I am young, in elementary school, sitting on the floor of the living room in my childhood home in Peabody, Massachusetts, glued to the television. A woman’s pleasant voice is speaking to me about The Big Dig, something I was hearing about for the first time. On the screen is a very simple image: a yellow road sign depicting four lanes of a road converging into one, a bottleneck. As the smooth, female voice assures me that this so-called “Big Dig” is rapidly coming to a close, the sign is slowly rotating 180 degrees, effectively converting a traffic nightmare into a commuter’s dream.
Five years later, my awkward high-school self is brought to Boston in early spring of freshman year for a field trip. After experiencing the euphoria of exploring an endlessly-sprawling metropolis, it was time to retreat to the suburbs. As the big yellow school bus chugs through a labyrinth of dim tunnels, I start to nod off, but am shaken awake by a fellow student as we emerge from the Callahan and into the Boston twilight.
“Look,” he says. And I do. Huge white cables, lots of them. On every side, cars, buildings, river. The signature purple lights may or may not have been illuminated – my memory betrays me here – but I will never forget the unique mixture of pride and humility I felt as we crossed the Zakim Bridge on the first day it was open to the public, March 30, 2003. I’d like to say that fourteen-year-old Dan had this strange feeling in the back of his mind, a premonition that he would make this trip countless more times, and that this bridge would come to represent such an important link between his past and his future, but that would be a lie. The only thought on my mind was actually very incorrect: “I think the Big Dig might be over.”
I never really moved to the city like so many suburban youths dream of doing. I attended Boston College which despite its name exists in the picturesque, ethereal Chestnut Hill. After graduating, I moved to Oak Square which, if it rolled over a few hundred feet, would be in Newton and not Brighton. Sure, many people consider our capital “The Hub,” a center of activity on the east coast, but to me Boston was always simply a transitory space, a point on the map that lay between my Brighton apartment and my childhood home, where my parents still live. It was a place of constant locomotion, whether it’s the gentle rocking of T, the steady crawl of rush-hour traffic, or the calculated walk of Newbury Street window-shoppers.
It must have been that lingering image of the rotating yellow road sign that had me convinced that Boston was a place to be transited; the soothing voice of that commercial played on a loop in my brain, a constant reminder that it’s quite easy to travel into, within, and out of the city. I was so accustomed to navigating the route between Boston and Peabody that my brain would often check out somewhere around Storrow Drive and zone back in as I pulled into my parents’ driveway.
To be honest, I was pretty ambivalent towards Beantown until one fateful day in May of 2010, when a man handed me a diploma and hours later I was forced to move all of my belongings out of my Mod. Like all other recent-grads, the fog of college was brusquely cleared away by the wake-up call of Real Life. I was then, as I settled into a new job and a new home on the periphery of the city, that I actually began to appreciate Boston as a destination. Concerts and Epic Saturdays at the House of Blues, feigning sophistication at the Museum of Fine Arts, bar-hopping in Faneuil Hall, and awkward OkCupid dates in restaurants I didn’t know existed – things that I had once bypassed suddenly became my focus as the rest of my life fell more firmly into place.
I love Boston because of the transitions that it represents for me. It started with the Big Dig, with promises to transform the city into a modernized metropolis that would beckon to a young, impressionable child. Later, its newly-renovated infrastructure served as a bridge, both literally and figuratively, that kept my college life connected to my childhood one. Finally, as I transitioned into the scary world of adulthood, I witnessed Beantown transform into the perfect place for a twenty-something to escape to. While I can finally confirm that The Big Dig is over, this is a city that has continues evolving and reinventing itself in other ways.
Like Boston, I have undergone many changes – my personal reconstruction project during which I got older, declared four different majors in college, inhabited numerous dorms and apartments, crept and then ran out of the closet, and started a career. The city has been there all along, serving my constantly changing needs every step of the way. While I think (I hope) my Big Dig is over, I know that this ever-adapting city will make the transition with me if I ever decide to build a new bridge or dig a new tunnel. Boston and I’s roots reach deep and are intertwined, the both of us sharing a love and admiration for our respective histories, which are inextricably linked to our geographies. With an open heart and mind I look forward to our future together as I mature, have new experiences, and learn to love Boston in even more ways.