Abner Bonilla, Roslindale
In the category of who knows the most about Roslindale, it would be hard to compete with Abner Bonilla. The history of the neighborhood, the happenings in the neighborhood, the lawn ornaments in the neighborhood: just from growing up here, and delivering mail here, and being beloved here, Abner knows a lot.
And if he doesn’t know, he’ll find out in five minutes, and get back to you. That’s just something he likes to do.
Something else he likes to do is travel around the world. Here, in his own words, is how he does it:
“I’m a spontaneous, last-second guy. I’ll be sitting here right now, and I bet you in about an hour and a half, I’ll be in the middle of New Hampshire just because I want to try a pastry I saw on a TV show or something. That’s me.
I love the New England area, but I also like to see what the rest of the world is about. (My friend Hai), he’s an antique book dealer—his schedule’s much better than mine—so I can call him and be like, “Hey, what are you doing this weekend?” And he can be like, “Nothin’.” And I’ll be like, “Let’s go to Spain. I found last-second deals.” And he’ll be like, “Okay.”
He was born in Vietnam and came over at a young age as a refugee. We worked together at the Boston Fenway Park selling programs right outside, and we became good friends.
He’s probably one of the most trustworthy people, so I’ll be like, “I’ll buy the tickets, and you’ll pay me back whenever you pay me back. I’m not in a hurry.” Or he’ll do the same thing.
He’s older than me, but he looks like a young kid. He’s tiny. Everywhere we go, I’m more conservative, and he’s outgoing. He’ll go out and just be like “Hey, what is this?” and “What’s going on?” and “Can I eat this off your plate?” type of thing. And people are like, “Okay! Whatever.”
You need that, because sometimes if you don’t have anybody that’ll push you to that limit, then you stay in your comfort zone. And if I stay in my comfort zone, then I’d never leave the house, and Boston’d be my only experience.
Everywhere we go, when we can, we stay in a hostel. So, in Turkey, I think the hostel was behind the Hagia Sophia, the biggest mosque that they have. Like our State House—you see it on every (postcard) picture.
Tea’s a big thing over there, so we went to a restaurant on the first floor, and there was a kid from France. And I was like, “Oh, yeah, I always hear these things about what you guys love. You know, cheese and stuff.”
I said something just to joke: “New England has great cheese. We’ve got Cabot. We got all these local dairies making every type of cheese.”
And, you know, you have to test the waters with people to see how far they can take a joke or sarcasm and stuff.
He took it really seriously: “Our cheese is the best, and we’ve been making it for hundreds of years. And you’ve never been to our town. We make the best cheese and we pair it with the best wines that we make locally.”
And I was like, “Oh, I’ve never really tried it, but I’m assuming that you’re probably correct. But I like my New England cheese. I like my New England products.”
And he just went off on that. But, you know, it wasn’t anything bad. We were just having a decent time. I guess cheese is what broke his back. The final straw. But, yeah, they take their food very seriously over there.
(One trip) we did…I believe it was eight countries in 18 days. I didn’t know tomorrow where I was going to end up. We went to Dubai, and then we went to a whole bunch of other countries in the neighborhood—Iran, Israel, Jordan, Egypt, and I think a part of that (trip) was Slovenia, too?
I’m random like that.
Dubai is an interesting country because everything is brand new, and it looks like 2060s Jetsons.
But then you see a separation of the people who live there and are rich, and the people who work there. We went to someplace that was like Subway, and there were some Filipino women there—you could tell their accent when they spoke English—and I was like, “Oh, hey, how’re you doing?” And they were like, “I’m working 80 hours a week. The money I’m sending back is to see my family.”
I think they were excited that someone was wondering where they were from. Like, (that somebody) actually cared.
I went to the mall two or three days in a row, and I didn’t see everything. There’s just thousands of people shopping.
You get to see the men with what looks like a white dress of some sort. And a lot of the women were wearing a—I don’t know what it’s called—it’s like a black dress that covers them from head to toe. It’s interesting because each one is personalized. Like the edges—they’re different. They may have a gold to it. Or they’re wearing really fancy shoes to make up for the difference. Or their makeup around the eyes looks like they must have taken hours just to do that.
There’s some women walking around in t-shirts and shorts, and then there’s (the) women covered from head to toe. It’s just their culture. It’s how they do life.
As long as it’s not hurting anybody, I’m fine with it. I’m not going to some other country to impose my own way of life. I’m going to other countries to see how they do things. You gotta see what the world’s like from somebody else’s point of view.”
Abner’s current goal is to be the first person to visit every town or city in New England. You can follow him on Instagram (@treknewengland).
He was interviewed by story ambassador Theresa Okokon, who also lives in Roslindale. Adrienne Shih, an Everyday Boston supporter, transcribed the interview. Cara Solomon, founder of EB, wrote the intro.