19 February 2013

That was Framingham

I admit, I had a LiveJournal. It wasn't like most people's LiveJournals because in its early days, it largely existed to mock of other LiveJournals. Eventually, it evolved to the point where there was actual, readable content on rare occasions, but mostly it was kind of like the Twitter feed of someone trying way to hard to be an imbecil.

LiveJournals are an interesting piece of internet history. They're kind of faintest glimmer of a proto-blog, but just not there. I'd go as far as to say that it would be possible, but rare, for a LiveJournal to be a compelling blog. I mean for fuck's sake, it asks you for music and mood in every entry. It's just begging you to complain about your oh so terrible day. That's really hard to make interesting to read.

This post is basically two origin stories. The LiveJournal was a false start, both in this entry, and in my writing on the internet in general. It turns out there was nearly a singular inspiration for this blog. And interestingly enough, it was blog about the town that I'm from.

I don't exactly remember how I first found thisisframingham.com. I remember it was on some break from college. I want to say it was sometime early in the summer of 2007, but it could have been the winter before. A blog about someone's hometown--a place where I spent the first eighteen years of my life--shouldn't be this eye-opening thing, but I have to admit it was kind of a revelation.

To set the scene, I was very much down on my hometown around that time in my life. I had met some people who had grown up in more urban areas. So much more seemed within reach for them. Jump on a the subway and see all manner of things: a baseball game, a beach, copious food choices Meanwhile most of the year I was out in a picturesque rural college town where I could easily walk most anywhere I needed to be. When I was back in Framingham, I felt trapped. You didn't walk around in Framingham; it wasn't dangerous or anything, but it just wasn't designed for it. Everyone drove and not to any particular destination in town. For the evening, maybe you'd drive to a friend's house. You wanted to actually go do something? Sorry, gotta make the 30 minute drive to Boston for that. At least it seemed that way then.

I remember one day I was jogging on some fairly major streets in Framingham and I just sort of mentally lost it. Eighteen wheelers were passing me spewing diesel fumes into the air and every street crossing just seemed manifestly anti-pedestrian. At that moment, I had fixed it in my mind: Framingham was the worst of all possible places, it had the congestion and pollution of a city with none of the pedestrian culture and amenities of one. None of the charm of a rural area, with the same lack of infrastructure.

But This Is Framingham helped me get past that. The proprietor of the site was a woman named Michelle who actually lived only a few blocks from my parents' house. Much of the content of the blog was her visiting (often by walking) and writing up local restaurants and other small businesses within the town that I then saw as a wasteland. Sometimes it was just quirky observations: someone with a grill on their roof, weird old Coke machines in a laundromat, an abandoned arcade with mint condition games inside. It had a very optimistic tone--sure there were the gripes that too many storefronts in the very walkable downtown area were insurance offices or weird churches; Framingham was saddled with too much of a social services burden; and that the traffic was all degrees of bad--but it actually made Framingham seem like an interesting place where one could have reasonably good time.

This lead to a revelation. A revelation that in my mind was so important that I set up a blog and wrote the first post right away. The post was sort of a mild invective against myself. Here I was complaining about Framingham, but if I was so desperate for a nice place to run why wasn't I going to the expansive state park right in town? If I was so starving for restaurant choices why wasn't I going downtown and getting really good Salvadoran or Brazilian food? Were none of the pizza places in Framingham a reasonable places to meet some friends at while we were all bumming around our parents' places on summer break? And that's where Mediocre Expectations came from.

And though Mediocre Expectations is not with us today, this blog is an obvious spiritual successor. Even the old LiveJournal got in on the action. There was a brief period between Mediocre Expectations and this blog that it got occasional reflective entries. The realization that This Is Framingham forced me to have about my hometown made me want to reflect on and tell the stories of so many other events in my past and thoughts I'd had.

Now that I'm on the other side of the country, when I go home to visit my family in Framingham I feel I can genuinely appreciate it. I wouldn't want to live there, there's too much more to gain from living in a city, but I can still enjoy the townie bars that I wondered about in my youth and the hole in the wall restaurants downtown that do make first rate Pupusas.

That's why when I checked This Is Framingham for the first time in awhile, I was sad to learn that Michelle was leaving Framingham, effectively ending the blog. She cited increasing dissatisfaction with the town: problems with crime and the disappearance of small businesses. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the mostly subsided but still festering issues with gang violence that were responsible for at least one brutal beating downtown and more recently a school stabbing. Honestly, the worst thing that happened to me was a bag of change being stolen from my stupidly unlocked car. But that is Framingham: it's is not the everyone-leaves-their-doors-unlocked suburb. And it's not the pristine rural community or the bustling city. It's this weird stuck-in-the-middle place that's never been perfect and never will be. But it is so incredibly far from the worst place in the world.

And I'm thankful for being forced to make that realization.


  1. Also I think it's a clever insight that the very format of LiveJournal led it to be a teenage angstfest rather than a legitimate blogging site.