Sunday, May 22, 2005

Three Month Reality Check

It was three months ago this weekend that I moved from Baltimore to Boston; actually, from Parkville to Waltham, but let’s not quibble. It was from Maryland to Massachusetts and it was just shy of 400 miles. So far, I have to say I like it here. To a great extent I’ve replicated my life up here from down there.

I’ve found a Friday night swing dance to go to, have settled into work, am finding out how to get around, and am meeting people – mostly dog walkers but that’s ok. I’m not lonely, even though I’m alone. Dixie, the Airdeale dog, has now recovered from almost having died. She does have a dysfunctional thyroid, a heart murmur and Lyme disease. However, I don’t think either of us is going to run a marathon and so as long as she doesn’t get too over-extended physically she should be all right.

I’ve been asked any number of times, at least once a week by one of my sisters, how I’m doing up here. I have to say that all’s well. It’s definitely cooler up here, by about 6 – 10 degrees. One thing that always strikes me as a little odd is that when I go to work in Boston, the big city, it’s cooler than out here in the suburbs. I know it’s because Boston sits right on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean and so when the breeze blows in from off the water things stay cooler; nevertheless, I always associate the city with being hotter. But here it isn’t that way. One day it was 60 degrees in Boston and almost 70, ten miles west, in Waltham.

It seems that I’ve settled in nicely up here. I like my apartment, though it is smaller than where I was living before. I’ve downsized considerably, going from a 3 bedroom house to a one bedroom apartment. But, I don’t care. I’ve never been one for holding on to a lot of material things and so I don’t miss the teak dining room set or the Scan white wool and maple sofa and love seat set. One thing I do miss, however, is my canoe. The Charles River is just inviting me to get on it and paddle around. The problem is I have no where to store it up here, so it sits in my oldest sister’s fiancee’s back yard, up on saw horses. Maybe one day.

Spring has sprung up here, everything is bursting with life, and, for me, life is good. Everyday is an adventure and every adventure has turned out well. I guess one sore point has been that the other day some one broke the right side rear view mirror on my car. It looks like someone hit the mirror with, for example, a hammer and knocked out the half of the mirror closest to the car. I’m going to have to replace the entire assembly. However, it could have been worse.

I’ve found a barber shop, Frank’s, to go to for hair cuts. I have a vet for the dog. I’ve found an excellent fresh produce store and also a reasonable supermarket. I know where the fee free ATM’s are. Now, I have to find an auto mechanic.

To be honest, I feel very comfortable here in Waltham. I haven’t traveled around as much as I would like, but that’s coming around, too. My job requires me to travel around the state and so I’ve been out west as far as Holyoke, as far north as Salem, and as far south as Plymouth. And, since I work in Boston, I’m getting around the downtown area, too. What I haven’t done yet is to take in Boston’s cultural outlets and events. I’ve not been to Fanueil Hall, nor walked the Freedom Trail. I have seen Plymouth Rock, gone to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and traveled into Sturbridge, though I didn’t go thru the shops and restored village. In a week I’m heading down to New Bedford for a training and I hope to stop in at the maritime museum and take a picture of the plaque dedicated to those who were lost when the original Pride of Baltimore sank.

In the three short months I’ve been here I have to say that I’ve adjusted; I look forward to work, I like the people I’ve met, the atmosphere, and even the weather. There’re lots of parks for hiking, lots of opportunities to listen to music and take in the arts, and lots to do.

Today I went on an art tour. Newton’s art league held an open house. Artists opened their houses and studios for people to travel to and see their work. We started in the New Art Center and then traveled all around Newton going to visit artists in their homes. There were well over 50 artists exhibiting their works in more than 36 locations. It was an excellent way to learn my way around Newton and see the work that people are doing using watercolor, oils, mixed media, textiles, and digital photography.

There is so much to do up here that it almost boggles the mind. I was not interested in getting on an aircraft carrier this weekend, nor was I interested in listening to Hamid Karzai or attending the many college and university graduations going on in Boston this weekend; and, it was too crowded to get to the SoWa art show in the South End, which is where I work, but I did enjoy traveling around Newton.

Next weekend, Memorial Day weekend, I hope to travel out to the Berkshires, into Boston to eat Dim Sum at Chau Chow’s, and maybe get back up to Salem and hang out with a few witches. I also hope to get out to the Cape (Cod, that is) soon. I’ve been told that taking the ferry to Provincetown from Boston is easier and nicer than driving all the way down and around. Going over the water sounds like a nice way to spend a day. I remember going to Cape Cod and to Provincetown back in 1980. I’ve always wanted to go back but it was too far. Now, the Cape is less than 2 hours away.

Just about the only thing that gets me about living up here is that it’s expensive. Just about everything costs a little bit more. I’m finding that the cost of living, in general, is higher. So, where I can be thrifty I am, where I can’t be I’m careful and when I go out, I try to keep it all in moderation. I have noticed that the price of gas is the same as it is in Baltimore.

So, I think - so far so good. In another three months, at the end of the summer, I’ll re-assess and see what I think about things then.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Robins, Rabbits & the Laundry Ladies

Dixie, the Airedale dog, and I have been talking walks along the Charles River. The Charles, where Harvard, MIT and other universities and colleges use it for their rowing teams and also on which people canoe and kayak, stretches from its origin in central Mass. to where it flows into the Boston Harbor. The Charles winds, serpentine-like, from west to east and is home to many types of fish and wildlife. Over the years it became, like many rivers in America, disgustingly foul. Fortunately, in recent years there has been a concerted and sustained effort to clean the river. Today, some people say it’s clean enough to swim in – but I don’t think so. Nonetheless, it is pleasant to walk along the bike/hike trail that runs along it in patches. There is a movement to create a continuous path, or promenade, that would run along the Charles all the way from somewhere west of Waltham in to Boston.

Dixie and I walk along a short piece of the river that runs through south Waltham. It’s a pleasant walk, quiet and peaceful. As we walk on the macadam path along the rivers’ edge we find many birds, including Robins, Towhees and a small group of double crested Cormorants. The Cormorants are cool to me because I’d never seen one before. They sit on big branches of sunken trees that stick up out of the water.

The other day I saw a rabbit and, a few feet in front of it, a Robin. They were both sitting quietly on the swath of grass in between the rivers’ edge and the path. As soon as we came along they of course scurried away. To digress just a little, on Saturday Dixie and I joined a small group of people on a hike in the Blue Hills Reservation. While walking along the trail we saw a Baltimore Oriole.

Dixie and I have also stood along the bank of the Charles river at the unofficial dog park in Newton. The park, formally called Norumbega, used to be an amusement park. It was in operation from 1854 – 1954. During those 100 years the park offered many amusement rides, including a ferris wheel, and other rides typical to amusement parks of that era. People could also take boats out onto the Charles river and paddle around. The park also housed the Totem Pole. The Totem Pole was a dance hall and, during its heyday, the biggest swing bands of the day played there. Frank Sinatra sang there. The Totem Pole was considered the top place to hear swing music in all of New England. Sadly, like most other amusement parks borne of that era, Norumbega Park fell into decline as people became more mobile, as the rise of the theme parks (Disneyland, Six Flags, etc.) took hold and as people found other places to go and spend their money. Today the grounds house a Marriott hotel and what used to be the trolley stop and the parking lot has today become the dog park.

Walking down to the Charles from my apartment takes about 5 minutes. Sometimes I walk Dixie down and along the river as part of her morning walk. We can make the trip a nice 30 – 40 minute circuit hike. On laundry day, which is either Saturday or Sunday mornings, I’ll put a load in one of the two apartment building’s washing machines and take her out. Just about the time we’re finished walking the wash is done. I don’t like to leave clothes in the washer for too long after the spin cycle finishes the load because the clothes get and stay wrinkled. Pulling the clothes out of the laundry machine right after the machine has stopped spinning was one of the tricks the laundry ladies taught me.

The laundry ladies, a group of women who did their laundry in a commercial Laundromat that I went to after breaking up with my (ex-) wife, taught me the fine art of laundering. They taught me to separate clothes not only according to whites and colors, but also according to texture. They took the time to explain to me about how I should never mix the lights and the heavies together. Jeans and other heavy cottons went together and dress shirts, underwear and socks went together. I’d already known about not mixing towels in with the rest of the clothes but I always listened to them, regardless.

They also taught me to put the clothes into the dryer just long enough for the heat to get out the wrinkles. They showed me how to hang a dress shirt on the hanger and, using my thumb and forefinger, to slide down the front of the shirt placket and smooth out that part. Then, I would button the top and second button of the shirt. Finally, after arranging the shirt neatly on the hanger, to grasp it by the shoulders and give it one good snap. Oftentimes, after my dress shirts dried I never had to even touch them up with an iron. The laundry ladies were that good teaching me about doing my laundry.

Now, however, I find that having to use six quarters to do a load, and often I have to do at least 2 loads per week, has made me become too miserly to want to use the dryer – which would also cost 6 quarters. So, instead, I use a drying rack for what fits and for the dress shirts, pants and t –shirts, I use hangers and hang them from the shower rod in the bathroom. This method doesn’t work nearly as well as what the laundry ladies taught me but I am saving a little bit of money. I now have to iron my pants and shirts; one trick I did learn though was to iron the clothes (not the t-shirts, underwear or socks) while still slightly damp. In this way the wrinkles come out much easier and the ironing takes much less time.

Jamey George used to call me fastidious and another person called me obsessive-compulsive. I figure that I just like to look neat and clean and, hey, if that’s what it takes to do so, then call me what you will. At least I don’t iron my underwear, t-shirts or my socks.

I just want to look good while I’m out there on the path watching rabbits and robins and reminiscing about times in my life when I’ve learned something useful. Thinking back on the laundry ladies, like others who’ve crossed my path and/or walked with me for however long on my path, I’ve learned something from each of them. I’d like to think that everyone I meet has something of value that I can learn from them. I just need to keep an open mind and pay attention to what’s going on around me.

Now, if I could only just learn to keep my mouth shut.