Monday, March 29, 2010

the "big dig" is the name given to a huge project in boston, which started back in the nineties, and intended to make the mass pike run under the city instead of feeding into its tortured roads. i say tortured, because it was known even when i lived there, thirty six years ago or so, that boston's roads had evolved from cow-paths, twisted around and were confusing, and were occupied by the craziest drivers north of mexico city, who had no use for the civilities of such things as lanes. now i was aware, even being way out here, that the big dig took many more years and millions more dollars than they had intended, but how could i guess why? all projects like that are underestimated, overspent.

but one upshot of that project is that i was taken from the airport to the convention center, on the south side, without really seeing downtown. the convention being busy and all, the closest i even got to downtown was south station, and, on the way back, i was whisked under the city again, unable to visit the center of town, the common, beacon hill, or the historic parts. we did get a good fish dinner down on the docks, and i heard a bit of the boston accent, saw a few of the "B" caps, etc. it was good to be back; it filled me with a little of the memory of what it was like, thirty six years ago.

went out to dinner with a number of people, including a guy from tajikestan who had a lot to say when i told him my presentation was on wikipedia. he was the only guy i told about my curious relationship to boston, but when we took the T home, we met some more people, and we all ended up in a train together, when i said why i'd left boston so long ago. i'd started hitchhiking around new england: vermont, maine, quebec, the cape, new york city. then, i just did the rest of the place: alaska, guatemala, everyplace in between. i'd just got the itch, was all. the webheads, people who i'd eaten dinner with, understood perfectly; most are the same kind, whether we all live more landed lives now or not. one was from argentina; a couple were from canada, and a woman we met on the train was from minnesota, and going to the alewyfe station, which wasn't there thirty six years ago; neither was the silver line. the T was a dollar seventy five, whereas in the seventies it was maybe a quarter.

so this is what i told the tajik guy. fourteen generations ago, the guy i was named after came from boston, england, and helped settle this place, and decide on its name. he was governor of the colony in the sixteen hundreds, and his grandson ran harvard, had a feud with cotton mather, and had a dormitory named after him. he was buried in a small cemetery near the common in the center of boston, with a bunch of other old-timers, many of whom were considered the 'landed gentry' for centuries: the cabots, the lodges, etc. the puritans were actually an intolerant bunch, and had a number of feuds with a number of people, most notably the indians who had fed them and so gracefully moved over a bit, and i don't know how this particular ancestor really fell on these issues; maybe i should face the fact that he could have been as intolerant as the next guy. but, given the nature of cotton mather, i'm proud of him and his sons anyway, and one of them got remarried, which allowed our particular line to show up, though due to the remarriage, and the fact that puritans don't allow for such things, i could probably never prove my relation to him for certain. it was family lore, however, that we were descended from the governor through this second wife.

actually i didn't tell all this to my friend, i only said that my ancestor had settled this town, and was buried here, but that i'd heard that they had moved all the graves because of the big dig, and i hadn't had time to check it out. this much was true. when i had heard that, i felt a little like those people who had their ancestral burial grounds messed with and had some rights to feel put out. in some sense, i'm sure these old landed gentry had it coming to them. and in a sense, so did i, having run out on the place thirty six years ago, and not coming back until now. but he said, lots of people in our country don't even know their ancestry, and that's because of politics being the way they are, and people erasing the past and all that. so i should consider myself lucky.

then it occurred to me, you wonder why a project like that takes a little too long. you dig underneath an old city, you mess with all kinds of stuff; no matter how convenient it all is when you finish, you still have the ghosts of the people you dug up to deal with.

so there you have it; it was a pretty typical convention in every other way. i saw the ocean; i ate fish; i took the T; and i met people who were coming and going from maine, rhode island, and parts beyond. they were busy; it was an expensive place, and if you took to long to order your chow-dah they'd move on to the next table, so as not to waste their time. but they were gracious to outsiders, in their own kind of way. really, i kind of wish i'd been on the other coast, where i had a granddaughter, and if it was thirty six years ago, i'd a probably just up and hitchhiked out there. but it isn't, and i'll wait my turn for another plane ticket, go through st. louis again, and take another tour of security systems in the nation's major airports. in st. louis, there was evidence of the march madness basketball tournament setting up, but it was just a bunch of midwesterners beating each other up, michigan state, northern iowa, that kind of stuff, but in the end, i was glad to be home, rain or not, even if there was a delay, because, here, they have enough space, that if they need a new road, they don't have to go digging under anything important. that, and they're a little more willing to talk about the weather, which, after all, is everyone's concern. pictures coming.

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