Let me just say, this isn’t going to be one of those “What a Great City” stories that you may like to read about. If you are defensive about the city of Boston, Massachusetts, stop reading here. I don’t want to get all kinds of angry mail from people defending the city that is nicknamed “Bean Town” and was made famous by having a Tea Party.
This story is being written to relieve a great deal of frustration that I encountered on June 8, 2000 while driving in Boston. Maybe you were there that day too. All I know was that I was supposed to be following simple directions to get to a hotel for an environmental regulations course and I wound up lost for several hours while driving randomly around Boston’s lovely one-way streets admiring the perpetual road construction.
Keep in mind this is my fault. Plenty of people – and many of them are sane – can navigate through the streets of Boston and actually get where they planned on going. I am not one of these people. I generally get within a few blocks of my intended destination and my brain shuts down, so that I start lunging in and out of streets haphazardly searching for the correct building.
To prevent this type of situation, I called the hotel and got very explicit directions from Direction Boy. “Take route 93 south to exit 20. That will be the Kneeland Street/Chinatown exit. Take a left onto Kneeland Street and follow it to the end. This is Stuart Street. You will see the hotel on the left.” Since this didn’t sound too hard, I figured I would only get lost for 15 to 20 minutes while trying to find it. Hah! Some of you didn’t find the mistakes either! I’ll get to them later…
First of all, once you are within 10 miles of Boston, it is faster to get out and walk into the city. My first mistake was not doing this. Driving in rush hour in Boston ranks right up there with pushing thumbtacks into my eyeballs. While I don’t often do either one of these activities, I will opt for the thumbtacks next time. Everybody cuts in front of me as if I had a sign on the car stating, “Please Cut Me Off and Infuriate Me.”
No matter which lane I got into, it was the wrong one. There were instances where I would get cocky and actually push the car up to the speed limit – which everyone else was exceeding – just to see a sign behind a bush telling me I had just passed the street I wanted to take. Either that or the dreaded “detour” sign would materialize as I was passing it. These signs were written using a code that I figured out after hours of scrutinizing them while sitting in traffic. I now know, for example, that 93SB on a 2” by 2” sign is the code for “You are now passing a detour to Route 93 southbound.” Once I figured this out and circled back to take that road, the sign would be gone, and the road would now be under construction. Then I would have to decipher a new sign.
Once I made it into the actual city of Boston, I got off at exit 20, just as Direction Boy had told me. If I hadn’t repeated the directions back to him line for line I would assume I misinterpreted them. To get off at exit 20, I had to pass exit 21 – which, by the way, is located inside a tunnel. Who, in their right mind would put an exit in a tunnel?
Exit 21 had a sign that read, “Kneeland Street/Chinatown” which was the exit I was supposed to be taking. I figured the next exit must also lead there, since the explicit directions I had received said “exit 20.” I was wrong. The next exit is the beautiful Mass Turnpike, which took me in the opposite direction of the one I was anticipating. Also included was the added bonus of having to pay a toll to leave the turnpike.
Somehow I ended up in a situation where I was at the entrance to the Sumner tunnel paying another $2.00 toll to get back to a place that I didn’t want to leave in the first place. Pretty soon, the traffic started to thin out. Panic set in here because I realized I must have been going in the wrong direction if there wasn’t bumper-to-bumper traffic and one-way streets. I pulled over and called Direction Boy at the hotel again. He asked what street I was on. I said I was passing “K” Street. Direction Boy said, “Uh, oh – you sound like you are in South Boston. Apparently, this was not a good thing.
Direction Boy said to turn around and drive until I cross over a bridge. Then get out and jump from it. Just kidding, that was my idea. He gave me further directions that supposedly would bring me back to Kneeland Street. They didn’t. I was able to get on Route 93 north and go to exit 24, and turn around and take another stab at it. I got off at exit 21 this time. While sitting at the light, I had no doubt that I was in Chinatown. I didn’t feel I would get adequate directions if I asked anybody, since I do not speak Chinese very often. In their defense, they probably couldn’t have given me more confusing directions than Direction Boy.
All of a sudden, off in the distance and slightly to the left, I saw it. “Kneeland Street!” I cut off three lanes of traffic and two people on the crosswalk as I swerved to get into the correct lane. I took a left turn, as Direction Boy had instructed me to and followed the street to the end. Unfortunately, there was no Stuart Street here. South Street was squatting right in front of me. I figured I had missed the street sign, or the construction crews had physically moved Stuart Street and replaced it with South Street just to irritate me. Just to make sure, I circled back two more times. Finally, I asked a police officer. He pointed down the road and said, “Go to that light and it’s on the left.” I did. It wasn’t. I circled around three more times to no avail.
I pulled off the side of the road and called Direction Boy again. He said I was on the wrong end of Kneeland Street. Logic dictates that the street only has two ends, and I took the directions that he told me to. Ha, ha. Stupid me – following directions from somebody who has to drive to this building every day. I started to explain that he’s the one who gave me the crappy directions in the first place, but figured I would wait until I actually got to the hotel so I could “thank” him in person.
I made what was now a familiar circle and headed back to Kneeland Street – this time taking a right turn. There was the hotel right there on the left, with the name in big letters. The problem was that when I got there, it is a one-way street. I had to take a right, then a left and another left before I saw the big blue “P” which indicated either a “parking” garage or a rest room. I didn’t want to goof around all day trying to find a parking spot, so I drove into the first garage I saw. There were eight floors and all of them were full. I was actually on the roof of the building before I could find a spot.
I took the elevator down to the ground floor, and figured out that I was right across the street now. As I ran across the street, I passed the hotel parking lot, which was cheaper (and could later be validated). I didn’t care. I made it. I was two hours late, but I made it.
The class was obviously in progress when I walked in and sat down. I didn’t expect the instructors to wait for me. In fact, I had hoped they would have finished and left already. I walked into the room and realized that I was wearing jeans, a casual shirt and sneakers, whilst everyone else had three-piece suits, matching socks and a pocket watch. This did nothing to heighten my attitude towards attending this class.
When I sat down, I realized that the subject being discussed made no sense to me, and I would have understood the Chinese people giving me directions (in Chinese) more clearly. The next speaker got up and again, the subject matter was geared more towards the corporate professionals and environmental lawyers. I clearly did not belong here. I began writing notes and highlighting sentences that appeared very important at the time – in fact, they seemed vital to my career at that particular moment in time. Later, as I read my notes, I realized I they made absolutely no sense whatsoever.
Most of the course involved acronyms. The speakers were droning on and on and not really saying anything. In fact, entire sentences were being spoken without containing many actual words. A sentence like, “The DEP or EPA may require a NPDES permit through the GLSD or other POTW (based on the CWA), or they will issue an ACOP, which may require you to decide on a SEP for the SERC, LEPC or LFD,” was common.
There were often three speakers at the front of the room at once, yammering about different subjects simultaneously. After speaking at us for twenty minutes, they would stop and ask us if we had any questions. Since nobody knew what the hell they were talking about in the first place, they had to resort to asking each other questions, which didn’t matter since nobody knew what the answers meant.
Here is an answer to one of the self-directed questions, so you can feel as if you were actually attending this seminar. This is an actual quoted answer: “What we try to do is justify the acquisition of the projects by the environmental cost by utilizing the following criteria…” Then the criteria would be listed forcing many people to have narcoleptic episodes of involuntary sleep. A witty remark such as, “Boy, I’m Greek and I can’t understand the environmental policies,” would cause the room to erupt with laughter.
Finally, it was time to leave. I knew I would get lost again and it was rush hour. I knew I would be sitting in traffic until the next presidential election. I knew I would be frustrated to the point where I would want to kick a puppy. But I was leaving Boston, and that made me happy.