Neon Art

I’ve always liked neon signs.  There’s something kitschy about them, of course, but also something classically American — bold, consciously attempting to be memorable and attract passersby, naked in their capitalistic purpose, and often dosed with fantasy or humor.  Plus, neon really looks cool at night.

Downtown Boston has come up with a great way to celebrate — and preserve — some of these neon relics of a.past America.  On one of the small strips of land between the downtown area and the waterfront, called the Greenway, neon signs have been positioned around the perimeter.  The signs draw visitors like moths to light.  Two of my favorites were the Siesta Motel, with its cactus and sombrero theme, and the Flying Yankee Restaurant, with its rocket ship and flaming trail.  The Siesta Motel, which dates from 1950, was located in Saugus, Massachusetts — where its southwestern-themed sign must have stood out like a sore thumb — and the Flying Yankee Restaurant, which dates from 1953, long before rocket ships were commonplace, was located in Auburn, Massachusetts.

Don’t you wish you’d had a chance to see these signs on the great American road during the ’50s, and perhaps stop at the Flying Yankee for a cup of coffee and a piece of pie?

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The Long Wharf

I’m in Boston for work, staying down in the old financial district near waterfront. Last night I took a walk out onto the Long Wharf, which juts out into the Charles River. The area has been a focus of redevelopment efforts, and last night it was crowded with people getting on and off harbor boat tours, enjoying an after-work beverage and the music at an outdoor gathering spot on the wharf, and trying to decide which of the many nearby restaurants to select for the night’s dinner.

It’s a great area if you’re a Midwestern landlubber who always enjoys checking out real harbors. There were sailboats on the water, enormous chains and tie-off pilings, and a sense of bustling activity that you always get at a busy harbor. It’s a fun thing to watch and experience, and gives you a good sense of what making the waterfront easily accessible to walkers and joggers can mean for a town.

Logan Airport, 5:07 a.m.

At 5:07 a.m. at Logan Airport in Boston, where red-eye flights have just dropped off their loads of bleary-eyed cross-country travelers, the lines at Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts are long.  As the would-be customers try to clear their heads and vow to never, ever take a red-eye flight again, their very willingness to wait in line testifies that a hot cup of freshly brewed coffee is just what is needed to kick-start the morning and make the bedraggled traveler feel a little bit less like a grit.

On The Old Commons


Established back in the early 1600s, the Commons remains a popular gathering spot for the people of Boston — and its tourists.  Along with the Boston Public Garden, located right next door, the Commons provides a merry-go-round, a frog pond, a towering memorial to the Bostonians who fought in the War Between the States — and some of the shady, grassy spots that city dwellers crave on a hot summer day.

A Less Corrosive Time


I’m in Boston for meetings, and last night I went to an event at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.  I had a chance to walk through the exhibits, which included photographs, letters, television footage, a recreation of the Oval Office as it was in the Kennedy White House, shown above, and a gigantic American flag high above the reception area, shown below.  Of course, the exhibits end with the tragic events of November 22, 1963 and an effort to capture JFK’s legacy.

JFK’s presidency has always been a huge historical “what if” — Steven King wrote an entire novel exploring that premise — and a story of unfulfilled promise.  Viewed from the standpoint of the modern era of PACs, attack ads, internet memes, and rancorous “debates,” though, it seems like a golden era, where politics was less bitter, less nasty, and less divisive.  For all of the heightened feelings about the Bay of Pigs, the Civil Rights movement, the Cuban missile crisis, and the fighting in Southeast Asia, Americans somehow managed to avoid the bleak corrosiveness that now seems so pervasive in our politics.

I’ve never bought into the depiction of the Kennedy presidency as Camelot, but I don’t think you can walk through the exhibits at the JFK Library and Museum and compare what you see to the present day without thinking our system has taken a wrong turn somewhere.