I boarded on a plane with my dad, watched the familiar landscapes of Montana disappear behind me with a couple tears in my eyes, and headed off to a city over 2,000 miles to the east that I’d never visited. I’m sure he probably noticed me, even though I kept my eyes turned to the window out of hopes he wouldn’t see.
About eight hours later, we landed at an airport conveniently named the same as the one I’d left, from and to a city with the same first letter.
Billings Logan to Boston Logan.
I was scared out of my effing mind, not to mention excited and relieved that finally – finally - this day that had been looming over me for months had arrived. I was going to college – sight unseen to Boston University -completely on a whim because it was the one that had accepted me for my intended journalism major. I figured that if I hated it in Boston so much, I could always head home and apply to Montana State or University of Montana, for which my grades and college prep exams more than qualified me. I literally had no idea about the university at all, aside from the photos in the literature I’d been sent. This was, of course, right before the internet took off, so it was truly a leap of faith.
I actually do remember that first night a bit. Dad and I took a taxi from the airport straight to Kenmore Square and stayed at the Howard Johnson hotel on Comm Ave, which has since become a BU dorm. We wandered Kenmore a bit that night, which made me fairly nervous. The gritty, dark square that was Kenmore in 1993 was far different than it is now. At that point, I was convinced that I’d never feel safe walking there alone (one of many things thankfully proven false). I gaped stupidly up at the Citgo sign that glowed, with several missing bands of neon, above our heads. At that point, I honestly didn’t recognize anything about Boston sports aside from knowing the team names and the logos. My dad, on the other hand, made comments about how neat it was to see the Citgo sign in person – which meant that wait – were those the light towers of Fenway just over there?
(Like I said… sight unseen. My dad had never been to Boston either).
Little did I realize how much that sign would come to symbolize home. Things were okay when the Citgo sign was on. Lots of things were okay when I’d see the increasingly familiar sights – the little things, in this order on the taxi ride, that told me that I was coming home once again. Not to Billings, but to Boston:
- The odd eight lanes to two lanes merge at the airport to enter the tunnel.
- The elevated highway – now torn down and pushed underground as part of the Big Dig – that made it appear like you were flying through downtown
- The Reverse Curve sign on Storrow Drive that had been spray-painted to say “Reverse the Curse”
- The Hatch Shell sitting quiet on the Esplanade, waiting for the explosion of patriotism that surrounds it on July 4th every year
- The weather indicator lights on the old John Hancock tower. Steady blue, clear view. Flashing blue, clouds are due. Steady red, rain ahead. Flashing red, snow instead. (or, in summer… flashing red, Sox game cancelled!)
- A sharp curve to enter Kenmore Square
- And the Citgo sign, looming proudly as the taxi would enter BU’s campus.
Needless to say, I fell in love with Boston. So much so that eighteen years later, I’m still treading that city every weekday as I head to work. It’s changed so much since I’ve moved to New England, yet it’s still in many ways the same old town.
The next day I moved into my dorm room in Warren Towers – a huge fork-shaped building that stuffed 1,500 students (then) into its single and double rooms in three identical towers of 500 students each. My dad decided to stay out of the way of my roommate and me, so he went wandering.
REALLY wandering. Like half the city wandering.
And later, he took my roommate and I wandering to where he’d gone earlier. In one afternoon he’d strolled from campus down to Newbury Street, through Copley Square, down Boylston Street (“there’s a new mall that’s opening up in a few weeks called the Prudential Center, Melissa… looks like it will be a nice one…”) and around the Cheri Theater to Huntington Avenue , through the Christian Science Center (“you need to see that pool – it makes people look like they’re walking on water”), to Symphony Hall, then past it and through the Fenway, around Fenway Park, and back into Kenmore.
A town he’d never seen before. Flipping EVERYWHERE in an afternoon. And mind you, my father’s sense of direction is absolute rubbish… even in Billings. I have NO CLUE how he didn’t manage to get so lost he needed a cab to get back. Who knows – maybe he did and just didn’t tell me!
In any case, a couple days later, he gave me a huge hug and a kiss out in front of 700 Comm Ave, got in a taxi, and drove off, past that Citgo sign and back to the airport.
Leaving me alone in Boston for the first time.
It’s insane that that plane trip was half a lifetime ago.
It’s also insane how much of my life as it stands now was determined by that leap, and how much of who I am wouldn’t exist.