Painting the town of Red Sox
Boston - Boston is crowded with personal memories and steeped in history, writes tennis legend Abe Segal.
LONGWOODS COUNTRY CLUB: Boston has always proved groundbreaking for me one way or another.
The first time I visited I was playing the US Double Championships with American star Herbie Flam against the lethal Aussie combination of Rosewall and Hoad, at Longwoods, originally a cricket club in the 1800s, until it became a grass court institution with 44 courts.
When Flam hit one of the most brilliant return lobs I have seen and we won the third set (at one set all) against all odds, the normally well behaved Boston crowd went beserk, waving and stamping so much that the entire rickety wooden stand collapsed, sending our posh fans and their Coca-Colas spilling sideways – on top of us.
We had to move courts and the interruption – much like a modern “medical time out” – was to Rosewall and Hoad’s advantage.
This time my partner, Deborah, and I arrived in town in the middle of the historic Boston Red Sox World Series against the St Louis Cardinals. We didn’t have tickets to Fenway Park, or any Boston branded gear to parade around in, but at least we flew in on a Virgin Atlantic plane, representing the right colour, red.
The atmosphere was electrifying. We made a beeline for Brookline and Longwoods to see if the old stand had been rebuilt and to watch the live baseball action on a big screen. The eruption of tennis balls and beer hitting the bar ceiling, when the Red Sox finally pulled it off, later that same night and almost a century after their initial win with Babe Ruth, took me right back to my own third set short-lived victory half a century ago.
THE BOSTON HARBOUR HOTEL: This has got to be the best hotel location in the whole city, provided you don’t suffer from vertigo. The view is mesmerising and you can almost lean out and feed the seagulls from 10 floors up. You “hit the deck” wallowing in goose down, right on the water overlooking the harbour, where the first ships, including the Dartmouth, which sparked off the Boston Tea Party, cruised in centuries ago.
A state-of-the-art aquarium, together with scenic seafood restaurants, boat rides, art exhibitions, etc are all on the doorstep, straddling a restored wooden promenade which, unlike Cape Town harbour, stretches for kilometres around the bay area.
The Boston Harbour Hotel has the best collection of 16th- and 17th-century maps in the world, not to mention its main restaurant being wall-to-wall in oil paintings of schooners, matching those anchored outside. When you sit next to Andrew Young at breakfast, sporting a much wider waistline than when he escorted Arthur Ashe to South Africa, you can be guaranteed the bacon and pancake stack is the tallest in town.
BOSTON DUCK RIDE: Along with some impressive boats, including a hotel ferry to Logan International airport and the hovering flocks of gulls, the harbour is home to birds of a different feather – the unique “Boston Ducks”. These are a fleet of brightly coloured, amphibious truck-like vehicles, which drive straight off the wharf into the sea and back on to land, into the centre of town. Less of a James Bond- and more of a Disney-type invention, they are funky and fun and we should introduce a few to operate between Robben Island and the Waterfront.
CHARLES STREET AND CAMBRIDGE: Charles Street, according to my girlfriend, is the most historic street in Boston and she should know, she lived here, while at Boston University, driving smart Beacon Hill residents and rowers off the nearby Charles River to appear in her graduate television projects. I liked this street mainly because it was shorter than Bolyston or Beacon to walk in the cold, and Martin Scorsese obviously liked it too because he used it to film The Departed and other spies who came in from the cold.
If you are a fan of Edgar Allan Poe, he also wandered about the neighbourhood under these gas lamps and creaky antique shop signs dating back to Paul Revere’s mad dash on horseback to warn the Patriots.
At the end of Charles Street the Longfellow Bridge takes you into Cambridge and the Harvard University Campus. My school career having amounted to another “short walk”, I never went to university, but if you are going to pick the best university in the world to go to, aim high and head for Harvard: the sport facilities alone have to be seen to be believed – they are simply from another planet.
LEGAL SEAFOODS: If you are starving after your fair share of being dragged from pillar to post down memory lane, forget the fancy haunts boasting Pumpkin Soup and other scary orange Halloween concoctions. I’d been hallucinating about red lobsters since my Longwood playing days.
Thanks to a passing sailor near the Harbour Hotel we were tipped off about the best rand value in town – a good old fish and chip chain called Legal Seafoods, because “If it ain’t fresh it ain’t legal”. Our sailor said this had been a bumper year for lobster – they were crawling up the harbour walls. They certainly looked fatter and friskier than your average crayfish, and they certainly tasted juicy delivered steaming to one’s plate – without burning a hole in the pocket.
CHEERS PUB ON BEACON STREET: This is where the popular television series Cheers was filmed and they have kept it looking more or less the same as the original sets, near the park on Beacon Street, in case you need to find a bench to lie down on. You are not going to see Ted Danson leaning over the counter pouring you a draft, but you will spot plenty of good-looking blondes wandering in and out – hitched to their cameras.
COPLEY MALL: This is one of the largest malls on the East Coast Coast – you could probably run a couple of laps of the Boston Marathon in here. If you want to lose your wife for ever and head for Cheers, take her in and tell her to shop for shoes – it’s like following the Yellow Brick Road to Oz – she’ll never be able to make up her mind or get to the end of it.
JFK PUBLIC LIBRARY NEAR COPLEY MALL: Massachusetts is Kennedy country and on the 50th anniversary of President John F Kennedy’s death in November, it came as no surprise to see every art centre commemorating his contribution to American politics.
However, the JFK Boston public library is a magnificent landmark right on Copley Square and even if, like me, you are not a great reader, one should walk in to admire the ornate ceiling and courtyard modelled on Rome and soak up Boston’s contribution to American Independence recorded between the covers of these old books.
The library was hard-hit by the Federal shutdown last year, yet the major celebration in honour of its namesake went ahead as planned. Watching all those stars and stripes waving about, I could hear the late president saying: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”
The Red Sox obviously had this quote in mind when they took to the field, determined to clinch victory in tribute to JFK and those killed in the Boston Marathon bombings.
l Abe Segal was flown to the US by Virgin Atlantic Airlines - Saturday Star