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  • Writer's pictureNathan Foley

My Boston Chronicles: Part I - Low Key Cursed Before It Even Started

So, I pulled up a map and threw the proverbial dart…


… And it stuck somewhere near Boston, Massachusetts. I applied to a few schools and within a month, I received my acceptance email to University of Massachusetts Boston.

UMass Boston is a public university situated on a peninsula jutting out into the bay somewhere between South Boston and Dorchester. I gathered that it was most known as a commuter school, many of its students being older, finishing up their degrees, and a good deal of the rest being young adults who grew up not too far from the city. I received my welcome package from UMass Boston on March 17th. I remember the date because it arrived in the mail the same day I saw The Griswolds and Walk the Moon at Ace of Spades over on R Street in Sacramento (I love live events because they are so good at being definitive markers on the timeline).


Within that onboarding package was a book bag, some stickers, and a whole packet of resources for getting started, like information on where to find housing, roommates, what orientation dates were available, and cost breakdowns. I chose the earliest orientation available and hit the ground running in my search for roommates. I knew right away that there was no way I’d be able to swing it on my own out there. Because during my brief research, I found a ranking of the most expensive cities to rent in the country and Boston came in at 3rd at that time, so the search for roommates was immediately pretty dire.


I made a profile on UMass Boston’s makeshift social media platform that was specifically built for finding roommates and I started chatting with people. It was kind of like being thrown into a speed dating event at an antiquated community center, equipped with only a 3” x 5” name tag that listed a few lines of identifying factors like hobbies and majors. Only instead of flickering fluorescent tube lighting, creaky floorboards, and peel & stick name tags, our digital meeting space had all the hallmarks of a hastily programmed platform harking back to the forums of pre-2000: incredibly small profile pictures, bios in 240 or less characters, and a painfully monochromatic color scheme of gray and blue-gray. It was a wholly uninspiring digital space to spend time in.


People were getting paired off so fast that it felt like there was an invisible clock looming over my computer, nagging me to just choose someone and live with the decision. After a week or two, I ended up finding my first would-be roommate, Matt. He was an English major coming into his senior year who already had a couple people in his group and just needed a 4th to round it out. The four of us—me, Matt from Massachusetts, Erik from Connecticut, and Eden from Massachusetts—talked sparingly on that platform before we migrated to a Facebook group chat. Once we got our group situated, the mad dash for an apartment was on.


Since Matt was the only one already in Boston proper, he and his dad were the primary boots on the ground during the frantic search, Erik and Eden assisting in the search when they could. Given the fact that I was still in Sacramento, I didn’t participate a whole lot besides just contributing my occasional opinion in addition to my equal share of first and last month’s rent, security deposit, and additional fees. After a couple months of open houses, tours, and lots of emails, they finally found an apartment at Harbor Point on the Bay, also situated on the peninsula, right down the street from the school. I can’t quite remember the price range they were looking for, but I don’t think Harbor Point was the first choice. They fell back on Harbor Point because they were not having much luck anywhere. Matt had already lived at Harbor Point for the previous year with other students who had by then graduated, so he was familiar with the place. The rapid speed at which the market moved during this time was but a taste of what I would come to experience later on with Erik and my girlfriend—now my lovely wife—Julianne.



The pictures below are of Harbor Point On the Bay. Just south east of the complex is the UMass Boston campus. The picture of the gazebo is one I took along the beach outside of our complex, it's actually one of the very first pictures I took after moving to Boston.



The apartment they found was an 852 sq. ft. 2 bedroom 2 bath unit on the 6th floor for a “modest” $2,650 (the same unit now goes for a whopping $3,485!) before all of the added, hidden fees of course. The price blew me away because just a year before, I was looking at one bedroom apartments in Sacramento for $700. Albeit they were vastly different markets, that was the only perspective I’d had until that point, so it was a rude awakening of sorts to the nature of renting in places like Boston. Despite the initial shock, I was glad that we actually managed to find an apartment in the first place and the place looked really nice from what I saw online and the pictures shared with me by my roommates. Harbor Point, unbeknownst to me at the time, was soon to become not only my new home, but more importantly, it was destined to devolve into an epicenter of utter chaos.



I shared the bottom right room with Eden. My bed was against the right wall, tucked away in the lower corner, while his bed was along the bottom wall. It was a cramped space. Erik and Matt shared the upper right room.



Matt moved in on his own and lived there by himself for a few weeks before the rest of us came down, but I managed to get a sneak peek at the complex during my orientation trip, which happened a couple months before we settled on Harbor Point, sometime in early June. My orientation trip was a whirlwind that flew by in 3 rapid fire days: 1 day of chaotic travel to Boston, 1 day in Boston attending orientation and meeting Matt and a few of his friends, then 1 day of travel back to Sacramento.



The Trip Was Low Key Kinda Cursed



I flew from Sacramento, connected through Chicago, and was to land in Boston by 8 or 9 PM EST. I had booked a room for $50 a night at a hostel that used to be called 40 Berkeley—which is under new management and was rebranded as The Revolution Hotel, a “boutique hotel” that now charges $250+ a night. My orientation started pretty promptly the next morning, with the doors opening up at 7 AM for ID photos followed by onboarding classes and presentations. Once orientation wrapped up, Matt and I planned to meet up at his apartment. Finally, I was to leave early the next morning. So in all, I had a pretty packed 3 days. However, the Chicago weather cared not for my carefully laid travel plans.


I landed at Chicago O’Hare sometime around 5 PM CST amid a frenzy of stranded travelers hailing from the world over, their flights all severely delayed, and each of them vying for precious real estate in the terminal, plopping down their bases of operations all over the place. Damn near every square foot of the terminal was occupied by somebody, sitting on the floor surrounded by all of their belongings, shoulder to shoulder with their companions and their belongings. Good luck finding an outlet to plug into and charge.


After a while of walking around and getting my bearings, I ended up finding space on the floor against a window, close enough to an overcrowded outlet so I could swoop in and plug in the moment one of the people ahead of me surrendered their spot. After a time of sitting on the hard ground and getting a half hour or so of charge onto my phone, I decided it was time to find food. I packed up all my stuff and went out in search of something to eat, my spot on the outlet very promptly claimed by the next transient. I found a burger shop and waited in line for about 20 minutes before placing my order and then another 15 before receiving the mediocre burger and soggy fries. Food is food and I was hungry, so it sufficed.


The skies were a raging opera of sinister clouds roaring over the suburbs of North Chicago and spilling onto the tarmac, lightning crashing in every direction. This went on for what felt like an eternity, my eyes anxiously glued to the clock the entire time. I had orientation nearly 900 miles away at 7 AM the very next morning and I wasn’t entirely convinced I’d make it.


Eventually, after about 4 hours of continuous rage, the storms subsided and planes began to reroute and travelers were ushered to their newly assigned gates. Originally, I was to have the same plane from the Sacramento to Chicago leg take me the rest of the way to Boston, but that particular plane and its pilots were sent elsewhere. I had to wait another hour before our new plane arrived in Chicago—it was coming up from somewhere in the middle of the country. By the time our new plane arrived and we took off, it was already 10:00 PM CST and we had a 2 hour flight ahead of us. After an exhausting day, we thankfully took off from Chicago without further delay and landed in Boston sometime after 1:00 AM EST.


I was glad to finally make it to Boston after such a draining day of travel, but my busted phone, whose battery was notoriously fickle, was quickly dying on me and I still had to trek across an alien city in search of the hostel I’d booked for the trip. Thinking back on it, I probably didn’t hail an Uber because I wanted to save all the money I could and my phone at that point in the night didn’t have enough battery to sustain installing the app, so I elected instead to put my trust in my fatigued feet and whatever public transit was still available.


I saw that there were airport shuttles still running late, what they called the “Silver Line,” so I figured I’d take the shuttle to the city and see where it drops me off, then I’ll decide from there. I held out a shred of hope that the trains might still be running at this hour, but I was fully prepared to hoof it if not. I rode the shuttle into the middle of the city, and once I disembarked, I confirmed my suspicions that all of the public transit lines had long shut down for the night. Without incident, I picked up my bag and walked the rest of the way, which, much to my appreciation, wasn’t all that far. To save battery, I took screenshots of the route I needed to follow and used those to navigate the city instead of running Google Maps the whole way.


The city was so quiet that night.


There were no cars rolling down the streets and no trains roaring down the tracks. I encountered maybe 2 people as I walked the mile from South Station to 40 Berkeley, both of whom stuck to themselves and kept on walking as we passed by each other. The city and just about everyone in it were sound asleep. I desperately wanted to join them, but I had to first find my way to my assigned bed–a bed I sorely wished still had my name on it. As the night wore on and the designated cutoff time for check-ins slipped further and further behind, fear crept into the back of my mind. I was afraid that, despite all of my efforts to overcome the chaos of the day, I may be denied entry at the hostel.


I was a couple blocks away from the hostel when my phone finally died, but by then I knew the way. I approached the hostel door and found it locked. The large lobby was partially lit, its chairs and sofas empty, the place obviously closed for the night. A lone man in his mid to late 20s sat behind the counter across the lobby. Two sets of glass doors separated me from salvation.


He looked at me as I gestured to him with my bag in one hand and dead phone in the other. I told him through the multiple layers of glass panes that I had a room and my flight had been delayed, but judging from the look he gave me, I don’t think he comprehended the words I was saying. After a few tense moments where I thought he’d let me rot outside, with a marked air of annoyance, he hoisted himself from his seat and casually walked across the large lobby to meet me at the door. He opened the inner set of doors but cautiously stood his ground, safe behind the outer doors still locked.


I repeated my plea and told him that I have a booking there for that night and the next, and that I knew I was over 2 hours past the check-in window, but I was delayed in Chicago for 4 hours and I could prove to him I have a room if he would let me charge my phone to show him the receipt. Thankfully he let me in and wordlessly gestured to a bench in the lobby with an outlet behind it. I plugged in and pulled up the email as quickly as my geriatric phone would allow. He verified that I had a room and gave me the key.


SUCCESS!


The moment I plopped my bag on the ground and my ass on the bed, exhaustion took hold of me and I quickly fell into a deep sleep. The hour was approaching 2:00 AM by the time I got to bed.



Below are a couple shots of the outside and inside of the hotel in its current state. It was pretty much the same back in 2015, just under different management and not "boutique."


I woke up at 5:00 AM. My original plan was to walk across the city and get a feel for it with my own eyes and feet. I’d always done it this way in the past (and still do today) when I want to discover a new place so I thought, “To hell with sleep! I’m here for a single day, so I might as well squeeze all that I can from this experience.” I peeled myself from the bed, that was more like a cot than a true mattress, took a quick shower, and hit the pavement.


According to Google Maps, the journey that awaited me was an hour-long walk starting from Downtown, then through and across South Boston, and finally a straight shot down the peninsula where UMass Boston is situated. Most of it was through standard city streets lined with buildings housing street-level shops topped with office spaces or residential apartments. When I got closer to South Boston, construction zones started taking over much of the landscape, scores of laborers already hard at work, then the hard hats and barricades quickly gave way to quiet urbanized residential streets.


The walk was pretty uneventful and I made it to UMass Boston’s campus in good time. The lines to claim name tags and take ID photos were already well formed so I slipped right in the moment I stepped through the door. When taking my picture, I knew I looked dead tired, but there wasn’t much I could do about it by then. I still have that ID and often think that it was a perfect representation of how I physically felt that weekend.



It was a struggle opening my eyes as much as I did here. I could have looked worse, but I pretty much felt like utter ass while taking this picture.



Later in the morning, before lunch, we were all ushered into various classrooms for instruction on UMass Boston student portals and platforms. I was assigned one of the computer classrooms and sat in the back. I sat next to an older man, maybe mid 30s or early 40s, who was going back to school. I wish I remembered his name because he makes a very brief appearance later on in My Boston Chronicles, but all I remember is what we talked about that morning. We chatted a little bit about art and personal projects. He told me he was working on making an internet comic, which seemed pretty cool. I pulled up my own website and showed him some of the photo and video work I’d done. He liked what he saw and wrote down my name in his notebook so we could perhaps work together on something later on. That was the extent of that interaction. I didn’t hear from him until something like a year later.


Once that administrative session was complete, we were given a short tour of the campus. It was under significant construction, but the location was beautiful and I could see the major potential for UMass Boston to be a lovely campus to spend time in. It made me pretty excited to be a part of the school and I could immediately picture myself walking around and grabbing a bench to write like I would back on campus back at Cosumnes River College.


Once the tours were completed, we were given the rest of the afternoon to wander around and check out some art and community installations across campus. I took some time myself to walk the campus again and make note of where things were. I did a full lap around the perimeter, taking advantage of the long beachside walkways that wrapped the peninsula. I walked to the JFK Presidential Library, which is right next door on the north east side of the campus with a view straight across Dorchester Bay. It really is a beautiful location to go to school, I was pretty pleased and impressed by my new digs.



(From Left to Right, Top to Bottom) 1. The JFK Presidential Library right next to UMass campus. 2. UMass Boston campus from the bay. 3. This glass building is a new one that was under construction while I attended I think. 4. The stairs to the right is the main route I would take when walking to school from my apartment, my classes were across the quad at the top of the stairs. 5. This is a photo of the campus in 1979, found in the UMass Boston Historical Photographs Archive. 6. A wider angle of the campus with Boston in far background, JFK Presidential Library is just outside the right side of the frame and my apartment can be found in the collection of brick buildings just past the campus.



After my walk around the peninsula, I had grown pretty hungry, so I sought out a place to get a quick bite. I settled on a Starbucks a bit inland at a nearby shopping center called South Bay Center and walked there. When I got to the counter and ordered a sandwich or two, the barista saw that I was wearing a UMass Boston name tag and she asked me where I was from. I told her I grew up in Sacramento, California and she was surprised I would willingly leave the “paradise” that is California for what she alluded to as the frozen dystopia that was Boston, Massachusetts. To be fair, there was a bit of merit to the “frozen” quality, as there were still piles of snow scattered about in late May, leftover from the “Great Snow of 2015” that dropped something like 100 inches of snow over the course of the year. I remember telling her that I prefer the cold over 110 degree summers–a number which did not compute with her. I ate my lunch at Starbucks, watching the people the entire time, and walked back to campus.



A little sidenote:


In my years since leaving California–first for Boston then second for Cleveland–people are so very often blown away that I would leave California. I’ve found that the glorification of California across all forms of media has done wonders to skew the average non-Californian’s perceptions of the state. Too often, people only have images of a care-free Californian paradise to rely on: palm trees, sunshine, beaches, immaculate cars, and rich, beautiful people. They don’t know of the raging fires, perpetual housing crises, near-insurmountable cost of living, rampant homelessness, copious amounts of farmland, and the often suffocating heat of summer. They don’t realize that California for the everyday person is just like any other place, really; it’s just more expensive and has a more liberal culture than some states. So when strangers hear that I moved to their neck of the woods from supposed paradise, they struggle to ascertain my motives.



The only thing left on my itinerary was to meet up with Matt at his apartment later that night, but I was wicked tired, so I figured I’d grab a quick nap at the library to kill some time before heading over. I settled into a cushy seat in the main atrium of the library and watched the people milling about for a while before eventually falling asleep.


After an indeterminate amount of time, I was rudely shaken awake by a pang of anxiety and panic. I had briefly dreamt that my ex-girlfriend was across the atrium, sitting backwards in her chair, her eyes glaring at me over the crest of the seat through the throng of passing students. I locked eyes with her and my heart jumped, startling me out of my fitful nap. In that moment, I was terrified that she might have followed me to Massachusetts—the prospect of her physically being there didn’t scare me half as much as the thought of what it might have said about our relationship, inspiring her to steal away in my wake for 2,623.50 miles across a continent.


I blinked the delirium from my eyes and confirmed that although the stranger twisted in her chair looked a bit like my ex-girlfriend, she was in fact having a conversation with someone behind her and not glaring at me. I needed more sleep, but the mini heart attack jolted me awake for good. Instead of trying to force more zzZzZz’s, I walked the campus for a little while longer, watching people some more. Once the agreed upon meetup time approached, I walked over to Matt’s apartment at Harbor Point.


The rest of the night went by without much to report. I met Matt and his roommates, who were graduating and moving out at year’s end, leaving Matt to find new roommates to replace the old. We talked about the things we were into, what studies we all pursue, etc. They drank some, but I didn’t. I wanted to keep a level head considering the craziness of the weekend—I just wanted to get back to my own bed in one piece. Once the night was done, I Ubered back to the hostel and packed up to go home the next morning. My chaotic weekend came to a fairly uneventful end, much to my appreciation. Now it was time to prepare for the move.


Fast forward a couple months and I’ve now got 4 roommates, 1 secured apartment, 2 enrolled classes, 2 large suitcases and 1 backpack + 1 camera bag packed, 1 hand-me-down bed, and ZERO clue what was in store for me over the next 3 years.



I've already started the next post, "Part II: Thank God for Tinder," so hopefully that'll get posted sooner rather than later. But, as most of you know, Julianne and I are expecting our first child within the next 2 weeks, so no promises on that.


Much love.

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