Metro, Column

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: A Retrospective on North Station’s History

Twenty-one years is a long time.

The city I’ve called home for my entire life, even though I’m actually from a tiny suburb 40 minutes away, has gone from being the home of Whitey Bulger to one of the most highly rated places to live in the United States. It’s the nicer version of New York City, lacking only the perks of actually living in New York City.

Some things haven’t changed: Traffic is still not great, it’s impossible for transplants from other cities to fathom how one planned without a grid can possibly be navigated, and the drivers are still terrible. But all the ugly green rust-tinged overpasses clogged with knots of traffic are gone, years of sports futility have ended, and it’s much harder to find an actual Boston accent than it was 20 years ago.

Yet for me, an entirely selfish person, I care about none of that. I only care about two places in Boston: Fenway Park and the TD Garden—formerly the FleetCenter.

I grew up going to those two sports arenas, watching the Red Sox break their 86-year World Series curse and the Celtics and Bruins break decades-long championship dry spells. Those were nice moments. But nobody really cares about that.

Fenway Park has had its own growth spurt that has been written about endlessly. So let’s talk about the Garden.

I don’t remember my first time in North Station—the train depot that serves as the home of two of the most storied franchises in the history of basketball and hockey. The original Boston Garden was closed eight months before I was born and replaced by a pretty bland building with a curved roof, train station, and parking garage. There wasn’t anything flashy about it—it had escalators and elevators, and those were the only especially modern things in the place. The hallways were depressing. To even get there you had to ride in an elevator that seemed older than the building could possibly be, and you quite literally walked through the train station in order to get to the entrance, which was just two sets of escalators. There was nothing grand about a single thing in the entire building.

But I grew up there. I fell in love with it.

Everybody I knew who remembered the old Garden constantly complained about how the new building just couldn’t measure up. It lacked character, was too corporate, didn’t smell of banners and cigars. The noise couldn’t be replicated—the memories were untouchable in ways I couldn’t even wish to imagine.

I did not care. I was lucky enough to spend many a night wandering through the elevator doors into North Station to get into an endless line to those always-on-the-brink-of-breaking escalators. At the time, there were parking attendants who you paid through a window so you could leave the garage later, and in the 15 years those attendants took my dad’s money, I never saw one of them smile.

In the train station, pictures of my idols were glued to massive pillars holding up the court and ice I would learn to love so much.

Those pictures are almost all that is left of my favorite childhood home.

They don’t lie next to a train platform anymore. Instead, they border the Red Auerbach concourse, where you’ll find two Dunkin Donuts—there was always one, but I guess sometimes you just need a second Dunkin 40 feet away to make sure people don’t miss it—a nice-ish bar, an ice-cream stand that’s won Best of Boston even though it’s in a train station, and a convenience store.

A convenience store! In North Station! A place where I have spent so much time sitting in my father’s passenger seat waiting on a ramp inside of a garage where zero cars are moving because they somehow didn’t put exits into a parking garage. There was nothing about North Station that was convenient when I was a kid, and now it’s quite literally filled to the brim with convenience. All North Station had for food or drink in 2003 was Dunkin or McDonald’s. Thank goodness those places are still around. Some things should never change.

In the Garden, gone are the old yellow signs with green numbers to show where your seats are. Everything is black and silver now, reeking of cash and mixed drinks that cost $17.

I grew up leaving there exhausted but excited, never having felt more fulfilled than watching the Celtics or Bruins win a playoff game. It never occurred to me that the Garden should look like a really large version of a club.

But the thing I’ve learned is that the old way isn’t the better way. Now I leave actually well fed and missing even more money than usual for good reasons. I’m comfortable—there’s less swearing, more rich drinks, fewer racial slurs. I miss the old days, I miss being young, I miss the place where I fell in love with basketball and hockey. Yet even though the home I once knew and loved is, for all intents and purposes, gone, I think it’s for the best.

In the time it took the Garden to get a makeover, I’ve gone to six schools, written for two newspapers, developed a terrible play, posted multiple embarrassing videos of myself on the internet, gotten fat, gotten skinny, made friends, lost some of them, made others, had surgeries, and become obsessed with the Lego movies. As I grow, my city, and the only Garden I’ve ever cared about, has grown with me. I can’t wait to show my horrible children a new place they can fall in love with, just like I did when I was a terrible child who needed to see a ball go through a basket in order to shut up. More renovations are coming, but I’m not bitter about the changes anymore like a proper Bostonian should be—I’m excited to see what’s next for my favorite building in my favorite city.

I’ll always miss the parking attendants though. They’ve been replaced by computers.

Although, when you think about it, it’s not like computers smile either.

Featured Image by Anna Tierney / Graphics Editor

January 28, 2018