Rough Times, Parkin’ in the City

John and I might, just might, be getting used to Boston.


We decided to make the trip north for Easter weekend. As John had an afternoon meeting in Cambridge, we loaded up the car before his meeting and decided to leave from the office building when it was done. This had us leaving from a point that we haven’t actually left from to go to Maine before, a fact that six months ago would have had us going over maps in detail for hours before setting out, even with the help of our little GPS unit. But it didn’t phase us a bit. Better yet, when Nuvi tried to take us in some crazy direction that didn’t make sense, we shrugged and went the way we thought would be faster. We did get a tad disoriented when we accidentally got onto Route 1 for a bit (listening to Nuvi’s advice over our own instincts), but it didn’t induce the panic it might have in September.


Driving back was a pretty positive experience for our self-image as competent navigators of Boston. Normally we take I-95 around to Route 2 to get into Allston, which is longer than taking I-93, but less congested and less ridiculous. We were feeling good about our identity as adults on the way back, which led us to decide that we would try taking I-93, to see how if it was any faster. Perhaps it is, sometimes, but only on nights when it is sufficiently decongested for anyone to drive faster than 25 mph. I will say this in it’s favor: it is a more interesting route than I-95, in that it highlights that ridiculousness so common to Boston roads. Specifically, it becomes clear that the design of the city is not meant for people to drive in, per se, but is rather intended to make invasion by land and by air incredibly difficult. All in all, John and I were pretty pleased when we found ourselves driving along the Charles in front of MIT, recognized where we were, and actually knew (roughly) how to get home.


This isn’t to say that we actually like Boston. I think there a few more difficult exercises of will and responsibility that I have had to do in my life thus far than leaving Maine after this wonderful, restful weekend in order to return to life in the city. And the parking situation when we got into Allston emphasized how Boston has a finesse for irritation.


We actually found a spot as soon as we pulled into our neighborhood. It was a metered spot that meant we (by which I mean John, let’s be honest…I don’t really do the parking) would have to repark the car in the morning, but that’s as good as it usually gets in the evening. We unloaded our stuff and began the trek down the road, only to discover that the spot would have to be vacated by 2am for street cleaning.


Since it was unlikely we’d find anything closer, we left the car where it was long enough to haul our stuff inside. On our own street, I was annoyed to see that several people had absurd gaps in between their spots that would have left room for two more cars on the street if they were tightened up just a tad. John was sympathetic to the drivers, blaming the appearance of raging discourtesy on the patterns of different sized cars coming and going, but it ticked me off. My kingdom for the strength of a football team!


Inside the building, my buttons got pushed again by another needless act of rudeness on the part of our co-tenants. Someone had left the elevator grate open a bit on an upper floor, meaning that we couldn’t call the elevator. I wasn’t thrilled about having to walk up to the fourth floor with my arms full of our weekend gear, but it makes me downright mad to think of one of the moms with little kids and strollers or one of the few elderly people in the building being forced to climb those flights because someone couldn’t take two seconds to make sure the grate was closed.


We went back out again to move the car, which was an easier process than it could have been at that hour on a Sunday night. We found and tried one spot on a residential street close to our building, which would have been wonderful…if the car had actually fit. Let’s just say that my standing on the sidewalk and directing the parking process does not actually make a spot large enough to accommodate the car. We did find a metered spot not too much further away, drove past it, and were relieved to find it still empty when we managed to swing back around.


Tired, but pleased with our find, we trudged back home and up the four flights of stairs from the basement, ready to collapse into bed. “When is the street cleaning for that spot?” I thought to ask, somewhat belatedly. The process of getting ourselves and the car settled went from mildly absurd to hilarious at that point and we laughed the entire way back to the car to read the sign. Fortunately, the weather was still warm and nice for walking. And this time, I remembered before we got halfway back to the apartment, “We did turn the lights off, right?”


Yeah, city living isn’t really high on our list of preferred lifestyles. But we are getting used to it.


In the past two days, Boston has received more rain than I recall seeing in any one place, with the exception of Boston two weeks ago. It has been pouring buckets upon buckets here. Transportation in the city being what it is, with the least sign of inclement weather slowing the bus lines down by at least fifty percent, I have been spending a lot of time hanging out with people and their umbrellas. Not being talented enough to juggle my bag, my umbrella, and something to read, I’ve whiled away the hours noticing some interesting trends in umbrella usage that seem to have developed somewhere along the line.

Given that the exchange rate of words to pictures is so favorable to pictures, I’ve decided to break my habit of blathering on for an eternity and instead present you with a rare original comic of my own. Enjoy!


Shifting Gears

I discovered something interesting about myself this weekend: I can swear like a sailor. At least, I can swear like I imagine a sailor swearing…I suppose the two are not necessarily the same.


John, with a loving mix of encouragement and hesitation, let me make the drive into Bedford to visit with Grammy this weekend. Not that he would ever prohibit me from taking the car, but…well, let’s just say that my commitment to public transportation and walking is not solely out of concern for the environment. City driving triggers my own personal Mr. Hyde—a reaction that always highlights for me so poignantly the strong connection between blinding terror and rage. Driving with that kind of doubled vision impairment is just bad news bears.


Anyway, we’ve driven out to Grammy & Grampy’s house enough times that I’m pretty familiar with the route, and I have survived driving John’s standard (or, I should say, Fizzgig has survived having me at the wheel), so when Grammy and I made plans to go through the Sullivan family history together, I decided I could handle driving myself out so John could luxuriate in having the morning entirely to himself (himself and the laundry, anyway—my husband is awesome).


The car was parked parallel when I got out to the curb, so I gritted my teeth in determination and proceeded to murder the clutch in what was eventually a successful attempt to parallel un-park the car without stalling or rolling into someone else. After that, the drive out wasn’t too bad. I left at eight in the morning, which, in a college town, is almost as good as driving at four in the morning anywhere else. The roads were empty and quiet, so I was able to putter my way into Bedford at a comfortable max of 50 mph without much ado.


Driving back, however, was a different story. I left Grammy’s a little after two and made my way easily enough out of Bedford and down the wide highways that empty into Cambridge. The trouble is that, though they empty their contents into Cambridge, they don’t do much to reduce the contents before they do their dumping, so four empty lanes becomes two full ones very quickly. I was shortly in bumper-to-bumper traffic, slogging around the rotaries and along the Charles, when I heard Nuvi (our mostly trusty GPS navigator) utter that horror-inducing word: “Recalculating.”


“Oh great,” I muttered. “What did I do?” Nuvi had been directing me quite firmly to the right, where I was, on the farthest right lane possible like an obedient follower, when she decided that I needed to “Turn left, 500 feet.” Mr. Hyde must have taken over, because I don’t remember how I managed to take that turn. Either way, I made it, and as no sirens flared up behind me (a good thing, since I realized on leaving Bedford that I had left my wallet at home), I shall assume that I didn’t leave any flaming metal carcasses behind me in the effort.


The traffic continued to be agonizingly slow, which would have been fine if not for people who think that they can make things move more quickly by leaving exactly one-tenth of a centimeter between their front bumper and that of the car preceding. Comforting, when you’re a hack at driving the standard you’re in and being forced to stop on slopes with some frequency. That’s when I discovered my capacity for foul language. There’s something surprisingly calming about cussing out the idiots who refuse to allow you any rolling room—vents the steam and lets you keep driving.


In spite of an excess of engine revving and irritation, Fizzgig, Nuvi, and I made it home without injury to ourselves or others. Our labors were rewarded by a perfect parking spot that was neither metered nor parallel. I can’t say that I’m any more eager to take up driving in Boston, but at least I have discovered that I am, in fact, capable of doing so. And I will again, I’m sure, because the priceless time I spent with Grammy would have been worth infinitely more stress than that to get there and back.