Columns, Opinion

SHANFIELD: Shipping up to Dorchester

Last week, I got to interview Ruben Studdard for his traveling production of ‘Ain’t Misbehavin.”

The interview was at the Citi Performing Arts Center, where I assumed the show would be held. When I entered the reception area I saw a man holding a white trash bag full of takeout Thai food. Upon learning that I would be interviewing Studdard over a few pounds of crispy chicken that would not be shared with me, I walked down into the basement to meet the Velvet Teddy Bear himself.

The interview went well. Studdard was full of ‘quotables.’ He mentioned his desire to see ’17 Again,’ which he described as a movie about a girl who goes back to high school. (Not a girl. Zac Efron. He didn’t know who this was.) He said this movie reminds him how much ‘grown-er’ he has become since he was 17. Hey, I would make up words, too, if I beat out Clay Aiken in ‘American Idol.’

When I do these interviews, my goal is to get free theater tickets from publicists after writing mediocre articles that provide press for mediocre plays. I was excited to get an offer for two opening night tickets to ‘Ain’t Misbehavin,” but to my dismay, the performance was not at the Citi Center but at the Strand Theater in Dorchester. Dorchester is the formal name for ‘Deathchester,’ as some of you less familiar with local police logs may not know.

I was conflicted because I didn’t want to take three buses to get to Dorchester, but I also felt like I was being lazy by not going out to see the show. Studdard had been good to me. We’d talked about how he likes to go to Wal-Mart everyday because he never knows what he might need. I didn’t want to let him down, or worse, make him think I couldn’t handle Dorchester. So I gathered up my most intimidating friend Casey and hopped on the No. 1 bus. It would be an adventure.

While waiting for our second bus at Ruggles Station, the smells of Kennedy Fried Chicken and rain filled our nostrils. A man with an empty pint of Wild Turkey bourbon in his back pocket screamed slurs at the chicken shop and then brandished a large steak knife that he produced from the same pocket. I looked at Casey and realized how un-intimidating his tiny frame and tight jeans were. Plus, the only crime I’d been a victim of was having stuff stolen off me when I was sleeping in public areas. Now I was conscious and wishing Studdard was there to protect me. Luckily, Kennedy came outside to throw out his leftover giblets and gizzards, saving us from the inevitable knife fight I would have won.

We finally arrived at the theater, a glowing beacon in the midst of side-paneled houses and stores that were padlocking their windows. Outside, there was a red carpet and an army of excitable ‘Idol’ fans, along with press people like me who’d felt obligated to attend. Among them was Mayor Thomas Menino, a closet ‘Idol’ fan and huge advocate of bringing theater to underdeveloped areas of Boston.

The show was great, but afterwards we were quick to learn that no cabs come out to Dorchester. The journey home would involve walking two miles in drizzle and the discovery of The Hen House Wings ‘n Waffles.

I was reminded of my freshman year when I found myself in East Boston looking for a fabled all-night taco stand. I realized that was the farthest I’d ever ventured in Boston. I’ve never been to Jamaica Plain or Mission Hill because it was too far from cushy Allston, and though I’ve lived here three and a half years and spent every summer here, I’d never once been to Dorchester. It made me wonder, are these Boston neighborhoods hard to get to because the city doesn’t want people going there or because the city doesn’t want those people coming to pristine Beantown?

Boston is famous for its segregated neighborhoods, but college students rarely see this firsthand. Many of us live inside the Green Line bubble, depriving ourselves of the life and wonders that exist outside the Duck Tours route. We never go anywhere that isn’t easily reached by T or a cheap cab. Is it because we’re lazy or because we’re told not to go there? Are we really that afraid to mingle with people from outside of our tuition-affording tax bracket? Are we exacerbating the disparity?

We all complain about Boston being small and boring, but we confine ourselves to the same tired places that just happen to be by the T. We’re missing out on authentic tacos and deep-fried waffles. I’m not saying we should gentrify Dorchester, but I don’t think you can say you lived in Boston unless you’ve seen it all – the good, bad and the Kennedy Fried Chicken.

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