North America 2013: Boston

Word on the street said the best way to get to Boston from NY was the Bolt Bus: they’re new, cheapest, have wifi, etc. I found the “station” (a sandwich board erected on the footpath) nearly an hour early, and watched a Philidelphia service run like clockwork, with all of the ticketed boarding, walk-ups, and departure occuring exactly on time, and announced in a crystal-clear projected voice I could hear even at the back.

Then we all sat back and waited for the Boston bus. Soon enough a bus pulled up… and ignored us, while we watched the driver eat fruit salad in her seat. About 10 minutes later she did briefly emerge to say that she wasn’t going to Boston, before locking the door again. Confusion reigned, as both our boarding then departure times came and went (observed silently by fruit salad lady. I never did figure out what route she was driving). Eventually, a bus that had pulled up behind her, and also denied he was going to Boston, did relent and agree to take us—he did not look happy about it, and I suspect we were eating into his home-time. Missing: one NY-Boston Bolt Bus, possibly still out there. We did not have wifi for the journey either. First-world problems abounded.

Owing to my lack of advance planning (spontaneity has its downsides) my hostel was actually in Everett, a suburb about half an hour by train out from the city centre, and then a bus ride from the train station (they did have a free shuttle once you’d checked in). The hostel actually felt more like a half-way house than a typical backpackers, but on the positive side it was located in a Brazillian district and all-you-can-eat Brazillian BBQ joints abounded. I considered that a net win, really.

Boston and the Freedom Trail

I headed into the city the next day with a friend from the dorm, on a brutally hot day (I think it pushed 40°C). The main thing to do, apparently, is to walk the Freedom Trail; a walk along sites of historical significance associated with the American Revolution. Most of these sites seemed to involve Paul Revere, often in rather tenuous connections—his first-grade teacher’s first house? I’m probably making that particular example up, but coupled with the heat and an overloading of history, side-notes to an event to which we felt no personal connection anyway, it started to feel that way. But apparently I am not the only one to be slightly ignorant of the history!

After lunch we eventually managed to extract ourselves from the air-conditioned bliss of a pub, where after a walk through the financial district we parted ways for a bit and I hugged the shade on a wander through a leafy upper-class neighbour hill, around the river, and back along the main shopping and entertainment district.

Nerding out in Cambridge

One of the things my dorm friend and I had bonded over was that we were both, well, nerds (“engineers”, in polite speak). So, coupled with some cooler weather we were both a lot more excited to head in to Cambridge to check out Harvard and MIT.

We explored MIT first, found the hilariously jumbled Stata centre, then headed for the museum for the best part of a couple of hours. Highlight here: an original LISP machine1!

We took the subway another couple of stops to Harvard, but having missed out on the tours (and not aided by the near-complete lack of signage) the highlight was probably free liquid-nitrogen ice-cream samples.

I spent some time in the nerd-heaven that is the MIT bookstore, before going to a Clojure meetup at the Akamai headquarters.

Several people had mentioned that Harvard was the prettier place to see, with a beautiful historic campus, while MIT was just a mish-mash of buildings. Visually that may have been true, but accurately or not the impression we both got was rather different: Harvard felt elitest, old-money, look-but-don’t-touch, marvel at the number of US presidents among our alumni, etc. MIT, on the other hand, felt much more meritocratic: an absolute buzzing hive of activity, where if you were smart enough and prepared to work hard enough there could be a place for you. Who knows if that’s accurate in either case, but as inspiration it certainly hit home.

booked a week in SF to decompress a little and write some code again.

  1. As well as inspired, I also got depressed and that evening 

Mark Hepburn 25 January 2014
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