Sunday, April 17, 2005

From Waltham to West Newton

The drive from my apartment in Waltham to the West Newton Commuter Rail stop is actually just over five minutes. During that time, however, any number of mental processes can occur – memories, thoughts and day dreams; and, concurrently, realities that intrude on those reveries such as pedestrians crossing the street and cars and trucks ahead of me stopping for the pedestrians crossing the street. Drivers will stop for people crossing the street just about anywhere, not only in the crosswalks. Tailgating can be dangerous. There’s a lot to pay attention to while you’re lost in thought. It’s easier at the train stop where I can stand lost in the morning sun waiting for the train.

The sun rising over the Mass. Pike at the West Newton commuter rail stop is bright, warming and allows me to mentally block out the noise of the traffic on the other side of the barricade. I stand and let it wash over me, warming my soul and allowing me to see, through closed eyes, the universe in all its’ splendor. Sometimes the colors behind my closed eyelids are purple changing to a rose and then into a yellow moving towards white. I can see swarms of stars swirling and moving, being pulled by a celestial force away from me that draws me along with it. There’re times, standing there at the edge of the train tracks that I feel like I’m instead on the edge of the galaxy. It’s a wonderful meditation-reverie, being lost like that in the brightness of the sun, observing for just a moment the peacefulness there can be inside me.

I’ve also made a number of other observations recently; they’re about the people I actually see here in Boston and that use public transportation. One observation is that a lot of people use mass transit up here. Another is that most of the folks, and there are a lot of them, look trim and fit. Given that there’s a walk and steps – lots of steps and/or ramps – involved in getting to and from the rail stop, I’ve noticed that very few of the transit riders are overweight. They don’t look like fitness freaks necessarily, they just look like active people whose activities keep them fit – like walking a lot to catch the bus, train, and/or subway. In addition, since the T runs “at or near being on schedule” most of the time, folks cutting it close break out into a trot if they are behind schedule.

Last week I was running late and so I had to hustle through my normal walking part of the commute and, while not getting into a dead sprint to get to the train before it pulled away, I was winded by the time I got on it. I have to cover about 100 yards from where I park which includes a relatively steep incline of about 100 feet up to street level, over to the three flights of steps I have to walk down to get onto the platform. I then walk about 50 yards to where the train actually stops. Finally, I have to walk up four steps to get on the train.

I used to get off at South Station and walk a good mile and a half to get to work, skirting the edge of China Town, passing Tufts University Medical Center and the Boston Herald building. I now disembark at the Back Bay station and walk just a little more than a mile through the South End to get to work. It’s a very pleasant walk and every day I pass the Boston Ballet and also see the Cathedral, the Church of the Holy Cross. At the end of the day I reverse the process. As a result, I’m guaranteed to walk at least 2.5 miles a day. Add to that my walking Dixie every morning and night and I easily cover three miles a day. This past Monday I got into work and then walked up to the China Trade Building, which is up at one edge of the Boston Common, for a meeting and then walked back. I figured on that day I covered at least five miles on foot before retiring for the night. I guess I could have taken the Silver Line bus up most of the way but, hey, it was a nice day and it’s always pleasant to walk through China Town.

I gotten to see a lot of downtown workers. I’ve walked to and from the State House and to either South Station or back to work during the day and I’ve also eaten lunch in China Town a few times. Downtown Boston is very busy during the day and, while I haven’t yet traveled into Boston in the evening, I’ve been told that it’s also active at night. Boston doesn’t become a ghost town once the offices close. It does, however, shut down early.

Most of the public transportation systems cease running at midnight. As a result, unless you’re driving, and parking is very expensive in Boston, you tend to get home by midnight. There’s a saying up here that while New York is the city that never sleeps, Boston is the city that slumbers.

It is very cool up here that the buses, trains and subways are coordinated. You get off of one of the systems and, needing to transfer, find the next system right there. However, one can’t dawdle getting to the transfer. In fact, move a little slowly and you might see the vehicle pulling away, the next one not coming for 20 to 45 minutes. So, you tend to hustle. I see people coming up from out of the subway at the Back Bay Station and breaking into a full gallop to make sure they catch the bus waiting just outside the station. It’s not like there’s a lot of pressure from the frustration of maybe not catching the bus that might lead to a heart attack, it’s just like it’s exercise to catch the bus/train/subway that creates an athletic experience; hence, not too many overweight people on the public transit system.

Another thing I’ve noticed while sitting on the train and observing people, is that there’s a lot of really bright looking people around me. Some look like the typical egghead, others look very intellectual and the rest just look smart. Admittedly, there are a few people I see that have dull eyes and flat expressions, but most of the folks look really bright. You can just see it in their eyes. I guess, what with there being around 60 colleges and universities (Harvard, MIT, Tufts, Boston College, and Boston University, to name a few) in my immediate transit riding neighborhood, there would be a bunch of bright-eyed, bushy-tailed folks in the area.

People up here dress a little more casually, too. Maybe it has to do with the weather, maybe because brain power is more valuable than proper dress, maybe because America is moving toward casual dress Friday on every day of the week. Recently I saw a businessman-looking guy wearing a suit and tennis shoes. It didn’t appear that he had a briefcase with him that would be of sufficient size to carry a pair of dress shoes. I notice a lot of L.L. Bean, Eddie Bauer and REI clothing, too. Almost every body, it seems, carries a backpack or a soft-sided brief case. Occasionally you’ll see someone in a traditional trench coat with a leather brief case, but they seem to be the exception. Most folks, it seems, dress for warmth and comfort. I can’t say, though, that people don’t dress for style, it’s just that the style is a little more casual. Admittedly, I haven’t gotten around and about a whole lot, since I’m now just up here two months and my observations are based on a limited sample area. Nevertheless, as I travel through downtown Boston and around the greater Boston area, that’s what I’ve noticed.

I’ve also observed that it’s about 8 – 10 degrees cooler up here than it is where I came from. While the Weeping Willow and Magnolia trees and the Rhododendrons are starting to bud up, and the Jonquils and Crocus’ are blooming, the rest of the flora and fauna have yet to Spring forth. The summer is shorter here than it is 400 miles south. Although it’s supposed to go up to close to 70 degrees today, the middle of April, it was 34 degrees this morning and is supposed to go down close to in the 20’s tonight. I’ve been told the swimming season is from Memorial Day through Labor Day, which is also the tradition back home. However, most years you can actually go swimming by Memorial Day. I’m not quite sure I’d believe that for up here in this region, even if Massachusetts is considered as being in southern New England.

The other day I attended a training session in Carver, which is in the Southern part of the state, not too far from Plymouth. After the training, my two colleagues and I decided to go into Plymouth, as one of them had never seen Plymouth Rock. It was a beautiful bright, sunny day. However, there was a strong wind blowing in off the water that just refused to let the sun have a warming influence over us. Nevertheless, we watched the seagulls hover and heard them squawk in the cloudless sky, we saw the Rock, we saw the statue of Massasoit and we walked over to Sean O’Toole’s Pub to have lunch. I asked my colleagues, one of whom was a Mass. native and the other of whom has been living in Mass. for more than 20 years, when folks started swimming for the season.

One of them never went into the ocean and the other one only swam in a pool. While that didn’t exactly answer my question, apparently, since even in the summer the ocean’s temperature hovers around 65 degrees, it’s a pretty short swimming season up here. I guess it’s a really hot day that drives people into the water, although I can’t imagine there’s too many of those days even during the season.

On our way back to the car we passed a street side café that offered Quahog sandwiches. I had to ask, how does one say Quahog and, perhaps more importantly, what is it? I was told it was sort of like a clam and that it’s pronounced ko-hog. I didn’t ask how they tasted.

When we got back to the car I noticed that the Sea gulls had left their calling card on my front windshield. Big white splotches spattered right where I looked out to drive. For a brief moment I thought about what I saw when I closed my eyes in the morning sun at the West Newton train stop but instead all I saw was red and, as it was getting late, I was tired and we had a long drive back to Boston, I didn’t even want to think about seeing the expanding universe in Sea gull guano.

After I dropped my colleagues off, I got on the Mass. Pike to go home. Taking the West Newton/Wellesley exit off the Pike, which is right next to the train stop, I knew I had just a little more than a five minute drive to get home. Having to continue to look around the Sea gull stuff while I drove those last few remaining minutes was really irritating. It did, however, remind me of a story my ex used to tell about her step-father saying to her that she was “Just like a damn Sea gull.” All she did was eat, shit and squawk. On another day, that story might be funny.


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