The Very Boston Moments We’ll Remember from 2020
A year of seltzer tosses and sinkholes, turkey intruders and "Boston Strog." And that other thing.
We already know people are obsessed with Boston, whether they live here or not. So as we round out 2020, we felt it was appropriate to take a look back at some of the very Boston moments we’ll remember from this wild, tragic, mind-warping, and occasionally inspiring year. Here, in no particular order, and with no particular fidelity to importance or historical significance, are the incidents and clips and milestones and memories that stuck with us, either for their hilarious over Boston-ness, because they were Nice Things in the middle of this yearlong Hell, or because for whatever reason we remember them, fondly or otherwise.
The seltzer toss
Little did we know, one week into 2020, just how much we’d come to miss the opportunity to be loud and dumb with fellow sports fans watching our teams. Back in the pre-COVID era, the thought of a malicious virus sailing through the air was the furthest from most of our minds, and it was a malicious spiked seltzer—specifically a 20 oz tall boy of Truly, hurled at the Spurs bench after a blown call during a January Celtics game—that was making headlines. Unlike the rest of us, the fan in question does not have future C’s games to look forward to once this is all over: He has been banned from the Garden for life.
1. Kemba gets laid out on a hard screen
2. Kemba gets ejected
3. Celtics fan throws a beer at the Spurs bench
— Yahoo Sports (@YahooSports) January 9, 2020
Leave it to Boston to obsess over a hole in the ground when one mysteriously materializes in a city park, but that’s what happened earlier this month when a seeming portal to the underworld opened in Dorchester. It was later revealed that the sinkhole was in fact a decommissioned and long forgotten well that once sat on the plot of a 19th Century estate, which we learned thanks to an investigation from everyone’s favorite city archaeologist, Joe Bagley. Helpfully, and because you can’t say he doesn’t know his audience, Joe also helpfully tabulated exactly how many medium Dunkin iced regulahs you could fit down there if you wanted to, using complex math: 4,653.6. Thank you, Joe!
An important math lesson from your local Boston #archaeology team. Like many of you, we were wondering how many Dunkies medium iced coffees (extra extra) would take to fill in the Mary L. Pierce well in Ronan Park, aka the #DorchesterSinkhole. Well, your wait is over. 1/ pic.twitter.com/qMuP1Bqrd4
— Boston Archaeology (@BostonArchaeo) December 17, 2020
Speaking of which, will I someday do some introspection about whether the affection I feel for this specific coffee corporation was misplaced? I certainly hope not! Either way it was hit after hit for the brand this year. There was the recently expanded line of Dunks merch (after it all sold out instantly last holiday season), and the spicy Halloween donut everyone was trying for a while there. There was, of course, the civically-minded, Fenway-voting Dunkies Girl. The company kept racking up Ws in the pandemic even when so many other industries did not, with revenues remaining high when stacked up against fellow coffee purveyors. And it remained in our hearts whether a multinational mega-corp deserves to be there or not.
— Josh Gondelman (@joshgondelman) October 22, 2020
The vaccine dance
There were also plenty of joyous moments captured on camera inside the hospitals themselves, as patients were seen celebrating with staff after surviving their bouts with COVID. Then in December, as the first doses of vaccine arrived at area hospitals, there was this video of doctors and nurses busting out celebratory dance moves outside Boston Medical Center, a showing of joy that was covered in news outlets around the world.
Why I love my job @The_BMC ! Teams of people working to safely and equitably distribute vaccines to their front line colleagues getting cheered on by their friends celebrating the arrival of the vaccines! A great day, a great place. ❤️ pic.twitter.com/XfrIthFIY5
— Kate Walsh (@KateWalshCEO) December 14, 2020
Even as the city’s dark history of inequality carries on, in ways both tangible and symbolic the city’s Black community has taken steps forward this year. The long-sought renaming of Nubian Square was a significant step that gave that neighborhood new ownership of the area, excised a tribute to a slaveowner, and, neighbors told us back in February, maybe pay dividends in the form of Black-owned business revitalization down the line. Still, this story isn’t over. “A name can’t fix gentrification,” Haley House Bakery manager Misha Thomas told us at the time. “But it has made people wake up and want to fight for what they have.”
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The police reforms
It’s worth taking a moment to appreciate that the convulsions of street protest motivated the state legislature to do one of its least favorite things: actually pass new laws. The reforms that made their way to the governor’s desk this month are not perfect, and by late December the governor had used a veto threat to strip some of its provisions out, but they are still some of the most rigorous in the nation and we’ll take that as a Boston moment, if you don’t mind.
The high-profile fight against facial recognition
Baker’s edits included a major one: Allowing state police to continue using facial recognition technology on us. But the bill will significantly curtail that ability. For one, at the very least Boston police won’t be allowed to use the glitch-ridden, discriminatory technology, and will have to ask the staties first. Following Somerville’s lead, Boston’s City Council this summer voted unanimously to ban government use of facial recognition technology. In fact, the issue has become intertwined with Boston culture this year: Just this month, the Celtics co-wrote a widely discussed op-ed on the issue in the Boston Globe. They know the harm the technology causes—in a test of an Amazon-produced facial recognition tool last year, it mistakenly identified two of their teammates as criminals—and they used their platform to call the governor out.
— The Boston Globe (@BostonGlobe) December 16, 2020
The first pot shop
The long wait for legal recreational weed in Massachusetts was made even longer in Boston, as the city lagged behind much of the state in getting its first pot shop operational. But then finally in early March, Pure Oasis opened the doors to its Grove Hall storefront. The Black-owned business—a rarity in the industry—was helped in its journey to opening day by the state’s economic empowerment program, and its ribbon-cutting was a cause for celebration. But the helium in the opening day balloons was barely depleted when the first round of COVID closures hit, shuttering the store just days later. It reopened in May, and cannabis retailers say business has been steady ever since.
The embrace of the outdoors
The circumstances that brought this about are what they are, but it sure was nice to see Boston transform into a city that embraced public outdoor spaces this summer and fall, as hotspots like Hanover Street suddenly came alive with outdoor dining patios, and parklets finally spread the way they should have a long time ago. The city missed an opportunity to do much more to reclaim its streets for the people this year. But this sudden shift in our thinking was a silver lining for the year and it would be nice for us to keep it going long after this is all over.
Today is the first sunny day since the launch of the #CafeZone in Boston’s #NorthEnd and Ted met plenty of customers eating in the new lane of tables set up on Hanover Street. pic.twitter.com/6NGgHqbCR3
— WCVB-TV Boston (@WCVB) June 12, 2020
They’re no replacement for the real thing, of course, but the rise of streaming concerts proved a surprisingly decent substitute for live music this year, and Boston musicians capitalized on that. Harvard Square’s Club Passim alone streamed about 270 shows this year, miraculously raising $330,000 and counting for musicians suddenly deprived of venues to play in. The phenomenon also saw the Dropkick Murphys play Fenway Park while stationed around the infield—a Boston Moment so hilariously on-the-nose it’s shocking there wasn’t a heist of some kind happening simultaneously.
— Consequence of Sound (@consequence) May 30, 2020
Great Scott lives
It was among the first big gut-punches of this miserable era for the small music venues and dives we loved and lost this year when Great Scott announced its tenure on Comm. Ave. had come to a close. But now, after an incredible saga with many a twist and turn, Great Scott will live on after all. Fans raised enough money through the Salem-based crowdfunding investment platform Mainvest for the club to re-emerge in, of all places, the old Regina’s in Allston. If everything works out the way I hope it does, Great Scott will come out of this even better than before, and still uncompromisingly, authentically Boston.
The college ingenuity
One of the many things Boston missed this year was the zany mischief all the dorks at MIT get up to every year. And although we didn’t get a dome-topping prank, the little things like the Minecraft replica of the MIT campus gave us a taste of all that. Berklee, too, showed off its talents early on in the pandemic by organizing a Zoom singalong, which was then one of the first big musical collaborations in that style. It was a viral sensation, and foreshadowed all kinds of performances that came after. And to top things off, a largely successful anti-COVID effort—including aggressive testing, an uncharacteristically vulgar public service campaign, and the compliance of thousands of students asked not only to take courses online but to avoid throwing right-of-passage ragers they’d been accustomed to—kept colleges from becoming the super-spreaders many of us feared they might become.
The college scandals
Meanwhile, wow, what a year for bad behavior in the Ivy League! This year a Boston-centered legal drama that attracted worldwide media coverage concluded with sentences for the wealthy parents who cheated to get their kids placed in top schools. And that wasn’t all: A Harvard fencing coach accused of accepting gargantuan bribes was formally charged, as was a Harvard chemist and giant pumpkin enthusiast accused of secretly accepting payoffs from the Chinese government. Whether all these spectacles will dissuade others tempted to abuse the higher education system for personal gain—apart from all the perfectly legal means to do so currently available to them—remains to be seen.
Turkeys gone wild
A conflagration between an area man and an area turkey had all the drama a quarantining neighbor could ask for, and it may not have been witnessed at all had so many people not been stuck in their homes, desperate for something interesting to happen outside the windows of their bedrooms-turned-offices. It’s found footage from these strange times and I cherish it. Turkeys overall had a hell of a year when everything shut down, when suddenly empty streets around Boston were swarmed with wild poultry. Turkeys were seen deeper within the city limits than they’d ever been seen before; one was even spotted in the lobby of 200 Clarendon.
Since I know the suspense was killing all of you, here’s what happened next. Make sure to watch until the end! pic.twitter.com/bYVMN2QHk4
— Jason Jacobs 🇺🇸 (@jjacobs22) April 8, 2020
That Neil Diamond song about washing your hands
Remember that? We liked it, and so did you. Washing your hands didn’t turn out to be the end-all-be-all we thought, and eventually the battle with the virus had a lot more to do with battling Maskholes than making sure we sang Happy Birthday twice at the sink once an hour. Still, Neil Diamond’s positive attitude, his gently crackling fireplace, and his dog were small comforts in those terrifying early days.
In a normal year, the passing of time in this city can be measured in constant delays, mechanical problems, derailments, and the bursting of trains into flames. With ridership down some 75 percent, our attention drifted elsewhere, but not for long. In the midst of the pandemic, it was revealed that the long-awaited roll out of new Red and Orange Line cars was hopelessly behind, news that would have been a major scandal had more people been taking the T every day. Then, at year’s end, a debate over cutting back service rekindled the city’s focus on the service, and backlash to the proposed cuts succeeded in convincing the T’s overseers to dial them back.
We all got a pretty good laugh out of this one. When a local long-distance runner kept from participating in the Marathon this year decided to run a race of her own, and track her progress with a GPS map, she set out to write “Boston Strong” while crisscrossing streets in the Back Bay. In a typo heard ‘round the internet, though, she instead spelled “Boston Strog.” When the lols rolled in, she took it in stride, and was a very good sport about it, ultimately earning herself this magazine’s award for Best Viral Moment.
With the Boston Marathon cancelled, Lindsay Devers spent months planning a solo run along the riverside to spell out an inspirational message for her city.
— As It Happens (@cbcasithappens) December 15, 2020
Say what you will about acts of public vandalism, which among other things is, technically speaking, illegal. But sometimes the discourse over statues—like our not-so-dearly departed Columbus, which was only 40 years old and was the handiwork of a certified crank—needs a bit of a nudge. After the beheading, the city took “some time to assess the historic meaning of the statue,” and whether it was worth it to keep a landmark that has gotten its ass kicked over and over and over. Now it’s gone forever. Not gonna see us shedding a tear about that. After a petition drive, the Lincoln statue in Park Square is also set to come down—not due to any opposition to Honest Abe, but because the statue itself, depicting a kneeling slave prostrate at his feet, was an embarrassing blight. Good riddance to that as well.
The Hubie Halloween debacle
Obsessing over the filming and release process for the endless stream of movies made about, or in, the Boston area is one of our favorite pastimes. But the imbroglio over Salem-set Hubie Halloween was special: After local TV anchor Alaina Pinto appeared in a brief and harmless cameo in the Adam Sandler joint, she was summarily fired. Such is life in an industry ruled by strict contracts, but the backlash to the firing was significant, and caught the attention of some of the film’s stars.
Smaht Pahk was, and is, funny. It also happened this year, if you can believe it! You may be inclined to believe that riffing on the Boston accent to sell cars or couches or what have you is played out at this point, but it isn’t and never will be. America is obsessed with Boston and will continue trying to turn the city’s proclivities into advertising gold for as long as it works, which may in fact be forever. The reason Smaht Pahk stood out when it debuted at Super Bowl LIV was that it was purposely overdone—a riff, if you will, on all the over-the-top Boston-ness in movies and marketing already. And it worked! It was no consolation for the Patriots not actually competing (the Chiefs played the 49ers, in case you’d forgotten), which Hyundai had clearly hoped would be the case when it timed the commercial’s release. But it worked nonetheless. Take Smaht Pahk—which as of December of this year has 44 million (!) views—for another spin and see if it holds up.