Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Tax Day, Marathon Day, Bomb Day

Monday, for one day only, I wished I could say I lived in Boston.
We live in the north end of Quincy, two or three miles from the Boston line. Without traffic on the highway it would take us about 15 minutes to drive to the place on
Boylston Street where the bombs went off on Patriots Day.
Boylston Street is not the most beautiful street in the city -- its near neighbors Commonwealth Ave and Newbury Street are more charming -- but for me it's the most memorable. It's a broad avenue with some of the city's finest buildings such as the Boston Public Library.
Slightly beyond the library, on a block of hotels, restaurants and shops, race officials set up the finish line for the Boston. It's a place where people watch, applaud friends and strangers, hang out, wait for friends, go to restaurants, sit outside.
It's a place where you can harm a lot of people if you want to.
When I moved to Boston long ago, in any earlier age of the world, I would walk from my cheap North End apartment to the public pleasures of Boylston Street in the evenings. Begin by traveling through the city's green heart: first, the rougher and frankly "common" Boston Commons where people walk their dogs, beg, play music and softball, ignore the homeless, and on occasional summer nights sit on the grass for free Shakespeare. Then stroll through the always in-trim Public Gardens (about 10,000 tulips pursing their pretty lips there this month), emerge on Charles Street, and turn up a block to Boylston. From there continue past the cathedral heft of Trinity Church, breezy Copley Plaza, and a block of storeftonts to the BPL.
Too many books: the huge library was mixed pleasure. You could still walk the library stacks then and face the intimidating accumulation of all that towering literacy. But a city library is a great public resource and we should keep in mind that "public" is good. It means all of us.
Downtown Boston was always (and still is) a beautiful place to be on foot. Its big-city charms are modest in comparison to the world's major cities, but the center is easily accessible to all comers and it doesn't cost anything to walk the streets and look at the buildings, the shops, and the people.
The places I went in those early days -- all-night restaurants, the Jazz Workshop -- aren't there anymore. The favorite places of the next group of people have probably disappeared as well. But the kids who come for college or grad school and the young people who choose to live in a place with nightlife and culture are still finding their places and always will because like all real cities Boston continually reinvents itself.
My personal taste doesn't run to marathons or races of any sort (though pennant races are a different category) so I wasn't one of those people yesterday thinking 'that could have been me.' But any day spent hanging out in the city center, getting together with family or friends, meeting someone, or sitting outdoors to watch the world, is a day well spent.
My point is: let's not take it for granted. Let's not lose the concentrated stimulus of people, resources and public places only a city center can offer. It's a place to hang around, explore, get lost in, find something new.
It is, as the expression goes, "our freedom." That, ultimately, in the macro, is what was attacked Monday.
We preserve it best by using it.