Navigating the MBTA

I have lived in metropolitan Boston for close to 18 months, but rarely had to go to downtown Boston.  When I have had to go downtown Boston, it has been for a breakfast event, or lecture, and so I have driven.  Typically if you end up in Boston during afternoon rush hour, you just stay and have dinner before you head home because otherwise you will spend the dinner hour sitting on the highway.

This past week, when I had three days of all day meetings in downtown Boston, I decided that the time had come to figure out the commuter rail and subway. It was time to load and use my Charlie Card.

I have to say that I felt some anxiety–but why?  I had mastered the transit system in Hong Kong, ridden buses, trains and subways in cities across the U.S., Europe and in China.  I spent almost a decade using the bus system in Mpls/St. Paul.  What in the world was worrying me?  The train stop was right behind my local shopping center!

I loaded my Charlie Card on line–first step.  My travel into Boston was by car with a colleague so I had leave my car at the train station for my return.  Second step to my learning–always have change because it costs $4 to park your car and you have to have change.  I stuffed everything I had into the slot for my parking place number ($3.56) and wished for the best.  We drove through the inbound traffic to our conference.

In the afternoon I had to get back to my local train station in order to get my car and get to work for a late afternoon meeting.  As I left the conference I asked a staff member to point the direction to the subway that would take me to the computer rail station for the train to my home station.  Only when I received directions in clear, American English, did I realize where my anxiety had come from–I had been internally anticipating navigating in foreign parts. Not only could I get directions that I understood with no effort, I also could read signs and understand the currency!  Whew!

I easily got to North Station, bought a ticket for the commuter rail, and read the schedule instructions that said for this particular train I needed to tell the conductor that I was getting off at the Hamilton station.  And I knew every stop in order along the way:  Chelsea, Lynn, Swampscutt, Salem, Beverly, North Beverly, Hamilton. No need to even worry about which stop was mine!

After my late afternoon meeting at work, I had to turn around and drive with colleagues back into Boston for a dinner honoring a local pastor and his wife.  The outgoing Mayor of Boston spoke at the event.  With his Boston accent, I truly had no idea what he was saying.