Over the course of one school year, I make the hour-and-fifteen-minute flight between Boston and Baltimore eight times. That means eight awkward encounters with the Southwest attendants when my bag is inevitably overweight, eight rushed journeys through security, eight requests for cranberry juice when the flight attendants take drink orders, and eight unsuccessful attempts to get ahead on homework as I wait to board.
While pretending to flip through pages of Heart of Darkness last fall, I stumbled on a strategy that kept me occupied during those eight, tedious times in the terminal: count the Bean Boots.
As soon as the New England leaves begin to show signs of fall in late September, the waterproof favorites start to trod their way up and down Newbury Street. Logan is no exception to the trend, and plane-goers’ overwhelmingly similar choice in footwear is both distinctive and almost humorous. When I walk through the busy, grey terminals of Baltimore-Washington Airport I can spot my gate before I am in earshot of its flight announcements because of these brown, rubber constants.
I am not unlike my fellow passengers, shuffling along the masses with each heavy step of my own winter-worn pair. Bean Boots were one of the first packages I received during my freshman year, and I can probably count on one hand the number of times I didn’t crunch from class to class in them between last November and March.
Aside from being functional in the New England winter, there is something inherently Boston about L.L. Bean’s signature footwear, but just what is unclear. Besides characterizing the passengers on every flight in and out of Logan, Bean Boots really have no practical connection to the city.
Since 1912, Bean Boots have been produced and sold out of various manufacturing locations in Maine. The shoes, which were Leon Leonwood Bean’s first product, were originally called “The Maine Hunting Shoe” and were designed to keep the feet of hunters and recreationalists dry as they tramped throughout the Maine woods. As the Bean Boot approaches its’ 103rd birthday, however, it is now more likely found traversing a Massachusetts college campus than immersed in the wilderness of “The Pine Tree State.”
The assumed connection between the Bean Boot and Beantown is not unique to just footwear, however. According to US Census data, only 47.7% of Boston residents are born in state—which is significantly less than the population of major cities like New York and Los Angeles—making it one of the nations most moved-to cities. Something about Boston draws people in, welcoming them with the charm of thick accents and tenured traditions.
Both my Bean Boots and I have found an unlikely, auxiliary home in the city. Although they are not carefully stitched in rural Maine, my beginnings are also out of state—as I was raised in a quaint D.C. suburb. I have spent the vast majority of my life among Terrapins and Old Bay instead of clam chowder and the Red Sox, and before last year had only heard the word “wicked” used in relation to a certain Witch of the West. Despite my ideal winter ending in February and preference of Starbucks over Dunkin’ Donuts, Boston has welcomed me like it has my favorite shoes.
Boston has a personality. From the fluorescent glow of the Citgo Sign to the crooked cobblestones of the North End, there is a culture of charming imperfection that makes this city so comfortable. Bostonians—students and Uber drivers alike—are united in their broad backgrounds, their ability to be strong in times of crisis and tranquility, and a deep pride in their city.
I have tried on both my Bean Boots and Beantown for size, and can’t see myself changing either anytime soon.
Featured Image by Francisco Ruela / Heights Graphic