A visit the big city (Boston) seeing ships and rideing a subway

I spent Friday and Saturday in Boston, doing Q&A after showings of Billy the Kid at Coolidge Corner Theater. Last night we had members of the Asperger Association in the audience. They're online at http://www.aane.org/ Actually, I should say "we" because I myself am a member.

Here we are on the marquee at the cinema:

Director Jennifer Venditti and I did Q&A after the shows on Friday and Saturday. Producer Chiemi Karasawa filmed us, and may make the best of the Q&A into a little segment for the DVD. But I won't spoil that or bore you by repeating questions when I have pictures.

Saturday morning I had a few hours to kill before meeting Jennifer and Chiemi, so I headed to the Port of Boston (where else?) The MSC BANU was coming into port as I arrived:

The burst of smoke from Banu's stack is the last burst from his propellor. After that, the tugs took over. In this shot, you can see the tug Vincent Tibbetts working the ship up to the container pier with the travel crane towering over all:

Once the ship was tied off I cruised over to the fish pier, where they were getting ready to head to sea:

Later on, between movie showings, I took a walk. I went to Brookline Booksmith and signed all their books. Then I headed down toward the big Citgo sign at Kendall Square, and I signed my books at the B&N.

After that, I decided to try something new. I decided to ride a subway. Seeing a set of stairs in the sidewalk, I headed down. Leaving the daylight behind, I entered a world of harsh flourescent light, damp slimy floors that smelled of urine, and pools of liquid with glittering soggy trash.

I walked down a hall into a large underground room, where a machine took my two dollars and spat out a ticket. Putting the ticket into a turnstile, I was able to walk down another hall, deeper into the earth, wherupon I ended up at a platform next to subterranean train tracks. I looked around. There were quite a few people, and none seemed alarmed or dangerous, so I relaxed.

A female in a red jacket stood near me, and I decided to ask her for advice:

"Is it safe down here?" I asked. "Or do I have to guard against attack?"

"It's usually safe," she said. But I noticed her furtive glances. As a practical matter, though, I realized I was bigger than her and most other deinzens of the platform, so I figured they'd go for easy pickings first if it came to that.

"Do people live down here in winter?"

"I don't think so," she said. But there was a certain uncertainty to her voice, and she edged away from me, as if I'd confronted her with an unpleasant truth. It was considerably warmer in the tunnel than on the street. If I were homeless, I'd consider a train tunnel.

I'd also consider a tunnel if I wanted to rob passengers. After all, it's well lit with plenty of dark places to hide, and there was no law in evidence. But is it safer up top, in the street?

She was saved from my further curiousity by the arrival of a train. I stepped aboard and pressed close to the glass while holding the rail in case the door popped open. As the train gathered speed, I felt sure I glimpsed the flicker of a campfire just beyond the reach of the station lights. And I saw movement in the dark more than once. Luckily, the train was moving fast.

Are they predators, I wondered, picking hapless victims from the subway access tunnels? Or are they themselves prey, hiding from the real predators up above in the street. The answer was not clear. There's a lot of space in Boston's subway tunnels, though. There's probably a mix of both down there.

The train emerged into evening just before my stop. I photographed it for your viewing pleasure:

As I looked around at street level, I was struck by the realization that most of those around me probably have no idea what lives below, thirty feet beneath the streets. The only giveaway is the occasional smell of roasting meat and burning garbage, wafting from the ventilation grilles in the sidewalks.

Zipping my jacket tighter, I headed toward the theater.

I left for home at midnight, after the last Q&A.

* * *

And on a brighter note, it's time to welcome the British to the Blog. Here's the first British review of Look Me in the Eye, in today's Times of London


LMITE is on sale in England in ten more days.

Here's the Amazon UK link


Holly Kennedy said…
Great first UK review, John. Congrats!

P.S. You've got more nerve/guts than I do. I'd never wander down into a subway on my own.
Sharon said…
Love this set of photos John..thanks
Polly Kahl said…
Wow John, was this your first time on a subway? It's the main source of transportation for NYC folk and people in London and other parts of Europe as well. I've never smelled urine in any of them, thank goodness, although I have felt sorry for some of the homeless I've seen there. The London underground and the Washington D.C. subway are both clean and efficient. Glad you had an interesting new experience and also of course that your book continues to sell by leaps and bounds.
John Robison said…
Polly, that was indeed the first time I rode such a thing in Boston. And I suppose "clean and efficient" is a relative term.

I'm glad the book continues to sell, too, though I doubt if the subway has anything to do with it.
Oh the T isn't a big deal, Holly - well, depends what line you're on. We zipped in and out of the city in high school all the time.

And that ship is a floating trade deficit. I'm guessing she was coming INTO the port of Boston, not out?

Massachusetts - my home state. Love it.

Good luck in England, John!
John Robison said…
Kim, that ship is owned by COSCO, the state shipping line of the People's Republic of China.

Without getting into a big trade discussion, I'd like to offer this example:

Here in America, we design the chips for the latest computer, and make them. We sell them to a Chinese company for $500, of which $300 is profit.

The Chinese integrate them into a computer which they sell us, for $1,000. Of that sume, $100 is profit.

There is a neet trade deficit, but the majority of the profit on the computer was earned here.

Now, what happens next?

The American dollars that flow to China to buy those computers are in large part reinvested in American government securiteies, American real estate, and stock in American companies.

Our country is moving toward leadership in ideas and intellectual property, as opposed to manufactured goods. As that continues, we will necessarily see trade imbalance as other countries add value to ouor underlying IP.

And those countries will of necessity reinvest here and the circle will continue.

The trade balance is only part of a larger cycle.
John, I thought the big boxes on the ship were colorful and pretty. Ah, the female NT mind versus the male Aspergian steel trap! :)
Michelle O'Neil said…
Love going along on this journey with you! Your thought process is amazing.
Trish Ryan said…
I've never been a fan of Boston public transit (coming from Maine, it seems just plain unnatural to go underground for extended lengths of time) but your post pretty much seals the deal. It's above-ground transit for me!
K Allrich said…
Your description of the Boston subway (aka the T) brought up quite a few memories. Can't say that I miss it. You're very brave. But then, you are bigger than us (females).

I used to live on Cape Cod; moved to New Mexico almost two years ago. I don't miss Boston but I miss the ocean.
Daily said…
i love how you size up a situation so logically, "...I realized I was bigger than her and most other deinzens of the platform, so I figured they'd go for easy pickings first if it came to that."

it's good to plan these things out in advance, very often i try and map out my escape wherever i am, just in case i need it.
Sandra Cormier said…
I carefully scanned your pictures of the container carriers, looking for elves. I didn't see any.

The subways in Toronto are bright and clean. If anyone gets into trouble, there is a button to push, almost always within arm's reach.

Did you ride in the front car? It's fun to watch the tunnel opening right before your eyes at thirty miles per hour.
John Robison said…
Chumplet, those elves have had no end of trouble since Sept 11. Many of them don't have papers, and the Coast Guard and Homeland Security people treat them like common criminals. It's no wonder they stay out of sight. Government agents hunt them with dogs on some ships.

It's sad, tragic, what's happened to evles.

I did not ride the front car but I realize now that I should have
Lydia Netzer said…
Hmm. I've never smelled grilling meat from a sewer grate. But then... maybe I did and I didn't believe my nose.

I'm looking forward to reading your book.
Unknown said…
Indeed there are people who live in the Green Line tunnels. Most of them are not predatory, unless desperation to support a drug habit turns them into predators.

The Green Line used to be a lot more extensive than it now is, so there are plenty of tunnels there that are now in a state of disuse, and most likely disrepair as well.

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