Fenway, a Love Letter

When I was younger, before I lived in Boston, the neighborhood I would visit the most was Fenway (technically Fenway/Kenmore). It’s a big neighborhood, cradled by the Charles River and the city of Brookline. It’s where the Museum of Fine Arts is as well as, yeah, Fenway Park.

Now I get to live there, on a quiet tree lined street right next to the best Boston has to offer.

Last week I was getting off the T on my way back from work with the plans on getting food and heading back to my dorm. It was early enough in the year that I didn’t have much homework, so my nighttime plans consisted mostly of showering and Netflix.

Instead, I went to a Red Sox game.

I walked up to the Ace Ticket stand set up in front of their office in Kenmore Square, mostly just curious to sniff something out. A few says prior I’d tried to get cheap student tickets to no avail. With only a dozen or so home games left, I was pressing my luck.

I put my name in to win tickets to Big Papi’s last home game (because Big Papi) and asked the girl working how much tickets to the night’s game were, mostly out of curiosity. She said $30 and I figured, yeah, I could swing that.

I proceed to walk home, replace my backpack with my Sox cap, and returned to the park in around ten minutes. I was flying solo.

Now, if you’re not from Boston or New England, you might not know that Red Sox home games are something of a religious experience. Or maybe you do. One of the most tangible moments of the night

To me, the park is perfect. I don’t care that it’s small, old, and kind of wonky. On game day it seems like the whole city shows up to the game, if not to go in then just hang around.

I love baseball. I remember my parents watching it, first, because my mom is a huge fan. My dad had this blanket he’d put over his head when things got really tense. I’m pretty sure my mom considers beating the Yankees in 2004 one of the best things to ever happen to her.

That night I sat in the bleacher seats, which is probably the most fun place to sit anyways. Sure, not the best for views but really not that bad. I sat next to a couple perfect strangers and together we heckled the Orioles fans sitting a few rows down.

“Fuck you’s” flew. It was great.

One of the most tangible moments of the night was watching a visiting Brit cry during the traditional singing of “Sweet Caroline”

That’s magic right there.

The Great Skate

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The Great Skate, Bangor
Location Study

The Great Skate, Bangor Maine, is a place out of time. An old school roller rink, I think, because it’s not like I know what an old school roller rink actually looks like. There was a place to skate when I was a kid growing up, where my middle school always held fundraisers. But it closed. It’s a thrift store now, or something.

Sunday night at the Great Skate is Oldies Night. Vintage tunes, and I mean really vintage, not RnB from the 90s vintage. Disco and earlier, save for the lone dupstep request.

Yeah, I don’t know either. I guess street rats from Bangor have weird taste.

There were collections of middle age friend groups there, all of whom were much, much better at roller skating than I am. Genuinely good. Skating backwards, dancing, fancy footwork and everything. A couple of teenagers or college students were there too, all of whom obviously worked there and came by in their spare time to skate and hang out.

It’s not a bad place to hang out. It makes me feel happy, like a kid again.

There’s a sign on the door that tells teens that no one under the age of 18 will be admitted to just “hang out.” It doesn’t surprise me to learn than any business in Bangor, Maine, has a loitering problem. It’s the middle of nowhere, after all.

One townie kid was there all by himself. Just skating around, flirting with the girls (mostly me). Which is flattering, considering I totally fell and bruised my ass.

The Great Skate is closing in June. I wonder what it will become– it’s just a warehouse on the side of the highway, more or less. Like many things in Maine, when I think about it I am filled with a mixture of nostalgia and melancholy that comes and goes easier than it is explained.

Somewhere in the Woods

Location study: Orono, Maine

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The little town of Orono (you don’t pronounce the second ‘o’), Maine, is home to the University of Maine flagship campus. It’s small in footprint and there’s hardly any parking, strange considering there’s extremely limited housing in walking distance. A lot of trees. A few months ago, one of the first things posted here, I wrote an essay on the town of Millinocket. It’s about an hour north on the highway. Orono is a lot like it– beautiful, and a little sad.

The town is fifteen minutes, maybe, north of Bangor, the last major “city” until Canada. Far into Canada, at that. Bangor has a population of 33,000 people, but it’s big enough by Maine standards. There are US cities with larger populations than the whole state.

My sister goes to the University and so do a lot of people I know from high school. But that’s probably how it is with state schools all over the place. She lives with someone who went to the same school as us, older by just enough to make them living together my teenage dream come true. It’s not a small world, it’s just a small town.

The roads around the town are long and straight or narrow and curving. They travel up and down the foothills of Acadia, the only National Park in the state. Towns are pressed between the mountains and the sea, and it takes at least forty minutes from one Somewhere to another. Mid-coast Maine, as far north as most visitors will ever get, is a lovely place that people like to vacation at. But it’s also very quiet. It’s north, but not north. Depends on who you ask, really.

My mom lives up there too. Closer to the coast than to Bangor, Belfast area. It’s a cute place, not much more than a cluster of buildings on the side of a hill and islands of the Penobscot Bay. It looks like it could all tumble away at any given moment. The whole coast of Maine looks like it was torn away from something by force. A messy split rather than a peaceful parting.

My mom said it’s only gotten cute in the past few years or so. Finally recovering from all the mills closing.

Sometimes I think I’d like to live up there. I appreciate the quiet streets and hills more than most people. I like to be alone and like to feel small under a great canopy of stars. The brick buildings of towns less than 5,000 people bring me fleeting comfort. But I know that I would get sick of it after a while. And I couldn’t think of something worse than making myself bitter and unwanting towards a place I love so much.

There’s nothing in Maine, really. Not much at least. But for me, that’s just the appeal.

Sorry, New Hampshire is NOT the Alabama of the North

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(Obligatory disclaimer: I have never been to Alabama. Maybe it’s nice there, I don’t really know. But it makes a good stereotype.)


 

The New Hampshire primary was yesterday. Leading up to the event, there were a lot of articles on the state from various content sites. They talked about the “spirit” of the state or whatever, and reporters from a few of my favorite sources took pictures of small New Hampshire towns. Places way up there where around five people live year-round (not an exaggeration, places like this really exist, especially in Maine).

I was kind of taken aback by these articles. Most of them painted New Hampshire as some sort of “Alabama of the North.” The last refuge of Conservatism in the Northeast (but upstate New York certainly fits the label better). The Alabama of the North comment came from one of my professors last semester, who lived in Worcester for a few years, as if he knows. But I grew up less than 2,000 feet from New Hampshire. I know what it’s about.

New Hampshire is a conservative state… kind of. It’s New England conservatism. It leans more Libertarian than anything, a group of people who would rather be left alone than scream about anything. There are more Bible-pushing, anti-abortion maniacs within spitting distance anywhere in the South than in the whole state. Like just about every other place in New England, the majority of the population lives in the lower third of the state (for New Hampshire, this is Manchester and below), and that group is mostly liberal.

I will say that New Hampshire is the place where you can do anything. Fireworks? Yep. Adults still don’t need to wear a seatbelt, though there’s a handsfree law. Live free or die.

Up North things do get pretty scarce. In some places there is really shocking poverty. My dad spent high school in a town just North of Concord (the state capitol, which is not very north at all, but there’s not too many people in the White Mountains), Boscawen, where most of his graduating class didn’t go to college. Most of the kids didn’t graduate at all. Most of the state is either a state park or rural, blue collar towns, where all the conservatism comes from. But still, there’s just not enough people to outweigh the liberal south.

It gets compared to Vermont a lot, New Hampshire’s hippie little sister (which used to be the most conservative state in the country, until Evangelists took over the party). I personally don’t like Vermont– they don’t have Market Basket there, which I just don’t trust. Both states have a lot of old white people who just want to sit around the campfire and sign songs (my mother, New Hampshire native and member of the most liberal family on Earth).

What I’m trying to say here is that conservative is not the word I would use for New Hampshire. Case and point, all though Donald Trump may have won the primary, John Kasich came in second, beating Ted Cruz by 4 points. CNN ran an article this morning with the title “Who Is John Kasich?” I knew who he was, because my conservative friends on Facebook have been on about this guy for months. New Hampshire is a state about conservative reason. Republicans from New England don’t behave like the Ted Cruz’s of the world. Susan Collins (R), senior Senator from Maine would never (our junior Senator is another old white guy, Angus King (I). I love them both).

I’ve been trying to get people to think differently about Maine and New Hampshire for months now. Content sites, don’t ruin it for me now.

Philadelphia Ad-Agency Crawl

I mentioned last week that I was going on an adventure on Tuesday. Well I did! Along with several other people from my school’s ad club, we went on an “agency crawl” as they’re so called, and toured three different advertising agencies in Philadelphia.

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EVOKE HEALTH

Pharma has a reputation for being stuffy and boring, the literal death to creativity everywhere. The treacherous realm of the review that widdles down fun ideas into boring ones because you might insinuate some drug or another cures cancer. Or that a house at the end of a path “represents the end of a person’s life” (actual example). From others I’ve heard that Pharma is the most professional advertising gets– the offices look like boring offices and the people dress like boring business people. Well, not Evoke! Their tagline is “making health more human” which, ok, I agree with. Pharma is how a lot of agencies make the money necessary to keep the lights on but Evoke makes it fun. The office culture (and aesthetic) seemed very upbeat and cool. And for a Pharma agency, they’re quite small and personable.

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MASTERMINDS AGENCY

Masterminds is located in a cute little office in the Philadelphia building. I had heard of them and knew they were small but honestly wasn’t exactly sure what they did. Well, they started out doing casino advertising in Atlantic City, but burst onto the Philly scene a few years ago. They do a lot of restaurant advertising and branding, and it was explained to us that while that industry gives you a lot of freedom creatively, there’s not a whole lot of money being thrown around. Also I think they’re website is a cool but also a pain in the ass to navigate. But that’s besides the point. Masterminds in the kind of agency a person could fall in love with (as long as you love long nights of course). It’s so small that by nature the whole experience is extremely collaborative. You can just poke your head into your boss’ office and ask people about what they’re up to. A place where you can wear a lot of hats. I love wearing different hats.

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RED TETTEMER O’CONNELL AND PARTNERS (RTO+P)

Is there a cooler ad agency in Philly (America? the World?) than Red Tettemer? Probably not. I was a little disappointed in my experience there, but it was the last visit we went on and I was absolutely exhausted. The office is amazing, colorful, has a fat cat named Pedro. They have all their awards thrown in a wagon. During the presentation they gave us they provided a big long spiel about why their logo was a cowboy, which was mostly bullshit, but to be honest it’s because they don’t give a fuck. They’re the coolest kids in town, damn it. They also happen to do amazing work, which you’ve probably seen. The Planet Fitness “no gymtimidation” spots are theirs. Side note: the corporate headquarters of Planet Fitness is very very close to where I live, and I had to bite my tongue from asking if they knew that the headquarters is where a Chuck-E-Cheese used to be. Also did I mention that their office is the 24th and 25th floor on One South Broad Street, aka where the Wanamaker residence was? And their offices are in this amazing space that used to be the penthouse apartment? No? Well, it is and it’s amazing.

Pope Island, USA

Written on Saturday, September 26th 

The Pope comes to Philadelphia this weekend. A lot of the student body went home to the weekend, to escape the inevitable swarm of people of the city. Class is cancelled all the way from Friday and Monday afternoon, because SEPTA is practically shut down. I’ve heard from people that Center City is lined in porta-potties. The 7-Eleven across the street from my dorm was selling Pope bobble-heads and my dad asked me to get one for him, but they were twenty dollars so I bought him a magnet instead.

Here, in North Philly, things are very quiet.

There aren’t any tourists up here. It’s just college students, and not too many of them either. Maybe this is what the apocalypse is like– the sky seems that way.

I went to a Pope party Thursday night. There was a kid dressed like the Pope and they served beer out of a keg and wine from bags. People were wearing togas. It was fun, actually.

The dorms have drastically increased security. There’s security and EMS everywhere, on their bikes. They eat in the dining hall with us. We’re not allowed to bring open bottles into the dorm– not even mugs.

It feels like I’m in the eye of the hurricane. Nothing’s happening here, but if you look down Broad street you can see the top of City Hall and just imagine there’s something crazy going on down there. Nothing’s changed, but everything has. It’s not like I’m going to get to see the Pope. He’s having mass on the freeway, for Christ’s sake.

Here on Pope Island, things are a little spooky. If nothing else, an interesting end to September.

These Ocean Kids

I write a lot about where I grew up. At least for the moment, it’s a topic that keeps floating around my head. Maybe it’s because I miss it so much. Maybe it’s because our hometown shapes us in permanent ways. I don’t think we can escape where we come from; whether that place was good or bad we don’t have to be ashamed. To be fair though, I’m not from a rough area. I’ll leave that topic to another person at another time.

I was a lower middle-class kid growing up in a middle to upper middle-class town. Or, towns. My high school was two places (now three) pushed together. For the most part it was a bedroom community for a major Navy yard fifteen minutes away and a small city just over the state border in New Hampshire. It was also twenty minutes from the beach, and forty from a really good beach. Now that I live in Philadelphia and know a lot of kids from Pennsylvania, I’ve realized just how unique that really is.

The best time to be in New England is fall and summer (or winter, if you’re into wintery things). Fall is what you hear about on TV shows, and yes, it really is that nice. In the northern parts, the leaves start changing all the way back in late August, but it gets later and later as you head to the coast. The best place to go is up one of the small foothill mountain– I’ve been going up Mt. Blue Job (pronounced Jobe) since I was a kid. It also has the advantage of being littered with wild blueberry bushes. Applecrest Orchard in Hampton is probably the most popular apple picking site in the area, well worth it because of the apple cider donuts. There’s a person on my street who sells mason jars of real maple syrup, which is delicious but dangerous, because you can never go back to the fake stuff.

Summer is– well. It’s something special. My gripe is that it can get very humid and I don’t have AC. The summer of 2013, when I was a rising Sophomore in high school was the best one of my life, the quintessential New England summer. My sister worked nights, and I spent a borderline absurd amount of time with her and two very good friends. We drove a 2001 Kia Spectra, a car of legend, and drove around in bikinis listening to sugar-pop on the radio. There are often thunderstorms at night, and we’d drive to the beach and sit on the storm wall and watch lightning crack over the ocean.

I don’t have these things anymore– they mostly go away when you start working in the day full time– so I can’t help but romanticize them. Maine is the Vacation State, after all, and you have to stick to back roads if you hope to get anywhere on the weekends. There are also cyclists everywhere and New England roads were not meant to accommodate joggers, bikers, and two lanes of traffic.

New England is fickle. Every stereotype is both true and false. Last year, we lost power of Thanksgiving because of a snowstorm and winter lasted clear until April. To quote– “it was a wicked shitty winter.”

And yeah, people actually talk like that.

The Saddest, Loveliest Place on Earth

Location study: Millinocket, Maine 

Millinocket Maine is a place hardly anyone has heard of– in New England or elsewhere. Not exactly surprising; anything north of Bangor is essentially the middle of nowhere. This is a place where the speed limit is 70 and highway is divided by honest-to-god mountains in places. Once upon a time it was the home of the Great Northern Paper Company mill, but it stopped running back in 2008. These days, there’s no reason to be there at all unless you’re headed to Baxter State Park, a place not without it’s own controversies.

Why is this place worth writing about, besides a eulogy? Simply: I love it, and I want more people to know about it before it slips away entirely.

I ended up there because three years ago, my dad proposed to my sister and I that we go camping and whitewater rafting together. It would be the first family trip since my parents separated when I was thirteen. Once we’d dipped our toes in the relatively tame Kennebec, we decided the next year we’d graduate to the Class V Penobscot four hours north of us.

The Kennebec is a great beginning river, and because of that it’s the most popular commercial rafting river in the state. The town it’s located in, The Forks (pop. 35) receives a good amount of tourist attention particularly because it’s proximity to Portland and Boston. The Penobscot, however, is located over five hours from Boston in the Maine interior.

The drive into Millinocket from I-95 is perhaps the dreariest I’ve ever been on. First is the trip through Medway and East Millinocket, where the streets are lined with signs advocating “National Park YES” or “National Park NO.” It’s obvious that the whole area is quietly dying, though the people who live there are still just as wary to outsiders as they’ve ever been. That includes me and my family, lousy southerners, but we can blend in well enough. It also includes well known runners like Scott Jurek, who broke Baxter Park rules by publically drinking and received exactly no pity.

Unemployment fluctuates between 13-20 percent in the area. Yet still, throughout its profound hardship, it is undeniably beautiful. Coming over a crest in Millinocket means a jaw-dropping view of Mt. Katahdin, Maine’s highest point at 5,267 feet and the traditional end of the Appalachian Trail (though that, too, has been up for debate as of late).

I have admittedly not seen much of Millinocket besides the home base of Three Rivers Whitewater, the superb mom-and-pop style rafting company we’ve used for two years now. What I have seen is a run down commercial area, campgrounds, and woods. On rafting day, the drive to the Ripogenus Gorge and the Maine Electric Dam takes you up the Golden Road, a private highway for logging trucks built supposedly for a million dollars a mile all the way up the Canada. It’s also where American Loggers is filmed. Go figure. It’s unlikely you’ll spot a moose (I never have) in the daytime ride, but looking is a distraction from the turbulent hour ride.

Rafting down the Penobscot is phenomenal. Firstly, it’s fun as hell and compared to other class V rivers, relatively safe. What I mean by that is all the rock in granite, so you can’t get sucked under if you fall into the river– which will probably happen at least once. Secondly, on one side of the river is Baxter State Park, and the other is the Allagash wilderness, just north of the 100 Mile Wilderness section of the Appalachian Trail. There’s the shadow of Mt. Katahdin, Bald Eagles, the whole works.

If you live in any other part of the country, Millinocket is most likely nothing like anywhere you’ve ever been. It is the epitome of perfect, beautiful melancholy. A full sky of stars bordered by the trials of a struggling town. Robert Frost would love it.

In August of this year, they tore down the mill. I saw the cranes. I come from deep working class families– my dad grew up in a mill town very much like Millinocket and worked at a tannery in high school. It was like– watching something. Sometimes the words won’t come, and that’s all I can say about that.

If you ever have the time, please, take a trip to Millinocket. While you still can.

For the data on Millinocket I heavily use Wikipedia and this Portland Press Herald article. If you want to know more about the state of the town, I definitely recommend it.