You know the expression. “You can never go home.” Of course that isn’t literal, but returning home can sometimes feel foreign due to changes in the place, the people, or yourself.
Mostly it is a combination of all of those things.
Recently, I went “home” to a part of Boston that I had left back in the early ’80’s. I found a New Kid in Town called the “Seaport District” and it is breathtakingly beautiful.
There are nice shiny buildings, swanky hotels, brand spanking new apartments, thriving businesses, a stunning concert venue, and even an adult playground with swings that light up.
For anyone visiting Boston for the first time, this is a jewel. For people working here, all I can say is that I am envious.
So why do I feel so sad?
Back in the 1970’s the Seaport District didn’t look, or smell, like this, and it sure didn’t have such a stylish name. We calleld it simply the Waterfront or the pier.
The buildings along the waterfront announced its industrial status, just in case there was any doubt. Restaurants like Anthony’s Pier Four and Jimmy’s Harborside were the upscale sea food restaurants on the pier. These places were too rich for my meager budget. But since they didn’t depend on struggling college students like myself, they thrived, and from what I hear, the food was exquisite.
The pier simply had the best and the freshest seafood you could get.
From Atlantic Avenue we walked to the waterfront over an old bridge constructed with wide wood boards warped by time and sea water and metal that was brown with rust. There was no escape from the smell of fish.
Once over the bridge we walked down the street only to stand in a long line with people like ourselves with strict budgets and a love of fresh seafood and large portions. We stood amongst people clutching paper bags containing bottles of beer and wine. And if we were early enough trucks were still making deliveries in the open bays. We stood in the freezing cold as the wind blew off the the harbor forcing the smell of fish up our noses. And the wind always blew.
We stood, and laughed, and talked, and sometimes held our noses, until we were finally brought into the chaos that was No Names Restaurant.
We sat in a crowded and loud open area, we saw people working outside fending off seagulls diving in to steal what they could , and on occasion a rat or two. It was the waterfront – rats happen.
We ordered the best fish chowder on the planet and fried clams or fried fish and french fries. And the portions were huge!
We left stuffed with fish and smelling like it.
So when we decided to take out-of-state relatives, who had never been to Boston, for a seafood experience, I chose No Names. On the Waterfront.
Today, the wooden bridge sits rusting and disconnected in the Boston Harbor, the smell of fish is barely perceptible, No Names is housed in one long non-descript, perfect fascade low rise brick building with several other sea food restaurants. There are no lines of people waiting outside with their own alcohol and no trucks tucked into the bays. There is no chaos.
There is also no personality. Seagulls aren’t swooping in and I didn’t see any rats – which is probably a good thing. The food is okay, at best.
Maybe the food was never as great as I remember (except for the seafood chowder. That is still great), but the whole thing just seemed ordinary. If I closed my eyes I could have been in any restaurant anywhere, and I felt a twinge of something that I couldn’t identify, but later recognized.
Jimmy’s Harborside and Anthony’s Pier Four are gone. The nice shiny hi-rise buildings have replaced the worn brick low-rise industrial buildings.
Swanky hotels like the Westin, that could not even be imagined in that area, now accommodate people coming to the Boston Convention Center, or who are just visiting.
Brand spanking new apartments that rent for $3,000.00 per month for a 600 sq. ft one bedroom are filling up. Thriving businesses, a stunning concert venue, and even an adult playground with swings that light up have all revitalized the area.
And it is beautiful.
But I miss the feel of it.
And that was the twinge.
I am impressed by the new kid and I think we can become fast friends. But I miss my old friend and will hold its memory dear.