Boston — and its accompanying city, Cambridge, Mass. — has one of the most comprehensive transit systems, boasting five subway lines that take you within minutes of anywhere you need to go. And if that’s not enough, there are buses to carry you where the tube cannot. It really is an excellent system.
Or so I’ve been told.
Though I spent six days in beautiful Boston (staying in my friend Gary’s Harvard College dorm), and we used the T — the name of their transit system — more times than I can count on two hands, I never once had a “normal” ride. From experiencing “the longest five minutes from Cambridge Square to Harvard Square” (Gary’s words, not mine) to having to trek underneath a highway and back to find a subway station, Gare and I had our share of interesting adventures. Though he was more than apologetic for his city’s transit failings, I couldn’t help but love every wacky minute of it; hey, you’ve got to make the best of a weird situation! (Or twenty!)
Not too long into my visit, we decided to take in a movie at the AMC in Boston Commons in light of the slightly dismal weather; naturally, this required a subway ride. Luckily, Gary had the foresight to insist we leave early, given our unrelenting bad luck with the T.
After scanning our Charlie Cards (sort of like reloadable Tim Cards, but for the subway) and going down to the platform, we were startled out of our conversation by some sort of noise echoing through the station. It was garbled and kind of funny-sounding, and though no one could make much of it, everyone started moving. People ran up the stairs and down the stairs and shot confused looks at their fellow travelers, trying to get insight as to what was going on.
Though Gary suggested I stay put while he investigated, I inevitably got caught up in the throng of people, and made my way to the upstairs platform, where the noise seemed to originate. On my way, a woman caught my attention and yelled something about the trains reversing direction due to an accident.
Shocker. Even though I’d only been in Boston for less than two days, no transit-mishap could have surprised me. To have the trains reverse their direction seemed only natural at that point.
I met up with Gary in the middle of the platform while chaos swirled around us (poor, poor Boston commuters), and we exchanged information. The results were inconclusive, but it appeared that we had to get on a train that would typically go in the opposite direction of where we needed to be. Around us, the P.A. system blared a nonstop circuit of gobbledy-gook. How anyone had figured out the gist of the announcement was beyond me, because there wasn’t a word in that message that was comprehensible.
We made our way to the appropriate subway car and, just as we were taking our seats, the announcement started over again. Except this time, the message was crystal clear, as was the voice of the announcer: “Trains will be redirected to accommodate problems at Davis Square. If you’re going outbound to Alewife, take the inbound train; if you’re going inbound to Braintree, take the outbound train.”
Let me just say that I found it completely wonderful that, in order to figure out which train you needed to be on, you had to get on a train (not knowing if it was the right one) to actually hear the message properly. And if you’d got on the wrong one, it was too late anyway; both trains were leaving their respective platforms.
And as Gary and I shared a little giggle over this fact, the announcer’s voice boomed, “This is the Braintree train” almost every five seconds. The girls across the aisle from us tittered, and even I couldn’t repress a laugh. Because not only was this altogether redundant, but the P.A. announcer’s voice was the epitome of the Boston accent (she could pahk the cah in Hahvahd Yahd, if you know what I mean). Every time the announcement repeated itself, the entirety of our subway car smiled at least, guffawed at most.
Best, if not most convoluted and unorthodox, subway ride ever.
(This article was in the June 2011 issue of The Ryerson Free Press.)