Living and Working in Boston

Tracy Strauss, '96 | Jennifer Goldman, '93 | Michele LaCourse, '94 | Dina A. Lyon, '92

Tracy Strauss, '96

I was first acquainted with the "real world," Boston, when I was a senior at Geneseo and a participant in the 1996 Boston Externship Program. It was during that week of "Spring Break" that I, along with twelve other Geneseo students, took a crash course in living and working in what is known as "The Cradle of Liberty," Boston, Massachusetts. The following fall, I enrolled as a graduate student in film/screenwriting at Boston University, and found my first apartment via a tip from a Geneseo alumna two weeks before classes started, a shared three-bedroom unit atop a brownstone on the Boston/Allston/Brookline border. A little over two years and a degree later, I returned to Geneseo and resided there, serving as assistant director of alumni relations, as well as adjunct faculty in the English and Communication departments. I returned again to Boston in April 2001 -- I suppose you could say I have acquired a case of I-90 whiplash -- and I have been a full-time resident since.

As a Geneseo undergraduate, I majored in English and dabbled quite a bit in writing, literature, journalism, and American studies. My experience as a graduate student in Boston was a difficult transition, both financially and emotionally. I missed the closeknit community I had grown to love and depend on at Geneseo. In Boston, I lived with two roommates I barely knew, one of whom was involved with a man arrested for pretty serious crimes. It certainly was a life of writing material. After finishing my M.F.A., a full-time job was hard to fine. I obtained several part-time jobs as secretarial temp at an insurance firm, and as an instructor and writing specialist at Middlesex Community College in Bedford, Mass., and Bryant College in Rhode Island. I did not have my own car, nor could I afford to get one, and so I took great advantage of the mass transit system, both subway and bus service. However, my daily commute was literally four to six hours roundtrip, which was pretty exhausting. Plus, I was not earning enough to make ends meet. When opportunity knocked, I moved my professional life to Geneseo in the fall of 1998, and then life was pretty different than it was in Boston. For one thing, it was quieter, and my commute was a ten-minute walk!

Opportunity is also what brought me back to Boston in April 2001, and this is where I have remained, and hope to for some time. My experience working and living in Boston this time around is a bit different than it was in 1996-1998. Most recently, I worked as a communications assistant at the Boston College Alumni Association. I just made the "career switch" to teaching, and now I am a full-time instructor of writing at Boston University.

OVERVIEW OF THE BOSTON AREA:

Known by many names, including the "City of Youth" (for the sheer number of college students roaming the streets), Boston is home to Fenway Park, the Red Sox and the Patriots, the Freedom Trail, The Kennedys, and Filene's Basement. The city is known for its history, and the history of our nation.

Greater Boston is a smaller city than New York City, divided up into the north shore, south shore, east and west. Populating these sectors are communities that sport diverse personalities of their own, from traditional to eclectic, filled with many ethnic and cultural elements. Downtown Boston has its theater district, government center, and areas of higher education.

Boston is a large tourist attraction, particularly due to its history. Newbury Street and the Boston Common are frequented sites. Many outlying areas such as Salem, Cape Cod, Concord, and Walden Pond are visited throughout the year. Boston is close to ski country, which tends to get popular in the winter months. In warmer weather, beachgoing (not like the ones you'll find on Long Island, but beaches just the same), sailing, and whale watching are popular outdoor activities. Boston is an hour's drive to Providence, New Hampshire, and Connecticut, two hours to Albany, and about four hours to New York City.

EMPLOYERS AND WORKING IN THE AREA:

Employers in the Boston area represent almost any career field you can imagine. From education (one of the bigger employers in this area) to medicine, computer science, engineering and accounting (one of the better-paying fields), to advertising, journalism, television and the arts, to law practice to government service to philanthropy, you can find companies that specialize in just about anything.

Overall, the job market tends to be flooded, particularly for entry-level positions, though with the plethora of Geneseo graduates in this area, you can use connections to your advantage. Many folks try temp-to-perm agencies, though I've known several people (including myself) who've gotten the run-around from several. It can be quite a challenge sometimes, but that seems to just make people more determined to succeed. And that they do. Bostonworks.com is a great resource for full- and part-time job listings, posted and updated daily.

Salaries in Boston tend to vary according to job field, though most starting salaries tend to be on the low side in comparison to standard of living, as the supply of workers exceeds the demand of available jobs in many fields.

TRANSPORTATION:

Boston is well known for its "bad," "mean," or otherwise "heartless" drivers. In fact, several nationally known car insurance carriers refuse to cover car owners in Massachusetts due to issues of liability. Car insurance in this area tends to be localized and rather expensive, and if you do plan on owning a vehicle here, be ready to pay the imposed yearly excise tax, the amount of which is figured depending on car age, make, model, and parking location. Speaking of parking, if you live in or close to the middle of town (including outlying "suburbs" such as Brookline, Newton, Cambridge or Somerville), expect to feed the meters during the day, or pay a hefty $120 or more per month for a private parking spot. Some apartment buildings include private parking with rentals, though most residents can obtain parking permit stickers (usually $1-2 per year) and leave cars overnight in unmetered zones.

One note about streets in Boston: they are royally confusing. Many streets are not labeled, and if they are, you may find two (or three, four, five) streets with the same name, but in different sections of the city. Unlike New York City, or even Washington, D.C., Boston streets are not designed in a logical grid system, but rather twist and turn and at times disappear, to reappear in some far-reaching section of the state. Boston streets are also old and narrow and some originally built of brick and were not made to accommodate so much traffic, making driving all the more tricky. "The Big Dig" is the city's solution to solving the modern-day nightmarish commute problem by getting rid of the zigzagging highways and moving the "central artery" underground, replacing the ugly site of angry drivers with open, green pastures and parks. "The Big Dig" is the city's eyesore at this moment, and while it's slated to be finished soon, it was slated to be finished soon three years ago.

The majority of Bostonians choose to walk, bike, or take the T to work. The bus and train service offered by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) is very accessible and affordable, clean and safe. Various color-coordinated lines of the T, or train, link outer-lying suburbs with the center of the city either directly or by bus connection; a commuter rail does the same, connecting far-reaching towns with the main lines of the T. The T costs $1 to ride (the commuter rail is more expensive), one way, though most frequent riders buy T passes, which are $35 per month for subway use (combination passes are available for both T and bus use) and provide unlimited riding, saving riders' wallets a lot of cash. You'd be surprised how many Geneseo alumni -- familiar faces -- you'll meet up with on your way to and from work each day when you take mass transit.

LIVING IN BOSTON:

Let me get the bad news out of the way first: living in Boston, or in a 20-mile radius, is expensive with a capital, bold-faced E. There is no rent control in Boston, and many landlords take plenty of advantage. However, you can avoid some of the nasty cases of landlord-tenant relationships by educating yourself on the basics of apartment rental units, with particular eye for electrical wiring, source of heat, building security, and neighborhood character.

The lowdown:

The average price of a studio apartment in the city is $1100. For that price, you'll most-likely get a place that does not exceed (in its entirety), at least by much, the size of the common room of a suite in Suffolk Hall. However, heat and hot water will most likely be included. If you choose to live alone, apartments outside the city on the green T-line (Brookline, Brighton, Allston) will run you $1000-$1050 for a decent (read: safe) studio, $1250 for a one-bedroom, and anywhere between $1350 and $1800 for a two-bedroom, depending on the neighborhood, and whether the apartment is in someone's private home or in a managed building. Granted, when one is just starting out, or even a few years or more into one's career, rent tends to be on average half, or more than half, your salary, after taxes (depending on your career field, of course). Most apartments are rented out by rental agencies that charge a fee — anywhere between a half-month's to a full-month's rent -- for finding you a place to hang your hat. Most rental agents tend to be out for their own agendas rather than your needs, so be sure to ask a lot of questions about the unit before signing a lease. Never agree to take an apartment sight-unseen (you'd be surprised how many folks do this, given the desperation factor: it is a well-known fact that there are not enough housing units to house every person in the Boston area). They don't call finding an apartment a "rat-race" (emphasis on the rodent factor) for nothing.

Most importantly, trust your gut, and, despite your imperative need for adequate housing, resist desperate measures just to say you have a place. Most landlords and management companies require you to sign a one-year lease, so you will be stuck with the good, the bad, and the ugly of your apartment for the duration. If at all possible, try to resist apartment hunting over the summer months, as many college students look to find places for September 1, and the number of renters seeking rentals is at an all-time high.

The good news is that if you do your homework, you can ultimately find a place that is not only suitable and do-able, but to your liking. As for choosing a neighborhood:

Brighton and Allston, located on the green B (Commonwealth Avenue) and farther-reaching C (Beacon Street) lines, are where most just-grads and graduate students are clustered. Some areas of Allston are notoriously bad, so be sure to check out the area closely. Follow your gut instincts. Rents tend to be a little lower in this area, but crime rates also tend to be a little higher, to balance out the scales.

Brookline (C line) and Newton (D line), further west of the city, are clustered with young families and more established professionals, and tend to be more expensive than Brighton and Allston, but also are safer and more appealing, attractive areas. Living with someone else is more affordable here than living alone. John F. Kennedy's birthplace is located on Beals Street in Brookline, just a short walk from Coolidge Corner, what I like to call a city-version of Main Street, Geneseo, with a classic movie theater, independent bookstore, restaurants, and shops.

Across the Charles River, northern "cities" include Cambridge and Somerville, accessed by the red T line. Cambridge, home to Harvard University, and Somerville, home to Tufts University, are less expensive alternatives (a good-sized studio in a safe area runs approximately $950/month), a one-bedroom $1200, a two-bedroom $1450. Every year, however, many of these unit prices go up another $50-100/month.

Central Square is up-and-coming, though there are danger pockets. In Cambridge, Harvard Square tends to be more commercialized than it used to be, but you'll find lots of culture wherever you turn here, as this area is populated by a great many scholars, filmmakers, poets, and musicians. Davis Square in Somerville is known as the "old Harvard Square"; it isn't as taken over by GAPs and Barnes and Nobles as Harvard is, but is rather surrounded by independent bookstores, coffee shops, old-fashioned diners, jazz brunch restaurants, an old movie theater, and a bike trail. You'll find local musicians playing in the square, and local writers creating their masterpieces over a hot drink at a corner table in the Someday Cafe. Arlington is farther north, and is up-and-coming for just-marrieds and young families, though you'll need a car to get around easily.

You may also hear of the North End and South End, which are homes to various ethnic groups and therefore great culture and great restaurants. Jamaica Plain, accessible by the commuter rail, is a western, up-and-coming suburb for young couples and families, though watch out for those confusing rotaries.

Another neighborhood you may hear mentioned: Roxbury. Stay away.

ENVIRONMENT:

Having grown up on the north shore of Long Island, and having lived in New York City for two months of the summer after I graduated from Geneseo, I consider Boston to be a small, manageable, diverse, creative, and stimulating city. The nice thing about Boston is the existence of four seasons. As for weather, in general we experience about the same weather as New York State, even Rochester/Geneseo, though we tend to get that weather a day later (it helps to be forewarned by family and friends who still live there). Summers have tended to be hot and humid with temperatures in the 80s and 90s, though you'll be glad for the sea breeze that kicks in most evenings. Winters, though cold, don't drop as much snow as you'll find in Western New York (knock on wood). Autumn is a beautiful and really inspiring time in New England. Spring rounds out the four seasons with temperate weather.

SUMMARY:

While breaking in to a life in Boston may take some time, for many, it is well worth it, and rewarding. The accessibility to resources, arts, sports, and people of all ages, colors, and creeds makes this city a very stimulating place to live and work. Starting out anywhere can be filled with uncertainties, especially in a major city such as Boston, but given all the variables here, one thing remains very certain: you're sure to find a Geneseo face to help you along, wherever your road may turn.

Jennifer Goldman, '93

Name: Jennifer Goldman

Major/Year of Graduation: Management, 1993

Current Employer: Tanager Financial

Job Title/Years in position: 2 years

Job Description: Certified Financial Planner

What are the most rewarding aspects of living in Boston?

Career mobility and Geography (mountains for skiing and ocean).

What are the most challenging aspects of living in Boston?

Cost of living.

What is the current job climate for candidates in your career field?

Difficult for someone that wants a salary that would cover cost of living but excellent for finding an entry level position.

What suggestions do you have for a Geneseo graduate wishing to live and work in Boston?

Use monster.com to do job research. Network with alumni. Visit first.

Michele LaCourse, '94

Name: Michele LaCourse

Major/Year of Graduation: Physics, 1994

Current Employer: 3M

Job Title/Years in position: Senior Product Development Engineer, 4 years

Job Description: The manufacturing plant I work in makes touch screens, my job is to find better materials and processes to make our own touch screens at a lower cost and higher quality.

What are the most rewarding aspects of living in Boston?

I love the history in Boston. There are so many great things to see in the Boston area (lighthouses, Lexington and Concord, beautiful stone walls in the countryside).

What are the most challenging aspects of living in Boston?

The traffic! You quickly learn what roads to avoid at certain times and faster routes.

What is the current job climate for candidates in your career field?

Very good. I have kept p with the job market even though I decided to stay in my position for four years. I have never had any problems with finding a job in the area.

What suggestions do you have for a Geneseo graduate wishing to live and work in Boston?

Talk to other Geneseo Graduates in this area for tips on how to find a place to live (and where!) and the best route to get around the area.

Dina A. Lyon, '92

Name: Dina A. Lyon

Major/Year of Graduation: Political Science, 1992

Current Employer: Talbots

Job Title/Years in position: HR Systems Analyst, 3 years

Job Description: Support various divisions of Human Resources Department in use of Peoplesoft HR and payroll system including report creation, trouble shooting problems, managing benefits administration module of system and overseeing interfaces to outside vendors.

What are the most rewarding aspects of living in Boston?

Boston is an exciting city with much culture and diversity. There is always some type of event to enjoy- music, arts, sports, holidays. Lots happening in Boston and a young population.

What are the most challenging aspects of living in Boston?

Traveling to the city during commute times is very trying — either driving or taking the T. The biggest challenge to living in Boston is finding a good job with a decent salary in order to help pay for the high cost of housing in the area.

What is the current job climate for candidates in your career field?

Job climate in my career field is very slow currently. Due to the economy, companies are not adding new positions and current workers are staying put in their current jobs due to uncertainty.

What suggestions do you have for a Geneseo graduate wishing to live and work in Boston?

Research, research before you come to Boston and use Geneseo alumni for information, job and use Geneseo alumni for information job and housing leads, etc. Geneseo alumni were the most helpful when I moved to Boston 10 Years ago!