As an old man, my mind plays tricks on me by firing on neurons that trigger memories from my younger days, often in vivid detail. I tell myself that these neurons will soon be retired and s dump their legacy upon my consciousness before having accomplished their goal and being reabsorbed.
One of the memories came to me this morning. It was from 1976. I was 26, single and living in Boston. One of my favorite things back then was to go on the Red Line to Harvard Square. Back then this was a gathering place for people my age. It was full of exotic book stores, sidewalk cafes and bars and music, both on the street and in the many dance clubs.
I pent many nights stumbling back on the midnight train after enjoying a dinner, some beer and great conversations with people my own age. I met more than a few women there also and sometimes I didn't have to make the midnight train back to my apartment.
A couple of years ago I had occasion to be in Boston and decided to relive my youthful adventure.
My first obstacle was the Red Line. Back in '76 you threw a quarter in the turnstile. Now there is a pass made of paper that is dispensed from a kind of vending machine. I wasn't ready for that. I tried asking passers by in the station if they could show me how to buy a pass. The instructions on the ticket machine were all obscured with paint and graffiti -- not one person would even stop to talk to me! I had the impression that they thought I was begging for change or something. I wore a shirt and tie, but that didn't seem to matter. They filed past me with blank stares.
Eventually I took a taxi. I told the driver to take me to Harvard Square and he seemed puzzled. "Where abouts in Harvard Square?" he asked. "Anywhere."
It was a Friday night -- about 10 PM. This was the beginning of the gala weekends at my former hangout. The stores would remain open until midnight and then the cafes would get crowded with students and young professionals, like myself.
As the cab slowed down I was puzzled. It was black outside as I paid my fare. Where had this cabbie taken me? How far was I from the Square? Wait... there is the old clock and the brick wall outside Harvard... but where is the festive nightlife?
All of the storefronts were covered with bars, like you would expect to find in the Bario. There was no music, no bookstores and no bars... most importantly, there were no people.
Just then I heard some voices approaching. It sounded like some young students having a loud conversation. There were many voices... wait... it was about five young men with cellphones, each talking to someone who was not there. Wow... changes... progress?
I don't know what happened to Harvard Square but it is something that I've experienced repeatedly as I get older. The "new" is different but not better, just different.
I could say that I am sorry for the younger people who never experienced what the 70s were like. The music was good, the people you would meet were mostly cool, no one worried about getting mugged or raped and you could easily have a damned good time almost any night. This new world is an alien place for me. Good is bad, bad is good. Ugly is beautiful and beautiful is "boring"... real friendships are replaced by digital personas and no one knows how to have a good conversation about something other than pets and "selfies".
But I'm not sorry for the young. In the future, when they are my age, they will fondly remember the caged and locked cafes of Harvard Square which will have been replaced by CVS and McDonalds.
What do you think?
Gary Vey / editor / (reply to: myristicin-at-hotmail-dot-com).
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