written by max baker
When you think of Alston, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? If it’s college kids, frat-parties, or a drunken Saturday night, then you're not alone. A large part of Alston’s community consists of College students, and with BU fraternities and gaggle of underclassman that makes the beginning of a party scene. And Allston's scene has been around for a while. Long enough that most of the people who move there are either moving for cheap living or college night life. But in the off season, what happens to this place? What do you make of a place, that's only full two quarters of the year.
In trying to make sense of this transient community I met with Al Reitz, a student in their senior year at Emerson College and almost two year resident of Alston. Al moved to Boston when they started at Emerson College. At Emerson, they study in the Writing, Literature, & Publishing program as a BFA student. They are now finishing their second to last semester at Emerson, as well as their BFA thesis, a collection of queer short stories.
I met with Al for brunch on a Monday. I asked them about their life in Alston, and what it was that made them choose to live in there. Our conversation went from frats to dirty apartments to the feeling of silent town in midst of summer. The following are parts of our conversation, recorded and transcribed here.
Q: Who are you, what's your name?
A: My name is Al, Al Reitz.
Q: What are your pronouns Al?
A: I use they/them pronouns.
Q: What made you come to Alston?
A: Primarily Affordability. I come from a working-class family. I am working class myself. I needed a place that I could afford and Alston was it… Me and my two roommates at the time we lived in a two bedroom, very small apartment off of Harvard Ave. So, Pretty stereotypical Alston apartment. Third floor walkup.
Q: What was that process like? Looking for an apartment in Allston?
A: The look process was a bit of hell. My other two roommates were—I think I was more laid back about it than my other two roommates were. I’ve moved around a lot in my life, especially later on in my life. So I’m very adaptable, I can live pretty much anywhere if forced into it. So in the actual process was very interesting. We started a bit late. We didn’t sign our lease until March? Maybe late april of 2015. Which is very late in Boston terms you supposed to do it before all of the great real estate is sealed up. But we—the place we found was, y’know, it worked, it had heat and hot water included. It didn’t have laundry in the building which was shitty for a long time. We were like walking a couple block which is hard when you don’t want to do laundry like every week, y’know?
Q: When was the first time you came to Allston?
A: I want to say it was my freshman year. I came to Buffalo Exchange with my then girlfriend. It was strange I had never been this far out on any of the lines, especially the B-line. I never took the B line—my girlfriend lived on the E-Line so I had never really been on the Boston College line. When I got to Harvard Ave which is, you know, anyone whose been to Allston, whenever you think about Allston you think about Harvard Ave and like the intersection of Harvard and Commonwealth that’s, like, the hubbub. That’s where you go on your weekend nights and you’re an underclassman. You go to shitty Allston basement shows. So I think my first time, my first impression was very tame. I came with my girlfriend and I remember getting McDonalds with her and then leaving very abruptly because the train was coming. But it was definitely a different part of the city. I was in the inner part of the city, I was surrounded by sky-scrapers at the time. Not that Alston isn’t Urban but its more, like striding the line between Urban and Suburban.
There’s more neighborhood here?
Yeah, there’s more neighborhood here. Less corporation.
Q: You mentioned basement shows, did you go to any?
A: I didn’t, no, I was a little reclusive as an underclassman. I’m pretty boring in that respect.
Q: What do you see around Allston?
A: You get very used to it, after a while you sort of tune out the walk, which is kind of shame ‘cause there is a lot to see. You get used to seeing the same stores and… all the kind of street arts. There’s a lot of murals in Allston, a lot that people don’t expect that. I think because there’s a lot of artists in Allston. There’s a lot of pride for our shitty rat city. Like from my own apartment on the way to the train there’s this mural of Harvard Ave and its split down the middle. And one side you see modern day Harvard Ave, you see the things you walk by every day. Slowly the mural transitions to, probably to about a hundred years ago, like the 1910s. And the history of that is incredible. Because it was here and that’s something that people don’t think about. So you know it has some of those old cars and some of those old restaurants you can tell like the shape of them. Like, where it used to be a McDonalds and now it’s like a Taylors. And being a part of that history is pretty interesting. And that was the mural I saw the most.
Q: What has been you’re experience integrating with the Alston community? What is the Alston community?
A: I think that’s a hard question to answer. I think most of my experiences have been because people I know live here. I think that’s where my sense of community come in because almost all of my close friends live in Alston. A few of them live in JP but most of them live here. And just, like, being able to walk over to your friend’s apartment is very different than being able to walk over to your friend’s dorm. ‘Cause this is a place they’ve curated themselves, this a place—even though we don’t own these places obviously—but for a while we do. And they kind of own us. For a while we make kind of our own, private communities in that way… It helps with the experience of being on your own. Being in an apartment is different from being in a dorm for vary obvious reasons. To feel less alone is a big part of the community.
Q: You’ve mentioned things like the “trash city" or "Rat city", would you say that’s part of Allston’s character?
A: Yeah… The thing about is that Allston’s been heavily gentrified. Which is not to say that a lot of people who live here are well off. Cause I don’t believe that. But there’s a lot of college students. Allston has become, primarily, a college dwelling place. Y’know in the summer it’s a ghost town. Which is not the way it used to be… In that sense I do think it’s a very large part of the community here in Allston. Any weekend night you can here the BU frat parties and all the Drunken underclassman stumbling together in flocks going to their parties. There’s a weird kind of solidarity, like, “I’ve been there.” “I get what you’re doing,” I’m too old for it now though.
Q: This college scene… It moves, Allston in the summer, what’s that like?
A: Yeah its pretty dead. There’s not a lot people here at all. A lot of people leave. A lot of the night life, the culture there, goes with it. I kind of like it because it’s quieter. It’s very much a place that people stay for now. Allston’s not a forever place, for college students it is. For a lot of working people or people with children Allston is forever but must of us are just passing through.
Q: Would you say that kind of mentality has affected the way you see Allston?
A: Probably, Yeah. I’d say so. ‘Cause I mean I’m not gonna live here forever. Y’know I might live here for another year or two but then I’m gonna get out.
You wanna live somewhere else?
Yeah. Cause as I said it’s a staple of college culture and when I finish college I don’t want to be around a bunch of undergraduates. I’m an undergraduate myself I know what we’re like. I don’t wanna do that.
I want to go live in the waking world.