One of the reasons I enjoy working on a birthday list every year is that it gets me out into my own neighborhood and city and helps me appreciate all that is at my doorstep.
A friend and I recently took a historic walking tour of a local neighborhood. I’ve lived in the same three-mile radius for 17 years, and this was the first walking tour I’d taken in the area. It was nice to take the time to look at local architecture and hear some historical facts about the neighborhood. One woman on the tour had grown up in the area, and it was cool to hear her share firsthand knowledge of the changes over time.
In the same time period, I took my first Boston by Foot walking tour. I don’t know what took me so long! I went on the “Dark Side of Boston” tour. The volunteer tour guide was great, and I learned some new things about Boston. I learned that the North End neighborhood used to be extremely dodgy and was called the Black Sea.
I learned that Charles Ponzi, the man behind the Ponzi scheme, created his scheme in Boston. I put a misconception to rest: I thought the Boston Strangler killed his victims in the 1800s; I guess I equated him with Jack the Ripper? Nope, the Boston Strangler was killing his victims in the 1960s. The tour guide grew up in the Boston area and remembered that his neighbors started locking their doors during that time.
There wasn’t much of a dark side to the story of the narrowest house in Boston…just your run-of-the-mill brotherly spite. A father left land to his sons when he died, and the one son built a huge house and left his brother very little land. That brother went ahead and built a house on the tiny spot. The guide said that the house recently sold for $800K. That’s Boston real estate for you…
Some friends and I went to a local brewery called Turtle Swamp Brewing one recent glorious Friday afternoon. A couple of us work for an employer that bids us adieu at 3:00 on Fridays in the summer, so we were waiting for the doors of Turtle Swamp to open at 4:00.
We bought beers and staked our claim at a prime spot on the outdoor patio. The weather was perfect and we spent hours there, drinking really good beer (mostly IPAs and pale ales). The food truck that was scheduled to appear had cancelled, so we did an online search for nearby establishments and called in a large pizza.
Being a fan of IPAs and pale ales, I enjoyed the beer and the neighborhood vibe of the patio. I will find my way there some other Friday afternoon this summer…
The Russell Museum gives a historical overview of Massachusetts General Hospital, or MGH, as we locals say. Founded in 1811, MGH is the third-oldest hospital in the U.S.
It’s not a large museum, but the artifacts on display are interesting. There is everything from medical instruments from the 1800s to a virtual dissection table that a docent operates for visitors.
I learned that the hospital performed the first arm replantation in 1962, dental insurance didn’t exist in the U.S. until the 1950s, and researchers are studying Weddell seals—who can hold their breath for up to an hour when diving—to gain insight on how to help people with conditions associated with low tissue oxygen levels. I’m not big into science and medicine, but I found it fascinating. Definitely worth a visit.
I thought I would be in and out of the Boston Fire Museum in under an hour.
The museum is in one big room, which used to be an actual firehouse. When I arrived, there was a children’s birthday party going on, so I quietly strolled along and looked at a number of old fire engines, a display about the devastating Cocoanut Grove fire in 1942, and artifacts such as “clackers” used in colonial times to wake up sleeping families to alert them of a fire or other emergency.
I had just finished looking at a black-and-white photo of a firefighter emerging from a house fire on a Boston street. The photo was taken in the 1960s; I forget the rank of the firefighter, but he was pretty high up. His lungs were severely damaged during the fire, but he survived. The photo caption also said his three sons were firefighters.
Cue an older gentleman in a red volunteer shirt approaching from stage right, pointing at the photo and saying, “That’s my father.”
Paul and I ended up talking for TWO HOURS. This is what happens when you pair a curious person with a person who exudes passion for his life’s work. He gave me a rundown of his firefighting career. He explained the alarm bell system and all of the different symbols on the helmets that were hanging from the ceiling. Being an animal person, I had to ask him about the horses who used to pull the engines (there was a stable in the back of the firehouse/museum). I’ve always respected firefighters, but my respect reached a new level that day. And it was just a joy to talk with someone who was so dedicated to his career.
Another amazing thing about both museums is that they are free of charge. They gladly accept donations, and I gladly left a donation on my way out.
Boston is the perfect place for lifelong learners. With dozens of colleges in the area, one could probably attend a free lecture, performance, or event of some kind every night.
I finally made it to Harvard’s free monthly Observatory Night. This night usually entails a lecture and then a look-see through a telescope on the roof.
My friend Abby and I attended a couple of months ago. I chose this particular Observatory Night because the speaker would be talking more about history than science. Nothing against science…I just comprehend history better!
A science writer named Dava Sobel spoke about her recent book, The Glass Universe. She gave a broad overview of a number of women who were hired at the Observatory in the 1800s as human computers to translate the observations of male researchers to paper. But once photography started being used to document the stars, many of the women started making their own observations, discovering stars and designing classification systems.
After the lecture, we received the sad news that there would be no observation on the roof that night due to snow/ice. There were volunteers offering tours of the building and of a room that holds half a million glass plates (or at least a few million of the half a million?), but we would have had to wait for hours (literally) because so many people had signed up before us.
So we went on our way, vowing to return during nicer weather.
One of my favorite pastimes is seeing live music. I’ve often wondered what life would be like as a roadie. Different towns every night, sometimes the same songs played every night.
Well, I had a glimpse of the roadie life last month, when I saw Guster play four nights in a row.
I’ve never been to a concert four nights in a row before. By the third night, it was starting to feel like a job…but a very good job!
This was a special event, as Guster is celebrating their 25th anniversary and the venue at which they played (Paradise Rock Club) is celebrating its 40th. Guster chose this venue because they played there a lot when they were starting out, opening for bands such as Rusted Root.
Guster chose opening bands for the four-day revelry that they had a long history with, which was nice. I only knew of one: Steven Page, formerly of Barenaked Ladies. It was great to see Steven, whose voice has not aged a day. I was a big BNL fan in college but stopped following them after Steven went down the wrong path for a while. I haven’t listened to BNL in years, so I surprised myself by remembering the lyrics to the few BNL songs he played. And I lost my shit when I heard the first few chords of one of my most favorite songs ever: “Didn’t Mean to Break Your Heart.” It’s one of those songs that you play on repeat when you’re going through a breakup.
Anyhoo, on to Guster.
I had a great spot by the stage for Steven Page’s set. But then I had to go to the bathroom and was meeting a friend who was running late, so I lost my spot. This meant that I didn’t see 95% of Guster’s set. We walked around and around but could never even see a sliver of the stage. One tall guy took pity on us for the last couple of songs and let us stand in front of him.
Second Night: I was determined to get a good spot for Night #2. I nabbed a perfect spot in the balcony. A band from Northampton, MA, called And the Kids opened. They rocked it.
Each night, Guster did something a little different. I can’t tell you what they did the first night…but on the second night, they invited a cellist and violinist to perform on a few songs and they were a great addition.
Third Night: This was my favorite night because they brought out a wheel and determined the set list from wheel spins. This meant that a few lucky fans were invited on stage to sing karaoke style, Guster played half of a song at twice the tempo, and Brian sang the theme song to Cheers. The Bogmen opened and they were fun and rowdy.
I also met Brian for the third time before this show. Everyone who bought a four-day pass was invited to a meet and greet an hour before the third or fourth night’s show. Unfortunately, we weren’t let in until 40 minutes before the start of the show, so I wasn’t sure if I would have time to talk with any of them. But I did manage to say a quick hello to Brian and give him a gift that I had brought for him and the other guys.
Fourth Night: I secured a spot in the balcony again and stood next to a lovely couple with a teenage son whom I had been chatting with in line outside. They mentioned a few other Guster concerts they’d been to, and I kept saying, “I was there, too!” I felt a sense of community with these complete strangers because of these shared experiences we had years ago.
Wesley Stace opened, and I would love to know how Guster initially crossed paths with this British bloke. His lyrics were witty and I appreciated that he shared his vinyl purchases from earlier that day with the crowd.
I could tell that Guster was a little tired that night, but the audience didn’t care. After all, the lads had been running themselves ragged for four days: on top of the shows, they did an interview at the WGBH studio at the Boston Public Library, and they invited fans to bowl with them in Somerville and ice skate with them at City Hall Plaza.
The special guests that night were some brass players who performed on a few songs. They were also a great addition.
Guster ended the four-day hoopla with a fan favorite, an acoustic version of their song “Jesus on the Radio.”
There was a Guster Museum set up in the front bar all four nights. I spent a few minutes looking at the mementos on the third night as I left the show. I loved seeing the Guster Gazette, a printed newsletter that I have a few copies of somewhere, and a copy of a letter that Guster sent out to promoters when they were first starting out. AND a piece of paper with a bunch of potential band names = wow, some of them were terrible. I planned to look more closely as I left on the fourth night, but the museum was already packed up when I walked through.
In conclusion, it was an unforgettable experience and I hope that I’m a merch girl for a band in my next life.