One-way streets, the T and hip-hop on the radio. Your letters to Boston

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A couple enjoying Boston Harbor at sunset. (Grant Faint/Getty Images)
A couple enjoying Boston Harbor at sunset. (Grant Faint/Getty Images)

Just before Thanksgiving, Cog published a collection of love letters to Boston. After that piece published, we asked our readers to submit stories of their own  — and now we hope you'll keep sharing them with us. 

We’re big fans of the New York Times series Metropolitan Diary, which highlights snapshots of life in a time and place. It got us thinking about what a “Boston moment” looks like. Is it navigating a maze of one-way streets from memory? A spur-of-the-moment “tourist in your own city” Duck Tour? Walking through Forest Hills Cemetery with a giant iced Dunkin’? We have our eye on a series of pieces featuring the kinds of moments that make this place feel like home, and we’re calling it “Letters to Boston.”  

We had one of our own Boston moments recently. We made the trek from our respective suburbs to meet in the Seaport one evening to attend a friend’s book launch party at Porter Square Books. (We’ve both been around long enough to remember when the Seaport was an industrial zone — now you can grab a craft beer and go snow tubing.) As we ditched our kids to scarf down beers, burgers and literature, the night felt like a meeting of old and new, past and present. But what felt true to a “Boston moment” was the sense of momentum we came away with. A series of abandoned wharfs can become miles of gleaming condominiums. An idea can become a novel. A colleague can become a friend. The Boston we knew as 20-somethings is different — we’re different — but some things stay the same. 

If you’ve got a small Boston story or moment that sticks with you, we’d love to read it. Email your reflection to us at and please put "LETTERS TO BOSTON" in the subject line.

Sara Shukla and Cloe Axelson

I visited Boston twice before moving here for college. The first time, I was a teen and my parents and I stayed in Burlington and did all the typical touristy things, like walking the Freedom Trail, getting our caricatures drawn on the Common and taking a Duck Tour. I still remember the thrill of the road giving way to water as we quacked down the Charles River. I thought Boston was “cute” compared to New York.

The second time, I came here with my dad to check out Boston University. It felt wildly rebellious. No one from my tiny immigrant high school in Brooklyn left the five boroughs to attend college, never mind going to a different state. We had no guidance counselor to talk us through our college options, and the internet was just gaining momentum with ubiquitous and borderline sketchy chat rooms.

In addition to the expected local colleges, I’d applied to New York University as my “dream” school, and also BU because my mom heard about it from a coworker whose daughter was a happy sophomore there. I was accepted into both, and with a patchwork of scholarships and loans, they seemed doable.

Visiting BU felt indulgent, like stepping into someone else’s life. A life of my mom’s coworker’s daughter whose hand-me-downs I used to wear. A life of an outgoing and confident person who took risks and went on adventures and didn’t just read about them in books.

As my dad and I followed our well-spoken tour guide around the campus, I admired how comfortable the kids on the “BU Beach” seemed to be, sprawled out on the grass with textbooks, chatting with their friends. Then, we stood on the bridge over Storrow Drive and looked out at the river. That’s when I saw them zooming by. They seemed so carefree. I was transfixed. I wanted to be them. I needed to be them.

I knew I had to do whatever it took to become a person who rollerblades by the river.

That following fall, my parents packed up the car and drove me to Boston with all my stuff, including a soon-to-be-retired New York Knicks jacket and my new, deeply discounted pair of blue rollerblades.

Viktoria Shulevich, Boston

The author, headed out the door to a Boston Celtics game in her New York Knicks jacket. Boston, 1998. (Courtesy Viktoria Shulevich)
The author, headed out the door to a Boston Celtics game in her New York Knicks jacket. Boston, 1998. (Courtesy Viktoria Shulevich)

I drive a little pink hatchback, a Chevy Spark. It’s pretty recognizable, so I try not to be too much of a jerk while I'm on the road. I grew up in New York, mostly in New York City. I got my license when I was 16, but I didn’t really use it for 10 years, because I was living in Manhattan.

I thought New York was going to be the worst driving I’d ever experienced — but it was not. Last week I almost got run off the road while driving my kids to school. When you’re driving in Boston nobody gives away their next move.

I moved to Boston in 2011 from Brooklyn. And then, in the summer of 2021, I was driving to a doctor’s appointment on Storrow Drive, my least favorite. I was going to be late, and I had to make a left exit, so I dodged through traffic with no blinker and didn't let anyone merge. I've always been a steady and cautious driver — and it took me 10 years — but I’m now just as unpredictable as anybody else.

— Kat Rutkin, Somerville 

When you’re driving in Boston nobody gives away their next move.


I grew up at 487 Mass. Ave. on the border of South End and Lower Roxbury.

I lived down the street from the South End, Lower Roxbury chapter of the NAACP.

Malcolm X’s older sister, Ella Little-Collins, lived in an apartment across the street.

The elders in my neighborhood told me stories about how Sammy Davis Jr., Quincy Jones, Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King all lived in the neighborhood; how Malcolm X used to hang out on the block. One of my neighbors, Mel King, ran for mayor against Ray Flynn in 1983.

I grew up hearing everything from R&B/soul, jazz, Boston/space funk, reggae, calypso, soca, salsa, merengue, electro, freestyle/Latin hip-hop, house or rap blaring out of boomboxes, cars, windows or storefronts.

My neighbors were mostly Black and Latino. We had a sizable LGBT community that lived among us, too. We were all neighbors and everyone looked out for each other.

I love history and telling stories that don’t always get told. That's what I learned from my community growing up in Boston.

Dart Adams, Boston

The author (in blue tie) with his mom, sister and brothers at his older brother's graduation from Boston Latin School. (Courtesy Dart Adams)
The author (in blue tie) with his mom, sister and brothers at his older brother's graduation from Boston Latin School. (Courtesy Dart Adams)

I was a country mouse from the South Shore who longed to be a city mouse in Boston — the exact opposite of the mouse in the fable. I’d glimpsed tantalizing snatches of urban life as a teenager, when my mom dropped me and my boyfriend off at the Red Line in Braintree. We rode to Harvard Square to buy sleeveless tees at Urban Outfitters, climbed The Garage’s orange-tiled floors and ate slices. At the end of the day, the Red Line screeched mournfully to its terminus, and I returned to Norwell, a small town with no cultural institutions, no city squares ripe for people watching, no cafes in which to linger.

I grew up, married a fellow city mouse and had a daughter, Lily. I vowed to give her a better life — and to me, a better life meant a city life, in Boston. We bought a home in Jamaica Plain. I raced downstairs when I heard the clop of hooves on the Arborway. I held my baby girl up to the living room window to watch a member of Boston’s Mounted Unit pass. Lily saw the holiday lights of Beacon Hill as she circled the Boston Common Frog Pond. “You could never do this if we lived in the ‘burbs,” I reminded her with each new city experience. When she caught a fish in the Boston Police Fishing Derby at Jamaica Pond, Commissioner Evans himself smiled and said, “That’s a monstah.”

She has fed the budgies at Franklin Park Zoo, collected hermit crabs at Carson Beach in Southie and braved the haunted house inside Fort Independence on Castle Island. My teen dining was limited to Papa Gino’s. I watch happily as Lily devours japchae at Seoul Jangteo in Allston. She has watched the BAA Half Marathon from our driveway, consumed foot-long hotdogs at Simco’s in Mattapan and attended The Nutcracker downtown at Christmas.

Now she’s 14. “Where do you want to live when you grow up?” I ask. I feel a tug of grief about her trading her Boston life for a faraway college. “I want to buy a house right next door to you,” she says. Mission accomplished.

Kristen Paulson-Nguyen, Jamaica Plain

The author and her daughter at a First Night celebration at Frog Pond. (Courtesy Kristen Paulson-Nguyen)
The author and her daughter at a First Night celebration at Frog Pond. (Courtesy Kristen Paulson-Nguyen)

When I decided to move to Boston in 2018 from San Diego, people warned me that New Englanders can be unfriendly. But that hasn’t been my experience. Especially on public transportation.

It’s true! Every T car, every bus becomes a tiny community, even if only for a few minutes.

I can remember more than a dozen times I’ve seen a group of people work together to help a stranger. Once on the 66 bus, a woman — who was probably about 80 years old — rolled up to the bus stop with a full shopping cart from Trader Joe’s. At least six people got off to lift the cart on board, then carried it off six stops later.

I once saw a guy wipe out while running for an Orange Line train. He tripped, just outside the doors. His wallet flew into the car and his CharlieCard, credit cards and IDs flew like frisbees in every direction. My fellow T riders watched this happen, over our phones and books and donuts. Then, the three of us nearest to him, without a word, decided on our roles.

I slid my foot between the doors to hold it open. Another guy helped the man get up. A woman in hospital scrubs collected the contents of his wallet. He thanked us with a glance and a nod, and we went back to what we’d been doing ... reading, eating, watching. I got off at the next stop.

 Christina Ganim, Boston 

The author at the Back Bay station on her commute home. (Courtesy Christina Ganim)
The author at the Back Bay station on her commute home. (Courtesy Christina Ganim)

My family and I lived in New York City for nearly two decades before we came to Boston in 2009. We had only planned to stay for my husband’s one-year fellowship … but at the end of that year, we didn’t want to go back.

For a long while, I still considered myself a displaced New Yorker. I was regularly taking the Amtrak quiet car to reunite with friends. But at some point, Boston did feel like home. Was it the shared trauma of the Marathon bombings or discovering the great Armenian markets of Watertown? I think it comes down to finally feeling known here.

At Fresh Pond Reservoir in Cambridge, we met Park Ranger Jean. Before she retired five years ago, you might have crossed paths with her, too. She might have written you a ticket. Driving around in her ranger cart, she made sure all dogs and their owners followed the rules. My son Finn isn’t good at following the rules. He was diagnosed with autism before he was 2.

And at 12 years old, few boys moved as he moved, rocking from front foot to back. Few boys would suddenly scream to show excitement. Few boys would crouch by the drain, tossing in rock after rock just for fun.

Whenever Ranger Jean saw Finn running toward her golf cart, she didn’t flinch. She smiled. And she often invited Finn to ride along with her, which he loved. In this small act, she seemed to say, I see you, in all your difference. You and your family belong here at Fresh Pond, as much as the birders and the bikers, the runners and the walkers, the picnickers and the dog people. This park is your park, too.

We felt like we belonged whenever we walked into Fresh Pond, and we still do.

Alysia Abbott, Cambridge 

Visiting BU felt indulgent, like stepping into someone else’s life.


I grew up in the Seacoast of New Hampshire. My parents got divorced when I was 6. When I was a little kid, we often visited Boston for the day … the Aquarium, Museum of Science or Fenway Park.

Then, the summer I was 12, my mother moved to Cambridge so she could attend grad school at Harvard. In October, an aneurysm ruptured in her brain. I spent the better part of a year visiting her at Mass General. She survived, but barely.

For years after, the city felt cursed, haunted, a do-not-enter zone.

As an adult, I lived in western Mass., Louisiana, Vermont and France. But I finally re-entered the emotionally radioactive ‘Mom Zone’ when I was 38 — the exact age my mom was when she moved to Boston. Newly single, I found a cheap one-bedroom in Somerville. I wanted a fresh start, just like my mother had.

Look, Mom. I'm living in our city.

Ethan Gilsdorf, Providence via Somerville 

Ethan Gilsdorf at True Grounds in Ball Square in 2010. (Meg Birnbaum)
Ethan Gilsdorf at True Grounds in Ball Square in 2010. (Meg Birnbaum)

Leaving a two-for-one happy hour at Houlihan's bar in Faneuil Hall, I hailed a Boston Cab and told the driver to head to Queensberry Street in the Fenway.

As we made our way onto Storrow Drive, I felt the buzz of too many beers. I opened a window, lit a Marlboro Light and watched as the landmarks flew by: on my right, the Longfellow Bridge, the resting sailboats of Community Boating; on my left, the old, old John Hancock Building, its weather beacon shining steady blue, clear view.

The year was 1985. I was 23 years old and living alone for the first time. Yet I didn't feel alone. Surrounded by people, history and landmarks, I felt connected to something special. Boston became my home.

Over 30 years later, still living close to the city, I am once again whizzing down Storrow Drive, this time an Uber with my husband and daughter. We've just finished celebrating my daughter's 23rd birthday. As I look past my child, this burgeoning adult, I see the familiar landmarks pass by and remember who I was at her age. Now, it's her time to fly, to learn who she is in a place that feels like home.

Marion Williams-Bennett

I was 23 years old and living alone for the first time. Yet, I didn't feel alone.


During the pandemic, my partner Jimmy and I got into the routine of ordering takeout from Manoa Poke Shop in Somerville every weekend. We fell in love with the freshness and simplicity of the food. We loved the salmon poke, kalua pig and fried chicken.

Over time, the staff could recognize our eyes and voices from beneath our masks. The chefs knew us by name, too, waving to us from the back of the food prep area. One of their chefs would chat with me in Vietnamese, addressing me as “younger sister” while I called him “older brother.”

If I came for a pick-up without Jimmy, the staff would ask, “Where’s Jimmy? Tell him to come by next week!” Our stops at Manoa came to feel like visits to a relative’s house.

Fast forward three years, and Jimmy and I still order from our Manoa family every weekend. It’s the food that anchors our lives in Boston — made with love.

Thuy Phan, Somerville 

Our stops at Manoa came to feel like visits to a relative’s house.


I knew I was never leaving Boston the day I was walking home in Somerville, and someone in a car asked me for directions. I stopped and looked around, and knew exactly where they wanted to be, only two blocks away. But I was on foot, and they were in a car, and the maze of one-way streets surrounded us.

"You can't get there from here," I said, and despite it being a Down East Maine quote from "Bert and I", it fit the situation perfectly. After all, if I were going there, I wouldn't start from here.

– Roza Anthony, Somerville 

Boston Red Sox great Carl Yastrzemski raises his arms as he is honored with teammates on the 50th anniversary of the 1967
Boston Red Sox great Carl Yastrzemski raises his arms as he is honored with teammates on the 50th anniversary of the 1967 "Impossible Dream" team, prior to the Red Sox's baseball game against the St Louis Cardinals in Boston, Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2017. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

My earliest memories of the Red Sox include my Papa Murphy. When Papa purchased the wonderful Dutch Colonial at 512 Walpole St. in Norwood — with the two glorious giant red beeches out front — he became the consummate gardener and landscaper. On summer days, before and after sleepovers, time would be spent in the garden weeding, planting and transplanting.

The soundtrack was the Sox on the radio with Ned Martin and Ken Coleman announcing, assisted by Mel Parnell. Happy just to be by Papa’s side, I was careful not to talk over the play-by-play. Later, he bought a portable TV, and we would take breaks in the shade to watch key innings if the game was televised. Nana would bring lunch to the patio so that we did not miss a thing. The sun rose and set with my Papa, and if he liked the Sox, then so did I.

Fast forward to the “Impossible Dream” year when all of New England had pennant fever. My best friend Rita and I would endlessly debate the value of one player over another: Harrelson v. Conigliaro v. Petrocelli v. Lonborg v. Gibson v. Smith v. Ryan — but there was no disputing Yastrzemski. On a sunny Sunday afternoon, Dad surprised us with grandstand seats to watch the Sox clobber the Baltimore Orioles. My first trip to Fenway!

By the time school started in the fall, and we were in 8th grade at Norwood Junior High, Boston truly was at fever pitch. When post-season rolled around, teachers would break during afternoon classes to let us hear a few innings. Mademoiselle Hughes, our French teacher, went so far as to reserve a television from the AV department so we could catch part of a crucial game.

Come Thursday, Oct. 12, despite a valiant effort, the Sox went down swinging. And I joined the throngs of Fenway Faithful, just like my Papa Murphy, who had always insisted, “Wait till next year!”

– Susan Waldman, Waban

This piece was produced with help from Kate Neale Cooper and Kathleen Burge. The audio version of this piece, which includes submissions from the November post that are re-shared here, was produced by Cloe Axelson with help from Sara Shukla and David Greene. It was mixed by Patrick O'Connor.

Follow Cognoscenti on Facebook and Instagram .

This segment aired on February 14, 2024.


Headshot of Cloe Axelson

Cloe Axelson Senior Editor, Cognoscenti
Cloe Axelson is an editor of WBUR’s opinion page, Cognoscenti.


Headshot of Sara Shukla

Sara Shukla Editor, Cognoscenti
Sara Shukla is an editor of WBUR’s ideas and opinion page, Cognoscenti.



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