Thursday, September 2, 2010


A rare trip into Boston today to see my dentist. First chance since I've been back to compare the T with the Tube, the 77 Harvard bus with the 24 red double-decker to Hampstead.

As far as the transportation goes, are you kidding me? In this corner we have the well-lit, cozy London Underground with clear maps everywhere and pleasant-voiced announcers giving detailed route information and a courteous, ubiquitous, "Mind the Gap!" Okay, so maybe the Jubilee Line is unavailable on the weekends and there are spontaneous guerilla closures due to a fire on the track or some other problem, but this is the Bakerloo Line to Elephant and Castle! The Piccadilly Line to Cockfosters! And stops in between like Tooting Bec, Canary Wharf, London Bridge, and Pudding Mill Lane.

And the red double-decker? Okay, maybe they don't have conductors coming upstairs anymore to collect your sixpence with a "Ta," like they used to forty years ago. But they're still the coolest and cheapest way to see London, even with this new fare thing called the Oyster Card that I kept almost losing.

And in this corner, across the Pond, we have a lot of fantastic, animated people who have no problem letting everyone else know exactly who they are, what they're thinking, and how they're feeling. Most unlike your staid, mum, though stylish, British passenger.

Take my trip into Boston. Caught the 77. Immediately spellbound by a young couple in their 20s. She, a skinny brunette--I mean, pipecleaner arms--in a striped jersey, and a toothy grin that takes up half her face. He, a bearded dude with a Red Sox yarmulke. I swear I'm seeing Olive Oyl and Popeye as a young Jew before he went to sea. He even repeats muttered sentences over and over in an OCD way. Then he leans forward and kisses Olive on top of the head. "Sneaky!" she says, craning around. He kisses her again on the cheek. He lightly bites her upper arm. "Ick!" she clucks. He does it again. "Eww!" I love these two. They're like puppies. I don't want them to get off. But they do.

Then on the Green Line, heading into Park Street, a classic family scene. Mom, Dad, two kids, about 4 (girl) and 5 (boy). Or maybe they're twins. Boy's more connected to Dad, but Dad explains that he's got to carry girl, who's sleeping. Actually, she's awake. Sleepy, maybe. Boy has to take Mommy's hand. Boy refuses. Mommy leans in. Face peeled in fury. "Then I'll just have to leave you on the train!" she hisses. Boy seems indifferent. Maybe he's heard this threat too many times. Train is pulling in. Dad lifts girl. Boy seems calmly defiant. Dad or no one. Mom thrusts out her arm. At last possible moment boy takes her hand, as if tiring of the game. Off they go.

Finally, on the 79 bus from Alewife, a gabby pair gets on, not a couple but friends. Guy has close-cropped red hair, sounds gay. The main topic seems to be his hairdresser at a salon called "Great Lengths."(great name). There's Laurie—"Laurie's nice" —and Meryl—"nice girl." But they go off-topic, too, to talk about sketchy people ("people who you don't like") and moody people ("leave the moody ones alone") and dead people ("they're in a better place") and other people ("people like me"). And then there's strange people like me, scribbling notes in my notebook like Henry Higgins, not to locate people by their accents. More to locate a country by its people. Toto, I don't think we're in Tufnel Park anymore.

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