05. Athens of America

  1. 01. Minutes of the COCKUP
  2. 02. A Public Service
  3. 03. The 22% Solution
  4. 04. On The Campaign Trail
  5. 05. Athens of America
  6. 06. A Yankee’s Yankee
  7. 07. My Canadian Family
  8. 08. Edmonton? Why?
  9. 09. Prairie Singers
  10. 10. Deconstructing Calgary
  11. 11. My Kelowna
  12. 12. Wine Whine
  13. 13. Fire Mountain
  14. 14. A Stopover and a Popover
  15. 15. Inspiring Victoria
  16. 16. Planet Rosehip
  17. 17. Carry On Grunge
  18. 18. Street People
  19. 19. The Curse of Portland
  20. 20. Mean-Spirited, Powerful Justice
  21. 21. Amtrak’s Jewel
  22. 22. Managing Yosemite
  23. 23. Yumpin’ Yosemite
  24. 24. Parched
  25. 25. Brave New San Fran
  26. 26. Over The Hill
  27. 27. Greatest Again

Ah, Boston, my home town, amongst others. When William Tudor called it “The Athens of America” in 1819 he did not mean it as a reference to the city’s rich history of corrupt government spending. Nor did he mean to imply that Boston would be a risky candidate for hosting the Olympics. No, he meant it as a compliment, or a boast, really, about Boston’s tremendous cultural and intellectual influence. Given the recent political and financial developments in both Boston and Athens, one could be forgiven for thinking otherwise.

Bostonians aren’t shy about boastful nicknames for their city: The Cradle of Liberty or The City on a Hill, for example. Perhaps most famously, Oliver Wendell Holmes’ offhand jest that “The Boston State-House is the Hub of the Solar System” was modestly twisted over time into “The Hub of the Universe” before the twentieth century slickened it to “The Hub”, Boston’s favourite condescension.

Recently the United States Olympic Committee chose Boston to be the USA’s candidate to host the 2024 Olympics. This has been the subject of great controversy, as Bostonians are not stupid. To the contrary, with over a hundred universities in the metropolitan area — arguably the highest density of higher learning in existence — Bostonians may be the most overeducated people on the planet, or in the solar system, or the universe, for that matter.

The opponents of the fanciful Olympic dream are in the majority. They have no shortage of fodder for their argument. Boston is, after all, an old crowded city with little open space and more than its share of crumbling infrastructure. The roads have never worked, public transit is tedious and incomplete, people drive like maniacs, walk recklessly, and speak in a dialect that conveys positivity to the phrase “wicked pissa.” They point to Boston’s last major building project which finished nine years behind schedule and nineteen billion dollars over its original three billion budget.

Proponents counter that it would be a whole lot of fun, that since we learned our lessons from “The Big Dig” those worries are a thing of the past, that all those nay-sayers are curmudgeonly pedants, and pointing out “What could possibly go wrong?” The more practical amongst them implore that there’s a glaring need for a substantial upgrade in tourist infrastructure, and that if it takes the Olympics to get the clowns in the State House to get off their butts, so be it.

With both sides busily being boastful, condescending and argumentative, they have overlooked that the major issue with Boston hosting the Olympics is that Bostonians to their very core are boastful, condescending and argumentative. Bostonians value and embrace these traits in each other, traits perhaps borne of academic debating tactics. But many visitors find it downright rude. Having that explained to them, more than a few Beantowners would respond “Get stuffed.” [By the way, Bostonians NEVER refer to Boston as “Beantown”.]

My second campaign pledge: The Smiling Kodiak administration will fully support Boston’s bid to host the 2024 Olympics, including bribes, as appropriate. It will be utterly hilarious.

Frank Lee and I arrived at North Station with three hours to kill before the Red Sox game at Fenway. We criss-crossed the city on foot, snacking on those delicacies Boston does best: thin, soupy and tasty Clam Chowder (not the gloppy tasteless stuff); an Italian sub sandwich smothered in hot pepper relish, fried clams with big mushy stomachs of puss that scald your tongue when they explode in your mouth and run down your cheek. That is living.  We revisited the restaurant of our first date some thirty years earlier, paid homage to the site of the Boston Marathon bombing, and tried to remember each former business of every storefront that had changed, which was all of them, on the three mile saunter. A pleasant stroll down memory lane.

The gates at Fenway greeted all comers with large signs proclaiming “No Bags”. I was fit to be tied, having checked the Red Sox website that very morning, finding that it said bags less than 16” X 16” x 8” were permitted. There was nowhere to check a bag, and moreover, I had my netbook in mine. I mean, we were here to  watch baseball, surely one is allowed to bring in some form of entertainment.

We took a step back to watch the stop-and-frisk goings-on of the fans entering in front of us. One overdressed woman balked at the signs, refusing to go in without her purse.  She turned and walked away with visions of shopping dancing in her head. The husband, for his part, quickly sold the suddenly extra ticket to a nearby scalper, stuffing a wad of cash in his pocket. He entered on his own, telling the security guard “I saw the ‘No Bags´ sign so left my wife behind!” Everybody was happy.

None of this changed my predicament. I steeled myself in preparation for a fruitless confrontation with a twenty-year-old hulk of a security guard on minimum wage. Pushing my backpack across the table, I stepped through the metal detector, astounded to discover that my bag was passed along without comment or inspection. We were in! There are advantages to being a middle-aged balding white guy.

Particularly in Boston. Boston is just shy of a quarter black these days, yet well over 60% of those subject to stop-and-frisk by the Boston Police Department are black.

Particularly in Fenway Park. I have the Red Sox in my veins – as I have said before, love is involuntary – but the Red Sox have a pretty horrific record on race relations. The team was the very last in the major leagues to have a black on the squad, a fact attributed to the alleged racism of its long-time owner John Yawkey. These days, although there are plenty of blacks on the field in Red Sox uniform, black fans remain few and far between. If the Red Sox organisation has done anything to address this, it has evaded my attention, and more to the point, it hasn’t worked, and they ought to do more. Here, have a look, see if you can find the black fan:
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Whatever the cause or reason, Bostonian African-Americans have inured themselves to the lure of Red Sox fandom, and in that regard I envy them. This year’s team consists mostly slow and stocky brutes that swing for the fences, more reminiscent of the teams that frustrated the Hub for 86 years than of the more recent World Series winners. This day the Sox took over four hours to win the game, the lead changing five times. It was painful to watch.

20150706_061854Afterwards we promenaded down Commonwealth Avenue, rediscovering the tremendous lack of public toilet facilities that mars America. My mother conveyed upon me both the genetic need for public conveniences and the encyclopaedic knowledge regarding “where to go” it necessitates. There is scarcely a restaurant in the US without a “Restrooms for customers only” sign on the front door. McDonald’s, often called “America’s Bathroom”, is a rare exception for which I am eternally grateful.

Boston has no monopoly on this problem.  Recently I found myself under the Brooklyn Bridge at eight o’clock on a Saturday morning desperately seeking to relieve myself in a manner that would not see me jailed. Every restaurant had a “Restrooms for Customer Only” sign, some in larger print than the name of the restaurant.  I ended up paying $4 for a bottle of water I didn’t want so I could get rid of some used water I didn’t want.

A couple years back I was flabbergasted to find that even the New York Marriot Downtown Hotel, steps from the World Trade Center ground zero memorial, had a sandwich board outside proclaiming that their facilities were for their guests only. By the way, nearby St. Paul’s Chapel at 209 Broadway offers their excellent bathroom facilities to the public, treating the public as if they are human beings with physical needs. Downright Christian of them. I suggest a two dollar donation, but don’t drink the holy water, or you’ll be back in a hurry.

My view is that any place that serves coffee or other diuretics has a moral obligation to provide toilet facilities. Otherwise, I’ve got some sympathy for business owners trying to fend off an onslaught of peeing interlopers. It isn’t free, and it isn’t their job to provide facilities to the general public. That is where government should step in. But it doesn’t.

There are many reasons for this.  Publicly it is attributed to the cost of maintaining them. But the real reason is the public’s greatly exaggerated fear of crime, violence, rape, blow jobs, insanitary conditions, and, yes, fear of the homeless who might use public toilets. “Not in my backyard.”

My third campaign pledge: The Smiling Kodiak administration will require all Dunkin Donuts, Starbucks, and Krispy Kremes to provide free public toilets, to be enforced by a newly formed Presidential Privies Panel (PPP).

Our day concluded at The Sevens on Charles Street in Beacon Hill. The Sevens has been there for a billion years, and it hasn’t changed an iota. It presents itself as a dark and foreboding dive, but once inside it proves itself an uncharacteristically friendly local pub with reasonable prices and decent food.  And a toilet. A clean, free toilet.

Oh, did you find the black fan? Black FanHere she is – you’ll also find her on the left side of the second photo above. Speaks for herself, really.

SK