I traveled to Boston to see the Bruins take on the Pittsburgh Penguins for the Winter Classic at Fenway Park.
There’s a certain gender of guy in New England. This guy has his tricks, and he is proud of them. He’s certain he’s cracked the secrets of the world, can talk himself into any space, and envisions himself some kind of master player of the game. The thing is, this kind of guy is not necessarily bullshitting. There’s a solidarity of sorts, and every once in a while, player recognizes player, and they let it pass, a sort of Pay it Forward for a faux middle-class exclusivity.
Other regions have this gender of guy, too, but New England’s is unique. As my wife and I waited in line to take a photo with the Stanley Cup, a guy wearing cargo shorts in winter (another, if you may, gender of guy) talked loudly in his Boston accent about how he was going to talk himself into the game, despite having no tickets. I wonder if it worked. We didn’t see him again.
The last time I saw the Bruins play in person was in 2012, a playoff game against the Washington Capitals. They won that game, but lost the series, dashing all hopes of a follow-up Cup year. I proposed to Christine later that night, which I’ll be honest was a formality, since she had already proposed to me weeks before, and I had already said yes. I proposed anyways, and she called me a big nerd. She wasn’t wrong.
Fenway I hadn’t seen in even longer. My last trip there was during my senior skip day in the year 2000, a game against the Toronto Blue Jays. It must have been only days before my 18th birthday, but I don’t really remember that.
When I found out the Bruins were playing Fenway, I figured it might be the last time that happens, and I waffled back and forth on whether I should buy the remarkably expensive tickets. Christine encouraged me, so on New Years Day we packed up and embarked on the 10-ish hour drive from Charlottesville to Boston.
Boston’s a city I’ve never really vibed with, despite my roots in the area. My father grew up in Dorchester, and I was born in northeastern Massachusetts, though I moved to the faraway land of Connecticut when I was five or so years old. In my early 20s, I’d drive up from time to time, just to get out of the suburban Connecticut routine. I’d never tell anyone I was going; I’d just try to find something interesting to do. In Connecticut, I grew up in the country. Cities call to me. I need their energy and vibrance. But not every city vibes. I like Boston well enough, but I have never really worn it proper.
I told Christine to count how many times my New England accent would slip out. Learning German has brought the R-drop back into my speech, and when the self-confident, self-declared VIP guy mentioned earlier asked me if I knew Barstool Sports (ugh), I responded, “BAHstool? Yeahr, of course.” Christ.
We didn’t touch the Stanley Cup, by the way. I studied mathematics and engineering, but belief in The Curse was stitched into my soul on the day I was born, and it’s rare that a game day goes by without me silently wearing a Bruins t-shirt. I’d never forgive myself if they were to lose in some heartbreaking fashion.
The more I learn German, the more reflective I am about how I communicate, and as Christine and I sat in Right Field Box 7, the nonstop griping from our neighbors about the view gave me pause to think about my own day-to-day grumpiness. I’ll be honest; the seats weren’t great for watching the game. We had very limited view of the ice, and ended up watching the game on the field screen, a strange experience without the play-by-play and color commentary.
The complaining got worse as the game wore on, with the B’s down 1-0 heading into the third. Christine asked why my team wasn’t scoring. I told her, “just wait, when they do, you’ll have never heard anything like it.” Sure enough, when Jake DeBrusk tied the game some nine minutes in, Fenway erupted in a way that is quite unlike any experience on earth. American sports fans aren’t like European ones. We don’t fucking sing. We watch the damn game. So when the game is tense, the stadium is quieter, people biting their lips and clenching their jaws. When the puck hits the back of the net, then, it becomes a madhouse, 0-110% in a heartbeat, and it’s sublime. I looked over at Christine. She chuckled and shouted, “YELLING!” as the stadium cheered. It’s the same way she mocks our cats when they loudly demand food. She doesn’t love sports, but she does love me, and she loves me loving sports.
Despite being a frequent traveler, I’ve never built any loyalties to a hotel brand. I’m a lightweight nomad, so I use a complicated algorithm of price, location, and hoping I don’t accidentally book a hostel, which I lament has happened more than once. I ended up booking The Verb Hotel, which is a very strange theme 50s-style motel situated just a short walk from the Van Ness gates at Fenway. The whole area there is something else now, the entire Fenway neighborhood seems to be new development, barely five years old, or at least it seems. The Verb therefore is a sort of anomaly, and when I sent Christine the booking details, she asked, “did you mean to book a themed hotel?” Oh no.
Thankfully, it actually turned out amazing. The hotel has leaned into a rock’n’roll theme, and their kitsch is to put a turntable in each room. The encourage you to pick a favorite album from vinyl rack in the lobby. I was thrilled to find Springsteen’s “Born to Run,” the greatest album of all time, and dropped the needle on it each morning we stayed. “Thunder Road” is one hell of a wake-up jam.
We ended our trip to Legal Seafood, which I hadn’t eaten at in forever and a day. I wanted to visit the No Name Restaurant, which my grandmother always raved about, but a quick search told us they closed in 2020 during the pandemic, after 100+ years of service. Sad. Echoes of the pandemic that will probably be forgotten about in a generation or two.
Christine always found it funny that I always complained about New England never changing. I say it’s the land that time forgot. You drive down the road and the same tractor is still rusting in the same spot in the same field where it broke down in 1994. And then sometimes something small changes, like the exit numbers on the Mass Pike, which I had still memorized. Christine laughed as we passed the sign that said, “Old Exit 14.” “Look, old exit 14, they put it there just for you, grandma.” The tax for her watching sports is that she gets to roast me. It’s a good relationship.
We made our way back down to Charlottesville the next day, stopping in my old hometown area to eat at the Willimantic Brew Pub, which we hadn’t been to in several years at least, and which my wife enjoys quite a lot. A long but uneventful drive brought us back home to our pets, who greeted us hungrily with YELLING. I rubbed their fuzzy heads and went to sleep, a brand new work year waiting to begin the next day.
Estimated Reading Time: 7 minutes