by Robert Gillis
Published in the Foxboro Reporter and Boston City Paper 5/2018
Also published in OnTray Magazine, June 2018!
The City of Boston is one of my favorite photographic subjects. This past week with a few welcome vacation days and the forecast of (finally!) blue skies and 60 degree temps, I made my plans to spend two days taking my walking tour of Boston, photographing what found me along the way. These are “Bobby” days, I go alone, I leave the smart phone in the car, I walk at a brisk clip, and it’s my time to decompress, unplug from the computer and World Wide Web, connect with humanity without a screen, and recharge my batteries. It’s good for my soul.
Plus, having grown up in Dorchester, having sold papers in front of Woolworths for three years a teen and having worked as a professional computer guy in Boston over seven years (not to mention countless visits and trips with high school/college friends and dates), well, Boston and I love each other a lot.
My two days were awesome, and I thought it would be fun to share some thoughts and observations of Boston in no particular order.
- I start at Park Street. The Boston State House on Beacon Street is magnificent and the golden dome shines so beautifully in the crystal blue daylight. Got a lot of pictures there. Walking around, I recall that Boston Common is the oldest city park in the United States and is so very lovely. On this day, like every day, it is filled with vendors, street preachers, loud teen-agers, businessmen and women, food stands, kids playing ball, workers having lunch, couples having lunch or dinner, and tourists – LOTS of tourists. I love tourists.
- Tourism is Boston’s biggest sources of income and it ALWAYS makes me happy to see so many people with cameras and so many tour groups. And I don’t know why but EVERY time I go into Boston someone asked me to take a picture or ask directions.
- I head to the end of the Common and entrance to the Public Garden, another treasure. I love seeing the swan boats, the weeping willows, the swans, and squirrels and geese. I look for the bench where Robin Williams and Matt Damon shot that famous scene in “Good Will Hunting” but cannot locate it. Turns out today was not the day I was supposed to go there – serendipity was at work. More on that in a moment.
- The cherry blossoms on Beacon Hill are stunning and provide evidence that spring MIGHT come this year. Nice to see people getting pictures and selfies there. Actually, there are people everywhere, enjoying this pristine parcel of tranquility in the city, including an artist painting the swan boats on canvas.
- I make my way to Copley. A week after the Boston Marathon, the painted finish line in front of the BPL is already faded – I guess that’s what happens when 30,000 runners cross it on a rainy day! Kudos to everyone who ran! And to all those joggers and bikers I saw, I really respect your dedication to physical fitness! Looking great, guys and gals!
- To me, it seems everyone where you look in this section of Boston, there is a reminder of SPORTS. Several T stations feature pictures of famous sports athletes. Many advertisements celebrate the champions that come from our city. Along the Marathon route from Copley to Kenmore are plenty of reminders of our sports greats.
- Continuining in reverse of the Marathon route, I walk to Kenmore Square and another destination — the corner of Commonwealth and Charlesgate I see the ‘Boston Strong’ words on both sides of the bridge – this is about one mile from the Finish Line and inspires the runners –and me! More camerawork here. Boston Strong. We certainly are; then and now.
- At this point, I gaze fondly at the iconic Citgo sign (I have too many pictures of that already) and I have another destination in mind — so I jump back on the Green Line to Science Park. (If you ride the Green line, you will see a student carrying a musical instrument case. In this case, I believe it was a bass or cello). At my destination I had a perfect vantage point for some images of my favorite ‘new’ Boston icon – the Zakim Bridge. I think it is an architectural wonder and just spectacular.
- I’m starting to get hungry, but I’m happy. It’s just a good day. No computer or cell phone, no Facebook today, and while I love the job, today is a vacation day so it’s unplug and enjoy warm sunshine and a needed head-clearing, soul-cleansing walk through the city – I am LOVING it.
- Back on the trolley because lunch will be at Quincy Market. I stop at Haymarket and walk back to the Faneuil Hall area. I cap this afternoon with a stop at Quincy Market, where (for my money, anyway) Prime Shoppe makes THE best fresh turkey sandwich on the planet. I enjoyed my lunch in the welcome sunshine a street musician strummed 70s tunes on his guitar.
- I head upstairs; I’m curious about the improvements made to Government Center. While Boston City Hall has won ‘Most beautiful architecture in Boston” exactly *never* times, it’s obvious that Government Center has undergone much renovation and revitalization over the last few years and the new train/trolley station is gorgeous, airy, with so much sunlight streaming in. GREAT work!
- I head home through Downtown Crossing. Boston still has some pay-phones! (Kids, your parents can explain). You might want to get a picture before they become extinct.
- And while Woolworths is decades gone, and the Cogliani film has LONG since moved out their fruit stand — and even the light pole had moved a few feet – this is still “MY SPOT” where for three years I stood and sold the Boston Globe after school. I still smile when I see it. “My spot!” So many awesome memories, meeting people, getting over my shyness, learning to actually talk to girls, and so many interesting conversations. Great memories.
- My digital camera tells me I took 199 images. Many are duplicates of the same image, trying get the right composition and light – couldn’t do that with film when I was kid. Can’t wait to start processing them.
- The Red Line train clacks along its tracks back to where I parked in Quincy. I am happy.
- Tuesday had a forecast of clouds and gray but turned out to be a brilliant blue-sky day, perfect for another photographic adventure and ten mile walk. Today: Cambridge. I took the train to Central Square for my first stop — Graffiti Alley, where graffiti is ALLOWED and ENCOURAGED. So many people taking pictures there and so much impressive, ever changing art work. It was AMAZING! In a few months it will be covered in new artwork. An ever evolving canvas of street art. The colors are brilliant. I took some time to just walk the alley and study all the creativity and use of color.
- I stayed on Massachusetts Avenue and explored that part of Cambridge. The mural outside the Middle East restaurant in Central Square is so striking – showcasing music, dancing and humanity and love, that I found myself staring at its details for 15 minutes.
- As I walked Mass Ave. toward Boston, I found that the architecture of MIT provided many photo opportunities, but I was more struck by the flurry of students rushing to this or that building. For a little while I contemplated my own past, and how nice it might have been to live in a dorm in Boston during my college years, and also how every student walking past me is a gazillion times smarter than me – I could NEVER get into MIT (then or now!)
- As I walked across the Harvard / Mass Avenue Bridge, I was struck by the sheer awesome spectacle of the Boston skyline and enjoyed the panoramic vista from Cambridge to the Back Bay, divided by the Charles River where many sail boats leisurely cruised along the river.
- After the end of the bridge, near Boylston street, on the Pike overpass fence, people have started the tradition of placing padlocks in the bridge fence to symbolize their love – VERY cool!
- And speaking of love, as I crossed Beacon, I see many light posts wrapped with yellow and blue ribbon and a small pipe-cleaner ornament that quotes little 8 years old Martin Richard, who died in the Marathon bombings, and his words, “No more hurting people.” Poignant.
- On the subject of helping people, I gave several homeless people a dollar, and bought a sandwich for another homeless woman. I miss doing that; the six or so years I worked in Boston I used to chat with homeless folks; I befriended a few of them and helped the ones I could. It always felt so good. I miss that.
- Looking a little further across the sky, I smile. I have always love the elegance and beauty of the I.M. Pei’s Hancock tower. And I must add the new Millennium Tower, built on the old Filenes site, is a stunning addition to the Boston skyline. Looking great, Beantown!
- Before calling it a day, I decided to try to find the “Good Will Hunting” Bench” again. (The night before I had precisely located its position on Google, but I need not have bothered, I’d have a guide and make a new friend): In the Public Garden, I walked directly toward THE bench, and there I met and made friends with Dave Pogue, a remarkable and interesting man who began our conversation with, “This is the bench you’re looking for.” He tells me everyone seeks out that bench and still leave flowers to Robin Williams there, or wants to get a picture of them sitting there. That’s now Dave’s spot. He teaches classical music history, volunteers at various places, he’s an amateur hockey player, and he also chats with people, and comes out on each day to take care of the squirrels. He knows EVERYTHING about a LOT, but especially squirrels. The squirrels jump right on his arm and will even sit on his head, they trust him so much! We talked over 45 minutes — great guy. He mentioned that some film students shot a short video of him and I found it on YouTube the next day. If you’re looking for the “Good Will Hunting” bench, Dave will likely be there, with lots of stories to tell. I fed a couple of the squirrels while we talked.
- I just wanted the a picture of a bench used in a movie; I ended up having a remarkable conversation — And the fact that I sat on that same bench and had a profound conversation (much as was had in the movie) was not lost on me!
- I headed back toward Park Street, I would later enjoy dinner at the World Renowned BK Lounge (Only Dane Cook fans will get that reference) and fed some of French fries to the pigeons while a people came and went.
- I headed downstairs for the train back to Quincy. More than 200 more pictures taken.
…Wrapping up, some days you just need to unplug and go on a little adventure. So many of us don’t take the time to explore what’s right near us, or explore our own towns and cities. For me, while I never lived in Boston proper, it is my favorite city and my favorite place to go on my own, unplug, and just walk 10 miles around it and see what finds me. I encourage you to do the same. You’ll be amazed at all there is to see and do!
Boston Strong. Boston Awesome! Boston, you’re my home!