boston mini-vacation, days 1 through 4

This must be a huge Skip It! for most readers, but I write this blog for myself as much as anyone else, and I must have a record of all my travels. And so...

This trip had a dual purpose - friends and baseball - and both came off brilliantly.

Monday June 18

On Monday we had a good day's drive to Boston, with a bit of excitement (read: tension) as our dogsitter got her days mixed up and was unreachable for a few hours. Once that was settled, it was clear sailing, including at the border.

Our niece Cassie, my sister's daughter, is in law school in Boston. (Yay, new excuse to go to Fenway!) We hadn't seen Cassie for two years, and the last time was a family wedding in California, not the best way to catch up. Lucky for us, she's on light duty right now with a part-time internship, so we were able to spend lots of time together.

As soon as we got in, Cassie met us at our hotel, and we walked off to find a good place to eat. Practically the first restaurant we saw was the same place we had planned to meet Amy the next day: Yard House. This turned out to be a great choice. It's a chain in the US, although new to me, featuring a gigantic beer list (Murphy's!) and an eclectic menu. The food was much better than what I'd expect from a generic chain restaurant. Food, beer, talk. Excellent.

Tuesday, June 19

Tuesday morning we relaxed a bit, poked around in a nearby used bookstore, which whet our appetite for more. We met Amy back at the Yard House for a leisurely lunch and gabfest. She spends the summer on the Cape, but by fortunate coincidence, H had business in Boston that day. It was terrific to spend quality time together.

A bit later that day, we met Joe, his girlfriend "the Other Amy", and Cassie at Lir, scene of the JoS1 meetup. We've also met Joe a few times before, including when he came up to Toronto on a soccer-baseball road trip. Joe's girlfriend's dad has Red Sox season tickets, and we were all going to the game together. Cassie was nearby and popped over to meet us for dinner.

Joe works for the state-run medicaid program, and I learned something about the red-tape jungle of state-run health insurance in Massachusetts. It couldn't be more different from our experience in Canada. In Ontario, there is only one question: are you a legal resident of the province. If so, after a waiting period and proof of residency, you receive your health care card. Everyone has the same benefits. Payment is calculated when you file your income taxes. The end. (Of course, our excellent public health care system is under huge threat of privatization, both from the Harper government and the McGuinty provincial government. But that's a story for another post.)

Joe, Other Amy, Allan, and I went to the game. The seats were terrific, and - as always - it was so wonderful to be at Fenway. It is simply the best ballpark, anywhere. I've said that since my first time there, in 1987, when I was still... you know. Since then I've been to many ball parks, and Fenway is still unrivaled.

On our last Boston trip, JoS1, we saw two terrible losses, so we were reeeeally hoping to see at least one win this time. On Tuesday night, the Sox breezed to a 5-7 win that never felt as close as the score might seem. The Marlins' Logan Morrison was responsible for all five of Miami's RBIs. With that name, he should play for the home team.

At the game, I had the brilliant idea of asking Joe about used bookstores in Boston. He's a Boston native and, like us, a reader, and an urban explorer. He gave us more ideas than we'd have time for. So now I know two things that the city of Boston has all over New York. New York City has lost most of its used bookstores to skyrocketing rents. Myth has it that used and indie bookstores closed because of the Barnes & Noble superstore invasion. But if rents were anywhere even approaching affordable - that is, if there was commercial rent control - at least some of those independent booksellers might have survived. They certainly have in Boston.

(A note to NN, who blogs about bookstores: a trip to Boston should be in your future. The world's first public library, bookstores galore, and a slice of baseball heaven for your sports-loving partner. Why not go this season, while tickets are cheap and plentiful?)

MattyMatty, a JoS regular, stopped by to say hi. As we were leaving Fenway, someone recognized Allan's unusual t-shirt, and introduced himself with his SoSH handle. Allan said "Joy of Sox," and the guy said "Allan!" and shook his hand. Funny.

Also at the game, more evidence (although none is needed) of the militarization of American culture. Our friend Jere had tipped us off to this, and it unfolded exactly as he said. At every game, the Red Sox honour a "kid hero" of the game (random cheering and applause), a blood donor of the game (golf clap), and a military person of the game, who is "protecting our way of life" (loud, sustained applause, standing ovation). Thus someone who literally gives of themselves to help save the lives of strangers is held in lower esteem than someone who goes to foreign lands to kill strangers.

Wednesday, June 20

On Wednesday morning, Allan and I ditched the horrible hotel freebie breakfast and jumped on the T to Copley Square. It was only 8:00 and already stifling from the heat. The weather on Tuesday was mild and breezy - perfect baseball weather - but we knew a few scorching days were ahead.

We had breakfast at boLoco, a Boston-area burrito chain featuring locally-sourced ingredients and compostable everything - and perfect breakfast burritos. Many stars for boLoco, I would definitely go back.

After breakfast, we waited (in the shade) for BPL (the Central Library of the Boston Public system) to open. Allan went off to do research, and I poked around a little bit, discovering a beautiful quiet cafe and an even more beautiful, quiet inner courtyard.

Soon after, I met Cassie a few blocks away for Boston's most touristy activity: a Duck Boat tour! By now it was sweltering - the temperature was in the high 90s (more than 35 C) and humid. Even sitting still in the shade, I was melting.

The duck boat tour was really fun. It's a quick 80 minutes, full of corny jokes and kitsch, but also full of history, architecture, and beautiful views. It's strange (and fun) to be on a bus that drives into the water and turns into a boat.

We weren't on this boat. I just liked the detailing.

This was the only photo I took from the boat that's worth sharing. If you have to ask why, you don't care.

By the time we finished the boat tour at around 11:30, the temperature was in the high 90s, maybe 37 C. Another nice thing about Boston: iced coffee is everywhere. (Ontario, when will you learn about iced coffee???) So Cassie and I sucked down iced coffees and met Allan back at BPL. Then it was off for our bookstore crawl.

We started at Brattle, which resembles New York's Strand, although smaller. There are tables of bargain books outside, a mural of authors looking down on you as you search the tables of $5, $3 and $1 books. Inside, there are two floors of used books, and a third floor of rare and antiquarian finds. Excellent store.

From there, we took the T to Cambridge. From the sizeable list Joe gave us, we easily could have done the whole used-book store crawl in Cambridge, but we wanted to check out Brattle first. We first visited Rodney's. From the website, it appears to have a canine connection, but we didn't meet any dogs there. Nevertheless, it's a beautiful store of used and remaindered books, and incredibly inexpensive greeting cards, note cards, and posters, many handmade.

After that, we jumped on the T again - the high heat and humidity not conducive to walking - and went to the Russell House Tavern for a lovely lunch, courtesy of my sister (Cassie's mom).

Then it was on to Harvard Bookstore. Unrelated to the school, this must be one of Boston's best bookstores. On the ground floor, it's an interesting independent bookstore with a great selection and good discounts; in the basement, it's a rabbit-warren of used books.

Given more time and less heat, this could have continued for several more stores, but Cassie and I were both collapsing. (Allan had to be pried from the store.) So it was back to the hotel for air conditioning and showers, then Cassie and her good friend H met us for our second game.

Having seen one win, of course we wanted another. The Red Sox obliged, and then some, hitting four home runs, including a quadrangular from Big Papi, the capper of the whole trip. Final score 15-5.

Jere from A Red Sox Fan From Pinstripe Territory and his partner Kim from Stella Marie Soap came by to say hi. It was great to finally meet Kim in person! Jere had recently been to Cooperstown, and he brought us back this adorable gift!

It's 4 x 6 inches when finished, but there are 234 pieces. It comes with a tweezer!

Kat, another JoS friend, sent me two Red Sox-themed puzzles last year, and Jere - a careful reader and a thoughtful guy - remembered that I'm on a puzzle kick.

Thursday, June 21

Drive home: easy and uneventful. Dogs: wonderful. Red Sox vs. Marlins: a double comeback, and a sweep.

It's amazing how even a short trip can revitalize me. I wish I could do it more often, but it's great while it's here.


johngoldfine said...

I first went to the Brattle in 1957. In those days, it seemed perfectly reasonable for parents to allow an 11 year-old to take the MTA (as it was then) into Boston to wander around Scollay Square (as it was then) with all its bars, burlesque houses, cheap eats, tattoo parlors,...and bookstores.

George Gloss, Brattle's owner, was great: he was helpful, astringent, cynical, a bit of a dutch uncle, amusing, knowledgeable--exactly what a budding bibliophile needed. My library's foundation was laid at his Cornhill location.

For the sad death of Cornhill in Boston's misbegotten urban redevelopment (Robert Moses had nothing on BRA's Ed Logue):


johngoldfine said...

The courtyard in the old BPL is wonderful--does it still have those Windsor chairs scattered around the arcade? Does the fountain still work?

johngoldfine said...

Well, duh, I can see from your photo the fountain is still streaming....

laura k said...

In those days, it seemed perfectly reasonable for parents to allow an 11 year-old to take the MTA (as it was then) into Boston

It probably still is, except in the parents' mind.

I went into NYC by bus as a teen in the late 1970s, and of course the bus station is adjacent to the infamous 1970s Times Square. If parents don't let their kids do that now, that's just a shame.

(Robert Moses had nothing on BRA's Ed Logue)

Before I take your word on that, you've read The Power Broker?

laura k said...

John, that pic of the courtyard isn't mine. I just snipped it from a BPL website. The fountain was not running when I saw it.

Kathryn said...

I loved reading your travel tales. What a great time with friends and family...buoyed by the wins! And another puzzle! Terrific.

johngoldfine said...

Y'know, reading about Robert Moses makes me so mad that I have never read 'The Power Broker.' But I know enough.

You're no doubt right, since, of course, Ed Logue worked on a smaller canvas than Moses, and in a city not so iconic, but he did manage to demolish a whole corner of Boston (the West End at the base of Beacon Hill), slice off another section (the North End) with the miserable Southeast Expressway that the Big Dig buried), nibble away at the Fens and Storrow Drive, and...drive George Gloss out of his digs.

laura k said...

Thanks, Kat!

John, it's a great book, and not just for learning about the scale of Moses' travesties. Also for NYC history, for learning about what Moses did well, and for just general great history reading. I loved it.

I'm glad to learn the name of the Robert Moses of Boston, and a bit about what he did. Thanks for that.

Joe Gravellese said...

Great recap! Glad you enjoyed the bookstores!

impudent strumpet said...

How do the baseball people know who's a blood donor? Or who's in the military for that matter?

laura k said...

The Red Sox work with the local Red Cross so they can honour fans who give blood. They promote blood donation - one of many charities the Sox promote. They also raise millions for cancer research, care for children with cancer, etc. etc.

They also seek out veterans who are Sox fans. They have veteran-related charities, so they find men and women who have recently returned from Iraq and Afghanistan and ask if they'd like to be honoured at a game.

I think - although this is an assumption on my part - that fans think of the veteran stuff as all part of the same charity work.

It's supposedly non-controversial and apolitical. But of course it's not. If you tried to honour a group like Iraq Veterans Against the War or Veterans For Peace, you'd find that out in a hurry.

Jere, if you know more about this, please correct me and/or chime in.

laura k said...



impudent strumpet said...

So they like go to donors at blood donor clinics and ask "Does anyone want to be clapped for at a baseball game?" Weird. I'm just in it for a nap in the middle of a workday and a cookie afterwards.

laura k said...

I think for a lot of people in that area, being honoured at Fenway would be really fun. Here's the pitch from the Red Cross: Blood Donor of the Game.

Jere said...

ImpStru--these are pre-planned announcements/honors, it's not like people from the team go around looking for people who happen to be there that night who fit the bill.

The blood donor is someone who's given the royal treatment, allowed onto the field before the game, and then gets to stand out on the field while their name is announced (to polite applause at best). Same with the military person, who is given a seat in the box right next to the dugout, then during the game, between innings, they announce them and what wars they were in, etc., as they stand on top of the dugout in uniform and are shown on the giant scoreboard (to a rousing, scary, USA-chanting standing ovation).

And as I'm writing this I'm thinking about how the pre-game ceremonies get fewer claps anyway, as many people aren't even in their seats yet--BUT, it still goes to show you that they care more about the military people since they're giving them more of a spotlight (IN game vs. pre-game).

laura k said...

to a rousing, scary, USA-chanting standing ovation

It was SO loud and SO sustained! I supposed it's become the thing to do, what's expected in that spot.

BUT, it still goes to show you that they care more about the military people since they're giving them more of a spotlight (IN game vs. pre-game).

Yes, good point.

juna said...

Mmmmm--bookstore crawl. Sounds like a great time. BPL looks beautiful and I will put Boston on my ever-growing list of cities with wonderful bookstores and libraries.

laura k said...

As cities go, I'm not really a fan of Boston. But this bookstore thing gave me something else to like there besides Fenway.

johngoldfine said...

As cities go, I'm not really a fan of Boston.

Uh, I think that deserves a


laura k said...

Aww, sorry about that. For me, Boston is just there. (Except for the Sox and any friends who are in striking distance. Obviously!)