New England is like a peaty Scotch – it’s not for everyone, but certain palates will savor its distinct flavor. After seven years in Boston, it was clear my own taste buds would never completely tolerate the region’s endless winters and sweaty summers. So, with a fond farewell, I retreated to my homeland: California.
That was five years ago, and though I can still feel the sting of frigid wind, I miss the region’s charm, its apple cider donuts, bustling coffee shops, and riotous sports culture.
Sure, Southern California is a climate dream, but even paradise gets boring after a while. Thankfully, the last century has been good to wander-lustful man; any destination with something to offer also has an airport. And so, with one bag too many, my wife Christina and I are en route to Boston for a vibrant dose of autumn.
Outside baggage claim waits my old nemesis: wind chill. Its evidence is painted on the wincing faces of nagging cabbies and their reluctant customers. I know I can’t escape it; the only conduit to the car park is a shuttle that stops 100 yards away. My wife and I brace for battle, then beeline to the target. Mercifully, the bus pulls up as we arrive, limiting our time in the cold.
At the long-term lot, we hit a snag. There’s a 2020 Audi Q3 waiting somewhere on the premises, but the attendant isn’t sure where. Did I mention it’s 10 p.m. and the parking lot is massive? Resigned to the hunt, we walk the aisles, jabbing the key fob’s panic button and straining our ears. 10 minutes later, we hear a vehicle in distress. Spotting the Q3, I groan audibly, not because I’m ungrateful to end our quest, but because if someone had told me it was bright blue, I probably would have found it sooner.
Opening the rear hatch, I prepare for a complicated game of Tetris – this is, after all, a small SUV. To my surprise, folding one seat makes room for my large checked bag and Christina’s two carry-ons. We stash our backpacks and coats on the backseats, hop in the Q3, and fire up the seat heaters.
It’s a short drive to our Airbnb, where we’ve been promised a parking space, a bed, and running water. Each of these amenities indeed awaits us, though only in loose definition. The parking space is more of an off-street nook that, gratefully, the Q3 squeezes into; the bed must have last hosted an anvil because its springs have given up entirely; for lack of clean towels, my wife and I dry from our showers with hand cloths. Ultimately, exhaustion assuages all as we promptly find sleep.
We rise early, eager to explore the city. The weather looks promising with sunny skies and low-50’s temps throughout the week – but it wouldn’t be New England if we could count on forecasts. We take our cue from the morning traffic as we plan our day: breakfast in Cambridge, a tour of my old neighborhood in Fenway, a pastry run in the North End, and coffee near the Common. Really, our itinerary is comprised of eateries, with sightseeing to fill in the gaps.
The sleek blue Audi sticks out like a sore thumb, but fellow motorists appreciate the distraction from mundane commuting; lingering looks and a few thumbs up affirm the Q3’s electric hue. Like last night, the SUV uses its tidy proportions to negotiate tight parking spots in garages and on the street, letting us do more of the walking we want and less out of necessity.
Strolling around town, taking sips of espresso over the rim of my scarf, I’m in my happy place. Christina also manages to forget yesterday’s harsh welcome and appreciate the falling leaves, unique shops, and affable citizens (good weather always brings out the best in Bostonians). Night falls early this time of year, and by 4 p.m. the city lights are twinkling. Our dinner plans will take us out of town, but first, we need to pick up some friends.
I figure my six-foot-three buddy, Nick, will fit with reasonable comfort behind my five-foot-nine wife, but I’m not counting on his companion (another guest for dinner) being even taller. “Luca is six-foot-nine,” Nick says, laughing, in response to my open-mouthed expression. “This’ll be fun,” I finally manage. The new plan puts Nick behind me (at an even six-foot) and Luca behind Christina. My driving position is a little compromised and Luca’s knees are bowed, but we all fit and are still friendly an hour later when we arrive at dinner.
The following days in Boston address as many of the activities (places to eat) as we can squeeze into our short stay, and apart from an afternoon of dense fog and a morning of drizzle (which don’t even register as “weather” in New England), we enjoy ideal conditions. Soon it’s time to move on, though; we’ve committed to a Thanksgiving feast with family in Hackensack, New Jersey.
Bags loaded once more, we settle into the Q3 for a four-hour journey. Thankfully, Audi’s latest tech is here to keep us company. With her phone wirelessly charging and controlling CarPlay, Christina finds a Spotify station and puts the Bang and Olufsen 3D sound system to good use. Meanwhile, I adjust the adaptive cruise following distance and let the lane-keep assist work its magic whenever I lose myself in the digital gauge cluster (which is currently projecting a full-width image of Google Maps).
My gamble to avoid traffic the night before and drive right on Thanksgiving Day pays off; we arrive with time to spare (or, in our case, to get acquainted with the appetizers). Outside, the temperature is dropping, but inside it’s warm and the laughs are freely shared. Late in the evening, I overhear that snow is in the forecast for this weekend. I panic before remembering that our flight leaves tomorrow evening. Certainly, California can’t replicate our past week, but at least it’s predictably pleasant.