Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Hub of the Universe

On Friday, the day that The Greatest was buried in Louisville, a front page headline on bostonglobe.com read Muhammad Ali to be buried in Boston-made casket.

Now, this may not have been an above-the-fold header in the paper version of the paper, but it’s still quite something that it was a biggie online.

Things like this are what I most love about The Hub of the Universe.

Boston is, at once, a sophisticated city – “world class” is the term we like to throw around – and an incredibly pokey little backwater that’s always thrilled when there’s some kind of local connection to something big.

It’s nothing I didn’t grow up around. In the pokey little backwater at the heart of the Commonwealth (and that would be Worcester, Massachusetts), we were steeped in Worcester connections, Worcester firsts. Space-man Robert Goddard. Humorist Robert Benchley. Famous ‘r Us.

The David Clark company made the space suits for the Gemini missions. Esther Forbes, who wrote Johnny Tremain – which was turned into a Walt Disney serial  –  grew up in Worcester. The smiley face was invented there. So was the diner. A Worcester girl – “our” parish, even – once made it to the finals of the Miss America pageant.

I remember being thrilled to learn that WORC was used to test new singles, as its listeners – that would be Worcester teens – were so discerning that we could suss out a hit. (The song I remember this bit of info being associated with was “Listen to the Rhythm of the Falling Rain,” by those one-hit wonders, the Cascades. We, the kids of Worcester, green-lighted it!)

We were inordinately proud when Worcester was named an All American City, not realizing just what a bit of hokum that was. And Celtic great Bob Cousy lived in Worcester. How about that?

And lest you think that Worcester’s glory days are completely in its Robert Benchley/Bob Cousy past, I have two words for you: Denis Leary.

Oh, sure, I’ve heard him called a Boston boy, but he’s a Worcester-ite. And I can forgive him if he does that before-the-cock-crows “I’m from Boston” thing. I’ve done it myself. Sometimes it’s just easier to say you’re from a place people have heard of.

For Worcester – one of the largest cities in the country that no one had ever heard of, even people who lived 50 miles down the road in Boston – all this focus on “’famous’ people and stuff from Worcester is pretty understandable. We were sitting out there in Central Mass, all by our lonesome, but close enough to Boston to live perpetually in its shade.Not to mention the shade that was thrown our way by Bostonians who’d actually heard of us.

There was something almost embarrassing about Worcester’s earnest little attempts to be somebody. We coulda been a contendah, if only Boston didn’t exist…

Anyway, when I moved to Boston in my late teens, I wasn’t quite expecting my adopted home town to be quite as hokey as Worcester was. And, certainly, it wasn’t.

Boston was the capital. A big league city, in all four major sports. It had Harvard and MIT, and so what if they were in Cambridge. And lots of famous people came from Boston, like Leonard Nimoy and Leonard Bernstein. (Worcester had Roberts; Boston had Leonards.) And famous stuff had happened here, like the Boston Tea Party and one-if-by-land. The cherry on the top of the sundae: when you said “Boston” people were familiar with it.

Still, there was a defensiveness about it.

If Worcester wasn’t Boston, then Boston wasn’t New York City.

Not that we have to be New York City, but in the back of the collective mind was a niggling sense that the words of New York, New York were true. “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere.” Whereas, all that making it in Boston meant was that if you could make it here, you could obviously make it in Worcester, or anyplace else in New England.

Whatever the roots or reality of our inferiority complex, we tend to really enjoy things more when there’s a local connection. Miracle on Ice? Those are OUR guys out there. And Ho Chi Minh was a dishboy at the Parker House. We see the world through the filter of Boston. Maybe this is true everywhere, but it’s true here in spades.

There’s a local joke that cites a fictitious newspaper headline: "2 Hub men die in blast, New York also destroyed"

So no one’s really surprised that, on the day that Muhammad Ali was buried, we were headlining the Boston connection:

When boxing legend Muhammad Ali is laid to rest in Louisville, Ky., he will be buried in a solid mahogany casket designed and manufactured at a small factory in East Boston.

For the record, Ali’s family chose the Concord, which “retails for as much as $25,000.” Boston’s own New England Casket Company.

We really are the Hub of the Universe!

1 comment:

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