I got into a cab this week to go to the airport, at the cab stand near my office. The driver was an anomaly – an elderly white man with long hair and a sharp Boston accent. Generally, cab drivers in downtown Boston are from Haiti or North Africa, with whom I practice my French, or the West African nations of Ghana and Nigeria. My guy was talkative, and began chatting to me about where I was headed, what I did professionally, and then, where I was from.
This is the point in conversations with strangers that I often pause. For years, I struggled with my answer, having grown up in Brighton, a section of Boston decidedly working class in my youth and now more “student ghetto” that conveys zero upscale imagery. I used to be embarrassed by Brighton and often replied “Boston” which was technically correct. If the reply was left alone, the inquirer might think I was from tony Beacon Hill or Back Bay. Also, I have lived in Brookline, a comfortable suburb just to the west of Boston and south of Brighton, for 32 years, well over half my life, so that’s a reasonable answer. However, for at least 10 years, I’ve decided that I am a product of my hometown as much as many other elements in my life, so I answered the question correctly. “I grew up in Brighton.” I said.
“You’re kidding,” he said. “So did I. What part?”
This is where things became a little surreal. “Chiswick Road,” I answered. In the past, I have gone through this exchange with young people who are currently living on my old street, but never, ever, a person over 40.
“So did I,” he exclaimed, “what number?”
“141” I responded, holding my breath.
“145” he yelled, “right next door!”
Wow, that was crazy, I thought. The numbers jumped in 4’s and 137 through 153 were all part of a three story yellow brick apartment building in which I lived from age 2 until I moved out for college. My mom and I bought our first floor two bedroom unit in the late 1970’s, she died still living there, and I sold it after renting for many years, in 2007 when the prices seemed ridiculously high.
We then proceeded, in the next ten minutes, to compare
stories of our childhood in Brighton. My driver was 80, and had moved to the suburbs when he was 14, well before I was born, but nothing had changed much from his era until the sixties when I was playing baseball, jumping rope and dodge ball with the local kids in the large dirt parking lot behind the buildings. We reminisced about the huge field beyond the garages in the back, eventual site of a large senior development, the pharmacy, deli, Kosher butcher, bakery, and grocer on Chestnut Hill Avenue around the corner from Chiswick Road. We both went to the Alexander Hamilton Elementary School a block away, and the vice-principal, Mr. Ferry, from my years, was his second grade teacher. He had attended junior high at the Thomas Edison School about a mile away, where I went for 5th and 6th grades, and he also walked the mile there and back daily, traversing the tall grass field owned by the archdiocese of Boston on the narrow dirt path. We had climbed the rock formations there and been scared at night with the extreme darkness and rumors of ghosts. He asked if the Buick showroom was still in the neighborhood, and I realized what the large elegant glass fronted building, that became a warehouse, had been in grander times. We both went to the fire station on a field trip and jumped off the backs of the stone lions on either side of the front door at 129 Chiswick.
My driver was so involved in the conversation that he missed Terminal B, my destination, and I almost ended up missing the flight. He kept saying how great it was that I had done so well, working at Fidelity, co-founding a company, going to Harvard, and still “lookin’ good.” He had never been married and had no children “to my knowledge.” Upon leaving, I gave him a big tip, and thanked him for a wonderful ride. Despite his good nature, life for my cabby must have been challenging; I noticed, as he handed me my suitcase, that his finger nails were much too long and he smelled of alcohol. But he was still out there working, chatting up the clientele, and I give him credit for that.
As I entered the terminal, I marveled at what a wild coincidence that had been and realized how much more fun that conversation had been than if I said I was from Brookline.