Lost in Boston

21 05 2012

Seeing as I’m on a business trip with nothing to do on Saturday and seeing as I’m in the New England area, I decided to go to Boston for the day.  Normally I’m not big on sightseeing, but I was told by a friend and ex-Bostonian to check out the Freedom Trail.  We both love history and so I trusted his advice when he told me that it was something that I should do while I am close enough to do it.

Since I stupidly flew three thousand miles away from home without my GPS, I prepared the way you used to have to before GPS – I printed directions from the internet.  These directions consist of turn by turn instructions spelled out in English and shown pictorially.  They also tell you how long until the next turn in miles and minutes.  It seems like it will be just be a more hands on version of GPS.  Should be lovely.

Next I printed out a map of the Freedom Trail that was available on the internet.  Thus equipped, I was ready to explore the history of one of America’s most historical cities. 

Finally the day arrived.  I woke up very well rested at about 10:00 or so.  I hadn’t expected to sleep that long and not knowing when housekeeping was going to start their rounds in the hotel, I hurriedly showered, dressed and ate breakfast.  There is nothing more awkward than having housekeeping clean your hotel room while you’re there.  Especially when you are toweling off after a shower.

Before walking out the door I made sure my maps were prepared and realized that I should probably withdraw some cash to make it easier to buy things like food and souvenirs for my family back home.  Not wanting to pay extra ATM fees, I called the nifty number on the back of my card that tells you where the closest no-fee ATMs are.  I had never used this service before, but it seemed like it should work.  It turns out to be one of those voice-activated menu thingys.  It asked me for my city and I told it Portsmouth, New Hampshire.  It replied that there were no ATMs in Portsmouth and asked if I would like it to list the next closest ATM.  I said sure and so it told me about one in the next city over.  It was the opposite direction from Boston, but probably would only add ten to fifteen minutes onto my trip.  It asked if I wanted to hear another one so I said yes.  It then told me about an ATM in Portsmouth that was just up the street from me.  Wow.

I hit the road and got my cash and was happily on my way.  I plugged in my ipod and made my selection of music.  I had seen the movie Battleship the night before at the theater and it had featured an AC/DC song during the most poignant part of the film.  I was still feeling good from the movie and decided to go with AC/DC.  it was a good choice, I was rocking it all the way to Boston.

It was easy to get to Boston with my printed maps.  I even found the proper exit to get off the freeway with.  But then the full reality of driving with printed directions hit me.  If you haven’t attempted to get around like this before, I’ll tell you what it’s like.  Imagine driving in a traffic-filled, unfamiliar place with several pieces of papers in your lap and trying to figure out what the cryptic turn by turn directions mean.  Now imagine what happens when you inevitably miss a turn.  Are you there with me yet?

The directions are printed in order, turn by turn.  It only has pictures showing the small area around each turn.

Basically, if you stray from your route, you are screwed.  Your only hope is to try to turn around and refind your path.  That is very difficult when the city is filled with one-way and no-u-turn roads.  My directions became useless.  Lucky for me I had the Freedom Trail map.  Since the Freedom Trail goes through the heart of the city, the map of it doubles as a map of the city.  I was saved!  Unfortunately, the it is a Freedom Trail map and so it focuses on the trail itself and not on the labyrinth of streets.  Still, it was better than nothing.

My first pitfall attempting to use the map to get me to my destination – the Boston Common parking garage – was taking a turn that looked right on the small, loosely detailed map and then ending up crossing a bridge that took me off the map.  Of course the road was a greedy road and expressly told me not to do a u-turn, which then required me to become quite creative in my endeavor to get back across that bridge.  I was able to do it in a way that only involved mere seconds of traffic induced terror and got back onto my map.

I finally made it to the parking garage that my directions were supposed to be leading me to only to discover that it was closed for the day to all except monthly pass holders.  Just great.  I almost decided to just head back to Portsmouth and forget the whole thing, but I knew that since I had already made it that far, I shouldn’t give up so close to my goal.

I had almost decided just to drive around the horrible-horrible-city-to-drive-around-in and look for another garage when I remembered something.  I had researched the garage I had planned to go to the previous day, but it was actually the second one I looked at.  Looking at my crappy Boston map, I could remember the general location of where it was.  I decided to go there.

Between trying to stay in the proper lane, avoiding busses bent on my destruction and pedestrians bent on their own, I was able to look at the map and plot a route that would take me to the next best parking garage.  You know, one close to all the historical sites.  All seemed to be going well.  I was starting to congratulate myself for figuring out how to navigate in Boston.  Then I found myself in a tunnel.

I had remembered seeing a documentary on the Boston tunnels and realized too late that I was going to end up someplace that I didn’t want to be.  I came out of the tunnel in a totally different part of Boston.  I got off of the freeway and into a very non-touristy part of town and found a two-hour parking spot.  This gave me chance to frantically try to figure out how I ended up in the spot I was.  I saw the tunnel on the map, but the end I was on was not there and the map was lacking in just enough detail to keep me from figuring out what went wrong.

Then I remembered that the rental car place had given me a map of Boston.  I had stuck it in the center console of the vehicle and forgot about it because it was a worse-than-crappy map.  Pulling it out and looking at it again, I was able to kind of see where I had ended up (near the airport), but was not able to see how to remedy the situation.

My only recourse was to try to get to the west bound tunnel and get back within range of my downtown Boston map.  Using my great sense of direction, I was able to find it without much trouble.  I also found that the west-bound tunnel is a toll road.  There’s $3.50 that I will never see again.  While waiting for my change, the toll booth operator noticed the array of maps on my passenger seat and surmised (correctly) that I was lost.  He asked me where I was trying to get to. “Boston Common,” I said.  He then rattled off a host of directions in his quaint Boston accent.  I was able to digest the first couple turns at least before he was satisfied that I knew exactly how to get there.  Nah, he must have known I was screwed.  He had that look in his eye that told me, “Good luck, you’re gonna need.”

I went back into the tunnel and came out the other side, back on the map.  At the first light, I noticed a parking garage that advertised the same low rate my planned garage would have cost.  I had no idea how close to the Freedom Trail it was, but I took it.  I found a spot on the fourth floor and parked it.  It was time for the walking part of my adventure to begin.

Utilizing my Freedom Trail map and trying not to look too conspicuous as a sight-seer, I set out to find the trail.  Despite the map being almost as useless for walking as it was for driving, I was able to stumble upon the trail. 

The first thing I came upon was Paul Revere’s house.  It was kind of cool to see it, but it wasn’t that exciting.  Neither was the gift shop right next door.  I pressed on, making my way through the Paul Revere Mall (a brick-laid park featuring a statue of Paul on his horse) until I found the Old North Church.

The church was one of the coolest things I saw.  Inside they had a tour guide giving a brief history of the church and its historic significance.  It was fascinating.  Instead of pews the church had cubicles that patrons back in the day could purchase for a yearly fee.  The closer to the minister tower the cubicle was the more money it cost.  In today’s dollars the closest cubicle would have cost $25000 dollars a year.

Also in the church was a bust of George Washington that Laffayette had remarked as being the most like the man as any he’d seen.  There were also some angel statues that were donated by a pirate member who had looted them from the French.

The Old North Church was the place where Revere’s buddies hung the lanterns to warn the rebels if the British were going to attach from land or by sea.  You know, one if by land, two if by sea (it was by sea).

I checked out a couple more gift shops near the church and figured out what souvenirs to buy on my way back through.  I didn’t want to carry the souvenirs with me the whole day.

The next stop was the Copp’s Hill burial site.  This was a graveyard that had people buried there that had been born as early as the 1600s.  At one time the British had used it as a vantage point to aim their cannons at nearby Charlestown in the Battle of Bunker Hill.  The most interesting headstone belonged to Daniel Malcolm, one of the Sons of Liberty.  The British soldiers disliked him so much that they used his headstone for target practice.  You can still see the powder burns and indentations from their musket balls.

I next crossed the Charlestown Bridge and strolled past the USS Constitution, the oldest commissioned vessel in America.  I’d seen historic wooden sailing ships before so I didn’t spend much time there.  I could already see a monument in the skyline that I was pretty certain was on Bunker Hill.  I pressed on again.

It was while walking to the next site, the Training Field of Winthrop Square, that I realized that the Freedom Trail is marked by a row of red bricks down the center of the sidewalk.  I was following a red-brick road!  No more would I be contrained to surreptitiously look at my folded up Freedom Trail map, I just needed to look down!

The Bunker Hill memorial was impressive.  It stands in the middle of a large park with people just hanging out enjoying the sunshine.  There is a large statue in front of the monument of Colonel William Prescott with its sword drawn basically daring anybody to try to take the hill again.  Right next to the actual monument is a little building that houses the visitor center and a statue of Joseph Warren, one of the patriots that gave his life in the Battle.

Inside the visitor center was a very energetic tour guide that explained the battle as if he had actually witnessed it.  With his excitable voice and the echoability of the small room, it was quite a performance.  Apparently the battle took place on Breed’s hill (which is where the monument was).  The rebels, knowing the British were bent on taking the hill, met there the night before the battle and built up dirt embankments from which to hide behind.  Due to a shortage of ammunition they were told not to shoot until they saw the whites of the opponents eyes.  In this manner, the rebels were able to mow down about a third of the British soldiers before being forced to hastily retreat.  It was counted as a victory for the British, but the price was so high for the British and the meaning so deep for the rebels, it actually helped the rebels go on to win the war.

After the historical presentation, I threw all caution aside and decided to climb the monument.  Let me describe it for you.  It looks similar to the Washington Monument in Washington DC, but not as tall.  Not to say that it looks short.  Inside there is a spiral staircase that leads to the top.  There are almost 300 steps and they are marked at 25 step intervals.  It is just barely wide enough for two people to pass each other.  The first 40 to 50 steps didn’t seem so bad, it was the last 30-40 that were the killers. 

At the top is a small room with four small windows facing out and enough room for about 10-12 people to stand uncomfortably in.  Of course none of the people crammed into the space are looking forward to the long decent and there were a lot of panting, red-faced people up there.  It was cool to push the sweaty person next to you aside to peek out the windows at the city below, but the coolest part was standing in the middle of the space and looking down through the grating at the hollow center of the monument.  It gets you thinking about the small amount of metal grating that stands between you (and the four people standing in your personal space) and the ground.  It is even more cool when you get back down to the bottom and see that there is a pointyish little plaque or something inside.

After a quick trip to the men’s room at the museum across the street, I started following the red-brick trail back toward the Charlestown Bridge.  Before I crossed the bridge I saw an ice cream shop beckoning to my overheating, rubbery-legged self.  I popped inside to cool down and get an ice cream cone.  Turns out that this place was a popular place for rock stars to hang out.  They had pictures of Quiet Riot, Sammy Hagar and others hanging out in the place on the wall.

The ice cream was quite good and I got many envious looks as I crossed back over into downtown Boston with my cone.  On the way past the Old North Church again, I stopped in and bought the souvenirs that I had scoped out on my way through the first time.

I found it much easier wending my way through the city now that I knew what the trail looked like.  There were some neat statues and old buildings along the way to look at and I even saw the street where the Boston Massacre took place.  There was nothing about it that looked very special.  In fact I probably would have been oblivious to its significance if I hadn’t noticed the in conspicuous historical marker.  On the spot of the massacre itself was an engraving in the sidewalk that said something like, “Site of the Boston Massacre”. I think I was the only one in the crowd that actually noticed it.

Shortly after walking past the Boston Massacre, I started to feel extremely tired of walking.  I thought that maybe a soda would be just what I needed to press on so I walked into a Dunkin Donuts.  These things are ubiquitous out here in New England.  Anyway, they told me they only really had coffee as far as beverages went.  So I went across the street to Subway and got my root beer there (as well as a sandwich).

Filled with food, but not any more energy, I set out on the trail again.  It did its best to lose me until it finally did.  It was probably while looking at the oldest cemetery in Boston that I got off the trail, but I didn’t notice that had until blocks later.  I was left with two choices, turn around and refind it, or walk to the parking garage that I thought I could see ahead of me and drop off my bag of souvenirs. I decided on the latter course and trekked to the garage (which was farther away than it looked at first glance).

Here is where my adventure ended.  Being too tired to head out and pick up the parts of the trail I missed, I paid for parking and started back toward Portsmouth.  This is always my favorite part, the euphoric drive home.  I went, I saw, I conquered and now I could just relax in the knowledge that it was all over and I could spend the rest of the evening alone.

Being in close contact with the teeming thousands in Boston on Saturday gave me more than my fill of human contact for the weekend.  Time to sit down and record the experience for my posterity and readership to enjoy.




3 responses

21 05 2012

Wish I could have have been there with you. Strangley enough, hating crowds with someone else is always more fun.

21 05 2012
Mary W.

Not that you are likely to use a printed map again, but if it’s Google Maps there is checkmark option at the top of the print view page that includes a large map of the whole route. You can zoom it in if you only want parts of the route.

14 07 2012
Patricia Robinson

Your day trip along the Freedom Trail was fantstic compared to mine…I don’t know where to start. Suffice to say the kids wanted to know were the beach was and had zero interest in Benjamin Franklins parents
grave site. Go figure.

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