Someone once explained how you could always tell a local and a tourist apart by seeing how they walk down the sidewalk.
Locals are usually looking straight ahead towards their destination or glancing down at their cell phones. When you look into a crowd, tourists are always the ones looking up at the structures around them.
I think about this whenever I catch myself going on autopilot while navigating familiar neighborhoods. Back when I was traveling city to city, sometimes I’d try to be stealth while sneaking glances up towards the tall buildings because I wanted to seem like a local. It’s strange to think that some of the tourists in our own cities know more about it than we do. I’d have to GPS the exact location of the Old North Church. I can only name a handful of sites on the Freedom Trail. I’ve never been to the Aquarium, or the Isabella Gardner Museum. I’ve never been to a Red Sox game at Fenway.
As locals, we should really spend more time looking up because limiting our experience to the cracks on the sidewalk or the emerging red stripe peeking through a crowd of people indicating the T is nearby is a pretty dull way to exist.
Aside from picking up extra shifts, the last few weeks have been extra stressful due to some personal conflicts and the stress of preparing for a September 1st move. So, waking up this morning with aches all over my body wasn’t a surprise. Physically, my muscles and bones were tired from standing for hours on end. Emotionally, my mental health has taken a slight dip and the eat-sleep-work-repeat cycle can make it difficult to see myself as an individual, a separate being from my existence at work. Luckily, ibuprofen works for my weary calves, a quick stretch helps with the tension between my shoulders, but there isn’t an OTC pill or quirky YouTuber to help with these existential knots in my chest.
Instead of spending the day horizontal (or packing for my move on Wednesday, which I really should be doing) I went into downtown Boston to run a quick, necessary errand. Once I got downtown, I saw folks taking selfie’s with their loved ones, Buskers were playing their instruments for everyone passing by, and Restaurant doors were open to new people looking to check off new dishes from their bucket list of restaurants. I continued down the sidewalk without paying much attention to everything around me.
While waiting to cross the street, I felt myself becoming irritated by the time it took for the orange hand to finally turn into that white, walking figure. As I stood on the sidewalk staring at the crosswalk, I noticed how different I looked from the group of tourists down the street taking photos of the Paramount Theater sign. I thought about how easy it would’ve been to tell the difference between them and myself. Backstory: My old college had a satélite campus nearby so I used to pass that sign on a weekly basis, so after taking the same route to class, passing that sign just became another part of my commute and those twinkling lights slowly faded into the background. But, just like those folks, I also took a photo of it after seeing it for the first time. It’s unsettling to acknowledge that I spent more looking down at the sidewalk or the crosswalk ahead than I did looking up at that sign. It’s realizations like this that startle me out of those disconnected states we all fall into while impatiently waiting to get to your destination.
I ran my errand and took a detour through Chinatown for lunch. While walking down the side streets, I remembered to look up at all the buildings. Every neighborhood across the world is unique because it’s a direct representation of the people that live or have lived in it – the division between old and new. In this area of Boston, you can often see buildings with discolored bricks outlining the space where another building used to stand. From one location, you can see the modern architecture of the State Street building towering over a row of 3-story brick buildings lining one of the many streets nestled into Chinatown. These neighborhoods have little in common but as you’re tracing your gaze along the residual bricks of a building that has been around for far longer than you, me, or anyone involved in the construction of the State Street building, the presence of the Financial District and all its modernity still looms in the distance.
Buildings like State Street, Prudential, or the Hancock Tower can be recognized in every postcard, t-shirt, bumper sticker, etc of the Boston Skyline, but it’s the lesser known characteristics of a city that make people stay for longer than a weekend. Most of our favorite places usually come with a backstory. As human beans, we’re all inherently driven to either find, attach, or create a meaning to every single thing around us. This also means that every person who has ever lived would be able to make a map of all their favorite places where they feel a certain connection to. These little maps would mean the world to us, and we would happily share them with people in our own circles but for the most part, these maps would be impractical to the rest of the population.
**for the record, if you ever decide to make a personalized map of your own, unique points of sentimental interests, I’d be more than happy to take that tour**
You know that feeling when you’re in a new city/place and you finally get to try something you’ve only been able to dream about? Isn’t it kinda cool knowing that all of these people are experiencing that right now as they sip on a Sam Adams beer in Boston? It’s easy to roll your eyes at tourists doing touristy things and I’m not suggesting that I’d like to start hanging out near Landsdowne but being more perceptive to the places we call home could bring a little more joy and curiosity into our lives.
I was a tourist here once. A lot has changed since that first time I cheerfully ordered a Samuel Adams Boston Lager. If I believed in “lover at first sight,” it’s exactly how I’d described those first couple of hours in Boston. While I was able to picture myself creating a life here, I only fell in love with this city after becoming familiar with its side streets harboring all those little things that would only appear on my personal map. All of those places were found while aimlessly wandering around. You may not be a tourist in your neighborhood, but that doesn’t mean you can’t experience it as one. It’s incredible how much you can see when you put your phone down on public transit, explore a different route home, take yourself out for lunch, just follow Agent Coopers advice and “treat yourself to one small gift a day” – even if that gift is simply glancing up at the sky while waiting to cross the street. I used to sneak glances at tall buildings to make myself look more like a local. No one wants to be a cranky pedestrian at a crosswalk with a dead stare. I’d like to occasionally pop into Mike’s Pastry for a cannoli and relax in the Harvard Yard
So that’s exactly what I did and while sitting on one of Harvard’s pink lawn chairs, I got inspired to write for the first time in weeks.
Without these little gifts, how else would we protect ourselves from becoming jaded to all the beauty around us?