June 2024 (2 weeks ago)

Two weeks in Boston, Cambridge, Brookline

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10 min read (1844 words)
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Harvard Street, not far from campus
Harvard Street, not far from campus

Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • People (if you run in the right circles)
  • Streets are more “normal.” Highways are 2-3 lanes max rather than 8 lane monstrosities like Atlanta or Houston. Boston traffic not as bad as expected. Bike infrastructure is acceptable and decent.

Pro/con:

  • Walkability (walk more, but also feel the heat/cold, roadkill, and homeless beggars more personally)
  • Historic neighborhoods/walkability/density. Houses look cool, but have antiquated elements like fireplaces, old bathrooms, and crowding. Best option: find a modern home in the area to live in.
  • The T is good for an American city. The T is slow and old and creaky and I’d rather have my independence and bike.
  • There are a lot better networking events in the city it feels like. Con: going to “networking” events is not that useful if you want to be the best at what you do.

Cons:

  • Expensive
  • Drivers accelerate like crazy in Boston. Having driven in the city myself, I think it’s hard to not accidentally press the gas too much.

Had this image of going around Boston on an ebike. I think it could work if I stayed in the Cambridge/Boston area, but it’s actually kind of dangerous.

Burying the Past

On housing

I took a visit to where I used to live for around 7 years or so as a child, and was deeply distraught to find that property developers razed most of the area to build a gigantic apartment complex proclaimed as affordable housing in the name of profits where units start over three to four thousand per month.

It’s like they somehow always build the same uncreative apartment with a pool and gym that nobody will use. These people manicure the lawns and mulch around the trees in the name of beauty, resulting in sterility.

There’s a problem in modern society, and I don’t think “NIMBYism” is the issue, just like how I don’t think healthcare reform is the issue. Rightfully, everyone living in the area found the idea of building such a thing disgusting. I don’t think people have a problem with good quality development, I think people have a problem with garbage being built.

Few people are against a situation that benefits them. Washington DC grew and property values rose in coordination with the revival of the city, though there was displacement of minority communities.

This reminds me of a story in Georgia where they razed down numerous trees to build a Dollar General near where I live. There was this other development that they wanted to start building, but they didn’t for some reason, so they just deforested a large area for no reason.

Everyone around hated the idea of this low-quality development, yet it still happened. There were petitions to the local government. It’s clear that we live in a society where actual democracy is overruled by vested interests and corruption.

I’m not wholly convinced that the narrative is rich “NIMBYs” block development from happening. Maybe in the wealthiest districts, but those are a small portion of communities. It seems like in most cases, well-connected property developers destroy neighborhoods in the name of profits, causing suburban ghettos as people flee to other suburbs, avoiding the encroachment of ugliness.

Some pictures

Everything was smaller than I remember it used to be.

Walking into the backyard from one entrance
Walking into the backyard from one entrance

I laid down on the grass and I looked up. And I felt if this were 10 years ago, I could feel the peace. But I can’t. Too much in the world is happening and at stake. It is not for me at this moment.

I sat outside the Cambridge Public Library and felt the same thing. This is something you fight to preserve and build after taking care of the problems in the world. Not some place you retreat to or defend forever.

There’s a certain characteristic of people in the American South that codes as dangerous to those who grow up in safe places. I find the disagreeances to be around weapons, pro-social/nice behavior.

View from the corner of the backyard
View from the corner of the backyard

Leftmost corner near the road's bend (now destroyed)
Leftmost corner near the road's bend (now destroyed)

Satellite view of the apartment they built after razing the area (3x more land in the back is razed too)
Satellite view of the apartment they built after razing the area (3x more land in the back is razed too)

Also went to a childhood pizza place. I found the people there to seem sad and dilapidated versus the types of people in Cambridge. Another side of Boston, so to speak. Even if I moved to Boston, I’m not convinced I’ll find what I’m looking for there. I think I’d like it better than California, but I’m not wholly sure.

The supermarkets are the same; there’s nothing particularly special in Boston that I can’t get anywhere else. In fact, it just shows that cities are not a major organizational force in society these days. If Boston were truly organized, you would find the best supermarkets and best cars and best whatever there. But it seems most cities are just a battleground for other groups.

So Many Fake Germans

(A lighthearted joke about how I met many German speakers or those with a connection during this trip and no ethnic Germans). For the sake of privacy, this includes L, L’s father, D, B, D, I, and I did meet one actual airport German who had an interesting backpack from Pingponq rather than the usual Deuter backpack.

I also met three Ukrainians. As a general rule, it seems that people are drawn to Boston for the similarity to European cities. To me, many parts of Boston felt like Atlanta. A person in Konstanz remarked that her friend hated Atlanta. It is kind of a bridge like so:

Very American City <-> Boston/DC <-> European City

There were moments driving in Boston where I felt like I was in Berlin for a moment.

Harvard Dorms

Dorms at Harvard are OK but nothing special. Spent some time around Apley Court, a dorm in the Quad, and walked around. A cool thing is that private schools are a lot more flexible, so someone had a marimba ($20,000 giant xylophone) in their dorm on lease from the school. But there are also frustrations with the administration regarding housing, the inability to do anything socially beneficial for the homeless population around campus, and so on.

Dorm in the Quad
Dorm in the Quad

However, some of the high rise apartments around campus (this one below is $8,000 per month below, 3br), are of much higher quality than that in Atlanta. But to be honest, the apartment style I miss the most are the simple ones I lived in for a semester in Metz that had nothing but a mini fridge and two electric burners and a private bathroom. It was cheap, simple, everyone had their own space, and everyone was happy with it. I’ve heard that French students have leases that are more corresponding with the schedule; idk why American ones always go for an entire year.

Living room
Living room

Bathroom
Bathroom

Anecdotally, a different friend living in Boston said that one of the Palestine protest organizers got suspended and is not able to receive their degree until 2027 (this was the last semester). Will their lack of database entry in the National Clearinghouse be an issue to them? (FYI: this is an organization that does graduation tracking for almost all the colleges in the USA). The structure of the USA is such that large companies such as this, Equifax tracks your work employment (“The Work Number”), there is a “National Directory of New Hires” used to enforce child support, and a whole other array of things that keeps you in the panopticon.

If you think about it, having certain numbers changed about you might be the difference between getting a scholarship or aid and not getting it. The bias of a teacher could make serious differences in your grades and the middle school or high school you end up attending. I almost had to go to a worse high school due to one teacher ranking me lower on “behavior.” (My parents would’ve moved to another school district if that happened, so it probably wouldn’t have been the end of things).

Though we will always look back at “what-if” moments in our life, I think this is lesser in the modern world because most colleges of a certain tier list are all very similar. It’s not like getting on a boat and never coming back. I ran into other people poisoned by isotretinoin, which happens to people who want to solve their problems at all costs while being unaware or underestimating potential risks (in this case, poison being stored in your liver) and doctors around the country thinking basically the same thing.

C-House

Spent time at one of the hacker houses. For the moment, the main house is in this really nice brownstone similar to a place I stayed at in Cologne, but that may change in the future.

Entrance
Entrance

Interesting people going interesting places. The first people I met were C from LA and M from Ghana at another house nearby. And A and N from Michigan greeted me at the door. Spent time with I a few times around MIT. E and C from Waterloo stayed for a while. Very bullish on them because they were basically working on their project the entire time they were there. They interviewed for YC, but YC was not sure about it due to co-founders only knowing each other recently, but they didn’t see how they worked together. Chatted with B about Topos World, some LLM stuff, and didn’t expect to meet someone else that watches Stephen Wolfram for fun. We went to Microcenter later. Hung out at HBS with some other people. Z from Vitalia popped in. The Residency has a move-in. Many such names here, too many to remember and list. M from Canada moves in to help logistics with L. Landlord situation. Hot Pot and G from Twitter shows up. Y talks about the SF circles. Help T and D move from Harvard dorms with a Zipcar because they got relocated at the last moment. The importance of the modern industrial system cannot be understated, largely involving logistics and automobiles. Visit where I lived as a kid with M, C, and A and took a hike.

Not sure it’s feasible to keep living like college students: looking for free food, difficulties in organization, and so on. But supposedly many “hacker houses” are like that. First hacker house that integrates the modern industrial logistical food systems when?

Some themes

I felt like there was a bit more focus on things such as self-optimization, writing, removing distracting notifications, open-mindedness, dialogue, and so on compared to other places and circles I’ve run around.

But people still have their blind spots as well, which I was able to see due to being an adult. I wonder what my blind spots are. I would consider myself pretty self-aware, at least for this age range of 20-24.

I am a very serious and intense person and I do not meet many people who are that way. I do not think I will find what I am looking for exactly, so I may have to build it myself. And this is considering all the groups and experiences that I’ve done.

I think what I am looking for would be something like this:

  • We all sleep on cots to practice Bedouin attitude
  • We eat communally at a caloric surplus in a healthy way (grass-fed lamb, non-stick pans, no vegetable oils)
  • We fight each other with sticks (wearing safety glasses) to pursue relentlessness
  • There is little room for “acting funny”, comfiness, or “positive, fun vibes”
  • We share all the skills we have with each other