Thanks to my own booking error, about three weeks ago I woke up at 4AM to catch a 630AM flight to Boston. Fortunately [and unseasonably] it was 60+ degrees out on my walk to the Damen blue line stop, which really softened the blow of being awake. There I met up with Pat; a friend from high school, decent euchre opponent, literary and baseball enthusiast, the first to call me ‘Shley [something I particularly enjoy] and Harvard alum. I visited Pat at school his senior year and met many of his friends, most of whom have visited Chicago since graduation. This time, he was returning to Cambridge to visit with old friends and attend an annual dinner [ultimately, to meet and fall in love with Rashida Jones], I tagged along.
We arrived in Boston around 930AM. Our first purchases were Charlie Cards, Boston’s public transportation pass [I considered the $15 seven day unlimited passes a steal]. After 100 red trenchcoat sightings, pastries and lunch with a view at the courthouse, we headed via T across the Charles River northwest of Boston to Cambridge, our HQ [Cambridge : Boston :: Evanston : Chicago, but larger and more convenient] Pat’s friends Emma and Reed were kind enough to host us and Laura joined us from Nashville. Pat was seriously outnumbered [4-1, women]. During my last visit I was accused of overusing the word “adooorable” so for the purpose of this post I’ve switched it with beautiful, gorgeous and charming. But honestly, the towns are brick, wood and vine heaven.
There’s clearly a large population of students and young professionals living in Cambridge, and each neighborhood has its share of bars and restaurants, seemingly more spread out than the stretch of consecutive bars per neighborhood in Chicago. Still, most everything was walkable [15-20 minutes]. Throughout the weekend we traveled by T and foot between Cambridge’s many squares; Porter, Inman, Davis and Harvard. Our meals and conversations were diverse; from inherited privilege, to crime book proposals, to awkward moments with the opposite sex, to Pat [including many exchanges about his high school and college years]. From pulled pork, to Ethiopian [my first time!], to late night pizza, to sushi, to brunch at Druid [a restaurant with Irish waiters and ghost like monsters hung above the tables.] Since we really filled our days our nights weren’t too wild. But, if you’re looking for food and drinks in Cambridge, you’ll find them.
The original plan was for a Friday-Sunday trip, but the aforementioned booking error left us with a full extra day of exploring, which isn’t a bad error. Pat and I used the day to visit Concord [apparently pronounced, “conquered”…I rarely got it right]. Travel could not have been more simple, just a 30 minute train ride north-west of Porter Square. Hungry, we grabbed lunch near the train station at Country Kitchen a place with signature sandwiches [town-voted best stuffing on a turkey sandwich with cranberries for Pat and the most delicious chicken salad sandwich I’ve ever had]. The customers were clearly known by name. Pat and I were mid-conversation discussing small-town values and their similarity to midwest-values when Lilly, an old yet lively woman joined us at the table and started talking about the beautiful weather [and it was! 77 degrees, thanks for the base tan Concord]. Our conversation only reinforced how absolutely friendly the small-town folks were.
Our appetites satisfied, we walked to visitors’ center for some guidance. We had a loose agenda; Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, writers’ homes [Alcott, Emerson, Thoreau] then to relax and play cards at Walden Pond. However, we started by walking ~ a mile in the wrong direction [with 6 maps and brochures in our pockets…] ultimately it was comical. Turns out most everything we wanted to see as a stone’s throw from the visitor’s center […in the opposite direction]. Now on the right track, we first stopped at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. Yes, cemeteries are eerie, but it was beautiful out and the gravestones were so old [many illegible]. I also love old things. Everything in Concord was gorgeous, you end up commenting on each house as if you’re going to buy it [“love the balcony, great foliage, nice windows,” and so on…] The town is undeniably charming. Most every house is marked with a plaque indicating a historic figure who once lived there. Continuing on, Pat and I visited Louisa May Alcott’s [Little Women] home and toured Ralph Waldo Emerson’s house. As if they weren’t charming enough from the outside, the bedrooms had rich teal walls and an entry way was coated with velvet green patterned wallpaper. I was jealous [green, if you will]. History is certainly preserved in Concord and it was great to take in, and possible to do so within a few hours. Sunburnt, we grabbed dessert before catching the train home [ya know, to cancel out any health benefits that came with walking the 5 or so miles throughout the day…].
Saturday wasn’t short of walking either [or beautiful weather]. Reed, Emma, Pat and myself headed downtown to see a bit of Boston. From my last visit, all I remember is Caffe Vittoria’s cannoli and dancing at the Purple Shamrock [a bar we originally thought we were too cool for but ended up having a blast at]. Anyway, this was a different side of town. Starting at Boston Common we followed the Freedom Trail past a few historic sites, spotting tour guides dressed in 18th century garb along the way [reminding me of that one 30 Rock episode]. Boston felt larger than it originally appeared [and slightly similar to London]. We walked through Public Garden on our way to Newbury Street, [seemingly the Magnificent Mile of Boston]. Then up through Beacon Hill, a concentration of wealth, on our way to rest at the Charles River before heading back to Cambridge to get ready for the formal dinner that night.
[Harvard Square, Cambridge]
Boston is beautiful, and Harvard is especially beautiful, but this weekend was more about the hangs than anything else. Accompanying Pat to the Signet Society‘s annual dinner [in my favorite dress!] was definitely a window into a community of people I’m not generally a part of. The Signet Society is a small organization at Harvard that focuses on “intellectual, literary and artistic life” that I would know nothing about it if Pat was not a member. At the tables sat a mix of; Harvard alumni spanning decades in age, donors, students, Signet members, randoms [myself], and speakers.
This year’s speaker, Adam Gopnik [The New Yorker], gave a witty speech about achievement, accomplishment and expertise. Just one part went along the lines of, becoming an expert is really doing what you were good at in fourth grade and not having to do the stuff you weren’t good at in fourth grade. Accordingly, I should be an expert at rollerblading and advanced math [I’m not]. Following Gopnik, former Signet member Rashida Jones [star of Parks ‘n’ Rec and Pat’s dreams] received an award and gave a brief speech thanking the Signet for the honor and an opportunity to force her college friends to get together. She was quite down to earth. Throughout dinner we bonded with our elder server as he gossiped with us about the [debatably] attractive waiter with crazy eyes who we undoubtedly made uncomfortable as we “stole” two bottles of wine before migrating to the Signet house for more celebration. The group grew throughout the evening and everyone was in [and full of] good spirits. After hours of hanging out [and possibly prowling…] with new and old friends we called it a night.
The Signet dinner was a great ending to the full long weekend. By Sunday we were exhausted and the good weather had passed. I was hoping to ride Reed’s bike around town to get a new perspective, but it was rainy and cold [leading me to believe Boston was sad to see us go]. Aside from the history and adventure, it’s hardest to convey the quality of conversation and company during the trip [hence the delay in my post]. Overall, Boston was a change of pace. I could see it as a temporary place to call home; an intelligent and ambitious environment that I’d feel productive in, but could possibly outgrow. Granted, I didn’t see it all [no Bennifer, few hard Boston accents or troubled handsome locals a la The Town or The Departed] still there is a personal satisfaction that comes with covering so much ground in a new place: