Category Archives: Boston

A Charlestown Adventure

On New Year’s Eve, I decided to take advantage of the unseasonably warm weather and go on a walking adventure around Charlestown. No, I was not inspired by “The Town” (though I did see and enjoy that movie). I was actually inspired by the loading docks I’ve often spied from the eastward vantage point of the 93 bus. I wanted to see the periphery of Charlestown beyond the tidy brownstones and monuments.

I took the bus to the top of the hill and walked (or nearly slid, given the poorly treated sidewalks) down toward what I now know is called the Medford Street Terminal, where I found the abandoned Revere Sugar Refinery. (I am fairly certain, thanks to this court finding, that it is the same Revere Sugar owned by Antonio Floriendo, who had connections to former Filipino president Ferdinand Marcos. Here are some photos of the recently demolished Brooklyn factory.) Charlestown used to be a hotbed of sugar refining, it seems. Here’s how Revere Sugar looked back in the day (thanks to the BPL on Flickr):

Revere Sugar Factory

It turns out that I visited the site on the 24th anniversary of its purchase by Massport. The signage on the fenced off area read: “Revere Sugar Site Demolition / Project Start Date: Jan. 19, 1995 / Projected Completion Date: July 22, 1996.” Uh-huh. Adjacent to the Revere Sugar site was an abandoned rail way that local residents have appropriated as a rail trail of sorts. Lots of people were out walking their dogs. Nearby, I also saw some interesting graffiti scrawlings, like “C-Town” and “Townie 4 Lyfe,” as well as a flag for the Northern Ireland Ulster Volunteer Force painted on a back fence next to the Irish flag.

I made my way back toward the tidy brownstones, procuring the most amazing breakfast sandwich ever at Zume’s Coffee House (homemade English muffins, mmm) before heading over to Paul Revere Park, a new park (opened in 2007 as a byproduct of the Big Dig) which offers great views of the Charles River and a stunning from-below perspective of the Zakim Bridge.

Check out all of the photos from my Charlestown excursion:

My East Boston and Revere Bike Adventure

Last Friday was absolutely gorgeous, and I had the day off and tentative plans to ride the Minuteman Bikeway out to Lexington. I’ve taken my bike out to Bedford or Lexington a few times already this summer, and it’s a perfectly delightful, bucolic, peaceful ride. But this particular morning, I wasn’t jazzed. I couldn’t get myself motivated for it.

Thinking with my stomach (as I am wont to do), I idly consulted my list of “restaurants to try someday” to see where I might grab dinner that evening. There, I saw it: Belle Isle Seafood, in East Boston. They’ve received amazing reviews, and they have a crab roll on their menu.

Just like that, the plan began to take shape in my mind: I could ride my bike from Somerville to East Boston and get lunch at Belle Isle! Then maybe head up to Revere Beach afterward!

Sure, why not?

I had seeds of inspiration planted in me by the Wicked Local Bike Blog and my friend Seanna, who can bike to the beach from her house in Quincy. When I Google mapped it and saw it was less than 10 miles to both Belle isle AND Revere Beach, I practically flew out of the house without further consideration. “An adventure!” I called out as I ran around grabbing my things.

So, how did this spontaneous adventure turn out?

  • I learned that riding my bike down Route 16 is perhaps the worst thing in the world to try to do. It is a mistake I will not soon repeat.
  • I got to see a lot of the industrial underbelly of Everett, Chelsea and Boston. It sure as hell ain’t no Lexington, and it’s not the best for biking, but it’s good every once in a while to challenge yourself and see new things.
  • In Chelsea, I accidentally stumbled across a stunning view of the Boston skyline and the Tobin Bridge.
  • I also accidentally stumbled across the Condor Street Urban Wild in East Boston. It’s tiny, but significant; it’s a reclaimed brownfield along the Chelsea River.
  • I ate a delicious crab roll at Belle Isle Seafood, but was disappointed to learn that my belief that there was an outdoor patio where I could relax, eat and watch the planes take off was mistaken. I did, however, get rattled by a jet flying about five feet over the restaurant. Pretty awesome.
  • I rode my bike around part of the Belle Isle Reservation, Boston’s last remaining salt marsh.
  • I discovered the Beachmont VFW in Revere, which has karaoke on Sunday nights!
  • I made it to Revere Beach, and some sand sculptures were still on display from the festival a couple weeks ago.
  • I consumed delicious chocolate soft serve at the Twist and Shake.
  • I took my bike on the T for the first time ever, shockingly.

For a potentially foolhardy expedition, I think it turned out pretty well. Screw you, Lexington!

Check out all of the photos I took along the way on Flickr.

Where’s the Bus? The Bus is On its Way

Tonight, I went to the MassDOT DevelopersWhere’s the Bus? 2.0: The Wait is Over” event, where the MBTA announced the next phase of its real-time data project.

Starting today, the MBTA released real-time data for bus routes 1, 4, 15, 22, 23, 28, 32, 57, 66, 71, 73 and 77. With these routes, on top of the previously released data for routes 39, 111, 114, 116, and 117, data for routes handling one-third of the MBTA’s bus passenger load has been made public. By the end of the summer, the MBTA plans to release real-time data for every bus route in the system and launch a marketing campaign around the availability of real-time bus data.

“We need to be more open and frank,” said recently hired MBTA General Manager Rich Davey, who today began tweeting as @MBTAGM. He stated his focus on “investing and working in the guts of the system.”

All of the MassDOT and MBTA personnel on hand emphasized the need for innovation and creativity to propel the transit agency.

“We’re going to revolutionize riding the bus in Boston,” said project mastermind Joshua Robin, whose hope is that buses become cool enough for people to make t-shirts pimping out their favorite routes.

Larry Rosenshein of NextBus, the company that the MBTA works with to crunch its real-time data and make it feed-ready, referenced this NPR commentary declaring that “practical tech is the sexiest tech,” because of the way it improves our essential quality of life.

Rick Borovoy from the Center for Future Civic Media at the MIT Media Lab talked about community media and art projects that can benefit from this data, including Lost in Boston, which blends public and private spaces to build community, and John Ewing’s Virtual Street Corners, which bridges the gap between spots in the city that are geographically close but worlds apart.

As a huge fan of public transit and a longtime nerd, I am beyond excited about this initiative. I wish I were a programmer just so I could hack together an app this weekend.

Next up after the bus system? The commuter rail.

Photo by Dan4th/Flickr Creative Commons

The Commonwealth Mall

A few weeks ago, I ended up somewhat accidentally walking down the Commonwealth Mall. While I’d crossed or walked down short segments of it in the past, I’d never gone from one end to the other. That day, I realized what a treasure I had been neglecting.

Yesterday, I reprised the walk, camera in tow and a little more time on my hands. (view photo set)

The Mall is the link between the Public Garden and Frederick Law Olmsted’s “Emerald Necklace,” weaving a tapestry of of greenery through the heart of the city. On a day like yesterday, with the trees sporting spring’s first green and the weather bright and seasonable, it truly felt magical. Removed from the commercial hubbub of Boylston and Newbury Streets, lined by elegant brownstones and stately apartment buildings, and just a couple blocks removed from the shores of the Charles that once overtook this very space, the Commonwealth Mall is a special place.

While arboreal splendor is a highlight of a stroll down the Mall, the real treasures are the various statues and memorials the inhabit the space. From a regal depiction of prominent abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison (complete with an affirming quote) to a memorial for trailblazing Boston women such as Abigail Adams, Phillis Wheatley and Lucy Stone, the Mall offers a history lesson and a museum visit all in one. There are also statues for legends whose name you may not find in your history textbook, like naval historian Samuel Eliot Morison, whose monument carries the inscription, “Dream dreams, then write them, aye, but live them first.” One of the more striking memorials is to the nine firefighters who lost their lives in the 1972 fire at the Hotel Vendome. My favorites, though, were the ones for ordinary people, like the homeless man who was devoted to the neighborhood’s dogs, or Thomas Walker, whose plaque underneath a young tree simply reads, “Special.” Beneath the boughs of trees flush with the renewal of spring, these lives and moments intermingle for posterity.

I took note of the two statues that bookend the Mall: George Washington at the western edge of the Public Garden, and Leif Erikson where the Mall begins its transition to the Fens. On both ends, you have discovery — discovery of a land, and discovery of a country, or what a country could one day be. I like to think that in the space between those two figures, with all the lives immortalized in stone and bronze therein, that sense of discovery lives on in the history we learn and re-learn, in a city that knows that remembering the past gets you halfway toward forging the future.

Introducing Buzzup North, Feb. 3 at 8AM

Talking to Guido at the Buzzup I went to during vacation, I lamented that since I live and work north of the river, I probably wouldn’t be able to make it to another one. He had a good suggestion: start my own. So, I am!

The first official Buzzup North will be held Wed., Feb. 3 from 8-9AM at Oggi’s Gourmet in the heart of Harvard Square (location inside the Holyoke Center Arcade, where the Au Bon Pain is; directions). There’s no agenda. It’s just an opportunity to start your day by hanging and chatting with some fun folks.

RSVP for the event and tweet about it with the hashtag #buzzupnorth.

Hope to see you there!

Photo by kennymatic/Flickr Creative Commons

Why I Love Riding the Bus

Jonathan Richman has a great song called “You’re Crazy for Taking the Bus.”

It’s more of an ode to long-distance bus travel (which I do love), but it also comes to mind when I think of my affection for public transit, which centers around the bus. I feel like a lot of people utter that song title when considering my transportation habits. In fact, I only have a bus pass, not a subway pass, since my office is just one short bus ride away. This means that often, even when traveling between two locations along the same subway line, I will take the bus if I have the time to spare. I not only save $1.70 by doing so, but I get the pleasure of a bus ride.

But why do I like the bus so much? This question — and its answer — came to mind on Wednesday evening. I was attending a friend’s performance at 10PM, and I had a couple of hours to kill between dinner and then. I bummed around Harvard Square for a while but eventually decided just to get on the No. 1 bus, which would take me to the establishment in question. But as I approached the bar, I just stayed on the bus. In fact, I rode through Cambridge, past MIT, across the Mass. Ave. bridge, all the way to the Christian Science center.

In this instance, the bus served two purposes: one, I got to take advantage of some free time to ride one of the MBTA’s better bus routes into the city and back to visit one of my favorite spots (on a listless evening, seeing the Christian Science Center and the Boston skyline at night will perk you right up); two, I got to enjoy being ferried through Boston and Cambridge, taking in the people around me and the sights along the way.

The bus lets me down, it’s true. Like Saturday, when I stood outside in the cold and bracing wind waiting 30 minutes for a late bus to Davis Square. Or when humanity’s quirks and eccentricities extend beyond good people-watching fodder and either begin to annoy or cause discomfort. Or when it inevitably speeds past juuuuuust as I get to the stop. It’s for those reasons that I can understand why many people dismiss the bus as weird, dirty, not dependable, inconvenient, etc.

So, why does my love of the bus persist?

1. The aforementioned people- and city-watching. Sure, you can observe characters and assess people’s reading material and peer at your neighbor’s iPod and speculate wildly about the backstories of the people around you on any mode of transit. But the bus trumps the subway in my book mainly because you can see what’s happening beyond the vessel. No matter how familiar the route, I can still lose myself in gazing at storefronts and intersections and landmarks. Dark tunnels have nothing on the outside world.

2. Making the city bigger. One of my favorite routes is the No. 8, which I used to ride nearly its entire length from my workplace at JFK-UMass to Kenmore Square, because as a 22-23 year old, it provided a great look at the city beyond the Copleys and Faneuils. The bus also empowers me to go on epic urban adventures where, moreso than driving on the highway or riding the subway, it’s about the journey as much as it’s about the destination. I like having to do nothing more than pay attention to where I need to get off, and I can extend my reach beyond the spokes of the subway and get to some pretty cool places. And it’s not just about the MBTA. I take a certain amount of pride in conquering the above-ground public transit options of any city I visit. This year, I’ve done it in both Brussels and San Francisco. In the latter, I took the bus all the way from the Castro to the Golden Gate Bridge, which was almost as much fun as visiting the bridge itself.

3. The bus is my mobile office. It’s where I do a significant amount of my reading, music listening, web browsing (hooray for the Blackberry) and social planning. It’s amazing how much I can get done on the 10 minute bus ride to work.

4. A sociological exercise. If you get on the bus by yourself, you’re likely going to immerse yourself in some activity for the duration of your ride, whether it’s reading, reading e-mail, chatting on the phone or simply gazing out the window or getting lost in thought. Riding the bus is a very solitary experience. But at the same time, it’s also extremely communal. Yes, you’re having a private experience, but so are the 20 other people sharing this small confided space on wheels. Whether in passing or in greater depth, chances are you have sized one another up or at the very least taken note of each other’s presence. Think about “Lost.” That series addresses the question of what would happen if you somehow became inextricably bound up in the lives of the people with whom, by chance, you are sharing a transportation experience. It’s a fascinating idea. I admit to having thought, while riding the bus, about what would happen if I was suddenly thrust into a shared experience with my fellow passengers, a la “Speed.” Though hopefully with less Keanu Reeves.

5. A feeling of peace. Call me weird, but when I get on the bus — particularly when I am settling in for a ride of some duration — I am filled with a sense of calm. I feel fortunate for having an accessible, affordable means of crosstown transit, not to mention one that (most of the time) affords me a seat with a view and the time to catchup, daydream or nap. It feels like a luxury. Perhaps for someone like me, who sees public transit as more of a right than a privilege, it is dangerous to admit that. But spaces where we are allowed to be quiet and left to our own devices feel few and far between nowadays, and they should be treasured.

I was having dinner with a friend the other evening and was telling her about this post. (It was this same friend who found the above pin at a local vintage shop a couple of years ago and gave it to me as a gift.) She recalled how when she moved to Boston 15+ years ago, she liked it fine, but it was on the bus — watching the city unfold around her as she advanced toward her destination — that she fell in love with it.  And that sums it up more perfectly than I ever could.

Immersion Learning

The only thing I knew about yesterday is where I would begin. I had no idea where I would end up.

IMG00461-20091022-1254Lately, I’ve had a bit of wanderlust combined with an urge to drive. I’ve been missing the open road, which I gained a fine appreciation for while road-tripping around the South with my brother this summer. So I took a day off of work, booked a Zipcar, and set out from Somerville with only a loose set of destinations in mind.

After breakfast with a friend in Peabody, I hit Brooksby Farm to get some cider donuts. I had been told that my New England citizenship was in danger of being revoked since I had never had one, and sure enough, they are good enough that it is a crime I hadn’t had one earlier. From there, I found my way onto 127, headed toward Gloucester and Rockport. I’ve been to those towns before, so I wasn’t particularly interested in getting out of my car and exploring the towns. I was more interested in seeing what would happen behind the wheel.

At several points, I lost track of where I was. But I didn’t really care. As long as I was on a main road (or something resembling a main road), even if I hadn’t seen a 127 sign in miles, I was OK.

DSCN6707I pulled into a random park at one point that had a stunning harbor view. Turns out it was Stage Fort Park, where Tablet Rock designates the first settlement of the Massachusetts Bay Colony at that spot in 1623.  I drove past Good Harbor Beach, taking in dazzling views of the beach, the ocean and the rocky shoreline — at one point, I pulled into the Elks parking lot just to sit back and take it in. I drove past the Fisherman’s Monument, downtown Gloucester and all the little shops and homes.

IMG00464-20091022-1424I continued through Rockport, stumbling into the kitschy, narrow lanes of Bearskin Neck. I continued down 127, hooking back west until I reconnected with 128. By this time, I had my fill of quiet scenery and was ready for some acceleration. I proceeded to cut over onto 133 to hit Woodman’s in Essex for the last crab roll (my weakness) of the season. So tasty — and relatively empty. I can’t imagine that place in July.

With nothing else on my agenda, I decided that a couple of hours of driving and singing sounded pretty good. So I got on 93-North and decided to drive to Derry, New Hampshire, with the iPod tuned to my Favorites playlist. In truth, I just wanted to cross state lines — it sounds like a silly wish, but for someone who doesn’t have a car, it is kind of a rare treat. Luckily, in New England, if you have a car (or, heck, even a commuter rail ticket) it’s easy enough to do. I had a loose goal of finding Robert Frost’s farm, but with no clear directions and time running out on my Zipcar reservation, I didn’t look too hard.

After I made it back to Somerville and dropped off my car, I headed downtown for Boston Blogtoberfest. I’m trying to hit more of these events (call it a fall resolution). I saw Brad, finally met Steve Garfield and the Whalehead King and chatted with some new folks like Jaclyn the Bar Warrior.  It was a good time, though I haven’t checked my credit card yet to see how much that gin and tonic cost me. Around 8PM, though, I got the itch. Not that the company and conversation wasn’t good, but I realized that it was unseasonably warm outside, and I had nothing but time and a city at my disposal.

IMG00471-20091022-2050I proceeded to take a rambling walk up Berkeley Street to Marlborough Street, walking up to the Common, past Cheers, around Beacon Hill, past Louisburg Square (and John Kerry’s brownstone) and ultimately, to the street I lived on when I was a baby. That’s right, the first two years of my life were spent in one of Boston’s toniest neighborhoods. Eventually, I reached 36 So. Russell Street, at which point I called my mom to chat. It was weird, but pretty awesome. I then headed to Charles/MGH, where I boarded a train for Davis Square and headed home.


I hated to turn away from the balmy night air, but the need to rest overruled my urge to explore. It had been a day spent immersed in the poles of the New England experience, from Bearskin Neck to Beacon Hill, from sitting behind the wheel to hitting the pavement. Notably, while I loved driving around Massachusetts, taking in the foliage and the ocean views, the landmark sites and the interesting roadside scenes, my favorite moment of the day was when I was walking to Blogtoberfest, on Tremont Street where it crosses over the Mass Pike. The sun had set, but there was still a splash of light on the western horizon. The Pru and the Hancock tower were lit up against a deep blue dusk, and the rush of traffic below soundtracked the scene perfectly. The day had given me an appreciation for New England, affirming it as the place where I belong. But right then, between the highway, the sunset, the city lights and the tens of thousands of people around me, I felt the most at home.