A visit to New England | Off Kilter
Last updated 2/10/2021 at 11:44am
Let me start by saying that my wife and I immediately felt comfortable when we moved out here from New England.
Reason? We find that Northwesterners share a common trait with people from New England. That is, people in both places tend to keep to themselves. Those of you who are natives of the Pacific Northwest may not agree with this, but it is palpable. Generally, it takes a good friendship to be invited to a person’s home. Meeting in public places in New England (say restaurants, bars, etc.) is quite routine, but in 30 years of living there, I think we were invited, perhaps, to a couple dozen private homes for various gatherings.
Now for a short tour of the area. I’ll start with downtown Boston. There is the famous Faneuil Hall. It is very similar to Pike Place. Lots of places to buy things, wander around. It, in fact, was one of the first public markets.
Located in three very long stone buildings, it has served as the model for quite a few similar places around the U.S. (including Pike Place). (It recently made an internet list of places to avoid – due to the crowds and the “touristy” nature of the place – one too many tourist shops, etc.)
My favorite place there is a very old restaurant called Durgin Park, since closed unfortunately. In the “old days” you could just as likely find a Cabot or a Lodge (old founding families of Boston) eating there as anyone else. Durgin Park features communal seating. There are long tables with people seated on each side. So if your party is six people, you sit three abreast on each side. And the chances are excellent that you will have strangers sitting right next to you on either side.
One of their specialties is Franks and Beans, a New England traditional dish. It is one of the cheaper things on the menu and when you order it, the waitress will probably shout out loud: “cheap eats here.” It is a tradition that you be insulted by your server. Part of the fun of the “park.”
From there you can take a walk into the North End. Traditionally the “Italian” section of the city. It is also well known as the headquarters of some of the most dangerous organized crime families in the area. You can usually tell when you are close to one of these hangouts as you will find cars double parked up and down the block usually with a sinister looking character keeping an eye on the cars (and for the police – who generally don’t ticket these cars) and, in general, on anyone who looks like they “don’t belong there.”
The North End is also known for the best Italian Restaurants. The streets are very narrow, with very old brick town houses on each side. Parking is almost impossible (unless you befriend one of the goons watching over the illegally parked cars). You are better off walking into the neighborhood.
Charlestown, where the Bunker Hill Monument is located, is the oldest neighborhood in Boston. It has a fairly “tough” reputation. Enhanced by being the setting for the 2010 action-thriller “The Town,” (starring Ben Affleck), which suggests that bank robbers are mostly “grown and created” in Charlestown. The movie is quite violent.
Also portions of the film “The Departed”(2006), with the great cast of Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson and Mark Wahlberg, were shot there. It’s also a movie about organized crime in Boston.
Now before all of you get the idea that Boston is nothing but criminals, there are many other neighborhoods worth visiting in Boston. First that comes to mind is Beacon Hill. (There is nothing on the internet suggesting the Seattle place was named after the Boston one). This is truly, the “epicenter” of the old Boston Brahims and blue-bloods. Very very expensive town homes on hilly narrow streets and also quite near the Massachusetts State House, which is the seat of Massachusetts government. It is probably the best place to live in greater Boston (if you’re very rich).
Last, I will mention Cambridge, Massachusetts, home of both Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Probably the finest two higher educational institutions in the world. Not well known is that a Harvard student, before MIT was formed, was unhappy about a lack of technical education at Harvard. He “wandered down” the Charles River Waterfront and founded MIT there.
My favorite part of a visit to Cambridge is a stop in Harvard Square. There, if you look up at the third floor of the main office building in the square you will see the offices of Dewey, Cheatem & Howe, the mythical law firm of the radio show “Car Talk.” The Magliozzi brothers, (the elder one is now deceased) had run this wacko radio show for decades. You might actually find the surviving brother at one of the many coffee shops in and around the square.
And last, don’t forget to ride the “T,” Boston’s mass transit system. There you can enjoy getting your pocked picked, listen to any number of street musicians playing guitars and harmonicas on the “T,” and blending into the “locals”. It is also infamous farcical song by the Kingston Trio called: Charlie on the MTA: 4. See, unlike many public transit systems, on the Boston “T,” depending upon where you get on and off – you may actually owe additional monies to “get off” the “T.” So poor Charlie, he did not have the money to get off – so he is forced to ride it forever. His wife hands him a sandwich each evening, as he comes through a particular station.
Fortunately, I always seemed to have the additional nickel (in those days!) to get off. Otherwise, (hooray), you all might never have gotten to read my column.