Friday, January 29, 2010

Secrets of the Massachusetts Commuter Rail

I may be snuffed out for divulging the following but I will have died in the service of providing information, and I will have died in a way that would make all librarians proud. 

These are, as far as I have been able to ascertain in my first 4 days, the secrets of riding the commuter rail:

Each car has an assigned conductor, actually, for every two cars there is generally one conductor. The conductor/car assignments are the same every weekday. Every morning I've ridden on Michael's coach. He's an older gentleman, wears the mbta uniform, a skull cap, and reprimanded me on my first morning for not saying I wanted a round trip ticket fast enough.

You can buy tickets on the train, and unless there is a land based (my terminology) vendor near the stop, it will not cost anything extra.

Not all coach doors open at all stops. Usually either the front door, or the back door of your car will open, it depends upon where your conductor's coaches are. They open the doors in between or near the handicapped unloading platforms.

When loading on the Inbound run, the trains will stop lined up with the spot on the platform that reads “stand back”. That is where everyone queues, politely, but a bit randomly.

Generally the people don't talk, unless there is extreme weather. Then North Shorians become very friendly.

You do not open doors yourself, especially the one at the front of the train.

Generally people ask, “is this seat available?” before taking the empty seat.

Free wi-fi is provided but it can disconnect at any time. Save often.

Unloading in North Station, takes awhile until everyone gets off calmly but there is a long narrow platform to walk down. Unlike walking in large crowds in NY, I have not felt the urge to moo. Personal space, even in large crowds is respected.

The trains usually arrive and leave from the same tracks in North Station, but you do have to pay attention because it is not guaranteed. Most of the regulars know this, so like yesterday, when they hadn't posted the track our train would depart on by 5:20, the regulars assessed the situation and drifted over to track 2, our usual track where an empty train was sitting. When we recognized one of our conductor's we knew we were 'on the right track.'

I'm sure there are many more secrets, but for now, they must remain so.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


Our move this past weekend went very smoothly, aside from the funeral. While everyone in Manchester, MA was talking about the moving of a 4 bedroom house, we quietly drove the Penske truck to our  new apartment, unloaded and began nesting. And seriously, the apartment is on the third floor and has a good sized deck that is surrounded by trees. Sometimes it feels like we are nesting in a tree house. Anyway, things went very smoothly  with S and I having only a few "issues" over furniture and painting placement, many of which S solved by dragging me out to take a walk..oh and getting a cappuccino at the bike store, but more about that later. The only, umm, road block, was when we went to return the truck.

Have you ever driven rt 127 between Manchester and Salem? Or, say, the average New England road minus two feet and double the traffic? That was the road S. had to drive in a 22' moving truck. I did the navigating in the lead car. Things were going well until we came to Beverly Crossing, a small, town where main street is the street, and the parking lot. We'd driven through a few times before, and it hadn't seemed particularly busy but today seemed very crowded, both with cars and with pedestrians...strangely...all dressed in black. As we turned the corner at the top of the hill a crowd of black clad pedestrians had overflowed into the street and traffic came to a standstill. Looking over at the church to our left, the reason for all the activity was clear. We had driven into the biggest funeral ever held on the North Shore.

After about 12 minutes the crowd began to thin out and traffic began to creep. S. skillfully navigating among the people, Mercedes, suvs and Volvos. I began to think we'd make it through okay. And that's when we saw the other truck. A very big truck. In the other lane. I looked in the rear view mirror to see if somehow our moving truck had magically shrunk. It hadn't. Slowly the two trucks approached each other, passing each other only after one of the cars parked on the side had driven off, and they had pulled in their mirrors. It was a skillful piece of driving. As the driver of the other truck pulled along side S. he leaned out the window, casually asking, “Did the Pope die.”

Friday, January 15, 2010

Mystic Seaport's Book Club

Having erudite discussions of the latest novel is some folks idea of a Book Club, Mystic Seaport's unofficial Book Club is another. Sure, we read and discuss books. We've read everything from Henry James' The Portrait of a Lady to Sarah Vowell's Assassination Vacation. The time we read a series of books on concubines was very illuminating as well as our attempt at Patrick O'Brian novels.

But the books are but a small part of this Book Club. And while I'll be able to read books where ever I go, I doubt I will ever again find such an interesting group of people to discuss them with. Far from being a compote* of individuals, these folks are of the highest, most valued kind of our society. The honesty of the group is amazing. Just yesterday the person who recommend this month's reading started the discussion by apologizing. The book had started out good (at which point she had recommended it) but finished very poorly. We all laughed and went of to the discussion. We've all recommended a bad once before. The
depth and breadth of life experience is also amazing. From 20 to 100 year old, North Americans and Europeans,  and from actuary to roustabout,  they've been everywhere, and done some surprising things. They also have an extrodinary appreciation of fine wine and food. Book Club is a pot luck, byob affair. We don't coordinate who is bringing what but you can always tell when things at work are pretty rough. Everyone shows up with wine.

Last night, after roughly ten years of being a member of this wonderful group I said goodbye. The second Thursday's of the month will never be the same.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Curb Alert

There is a wise saying that goes: "If it's free, you paid too much." It is a saying that has, in my experience proven true time and time again. It is also a saying that apparently, not many other people believe in.

We recently posted a number of items in the free section on craigslist. The emails started pouring in. Folks love the free stuff! And really, a lot of it is stuff that's just on the cusp between good stuff and garbage. One guy is driving for 45 minutes to get a day pack worth maybe $5.00 (less than the gas, and proving the 'if it's free you paid too much adage) Meanwhile no one has been interested in the one good thing. My golite pack. But the emails keep pouring in and 5 hours, and over 35 emails later, not one item has been picked up.

So, here is my latest suggestion, based upon the posting of an obviously seasoned craigslister, on how to use craigslist to give away stuff. Use the "Curb Alert." I.e. gather together all the stuff you want to give away. Take pictures. Put the stuff out on curb. Post the items to craigslist with a "Curb Alert" including the statement "First come, first serve. Email me and I will give you the address. Items removed from this list as they disappear." and keep your hands on the keyboard.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Slap Chop at the Yankee Swap

It's not every Christmas you find yourself the 'winner' of the Yankee Swap. I've gone home with plastic seagull planters, bad bottles of wine, and lots of other stuff I don't remember. This year I passed up the snuggy and hit the jackpot by picking up the "Slap Chop".

Or so I thought until I tried it. The slapping is great. Lots of fun. Smacking that black handle and hearing it hit the cup is great. Sadly however, it really doesn't chop very well. And what it does chop, sticks in the blades. Reading the reviews at Amazon I see I'm not the only one to be so disappointed.

Ah, the pain of being mislead by TV commercial.

PS We have tried the Sham WOW and thought it was a little better.

Video suggest by Dan: