Best Coast to Left Coast: A Native Son’s Departure

So my lifelong best friend, Matt Flynn, texted me about this idea for his blog. He is a genius with whatever he comes up with. He’s my brother, and he’s got the Midas touch. So I want to be part of anything he’ll throw my way. He tells me for his blog this week, it’s going to be Boston themed, from sports, culture, movie, politics etc… Then he tells me he wants to go another route: Why did I leave? A little back story here so people who don’t know me start assuming like I hated Boston. I loved and always will love Boston, and particularly Dorchester. But, to a man, you got to do things and go places when it’s not your call. My wife is from San Diego and is stationed up at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. She is the one woman outside of my family I would do anything for, and it wasn’t a question whether or not I would move. She’s my rock, so when we got married, I moved out to San Diego in July of 2014. So in this crazy life of mine, I now live on the left coast. So, what’s it like in another part of the country when all I ever knew from the day I was born and raised was what life was like in Saint Mark’s and Saint Ann’s (It’s a parish connotation, and you’d have to be from here to get it. See where this is going?)? Of course I’d love to share this story about home, what it means to be from home, what it’s like to be away, and what it’s like to be ‘that guy’ from Boston (Actually from within the city’s jurisdiction, not Braintree, Melrose, Scituate, etc… How hard is it to say ‘I grew up in a town on the South Shore 15 minutes outside of Boston’). If you want to trace back the first initial time I left Train Street you can look back at October 22nd, 2012.

I enlisted in the Marine Corps after my educational pursuits at UMass Boston which is… yes, you guessed right, in Dorchester (No forged transcript here dickhead). I left on a good note with the support of my friends and family who were behind me 100 percent, and there is no better indicator of this support than what took place the week before in a dim, shanty, but glorious bedrock institution of Dorchester Ave, JJ’s Irish Bar & Grill. After all the well wishes and goodbyes, it was gametime. My training pipeline consisted of boot camp in Parris Island, South Carolina, Marine Combat Training in North Carolina, and my schoolhouse training in Virginia Beach. So I had a bit of time away from before I reported to my reserve unit.  I was lucky enough to always have a hometown that would await me upon my completion of training. I met many kids who just wanted to get out of their town as soon as they could and the Marine Corps was that way out. I honestly didn’t get that. Never did I think such a thing about the place I called home. I loved home. I loved everything about it. I couldn’t wear enough “Dorchester” themed shirts and apparel, you know, in case I forgot where I was from by some fluke possibility of being away for a year.

A lot had changed, though, while I was away. While in Virginia, my eyes caught glimpse of the most beautiful girl I ever met in my life, and for some reason, I fooled her long enough to where she is today my wife. Her name is Quinn, and now she’s a McDonagh, too, which makes her even cooler. She is the nicest, compassionate, and most ambitious person I have ever met in my life, and I am lucky enough to call her my wife. As time went on, we became closer, and the rest is history. How she came about to choosing me as the guy to spend the rest of her life with was unique in itself.  Most of my friends know that I do not have the Boston accent that people associate with natives. You can thank Martin Scorsese for that, or blame him. You’re call. But, I guess it came out on me one day in Virginia, when I started yelling and cussing out a couple other people for doing something they weren’t supposed to be doing at the time, and whatever pitch I yelled in, apparently she loved what she was hearing. I was that exotic animal that was the craze, and I had her attention. I’m still giving off the impression to her that I’m something special, and I’ve been fooling her ever since. The time we spent together showed me who she truly was as a person, as I showed her who I was. Today, I live in San Diego with her while she is stationed at Camp Pendleton. It took the likes of her, though, for me to say goodbye to everything I ever knew and loved. But, I don’t regret taking that journey, not for a second.

Sidenote: Apparently, we are a rare breed, and by “we”, I just mean a normal ‘joe shmoe’ from home. If you’re a six but you got a bit of humor, charm, and overall respect under your belt, girls around the country love that. I’ll be honest. I’m not a good looking dude. I’m not repulsive, but a woman wouldn’t go out of her way to talk to me either. Just being straight up here. But, my wife is a hard 9 kicking on 10’s door every day of the week and twice on Sunday. But she picked me. So gents, if it ain’t going to well at home, if Ned Devine’s and Jose Mac’s aren’t turning out the results you want, just move to Cali. I promise you, best decision you’ll ever make.

Living here in San Diego is definitely something different than home. Sure, part of that change is now I am a married man as opposed to be a bachelor kicking it with my boys at home. But, there are differences nonetheless.

First, I need to mention the weather. Is it obvious? Yes. Do I care? No. I can’t help but bask in the glory of getting up in the morning and going to work with it being sunny, 85 degrees, with no humidity, day after day. It’s one thing saying this. It is a complete other beast when its February and I can go hop in the pool, hike a desert mountain peak, or take ‘the 8’ or ‘the 94’ and cruise around Coronado while I know my buddies are shoveling out their parking spots at home, using cinderblocks as space savers and slashing tires on anyone’s vehicle who gets the ‘encroachment’ penalty. At the same time, I’ve lost the concept of time. I moved out here July 15th, 2014. I have not experienced a single season of weather yet. There is no wicked lash of winter to bring in that spring feeling of new life and hope. It’s the same everyday. That has to do something to a man psychologically, and once I find out what that is, that’ll be a story for another day.

Secondly, I have to talk about the the food. My first plate of ‘carne asada’ fries (pronounced Kanye, insert the ‘r’,  and Posada, take out the ‘p’ ) was the most beautiful plate of food I had ever seen. Why would someone want to eat something so colorful and rich? Then I ate it. Let me tell you something right now. The most plain Mexican food dish beats the crap out of steak, mash, and gravy per amount of taste and flavor. I don’t know what my taste buds did my first 20+ years of life. I absolutely adore Mexican food and welcome all of my buddies to spend a week here and challenge them not to fall for the dishes here like I did when I first arrived.

Also, the pace here in San Diego is something to witness. My second or third day here, my wife let me drive her car somewhere. I remember being at a red light that turned green. There was a vehicle in front of us that, in my most humble opinion, did not gather the appropriate reaction speed to say “Hey, Mike, I see the light is green and I am going to proceed accordingly.” So I did what anybody else from back home would do and I assisted in alerting my fellow driver that the traffic light had decided to signal green and that it would be in his best interest to accelerate his vehicle in the coming moments to prevent gridlock on the roads. In other words, I assumed that this idiot was looking down at his Snapchat to see if Becky has seen the picture he sent her 4 hours ago (she doesn’t like you bro) and wasn’t paying attention. So, I laid my hand into that steering wheel and let off the native bird cry of Neponset Circle so this fool would go. Apparently, you don’t do that in San Diego. My wife was upset that I beeped at the car in front of me because it did not move according to my liking. It wasn’t my fault. I just always assumed that it was normal to tell an inattentive driver to stop being inattentive on the road and be aware of his surroundings at the light. But, I guess you don’t do that outside of New England, with the exception of a few places. San Diego is not that exception. The pace here is slower than back home, for sure. I would even argue, only in the Northeast are people so pissed off when driving that it doesn’t measure anywhere else in the country. Think about it though. Back home if I wanted to go to the South Shore Plaza, the Cape, or downtown, I would have to ask myself what day it is, what time it is, and what weather conditions am I traveling in? They don’t do that here to the degree I used to do at home. You know why? A three lane highway is big at home. That is an onramp and two lanes waiting to open up from a funnel is California. It doesn’t take more than an hour to get to somewhere 60 miles from my house. It would take me a hour to go from Adam’s corner to Field’s corner if I took a wrong turn. Highways were developed basically over roads that pilgrims decided to forge together in the 1600’s and you wonder why people hate driving at home? There are highway systems in California that are an easy 14 lanes wide, give or take a couple on that number. It’s one of those things you notice here when you don’t care what time it is to go out because there isn’t a news anchor equivalent to Ed Hardy in San Diego, with breaking news about a Honda civic breaking down in the middle of the Braintree split.

But I digress, with all that I love in San Diego, there are parts of home that I long for everyday, and I do spend hours reflecting on life back home constantly. Mainly, I miss the way of life. I don’t care how good the weather is here, or how good the food tastes. There is a character and feel to home that I have felt lost without ever since I moved here. I miss home every day, and when I say home, I mean Dorchester. When I say home, I mean my family. When I say home, I mean my friends. When I say home, I mean a place where I could walk outside and be a 30 second walk from Flynn’s. When I say home, I mean a place where it’s big enough where you might not know everybody’s name, but there are faces that you will always know, and faces that will always know yours, and there’s something to be appreciated in that.

There are certain characteristics about Boston, and even more specifically, Dorchester, that are unique unto themselves and nowhere else around. That’s not being elitist or self-absorbing, nor putting my neighborhood at the center of my universe. Everybody does that about their hometown. But, how many places have a store built on the genius idea of making shirts and apparel with the name of the neighborhood printed on everything, and then miraculously turning that said idea into a million dollar enterprise? Try and do that with Acton-Boxboro or Whitman. (Welcome to the Box? Box Rat? Whit Block? Please, spare me).

There’s a certain love that I have for my hometown that’s unexplainable to someone not from home. I get looked at weird when I try and talk about what the Eire Pub or JJ’s means to me. Talking about that to somebody from home, it’s understandable and relatable. Try and tell that to someone in San Diego and you get called an alcoholic. Maybe if they had a pastrami sandwhich  served up nice and warm from Damien, Chuck, or lad Curran himself, they’d understand.  On a cold afternoon, you walk in there and feel welcome, because you are welcome. You’re asked how your day was, how were your parents, because being a generational pub as it is, you can guarantee you’ve sat in a stool where your father, mother and their friends spent many a days as well. Then, maybe then,  they’d get a glimpse of the adoration which my buddies and I have for a such a place. Some of the best nights I ever had were sitting at a table under dim lights in a corner with my buddies over a few pints. You ask any of them the same question about whether or not they can recall one of their most memorable nights, and the story will either begin or end in the Eire, JJ’s Irish, JJ Foleys, Dooley’s, any combination of those, or all of them together if you struck gold. You’re an alcoholic to anyone outside of Boston though, and you have a problem. I say when it snows eight months out of the year, better to be with a few loyal friends and a few bottles, than curled up in your basement with a bottle of Jack. but maybe I’m pleading with people who don’t grow up here to use their imagination. Wouldn’t be the first time nor the last I would leave outsiders dumbfounded with this logic. But, at the same time, maybe you have to be from home to get that logic.

Most importantly, I miss my friends, my family, and the Connemara Gaels. The Gaels. The best summers of my life revolved around Tuesday and Thursday training sessions with gaelic footballers, Sunday afternoons in Canton, and Sunday evenings on Dorchester Ave with my team. I’m not a good footballer by any means, but I loved running the paces with all-Ireland medal winners those summers. More importantly, as good as some of them were footballers, they were even better friends. It was such a blast to play a game and love a game in which my father shared such a passion, and I was lucky enough to have found the local Gaelic football club out here in San Diego to continue that passion. But some things never beat home. For as common as the name Sean, Patrick, Michael and Kevin were to home, it is a novelty here, or Irish culture overall is. Not getting to talk about GAA or stories about Dot Ave weighs heavy on the heart, but the memories of the drives out to Braintree for training with Joey, Tommy, Pat Mac, Colman, Bosco, Coxy, Kevy, Chris, Noel, and Doolan, those were just as real and memorable in my mind as it was winning important matches and lifting cups at the end of the championship season.

To miss my family is to miss a part of myself. My mom and dad were always good to me, never gave the impression to me that we ever went through tough times, even if times we were strapped. They always loved me the way I feel every kid should be loved. I had the perfect parents who were always there, supported whatever I wanted to do, and never pushed me into anything they thought was best for me. Unfortunately that’s not the case with a lot kids today. But by God, however you want to measure some burdens, I was nevertheless spoiled by the love of my parents and Nana, who were all under the same roof with my sister and I since as far back as I can remember. My sister Jackie is three years younger than me. She always had the benefit of being the second go around in whatever my parents didn’t do right with me, haha. She was and still is an amazing athlete in basketball, gaelic football, soccer, you name it. She is just as tough mentally as she was on the playing fields, and just as smart. We got along great and I think that is the result of my parents being great parents. I never had the crisis in my family of a separation, legal troubles, or financial ruin. It was held together brilliantly, and with little effort, which says a lot today. Our doors were always open for everybody in the house and we were always able to talk to each other, joke around, but have the serious discussions about where we were in life when the time warranted. I’m not going to sit here and say I wasn’t balling my eyes when I moved. I couldn’t help it, and neither could they, and I couldn’t remember my face ever being as red and worn out than walking through the gates at Logan. It’s funny now how it went because the TSA agents didn’t say a word to me, just let me do my thing, show my tickets and ID, and let me go along my way. It was easier leaving for the Marines in some aspects because I knew I’d be coming home at some point. There was an endstate which was me getting back to my bed at home. This was different. But, it was my choice, and I was moving to be with my wife, and as sad as my family were to see me go for that final time, not knowing the next time I’d come home, they couldn’t be happier for Quinn and I to get our lives finally started together. But, if there was anything that came second to the love of my life, it would be my family and home, of which I make no distinction between the two. My family is my home, and my home is my family. And as contradicting as emotions will ever get, I was never happier to start my life with my wife and I was never sadder than leaving Boston. That’s just the way it is, and that’ll be a story for another day, because believe me, I could go on about that day for a while.

In regards to my feelings about my friends back home, I mean no disrespect by singling out names for people, but there was a clique that I was part of in my teens and early twenties who I always rolled with, and if you wanted to know where I was or how I was doing, you asked Matt Flynn, Bryan Joyce, Conor Lohan, or Chris O’Connor. If you knew where one or two of us were, you had a good idea that the others weren’t too far behind. I always joked with them that if I ever made it big out here, I’d buy a mansion and we’d all make it on the West Coast just like Vinny Chase and the boys. Part of me longs for that more than anything else I ever missed since leaving. Missing objects and materials don’t weigh on my heart as hard as I miss the unwavering loyalty of a few close friends.  I would do anything for those guys as they would certainly do anything for me. You don’t get that many places. It’s not out of a Hollywood film that my buddies look to meet a standard of friendship, but to take a line from my favorite professor on the relationship I have with my boys would go like this,

“And why does he hang out with those retarded gorillas, as you called them? Because any one of them, if he asked them to, would take a fucking bat to your head, okay? It’s called loyalty.”

I miss that more than anything. And frankly, no amount of sunshine or flavorful food will ever trump having a group of friends that have my back unconditionally, and I, their own.


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