The Virtual Suck TourDECEMBER 22, 2007
- Arlington Sign
- (Virtual Suck Tour)
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You can understand why a teenager might hate Arlington, Mass. It's kind of a kitschy, "Happy Days" version of nearby Lexington and Concord: think historical houses mixed in with an 80-year-old movie theater and an actual Five and Dime, both of which are stops on the Virtual Suck Tour. These also happen to be the exact reasons why I love it here. However, the Web site is too funny to be denied. It's sophomoric humor, but that's quite impressive considering one of the kids who created it was a freshman.
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The first stop, for example, is a picture of a bronze sculpture behind the library, a crouching Indian, with a caption that reads, "This is used to represent the town for some f****d up reason all the little stupid kids in town put stuff in his hand or break one of his arrows off. I don't know what he's doing. Everyone tells me that he's trying to catch fish or drink water from the ground. I think he's just retarded."
The Web site hasn't been updated in four years, but I managed to track down one of its creators, Bernie Doherty. He's 20 now, a tall kid with a brown mop of hair and dinner plate eyes who loves the way we in public radio describe things. Standing at the Arlington Reservoir together, he gently, mockingly whispered, "The Appalachian dawn is broken in two by the sound of the kookaburra."
Bernie still lives in Arlington and works in Boston as a longshoreman, but he's got big plans.
"The second I get my Christmas bonus I'm movin' to Southie," Bernie told me. "Every single day I look at Craig's List like I'm a Civil War mother looking at the casualty list, and just like calculate how much rental costs and how much food I can afford if I do it. I can't wait."
Starting at the Indian statue, Bernie and I went on a kind of abbreviated, real-life version of the "Virtual Suck Tour of Arlington." Mostly, we just drove up and down Massachusetts Avenue, the main road through town, in his old Volvo. At one point, I asked him what happened to his partner in libel.
"He tried to get into the Air Force," Bernie said, "And it didn't work out for him. That was his big plan to escape Arlington."
"Maybe he could have just moved out of Arlington," I said.
"I know," Bernie said. "He could have joined, like, the Peace Corps or something."
"He could have, like, walked across the border and gotten an apartment." I said.
"Yeah," said Bernie. "That's one of the reasons I haven't touched the Web site in so long because, you know, I was like 15. I channeled my teen angst into that little Web site, and ever since then I've discovered that Arlington is really very easy to get out of. And we're like six miles away from Boston. So it's like, 'we really have it so bad that we needed to make, like, a suck tour about it.'"
But they did.
And there are a lot of crappy things about growing up in Arlington, according to Bernie. Things a kid would complain about. For instance, "The Virtual Suck Tour" counts about a dozen nail salons in town (which is stop number 18) but no arcade. The Capitol Theater (stop number six) only plays second-run movies. Bernie and his friend even got worked up over things that other folks don't even really notice, like stop number four: the bus depot. Sitting in his car in front of it, Bernie read from the tour's script. "It's basically a wooden square with bus drivers inside and old people outside. All the fun you could ever want if you weren't born with a central nervous system."
He also disdains the reservoir, which a lot of Arlingtonians love. Driving into the water-logged, pothole-punctured parking lot he said, "What a shit hole huh?" This is what he and his friend had to say about it on the site.
"If you like filth, and I mean REALLY like filth, then c'mon down to the Arlington Rez. It's the most disgusting pool of disease you've ever seen. But get this, people pay good money to swim in this thing. Apparently we can't afford a beach, so we decided to use dirt to section off a part of a pond that people use as a big wet dumpster. Fun on a bun."
I didn't even know we had a reservoir until I looked at "The Virtual Suck Tour of Arlington." Bernie hates it here and he knows way more about the town than some of the people who love it. And again, the things he thinks are dumb are real selling points for me.
"Did you know the singer from Canned Heat was born in Arlington?
"You're kidding me?! The 'Goin' Up the Country' guy or the husky guy?" I ask.
"I think the guy who wrote 'Goin' Up the Country.'"
"Which is fitting because, you know, someone born in Arlington would write a song about like leavin'."
Uncle Sam is from here too. That's not a metaphor. Samuel Wilson, The Uncle Sam was born here. That's the kind of thing you can learn from the official Arlington Web site, which is maintained by Joan Roman. When I dropped by town hall, she was on the phone working out a glitch in the slide show on the front page. As the images cycled through, she told the guy on the other end, "I'm just giving you a little virtual tour of Arlington." Except, her tour didn't talk "suck."
Joan's lived here for 11 years but she only discovered "The Virtual Suck Tour" four months ago when a friend sent it to her. She didn't think it was very funny.
"Working on the town Web site," she said, "and seeing how hard these people work and reading this, my opinion is gonna be: whoa! These are your complaints? You know how lucky you are?"
But what really bothers her is actually a lot more Webmaster-ish than that.
"Update your site!" she yelled, as though my microphone were Bernie's ear. "I'm annoyed with that! I'm annoyed with that! I'm expected to update things every day and this thing sits on here for seven years and he's getting public radio to take note? What am
doing wrong? Should I just walk away?"
"I think if you put the word suck in your site," I suggested.
But she can't. For one thing, Arlington's Town Manager would probably not appreciate that too much. Also, Arlington doesn't suck, not to Joan.
"Much as people complain about Arlington," she said, "I think deep down they complain about Arlington because they really love Arlington. And that's what I wanted to say to Bernie."
Again with the yelling: "Bernie you love Arlington so much you took the time out of your day to complain about it! And if you didn't care you wouldn't have done it."
Bernie doesn't care, not really, not anymore. His anger toward his home town has softened into apathy over the years. Plus, he's had bigger things to worry about.
"Is the tumor part gonna be like 'But it's not all laughs for young Bernard Doherty?'" he asked me.
Late last year, he was diagnosed with an osteochondroma, a bone tumor. It was benign. He had it removed. He's fine. But he was laid up for a while.
"I mean that's the reason I haven't moved yet," he explained. "Because after that I was out of work for six months and all that. So at least I have some excuse."
It also made griping about the number of nail salons in town seem like less of a priority. But Bernie already had the whole "Virtual Suck Tour" thing in perspective. At the end of our drive-around, he said he just wanted to make his friends laugh. He didn't think anyone would make a big deal out of it. Meanwhile, people are still e-mailing the link to each other and talking about how funny the site is, perhaps because they can all relate.
"You could make a Web site like that about most medium-sized towns," he said. "But nobody really does. It's just like in those teen movies when they're sitting on the overlook. And they're looking at the town below them and they're like "look at this town man! I hate livin' here. I'm gonna move out the second I can."
The only difference is that those kids didn't have the Internet. And believe me, if I had the internet when I was a kid, I would still be working on a site about much my home town sucks.