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Stranger in a Strange City

Last updated on September 21, 2020

Boston shined bright. I always loved this city. Grew up here.

For as long as I can remember, Boston was a vibrant, walkable city… chock full of tourists, business people, wanderers, students, and all manner of individuals bringing color and life to “Beantown.”  But not now. The virus from China and the economic lockdown hit town.

When I was a kid, my mother worked as a waitress in a busy restaurant. She would sometimes bring me with her and let me wander nearby up to Park Square. There used to be a small cinema there, and I once watched a movie alone. Now, the cinema is gone. A Four Seasons hotel occupies that space now.

As a teenager and when I became a student at Northeastern University, I’d wander the streets and alleys. Once of my fondest memories was during a snowstorm when I shared an apartment with three other students at Northeastern.

That night, we wandered up Huntington Avenue to the Joe and Nemo’s sub-shop at the corner of Mass Ave. We were cold and snow clogged as we trudged in and ordered sandwiches and hot coffee.  It was one of the best meals of my life.

Fast forward to 2020.

I came into Boston for a much-needed haircut and a brief visit.

Lately, I had begun to lose my enthusiasm for the city, partly because my feet bothered me and the COVID-19 lockdown.

After my haircut (with masks required), I was hungry and searched for a restaurant.

So many of the ones I once knew on Boylston Street were closed or out of business.

I walked over to trendy Newbury Street. Fortunately, many restaurants were open. Found a small one that looked inviting. I got a seat in their recessed outdoor patio.

Since I got into Boston that day, I noticed most people were wearing face masks even as they walked along the sunny, uncrowded sidewalks. Made no sense to me. Sure, inside, one is required to were them (and that might make sense).  But outdoors in the warm sun?

I had a good people-watching spot. Over a period of about an hour and a half, as I sipped my sangria and ate my leisurely lunch, I watched people strolling by. My best guess is that about 95 to 98% of the people walking by wore face masks. Occasionally, one or two people came by who had uncovered faces. When I walked outdoors, I was in the minority.

I observed all manner of individuals walking on Newbury Street. A big husky guy who looked like an athlete wore a black mask. A skinny man with a Superman jersey wore a white one. Determined young women holding their masked faces up high came by. Little kids with masks trotted next to their masked mothers.  A teenager surreptitiously whipped his mask off for a second or two and gulped down some fresh air. Then he quickly put it back on as if he had committed an unforgivable sin.

I felt like I was a stranger in a foreign land where the custom required one to wear face masks… almost like a religious commandment.

Sun shone bright and warm, but masked people continued to dominate the sidewalk landscape.

A guy drove by in a white Mercedes convertible without a mask. But his young teenage passenger wore one.

What kind of foolishness was this? (Or was I the foolish one?) Why wear masks outside in the warm sun on an uncrowded sidewalk and street?

I was a stranger in the city I loved.

Later, when I walked past the Boston Public Library, signs declared it was closed except for those picking up books ordered online.

Its marvelous courtyard, reading room, stacks, special spaces, map room, library restaurants, computer rooms, business library — all closed to the public. Why?… Because a dictatorial city mayor and State Governor decreed it should be so.

What insanity.

Later, I walked past the finish line for the 2020 Boston Marathon that was colorfully painted across Boylston Street. The marathon never happened. It was cancelled for the year. Who knows if they’ll have it next April and if this insanity continues?

I descended the stairs of the subway at the Copley T Station. Messages blared at me from overhead speakers, “Face coverings are required on all MBTA vehicles and stations.”

On the train back to North Station this message was blasted over and over again.

I was in a strange city in a strange land.

The virus from China decimated our lives, our work, and our perspective on the future.

Yet life goes on somehow — even in the city.

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