Thursday, April 15, 2004

Commuting, Mass Transit, HazMats, and Marathon 

I generally prefer taking mass transit rather than driving. I can read, people watch, take scenic walking diversions, and observe the surroundings rather than just focusing on the road and the cars in my immediate vicinity. When we go away on vacation, one of the first things I'll research is the public transportation system in our destination. I love the system in San Francisco. Prior to each of two visits out there, I've secured passes over the internet, and we were good to go upon arrival. They have lots of options and connecting systems, and you can get anywhere in the city with the right kind of pass. The Girl thinks I'm a bit crazy in this way - she would much rather lift her arm and hail the nearest cab. But you don't really get to know a place when you have someone else drive you around, or even if you drive yourself.

Utilizing a transit system effectively requires you to analyze your options, learn the streets, associate landmarks and interact with people. If you see something interesting along the way, just press the signal or pull the cable, hop off and go exploring. We don't need no stinking parking places!

But you also have to be prepared to adjust, make accomodations, and be patient. If you're coming from or going to somewhere outside the city, the trains just don't run as frequently. Bring a book or a personable companion. The Girl and I went to rural Tuscany with some family members a few years ago, and one day decided to take the bus to Florence from a nearby town. We had to wait an hour for the next bus, so we had coffee and pastries while we were waiting, and chatted in our broken but passable Italian with some of the locals. When we got to Florence at 1 pm we discovered there was a strike scheduled for later that day. If we wanted to get back to Panzano, we would have to be on the bus by 4:00. So we established our priorities (the open air marketplace and the area from there to the Ponte Vecchio) and got to it. The Girl and I wanted to explore more, so we returned the next day on an earlier bus (9 am) and left on the last bus out (9 pm). The rest of the family went on winery tours. Everyone was happy.

But sometimes the daily commute can be a bigger challenge. Yesterday here in Boston a tanker rail car carrying hydrochloric acid developed a leak, and caused the partial closure of several transit lines, including the one I use to get home. They were still working on it this morning. But there are options to work around it, and we all do. The shutdowns affected some of the lines that are to be impacted with the upcoming Democratic National Convention this summer, so this was kind of a dry run.

Then there's the marathon. Visible preparations started this week for this coming Monday's big event. Copley Square is the end point, and is basically impassable for most of the day. They close down the Copley T-stop for the day, I guess on the assumption that so many people would be trying to get on an off that the trains wouldn't be able to move. By closing that one stop, they force people to spread out to the surrounding stops. My commute usually takes me through Copley twice each day. I may seek alternate routes, though.

Much of the state has the day off, as the marathon is always held on Patriot's Day, a Massachusetts state holiday. This is the commemoration of the Battle of Concord and Lexington, and Paul Revere's ride. Many dedicated history fans are up at the crack of dawn for the re-enactments, and fife and drum corps abound throughout the area. Pretty much everyone else is somewhere along the marathon route if they have the day off, or are following the race on tv, radio or the internet if they can't make it. The school is closed on Monday, but I still have to go to work. Much of my family will be watching the early part of the race live, as many of my relatives live directly on the route.

But I will be at work, deciding which route to take home. Perhaps I'll go through Harvard Square and do a little people watching while having a latte. I'll let you know how it works out.

Posted by Beth Henderson at 10:04 AM