I find myself 400 miles away from Boston for the next two and a half months. Perhaps the distance helps me see things with more perspective. In any case, I thought I’d collect some of my more abstract thoughts on the city in the form of a post.
They do not call it the hub of the universe lightly. Oliver Wendell Holmes coined the term, in part, when in an 1857 Atlantic article he referred to the Massachusetts State House, now the Old State House, as the “hub of the solar system.” Bostonians do not have it in their blood to leave affectations of grandeur sitting idly, and so the term was applied to the city as a whole, and the spokes expanded ever outward.
But it seems to me that Holmes and his contemporaries couldn’t possibly have understood how accurate that moniker would become. Harvard excluded all but men of a certain class, BU was operating under a different name as a Methodist school in New Hampshire, and our rivals in Newton and Fenway didn’t yet exist. The first Boston Marathon was four decades into the future. And while the US has always consisted mainly of those frustrated with their lives elsewhere and their descendants, the influx of immigrants hadn’t yet hit its stride and turned this country into the melting pot we know today.
So in this diverse, cosmopolitan country we know today, Boston is truly capable of living up to its nickname. Every fall, thousands of students come from everywhere to BU alone to inflate the population of the city, let alone the spikes caused by students in Cambridge and other institutions. Here an Upstate New Yorker has met people who hail from locales as foreign as
Long Island and New Jersey Athens and Manila, and I can’t help but think that Boston has more spokes than anywhere else on earth.
Now that I think about it, however, hub seems a fairly static description. I picture in my mind a wagon wheel, perhaps thanks to the horse in that picture on the right. And if Boston is the hub of that, then other places are where the wood really hits the cobblestone. Things radiate around hubs; they don’t interact with them beyond that. Hubs are places people stop on their way to their actual destination, and while Boston surely loses some of the minds it shapes—to their respective hometowns, to bigger attractions, to the White House—I think it’s a net importer of people and talent.
No, Boston strikes me much more as a heart, where blood in need of oxygen comes in order to then be pumped to the furthest corners of the body. We come here for myriad reasons: looking for an education, a fresh start, just someplace that isn’t home. But we’ll all leave, if we leave, carrying a piece of Boston’s exuberance with us. It’s part of the reason why Red Sox fans can be found all over the country; those who leave do not soon forget.