk by, I tried to get a feel for the city and Bostonians. I wondered if I took away the landmarks, the buildings, would I still be able to tell this was Boston.
There are some obvious things. Boston Red Sox hats are literally everywhere. Really Boston swag in general. This is a city of sports fans if I’ve ever seen one. The other obvious thing was the abundance of amazing runners. Just fantastic form everywhere you looked and you don’t see that a lot.
But hats and running shoes don’t define a people.
So what really makes a Bostonian?
Sitting on the side of this building next to me were a couple of guys. I mustered up the courage to ask one of them if he was from here.
“Sorta, I was born in Province Town but I’ve been here for a while. Why are you looking’ for something’?”
I can still here the thick Bostonian accent, although I can’t do it justice. But it was beautiful. It was also incredibly kind and refreshing of him to ask if I needed help. Even before I said anything else he offered to help. Not everyone does that.
I asked him what made a Bostonian. What characteristics made up the people here?
David was his name. He opened his eyes wide and backed up against the wall a bit furrowing his brow and thinking. He had the clearest, brightest blue eyes I have ever seen. I was a bit entranced by them. So blue, you could see the lines of almost white mingled in. Clear and reminiscent of ice cold water, I felt a chill when I looked into them.
“You know it’s really different everywhere, east side, west side, south side. They’re all different.”
But he finally decided on an answer –generosity.
“I’m homeless and I’ve been through some things, but you’ll never go hungry in this city. Bostonians are incredibly generous. More than in any other city I’ve been.”
The man sitting next to him, who I assumed was his friend by the way they were talking and walked up together, nodded in agreement. His eyebrows raised and his palms open as if to say, “Of course, I should have thought of that.”
“I just got cleaned up last week and so I’ve been asking people for dollars. You know I need to make appointments and cleaning up is hard because you don’t want to get caught up you know, skipping the train. But it’s hard, you need money for that.”
I could understand needing money to get around and get things done. It reminded me of how my father always gave money to people asking for it and how my mother always told him they were probably just going to buy booze with it.
“That’s not on me, it’s on them,” he would say. I feel like David was showing me what we all really hope is happening when we give someone in need some spare change.
“And you know I read an article in the newspaper the other day that said Bostonians were not nice people. I don’t know where they got that from.
“Another thing is pride. Bostonians have a lot of pride, even before the whole marathon thing,” he said pointing to the finish line just feet away.
“Yea so that’s what I would say.”
I have to admit I didn’t have the greatest first impression of Boston and Bostonians. The cab driver I had from the airport was cold and angry which was terrifying. He wouldn’t talk to me and I’m pretty sure he screwed me on the fare. But maybe he just wasn’t from Boston.
I’m glad I got to talk to David. I’m glad I took a walk down Bolyston St. even with all the madness of the conference. And I’m glad he convinced me Bostonians are nice people.