Dirty Water - A 24-hour Boston Walkabout
It's magic It's magic the way we got together /
There's magic around us in the air /
It's magic It's magic, no not at random /
And there must be a higher power somewhere
Incentivized by an IRL arena rock show (Kacey Musgraves at The Garden 😍) I packed my wagon for a day-long spin around my old stomping grounds, Boston. One of the great American walking towns (and least favorite driving towns, blame the nineteenth century cow paths) my phone logged 22.9 miles in the 24 hours I was in her bosom. An epically meandering jaunt and a whole pile of new discoveries…
Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum - Fenway
No point in burying the lede here, this was my A+ adventure. I’ve known about the Gardner for years but didn’t really understand the gestalt of the joint- simply, the place is nuts. Quick history for the uninitiated- heiress Isabella got a bazillion 19th century dollars from father, starting stockpiling art and built her mega-mansion “modeled on the Renaissance palaces of Venice” to hold it all. The architecture, anchored around a stunningly verdant tropical courtyard, is at least half the draw here and the formidable collection, unannotated and shambolically arranged on every possible vertical surface, is also a huge wtf win. Ghosts live here which makes her perfect for a winter/rainy day. (There’s a Netflix doc about the museum, “The World’s Biggest Art Heist,” that’s worth a watch too…)
Pylon Art - Beacon Hill, Cambridge, Somerville
So some dingdong swiped all the pylons marking the bike lane on the Longfellow Bridge and tossed them onto a freezing Charles River. Half sunk and splayed like a 7 AM Sunday frat house, these PVC rapscallions totally captured my imagination, especially as the sun set over the dayglo melee. I mean, look at these guys! Gorgeous! Art is everywhere!!
But the Somerville bros weren’t gonna just let Captain Longfellow-tosser get by with no response- this is a full-in interborough pylon art war. I call this piece “Order From Chaos (a moment of empathy)”
WTUR’s Endless Transmission- Medford
Not a replicable experience but a member of the Weird Wonderful Hall Of Fame nonetheless. The College Ave bridge across from Tufts’ Curtis Hall peeks over vanishing point train tracks and a shrine to one of the most creative and audacious collegiate hijinks, Instant New England Radio:
In 1970, students in WTUR’s membership planned a prank involving the local MBTA commuter rail connections. By utilizing the rails as a massive ground antenna, WTUR was able to broadcast as far as Quincy, Massachusetts and Nashua, New Hampshire. Though effective, the prank violated FCC rules and WTUR’s allotted signal range. As a result, WTUR’s license was revoked and the group was disbanded by university officials.
Come on, that’s fucken genius.
Mr. and Mrs. Bartley’s Burger Cottage - Cambridge
I bet most of us have a restaurant or a specific meal that instantly takes us somewhere emotionally resonant (see: Ratatouille Moment). My personal epicurean emotional landmine: the Yuppie Burger and Raspberry Lime Rickey at Mr. Bartley’s Burger Cottage. Damn you nostalgia burger.
Dunno what fell apart this round- the patty under seasoned, the rickey too sweet, the bric-a-brac cacophony of a little less charming and a little more Chili’s Bar and Grill. Maybe it was missing Mr. Bartley himself (RIP), often the first face I’d encounter upon entering years ago. Maybe my palette has advanced since those college days where an $8 burger was a luxury. Or maybe my story around this 60ish year-old institution has changed? Human cellular lifespan is somewhere between 7 to 10 years so perhaps it’s no surprise and there’s been a rerouting of the tastebud-to-amygdala highway. Our internal stories have real power, a new tale more than capable of obliterating the once beloved boursin on ground chuck and buttered bun. See you next time, B.
Fogg Museum of Art - Cambridge
A perk of being a member of my favorite bonkers local museum is free admission to other bonkers museums. Enter: Harvard’s Fogg. Not sure what I was expecting but it sort of felt like the plot of a film:
PANICKED MAN: The comet is coming! We must save the art of humans! But we can’t take it all…. grab one piece of every historically significant artist and artifact ever!
HARVARD FOGG MUSEUM CURATOR: Yes sir! Done and done!!!
Picasso, van Gogh, Renoir, Matisse, Pollack, Calder, etc, etc. If it was in Classical Baby it's here… even the dude on the dollar bill. Total sneak play and well worth a wander, it is Haaaaaarvard after all…
Freedom Trail - Downtown, North End, Charlestown
Hip hip hooray to the team that vaguely gamified this 2.5 mile walk through deeply historic Boston. There’s not a ton of full on tourist gambits that I’ll co-sign but this is for sure near the top of that short list. Bunker Hill monument, the North End, USS Constitution, Paul Revere’s house and a couple of ancient cemeteries all are en route and that’s not even half of it. Boston has seen some shit and witnesses still stand, follow the
yellow red brick road.
Bob’s Italian Foods - Somerville
A sucker for authentic delis, this is a no-brainer first stop coming down from the north. Bob’s is special for a bunch of reasons but I particularly dig the attitudinal layer cake of Boston’s “fuck you pay me” entwined with a solid helping Italian-American “what the fuck do you want” all wrapped in a flaky honeyed “thank you sweetie” crust. The subs are gigantic, authentic and crushingly delicious. My go-to is the 50/50 Meatball Chicken Parm Combo which only slightly mitigates sandwich fomo. Sublime Somervillian fare, can’t miss here.
Can’t wait for the next Bostonian go round. So many things.
Hope you’re super, see you down the road,
Bonus Content: My band had to bail on our January tour (two shows at the House of Blues on Landsdowne St got kicked to May) but, fun news, I wrote about it in The Atlantic. Kinda like this newsletter with less cursing.