We all have observances of personal as well as regular holidays. So sometime each year, not too long after Easter, I drive to Boston, walk up Grove street, and remark on how quiet it now seems. The street is clean, the cars of recent vintage, and clearly, the old neighborhood is markedly upscale.

The other day I was coaching a political candidate in the art of making a video campaign statement. The individual hailed from Boston, and the inevitable topic came up about how things have changed. I mentioned that back in the day, the backside of Beacon Hill had been a sort of working-class enclave, unlike the tonier areas towards the Statehouse. The area was home to refugees from the urban renewal of the City’s West End, people who worked at the Massachusetts General Hospital, young impoverished professionals, and Folkies – like me.
The area was not quite a slum and not quite elite. It was an interesting melange of races, cultures, and classes.

Sometimes I forget that I’m no longer thirty, forty, or even sixty anymore, and the individual I was coaching was not half of my age. To him, the 1960s were paleolithic times. But, my God, I was a contemporary of his grandparents – did I need a nap before we continued? There was an inevitable questioning of my description of the area. He’d visited the place. Real estate prices there were sky-high. It was not a cheap place to live. Was I sure we were talking about the same place?
After a bit, we got back to shooting the video, and nothing more was said about Boston.

So when I do my annual visit this year to the street that once housed the flophouse “pad,” my friends and I termed the “Folkie Palace,” I’ll recall that it might be hard for people to envisage the past based on the present.

I’d seen the reaction before. I once had to deal with a skeptical girlfriend who refused to believe that the waterfronts in some of her favorite Maine harbors had once been home to canneries and, in one place, a reeking chicken processing plant. Her resistance to the truth was so strong that I admit that it lessened my ardor for her. But, things are now are not as they once were.

Seeing is deceiving.


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