Tuesday, June 01, 2010

The long and winding road

So. Last week was Memorial Day, which means the first of my two semi-annual trips to Virginia to visit friends from college and beyond. (Some of us have been friends for almost 25 years. Ponder that.) However, it was also Harvard's commencement ceremonies, and because my brother was graduating on the Dean's List, I thought perhaps I should go and see him.

Unfortunately, it took me a while to figure out that these two events were not in separate months or even weeks, but rather in the same week. Inconvenient with respect to flying, to say the least. I dislike the TSA immensely and will do just about anything to avoid them, so I'm not inclined to fly if there are other means of travel. (I enjoy flying itself, just not what they've done to it.) And a three-legged trip is harder to pull off than a two-legged trip, especially if a) the first leg is really important and b) it's in an expensive city. So I could try to arrive a day early and pay for two days in a hotel, or I could try to arrive on time and risk the airlines completely screwing me over. Right.

So it was by car instead. No, it wasn't all at once. Don't be silly.

Now, I'd never been to Boston as an adult, so I needed Google to help me find the first two legs of the trip ... Richmond to Fishers I knew all too well. (Actually, Google came up with a shortcut for that one. US-35 is pretty good except for the remaining two-lane stretch in WV that they are slowly improving. It beats hell out of the AA in Kentucky, the road that ate my car.)

Google said sure, want to drive it all at once? How about I-70 to I-71 to I-80, then I-81, I-84, and I-90? There was no place halfway between here and Boston on I-80 to stay. So I said no, let's take I-70 instead. I guess Altoona will do.

For the Boston-to-Richmond leg, of course it pointed out that I-95 runs, well, from Boston to Richmond. I pointed out that it would be Friday of Memorial Day weekend, and if it thought I was driving to the coast from Boston and then through New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, it was nuts. I just grabbed all of that route and dragged it back inland, retracing my steps to Wilkes-Barre and then heading south on I-81 to I-64. (My GPS later convinced me to take I-81 to Winchester and then head over on US-17 to I-95.)

Day 1: Fishers to Altoona, about 450 miles

Very uneventful. I left around 11, I think, realizing there was no hurry. I had 8-9 hours ahead of me and didn't need to arrive early in the evening. I actually forgot I wasn't passing through Pittsburgh; if I had, it probably would have been right around rush hour. I stopped about once an hour at rest areas to keep my alertness up, and I made my way through some of the food and juice I brought, picking up soft drinks on the way. By the way, there was one rest area in Ohio (boo) along I-70 that had a novel idea: restrooms and vending machines in a single, air-conditioned building. Yes, you may be thinking that this is common sense, but look next time you drive. How many times do you see the vending machines in a completely separate area? How many rest areas are still the old kind with open doors?

I got to the hotel and was pleasantly surprised to find a refrigerator with two free bottles of water and snacks (granola bar and popcorn). Bottled water on a trip? Outstanding!

Logged on (wired connection, no big deal though), posted an update, ran through Castle Age stuff, showered, went to bed. (Travel tip: shower in the evening when you have more time and have hours of road on you. Not recommended for those traveling with a significant other with a sensitive nose.)

Day 2: Altoona to Boston, about 470 miles

All new territory to me. Got up at 6, cleaned up, packed, hit the road by 7. (My brother's graduation would be over, but I wanted to hit the get-together as early as possible.) Again, traffic wasn't bad, although there was a lot of semi-construction in Pennsylvania. You know, the kind where they have signs and stuff up but aren't doing anything? Got through the toll booths just fine (although I nearly picked up an EZ-Pass at an oasis on the Massachusetts Turnpike, I think).

Traffic wasn't bad until I cleared the toll booths leaving I-90 for I-95 ... apparently everyone is going south today, which means everyone is getting into one lane to head south on I-95. Immediately after a toll plaza. With traffic merging from both directions from I-90. not fun. All that for about a 500-yard drive on I-95 to the first exit. A zig, a zag, and I was at my hotel.

Good news: it's walking distance from Riverside Station. (Literally next door.) That is why I picked it: no sane person drives in Boston. Also ... yeah, nothing else.

Bad news: the hotel sucks. "Parking" is simply a semi-covered lot in the back of the hotel with narrow lanes for exiting and entering. It was designed poorly, that's for sure. $7 a night, too. Again, sucks. The desk chair couldn't be raised, there was no refrigerator (which meant no cold juice on the drive to Richmond), the shower (no bathtub) had a fancy glass door without a good seal, which meant water got on the floor easily, and the AC was crap. I turned it down to 68 and by morning, the room was at 74. woo. It was tolerable, though, considering I needed it for about one waking hour and six sleeping ones.

Unpacked, updated status, changed clothes (expecting a cool night, I was wearing jeans and a hat), and headed to the station. There were three machines that allegedly allowed you to purchase Charlie Cards or Tickets for the T. I say "allegedly" because one of the T people was there to show people how to use them, but with very little success, and I don't mean because he couldn't explain it or because the people couldn't follow directions. I eventually made my way to the front, slipped up to a machine while the T man was helping someone else, put $10 (5 rides – always buy more than you need) on a ticket, and headed up to the platform. (Bonus: Riverside is the end of the Green D line, so I couldn't get on the wrong way. lol.)

The T, by the way, is the oldest subway system in the US, and you'll know this as soon as you ride it. It's still getting me around without using my car, so I was happy enough. Got off at Park Street to transfer to the Red Line, eventually found my platform, and waited for the next train.

As I waited, two separate people stopped to ask me questions about the T. One wanted to know at which end of station X the escalator was (some stations apparently only have an escalator at one end), and the other wanted to know if the train was heading to Cambridge. I couldn't answer either question, and in fact, someone else had to answer the second one while I was puzzling it over. I mean, I've ridden the T once in my life, and that was to get to this station. I'm wearing a Portland State Vikings hat and a Michigan Hockey T-shirt. What gives the impression that I know what I'm doing? (Neither, obviously. I simply wasn't sending the leave-me-alone vibe that most veteran train riders seem to have.)

I get on the train, get off at Porter Square, and head for the exits. I get past the initial crowd and head up the stairs, slowly at first, then two at a time. Woo! It's a workout! I'm passing people consistently as I go up flight after flight of stairs, until finally I triumphantly reach the top and turn to my left ... to see another flight of stairs. Oops.

I walk toward my brother's apartment, and I discover another reason not to drive in Boston. There are no street signs. (Almost none, anyway.) Either you know where you're going or you don't need to get there. I remember the car wash that's opposite his street, climb the hill to his building (of course there's a hill), buzz the door, and wait for his dad to come down to open the door. I can tell it's him because of his walk. (He's my ex-stepdad, my mom's second husband, so I know him well.) Of course he's not used to apartment living, so he doesn't realize he can buzz me in, which is why I have to wait for him, and why I'm surprised he comes down the stairs.

Up we go to the third floor (naturally, more stairs), where I meet my mom (sigh), my uncle, my graduating brother and his fianceé, another brother, my not-sister, my brother's uncle, and my ex-stepdad's wife. (Not-sister because my graduating brother is actually a half-brother, the not-sister is his half-sister, and we share no parents.)

We hang out, eat chips and guacamole and BBQ and cornbread and cake and pie, discuss Tolkien and Galileo thermometers and suddenly cool weather (thankfully, the heat wave broke once I got to the apartment) and why my mom is still crazy.

My brother finally calls it a night around 9:30, which is great because it means I get back to the hotel at a somewhat decent hour. My mom and my uncle drove, so they head to their car, and the rest of us go back to the T. My California brother leaves first, then I hit my stop and go back to the Green Line the other direction, encountering the same problems with platforms. Once again, we wait for the T.

This time, it's interesting. A train arrives with D Line: Riverside on it, but it's not on the right platform. We all look at each other. Is this right? Shouldn't it be on 6, not 5? We get on anyway, and it turns out to be the right train. (It actually works out because all Green Line trains go through the same few stations in town; they branch out after that, so we could start on the "wrong" platform and still use the right track.) Back to the hotel, sign on, off to sleep in the heat. boo.

1 comment:

  1. Two people asked you for directions on the T? W? Apparently you didn't have the dull and clueless expression that most travelers are afflicted with. Good job!


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