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Contrasting Boston to back home

When I travel, I love to contrast the differences between where I live and where I’m visiting. Last week’s trip to Boston to give three speeches to nursing organizations on my book “American Nightingale” was full of such fascinating differences:

1. History. They got it. We don’t. We ate in a 200-year-old restaurant, Mama Maria’s in Little Italy, from which we could see Paul Revere’s house. (He was a no-show.) I bought 25 lbs. of books from one of the country’s oldest bookstores, Brattle Books, which dates to 1825. My wife, Sally, bought a book that had a written inscription, “Christmas ’86” and the person wasn’t talking 1986. Spoke at a 100-plus-year-old hall next to a house built in 1718. That’s roughly the time the grandfather of Eugene’s founder, Eugene Skinner, would have been born. Out west, you say “Mayflower” and people think “moving van.” In Boston, I was talking to a woman about the old houses near Norwell and she said, “Lots of Mayflower families were here.”

2. Highway signs. In rural areas around Boston, you’d see a sign that said “Thickly Settled.” Huh? Turns out, it’s a more poetic version of our “Congestion.” We also puzzled over “Adopt a Visibility Site” and, on Cape Cod near Provincetown, “Turtle Crossing.” (That could be a long, long wait.)

3. Options. Particularly when it comes to restaurants. There are 250 Italian restaurants alone in the “Little Italy” portion of North Boston. I’d estimate that more people were eating last Friday night in a single Boston block than in all of downtown Eugene.

4. Parking. Around here, we grumble about having to pay $1 to park downtown for an hour. In Boston, we paid $32 a day to keep our car in a lot beneath the Hyatt Regency.

5. Accents. It’s obvious, really. As one Bostonian told Sally: “You have a strange one.” Uh, yeah. Bostonians will say “caw” for “car,” “idear” for “idea” and “Chadnay” for “Chardonnay.” So, yeah, we’re strange.

6. Zip cars. Far more common in Boston than out west, where we rely so much on our own cars. In Boston, the new trend, particularly among younger people, it to go to and rent a car online that you pick up in some parking lot somewhere. No muss, no fuss. Use it for a few hours or a day and return it. So many people in Boston rely on the T (subway) system that many don’t own cars.

7, Chinese food. At a place called “Peach Farm” in Chinatown, I noticed a waiter was netting full-size bass out of a tank and throwing them into a bucket. “Let’s not order the fish,” I told Sally. “I don’t want to personally know my food before eating it.” Great food, though! In a restaurant seating perhaps 150 people, we were among a handful of non-Chinese people.

8. Oregon connections. I wore an Oregon sweatshirt for much of time there, like at Fenway Park for Yanks-Sox (Boston won, 9-3.) Had a handful of people come up and high-five me: the bookstore clerk from Tualatin, a woman from Hillsboro going down the stairs after the game, even left fielder Jacoby Ellsbury’s t-ball coach in Madras!

9. Miscellaneous oddities. Massachusetts has brooks in a way Oregon does not. In one grocery store, people could take individual cordless scanners and scan their items as they shopped to save time at checkout. Police officers, not “flaggers,” keep traffic going at worksites. (It’s controversial, I was told, because lots of folks think it’s a waste of taxpayer’s money for a police officer to sometimes stand all day and do nothing, which the officer across from Brattle Books did.)

10. Paul Revere. Saw him texting in the Boston Common, oldest park in the country. When I tried to take a photo of the tour guide, however, he bristled. “If my boss sees that, I’m in trouble.” But can’t get out of my head the possibilities of revisionist history: “One tweet if by land, two if by sea …. “

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