For now, I'll confine myself to what happened before I arrived at the first panel. When I left my in-the-middle-of-nowhere hotel this morning, which also happens to be round, I got my bearings and started what I imagined would be a 20-minute walk to Northeastern University. I called Kim to say good morning, noting that it really smelled like the ocean. Then I called again to report that I was walking through a part of Boston that looked like Vallejo. That should have been the tip-off. When you see sights like this along the route, you need to reconsider your trajectory:
Still, I pressed on, confident that my geographical intuition would compensate for the very poor map they'd given me in the hotel. I mean, how often do I get lost?
After about 45 minutes, though, it dawned on me that I had been walking in the opposite direction of all things intellectual. Yes, I was headed to the sea. And not the nice sea either, but the south-of-the-airport post-industrial sort. Consulting my map, which at least indicated T lines, I realized that the best course of action was to keep walking until I came to a station.
Turns out this wasn't such a bad idea from a tourist standpoint. Even as I noted the decrepit multi-story Victorian flophouses around me, I stumbled upon a house that stood out from the crowd:
A sign on the outskirts of the property indicated that the house dates from 1648 -- yes, while Cromwell's men were still running England -- and is one of the oldest structures in Boston. The best part, though, was that it still looked like a house in Vallejo! Between the uncut grass, the mundane vehicles in the dirt driveway, and the general lack of upkeep to the exterior of the house itself, the place looked a lot more "real" than any museum. When I went around the back side, my suspicions were confirmed:
Only a home lived-in by ordinary folks would have a Weber by the door. I came up with an impromptu formulation: you know a place is really "historical" when many of the people who live there don't give a shit about the history. I experienced that phenomenon living in Germany and now confronted it in Boston. There was literally no one but me looking at this house.
Being easily impressed with dates, though, I went into history mode. When I reached the top of a hill and saw this sign, I just had to document it. I hadn't seen one since my childhood:
As I crossed the street to set up my picture, I realized that there was another man, with a digital camera like mine, also intent on photographing this landmark. Not only that, he went over to the station's employees and showed them his pictures afterwards, much to their amusement. What does this say about the way Americans regard history?
My final treat of the morning was my passage under the freeway. It looked like Christo or a like-minded artist had converted the otherwise-unused space beneath it into an art installation:
I mean, what possible purpose could all that carefully arranged dirt serve? It looks like the structure is being engulfed by an earthen flow. It looks like an arts agency might have paid the artist lots of money to realize her or his concept.
Looking back on what ended up being a two hour detour, I can state that I'm happy to have become disoriented for once. I suppose I've become too dependent on the assistance of large mountains in getting around. Whether in San Francisco, L.A., Phoenix, or Tucson, it's hard to get lost if you know the ranges. Boston, however, is mountainless.