They Came to Boston: Welcome (or not) Back Students!

Filed in Local News, University News by on August 31, 2009 1 Comment

On days like today, when the streets and sidewalks subways and all other mediums which could, to the inexperienced mind of an out-of-towner, possibly be mistaken as reasonable means of transportation (“An amphibious truck shaped like a duck! Why not take that to orientation!”) I am instantly and gleefully reminded of the Mighty Mighty Bosstones song, “They Came to Boston.”

It is a proud song, full of proclaimed ownership, a feeling that this place, this city, belongs to them, Goddamnit, if only for the simple reason that they have chosen to live here instead of, say, Albuquerque, New Mexico. Bouncing horns pierce upbeats rough with crunchy twang in the vintage, gritty ska sound the Bosstones popularized. As the horns fade, Dicky Barrett launches in, his voice gruff, growling, though not angry, the voice of one whose vocal chords seem to have long ago been eradicated by nicotine and whiskey:

“They came to Boston on their vacation, they came, they saw, they annoyed me.”


It was the second verse that popped into my head today as I passed the Boston University campus, a snide verse directed toward frat-joining students and their penchant for clogging Mr. Barrett’s favorite locales while mindlessly charging all expenses to their parents.

Yes, the song is bloated with pomposity and postured toughness, and perhaps a false sense that they do not have to share this city with all the single-use tourists who come briefly, snap a picture they deem a quaint embodiment of the city’s essence, or some other vague aesthetic ideal like that, and then return to their own homes, homes which, by the way, none of us are clambering to invade and exploit and poke around in and gawk at and trash and clog up with hulking pieces of  metal while we swivel our heads in every conceivable direction, brake sharply, and veer onto Storrow Drive, facing the wrong way. Yet for all its provincial pretension, I can’t help but identify with the feeling.

I know, they are just tourists and students, and I too was once both of those. But from the other side, now that I’ve been living in the city for years and feel like it’s an extension of my own apartment, of my own self, I feel twinges of avarice when I see it treated as a glib getaway, as something to be sucked dry of its one purpose—historical sites, an education—and then discarded as nothing more. I hate to see the city descended upon by those who I perceive to, when filtered through the maniacal territoriality of my brain, be somehow debasing my home, and thereby me.

A young woman asked me today for the name of the road she and I were then on. I told her with, I can admit, a feeling of pomposity, that it was “Comm. Ave.” She blinked a few times. “Commonwealth, Commonwealth Avenue,” I said, and then she walked away, relaying the information into her cellphone. It was such an insignificant, meaningless event, but I still felt that avarice, that sense that here was someone to whom Boston was just an ends in itself rather than the sprawling mass of endless social and cultural fecundity I know it to be.

There’s no point dwelling on these miserable musings. Like it or not, this is the nature of Boston, to be overrun at times by these, these, outsiders. And like the Bosstones, I too realize that, though I don’t want to share, it seems clear that I’m going to have to.

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