Let me tell you the story

Mad about town
By Carolyn Marsh | Oct 30, 2009

Boston was the last port of call on my recent business/pleasure trip. After the comfort and convenience of public transport in the UK (that would be Ireland and England both), I was a little taken aback — actually, a lot — by the state of affairs in Boston.

I had to get first to my hotel, which I mistakenly thought was close to Logan because it was advertised as having an airport shuttle. But the taxi dispatcher at the airport didn’t know any DoubleTree close to the airport, so I had the driver take me to Embassy Suites, which irked the dispatcher because it was just around the corner and meant a short ride and a low fare for the driver, in a huff. Make that a taxi. And the fare was $10, which used to be a decent tab for a cab.

I took advantage of the free Wi-Fi in the Embassy Suites lobby and discovered the hotel was actually miles from the airport, in a completely different part of town, and the cab ride was about $30. That was just the beginning. The only food in the hotel, when I finally got there, was take-out at an Au Bon Pain, not really what you’re looking for when you’ve just spent seven-and-a-half hours in a plane. But it sufficed. I went to bed early to get a head start on recovering from jet lag but was kept awake most of the night by what sounded like a group of inebriated Middle Europeans having a party in the rooms on either side of mine.

I’d decided to spend the night in Boston because I had a pre-op appointment for the minimally invasive total knee replacement surgery I will undergo next week. I had awoken from my fitful sleep ravenous for a breakfast of bacon, eggs and toast (for some reason; I am usually a Grape Nuts person, as is Sen. Arlen Specter, my friend Kathie tells me), and I thought if I got to the hospital early I’d have time for a nice sit-down meal in the coffee shop all hospitals have.

Things started to go wrong when the nice woman at the desk told me the directions I’d gotten off Google Maps from the hotel to the hospital were caca. They’d made it seem that the Forest Hills station was just around the corner from the hotel, when in fact I had to trot over to the JFK/UMass station and get a train to Forest Hills, where I could get a bus to Faulkner Hospital.

I had no idea where to get the train, so I asked a pair of nice Boston policemen standing around the station what to do. They very kindly pointed out the right platform, where what I thought was the right train was approaching, and when I said I needed a ticket they just opened the gate and ushered me through. I got on the train (for free) and rode for a few stops when I realized that a recorded voice was saying we were coming to the same station over and over again. (I really must see "Groundhog Day" sometime.) A pair of nice Boston young people told me I was going in the wrong direction, so I leapt off the train at the next station intending to go back the way I’d come. It turned out, however, that leaping from the train meant you were off the line, so I once again approached this time a not-so-nice-looking Boston cop and told him I’d gotten on the train going the wrong way. I must have looked rather pathetic because he pushed open the exit door without a word and I was once again on my way, still for free. I arrived at Downtown Crossing, to which I had been directed at some time in my hegira, and was again totally lost. So I found a man in a booth and waited five or ten minutes while he explained to a large gentleman how to get to what must have been Siberia. Fortunately, I had waited patiently, and not in my usual thundercloud mode, and the large man hung around, because when I asked the man in the booth how to get to the Forest Hills station he said I had to go to Back Bay.

I must have looked really pathetic by this time, because the large, and as it turns out very nice, man (whose name was Richard) said that was wrong and that he would take me to the train to Forest Hills because he was going that way anyway. When I said I needed to buy a ticket, he said he’d found a Charlie Card with $5.75 on it that he couldn’t use. So I used my illicit Charlie Card to get on the train and we rode together to Forest Hills and had a very animated conversation about the pros and cons of the present administration and Vietnam (he was a veteran) and other pressing social issues. When we arrived he practically put me on the bus, where I showed my Charlie Card to the driver, a beautiful blonde with an extremely big hairdo, and presto! A few minutes later I was tottering up the steps of Faulkner Hospital.

When I presented myself at the reception desk, a few minutes early for what I thought was a 9:30 a.m. appointment, leaving me just enough time to get a quick breakfast, I learned that it had been at 8:15. (I keep buying little notebooks to keep a record of appointments but after a few days without an appointment I can’t find the notebook so I start to rely on my memory again — wrong!) As it happened, they took me before 9:30 but the appointment lasted about two hours and I realized I couldn’t take the bus back to Forest Hills because it was 11:15 and the bus wouldn’t come for another 20 minutes and the hotel had a noon checkout and I had to make a 2:15 p.m. flight to Rockland and I hadn’t packed. Or eaten, for that matter.

I called for a taxi and it turned out the hotel was only a few miles from the hospital, never mind where it was in relation to the airport, so for about $25 I got to the hotel in time to pack, check out and get the shuttle (there was one every hour) to the airport. The shuttle driver was on his cell phone for the entire trip, and I was practicing all the way to say I’d give you a tip except you didn’t have your mind on your driving for one nanosecond but when we finally arrived at the airport I thought to heck with it and gave him nothing and said nothing, though I felt I should have let him know he was a danger on the road.

Then I luxuriated in being back in the States for the next hour and a half until we were called for the flight to Rockland on Cape Air’s teeny little nine-passenger plane. And then ensued the ultimate indignity. The last few times I’ve flown out of Boston, a rather officious young man, probably having failed to pass the test to be a Marine Corps drill sergeant, has seated people on the plane to spread the weight around. (When I went to ground school to learn to fly, we were taught how to stow luggage, not people.) I’d found my friend Loie traveling on the same flight, and she and I and one other woman were at the end of the line. I started to climb in and sit on the backseat, which holds two people, when the ROYM ordered me to sit in an empty seat in the next row up. When I asked why (you have to let these people know who’s paying the fare), he said he wanted the two lightest people in the back. Now my beautiful orange Eileen Fisher jacket may make me look like a pumpkin, and the gorgeous John Lewis scarf I’d bought in London may have added to the illusion, but there was no way anyone who was not legally blind could have thought the other woman weighed less than I did. I’ll bet you don’t have a girlfriend, I said pityingly, and sat in the fat seat and slept all the way to Rockland. I could go on and tell you about finding out that the battery in my car was flat, but never mind for now.

I’d planned to start this column by singing “Let me tell you a story ’bout a man named Charlie on a tragic and fateful day,” but I might not have realized the eponymous Charlie Card was named after him until my friend Kathy told me so.
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