What I See

What I Used to Ride

Years ago, when I lived in the Boston area, my only mode of transportation was the MBTA trolley system aka “the T.” In all, I lived in eight different apartments or shared homes. I was a restless person then, but in the process, I got to know the system well, especially the Green Line that served several of them.

And, recently I found it interesting link in the village where I now live — a trolley car that was used on the Green Line. Now in horrible shape (more about that below), it rests in the yard of the Shelburne Falls Trolley Museum. Yes, I rode that car. Many, many times.

First, a little about the Shelburne Falls Trolley Museum, which is located a short walk from our home. The museum is dedicated to preserving and operating the Shelburne Falls & Colrain Street Railway trolley car that ran over the Deerfield River on what is now the Bridge of Flowers for twenty years. No. 10 was built in 1896 and served both communities for thirty years. According to info from the museum, the trolley car was saved by a farmer who for 65 years used it as a chicken coop, tool shed, and playhouse. Since restored, people can ride the trolley car a short distance in the same rail yard.

But my attention during a recent walk was on the PCC Car, the last one built in Massachusetts, by the Pullman-Standard company of Worcester. After running on the Green Line from 1951 to 1985, MBTA 3321 was moved to Brooklyn, New York for a streetcar project that didn’t work out. Instead the car got badly damaged as you can see by the photo when it was flooded during Hurricane Sandy. The museum is hoping to do a cosmetic restoration.

Although the car is tragically a shell of its former self, it brings back memories of being aboard, traveling above and under ground as I headed to downtown Boston or back to where I lived. 

I remember bringing four little kids on board, the littlest one strapped to me. All of us holding hands. Or when I was pregnant with one of them. Sometimes I had a folding stroller with me. It was easier to get a seat going toward Boston then going out. I’d stand there holding onto the pole, my belly out to there and keeping the little ones close, maybe one in my arms, until typically some old lady would yell at the men for not offering me a seat. Or she would give me hers.

We did grocery shopping, visited Boston Common, Red Sox games, restaurants, museums etc. You name it, our family went to it on the T. Even now when we visit family who live in the Boston area, we take the T although that’s on the Orange Line.

I developed good balance, enjoying the slight sway of the trolley. And it was a great people-watching opportunity whether on board or waiting on the platform for the next available car. 

I can recall the T breaking down and being led through one of the tunnels. 

And now I will tell you the best thing I ever saw.

I was walking down the long stairs at the Park Street station to board the T when I noticed a man and dog getting on board when I did. The man spoke to the dog with a command to go home and then left him behind onboard. The doors shut and the trolley moved forward. The dog, some kind of mutt, wasn’t interested when anyone spoke to him. The train kept moving and stopping at various stations. The dog stayed put. And then when we reached a certain stop, Kenmore Square, I believe, the dog got off and presumably did go home.

Now that was a memorable ride.

books, Writing

One Flew Over

Two flights between Santa Fe and Boston to visit family last week gave me the opportunity for uninterrupted reading. I often print a draft of a work in progress for the plane, but this time I decided to read what somebody else wrote.

At the recommendation of a friend I tried Denis Johnson’s Tree of Smoke but put it down after 150 pages or so. Yes, it won him the National Book Award but it wasn’t for me.

Mural outside Brattle Book Shop

Mural outside Brattle Book Shop

Luckily, I brought along Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which I hadn’t read since I bought the book in 2001. This was my third reading actually and I wasn’t disappointed. Kesey created great characters like Randal Patrick McMurphy, who announces during his grand entrance: “Damn, what a sorry-looking outfit. You boys don’t look so crazy to me. Which one of you claims to be the craziest? Which one is the biggest loony? … Who’s the bull goose loony here?”

Then, there is Nurse Ratched, who can’t tolerate McMurphy’s boisterous and conniving ways, and Chief Bromden, who tells this story, plus the cast of characters who live and work on this ward. I rank One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest high in my top 25.

This visit continued its book theme with a visit to a public library in a Boston suburb. While in Boston proper, I stopped at three used book stores, including the Brattle Book Shop, with its mural of literary heavy-hitters overlooking its sale lot. I could have spent hours in each store but I didn’t have enough time this visit. Instead I walked the aisles and marveled at the stacks of books, like the good one by Ken Kesey I read on the plane.





Traveling Companions

I spent a week, last week, Back East, to see family. I’ve taken this trip countless times, actually lived there many years, so I rely on people to make the visit interesting.

Here were some of them:

My granddaughter, turned one in June, who waved and said hi to fellow travelers on the train into Boston. I watched as weary workers cheered when she singled them out.

Hank, who is helping our daughter and son-in-law with their new home. He drove across country in three days. 

The hand surgeon who was skilled enough to remove a dirty splinter deep in Hank’s finger that caused blood poisoning. She said as a child she was fascinated by how hands work.

Three of our six kids and a son-in-law, now young adults, and leading good lives.

My Dad, who I visited during his brief rehab stint at a nursing home, for making a wry comment while we waited for my mother to bring around the car. A fire engine was also parked in front of the building, and he quipped, “I thought we were going to take that to the doctor’s office.”

My mother, who showed me albums filled with vintage family photos and told me to take whatever I wanted.

The pleasant woman who manned the takeout place near my folks’ home where I ate clam chowder and stuffed quahogs.

The priest who said Mass at the nursing home. Afterward I told him I remembered when he played basketball for a local vocational high schools. He was the best ball handler and his team almost beat my high school’s. He thanked me for the good memory.

My sister from California, who I got to see for several hours before I returned to Boston. My brother and his family who made the effort to spend time with me.

The drunk on the train into Boston, who drank from a bottle hidden in a paper bag and spoke to fellow riders in a Darth Vader-like voice. Yes, he did say, “Luke, I am your father.” 

Our well guy, who responded quickly, after we learned lightning hit the well house of our Taos home. Three hundred bucks and new electrical parts later, water was restored.

The woman behind the counter at a lunch place in Milton, who let me use the rest room in the kitchen and was friendly about it.

Kindred spirits, who like me had to put up with an airport shuttle that was several hours late. 

The coyote that sang outside my bedroom window and reminded me I was back in New Mexico.


Waiting Room

I’d rather be early than late, even if it means I must spend time waiting. So early Sunday morning we arrived over an hour early for our flight home from Logan.

Usually under these circumstances, I read a book or mark up a manuscript. Unfortunately, the book I brought along was a dud and I didn’t find a suitable replacement during our trip back East. I finished one novel just before I left and haven’t begun the next.

So instead I watched how others waited. 

We were beside a Starbucks so drinking coffee was big. So was eating. A few, like Hank, dozed. 

The clear majority in my section of the airport, however, were focused on an electronic device. Smart phones were the top choice. Next were e-book readers, then laptops. Their eyes rarely left the screens.

A family in front of me each had their own device. Mom had a Kindle on her lap while she fiddled with her cell phone. One son, oh, I guess around 12, had his own Kindle. His younger brother played a video game. Dad tooled with his phone. None of them spoke.

I wonder how this family would have waited without their devices. Would they have played a game of cards, read magazines or books, or maybe talked? Would the boys be interested in what was happening outside the large windows, or would they get bored and horse around? 

I spotted a woman reading a paperback of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard. The book, which contains her observations of nature and life near her home in the Blue Ridge Mountains, won the Pulitzer in 1975. The reader’s head was down. It appeared she was nearing the end.

All to pass the time. 


A Lunatic Red Sox Fan

First, as a rational person, I know nothing I do at home will have an impact on the game I am watching on TV.  But I am not a rational person when it comes to the Red Sox, and on occasion other sports teams from New England.

The World Series is long over. The Red Sox beat the St. Louis Cardinals to win it. And yes, David “Big Papi” Ortiz was the series MVP.

But as far as I’m concerned the real MVP was Wally, the stuffed creature sitting beside our TV set. Wally is supposed to be the Green Monster, the left field wall at Fenway Park. He wears a Red Sox uniform and cap. He holds a mitt in one hand and a baseball in the other. He is smiling. Yeah, he’s goofy. 

One of my daughters bought Wally for me at Fenway Park years ago, and ever since he has had a spot beside the TV. (Okay I will admit last year when the Sox management had a serious lapse in judgement to hire Bobby Valentine as manager, I stowed Wally in a drawer in disgust halfway through the season.)

But Wally was back this year. You know what happened to the Sox: from worst to first.

During the playoffs and series, I moved Wally around to bring  good luck to the Sox. On game 2 of the ACLS against the Tigers,  I moved Wally to the television’s center. Seconds later Big Papi hit a grand slam. Yes.

Sometimes Wally wears out his luck in one spot and I have to move him to another. If the Sox are doing well, he stays put.

Do I talk to Wally? Are you nuts? Of course, I do.

At one point during the season, Hank said he would build Wally an Adirondack chair if the Sox won the series. I plan to hold him to it. Wally needs a good place to sit.