Mode of Transport: East Coast Oysters
Brenda parked the car right in front of Gasson Hall, where a gold eagle perches on top of a column. We are at the main entrance of Boston College. I got out of the car and stood at the same spot I did, as a kid fraught with ambition, close to 30 years ago. Standing there, I knew that I was “a long way from where I was and where I need to be” Song for Someone: U2 Songs of Innocence.
We had gone to Boston for a conference Brenda was to attend (Women in Travel Summit), and for me to reacquaint myself with the town I called home for 4 years. It was also one of the few weekends we spent apart from our daughter, Bailey. Lack of a child in tow made both of us feel like we were students again. The First order of business, was to make sure I bring Brenda to the places I couldn’t afford to go to as a kid. Second, and even more important was to make plans with my closest of friends that still resided in New England.
From 1982-1993, a sitcom called Cheers was one of the most watched shows in America. The plot of the show was about the antics of a few colorful characters that frequented a tavern bearing the same name. It was, of course, my favorite show during my collegiate years in Boston. Moreover, the site in which Cheers was based on was also in Boston, a pub named, “The Bull and Finch”.
Our first night, I made The Bull and Finch our first stop, as Brenda had never been. I had a Sam Adams and she a Guinness. We ordered the Boston Baked Beans and the Fenway Franks. I’m a die-hard New York Yankees fan, and it would almost be sacrilege for me to like anything that refers to the Boston Red Sox, but admittedly those were some of the best frankfurters I’ve had in a long time.
The first time I had those frankfurters was back in 1986, when my friend Kevin brought me to Fenway Park, the home of the Boston Red Sox, on a night Roger Clemens set a record by striking out 20 batters. For those of you who may not know much about baseball, that was a historic night; a night in which my friends Shawn and Ed decided to study as opposed to attending the game with us. Until this day, they regret that decision, and I, of course, still continue to give them a bit of shit for it. After a few beers and polishing off our franks and beans, I asked for the check. Brenda quipped that she thought it to be quite inexpensive. “Cheers” to that.
The Revere Hotel sits opposite Beacon Hill, at the cusp of where the Public Gardens and the Boston Commons meet. This well-situated hotel is where we stayed during our stay in Boston. Brenda’s conference took place at the hotel so upon waking up on our first morning, I found that my wife had already left the room for a breakfast conference.
Boston had record snowfall this winter
The temperature in the room was perfect and the shades haven’t been drawn open yet, I could have slept a few more hours, but I decided to motivate and take a walk. The weather had dropped overnight and a few inches of snow fell on the ground. Boston had record snowfall this winter that just about brought its citizens to the brink of lunacy. It was already Spring, so it was a bit like adding insult to injury. It may have been a bit dreary, but I knew my day was going to be a good one. I was to meet a college buddy of mine, Bob.
Bob was, and still is, a funny son of a bitch. The strength of his humor was predicated by his wit. Few were smarter and quicker than he. He not only made me laugh daily, but he also made me want to wring his neck half the time; he was that witty. What I appreciated most about him was his positive disposition. He was one of those guys that seemed to always walk on the “sunny side of the street”. I don’t really remember him ever being melancholy, with the exception of when he was listening to the voice of Annie Lennox.
On our way up to Boston from New York, Brenda and I stopped to have lunch at Louis’ Lunch in New Haven, CT., which is claimed to be the birthplace of the hamburger. Upon entering the joint, it’s hard to imagine the claim not to be true. It’s small, it’s old, and the service, taciturn at best. They use these vertical cast iron grills that date back since 1898 to cook their meat. There are no condiments, just salt and pepper and the only acceptable toppings are cheese, onion, and tomato. The bread, white toast. No fries offered either, just potato chips or potato salad. Dessert, whatever pie they decide to make. The burger, phenomenal; certainly no need of any condiment. The place was as plain and beautiful as its burger. Bellies filled, we drove north on I-95.
Bob called me after my morning walk in the falling snow and asked me to meet him at a burger joint. Brenda, not within earshot (I have been warned to cut down on my red meat intake) I replied, yes!
We met in Cambridge at a place named Bartleys, where they have been grilling up and serving some of the best burgers since 1960. Unlike Louis’ Lunch, this place had, what seemed like unlimited combinations of toppings. I opted for one with coleslaw as a topping, with a side of onion rings.
The burger was outstanding, and the company even better. Bob brought along his two boys, Slater and Nolan, twins. From the onset, I knew they were special. They made me miss my Bailey. They were filled with that same “sunny side of the street” disposition as their dad. Bob and I had them in stitches as we told stories and jokes. They especially liked it when their father and I gave each other little jabs. Unlike his wit, which was pure intellect, Bob’s love for his children was visceral. He was at his most natural as a father. Watching him with his boys made me proud of him and inherently myself. I realized quickly that we have both moved on from the age of solipsism. For the both of us, it was more about the next generation of burger eaters and less about us.
Wrapping our day up with a coffee, he told me that he enjoys my blog and commended me on my writing. Somewhat surprised at the compliment, I thanked him. He added in the end, “surprisingly”, and giggles.
I’m brought to laughter and tears by the comment.
“Son of a Bitch”.
My mother left the Philippines for a few years to pursue her Master’s at Columbia University in New York. One of the years, she was there was 1962. Mickey Mantle and his New York Yankees had won another World Series, and they were the princes of the ball, they could do no wrong. A little further up North, the Red Sox failed to match their rivals yet again, but the people in Massachusetts were beaming with pride nonetheless. They had the Kennedys. As a child, I was raised on a healthy serving of the Yankees and the Kennedys. These two franchises, per se, was the picture of America my mother drew up for me.
As undergrads at Boston College, along with my roommates Kevin and John, I used to take a six pack of Rolling Rock beers to the Haymarket, behind Faneuil Hall. The three of us would place ourselves near the person shucking fresh oysters. We would order a dozen each and struggle through them while standing, gloves off, in the cold. I remember telling Kevin that one day, we would be doing the same thing at a warm restaurant.
Kevin had positioned himself in a way that he was able to reserve the two seats that flanked him. When Brenda and I arrived, he was already a good two beers in, a bit red and a big Irish grin on his face. He is like a brother to me, and we were at the bar of the Union Oyster House to celebrate his birthday. The semi-circle bar, at the left-hand side of the front entrance, is as old as they come; it may have been there since it’s opening in 1826. The wood which the bar is made of has sloped to a 45-degree angle, and the servers use coasters specially placed as to help keep the plates from slipping off. It’s an art in itself.
A young man named Mike was at the helm for shucking oysters that night. We asked for East Coast Oysters, he replied that they only serve East Coast. Brenda, happy to hear how proud he was of his oysters, orders a combination of what he had. Mike was precise with his shucking utensil and was even more precise in choosing a fresh oyster. The oysters were delicious, the large ones from Narragansett were our favorites. We ordered a few dozen more, accompanied by some Sam Adams Ale. As good as the oysters were, it was their New England Clam Chowder that set them apart. It was hands down the best chowder we all have ever had. The amount of potato and clam were well proportioned, and the consistency less viscous, and a bit more loose. The taste of clam broth is not lost to the palate, unlike the ones I usually get back home, where it tastes ladened with cream and flour. This Boston rendition was downright delicious. There was nothing ethereal about it. It was of this earth and of the sea, and you can taste and feel it in every spoonful.
As I take in my chowder, I think of my mother and hope that she was watching from above knowing that I was hanging out at one of John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s favorite haunts. I also looked over to Kevin, toasting to our long friendship in a warm place to have oysters.
Conner is a well-adjusted 13-year-old boy. He sat at the table listening to three middle aged men reminiscing about some of their funniest moments as younger men. He was riveted by some of the ridiculous ventures his father, Shawn had with his roommate Ed and his friend Drew. At the same table, sat a lovely woman named Elvie, also listening to some of the antics her boyfriend Ed performed with his roommate Shawn and friend Drew. Brenda sat at the same table listening to her husband, Drew (me), sharing stories that made us seem like degenerates.
“never leave your keys in the van”
First and foremost, Shawn and Ed may be two of the best storytellers I know and one story in particular had the table in stitches. It was a story about how Shawn sent Ed out to get Pizza with the little money they had scrounged up. Within minutes, Ed came back shoving a box of pizza through the window of their dorm room. Shawn’s first reaction was how impressed he was with the expeditious way Ed came back with the pizza. Ed wasn’t finished, he had a good dozen boxes of pizza that he was filtering through the window. He was in a panic and didn’t give any explanation until he got back to the room. With a plethora of pizza, Shawn invited me and a couple of our dorm buddies to the room for a feast. Ed later told us, that on his way to the pizza shop, he saw a pizza delivery van unattended with the key in it. He thought at first that he would play a prank by driving it away from its spot. He figured, since he did that, he should also take the pizzas while he was at it. He left a note in the van that read, “never leave your keys in the van”.
“who orders double onions ?!!”
As we ate the pizzas, Shawn called all the people that had originally ordered the pizzas, who were already in distress over how long it was taking, giving them a review of how good they tasted, and sometimes even criticizing their order, “who orders double onions ?!!”. This was before cell phones or number recognition for that matter. So we were never caught. In truth, they were stories of innocence. From a more innocent time, if you will.
Brenda starts the motor and asked me if I missed my friends, and I replied, more than ever. She then asked if I missed those days, and without hesitation, I replied, no. My friends have become good men, good fathers. They have remained good friends, and for that I am thankful.
In many ways, we were our own sitcom, and in some way those four years were our Camelot. I can afford those frankfurters and oysters now, and none of us will ever need to steal pizzas again. As the car sped off with my back turned to the eagle on the column, I realized that “I’m a long way from where I was” for sure, and with a daughter waiting for me at home, I was a long way from “where I need to be”.
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Brenda’s short travel guide to Boston
Getting To Boston From NYC:
Andrew and I considered many different ways to get to Boston. We considered Amtrak but at $375 for both us, we thought it was too much and doesn’t give us flexibility to go to other towns along the way. There are buses in Chinatown that take you there for less than $30 each round trip but it’s a very long uncomfortable ride. It also does not give us flexibility. We finally opted to rent a car from budget at $350 total, which also allowed us to stop in New Haven, CT and Providence, RI.
Staying (hotel) in Boston:
The Women in Travel Summit was being held at The Revere Hotel and being an attendee, allowed me to get a deep discount at $185 a night, it’s usually $284 a night. It was a great hotel and was very convenient in location. We walked to many of the sights we wanted to see and the best of all was that the conference was right in the hotel.
We were also upgraded to a suite and was very nice. Surprisingly, for a big room, the bathroom was a bit small but for me, it was great. We’re New Yorkers so we don’t need much room.
Dishes in Boston:
On the way to Boston, we stopped by for lunch at
Louis’ Lunch – It’s really worth the stop!
261-263 Crown Street
New Haven, CT 06511-6611
Telephone: (203) 562-5507
Sunday – CLOSED
Monday – CLOSED
Tuesday – 11am – 3:45 pm
Wednesday – 11am – 3:45 pm
Thursday – 12pm – 2 AM
Friday – 12pm – 2 AM
Saturday – 12pm – 2 AM Credit/Debit cards are not accepted. Cash Only
Union Oyster House
41 Union Street
Sun–Thurs: 11 am – 9:30 pm
Fri–Sat: 11 am – 10 pm
Union Bar open ’til Midnight
Hours of Operation:
Open Daily at 11:00 a.m.
(open every day except Christmas Day)
Allowed every night up until 10pm (after that, 21+ only)
84 Beacon Street
Boston, MA 02108
Main Telephone: 617-227-9605