It was 40 years ago today that I drove east into Boston in a white, right-hand drive post office van as Richard Nixon flew west out of Washington D.C. in a green Chinook Marine helicopter. At age 26 I was fleeing a failed marriage, while at 61 Nixon was exiting a disgraced presidency.
Neither the dishonored ex-prez or I had a plan or a job to speak of, and no prospects, either. But unlike Mr. Nixon I held the tidy confidence of my Baby Boom generation, the belief that ours was a crossroads cohort, fated to a new set of values espousing brotherhood, integrity and the like, and that, somehow, something would turn my way.
Reared in plenty we Boomers were a generation of comfortable contrarians, wearing our hair long and our understandings short. And though the Arab oil embargo would prove a harbinger of an increasingly intruding world, as I landed in the first home of my own choosing, I was debt free and open to whatever my new surroundings might throw my way.
That was the legacy bestowed by our parent’s war generation, freedom from a sundering student loan debt, and the need for only meager means to cover room and board. Our rent on Empire Street in 1974 was a mere $160/month for a two-bedroom, one-bath unit. As such, journeys of exploration were more easily mounted, and freedom was still a simple enough word for something left to seek.
And so, after nearly completing my history degree at Washington University, I had packed up my meager possessions and driven halfway across country in search of a second act.
It had taken me two days to drive 1178 miles east from my hometown of St. Louis, Missouri, and as I pulled up in front of 61 Empire Street in the Allston section of Boston, the Allman Brothers hit Ramblin’ Man poured from my stereo like an ally of the warm summer sun.
My new home lay about a mile north of Harvard Square just a block off the Mass Turnpike. Up on the corner sat the Merit Gas station on North Harvard Street where I had worked part-time the previous fall to make ends meet. But that was during a five-month visit. This time I was here to stay, so there would be no gas station work for me.
Now, as I turned off the sturdy slant-six motor of my reconverted van, my new roommate, Patrick, bounded down the stoop with a joint fired up.
“Hey, Reavis!” he said, extending the sweet-scented memory cleanser to me from behind a wide grin. “Welcome to Boston.” Continue reading