Boston, Part Four
Our official reason for being in Boston was for Hannah to attend a conference, and on Wednesday she did exactly that. I was left to my own devices in Back Bay for the whole afternoon.
What does an Aspie do when they’re left unsupervised in a foreign city for six hours?
My first stop was the public library: McKim, which is Boston’s central branch. It was built some time in the 19th century, and occupied most of a city block. It was a labyrinthine tangle of ornately constructed rooms. I wandered around for awhile in a trance, and then decided I’d very much like to sit here and read for the better part of the afternoon.
First I needed to find something to eat, so I left the library and ventured into Back Bay.
When an Aspie gets hungry, they will go to extraordinary lengths to find their food. Their food may consist of only five or six items, and so they may have to travel considerable distances to find it.
On Wednesday, all I wanted was a burger from a take-out place. But, as I quickly discovered, Back Bay is pretty damn swanky, and they don’t really do take-out. I ventured north to Newbury Street, which I’d heard had a lot of stores, and was impressed with the beautiful architecture and low-key vibe. The day was sunny and warm, and there were a lot of people hanging out and having fun. I popped in and out of shops at random- bookstores and grocery stores, mostly- and enjoyed the fact that I didn’t have to cater to anyone else’s interests.
This Aspie’s interests are usually goddamn esoteric and bizarre, and so most of the time when I’m with other people I’ll compromise. Which is fine; I’ve ended up in a lot of unexpected places having a lot of fun as a result of that willingness to compromise. But it’s also fun to go my own way.
Eventually I found a fantastic take-out burger place, and then meandered back to McKim. I had a book with me that I’d bought at The Coop the day before, but I couldn’t find a good reading place. All the couches, chairs and desks at McKim were arranged in clusters. I understand reading as a solitary activity, but this interpretation isn’t shared by the people who designed this library.
In my quest to find one chair in an alcove, I saw most of McKim, including a sunny, perfect courtyard that looked like something straight out of Europe.
Eventually I discovered a quiet basement room, where most of their fiction is kept. I found a small stool and perched in a corner. The room was warm and cosy; so cosy that I started feeling drowsy after a little while. I thought I might find a milkshake, so I set off to Newbury again.
The afternoon continued like that. Like most Aspies, I enjoy repetition and patterns, which are so difficult to find while on a vacation. In my afternoon at Back Bay I used McKim as a base of operations and read in the basement and stretched my legs every now and then when I got bored.
One of the reasons I like traveling with Hannah is that she also requires a certain amount of repetition. I help her to the bathroom, and to bed, and help put her socks on, and help her adjust herself, and I always do it in exactly the same way. These activities get easier the more often I do them, so they end up being an almost meditative, grounding exercise for me. It’s a way to find a moment of balance in the middle of chaos and disorder.
Eventually it was time for Hannah and me to meet up. We decided to eat at the Cheers bar for dinner, which wasn’t too far away.
“There are two sections,” said Hannah. “The downstairs part is inaccessible, but the upstairs part is fine.”
When we got there, sure enough, there was an elevating device out the front to help her up the steep steps. And there were two employees present to help her use it.
Something I’ve noticed about Boston is that the public is rarely left unsupervised. At stores, employees follow you around trying to be helpful. Guards are frequently posted at the front door to make sure you don’t do anything illegal.
I don’t know if this is a Boston thing or American thing, but Canadians tend to be more hands-off. We have elevating devices outside restaurants, but there aren’t employees paid to hang around outside in case someone needs help. We have intercoms.
Once we got inside, a server appeared who looked like a typical Bostonian. He was tall, bulky, young, and bearded.
“Sorry, the kitchen upstairs is closed. If you want food, you can go downstairs. There’s an elevator.”
He led us to the elevator, which had such a narrow door that it was inaccessible.
The server stared at this for a moment.
“I’m so sorry,” he said. “I had no idea. I’m sorry. That should be- that should be accessible. I’m sorry, I didn’t know. You can get drinks at the upstairs bar if you want. You guys are visiting from out of town?”
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” he said.
We went to the bar and ordered drinks. When we finished, the server told us they were on the house.
“It’s a glass of wine and a pop, it’s not going to kill me. I’m sorry about the elevator.”
We asked him to recommend somewhere close by where we could eat, he named two places, and apologized nine more times.
Hannah and I have noticed something interesting about the men in Boston, and the server was a perfect example of this.
They love to help. They offer their assistance immediately, unconditionally, and earnestly. They will do anything for you, especially if you’re a woman. Boston women are not noticeably more or less helpful, but the men are different. This regional performance of gender fascinates me. To be a man in Boston- a real man- it seems you have to be helpful, especially to people you interpret as more vulnerable than you. I have no idea where this comes from, or what it means.
“You’d do quite well for yourself if you lived here,” I said to Hannah.
“Maybe. It might be hard to find a partner though, if all the guys just want to be your big brother.”
We found a restaurant, and Hannah and I ate and drank too much, which was quickly becoming our custom. We are disgusting, righteous warrior tourists.
After dinner we decided to take another crack at the subway system, because it had started to rain.
This time I was surprised at how easy it was. There’s a steep learning curve, but once you’ve got it, you’ve got it.
Though it certainly helps that around every corner are ten guys ready to help.