• Rob Spectre
  • 01
  • Nov
  • 07
This entry is part 1 of 6 in the series Coming Home

During the tagging of the enormous backlog of (d)N0t, it became evident on the sidebar that I had dedicated an inordinate amount of lines talking about my favorite city in America. A city a man could wear like a suit; a town that could steal your heart with the bat of her eye.

Completely spontaneous, the planning was a quick phone conversation, a couple key emails, and a frantic scramble to find a hotel room. The online check-in for JetBlue yielded an aisle exit row seat with something like 30 feet of leg room and sexual favors from a Dixie Chick. Destiny is not something guys like me believe in, but the cosmic alignment guiding the way home can’t be ignored.

It’s been a year and a half since I’ve been home. This weekend (d)N0t heads back to compare the current reality with the nostalgic romance. This is a feature about New England in autumn. This is a series about leaving California. This is a series about coming home.

  • Rob Spectre
  • 03
  • Nov
  • 07
This entry is part 2 of 6 in the series Coming Home

Well before dawn, Boston was just waking. My flight had come in a half hour early making the local time 5:30am. I hadn’t slept on the overnight non-stop from San Francisco. Like an anxious eight year old the night before Halloween, I was restless. I could blame it on the inflight television served by JetBlue, but I knew if I could sleep I probably would have. I was coming home.

First stop was a large iced regular coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts, then on the Red Line to Quincy Adams Station. I was catching up with some colleagues from the West Coast who had come to Beantown to catch the Celtics season opener. Allowing MJ to hook up the hotel reservations proved to be a bit of a miscalculation, as Quincy refers to around 150 different locales in and around Boston. What he had anticipated to be a quick taxi ride from the airport was about as far south from Boston as one can be without being in Rhode Island. Though I could hardly complain.

Watching a city wake up is a special view into the character of the environment it creates. Like a lover, it is unguarded and vulnerable, the city’s true timbre incapable of being masked or hidden. St. Petersburg wakes up like it is hung over. New York like it never went to bed. Boston wakes up like a light switch. Better still, like an alarm clock. 5:45am the trains are empty, the streets are quiet. As the cathedrals ring six bells, a flood of humanity reminds one that one is never truly alone in this town.

The day’s logistics involved the typical planes, trains, and automobiles tragedies of missed flights and missing luggage. Hours tick by while navigating through bustling hotel lobbies and waiting in empty subway stations. By the time the West Coasters I had intended to introduce to the East were assembled in one space and the appropriate power naps were taken, it was time to get them on their way to the basketball game. Leaving them in South Station, I found a cigar and a familiar street corner.

For the next three hours I walked as a penitent would wailing before the Lord in St. Patrick’s after a long absence from mass. I walked through those streets I love, getting reacquainted with Boston with the timidity of another night with a former lover. Simultaneously adoring and apologizing, rolling slowly along those roads like fingertips down her spine, I said hello again for the first time. The lights were low and the work had been done, the pubs and restaurants around Boston Common not yet filled with those seeking revelry. Those who walked were either hurriedly heading home before an evening of bedlam or were, like me, merely strolling with a shared appreciation for the timelessness of the paths upon which we trod. For those three hours, I apologized to the city and myself for having ever left its splendor, for having to have to say goodbye for a greener side of a country. And like that one true love, its embrace lacked any reluctance, and instead found that familiar spot in the heart whose vacancy was barely recognized until it was again filled.

We would reunite with friends new and old in a typical way, with a steady stream of pints and old Irish songs. But while I sang with the Bostonians who knew better than to ever leave about those fields of Athenry, my mind was on those three hours I got to spend again alone with Boston. And how historic places endure in every sense, even within the tiny context of my relationship with it.


A King’s Welcome

  • Rob Spectre
  • 04
  • Nov
  • 07
This entry is part 3 of 6 in the series Coming Home

Two natural disasters in the space of one week is the kind of good fortune only I can have. I went 2300 miles to trade earthquakes for hurricanes, though with the memory of the latter still 24 hours fresh in my mind I can declare my preference easily.

One of the best pleasures I have is introducing New England to folks who have never been there. The day before I had the good privilege of watching the wonder in eyes that had never seen the character, the architecture, the genuineness of a Boston street corner. We would emerge from musty subway lines and my charges would stop dead in their tracks and exclaim, all struck by the devastating authenticity of this city. I didn’t know how much they had traveled before this venture into Beantown, but I could tell by reaction alone they had not been introduced to a city in such a way. Like an old skydiving instructor, I got the opportunity if by proxy to experience that first time I saw Boston. It is hard not to glow when witness to such wonder.

We rustled from our slumber late. Some were nursing hangovers, others were nursing jet lag, all were in no hurry to get up and greet the weather of the day. The remnants of Hurricane Noel had descended during the early morning and was whipping up 50 mile per hour gales and 500 thread count king sized sheets of rain. The Californians in our entourage, to my great surprise and amusement, were excited. I suppose meteorological change was a new experience for most of them. This crazy thing called “weather” just doesn’t happen in the endless summer of Northern California, where sprinkles are described as raining buckets and summer days last year round.

Even by my jaded East Coast estimation, it was coming down pretty fucking bad, complicating my duty as host a great deal. Boston is city you show on foot and with the public wastebaskets littered with umbrellas shredded and mangled by the merciless wind, we weren’t going to be able to spend much time outside. The backup plans of the Aquarium and frequent stops for coffee had served me well in the past and executed well with this naturally curious bunch.

By the time we emerged from the Aquarium, the last of the storm was in full force. As we were walking hurriedly to the dry refuge of the T station, I looked over the shoulder to see Nate headed towards a set of upturned queue poles.

“Dude, what the hell are you doing?” I asked, thinking he was taking a moment in the hurricane to perform some sort of civic duty.

As he fished his glasses out of a lake-sized puddle I realized that the last gust had ripped the glasses off his face.

As we drip dried in the station, I turned to Majed and declared, “Yeah, this is pretty bad.”


Hurricane Noel

  • Rob Spectre
  • 06
  • Nov
  • 07
This entry is part 4 of 6 in the series Coming Home

A little before noon I found a train headed down to Providencetown. It was a lazy Sunday afternoon, the kind of sunny that this part of New England hardly ever sees. The streets around South Station by this time had dried and by the time my ride had pulled into the station, any hint of the hurricane the day before was gone.

Providence was my city for several wonderful years and was dressed to the nines on my arrival. The ruddy white marble of the statehouse has a special shine in this kind of sunlight, like a freshly decked shoe for the big interview. Waterplace Park was empty save the occasional senior couple shuffling up a daunting flight of stairs. Would-be Tony Hawks practiced their craft in Kennedy Plaza until the cops rousted them over to the park by RISD. The weather in this part of the country makes one feel like a greenhorn in a foxhole, so when the shelling lets up a guarded optimism takes hold of the town.

The cabbie asked me what brought me to Providence.

“Friends and family,” I told him.

“Well, which is it?” in the usual East Coast taxi driver cut-to-the-chase.

“It’s been a while,” I replied after some contemplation. “I guess I’m here to find out.”

I caught up with Yana after getting my room situated, grabbing the finest coffee to be had in town. At 3pm on any given Sunday patrons of Coffee Exchange on Wickenden are an uncomfortable combination of punk rock art students and Fox Point dirt poor hippies. The dichotomy extends to the wait staff who maintain an entertaining tension.

The keyboard player from The Boneheads recognized me from my time with the Shaft playing the same set of dives that had yet to be shut down by the city. She is a plus size old school punker representing The Exploited in the form of a t-shirt that had been washed a million times and none of them recently. Her outfit, too, had broken up from a lead singer moving to California. By the time Yana showed, we exchanged some memories from bedlam long bygone. Quietly, I was grateful that I could still walk into this place and have someone recognize me. The greatest fear of any frontman is being forgotten. I doubt she will know the significance of her gift of recognition that morning.

Yana and I strolled up Benefit Street catching up on our respective trips to Russia. She had been in Piter for White Nights only a few months before me, so we had plenty to share. She was curious how I survived without the language. I was curious how she survived without being a man over 200 pounds. I said that I felt like I knew her better having been to Russia. Yana is a woman whose beauty, grace, and uncompromising standards make her far more out of place in America than her accent. I had always wondered what sort of incubator could possibly produce such a human being. How a woman can walk a city street in the manner she does makes far greater sense having been surrounded on all sides by the same in St. Petersburg.

Unseasonably warm but still chilly, we stop here and there for a drink and some calamari until finally ending up at one of my favorite restaurants in my old neighborhood on the East Side. Twist is the kind of fusion cuisine that California would have if class was something you could buy. Distinctly Providence, my harvest pork and her risotto cemented the warm feeling of home.

My purpose this trip was to try to figure out why it is I remain so hung up on this town, of all the places I’ve been. What it is that home is and why folks miss it so. For Yana, home is with her family in Maryland, far from empty lofts and creeping deadlines. For my part, it was dinner with good company in Providence. I always tell people about the food in Providence, but I think I was really talking about dinner in Providence. Meals prepared with care for people who care about each other. Booths designed for intimacy, tables open for conversation, with hostesses that know your name and waiters that know what you drink.

Dinner in Providence is more home than apple pie, and I’m happy to report you can go back any time.


Rich Folks Live Off Power Street

  • Rob Spectre
  • 07
  • Nov
  • 07
This entry is part 5 of 6 in the series Coming Home

Dropping me off at my hotel by a new highway and an old hurricane barrier, Ted made the comment, “It’s almost like you never left, dude.” If only it were so.

I refer to New England as timeless without qualification. Timeless in the sense that, to borrow from the euphemistic language of the hippies, a vibe is always preserved. The Gap didn’t change Quincy Market, Quincy Market changed The Gap. Fenway could be reduced to rubble, but we would still love that dirty water. Folks will pick up a donut at Tim Hortons and still buy their coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts. While institutions crumble and fall, the traditions that built them remain in every brick of the Biltmore. G-Tech can build their glass and steel Smurf pimple in Waterplace Park, but when the light reflects off it from WaterFire I am sure all of Providencetown knows their hubris. They built with the intent of highlighting their success. Instead, they only serve as a twelve story mirror of our own.

But, of course this doesn’t mean that everything in my glorified home are the same. A timeless environment is not any more frozen in time than the White Album. The same dynamics that created the history of this land carry to the lives like rockets that populate it today. Aside from the skyline, much in my town had changed. I spent my Monday finding out what.

1) Teddles

He answered the door with the same easy smile and a new charge in tow. Since I had seen one of my best friends and fellow rockstar he and his wife had Tobias Edward. Age 0 with a head full of hair, Tobias is a grunting, precious bundle of joy that I successfully held for at least ten minutes without me freaking out. Ted and I played in a band together for the better part of my time in Providence, having toured much of the Eastern Seaboard with our fair share of stories to tell about it. Most of our time was spent catching up on our respective gigs, the lack of music making in our lives, and plenty reminiscing about the days of yore.

Ted, among being one of my closest friends, is also one of the best fathers I know. I learned more about what it takes to deliver the goods on dadhood in the late night car rides back from places like Worcester and New Bedford than certainly my youth. How his daughter Aurora ended up so simultaneously well behaved and fun was a mystery that he unfolded on those trips. He’s the only guy I know who can say someone is not raising their kids right with any credibility.

While I was gone, he and his wife created another human life. All I did was learn how to speed cube.

2) A-train

He told me to take easy while I gave him a hug. Not that he wasn’t happy to see me and all, I just have a tendency to harm the recently injured in my exuberance to say hello. He said he had titanium on both ends to balance out his small frame – some in his right arm, some on his left ring finger.

The titanium on his left finger he got from marrying his high school sweetheart Mick. I lived with him and her and at our peak I think a dozen other people in a fat apartment on the East Side. Truth be told, A-train was saving me from the first tenement that I occupied when I moved to Providence.

In his right arm was the counterweight, a titanium rod inserted after his humerus snapped in an arm wrestling match a few weeks ago. The way he described it was, in his usual style, darkly hilarious. Rotating bone-on-bone contact as a rule is not particularly funny, but you have to understand his delivery.

3) Scottie Homeslice

Scottie was a guitar player in one of Jersey’s hardest drinking, most frequently fighting hardcore punk bands. He now looks like Jesus and runs a still out of his shed. He came to dinner with a bottle of mead which, no bullshit, he made entirely himself. The honey, blueberries, and whatever the hell else you need to make this stuff was totally out off his house on LonLon Ranch.

A while before I left, he had become an honest-to-God beekeeper. He lost a few hives in the mysterious phenomenon that is killing off all the honeybees. He now has one super hive that apparently is destroying all other bees in the neighborhood. With limited competition and a dry year, they’ve been pollinating like motherfuckers, producing sufficient honey for a full scale mead production operation. The product was sweet and tasty, with an alcohol content I’ve come to expect from his kitchen.

Gone from punk rocker to a hippie looking organic spirits producer. As soon as his online store is up, my weekly disposable income is going to take a serious downturn.

A lot happens to twenty and thirtysomethings in the space of eighteen months. Some got married, some broke up. Some had kids, some had career changes. Everyone had some new stories to tell, and, to my great comfort, everyone was doing well.

A few folks besides Ted commented that it was like I never left. That these relationships, like this city, was just as it was left, ready to be revisited and enjoyed. That the bonds that were forged in this town are just like its irascible taxi drivers and the taste of its coffee. It was something that would never dilute or fade. It would age like fine wine or gorgeous architecture, only more refined and strong as the years pass.

It didn’t feel like I had never left. It felt like I’d always be welcome back.