Boston, Part Three

by dpreyde

A brief addition to yesterday’s post:

In the basement of the Museum of Science there is a very helpful area which can be used to diagnose Aspies. There are several display cases full of gears, and when you push an adjacent button, all the gears go ‘round and ‘round. If your child spends more than five minutes here, they’ve got Asperger’s. More than ten, and they’re probably classic.

Also in the same general section: lots and lots of information about trains. Also a useful diagnostic tool.

Yesterday we set out into the heart of Cambridge. It’s a beautiful, sleepy town, and I love the precision and elegance of old New England architecture. I was only mostly sure where we were going- to Quincy Street, several kilometers away- and was relieved when we finally got there, because it meant we hadn’t missed it (or gone off in the wrong direction somehow).

The first building we saw was a massive Victorian gem that looked like a cathedral. We decided to explore it, because why not? It turns out that half of it is a dining hall, and the other half is a theatre. At this point I also decided to make use of the bathrooms.

After that, Hannah and I stood outside, surveying our options.

“Which direction should we go in?” she asked.

“I didn’t plan that. I kind of figured we’d just wander around.”

“But which way is the best?”

“I dunno.”

So we wandered. The day was warm and sunny, thank God, and the campus is an endless stream of gorgeous, centuries-old buildings. After about half an hour I had to piss again.

“Maybe you have diabetes,” said Hannah.

“Wouldn’t surprise me, but I think this is just my body dicking me around,” I said. “It hates when I go on vacations.”

Around this time I also started feeling light-headed. It’s difficult for me to know what the hell is happening with my body. Sometimes stress or sensory overload creates weird, unpleasant sensations. And my strategy with that stuff tends to be to just push through it. But sometimes it’s been awhile since I ate or had something to drink, or I’ve been walking around for ages, and I’m actually experiencing something worth noticing.

“I’m kind of hungry,” said Hannah. “Do you think we could find something to eat?”

And that’s how I knew where my light-headedness was coming from. It had been awhile since I’d eaten, and I must be hungry.

Unfortunately we had no idea where we were or where we were going. Academic buildings surrounded us, seemingly stretching in all directions forever. After a long while we stumbled across a fancy hotel with a very nice bathroom, but the only food on the premises was prohibitively expensive.

So we kept walking, getting increasingly desperate. We wandered past a cemetery and emerged in the bustling heart of downtown Cambridge.

Lots of great places to eat, way too many bakeries, a handful of touristy places, and, for some reason, a Curious George themed toy store.

The neighbourhood’s highlight was an enormous, four-storey bookstore owned by Harvard. It’s called The Coop, and Hannah and I thought it might be a bakery, judging from the sign. We hung around inside for ages before moving on.

As we headed back toward the campus, I noticed a banner hanging from the front of a church. It said, “We’ve divested our fossil fuels, Harvard. Now it’s your turn!”

Wow, I thought, that’s really confrontational for a church.

I moved closer to see what denomination it was: Unitarian Universalist. No surprise there.

One of the oldest congregations in the United States, I think, going all the way back to the 17th century.

I was glad to stumble across a Unitarian church; they’re really beginning to feel like my people. I wish I was around for a Sunday service.

Hannah and I continued walking around the campus. Neither of us wanted to miss anything, because we knew we’d probably never return. Then we ended up where we started.

“How do you want to head back?” asked Hannah.

“Well, we could walk or take the subway.”
“I’m nervous about taking the subway,” she said. “I don’t know how accessible it’s going to be.”

“I’m sure we’ll figure it out,” I said.

I don’t know if it’s immensely stupid or immensely brave to try to take an unfamiliar transit system when you’re rocking a disability. It doesn’t help matters that Toronto’s subway system is perhaps the least complicated in the world. So every other subway system I attempt to understand strikes me as wild and unmanageable. Nothing can be taken for granted.

Except for the fact that it will smell like piss. When Hannah and I entered the station, that’s the first thing we encountered.

“Oh God,” she said, “I think I just drove in it!”

We had no idea how to purchase tickets, but a helpful employee happened to be standing next to the turnstile- just chilling out- and he showed us what to do. We got it right on the second try.

Once we got into the station, we immediately walked the wrong way. A janitor called out to us, asked where we were going, and pointed us in the right direction.

The subway came quickly, and there was an impossible gap between the train and the platform. An employee appeared out of nowhere.

“Where you going?” he said.


“Next train,” he said, and disappeared.

When the next train came, Hannah noticed a button on the side of the subway car with the wheelchair logo on it. She pressed it, an employee stepped off the train, and pulled out a ramp that bridged the gap.

Boston’s transit system seems to operate on serendipity, which is an incredibly dysfunctional way to run things. But somehow it works. People just happen to be in the right place at the right time, and things get done.

What I don’t like is that dependence is encouraged. The wheelchair button signalled an employee to come and help us. The employee pulled out the ramp.

How much more difficult would it have been for the wheelchair button to trigger the ramp? That way, people in wheelchairs would be able to board those trains without assistance.

“I don’t see it as a problem,” said Hannah, but she’s more comfortable accepting help from people. Which is good, because for her, accepting help is necessary. For me, it’s more or less optional, which gives me room to be suspicious of the non-disabled. I carry around a lot of anger toward the people who perpertrate the rules of this society, and I don’t trust them. Hannah doesn’t have that luxury.

When we tried to depart the subway- in order to transfer to a different line- there were no employees around to help.

“Could you go and get the driver?” asked Hannah.
“The driver’s driving.”

“Just knock on the door.”

“They’ll assume I’m trying to hijack the train.”

“Well, how else are we going to get out of here?”

“Maybe the next station will have a smaller gap.”

“If they don’t, we’re screwed. We have to get off here.”

Hannah, seeing that I wasn’t going to ask for help, drove forward and got stuck in the gap between the platform and the train.

Because this is Boston, a man magically appeared out of nowhere, pulled Hannah onto the platform, and then vanished.

We managed to get on the other train without incident, and at Lechmere station, five men gathered around to deploy a special elevating ramp.

They were efficient, but Jesus, there has to be a better way.

After conquering the subway system, Hannah and I went for dinner at the closest pizza place.

We got there just over half an hour before it closed, ate too much, and were the last customers to leave. It was a cheerful, inefficient experience, which I guess means we’re getting into the spirit of things.