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I'll Remember Sarah - A Boston Story

by Sandi Smith

The two nights my friend, Wilda, and I spent in Boston turned out to be more interesting than I ever expected. The plan was to fly into Boston, spend three days there and then rent a car to see the rest of New England and the fall foliage. You may think the Freedom Trail and the SS Constitution are the most excitement Boston has to offer but staying at a youth hostel turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip.

I told Wilda I didnt care where we stayed as long as I had a private bath but this friend is careful about money and has a wicked sense of humor. Evidently she couldnt stomach the hotel prices we encountered because we ended up spending two nights in the Beantown Youth Hostel. The building crouched in its anti-splendor at 222 Friend Street, a dark and narrow passage near North Station and Haymarket transit depots. It was a bargain at $22 a night, but Wilda anticipated that I was going to hate it while, at the same time, really enjoying the joke. 

Our cab driver didnt believe the hostel existed because hed never heard of it and refused to believe we could stay anywhere in Boston for $22 a night. Finally, he graciously agreed to take us there anyway and then politely stiffed us $20 for a $10 cab ride. 

I dragged my heavy suitcase and carryon (I tend to over pack and refuse to apologize) up three flights of stairs into the hostel where everything was old, mismatched and worn out with the exception of the young men and women who were staying there. We had to pay a $10 deposit to get linen for the bed with the stipulation that we'd get the deposit back when we left,  if we didnt steal the sheets, so thin they could drift off the bed in the breeze from a light snore. 

We were assigned to room #6. I opened the door to see three bright blue metal bunks and a lumpy couch-shaped thing with a sheet thrown over it. By now I was really ticked at Wilda and ready to push her down all three flights of stairs. 

One worn, stained blanket was folded on my mattress, which was no more than a couple of inches thick. The bathrooms were down the hall with open showers like in high school.  I hated to take showers in front of others in high school and today refuse to be naked in front of 20-year-olds. I know it was mean, but I let Wilda force her 59 body onto the top bunk. She shifted and groaned all night as she tried to remain confined within the rails of the narrow bed. The second night my conscience got the better of me and I offered to switch.

Wilda and I are both over 50 and I expected to feel out of place, but our young roommates were quick to smile, introduce themselves and happy to talk to us. I was amazed at how friendly they were and watched as they welcomed each new person, inviting them to participate in whatever activity they had planned. 

Each evening, when everyone returned from sight seeing, was a time to talk before going out for dinner. Jessica puttered around rearranging her backpack and showed us her new leather jacket. Born in the U.S., she had spent the last seven years in Italy with her family. Long, straight red hair hung almost to her waist, and her pretty smile shone out of a clear pale complexion with light freckles. She was studying law at university and wanted to become an international attorney when she graduated. 

After Boston she was looking forward to meeting her parents in Las Vegas where she would luxuriate for a few days at their expense. Wistfully, she said she looked forward to a comfortable bed, a private shower and didnt care if she ever ate another Dunkin' Donut.

Moran sat regally straight on the top bunk with crossed legs as she talked. She had just completed her two years in the Israeli military and was touring the United States before returning home and also enrolling at university. She wanted to work with computers. I had questions about what it was like growing up in Israel and she said where she lived, she was not really ever afraid. 

Moran was lovely with curly brown hair pulled back from her light olive, perfectly oval face, tall and long-legged. The peace talks between Israel and Palestine had just fallen apart. I told her of the impressions I received from the media about what the current state of affairs. She was glad to talk about how she really felt and to set the record straight. More than anything, she felt someone should live in Israel before they made judgments about how the Israeli should respond to threats. Her mother was sick about a potential war and worried for her sons life. Moran made it clear that she was Jewish and proud to be so, but that she wasn't religious and had issues with some of the Orthodox Jews. Today I think of Moran, her brother and her family and wonder if they are safe and what they are thinking and feeling. 

There was no place to sit in the room other than the suspicious-looking couch, so I lay on the bottom bunk and looked across at Sara who was my favorite because she was a poet. She was small and cute with short dark hair. She said she was 18, but didnt look more than 14. I was astonished to hear she worshipped Jack Kerouac and was on her way to a festival to celebrate him. She knew who Ferlinghetti and Ginsberg and Gary Snyder were and all that old beat crowd. 

Sara had been on her own since she was 16 and had quit school. The regimentation that accompanies an educational institution was the worst part for her; Sara wanted to experience life, travel and write about it instead of going to college. 

I thought about how worried I would be if she were my daughter and asked what she did for money. Recently she slept alone in a park and was scared to death, usually palling with guys so that she would feel safer. She had some money because her job as an exotic dancer paid well and she had saved $900, but now she was down to $600. I shuddered about the job and the money. She said it wasn't so bad because she would only work weekdays. The rough crowds were usually Friday and Saturday nights. She would just get another job when she needed more money. 

Sara had extremely romanticized notions of what life, and most particularly what a writers life, should be like. I have to admit that on some level I envied her experiences. 

We talked about what it was like for older women like Wilda and me growing up. Wildas experiences were different from mine because she was a young woman during the fifties as opposed to the sixties/seventies decades in which I matured. The girls were shocked but interested to hear that women used to routinely wear dresses and even gloves, went to college to find a husband, and weren't expected to achieve what was then considered a traditional male job. I related my experience with an attorney I worked for told me he would be happy if I came to work without a bra, and how another boss, an insurance broker, tried to run his hand up my dress in his office. They had a chance to hear how womens lives have changed and maybe understand a little how much they take for granted. 

People travel for many reasons. Of course I enjoy visiting different places and sightseeing, thats why I started traveling to begin with. Meeting and talking to new people, who view and experience life differently, is almost the best part. Tell me a good story and Ill follow you anywhere.



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