The Argument: A Turncoat’s Manifesto
Why I left Boston, and why that’s not the unforgivable offense it once would have been.
Bless me, Father, for I have gone and done the unthinkable. I have moved to New York.
Not long ago, this would have been an act of profound betrayal, even cowardice. Betrayal because to voluntarily move somewhere else implies that Boston is not the greatest city in the world (a big no-no); cowardice because Boston is a tough place to live in, constantly testing, goading, freezing, soaking, charming, spiting, begrudging, elevating, demeaning, embracing, ignoring, and generally trying you, and to leave it exposes a fatal character flaw, a tacit admission that you’re not made of sound enough stuff to withstand its torments. Or so goes the thinking. I had always planned to stay until the very end, that point at which I would be summarily dispatched by an errant bullet in Downtown Crossing, or fall waist-deep into a yawning pothole and then get run over by a speeding cab, or maybe even kick off peaceably. Yet here I am.
Needless to say, I’m dead to many of the stalwart Bostonians I left behind. Before leaving, my wife and I spent weeks going to bars and parties, saying goodbyes. At one, my brother-in-law said, “This feels like a cross between a wedding and a wake.” At another, a local PR professional embroiled in a political debate occurring just feet from me said, “You know who would be good to talk to about this? Keohane, if he were still alive.” A Dorchester-bred friend accused me of “trading a great city for a mediocre one.” “You’ll hate it,” several others opined. I started badly missing these people even before I left, even if a lot of them are bastards. (I like bastards; I trust them.)
But as hard as it was to leave the people, Boston itself was a different story. I spent my last few days taking long walks around town to see if I could feel that old spark of inspiration. I strolled over the Mass. Ave. bridge from Cambridge in late afternoon, when the city’s skyline turns to gold. When friends from out of town used to visit, I would always take them to see that view at that time, and then get them plastered upstairs at the OtherSide Café, part of a relentless if futile lobbying effort to get them to move here. I walked through the Common and the Haffenreffer Walk in the Public Garden, along Charles Street, and up and down the side streets of the Back Bay. I hit Southie, Dorchester, and the bars in Central and Harvard, listening to the Bosstones, or the Lemonheads, or Jonathan Richman on my headphones. It was, in short, an attempt to absolutely torture myself and get a head start on my penance for the fully premeditated cardinal sin I was about to commit.
I got nothing. No flood of memories, no guilt. Just an uncharacteristic silence, and a general sense of being preemptively turned away from. In his great and exasperating book, The Old Patagonian Express, Paul Theroux, a Medfordite, observed that as he took the T from Wellington Circle to begin a two-month train odyssey to Patagonia, the ads on the Orange Line seemed strangely quiet, as if they knew they shouldn’t waste their energy trying to draw the eye of a guy who’s not going to be around anymore. I didn’t notice that on the T, because I was consumed as usual with hating the T, but I did feel something similar from the newspaper boxes around town. They used to scream at me, and I at them. Now they seemed preternaturally still. If I had expected one last go-round with the city, a teary farewell from an old friend, I got the equivalent of “I’m not going to give you the satisfaction, you prick,” topped off with not one but three grisly bicycle near-accidents in a two-day span, and 12 hours of torrential rain on moving day. See ya, pal.