Random musings on a writer's life & times, with occasional input from acquaintances


Sunday, September 14, 2003


So in July I went to Boston with my 15-year-old son, Andy.

My wife, Cookie Jean, bought the airline tickets by bargain-hunting on the internet, which saved money (I guess) but gave us a trip to the East Coast with more ups and downs than a ride on a mechanical bull. We went up in Portland, down in Chicago, up in Chicago, down in Washington, D.C., up in Washington and down in Boston. Finally.

We went to Boston because Andy had never been there and wanted to see it on the way to summer camp in upstate New York. I had visited Boston once, a few years ago with Cookie Jean. Andy had long been intrigued by the idea of some day attending Harvard University in the Beantown suburb of Cambridge, so Cookie Jean booked us a room in The Inn at Harvard, a swanky hotel right next to the campus. It was so swanky, Andy skulked in and out like a prowler for three days. He allowed as how he preferred the Check Inn motel in Falls City, Nebraska, where we also stayed on a trip this summer, because it was less intimidating. Indeed. It didn’t have gold faucets in the bathroom, that’s for sure.

Andy had sort of the same reaction to Harvard University itself. We dined and shopped around the fringes for a day or so, then took the major plunge -- we signed up for a campus tour guided by a sophomore girl from California, who said she was majoring in “artificial intelligence,” a form of computer jockdom. We saw the Widener Library, the freshman dorms, the new and old quads, all that jazz. After the tour ended, as we were walking off the campus, Andy observed: “These people never SMILE, Dad.” His interest in attending Harvard had cooled considerably. He now thinks he’d rather go to a school that takes itself less seriously than Harvard. Maybe I’ll just send him to the U of Oregon, good ol’ Party Central.

Or maybe he could go to Boston University. We toured its campus, too, somewhat to Andy’s chagrin. I took him over to BU on the subway, aka The T, with the idea that we would just poke around a bit on our own before heading to Fenway Park to see a game between the Red Sox and the Toronto Blue Jays. When we got off the T, though, I spotted a guided tour group similar to the one we had signed up for at Harvard wandering down the urban street that is BU’s main drag. I simply attached us to the back of the crowd of twenty or so folks and tagged along. Andy kept lagging back and muttering, “Dad! We don’t BELONG to this group!” Ah, the social strain of being fifteen. You plan a casual look at some college and your goofy Dad horns in where he doesn’t belong and makes himself, and you, look like a fool. Andy finally freed himself by pleading extreme thirst and dragging me into the convenience store at the student union, where he hid out until the tour group disappeared.

From the student union, we walked to Fenway Park. That was a profound experience, of a sort. For people like Andy and me, who are used to the wide-open spaces of Oregon and the West, the idea of strolling from a college campus to a major league baseball game in a famous landmark ballpark was pure-dee strange, but cool. Fenway Park is a great place, the best spot to watch big league baseball I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen more than a few of them, from historic Yankee Stadium in New York City to new but retro Safeco Field in Seattle. The stadium holds 35,000 people, and it was sold out that night, but it was built with the seats so close to the field you can see the expressions on the players’ faces as the game unwinds. The outside of the building and the concession area under the stands are old and funky but fairly reek of history and tradition. The curse of the Bambino! Ted Williams hits .400! Bill Buckner boots a grounder and a World Series! Ah, yes. The Blue Jays beat the Red Sox, our East Coast favorite team (second in our affections to the West Coast LA Dodgers), but we did get to see a shot hit over the Green Monster wall in left field. That was cool. Then we had to join the other 34,998 spectators in trying to climb aboard the overcrowded, overheated T and go home. That was not cool, and freaked out the old Droidman somewhat (they ain’t no wide open spaces in a subway station), but we survived.

The next day we got back on the T and rode down to Boston Commons so we could walk what’s known as the Freedom Trail past the Old North Church of Paul Revere fame, the site of the Boston Massacre and such. It took a couple of hours or more and I wound up eating Advil to assuage the pain of various over-hiked body parts, but even a jaded old soul like Andy found it interesting. He had his picture taken on the site of the Boston Massacre.

The next day, we climbed on a puddle-jumper airplane and flew to Albany, N.Y., so we could then drive the forty or so miles to Saratoga Springs and Skidmore College, where Andy was attending a three-week academic camp. Saratoga Springs, 180 miles up-country from the Big Apple, is a beautiful old town famous for the local horse-racing tracks. I was surprised to discover its beauty. I was expecting something run down and seedy like a scene from William Kennedy’s Albany novels (“Ironweed,” etc.), but Saratoga Springs has preserved the ambiance that existed in the 1800s when it was THE spot for wealthy New Yorkers who wanted to escape city heat for the summer. The main street is all old brick and baroque white wood, with lots of towering deciduous trees. It’s kind of like Sisters, Oregon, would like to look when it grows up, I guess. And the Skidmore campus resembles a park, with low, sleek buildings and a gazillion trees of its own.

So I left Andy with his roommate Sundeep and drove back to Albany, where I caught a plane the next morning for Chicago and, eventually, home. A fine time was had by all.

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