Only in Boston: Party like it’s 1776

Boston’s crazies concerned citizens love to come out and play when there’s political capital at risk. I saw and attended many protests when I lived here and saw first-hand the energy percolating ahead of the die-in before the start of the Iraq war. Yet, one’s convictions are mere street theater to someone else … and in regards to the latter, Boston ever fails to deliver.

As I wandered through the city yesterday, eager to see the North End with an unobstructed view (I left Boston before the highway was fully sent below the ground), the noise carried up Congress Street softly but easily. As I approached, specifics became clear, including the shrill cries of a woman on the curb in front of Faneuil Hall, “If you want socialism, move to China!” … though the local accent brought it closer to “Chine-er.”

This is the Boston you must see when visiting, even if only once. Of course, Boston has a long history of both civil and hostile disobedience, from the jettisoning of tea into the harbor to the busing scandals of the 1970s and beyond. What I encountered yesterday is an essential flavor of the city and should sit well above Fenway Park on any itinerary.


The crowd yesterday had a decidedly conservative bent – the “Nobama” folks were well represented. The locals have always had a strong loud dissenting conservative community that never fails to mobilize when it feels justice must be served. What results is a mix of professions, economic classes and sanity levels that in its own unique way is a testament to the ability of beliefs to unify.

Though not nearly of the scale of the major protest events in our country’s history (most aren’t), this one was still sufficient to slow the tourist traffic around Faneuil Hall, but not beefy enough to upstage the adjacent breakdancing troupe. Signs were nonetheless held aloft, and zeal oozed from every pore on the tightly laid brick underfoot.

For a devotee of civil liberties, the sight was intoxicating, even if it was only because the debate had truly been brought to the public. It was the essence of the American experiment in the place where it was born.

Doubtless, freedom can’t choose its own spokesmen, and many of Lady Liberty’s representatives yesterday afternoon symbolized the necessary consequences of giving everyone a voice – think of it as the kernel of beauty inherent in tragedy (or vice versa).

As I crossed the street and approached the crowd, I encountered an older gentleman. He had take a knee and was working studiously with a marker and a piece of poster board, ensuring the legibility of the large block letters that would convey his message: “READ ATLAS SHRUGGED.” It wasn’t surprising to find an Objectivist (i.e., a follower of the beliefs expressed by Ayn Rand) at a protest over the healthcare bill. All smiles, he explained his position before taking a spot in the public display with the ostensible goal of maximizing his visibility. John Galt, sadly, was not in attendance – or at least didn’t reveal himself (maybe he’ll co-opt the airwaves later).

Across the street, atop the stairs next to City Hall, I was able to view the scene in which I had immersed myself only moments earlier. The change in perspective was incredible. On the ground, you’re essentially planting your nose inches from a Monet: you’re up close but missing both the magnitude and the message. Above and away, you sacrifice the energy but can appreciate the entirety.

The chance to witness – or participate in – a Boston street rally isn’t something you can schedule in advance, unless you’re planning a trip around controversial legislation. When the opportunity arises, though, it’s worth deviating from your Freedom Trail jaunt, if only for a glimpse.

Budget Travel: Boston

Though it seems a world away from the paradise I live in now, Boston was my home for three great, memorable years, and continues to hold a special place in my heart. Often regarded as America’s true college city, “Beantown” (named because of the city’s influx of baked beans during the “triangular trade” when molasses was plentiful) is alive and kicking. Where else in the States is finance, literature, sports, and education so vibrant? No where. Kick it in Boston in the dead of winter or the height of summer – any time, freezing sleet or blazing sun, this city is packed with awesome history, sights, and sounds.
Getting in:
By bus/train – Boston is essentially the hub of New England, so that means nearly every bus or train line will at least make a pit stop in South Station. There are now cheap $20 one-way bus fares to and from New York City where the motor coach is complete with movies and wi-fi. Expect trains to take the same amount of time (if not more), but twice the price. (I found my last train journey to Boston six months ago to be quite miserable, so would advise taking the bus instead)

By plane – Hooray for Virgin America (my new favorite continental airline)! There are plenty of flights to Boston through this awesomely comfortable, low-cost carrier, or there are tons of flights to Boston on United.

Where to stay:
A most comfortable and surprisingly affordable option in the North End (or Little Italy), one of Boston’s gastronomy centers, is La Capella Suites. There are three nicely decorated suites available on the 4th and 5th floors of this 70 year-old chapel (thus, its name). Rooms start at just $100 in the winter or $140 in the summer. The city’s best Italian restaurants and nightclubs are just steps away.

The cool 19th century townhouse Encore is the other great option in Boston’s gay-friendly South End. There are four guest rooms that are comparably priced with La Capella.

Both of these accommodations are on T-lines, and close to the center of town.

What to see:
Faneuil Hall – Clam chowder, lobster bisque, Urban Outfitter, the Freedom Trail, Duck and historical tours… Also known as Quincy Market, Faneuil has it all. It’s just as popular among Bostonians as it is tourists.

The Freedom Trail & the Boston Common – There is no other place in the United States where you can learn about America’s Revolution. The Freedom Trail is a 2.5 mile red-brick walking trail that leads you to 16 nationally significant historic sites, every one an authentic American treasure. Take a stroll along the Trail on your own using a handy online map, or have a native Bostonian guide you and tell you the dramatic story of America’s freedom from Britain.

Newbury Street – If you didn’t get your fill of shopping at Quincy Market, browse the hip boutiques along Newbury Street in the Back Bay, the quintessential Bostonian neighborhood. You can protect your pocket by sidling up to one of its many sidewalk cafés and people-watch your day way.

A BoSox game at Fenway Park – Don’t be daunted by the ridiculously steep ticket prices. If there’s one thing you must experience in Boston, it’s a Red Sox game. There is something totally electric about being in Fenway Park. Where else in the world is there so much baseball history in a single team and a single ballpark? Babe’s curse has been reversed, but the Green Monster and Pesky Pole live on. Even if you’re not a sports fan, you will be a Red Sox fan once you set foot on Yawkey Way.