Tuesday, 7 July 2015

London Wanderings #8 - Boston wanderings and local pride

I was recently lucky enough to be sent to Boston for a few days with work. It was my first time in America, and I wanted to try to make the most of it. After a long flight and a hectic first day, it was tempting to crash in my hotel, and not go further than the restaurant.

Instead, I took a walk. I just picked a direction and started off for a while. This is something I like to do in a new city. At least once, don’t consult any maps or GPS, but rely on your own sense of direction to see what’s around.

I ended up in a bar – the Beantown Pub, which did good grilled cheese sandwiches and better beer. It was dark, but welcoming, with baseball on the TVs and a nice thick bar, where I sat reading for a while. After a little while, I got chatting to a woman there, and we talked about London and Boston for a while.

I’d been told by a few people when I first got there that Bostonians had a reputation for being… let’s say ‘brusque’. But in my time there, I found everybody I spoke to was pleasant, talkative and polite. As the woman I was speaking to explained it, “If you act like a dick, people will treat you like a dick. But if you’re nice to people, they’ll treat you really well”.

I tend to think it’s a similar story in London. I don’t think it’s that people are intrinsically rude – it’s that there are just more people. Someone close to me was worried about visiting London, due to the occasional seizures she had. “What would happen if I had a seizure on the underground?”

It’s an understandable concern. When you’re around that many people, it can be difficult sometimes to see the good. The unpleasant or uncaring people stand out more. The person who asked me about people on the underground was worried that she would be ignored, or stepped over, or pushed out of the way. As it happens, I’ve been on the tube when people have collapsed before. And every time, someone has helped out.

You get more arseholes in London. Definitely. But you get more of everyone. And you get more of the nice people too. The numbers are just bigger. And, again, if you act like a dick towards people, they’ll act like a dick right back. But if you treat people nicely…

My new friend back in the Boston bar also explained just how big a deal the Boston Marathon is. I mean, I’d heard of it, but I hadn’t realised just how big it was. The entire city stops for the day. It’s practically a holiday. It’s a source of immense pride. She told me about the time her brother ran it, with her eyes welling up with pride.

And she told me just how much the bomb at the Boston Marathon shook the city. How it took something right at the heart of the city and killed people, and made people afraid. And often, when people are afraid, they fall apart. Often when societies are afraid, they turn on each other.

But instead, in Boston, she described seeing people talking and taking care of each other everywhere. They were quiet, but they supported each other. They went to neighbours, or they stayed together at work, or they travelled together and they sat in bars together and took care of each other.

She said it made her proud to be from Boston.

Ten years ago today, bombs went off in London. I wasn’t here at the time – I was living up north for a short while, and working in a call centre in Tadcaster of all places (next door to the Sam Smith’s brewery).

I heard about the bombs through the television in the breakout area, and I watched, numbed for a moment. I contacted people who I knew, and checked in online to make sure my friends back in London were okay.

A colleague made comments to the others in the breakout area about it only being Londoners, and hoping they’d hurt a few of them, obviously in the hope of general laughter. But instead, everyone ignored them. Some of us were angry. But after some awkward and angry silence, she just left quietly.

Along with general human empathy, she misunderstood something about London. And something about Londoners (and I’m sorry to those who think otherwise, but I’m of the opinion that if you live here and you love the place, you count). And  it’s a similar thing to  the Boston pride.

We’re a busy city, and spend so much time looking at pavements and travelling in packed tube carriages, face-first in someone else’s armpit, that it can sometimes seem that empathy is in short supply in London.

But if you look online, you’ll read many people’s stories about how they came together with neighbours and colleagues and friends. In work and in pubs and in the streets and at home. You’ll hear about how they looked out for each other and how they came together. Just like they did other times they were attacked or made frightened, by bombs or riots or threats.

It’s something I love about cities like London and Boston, and one of the things that I generally love about people.

When you attack people, they come together and support each other and look out for each other and even love each other.

That’s what makes cities like this feel like home.

Love wins. Humanity wins. People win. Even in loss, even in fear and even in grief.

1 comment:

  1. Nice piece. I'm so glad you found Boston welcoming. My family (Brosnahan, Dailey, McMahon, Quinn) has been here since the mid-1800s. The roads, the buildings and the politics in Boston were largely built by your cousins over here. The general proletarian culture of Boston was largely shaped by Irish immigrants.

    The way the community pulled together in the wake of the Marathon attacks did make everyone proud. It is a holiday around here, actually -- Patriot's Day is usually a day off in Massachusetts, to commemorate 19 April 1775, when the first shots were fired in the American Revolution in Lexington and Concord, near where I live. While the Boston Marathon is running, towns all around Boston have town fairs, parades and re-enactments, which are lots of fun.