Catch us if you Can

Cruising the C’s and Catching ‘T’ Fever

Our first C stop was Capen St., which is on the Mattapan Trolley line in Dorchester. Riding the Mattapan Trolley, which opened in 1929, is like stepping back in time and I found it historically fascinating.

The 10 trolleys that run this 2.6 mile “high-speed line” (named as such because its route is only intersected twice by city streets) were built in the mid 1940’s, and are said to provide more than 4,600 rides on weekdays, running about every five minutes during rush hour. Every time a breakdown occurs, the MBTA machinists reportedly have to either make their own replacement parts, or contact museums for spare parts. I actually love that they still exist, although I’m not sure I’d feel the same way if I had to ride them crammed like a sardine at rush hour, as the local residents probably have to do.

We also managed to get a ‘re-do’ shot of Butler, which had been a big disappointment on the night of our disastrous Bleeping B’s excursion (see Part Two post) when it was freezing cold and too dark to get a picture. That made us both very happy.

Riding the Mattapan trolley was interesting and fun and I was enjoying our excursion on this warm, sunny, early February morning. I had also decided before we left that I needed an attitude adjustment. It’s all in your attitude! I heard the voice inside my head say, just like I would say to my own kids.

Just 10 days after the very bad B’s, I received an email from Alex planning our ‘C’ excursion day. The careful plans he laid out and communicated were impressive (remember, he’s age 11) and I felt guilty. Here he was trying to share the joy of his favorite hobby with me, and although I had let him lead and had gone along, I wasn’t in the right mind-set during our B excursions. And I hadn’t made them very much fun.

Here’s the email he sent, exactly the way he wrote it, with no edits:

Hi Mommy,

This is an update since I will tell you the route I want us to take and why.

To get into Boston, I don’t care what way we take, as long as we don’t take a car. Again, the most likely stations will be North Station, Haymarket, and Wonderland. From Wonderland, I want us to take the blue line in to Bowdin (As Usual) But get off at STATE. The reason is so we can take the orange line. Since the orange line stops at North Station and Haymarket, it isn’t a big deal. Here is why:

1. The orange line is slightly faster than the green line.

2   We haven’t taken it barely in our other excursions, and this one too.

3   It is closer than Government Center on the blue line and is closer than park st to Ashmont.

Then we take the red line to Ashmont and hop on the Mattapan line. Ride to Capan St. We wait for a train going to Ashmont and ride to Central Ave. Repeat 1 more time to Cedar Grove. Next depends on weather.

We either walk if the weather is nice (If we feel like it)

Or we take another train to Ashmont (if the weather is not nice.)

Then we take the red line to Alewife. We get off at Central. Unfortunately, I looked into the station, and you can’t switch sides without paying. So we switch and ride to Charles MGH. While we wait for the next train to Park St, we go to the lobby and chat “Where could they make the Blue line entrance?” When the train comes, we ride it to Park St. Then we hop on a Green Line D train to Riverside. Here we pass by 4 Stations in a small amount of time. We ride it to Chestnut Hill. Then we switch sides and ride the train 1 Stop To Resevior. We walk up north on Central Ave, passing by Cleveland Circle. Once we get to Central Ave, we walk to Chiswick Road. Then we hop on a B train to Park St. We get off at Bolyston and get something to eat in Chinatown. Once we are done, we hop on an orange line train to Oak Grove and ride it to Community College. Then we switch directions and ride it to Forest Hills. We get off at Roxbury Crossing and take bus 66 To Coolidge Corner. Then we hop on a C train to North Station and ride it to Copley. Then we get out of the station and walk to Back Bay. Hop on a commuter rail train to South Station. Ride the train to South Station, and use the silver line to get to Courthouse. To get home, we walk to State, and take either the Blue Line or Orange Line.

My favorite part is when he planned out that we could “go to the lobby and chat ‘where could they make the Blue Line entrance?’”  at Charles MGH station.

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There is currently no Blue Line connection at this station, but Bowdoin station is very close by and a tunnel entrance could easily be created connecting the two underground. Personally, I had never thought of this before, but he was right. And so, when we changed platforms that day, we did stop at Charles MGH and we discussed where such an entrance might be. Maybe at the bottom of these stairs here?

We also had lunch in Chinatown. This was definitely a highlight and treat for me because I finally got to have dim sum again, which I thoroughly enjoyed. And I loved every minute with my handsome lunch date.

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Something else I was starting to really enjoy were the unexpected surprises we’d discover when entering some of these stations or neighborhoods. I had worked near the Courthouse Station when they were building it about 12 years ago, so I knew it was a newer station. But I had no idea when we disembarked the SilverLine bus here, at our last stop of the day, that we’d be transported into a future dimension. We arrived at the station at 3:44pm and it was empty and glowing so I snapped this shot from my phone:

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Our C excursions went exceptionally well due to Alex’s excellent planning and my new attitude. We cruised through them all and even managed to catch an unexpected new way back home to Salem. Bus 459, just a 2 minute walk from Courthouse, took us directly home to Salem at about 5pm.

We celebrated the C’s that night with popcorn and a couch viewing of “The American Experience; The Race Underground” on PBS, which had aired a few nights before. It was all about how the Boston subway system—the first in America— was built in the late 19th Century. I had finally caught Alex’s T fever because I found the documentary really fascinating too. It was the perfect ending to a great subway excursion day. We crushed the C’s.

Riding the C's

The *Bleeping* B’s; Part Two

Why are there so many B subway stops?

There are 19 ‘B’ subway stops on the Boston MBTA, which is double the average. Why so many? Is it a British thing from colonial days? I wonder if the Brits have lots of B stops on the London Underground?

These are the thoughts that ran through my head when I boarded the 450 bus with Alex to Haymarket from Salem on a very cold afternoon late December. I took a half day off work during his winter school break to complete part two of the B’s.

After Boylston on the Green Line, we traveled the orange line to Downtown Crossing and Red Line to South Station. Alex was excited to be able to ride the commuter rail and we bought a ticket and boarded the Kingston/Plymouth train that departed at 2:47pm. We arrived at Braintree at 3:07pm.

My log read as follows:

  • Walked over to Red Line platform and left Braintree at 3:12pm. Transferred to Green C line at Park St. Arrived at Brandon Hall at 4:30pm.
  • Walked 5 minutes in Brookline to bus 66 after stopping for a bathroom break at a Mobil station. Bought a snack and boarded Bus 66 for Brigham Circle at 4:42pm.
  • Arrived at Brigham Circle at 5pm and took the Green Line E to Copley Square where we took bus #9 to Broadway. Arrived at 5:40pm.

Surprise! Broadway station on the Red Line is Art Deco awesomeness. Who knew I’d see my son shining under the lights of Broadway tonight? For once, I was more excited than he was.

Broadway Station Redline

We entered the Red Line at Broadway station heading to Brookline Hills on the Green Line, after transferring at Park St. I was pleasantly surprised again as we walked to Brookline Village down Davis St. through a very charming neighborhood. I made a vow  to myself that I would come back some day.

We decided to eat at a Turkish Restaurant in Brookline Village. As soon as we sat down to eat at 6:35pm, we realized we had a problem. We knew we had to get from Brookline all the way to Butler station in Dorchester, and then back home to Salem, but we were running out of time. Alex started to get nervous, but he had a plan. We rushed through our kebabs and optimistically left the restaurant at 7pm knowing that if we timed everything just right, we’d be able to accomplish our goal of completing the B’s that same night.

Then everything went wrong. Alex tripped in the dark on our way to the bus station and he skinned both knees and his hand. Luckily he was only slightly bleeding because I didn’t have any band-aids. Then we discovered that the bus stop we were heading to was closed due to construction. I tried to convince him that we should take the T instead, but when we looked up times and route possibilities, they had us returning to Salem too late. Alex got upset and started crying. We checked Google maps one more time and found an alternative bus stop. We quickly sprinted to the stop, with Alex limping the whole way.

But we made it. We boarded bus 66 at 7:15pm and transferred at Malcom X bus stop to bus 28 towards Mattapan Station. I noticed the changing demographics in passengers as our bus traveled across Boston into Dorchester, and our faces gradually became the only white ones. Alex doesn’t even notice these things, as he’s too interested in the bus stops along the way.

We arrived in Mattapan at 8pm. The Mattapan trolley looks like something straight out of a 1940’s Depression movie. It’s amazing that these historic trolley’s still run so regularly. We waited 9 minutes in the cold, dark station. It felt like an hour. Finally, the trolley came and stopped at Butler. Our plan was to have Alex hop out for a second so we could take a picture, but the Butler station sign was on the other side of the tracks! It was pitch black outside, so we couldn’t see the sign anyway. We both felt a bit defeated. All that drama to get to Butler, and it was too dark to see or snap a photo. We ended up taking a picture of Alex on the dark trolley, pointing to Butler on the map.

We then boarded the Red Line at Ashmont to start our long trip home. It was 20 degrees on this chilly December night, and a guy got on wearing no shirt, while loudly and passionately arguing with himself about politics.

We had been so worried about running out of time, yet ended up 20 minutes earlier than the scheduled bus back to Salem anyway. We rode elevators at Haymarket station to kill time. Alex loves elevators, (I’m not a fan, especially in subway stations where I have to hold my nose). Neither of us wanted to wait outside, so it seemed like as good a plan as any. The bus finally came and brought us back home around 10pm.

I collapsed into bed that night, but fell asleep with a smile on my face.

All 19 *bleeping* B’s were done.

The *Bleeping* B’s; Part One

Why the *bleep* did I agree to ride the B’s?

It took me almost 4 months to commit to riding the B’s since that fateful August day. I knew that once we rode the B subway stations I would have to be 100% all in with this ‘alphabetical’ thing. I would be committed to years of riding public transportation all around Boston for no reason at all. Well, no reason except for making my son very happy.

On November 26th, 2016, Alex and I left Salem on the 450 Bus at 8:13AM. We knew that there were too many ‘B’s’ to see in one day so we’d have to split up riding the B’s into two days. We took the Green Line to Kenmore to bus 57 and rode to Babcock Station arriving at 9:45AM. I decided to start documenting these trips better by snapping photos at every stop (proving we were there) and documenting how we got there. I started taking notes of our paths to each destination on my phone.

After getting on the Green Line (B) to Copley Square we walked to Back Bay Station and got our photo op. We took Bus 39 to Back of Hill Station. Alex was very excited when we got on a brand new accordion bus that was empty of passengers! I captured a picture of this very exciting moment (in the middle of the B station collage above).

We boarded Green Line E at Back of Hill Station at 10:43 heading to Beachmont, which was located on the Blue Line. It took us 52 minutes from one station to the next. Once arriving at Beachmont, we estimated it would take us another 44 minutes just to get back to the Green Line (D) where Beaconsfield was located. We both decided we needed a lunch break. We exited at Government Center and ate a local Irish pub. He chatted about how he was planning the rest of the day and already asking when a good day would be to finish the B’s.

After our break, we arrived at Beaconfield Station at 1:33pm and left again on the next Green Line (D) train going back the opposite direction. We got off at Kenmore Square and walked about 5 minutes to Blanford Station on the Green Line (B) arriving at 1:52pm.  We boarded and headed out to the end of the Green Line (B) to Boston College arriving at 2:26pm. It was empty when we arrived. The subway train turned around in its half circle and the driver wondered what happened. Why were we getting on again? We mumbled something about missing our stop and she graciously allowed us to not have to pay again.

Thankfully, Boston University has three stops in a row on the Green Line B. Boston University Central, where we got out first, Boston University East, which we walked back to, and then Boston University West, which we walked to last.  Even though it was a cold and gray day, I was pleased to get in a little walking. We boarded the Green Line B and headed to Park Street where we disembarked and walked a half mile to Bowdoin Station arriving at 3:30pm. We took a quick picture and walked briskly from Bowdoin to Haymarket, boarding the 450 bus back to Salem arriving at 4:46pm.

Part 1 of riding the B’s was done. And I was crabby and done too. I couldn’t help feeling that I had led myself down a crazy inescapable underground subway hole and I just wasn’t sure when I’d see the light again.

“Did you have fun Mom?” he asked. Honestly, I didn’t really so I gave him a weak smile.  It was really frustrating seeing all the cute neighborhood stores, ethnic restaurants, cafe’s and interesting historic sites whiz by me as our train passed them. I’d have to just take note of them for another time.

“When can we do the rest of the B’s? Soon, right Mom?” he asked with hope in his eyes.

My thoughts raced. Was it good for him to feed into this obsession to this degree? Was it good for me? How am I going to continue to do this? Will it ever get to be ‘fun’ for me too?

“Yes,” I said. “Let’s make a goal of doing them before the end of 2016.”

 

The A’s started with Alewife, not Airport (sort-of)

Riding the A’s. How it all began

It all started with Alewife.  I had no idea when this photo was taken August 5th, 2016 at Alewife Station that I was about to embark on years of countless hours of subway and bus travel. I was tricked. Outsmarted by a smart Alex— my 11-year old son who has had an obsession with the Boston MBTA (‘The T’) subway system since before he could speak.

Let me back up. A few weeks prior to this day we were in Boston on an excursion. We had come into Boston by parking at Wonderland station and taking the train to Airport station on the Blue Line. From there we rode the Silver Line into Boston because he had always wanted to take the Silver Line (which is actually a bus pretending to be a subway line). He thought the part where the bus shuts down for a minute and switches to electric power was the coolest thing ever.

After some time in Boston, he asked if we could visit Alewife Station before heading home because he had always wanted to see Alewife station. The idea of traveling all the way to the end of the Red Line just to let him see a station didn’t thrill me, but I reluctantly agreed. Unfortunately, we underestimated the time it would take us. One stop short of our Alewife destination, we realized we wouldn’t have enough time to catch the train home. We got out at Davis Square, turned around, and went back. He was really upset, and I was mad at myself for agreeing to try to do it in the first place. Who travels 45 minutes round-trip on a subway just to get out and see a station? My son, that’s who.

So back to that fateful day in August. My guilty conscience is at fault. I told him we would plan another day in Boston where we could visit Alewife Station. Even more, he could plan a day that was solely committed to traveling on subways and buses ALL day. I would let him lead the way. His eyes lit up. He was so excited to plan our day.

He was all smiles when we embarked on our adventure early that morning, leaving Salem on an MBTA bus right in front of our house. We’ve lived in Salem for 17 years and prior to riding with Alex, I had never been on that bus. The bus led us to Wonderland Station which connects to the Blue Line subway.  We rode it to State Street, transferred to the Orange Line, and then transferred again at Downtown Crossing to the Red Line and up to Alewife. We got out at Alewife and he marveled at the modern cement structure.

I convinced him to walk outside for a bit and we found a fun seafood restaurant nearby, the Summer Shack, where we enjoyed an early, very nice lunch.

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After lunch, I asked where we were heading next. This time, it was Allston Street on the Green Line (B). I thought to myself there probably isn’t much to see on a tiny little Green Line subway stop, but it was his day, so off we went. When we arrived, we got out, looked around, got promptly back on again at the next subway and headed back the direction we came.

Next stop was Andrew Street on the Red Line. I’m a little slow, apparently, because I still had no idea how he was choosing this interesting subway excursion route so I finally asked him. He said that we were doing all the ‘A’ subway station stops in alphabetical order. Alright, I thought, fine. It was his day so I kept my mouth shut.

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We stopped at Andrew Street (which looked like every other subway stop to me) as he continued to study the map and grin ear to ear. We got out and turned around, headed back toward downtown, making our way toward Aquarium on the Blue Line after transferring at State St. We had already passed the Aquarium station earlier that day, when our destination was Alewife, but at that time I wasn’t aware of his master plan.

Next up was Arlington on the Green Line. By now it was late in the afternoon. We had already passed Arlington twice on our way to and from Andrew St. I was a little annoyed, but reminded myself that it was his day. We got out for just a minute and turned around again.

Our next destination was Ashmont on the Red Line, which was about a 40 minute round-trip ride, passing Andrew St. twice on the way there and back. I held my tongue as I got more annoyed. I kept thinking of all the other things I would rather be doing on this nice day. Summer is so short anyway and I work full-time! This has taken up an entire Saturday of my precious time. This is crazy! What a waste of day. I asked if this was still fun for him. Alex looked a little hurt. Of course. Didn’t I?  Of course I did, I lied. Then he proudly announced we were headed to the last stop. My joy at that point was sincere.

And there we were. Assembly station on the Orange Line. We did it! We arrived at 6pm.  I had survived riding on the ‘T’ all day with my public transportation obsessed son. I had to get a picture as it was a very proud moment. I was confident that completing this excursion would satisfy him for a long time. We were done. Finished. Finite!

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We rewarded ourselves with some popcorn. As we were munching he told me how much fun he had. He looked up at me and asked, “When are were going to do the B’s?”

My heart sank. It hit me how foolish I’d been. What did I do? How many B subway stops are there? How many total are there? Did I really just commit myself to riding endless days and hours of the T? When would we get through them all?

Well, it turns out there are 141 subway stations, per the alphabetical list below that he decided to follow: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_MBTA_subway_stations

I’d love suggestions along the way as I take this journey with Alex. I started this blog to document each of our trips and I plan on taking notes of neighborhoods, the changing rider demographics as we pass one end of Boston to the other, total mileage traveled, and lots of photos. Anything else?

It’s about the Journey. Not the Destination

Why my son Alex and I are riding the “T” (MBTA Boston subways) in alphabetical order

How far would you go for a child? Would you get up at 4:30AM on a dark, frigid morning and bring him or her to hockey practice? Stand in the cold rain for hours during a soccer tournament? Drive a hundred miles to a dance competition? How about volunteer countless hours as a band parent? Little league coach?

Then don’t judge me.

My kid’s ‘thing’ is public transportation. Prior to having him, there is no way I would have ever dreamed of taking subway trips ‘for fun.’ Subways and buses were a necessity to get to work and most of time, I cursed them for being too crowded, too late, or too dirty, just like everyone else I know.

But now, the best way of spending quality one-on-one time with my son is by riding the ‘T.’ The T is Boston’s MBTA (Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority), and my son Alex is obsessed. He loves the schedules. And the maps. And the trains. And buses. He loves planning how to get from A to B. He loves the announcements calling off each station and connection. (Check the ‘About’ section for more about Alex.)

Seeing and experiencing his excitement while planning these trips is worth the hours that a big part of me would still rather spend anywhere else. We plan together. We connect. That’s not always easy with him, so I cherish every moment. I love it because he loves it. What parent could ask for more than that?

Join us as we embark on a crazy journey to visit every subway stop within the MBTA system in alphabetical order. He’s a smart kid (a real smart-Alex), and he tricked me into it. (Find out how on A day!) But I’m committed now.

If we average about 6-8 stations a day it will take us 15- 20 days total. If we average 8-10 of such days per year, it will take us 2-3 years to complete this list:
wikipedia.org/List_of_MBTA_subway_stations

He might be in high school when we reach the last subway stop: World Trade Center.

Is it too much to start dreaming about that last stop now? Maybe we’ll be met with cheers and balloons and I’ll get a mom-of-the year award. Or maybe I’ll get a high-five and a big smile by an exceptional kid.

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