Boston is chock full of holidays I never had occasion to celebrate before I moved here. Some of them I was just in entirely the wrong cultural environment to run into, like the Moon Festival that happens in late-August-ish wherever immigrants from China/Japan/Korea congregate. Hanami, the cherry blossom viewing festival, happens when the cherry trees bloom, usually somewhere in May, and doesn't really end until everyone has shoveled their car out from under three inches of fallen petals. We've also just moved out to Brighton, so at some point I'm sure Jazmin and I will get to play a fun little game I like to call "Who's still open on Passover?" New England takes Christmas rather seriously, and the tree lighting is worth going to if you enjoy basking in the glow of blinkenlichten.

Some of them are regional. I was introduced to Hurricane Day by Irene, for example. The date varies from year to year, but I assure you that you cannot miss it, because for about a week beforehand the local news will be unable to talk about anything else. You celebrate by closing all the windows, stowing all the patio furniture in the garage, and charging all of your important portable electronics before a tree makes a break for it and takes out your power lines. There are also these things called Snow Days. I used to think those were myths, even though Flagstaff gets 3-4' of snow a year, usually all in the same 48-hour period. Turns out, Arizona just has little regard for human life. If the city government here thinks it's too dangerous to travel, they keep you from being so stupid as to try it by shutting everything down, including the subway and buses.

More benevolently, First Night is a New Year's Eve celebration that happens all throughout the frozen northeast. A big chunk of downtown Boston turns into a street fair, more or less. Buttons that give admission to the various events are sold at the same convenience stores where you can reload Charlie Cards.

One that is very specific to Boston is "Allston Christmas". See, Boston runs on the academic calendar. You can't swing a cat around here without hitting a world-class university. I got off the train once in Quincy Center and immediately tripped over a park, a cemetery, a college, and a bajillion Chinese people having a street fair, which is pretty much The Boston Experience in a nutshell. There are so many people who are here to attend college, do research in university facilities, or work for the school system that somehow, over time, the entire city has accidentally managed to synchronize their leases.

Everyone, therefore, moves on September 1. Everyone. At once. Picture move-in weekend at your college dorm, and then spread that out over an entire city. And then overlay the general insanity of Boston roads and traffic. Yeah.

Boston has an interesting reaction to chaos. They often don't bother to try and stop it. They will try to control and route it, to a point. When we had massive "die-in" protests after the Ferguson shooting, for instance, Cambridge and Somerville PD had a bunch of unis walk along the outside of the crowd down Mass Ave. They figured it was easier to just formally stop traffic at the cross streets for the march than deal with a de facto uncontrolled shutdown of a major artery.

At a certain point, though, they just throw up their hands and say, "Okay kids, just try not to wreck anything. We'll clean up tomorrow." The MBTA suspends all local fares after 8pm on Independence Day and NYE. Someone did the math and figured out it would cost them more in time and manpower to babysit literally a million drunk people while they tried to puzzle out the mysteries of the fare gates than it would lose them in fares if they just told everyone to get on the damn train.

Much like the soldiers in the trenches of WWI declared a Yuletide truce, so too does Parking Enforcement declare an unofficial amnesty for Allston Christmas. Allston-Brighton has 40,000 some-odd people in it, and maybe three places to park. They just can't do it. If you started at one end of the block and worked your way methodically down, by the time you hit the end so many people would have left and come back and backed partway into the road to get into the trunk and unloaded four boxes of unsorted dishes and an antique armoire right into a major crosswalk for no immediately apparent reason that you'd have to go back to the beginning and start all over again. If you promise to do your best to stay out of everyone else's way, the nice officer with the ticket book promises to not notice that the place where you've left your car is not technically a parking spot.

Allston Christmas decorations tend to be practical in nature. Rather than stringing lights in trees, for instance, it's customary to wrap all of your worldly possessions in a tarpaulin and strap them to the bed of your truck or the roof of your car with colorful bungee cords. The city itself gets into the act, dotting curbs with orange cones bearing handwritten signs that say NO PARKING 11-4 MOVING ZONE ONLY. The programmable highway signs blink festive messages like AVOID STORROW DRIVE and TRUCKS EXIT LEFT / BRIDGES TOO LOW REALLY!! -- both of those are exact quotes, by the way, one from 93 over Sullivan and one out along the Esplanade -- referencing the heartwarming holiday tale, re-enacted nearly every year, of the guy who forgot that the Bowker Street overpass only has a clearance of 10' 6" until he tried to drive an 11' truck under it. It makes a delightful panto, provided you aren't one of the people on Storrow when it happens.

I have no idea why Allston specifically, other than it happens to be one of the neighborhoods that border the Harvard campus. It's a subdistrict of Brighton, and it's so very studenty here in Brighton that our new tenant circular gives us tips on how not to get arrested for underage drinking. (They don't say that in so many words, but they do warn you that the cops will happily bust you if you're drunk and loud outside, so you should keep your parties indoors and quiet.) There are a lot of other sections of Camberville and JP where the same thing happens.

The Christmas part comes in when you cast your mind back to the days when you moved on a semesterly basis, and how often you were tempted to just leave a lot of your shit exactly where it was rather than make just one more trip to get it. Inertia -- and therefore temptation -- often wins here. For several days beforehand, and until the city gets around to clearing up after, people will just cart piles of stuff out to the curb in front of wherever they're moving out of and stack it up. Sometimes they'll remember to stick a FREE! sign on top, but mostly it's just understood that if it's been boxed up and abandoned on the sidewalk in a residential district, it's up for grabs. You'd think it would be mostly utter junk, but in reality it just runs heavily towards things that are... well, heavy. Perfectly good stuff, just not something the owner wants enough to bother packing it properly and heaving it into a truck.

If you're in need of a new bookcase or office chair, seriously, come drive around Boston on like August 29th. We used to do this on the lobby tables in the dorms at NAU, but it's well and truly astonishing to see an entire city spontaneously erupt in random piles of free stuff.

Comments

  1. Allston is home to the BU student population too; that's why it's such a high proportion of students to 'all others'.

    It's charming to see your views of the local culture.

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    Replies
    1. I have to use the sociology degree for something.

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