There’s a lively debate going on over at the Perpetual Post on Public Transit: NYC vs. DC vs. London vs. Boston. I hope I accurately represented Beantown in my portion of the discourse, below. Check out the others over on the Perpetual Post.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Boston. It’s like my second, not-as-good home away from home. There’s great history there, and lots of character, and the letter “R” is pronounced “AH” by natives, who like nothing more than to glare at you from under their Red Sox caps. What’s not to like? Oh, right. The cold. And the high cost of living. And all those college students. And the godforsaken T.
Having lived in Boston for 5 years without a car, I think I can say with authority that in when it comes to public transportation, Boston is like Toon Town. First of all, the subway lines don’t have names, or even letters or numbers—they have COLORS. Could they possibly simplify that any further? Except then, to complicate it, some of the trains of one color line (the green line) branch off and go into vastly different directions. So, on the green line, you have the B line, the C line, the D line, and the E line. Could they have possibly picked four letters that didn’t sound exactly the same when announced in a noisy T station during rush hour? There are other letters in the alphabet that have different tones—like H! Or M! There are also other letters that don’t look very similar when they’re displayed on what looks like a defunct Lite-Brite on the front of a rapidly moving train. (And don’t get me started on Lite-Brites and Boston for that matter, thanks to a little show called Aqua Teen Hunger Force.) In any event, so you’re standing at Park Street (or PAHK Street) waiting for the E line, and here it comes along—but wait, is that an E or a B? And it’s on the C tracks?! And the doors on the side where you’re standing don’t seem to be opening! AND you paid $2 for this lousy T ride! What the hell!?
Still, you are given something of a sporting chance, particularly at Park Street, because the trains don’t move ALL that quickly. In fact, there was a recent incident in which a drunk girl fell onto the T tracks in Boston, right in the path of an oncoming train, and she was saved by heroic bystanders who waved at the oncoming train to get it to slow down and stop in time. And it did stop in time. So, we’re not talking about super fast transport here either.
Also, way the T system is set up, is like spokes radiating from a hub in the center (more or less) of the city. As a result, there are many situations in which you need to take the T all the way into that center hub in order to take it all the way out in another direction, to get not that far away from where you started from. So there are places that take 15 minutes to drive between, but they take an hour to take the T between. I lived in Somerville at one point, and my younger sister lived in Jamaica Plain, and it took us about an hour and a half to get to one another’s houses on the T. And Boston, don’t flatter yourself; you’re not that big.
There are also situations in which you could conceivably transfer between different 3 trains in order to go exactly two aboveground city blocks. Ridiculous!
And don’t forget the bus! Boston is also home to a fabulous bus network that has become more easily navigable in recent years, but at one point there was practically no way to find out where buses stopped without taking them. Bus schedules consisted of random-looking online .pdfs which were never shown in relation to actual streets. Since those early days, Boston wised up and began printing up actual bus schedules, and sometimes if you are lucky, you will actually find the schedule you are looking for in the display tree at your local T station. I don’t think they have ever managed to print them in a way that corresponds with demand—there were always nine thousand schedules available for the ubiquitous #1 bus, and I have NEVER seen a living schedule for the elusive #94.
So, the bus system in Boston has improved—but so has the price increased. When last I lived there a year ago, I regularly took an express bus that took me from outer Medford to Downtown Boston in about 20 minutes, and cost $3.50. That’s right, per ride. And no, this bus did not offer door-to-door service, free coffee, a complimentary newspaper or a lapdance. Sometimes it didn’t even offer a seat. And yet, $3.50?! I ask you. For three times that price, I could take a bus to NYC.
Lastly, let’s talk about hours of operation. Boston is a well-known college town with a fairly young demographic and a pretty active nightlife—and yet it’s stuck with a transportation system that keeps cranky old people hours. Trying to catch a T or a bus any time after midnight, you have about a 50% chance of being SOL and having to take a cab or walk. And in a city known for a negative wind chill factor in winter, walking is kind of risky sometimes. You could end up dead in a snowdrift between two parked cars.
Also, it is almost impossible to get a cab in many areas, because either a) there are NO cabs, b) no cabs will stop, or c) a drunken frat boy elbows you out of the way and takes your cab. And few things are more frustrating than stumbling out of the club after a night (well, half a night, since it’s only 1am) of dancing, wearing a miniskirt in fifteen degree weather, and stumbling to the curb to catch a quick taxi—only to be passed by dozens of empty cabs who refuse to even look at you because presumably they are off-duty. Why cabs choose to go off-duty late at night when they have become the only game in town, I will never know. In fact, I once hailed a cab and watched the cabbie stop his cab, light a cigarette, glance up at me, and then speed away. It was enough to make me weep and gnash my teeth with rage. And I’m no shrinking violet.
Boston, you’re a tough town. But I’ll always have a soft, angry place in my heart for you.
But in North Carolina…
Garner Nightly News: “There’s going to be a HARD frost tonight, so remember:
-Check your Pipes
-Check your Elderly
-Keep your Pets Warm”
The night’s low was 27.
Also, I like that pipes were listed before the elderly. I guess because the elderly don’t explode when they freeze?
Took a trip to Family Dollar today. I will not deny that close proximity to a Dollar Store is a deciding factor when I look for a place to live. For real. I love dollar stores. They make me feel all warm and cheapy inside. Why buy juice for $3.69 at a reputable grocery store when you can get Happeez Brand Liquid Fruit-like Drink for $2 at the dollar store? Why indeed.
They’re a good place to stock up on cheap, disposable home goods as well, for those folks in transition who’ve found an apartment but lack a job– and a dish rack, and a bath mat. Family Dollar will sell you a $1 shower curtain made of the lightest gauzy whisper of faerie wings and clouds; one that becomes airborne and billows to the ceiling, or wraps itself around your soaped up showering form at the slightest hint of a breeze. If that doesn’t give you the impetus to start job-hunting so you can afford a nice $12 dollar shower curtain that obeys gravity, nothing will.
I do have my limits though. I was dismayed to learn that the Family Dollar near my first apartment in Boston carried a Family Dollar Brand Pregnancy Test– a bargain at $3 a pop. (No pun intended. Ew!) Anyhoo, I would not trust a $3 pregnancy test not to do one or both of the following:
a) actually MAKE me pregnant or
b) then give me a crazy bat baby.
“Mom, where did I come from?”
“The Dollar Store.”
Nobody wants to have that exchange. Some items are best purchased at your local CVS.
I used to think that part of what was great about walking the dog was that it gave me a chance to think, to muse, to mull over my day and ponder life in general.
I have learned that the only thing I ponder while out walking the dog, is walking the dog.
We come from different places, he and I, and we’re into very different things. Reality shows don’t interest him, he doesn’t care about music, and books leave him cold. I am ambivalent about tennis balls and I dislike sleeping on the floor. It’s surprising that we get along as well as we do.
Come to think of it though, we both love to eat my food, and find his food vaguely distasteful.
Boo! It is nearing the end of winter. I am moody. My hands are dry and rough. My cuticles are fringed like a suede jacket from the 1970s. My outer thighs are red and chapped from rubbing against my pants, but I will not do anything to fix this condition because that would require acknowledging it. What I wouldn’t do for some picnic weather.
When I moved in with Brian, to a house on the fringes of the outskirts of Boston, I knew there would be some adjustments to be made. For example, I can no longer end an argument by yelling, “Whatever, I’m going home!”, slamming the door and stomping into the night. I can say, “Whatever, I’m going to my room!” but that makes me feel like an angry teenager. And then he might not let me borrow the car.
The car. That’s another change. If you are normal and you live where I live now, you depend on a car to get you where you need to go, as the nearest sweet, sweet T station is half an hour away. The local town square is well equipped to handle my everyday funeral parlor, toy store and soccer supply needs, but I need to drive fifteen minutes to find groceries.
Do I have a car, to get those groceries? I do not. I take the bus. However, where buses are involved, most of my time is spent standing wistfully on the curb, gazing at the horizon, and willing every vehicle that drives past me to turn into a bus.
The song in my head goes something like this: “Be a bus!/ Not a bus!/ Be a bus!/ Not a bus,” with an occasional chorus of “You’re a bus!/ But you are the wrong bus.” Singing that song in my head for longer than twenty minutes in frigid winds leaves me feeling slightly murderous.
Now and then, a bus passes me with a sign on it that says ‘Out of Service’. This also infuriates me, for several reasons. One, I can’t tell if that bus is my bus or not. And if it IS my bus, I’d really rather be riding it than watching it pass me, particularly in the brutal cold of an early winter in Boston. Frankly, I feel that if a bus can pass me, it can damn well pick me up and bus me around until I can feel my face again. In fact, unless a bus is clearly on fire, or there is a rampaging bear inside the bus, or a giant attack squid on is top of the bus with its tentacles wrapped over the windows, a bus should be in service.
Now that I think about it, every single bus I have ever seen that had an ‘Out of Service’ sign on it has looked perfectly fine to me. What exactly is the problem, I would like to know? How come the bus drivers who pass me with those signs always seem to avoid my eyes? Are their buses really broken? Or do they just kind of want to take it easy for a few stops and relax? I can sympathize with that desire, but somewhat less so when I am wedged against a building to stay out of the wind, passing the time by deciding which fingers the doctor should be able to save. I’d love to put on a hat with the words ‘Out of Service’ on it at MY job, which would enable me to breeze past anyone asking me to make photocopies, while whistling and pointing at my hat. I can’t do that. Maybe I am at the wrong job.
Or maybe I am at the right job, and just have the wrong hat. In any event, two can play at this game. Perhaps the next time my 7:39am bus arrives at 8:54am, I will board the bus and pull out my wallet, which will be taped shut with an ‘Out of Service’ sign on it, then shrug and ride for free. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.
A few weeks ago I wrote about how I much was enjoying taking Brian’s dog, Charlie, for evening walks through the neighborhood. He usually gets his exercise by running around in the woods that border our backyard, so I think he was happy to have the company. As a matter of fact, he grew to like our walks. A lot, in a very short time. It’s to the point where now I can’t stop taking him. Meanwhile, the weather worsens, and it gets darker earlier each evening.
Now, when I get home, Charlie greets me at the door, and then sits down expectantly in front of me, waiting for me to hook his leash to his collar and get to the walk. “He never does that to you!” I said to Brian. “When you get home, you get a cheerful ‘howdy’ and that’s it. You get to take your coat off, and sort through the mail, without a dog dancing in circles around your legs.” “You don’t see me taking him for walks all the time,” Brian replied, and gave me a look. “Sucker,” it said. I realized then what I had gotten myself into.
I’ve tried to get out of our walks. At first I figured it wouldn’t be that difficult to blow Charlie off until he forgot all about them. And if that took awhile, so what? He’s a dog! How much emotional manipulation is he really capable of? The answer is, apparently more than I am. Case in point: I am unable to get Brian to go on these walks with us. I whine, I beg, I paw at him; he shrugs and continues watching “Mythbusters”. And still the dog makes me go, into the dark and cold, night after night.
At this point, on my way home from work each evening, I whimper to myself about how tired I am, and how cold it is outside, and how I’m not going to want to leave the house once I get there. No walk today, I think, as I trudge up the hill to the house. I just can’t do it. I don’t have it in me. And then I open the front door, Charlie rushes over, and gives me the greet, and the sit, and…I grab the leash. Sucker.
But really, how can I say no? Somehow, it feels like saying ‘no’ to a walk would be like giving a child a Playstation 3 box for his birthday, and inside the box is a toaster. It would be like giving a teenager a set of keys and telling him they’re for his new Audi that’s parked outside, and when he gets outside they’re actually the keys to his grandma’s car because –guess what!— she’s visiting for the weekend, and she’s staying in his room. Not taking Charlie for his walk just feels mean. Especially because all I have to do is wear a coat and shuffle around the neighborhood, but when I put that coat on and reach for his leash you’d think I was reaching for a strip steak with a winning lottery ticket sticking out of it, sitting on a pile of illegal fireworks.
So I guess that’s how he gets me, by making the emotional reward for taking him on a walk so much greater than the minimal physical effort the walk actually takes. And, because I’m a sucker.