Archive for the 'Boston' Category

Boston, the Novel

Tuesday, December 18th, 2007

This BostonNOW blog entry mentioning America’s windiest third-world city inspired me to blog again about our slushy winter wonderland. Even though it’s still technically fall, I had to break out the Severe Weather Hat today to survive the windchill downtown and in the ‘burbs. But the true pleasure of the commute was the black ice, which I battled without my snow boots because they’re still soaked from the 6 inch deep “wintry mix” flooding every intersection in Boston on Sunday.

Winter in Boston is an Ayn Rand novel, complete with political speeches.

Update: I take it back. The worst part of the commute was not the black ice (most of which is on the roads I have to walk on in the ‘burbs where they don’t believe in clearing sidewalks). The worst part of the commute was when I got to the bus stop tonight and it wasn’t there. Yes, readers, we are here in the fine city of ‘Burb, where we’ve secretly replaced Jemima’s usual bus stop with a two-foot high mound of ice. Let’s see if anyone gets squished by an eighteen-wheeler!

You see, in the fine city of ‘Burb, they not only don’t shovel the sidewalks; they also plow all the snow onto them. If there’s a breakdown lane they usually fill that up halfway, too. There is no breakdown lane in front of the inbound bus stop, though there is one outbound so I wasn’t faced with the new MBTA sport of dodge-the-eighteen-wheeler this morning, only tonight. Last night I got a ride to civilization (that is, to a subway station) and never saw the ice mountain coming.

As I approached the bus stop this evening, I saw another commuter perched precariously on the street side of the sheer wall of ice. I thought the person was just especially eager to get the bus and was watching the three-lane road like a hawk for salvation from the ‘burbs. Little did I imagine that she had climbed up there to dodge an eighteen-wheeler, and that that hunk of ice was the bus stop.

When I reached the stop I was faced with the same conundrum: do I stand here in the outside lane of this three-lane major artery of ‘Burb, 50 feet from the onramp to a major highway until something squishes me, or do I take up mountain climbing? Well, I haven’t survived two years of dodging traffic on onramps in ‘Burb by standing still so they can squish me, so I climbed up onto the mound of ice (not as easy as it sounds) and sat there until the bus came. It was, of course, late.

In fact, we never caught the scheduled express bus from ‘Burb. Instead an angel of a bus driver who was out of service stopped for us anyway and brought us back to civilization. Thus I lived to commute another day.

This is not my first winter in ‘Burb, so I asked myself, Self, why has there always been a bus stop here before, and why today, of all fine fall days, has the bus stop been replaced by ice? I came up with an answer: The bus to the ‘burbs doesn’t run on weekends, so no one was there after Sunday’s storm to stomp down the snow and recreate the little path to the street that brave commuters forged on Thursday afternoon. Yet I doubt the City of ‘Burb will bring in a jackhammer to clear the bus stop, and as for the MBTA, they don’t think it’s their problem, so watch this space. Winter, when it finally arrives, is going to be interesting.

The Commute that Time Forgot

Friday, December 14th, 2007

My attitude yesterday was, “It’s just a little snow.”

My first mistake was going to work at all. I should have turned around after the Green Line collision at Bolyston, when they tossed us all off the train at Kenmore and promised shuttle busses. By chance I was near the back door of the first shuttle bus to show up when the crowd mobbed it, and I got on.

Of course, running the downtown Green Line stops above ground at rush hour is doomed to take forever, even pre-snow. So I missed not only my bus to the ‘burbs, but my emergency back-up bus to the adjacent ‘burb. Then there was an incident I don’t have time to go into involving an Orange Line train going out of service and a bus that may or may not have been the next bus to the ‘burbs. I ended up on a later bus to the adjacent ‘burb. By the time I got to work, a few warning flakes were in the air and the early rats were already fleeing the sinking ship.

I shook my head at the foolish rats. Why not wait until after 4, when the snow was supposed to slow down? That’s what I did, and the bus to civilization spent only one hour on I-93 before bailing out of the run. The driver threw us all off the bus at the Sullivan Square T stop, meaning back to the Orange Line for me. But the trains were running fine and from then on my commute was of its usual duration.

Other people spent four or eight hours in their cars. The governor blames the rats for leaving work early, the rats blame the governor for telling them to leave early. I don’t think this situation was covered by the French Toast Alert System, but we’re having another storm Saturday night and here’s the alert level:

FrankenCharlieTicket-Pass Not Accepted Here

Monday, November 19th, 2007

So, it’s been a week now that the turnstiles (but see below) at Government Center have refused my FrankenCharlieTicket-Pass Outer Express Bus Pass. At first I was worried that Charlie had had an intimate encounter with the magnetic clasp on my cute little backpack, but when I got on the subway at Kenmore suddenly FrankenCharlie was working again. And of course it still works on the Outer Express Bus (which is somewhere between $2.30 and $3.30 more expensive than a subway ride, so the Outer Express Bus pass is supposed to cover a mere subway fare). Then I thought maybe it was a sting operation, like that pfennigs-on-the-MBTA stakeout back in the days of the token. But it’s gone on too long for any of that.

By “turnstiles” I mean “new plastic gates that replaced the old metal turnstiles”. I had hoped that the weekend would suffice to fix the so-called turnstiles at a major transfer point, but no. What was I thinking? That the MBTA was going to fix a problem? My only excuse is that NaNoWriMo has left me sleep-deprived. Of course, the turnstiles were still broken, and I was getting pretty annoyed.

It’s annoying enough that I have to use a FrankenCharlieTicket-Pass at all, when an Outer Express Bus Pass was supposed to be able to be put onto a real RFID CharlieCard this past summer. True Charlification has been postponed until sometime next year, which is to say, indefinitely. (Note in the article that the MBTA has not even thought about the Charlie Vending in the ‘Burbs issue, which goes to show that they were lying about the Summer 2007 thing all along.) You don’t want me to explain why the Charlie medium of my Outer Express Bus Pass is intimately linked—if you’ll pardon the pun—to the issue of Charlie vending machines at commuter rail stops in the suburbs.

So instead I’m forced to buy FrankenCharlieTicket-Passes and stick them into the little slots on turnstiles and bus fare collection boxes, while all the cool kids just wave their CharlieCards in the general direction of the RFID reader and move on. Sometimes your fingers get sucked in along with the CharlieTicket on the turnstiles, and it hurts. It’s also annoying that every driver and carman has his own personal opinion of whether it’s worth waiting seven times longer for the fare box to slurp up your CharlieTicket and spit it back out again, and the ones who are pro-slurp look at you like a fare evader ($129/month is hardly evasion) just because you’ve been trained to flash your CharlieTicket by the anti-slurp ones.

FrankenCharlie also means I can’t use a CharlieMitten. And don’t get me started on the annoying pointless unnamed bus connection announcements at almost every subway stop. (Who knew busses stopped at Arlington?)

The point being, I was annoyed when the turnstile refused my pass today. So I asked the T worker whose job it is to stand at the turnstiles at Government Center and apply his magic SuperCharlieCard to the RFID reader whenever someone comes by with an Outer Express Bus Pass (and who knows what other passes are being rejected) what was going on. He said it was the software.

So I have a suggestion for the MBTA. Why don’t you get a copy of the software on the turnstiles at Kenmore and put it on the turnstiles at Government Center, eh? It’s a subway station. They all charge the same amount now, as far as I know (where “the same amount” means “either $1.70 or $2.00, depending on your Charlie medium, modulo any discounts for special classes of rider”). And here’s an even better suggestion: stop running a major transit system on WindowsXP.

Swing a Cat

Sunday, October 28th, 2007

It’s official: you can now swing a cat in Brookline without hitting a Dunkin Donuts. I walked into the Dunkin Donuts in Washington Square at 10:30 this morning for a donut, only to find it was my last one. Signs said they were closing permanently at 7:00pm today, and rumor had it the issue was the lease.

Now I’m going to have to figure out where they hid the Krispy Kreme’s in Star Market after the renovations.

The Hex of the T

Tuesday, September 4th, 2007

Switchback suggests that someone has put a hex on the T, based on a bunch of late-August squishings and September getting off to a good start with two accidents on the Green line and one bus crash.

I’d say the squishings are typical for the season—this is your last chance to get out there and walk on the tracks in shirtsleeves (bonus points if there’s a third rail), and Massholes of both the pedestrian and vehicular persuasion are always getting in the way of the trolley. Eventually the survivors learn to keep off the tracks.

Think of the T as a Darwinian counterbalance to mandatory health insurance in Massachusetts.

Tax Holiday

Wednesday, August 8th, 2007

Another steamy August, another sales tax holiday weekend in Massachusetts. Shop early, shop often, but beware the fine print:

The following do not qualify for the sales tax holiday exemption and remain subject to tax: all motor vehicles, motorboats, meals, telecommunications services, gas, steam, electricity, tobacco products and any single item whose price is in excess of $2,500. The Act charges the Commissioner of Revenue with issuing instructions or forms and rules and regulations necessary to carry out the purposes of the Act.
The exemption applies to sales of tangible personal property bought for personal use only. Purchases by corporations or other businesses and purchases by individuals for business use remain taxable. Purchases exempt from the sales tax under G. L. c. 64H are also exempt from use tax under G.L. c. 64I. Therefore, eligible items of tangible personal property purchased on the Massachusetts sales tax holiday from out-of-state retailers for use in Massachusetts are exempt from the Massachusetts use tax.

Yoda on the MBTA

Tuesday, July 31st, 2007

The next time you’re in Park Street station, check out the new electronic signs. The one near the (former) tollbooth is bright, shiny, and correct, despite the weird font. But this morning around 10am, the one further down the inbound Green Line platform was out of sorts. In fact, it was channelling Yoda:





It went on in that vein, two lines at a time. I have to wonder, does the software have a Yoda mode, and if not, how did it manage to do this?

In other Green Line news, I made the mistake of trying to take the D Line this weekend. If you just casually read the MBTA’s Disaster on the D Line Advisory, you might not suspect that the D Line has been closed every weekend since construction began, with shuttle bus replacement service. If you live near the D Line and see the buses going by and no trains going by every weekend, then you know.

So I should have known better, but somehow I ended up at the Brookline Village stop on Sunday afternoon, waiting for a train that was never going to come. Fortunately there was a T worker standing around telling people where to go to get the shuttle bus. I asked her if the bus stopped at Beaconsfield. She said yes. I told her I heard the bus didn’t stop at Beaconsfield, and the sign over there announcing next week’s Disaster on the D Line service changes also said the bus wasn’t going to stop at Beaconsfield for the next month.

But no, she insisted, somehow this Sunday was different and the bus was going to stop at Beaconsfield. So I waited (and waited, and waited some more) for the shuttle bus. Eventually two came at once (simulating a two-car train, one supposes, if one is feeling especially charitable). The first stop was somewhere around Cypress and Boylston, which the driver dubbed “Brookline Hills.” “Beaconsfield” being next up, I watched as we passed the many likely turns we could have taken to get us to Beaconsfield Road, if the driver had had any intention of stopping there. Then we passed the Brookline Reservoir and turned onto Chestnut Hill Avenue, and all hope was lost.

Yet the driver did have the gall to stop at Chestnut Hill Ave and Dean Road and call that “Beaconsfield.” Fortunately, I know the area so I was able to find my way home without chewing off any limbs to survive or being attacked by stray moose. But for the 90% of Bostonians who would be utterly lost if a bus dropped them off at Chestnut Hill Ave and Dean Road, here’s a google map of the half-mile walk out of the suburban depths of Brookline back to Beaconsfield Road. The most important thing to remember is to go east on Dean Road towards Boston. If you go west, you won’t see another human being until you stumble into The Mall at Chestnut Hill three days later begging for Perrier.

The best course of action, of course, is to ignore any T employee who claims the shuttle bus is going to stop at Beaconsfield, because the E Line is going to stop at Arborway before the shuttle bus stops at Beaconsfield. (For those of you from out of town, the Arborway stop has been “temporarily” closed since 1987 1985.) Instead, take the advice offered on those D Line Disaster Preparedness signs that popped up at the aboveground stops this weekend: kiss the Beaconsfield stop goodbye and take the C Line instead.

Geeks in Lines

Friday, June 29th, 2007

UniversalHub has a photo of the line for iPhones at the Apple Store in the Cambridgeside Galleria.

Big Dig, the Movie

Sunday, June 10th, 2007

See the Big Dig in amazing Technicolor, thanks to Universal Hub.

Wooden Jigsaw Puzzles

Friday, March 16th, 2007

Seema wants to know why I’m suddenly obsessed with wooden jigsaw puzzles, so here’s the story:

Mom wanted a jigsaw puzzle for her birthday, so I popped into Eureka Puzzles, the game store near the Pier 1 on Beacon St. in Coolidge Corner, on my way home one day. I looked through all the regular die-cut jigsaw puzzles for something the right size and nice, but nothing jumped out at me. (But for some gorgeous cardboard jigsaw puzzles, see these jigsaws from Japan.)

Then I noticed the wooden jigsaw puzzles. One of them was partly assembled inside some kind of puzzle display so you could see the whimsy pieces. Since they were approximately the right size, with art mom would like, and too cool for words, I had to get one.

It all should have ended there, but Veronica and I got a chance to play with it over the weekend and it was very addictive. The pieces really do feel so much more substantial than cardboard, and all whimsy aside they have more interesting shapes. Now I don’t know if I can wait for mom to finish her puzzle.

The ones at Eureka are laser-cut wooden jigsaw puzzles from Liberty Puzzles and Wentworth Wooden Jigsaws (see the slideshow); see also Art-Puzzle GmbH. These are (usually, but not always) cheaper than the real scrollsaw-cut ones you can get from all sorts of one-saw operations around the web: Fool’s Gold, MGC’s (see especially his samples), Conrad Armstrong, Jack in the Box, etc.

The other option is making your own. Here are a brief introduction and some details from a puzzlemaker, or you can check these references.