My 'asparagus moment'
I’d resolved to become a Bostonian. But how could I feel that I truly belonged?
Stepping off the plane at Logan International, I resolved to drop all ties to any other city in order to be a Bostonian. I’d moved there that January to complete a couple of internships and avoid the crushing weight of higher education, if only for a year. I knew two people in the whole city, but I figured that making friends couldn’t be too hard.
In the movies, friends materialize through chance encounters – you make a joke in the grocery store line and someone laughs, or a receptionist calls your last name and you both answer. At my job, one of my bosses turned to me one day and asked, “Have you spoken to anyone today?”
Then in April, two bombs exploded at the Boston Marathon finish line, blocks from my apartment. The media painted the alleged perpetrators, two young men, as outsiders and loners – alienated from the community they had lashed out against.
Walking the streets in the weeks that followed, people seemed kinder. You could even catch a smile or two. (Boston being Boston, though, the trappings of courtesy still fell away the minute a pedestrian became a driver.)
The atmosphere quickly resolved itself from despair to trademark Yankee determination. As the city regrouped, there was a sense of momentum building. People who had never run before started training for next year’s marathon. Boston suddenly felt more like a small town as citizens and strangers made the extra effort to connect. The community rallied behind the Red Sox, and the team quickly became a symbol of renewal and unity.
I saw the Sox play at Fenway Park twice that year: The first time, they beat the Texas Rangers, 17-5; the second time, they beat the Seattle Mariners after trailing, 7-2, for most of the game. The Sox scored six runs in the bottom of the ninth to win, 8-7.
By the end of that second game, with the entire stadium on its feet, breath held, all eyes on the batter, I suddenly realized I was a fan. It wasn’t just the sport: I’d never been in a crowd of 30,000 people all hoping for the same thing to happen. It was electric – like tasting a food that you didn’t know you loved until you tried it. I’d had a similar experience with asparagus, though a stadium full of vegetable enthusiasts hadn’t surrounded me at the time.
I had found my people.
I followed the Sox all the way to October. Despite my internships, the Fenway attendant wouldn’t accept “job experience” as legal tender, and I was forced to watch the 109th World Series in my apartment. By Game 6, the Sox were set to win it all at home, at Fenway.
Police details were positioned on nearly every street in my neighborhood. Rioting had been a problem after Boston broke the “curse of the Bambino” in 2004. I invited some friends over (I did eventually make some) to share this historic moment and eat pizza with me. They mostly came for the pizza, not having had their “asparagus moments” yet.
After an hour, the deliveryman called and said he couldn’t reach my street because of a police barricade. We agreed to meet on a corner nearby. Walking back with the food, I noticed a large group of police officers standing outside my apartment looking in. I walked behind them, peering over their shoulders, hoping that pizza would stand up as an alibi in court.
They were trying to watch the game through my front window. It was pure Boston.
I went inside, pulled all the blinds up, and angled the TV toward the street, giving the throng of Boston’s finest a big thumbs up. Later, an officer knocked on the door. I opened it, and he sheepishly asked if we had anything to drink. We obliged with plastic cups and soft drinks.
By the last inning, it was clear the Sox were going to win. My friends started to leave, hoping to miss the postgame traffic. One came back inside a few moments later carrying three deep aluminum pans. The police outside had bought 150 chicken wings from another deliveryman who’d gotten lost. They’d eaten their fill, and wondered if we wanted the rest. Of course we did.
We all high-fived with greasy fingers when the Red Sox won. It may have been the food or my friends, the police outside or the Sox winning the World Series in Boston, or even the cheers of the college students out in the streets, but for the first time I felt as if I was home.
It was a good day to be a Red Sox fan, but a better one to be a Bostonian.