About the only thing I knew about Boston when the plane landed was that I liked the old Dave Loggins song from the 1970s where he's asking his girlfriend to "please come to Boston for the springtime." It turns out Boston is a wonderful city to visit.
On my first night while drinking in the hotel bar, I met a postal worker named John. He was sort of an old hippie like me, and he told me the Bluegrass group Nickel Creek was doing an invitation-only show at a club in the hotel. One thing led to another, he got me a pass for the show and we had a good old time drinking together and listening to great Bluegrass music.
During my next three days in the city, I visited Harvard University, Harvard Square, Boston Commons and Boston Harbor and did a little shopping on famous Newberry Street. Except for the 2-year-old toddler who liked to scream his head off in the middle of the night in the hotel room next to mine, my four days there were fun, educational and pleasing.
I like this new habit of mine — picking out a city I've never been to, finding a cheap airline ticket and hotel room and taking off all by myself. I've done this three times over the past 12 months. Last November I went to Madison, Wisc.; in May I was in Portland, Maine; and now I'm back from Massachusetts.
I can't help but compare these three cities to Cincinnati, my hometown now for a lot of years.
There are a few similarities — panhandling for one. I suppose it's everywhere, but people in the other places I've visited don't seem to be all that upset by it. The panhandlers don't have to have a license to do it or a home address. It's just sort of known that they're people down on their luck who need a little help.
I liked the panhandlers' approach in Boston. The common thing there is for them to open the door for you to a shop or restaurant you're entering. They hold a cup for you to put change into and you can do it or not, but you get the same friendly "Have a nice day" greeting regardless.
Madison, Portland and Boston all have thriving theater districts, as does Cincinnati. Movie theaters, however, are a staple in other downtown areas; here, you have to go to Clifton or over to Newport on the Levee to catch a show. There's something wrong about that.
Other cities have really good daily newspapers. In Boston, it was a treat to read The Boston Globe every morning.
I'm not a fast food kind of guy by any means, but I can't help noticing that in other cities it's easy to find a McDonald's, Burger King or any other chain if you just want to get something fast and cheap on the run. In downtown Cincinnati, we do have a few chains, but the pickings are slim. I often feel like if I'm not a Skyline Chili fan I'm in trouble.
Other cities, like the three I've recently visited, are hugely busy on the weekends. Even in smaller Madison, the sidewalks were crowded and shops and restaurants were busy. In our town, a lot of establishments just shut down during the weekend, kind of like rolling up the sidewalks.
People are friendlier in the places I've visited. I'm not used to people on the sidewalk wishing me a good morning as they pass by, let alone making eye contact.
People in other cities want to know you. When I was in Portland, I became friends with a Hispanic waitress who would serve me breakfast most mornings in the hotel restaurant. We liked kidding around together, and I think we were both a little sad when it was time for me to leave.
And then there's that postal worker I got to know in Boston. We became friends almost immediately. I can't imagine that happening here, where we somehow don't seem to trust one another or want to stay in our own little group where it's safe.
I can hear some of you now saying that if I don't like it here leave. I'm not saying Cincinnati is a bad place, but sometimes it frustrates me to live in a city that so often is backward, isn't friendly, doesn't know what the word "progressive" means and whose idea of celebrating and enhancing our connection to the Ohio River is to place two stadiums on its shore for losing teams.
Maybe someday I'll leave here, but for now I'll just take trips. Maybe you should do the same. They're a real eye opener.
CONTACT LARRY GROSS: lgross(at) citybeat.com. Living Out Loud runs every week at citybeat.com and the second issue of each month in the paper.