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Entries in Massachusetts (5)


Blue Highways: Fall River, Massachusetts

Unfolding the Map

Fall River, Massachusetts is where William Least Heat-Moon (LHM) tends to get lost.  As we're driving around with him in Ghost Dancing, trying to figure out our bearings, I'll write about how I usually have good directional sense, but how one city in New Mexico seems to confound my sense of place.  If you want to try to make sense of the maze of Fall River, get lost in the map.  The image at right, the black-capped chickadee, is the Massachusetts state bird.  It was drawn by Pearson Scott Foresman and is from Wikimedia Commons.

Book Quote

"Fall River, Massachusetts, is chiefly memorable for me as the factory city I have never driven through without losing the way.  Once there - predictably, inexplicably, and utterly - I am confounded by the knots of concrete.  So, that day, entangled again, it was like old times."

Blue Highways: Part 9, Chapter 5

Downtown Fall River, Massachusetts. Photo by Marc N. Belanger and hosted at Wikimedia Commons. Click on photo to go to host page.

Fall River, Massachusetts

LHM's Fall River is my Santa Fe.

Let me explain that.  I agree with LHM.  There are certain places where the laws of chance do not seem to apply.  I have written about getting lost before, but usually when I've been a place once I don't forget it.  For example, my parents had a little phobia about driving down in the San Francisco Bay Area.  They were rural Northern Californians in a town with, at the time, one stoplight.  Yet every so often we would have to drive south to the Bay Area.  Freeways with multiple on- and offramps were difficult for them to negotiate.  They didn't have many familiar landmarks.  They needed directions to be spelled out for them very minutely.  If they strayed off the beaten path, even getting off the freeway one exit too soon, they were soon completely, hopelessly lost.  Tensions rose in the car when we drove to the Bay Area.  I think that my parents were convinced that if they made a mistake, we all might end up missing or dead.  Nobody breathed normally, or felt safe, until we reached our destination.

In other words, the Bay Area was a maze that they had to negotiate.  As in a maze, one step off the true path could be their undoing, leaving them wandering in an unfamiliar and terrifying terrain that at best would be purgatory, and at worst a horrible hell.  If that meant they had to drive 45 miles an hour to make sure that they didn't miss an exit, so be it.

Fortunately for them, I had a very good memory.  If I had driven the way once, I could remember how to get there again.  They doubted me at first and didn't listen to my suggestions, but eventually they saw I was right and would ask me if they didn't remember themselves.

That ability to remember the way has stood me in good stead over the years, especially when it came to the Bay Area and along the California coast.  I also seemed to have good map memory, so that if I looked at a map and memorized the route on the map, I could usually figure it out with a minimum of hassle on the road.  The road signs were key - if they were missing then all bets were off - but I could still usually figure out the route even if there was a bit of trouble like that.  Of course, it always helped that I had the ocean within sensing distance on the west side of me.

I remember the first time that I really found myself turned around and having trouble figuring out where I was and what direction I should go.  I was, ironically, in a city laid out upon a pretty well-defined grid.  I had just moved to Milwaukee, and I think that without the ocean to orient me I was confused.  Milwaukee's grid runs pretty predictably north-south and east-west.  The north-south streets are all numbered, and Lake Michigan lies on the east side of the city.  But as I stood in a section of the inner-city, looking at street signs, I was briefly lost.  My difficulty may have been attributable to the fact that it was the first time that I ever had lived anywhere outside of California up to that point in my life.  Or, it may have been due to the unease I experienced in living in what was considered a sketchy, if  not dangerous, neighborhood.  But for the first time in my life, I really felt lost, and it seemed that something that defined me, my unerring instinct for direction, had abandoned me.

I recovered, but I was shaken.  I wondered if that was what it felt like to be truly lost?  I think that being lost isn't necessarily a bad thing if one knows that one has resources to find oneself.  But to be hopelessly lost, where one has no resources - THAT is the loneliest feeling in the world.

Now, I'll come back to Santa Fe.  I'm never really lost in Santa Fe.  It's just that I have never understood the city.  It follows no comfortable grid.  There are a couple of main streets that lead into the city from the interstate, but once you get away from those streets, it becomes more difficult to orient yourself.  Roads and streets meander back and forth.  If I lived there, these meandering ways might be fun to explore, but usually I am driving up from Albuquerque and have to be at a place at a certain time.  It has taken me eight years and countless trips for me to be comfortable enough to know my way to the main plaza, to the museums on Museum Hill, and maybe one or two other places.

As LHM says, however, the chance for me to become "predictably, inexplicably and utterly" lost is high.  At least it's not "hopelessly" lost.  In this case, it's simply an annoying lost.  But annoying is bad enough, especially when you're in a very small city and therefore which should be easy to understand and easy to get around.  I've come to think of it as a mental block that I have, and that my self-talk, operating in the background, sabotages me.  Or maybe I just like to complain about Santa Fe and the universe conspiring against me and I doom my chances to know the city streets before I even begin.  All I know is that it's damn frustrating!

Musical Interlude

I found a song entitled Mazes that I liked by a group called Moon Duo.  The lyrics speak of the emotional mazes we often find ourselves in.

Oh, did you know that Fall River is where Lizzie Borden took an axe and gave her mother forty whacks, and when she saw what she had done she gave her father forty-one?

If you want to know more about Fall River

Battleship Cove
City of Fall River
Fall River Chamber of Commerce
Fall River Herald News (newspaper)
Fall River Historical Society

Next up: Newport, Rhode Island


Blue Highways: Taunton, Massachusetts

Unfolding the Map

Sometimes Murphy's Law hits, and things seem to gang up on you.  William Least Heat-Moon (LHM) touches upon a small example of Murphy's Law as he heads toward Taunton, Massachusetts, that I'll explore and reflect upon in this post.  If you want to avoid pitfalls, get on the right track, and see where Taunton is located, orient yourself at the map.  By the way, the drawing at right is trailing arbutus, the Massachusetts state flower, from Wikimedia Commons.

Book Quote

"Down state 115 southeast toward Taunton.  I had to keep checking route markers for the northwest-bound traffic in order to stay on course.  Rule of the blue road: the highway side to where you've been is better marked than the one to where you're going."

Blue Highways: Part 9, Chapter 4

Downtown Taunton, Massachusetts. Taunton is one of the oldest towns in America. Photo at Click on photo to go to host page.

Taunton, Massachusetts

A few times in Blue Highways, LHM refers to what I would call Murphy's Laws of the road.  In case you are reading and are not familiar with Murphy's Laws, these are the humorous laws of the universe that seem to conspire against you at every turn.  The main law, simply stated, is that "whatever can go wrong, will go wrong."  Taken at face value, the law is a truism.  Eventually, everything that can go wrong will go wrong.  It is wrong to assume that something will go wrong at any particular time, but to assume that eventually, something will go wrong to me seems to me, at risk of sounding like Mr. Spock, to be a logical probability.

However, we as humans go through fits of believing that the universe can, will and does treat us like crap.  I have had those times where it seems that everything I do, say, touch and attempt just doesn't work.  There are times where I seem to hit my head on every object that is at my head's height at any particular time.  I have gone days when I can't seem to say anything that doesn't offend, hurt or just come off as wrong.  I have slogged through periods when everything I pick up, and then put down simply disappears, as if I have a strange magical power to send the object to a parallel universe where a mirror me, suffering through the opposite of Murphy's Law, is probably wondering where all the junk has come from.

But, what about Murphy's Laws of the road, you might ask.  After all, Blue Highways is a book about the road, and LHM has had times where he believes the universe conspires against him.  When he drove into mountains, he was turned back by May.  When he needed gas, there wasn't an open gas station for miles and he drove, clenching his buttocks in an attempt to will Ghost Dancing to make it, until he got to a gas station with little more than fumes in the tank.  A fuel line busted in North Dakota, causing a mechanic to tell him the van was about to catch on fire if he didn't get it fixed.  Of course, you might say that these Murphy's Laws only came about because of him - he ignored the snow sign, he could have filled up with gas earlier, and he should have had the fuel line checked.  However, we can also argue that he was operating in imperfect knowledge.  The sign about snow didn't say anything about May.  He was driving in the early 1980s, before the advent of GPS and smart phones that make it easy to know when and where the next 24 hour open gas station is located.  He didn't know that his fuel line was cracked until the precipitous drop on the fuel gauge.  But Michael, you may protest, he was driving on blue highways...the ones where you're more likely to have trouble and find less services.  We can debate all about this, but ultimately, Murphy's Laws seem to depend on our attitude about the world.

For example, the law of the blue highway that he quotes manifests itself in the highly populated Northeast, in a particularly busy area of Massachusetts given its proximity to Boston.  LHM doesn't like the busy highways, and prefers to avoid them.  Therefore, the lack of signage on his side, and the plethora of signage on the other, is probably a product of his own stress level at dealing with the busy roads.  There is probably just as much signage on one side as the other, but he cannot see it.

My Murphy's Laws of the road appear usually because of my own lack of attention.  For example, in a few days I will get a rental car on a trip that I am making.  And I will be willing to wager that the first time I stop for gas, I will pull into a gas station and park by the pumps only to find that the gas tank is not on the left side of the car, as it is on mine, but on the right side of the rental car.  I will be annoyed, then I will get into the car and pull around to align the gas tanks with the pumps.  If I were to put it into Murphy's Laws terms, I would posit the law thus: Whenever one is driving an unfamiliar car, when one stops for gas and pulls up to the pump, the gas tank will be on the opposite side.  However, the "law" occurred simply because I refused to take time to check the location of the gas tank.

Or, here's another:  Whenever one is in a hurry to get someplace, there will be construction or an accident blocking traffic and making one late.  We've all had that happen, correct?  In my case, I usually find that I'm late to begin with, and am simply seeking something to vent my rage at my own lack of attention to time.  That damn traffic, I'll snarl.  Yet if I had left 10-15 minutes earlier, it probably wouldn't have mattered so much.  I might have even missed the accident that was clogging traffic!

The fact is that in my calmer moments, I realize that the universe is not malevolent, nor benevolent for that matter.  The universe just is.  It is easy to rail against it when things are not going our way.  I will probably continue to do so when I feel like fate, chance and luck is taking a piss on me.  In fact, I think that I have raged more against the unfairness of the universe throughout my life than I have thanked it for the good things that have happened to me.  The universe is an easy target, and it cannot answer back.  If all goes well after I rage, well I showed the cosmos.  And if things continue to not go my way, I just provide myself proof that everything is out to get me.

The only thing missing from that equation is me, with all my choices and actions.  That's just too close to home.  I'd rather blame it all on Murphy's Laws.

Musical Interlude

I found this funky early 80s song by Cheri called Murphy's Law.  The lyrics are all about misfortune.

If you want to know more about Taunton

City of Taunton
Old Colony Historical Society
Taunton Daily Gazette (newspaper)
Wikipedia: Taunton

Next up: Fall River, Massachusetts


Blue Highways: Holliston, Massachusetts

Unfolding the Map

We're in Holliston!  Why don't we wander over to the store and get a couple of Moxie's and some food so that we can wander with William Least Heat-Moon (LHM) in the local graveyard.  Speaking of colas, I apparently have a few things to write about them.  Their history is pretty interesting.  To see where we are ingesting all that carbonation and sugar, pull your pop-top and check out the map.

Book Quote

"At Holliston, I stopped and took a sandwich and a bottle of Moxie (once advertised as 'the only harmless nerve food known that can recover loss of manhood, imbecility and helplessness') into the old town burial ground and ate lunch while I walked and read the slanting slate tombstones.  There were carved urns, hourglasses, and weeping willows; among the mors vincit omnia sentiments were some well-cut death's-heads and angels of redemption.  Often it's hard to tell the difference because the death's heads evolved into angels, the angels into cherubs, the cherubs into portraits of the deceased."

Blue Highways: Part 9, Chapter 4

Downtown Holliston, Massachusetts. Photo at the blog of Claudette Miller, buyer and broker, at Active Click on photo to go to host page.

Holliston, Massachusetts

I've never had a Moxie, though I would like to.  One of the most interesting stories of America, I think, is how all around the same time a variety of beverages were born that employed various natural extracts in their recipes to promote health, vitality and vigor.

Back in the day, soft drinks were considered elixirs and curatives.  Carbonated water was considered good for health, and soft drink companies added ingredients to bolster the health effects.  Coca-Cola, for instance, was named after the coca alkaloid extract used in its recipe.  After cocaine was declared illegal in the US, the alkaloid was removed but the use of coca leaf continued to be part of Coca-Cola's recipe.  Pepsi Cola mixed carbonated water with a digestive enzyme, pepsin, and kola nutsDr. Pepper was sold as a brain tonic, and energizer.

To see this concentration on health, take for example some early Coca-Cola slogans:  "Coca-Cola Revives and Sustains." (1905)  "The Great National Temperance Beverage." (1906)  "The Hit That Saves the Day!" (1920) "Pure as Sunlight!" (1927). 

Or how about Pepsi's implications of health and vigor in its slogans?  "Delicious and Healthful." (1905) "More Bounce to the Ounce." (1950). 

7-Up used a mood stabilizer, lithium, in its recipe until it was prohibited by law in 1948.  It's slogan was "You Like It, It Likes You" and a doctor's testimonial claimed that 7-Up gave its drinkers "an abundance of energy, enthusiasm, a clear complexion, lustrous hair, and shining eyes."

Here's some of Dr. Pepper's slogans: "Drink a Bite to Eat at 10, 2, and 4 o'clock." (1920s-40s)  "When You Drink a Dr. Pepper You Drink a Bite to Eat." (1939)

Moxie, which LHM references above, claimed that it could help relieve the effects of "paralysis, softening of the brain, nervousness, and insomnia."  It claimed its main ingredient came from a rare South American plant with healing properties.  It currently contains ingredients of gentian root, which has been used as an herbal remedy for digestive disorders in South America.  The early popularity of the cola contributed to the English language.  One has "moxie" if one is energetic and youthful, as in "Boy, I like her moxie!" or "He's got a lot of moxie!"  It has the distinction of being the first mass-marketed American soft drink.

Of course, today this sounds like the patent medicine scams that were going on at roughly the same time that colas were coming into prominence as health aids.  Patent medicines promised to cure and bring about health, but usually didn't work and sometimes had deleterious health effects.  Even those that delivered on their promises did so with dangerous ingredients.  Syrups sold by salesmen across rural and urban areas of America, and in Sears catalogs as well, promised to cure whooping cough, revitalize bodily systems, relieve constipation and restore health to bowels, kidneys and liver.  Common ingredients used in such medicines and promoted as healthy were alcohol, radium, radon, mercury, and arsenicMedicines with opium and morphine were promoted as a way to soothe crying babies.  Herbs considered "abortifacients" were often promoted as being healthy to pregnant womenJolts of electricity were used to restore health and vigor, and even cure crippled people.  It is telling that many of the modern pharmaceutical companies began as manufacturers, promoters and sellers of patent medicines, and that the Food and Drug Administration, one of those government agencies so maligned by those on the right side of the political spectrum, was created in order to regulate such companies from making false claims and harming public health.

Of course, now we know that Coke, Pepsi, and other soft drinks can be bad for health because of their high sugar content.  Overconsumption of sugar can, of course, lead to obesity and a risk of diabetes.  New York City has recently gone so far as to impose penalties on restaurants that serve soft drinks in containers over 16 ounces.  Yet there is often still a marketing around the supposed health benefits of sodas.  When I visited El Salvador, I saw in small type on a Coke bottle, written in Spanish, an implication that Coke was a reliable alternative to water in quenching thirst.  Of course, it is not.  Nothing is an alternative to water.

But there is a fascinating history behind colas, if you get into it.  And its curious that a new round of soft drinks are starting to revive claims of health and energy.  The whole energy drink craze, which advertises boosts in mental and physical energy, has created a whole new young population of adherents and, some might say, addicts.  These drinks contain either higher dosages of caffeine, and/or other natural stimulants such as guarana, ginseng, gingko biloba, inositol, taurine, and carnitine.

All of this makes LHM's juxtaposition of his lunchtime sojourn in a graveyard, sipping his Moxie, sort of funny to me.  When I lived in Milwaukee, I was part of a larger social justice community.  Some of the people I hung out with were very anti-Coca Cola, part of an anti-corporate attitude in general.  I sat in a movie once and cringed as one of my friends, upon seeing a Coke ad just before the movie started, yelled "Coke f***s the third world!"  There are many who would see the graveyard as an apt metaphor for what the giant soft drink companies and the giant pharmaceutical companies have done in the course of gathering wealth and growing to their current multi-billion dollar sizes.  Yet I'm reminded by LHM that mors vincit omnia, death conquers all.  Most likely even Coke, Pepsi, and all the others.  After all, Moxie was the biggest cola company in the world, and now you can only find it in New England and Pennsylvania.  The moxie left Moxie, the pep will someday desert Pepsi, and Coke will get coked up and flame out.

Until then, Coke will teach the world to sing, Pepsi will focus on Generation Next, and me and my RC will continue with LHM to the end of his Blue Highways journey, occasionally stopping for a pause that refreshes.

Musical Interlude

A slew of Cola songs!  First, I grew up with this Coke commercial, and I still think of it.

Pepsi hit it big when it landed Michael Jackson to shill its sodas.

Of course, when I got into high school and college, this is how I preferred my Cokes - maybe not with rum necessarily, but something hard.  Here's the Andrews Sisters singing Rum and Coca-Cola.

If you want to know more about Holliston

Holliston Reporter (newspaper)
Town of Holliston
Wicked Local: Holliston (news aggregator)
Wikipedia: Holliston

Next up: Taunton, Massachusetts


Blue Highways: Wellesley, Massachusetts

Unfolding the Map

As we leave the madness of Boston, we find walls in Wellesley.  Why do we need fences, walls and barriers?  It is the subject for a nice reflection on my part, as William Least Heat-Moon (LHM) heads southwest again through Massachusetts.  Linger here and reflect with me, or hang out with the accomplished women of Wellesley College.  Here is Wellesley on the map.

Book Quote

"...I found Massachusetts 16, a quiet road out of Wellesley, that ran down through stands of maple, birch, and pine, down along brooks, across fens, down miles of stone walls covered with lichens.

"Many New England stone fences built between 1700 and 1875 were laid by gangs of workers who piled stone at the rate of so much a rod.  Edwin Way Teale says that in the latter years of the past century, before economic and social developments began obliterating some of the walls, there were a hundred thousand miles of stone fences in New England.  Even today, for many of them, the only change has been the size of the lichens, those delicate rock eating algae that can live nine hundred years."

Blue Highways: Part 9, Chapter 4

Downtown Wellesley, with the Boston Marathon passing through. Photo by "redjar" and hosted at Nabewise. Click on photo to go to host page.

Wellesley, Massachusetts

One of my favorite cartoon strips in the 80s and 90s was The Far Side by Gary Larson, and one of my favorite cartoons in that strip showed a man pointing out the secrets of nature to his son.  "And now, Randy," the father says, "by use of song, the male sparrow will stake out his instinct common in the lower animals."  The pair are standing in their back yard, looking a sparrow in a tree in a neighboring yard separated by fences.

What is in a fence or a wall?  A lot, I think.  I have been pondering this question recently as I have watched our (as in society) collective efforts to individually and in groups define our territory and establish and maintain boundaries.  While I understand this need and I know that reasonable boundaries are not only good but healthy, I find myself increasingly troubled.

I grew up in a world of fences.  My parents' property was fenced off from the neighbors and, while my father was alive, was well maintained.  There was a sense that this was OUR property, as opposed to our neighbors.   Yet there weren't many prohibitions.  We often walked through our neighbor's property and down their road as a shortcut to my grandmother's house. People walked through ours too on the way to someplace or another.

Yet, despite fences, my father was notoriously dismissive of others boundaries and fences.  He was a poacher, and would often go under or around a fence that was meant to keep him from hunting deer on other's land.  He was never caught, but he had a close scrape or two.  However, that was his modus operandi.  His personal fences were meant to keep people out but he was very good at crossing knocking down others' fences and disregarding their boundaries.  That's part of the reason why, at age 48, I am still in therapy.

As I get older, this conundrum of fences, barriers, walls, boundaries and borders becomes more fascinating and more troubling to me, especially the clash between our desire to mark off what's "ours" and provide us with privacy and protection and the insistence upon personal freedom regardless of whether it affects others or not.  We extol the virtues of the United States as if it still is a land where anything is possible, where free and open space is a resource to be exploited, and where anyone can do whatever they want.  Yet, we wall, fence, make boundaries and borders, and put up signs warning people off with the promise of deadly force if they don't comply.  I wonder if, in a land where once promise and reality were almost equal and where now promise and reality have a wide gulf between them, the freedom that we extol needs to be tempered or reimagined.

A few examples.  I grew up in the era of the Berlin Wall, a large barrier meant to not only keep the West out of Soviet-controlled East Germany, but even more so to keep the East Germans in.  Even as we exert our freedom to own property by fencing it off, East Germany used walls and fences to curtail freedom and limit their peoples' access to anything non-Communist.

Just down the street our neighbors fenced off their property in front with a large steel wall, about six feet high, that obscures a view of their house and front yard.  Certainly it's their freedom to do so, but what does such a fence say?  To me, it says "keep out."  It says "we don't want to know you."  To others it might say "we have something here that we want to protect." Or, "hey potential thieves, something valuable is here."  I know the couple, who are very nice and very introverted.  In reality, they probably just want their privacy.  But the fence is a message, and that message can be interpreted in many difference ways.

In the past couple of days, this article was forwarded to me which frankly made me angry.  The author argues that museums should not try to cater to young people's tastes because it is a waste of time.  Older people with, what I assume at least, an appreciation for the "right" kind of art are more important.  She is literally arguing for a kind of fence to be built that keeps young people away from the "good stuff," while not even deigning to think that perhaps young people are innovating and creating art of their own.  I know older people who are patrons of classical music that find nothing worthwhile in newer musical forms.  I know serious aficionados of certain types of jazz that are unwilling to give more than a passing nod to other forms, and God help you if you don't know what you are talking about with them.  I know people who collect art and keep it in their homes, unavailable to the outside world unless they decide to lend it somewhere.  Generationally, we all think that the ones behind us don't know anything, yet the vibrancy and the innovation of each generation is constantly recorded in history: a Warhol, pooh-poohed by the "serious" art lovers in the sixties are now almost priceless today among modern art aficionados; early recordings by The Beatles, considered "noise" by many music lovers of the time, are considered most valuable treasures today even as new forms of music are derided now though one day, they too may be considered classics.  It's all fences and walls, put up by one generation against the "garbage" of those behind them, yet many times that garbage becomes pearls and jewels over time.

Different types of fences, two physical and one virtual.  Two you can see before your eyes, and one you can feel in words and meaning.  Yet, in my mind, they equally send a message.  This is mine, keep out, you're not wanted unless I invite you in, whatever is in here stays in here.

The not-very-well-told and therefore unknown history of the western part of the United States has been one of fences, of free ranges divided and sectioned and protected by barbed wire.  In west Texas, a war over fencing developed in the 1880s as "gypsy ranchers," who owned lots of cattle but no land, found their grazing ranges and watering holes cut off by barbed wire.  Barbed wire went up with little thought to property rights and whole towns found themselves surrounded by barbed wire.  A pseudo-war erupted, with vigilantes cutting barbed wire right and left.  The "war" ended with the Texas legislature declaring fence cutting a felony, but it also meant the end of the gypsy ranchers and the idea of the free range so celebrated in American history.  And, it further constricted the freedom of movement of Native Americans, who considered it "devil's rope."

Fences that were prevalent in the east, in areas like Wellesley, were low stone walls which demarcated property lines and whose use was imported from England and Ireland.  I'll admit, there is something pleasing about the stone walls which make a statement of ownership and yet invite communication across them.  Yet even these walls have had their critics.  Robert Frost, in his famous poem Mending Wall, writes "Something there is that doesn't love a wall..."  He also addresses the conundrum that puzzles me when he writes:

Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.

In essence, fences and walls may keep things out, but they also keep things in.  At what cost do we fence and wall?  Do "Good fences make good neighbors," as Frost quotes his neighbor in the poem, or do they deny us connection?  Are they neutral or do they rebuke or provoke?  I have no answers, just questions, even though I am just as prone, in times of stress or in response to perceived slights or danger, to put up boundaries, fences and walls.  I just question whether it is always the right thing to do.

Since my father died, much of the fences at our property are in disrepair.  It's a good reminder that fences only last as long as they are maintained.  Once someone stops caring for them or about them, they disintegrate.  As history shows, over and over again, everything, including fences, are temporary.

Musical Interlude

I found two songs for this post's interlude, one about fencing oneself in, and one asking for freedom from being fenced in.

This was the first song I thought of - Roy Rogers with Dale Evans and the Sons of the Pioneers singing Don't Fence Me In.

Then I went looking, and found this modern pop song by Paramore called Fences, about trying to keep the public out by fencing oneself in.

If you want to know more about Wellesley

The Swellesley Report (blog)
Town of Wellesley
Wellesley College
Wellesley Patch (news)
Wicked Local Wellesley (news)
Wikipedia: Wellesley

Next up:  Holliston, Massachusetts


Blue Highways: Boston, Massachusetts

Unfolding the Map

I didn't feel particularly inspired by today's quote, and it probably shows in the post.  I apologize, all of you visiting Littourati.  But, don't take that to mean that the quote, and maybe the post, might not bring something to mind for you.  If something comes, feel free to share in a comment.  Oh, and if you want to see exactly how far we've come in this Blue Highways journey, check out the map.

Book Quote

"Tractor-trailer rigs (using two-thirds more fuel per cargo-ton than a locomotive) blasted me all the way to Boston."

Blue Highways: Part 9, Chapter 4

Downtown Boston. Photo by "Nelson48" and hosted at Wikimedia Commons. Click on photo to go to host site.

Boston, Massachusetts

What kid doesn't like trucks?  I don't mean the little pickup trucks, but the huge semi-tractor trailer trucks that barrel down roads and freeways.  Well, I was one kid that tended more toward the trains than the trucks.

I think it had to do with growing up in a little logging town where the only links to the outside world were over miles of twisting, curving mountain roads.  As I mentioned in a previous post, I suffered motion-sickness a lot going over these roads, and trucks were kind of an enemy.  A car could travel faster over these roads.  Trucks would slow precipitously going uphill, thus prolonging my agony when we'd get behind them.  I could only hope that they would be kind enough to use one of the "turnouts" along the side of the road to let us pass.  Some did, some didn't.  Either way, logging trucks, lumber trucks and other types of cargo trucks sometimes literally made me sick.

As I got older, I became more aware that trucks were replacing trains as the primary mover of freight.  I had noticed that our freight train, which used to go out once per night moving lumber over to the Northwestern Pacific Railroad, started making less frequent runs.  Once a night became 4 times a week, became 2-3 times per week, and then became one time per week, until it ceased operation completely.  We owned property on the railroad where we had a cabin, and where in the summer we slept outside not 50 feet from the railroad tracks.  I have some vivid memories of waking up at night to the sound of the freight train, it's light appearing around the bend and seemingly illuminating the entire valley, then after the cacophonous sound of the engine the clacking and whistling of the empty freight cars, and then lonely clack of the caboose and the voices of the watchmen as the little red caboose light disappeared slowly from sight and I was able to fall asleep to the sound of the receding train.

In high school, I worked in the lumber mill, and loaded both trucks and train cars though my primary job was to load trucks.  I worked on a team consisting of a tallyman, a forklift operator and me (the dog).  I would climb on the trucks, guide the lumber bundles into position, and then use a machine to band them together before binding them with straps to the truck itself.  It was good work in the coastal air, but I missed the trains.

I understand why trucks are used - moving freight by truck is cheaper, right now, than by train.  But they also cause a lot of wear and tear on the roads and can be threats in themselves.  I have been stranded twice indirectly because of trucks after I ran over a piece of shredded tire on the road which caused damage to my car.  I hear that as fuel prices rise, it may become more cost effective to ship more and more things by train again.  I hope so.

I am not going to write much this post about Boston.  LHM doesn't really stop there because, in Blue Highways, he does his best to avoid the cities.  And to tell you the truth, it is so long since I have been to Boston that I don't remember much about it.  The trips were always short, a weekend at the most, usually a day trip, so I really didn't get much of a chance to get a true feeling for the city.  I remember being in the area of Faneuil Hall and the market near there, I remember driving up from Connecticut after a wedding to get lobster at one of the lobster restaurants, and I remember the accents.

In fact, it's the accents that to me are the most intriguing thing about Boston.  It's rare in the United States to hear accents that are just so front and center as the accents in Boston.  Even Brooklyn accents, which can be pretty heavy, don't stand out so much to me as Boston accents do.  It's like the accent has a mind of its own and flattens vowels, eliminates the letter "r" in some words and stubbornly inserts it in others, despite the speakers intentions.  I have learned that accents that seem to hate the "r" so much are called "non-rhotic."  Wikipedia quotes Jon Stewart's America, incorrectly I might add, which states that John Adams drafted the Massachusetts Constitution but delegates refused to ratify the letter "R."

I love it.  I love accents, and I'm glad they occur because they give character to a region and by extension, our whole country.  I'm never happier than when I'm talking to someone with an accent.  I was recently watching a documentary that had an acclaimed scientist who wrote a book, and it was hard for me to concentrate because her Boston accent was just so pronounced that it hooked me.  Here is a National Public Radio piece on the Boston accent:

I also feel bad about spending time writing on Boston because, well, I've fessed up to it before, I don't know much about America's Revolution, and Boston played a big part in that struggle.  The Boston Tea Party, the Boston Massacre and Paul Revere, of course, were covered a little in my history classes in school.  But beyond these things, I didn't know much about Boston's history in the war.  For example, the Siege of Boston, a successful siege by George Washington that eventually drove the British out of the city after eleven months in the early part of the war, was something that I either never paid much attention to or I just didn't hear about it.

On one of my trips, however, I paid homage at what many Bostonians consider, with pride, their greatest shrine.  Yes, that would be Fenway Park, the home of the Boston Red Sox and one of the oldest stadiums in baseball.  I can say that it was a true honor to be there and I hope that one day, this baseball fan can return.

Musical Interlude

Here's a fun little song, by They Might Be Giants, that plays on the Boston accent and figures of Bostonian speech (i.e. "wicked," "scorcher," "critta," "pissah").  Enjoy Wicked Little Critta.

If you want to know more about Boston

There's a lot.  Here's a few basics:

Boston Daily
Boston Food Bloggers
Boston Globe (newspaper)
Boston Herald (newspaper)
Boston Magazine
Boston Phoenix (alternative newspaper)
City of Boston
Grub Street Boston (food blog)
Travel Blogs About Boston
Wikipedia: Boston

Next up:  Wellesley, Massachusetts