Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Joel & Amy Across America, Part 7

Harvard University – When I was applying for colleges at the ripe age of seventeen my father made it very clear to me that I should send out my information to whatever school I wanted, even if I didn’t think there was a chance I’d get accepted. He told me the story of when he was coming out of high school he only applied to the University of Illinois (where he eventually went) because he knew that was what his family could afford. His dream was to attend Harvard, but it would’ve been too expensive for my grandmother and grandfather. So he just didn’t out the application, even though he was a bright kid and would’ve liked to know if he could’ve made it in. Whether or not he actually went wasn’t the point—he wanted to know if he was good enough to attend Harvard University.

Even though I never really had much desire to go there myself, the place has always held some sort of mystique for me knowing how closely intertwined Harvard was with my father’s educational dreams as a young man. It’s iconic American college and we’d probably have no reason to ever go there again, so we went, just to take a little snoop around.

My good childhood friend and distant cousin David just wrapped up a three-year stint at the law school there, so Amy and I met up with him to get the five-cent tour. Harvard University, established in 1636, is the oldest school and the oldest corporation in America, and Harvard Yard is probably the most famous quad in the country. It’s where smart people go to college, and if you knew my buddy David he’d serve as living proof of that. The following list of people all went to Harvard. It’s crazy looking at all these names in one place. You ready? Here it is:

John Hancock, Samuel Adams, John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Theodore Roosevelt, Rutherford Hayes, Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, George W. Bush (Lord knows how the hell that one happened), Al Gore, Barack Obama, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Helen Keller, William Rehnquist, Janet Reno, Ralph Nader, Al Franken, Adlai Stevenson, Bill Gates, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, William S. Burroughs, John Updike, David Foster Wallace, Norman Mailer, T.S. Eliot, E. E. Cummings, Michael Crichton, Robert Frost, William Randolph Hearst, Bill O’Reilly, Buckminster Fuller, Leonard Bernstein, Yo-Yo Ma, Conan O’Brien, Jack Lemmon, Natalie Portman, Matt Damon, John Lithgow, Mira Sorvino, Tommy Lee Jones, Jonathon Taylor Thomas, Darren Aronofsky, Tom Morello, W.E.B. Du Bois, and, of course, The Unabomber Ted Kaczynski.

Seventy-five Nobel Prize winners are associated with the university, and in the last 35 years, 19 Nobel Prize winners and 15 Pulitzer Prize winners have served on the faculty. The standards here are pretty high.

Comparing this to my own college, Illinois Wesleyan, is futile, no matter how excellent we are academically. We boast 7-time NBA All-Star Jack Sikma (hell of a guy, by the way), Oscar nominated actor Richard Jenkins (also a hell of a guy), and Andy Dick (who I’ve never had the displeasure of meeting, thankfully). No other school in America is going to come close to Harvard’s list of attendees. It’s just gonna happen.

Our tour of the campus included a breeze by the library, which is the largest private library in the world and the fifth largest collection of books in the world, as well as David’s law building, the famous John Harvard statue, and plenty of other buildings on campus as well.

We took a picture with the John Harvard statue, which is allegedly one of the most photographed statues in the country. It’s called the statue of three lies because the statue is not actually John Harvard (the sculptor used a student model), Harvard is not the founder of the university (he left several books and a hefty inheritance to the school years after it had already been established, so they changed the name then to honor him), and it was founded in 1636, not 1638 as the statue proclaims.

Just off campus is a little park called Cambridge Common, and it’s here that George Washington first took control of his Continental Army, and across the street from there are some bronze horseshoe prints in the sidewalk meant to commemorate the route of William Dawes, who like Paul Revere made a ride across the countryside to warn of the British coming to arrest Sam Adams and John Hancock.

After walking around Harvard Square a little bit, buying t-shirts at the Coop, and getting a delicious red velvet cupcake at Sweet, a little bakery we’d heard a lot about, it was pretty much time to call it a day. There was baseball to watch later that evening, and we had to get a little bit rest and nourishment before the Fenway experience.

Fenway Park – Many baseball purists claim that some of the more modern ballparks are bastardizations of what a baseball experience should be. Having now been to the two oldest ballparks in American, Fenway and Wrigley, I can fully understand why some people prefer an old building for a baseball experience, even if modern-day stadiums have more comfortable seats, better food, and more navigable concourses. It all depends what you want out a ball game.

One thing is for sure, though—you can’t see your first game at Fenway without being at least a little wowed by it. Built in 1912 it’s the oldest professional baseball park still in use, and once you get inside you can see the charming presence of old age in the green rafters, the wooden grandstand seats, the dungeon-like underground concessions area, and the absence of a state-of-the-art souvenir shop. Walking into the building reminded me a lot of going to Cubs and White Sox games as a kid at Wrigley and Comiskey, and that was the part I really, really liked. It’s the kind of place where you almost have to buy a bag of peanuts en route to your seat (unless, of course, your wife is allergic to peanuts, in which case you skip that part).

Probably the most recognizable part of Fenway is the Green Monster, a 37-foot wall in left field meant to compensate for the short distance to that side of the field. Back when Manny Ramirez was playing for the Red Sox during the World Series years of 2004 and 2007, the Monster relayed a ton of doubles as it blocked line-drive homers from sailing out. Rising above that huge wall is the famous Citgo sign, which shines in all its neon glory above the park as soon as night falls.

The game itself was kind of blah since the Kansas City Royals ended up whooping up on the Sox, but for what it was worth we both really enjoyed the experience. For the better part of a couple innings I moved up to an empty seat a couple rows back from the field to shoot some pictures, and I got into a great conversation with a couple of locals. The Boston accent you hear so much about—with the r’s dropped off the ends of words—is legit. By the time I headed back to my actual seat I felt pretty confident that I could’ve passed as a Bostonian if I wanted. My White Sox hat probably would’ve given me away, though. One thing I’ve learned in visiting other teams’ ball parks is that it’s hard to stay interested the whole time, so we left in the 7th inning and took the subway back to our hotel. It was an excellent experience marking my 10th professional ballpark. I have now officially been to one-third of the baseball stadiums in Major League Baseball. I’m glad I didn’t have to save Fenway for last.

1 comment:

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