It’s Not What You Know, It’s Who You Know.
Boston is a comfortable city. A big city that doesn’t feel like a big city. I have settled in at the brownstone B&B on Bay State Road where I usually stay. It’s an easy walk from here to Fenway Park and to “The T”, which is what Bostonians call their transit system.
Just up the street from here, at Number 135 Bay State Road, is what used to be my old Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity house. I don’t know who owns it or what’s in it today, but it was a pretty classy home for a bunch of Boston University students back in the late 1950s: a classic building, probably built in the 1890s; five floors, burgundy fabric on the walls, a sitting room with a big bay window looking out onto Bay State Road. It was a very nice home for the 30 or so of us who lived there and we treated it well, with the respect it demanded. Most of us were 18 or 19 years old, but there was also a smattering of older guys, several of whom were Korean War vets. They brought an element of maturity to the house and the rest of us looked up to them.
B.U. was officially a dry campus in those days. We had parties and there was beer, which made them illegal, but I really don’t remember anything going on that was particularly loud or crazy. That was not the case with other B.U. fraternities, however, and the university administration frequently received complaints about loud parties and generally obnoxious behavior from the private citizens who owned the other homes on Bay State Road.
Finally, the Dean of Men — his name was MacKenzie — asked if our fraternity would host a reception for some of those folks. We agreed, of course, and on the appointed evening were all decked out in coats and ties, served coffee and tea, and took our neighbors on tours of our house. It worked, too. The people who attended were pretty wary initially, but warmed up and eventually decided that not all fraternity men were hellions. The B.U. administration was delighted, the sorority girls were mightily impressed, and the other fraternities hated our guts.
Parking was — and still is — a huge problem on Bay State Road. In those days, there were parking meters on both sides of the street with a two-hour maximum during normal working hours. A half a dozen of us had cars and keeping the meters always filled with nickels was impossible. That was a problem because the beat cop came by two or three times a day. I forget his name, but he was one hundred and ten percent Irish and spoke with an authentic brogue. When he was spotted coming up the street, the word would go throughout the house. Within a minute or two, a select group of brothers would gather around the front steps to greet and chat with him: Mahoney, Finnerty, Halloran, Duffy, Murphy and Kennedy.
The other fraternities constantly complained about all the tickets they were getting. Somehow parking tickets were never a problem for the Sig Eps.