Reflections as we close out 2019

By Lawrence S. DiCara
Special to the Reporter

We are about to complete the first two decades of the 21st century, yet I remain a captive of the 20th century. This essay was initiated by my speaking into a Sony Dictaphone. I own a Blackberry. I still have a landline. I get two Boston papers delivered each morning at my back door. I write thank you notes and expressions of sympathy. I will take off my hat in the elevator in the presence of a lady, and open doors as a sign of respect. I still wear a suit and a tie whenever I head downtown to work at my desk. My attaché case is my constant companion. I carry a wallet and sometimes even carry cash. I have keys, sometimes in both pockets. I prefer to speak to a human being on the telephone, rather than sending an email or a text. I remain befuddled by technology, as was so obvious when my email system failed earlier this month. 

I love going to the beach and enjoy swimming in the ocean. New Englanders can never squander a good beach day, as there are not very many of them. Just as I have my gym friends in the mornings in Boston, I have my beach friends in the summer at Piney Point. I am never alone in either location.

I tire of receiving emails for blood sugar, “Meet Russian Women Today,” joint pain relief, walk-in tubs and “silver singles” on my screen! I also tire of getting mailings offering me free hearing screenings!

I don’t agree with Clint Eastwood on much of anything, but I do agree with his thinking as to old age, as put to words by Toby Keith. The verse suggests, “Get up and go outside. Don’t let the old man in.” That is good advice.

I still have nightmares about 1968, of which John Updike wrote that he questioned whether “God might have withdrawn his blessing from America.” Some of those nightmares feature Richard Nixon. I still have a Kennedy poster on my wall. 

Then there are things that I really do not understand, such as people – mostly younger people – who are so intent upon listening to music or absorbing other information that their ears are always occupied by some electronic device. I think we were a far better society when people would speak to each other on the subway, in the elevator, or at the gym.

At Boston Latin School, there was a Loyalty Fund and a Fidelity Prize. It makes little difference more than 50 years later as to what they signified. I expect that the teachers at that time believed that we should follow the models of the Romans and Greeks. I fear that loyalty and fidelity have lost their luster. Beginning with the highest office in the land, there does not seem to be significant fidelity to the Constitution or to any oath that has been taken with a hand on a Bible. As for loyalty, it is a rapidly disappearing trait, especially among the young, who treat relationships of all sorts, personal and professional, not unlike a disposable baggie.

Some things, however, do not change. At least around here, we still pave roads as we did decades ago. We still plow snow the same way as when I was Acting Mayor during the Blizzard of 1978 – over 40 years ago. I think all of us can agree that we need 21st century solutions to create a 21st century infrastructure.

And then there is the American train system. I was trying to be a good citizen as well as a good big brother by traveling to Brunswick, Maine, by train with my sister Ginny this past August to spend time with our brother. We are all 65 and above at this point in time and we enjoy each other’s company. Because Vinny lives in Brunswick, we don’t see him as often as we would like. We had an absolute blast! 

Notwithstanding that we are the most powerful country in the history of the world, and that for more than 50 years we have been sending men and women into outer space, landing some on the moon, somehow or other our train service is not unlike that of a Third World country. My scheduled 1:30 p.m. train did not make into Boston until three hours after it was scheduled to arrive. Basically, everything went wrong. 

This has not been the case when I have ridden trains in various European countries. On May 1, 1974, I was on an exchange mission for the State Department in Europe; it was the day after my 25th birthday. I traveled from Brussels to Paris by train at lunchtime. This was less than 30 years after the end of World War II when some rebuilding was still underway. Notwithstanding all the bad things that had happened in Belgium and France during and after the war, that train left on time and arrived on time. A wonderful lunch was served: fine French food and white wine in a dining car that featured white tablecloths, crystal, china, and silverware. No one’s lunch ended up on a passenger’s lap. Friends of mine who have traveled in Asia have also reported that the trains were fast, clean, and on time.

Somehow or other we need to do better as a country so that we can compete not only with Europe but also with Japan, China, and other nations whose technology is so far ahead of ours with respect to getting large numbers of people from one place to another in a short period of time. 

When will we get our national act together? When will senators from the South and the West understand that train travel needs to be as good as, if not better, than that enjoyed in the rest of the world? 

Finally, a friend has suggested that I share with others the titles of some of the books that I have read during the course of the year:

“Grant,” by Ron Chernow; “Embers of War,” by Frederik Logevall; “The Soul of America,” by Jon Meacham; “Leaders,” by Stanley McChrystal; and a rare recommendation of fiction, “Pulse,” which is set in Boston in the 1970s. One of the secondary characters is a very demanding teacher of the classics at Boston Latin School named “Mr. DiCara.” The author, Michael Harvey, was a student at Latin School a decade after I was. To my knowledge, we never met.

Lawrence S. DiCara is a Dorchester native and former member of the Boston City Council. He is a real estate and administrative law attorney in Boston.