This story appears as the prologue in Gary Lloyd’s book, Valley Road: Uplifting Stories from Down South. Get it here.
I have not traveled to many cities up North. I have lived only in Alabama, and Mississippi for six months, and, like most Southerners, my vacations have consisted of the beaches at the Gulf and the mountains of Gatlinburg. We buy cheap souvenirs at Alvin’s Island and slip dozens of quarters in the Coin Pusher at Fannie Farkle’s.
In the spring of 2013, I went to New York City with my then-fiance, now wife. We wanted an adventure, so we booked a flight to the Big Apple. We stayed in a hotel a few blocks from Times Square, and taxi horns blared at all hours of the night.
The city is so, so big. Transportation can be a nightmare, if you miss the subway. Paying for a short taxi ride is the equivalent of a dinner for two at Applebee’s. A lot of people are ruthless walking the dirty streets. Others laugh at your Southern accent.
There were some awesome things about New York City, of course. We took a ferry and saw the Statue of Liberty and stood at Ground Zero. We people-watched at Central Park and ate a pizza the size of a Michelin tire. We observed priceless pieces of art and paintings, while security stared holes through us. We made it inside the lobby of Madison Square Garden, ate Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs and, from a distance, saw Tom Hanks.
It was more of an adventure than a vacation. Our feet hurt so bad after each day. I wish I had owned a Fitbit back then. Our bodies were exhausted. It was an interesting place, for sure. But could I live there? I’ll answer that question with a famous quote from one of Hanks’ most well-known movies: I’m pretty tired. I think I’ll go home now.
Three years after our trip to New York City, we had saved enough money to go on another exploration. We were cautious of where on the map to choose. We came to a fairly quick conclusion, and we booked the trip for August.
We arrived on a Tuesday late in the afternoon, and found our hotel on Newbury Street without a problem. It was on a clean street with small shops and restaurants. There was even a small grocery store with the ripest apples and an ice cream parlor, where we snacked on a flavor combination of peanut butter and Oreo.
On our first full day, we walked a two-and-a-half-mile trail through the city, spotting the historical State House and churches, the burial grounds where several Founding Fathers rest, a massacre site, the home of the man who went on a long Midnight Ride, warning that the British were coming.
We saw the city’s bright lights from the 50th floor of the Prudential Center, and it was so pretty that I almost forgot about my fear of heights. Almost. We saw the dormitory where John F. Kennedy lived as a college student, and listened to our tour guide, who looked suspiciously like Leonard from “The Big Bang Theory,” go on and on about it. We saw the bar where everybody knows your name. We saw the riverfront park bench where Robin Williams enlightened Matt Damon about what love truly is in “Good Will Hunting.” We saw the blue-and-yellow marathon finish line on Boylston Street, one of the most famous streets in the city, where several years ago I watched the aftermath of a terrorist bombing on Fox News. I stood on that finish line, and I got chills.
We took pictures of wooden busts of men named Bird, Orr and Yastrzemski. We participated in a live re-enactment as members of the Sons of Liberty, and watched other tourists dump wooden crates of tea off a ship and into the harbor. We ate lunch at a burger restaurant named for the owner, his more famous brothers known for the band New Kids on the Block, and movies such as “Shooter” and “Lone Survivor.” We squinted from our section in the blue seats to see Captain Kirk throw out the first pitch, and the best offense in the game crank baseballs over that thirty-seven-foot green wall. We covered our ears as the USS Constitution blasted its cannon to signal the day’s end.
This city has so much history, and there is always something to do. It is a major city, but it does not feel like one. The subway is not a Rubik’s Cube, and it takes only a couple days to know exactly where you are in the city. It is more walkable than some Southern neighborhoods. The people are friendly. Some even shout “Roll Tide!” when they see you in your gray-and-crimson T-shirt. Their movie theater chairs are black leather, and they recline.
I have given you enough hints, enough description. If you have not yet figured out that this city is Boston, then you need to book a trip.