My Trip to Lexington and Concord (and Amherst, and Hatfield, and Chicopee, and . . .)
By Evelyn C. Leeper
Copyright 2001 Evelyn C. Leeper

Every time I go on a business trip, I figure I don't need to do a trip log. And every time, I end up doing one. This is because I find a combination of weird things, and reasons to vent.

Venting: It takes 38 minutes of flying time to get from Newark to Boston. So why is the gap between scheduled departure and scheduled arrival an hour and a half? Because there's also 45 minutes of queueing time at Newark. Well, at least the schedule reflects this.

My experience with National Car Rental at Logan Airport was very poor--the first two cars I selected were dead (wouldn't even turn over), and the one I ended up with had no snow brush/ice scraper (the other two did), and gunk on the inside rear-view mirror. I think my request for a compact car threw them, since everything in the "Emerald Aisle" row (which presumably had been checked) was full-sized. Helpful hint: a Blockbuster card works as well as a credit card in clearing frost from a windshield--though probably not ice--and has no magnetic stripe to worry about.

Boston's "Big Dig" has added to the confusion in leaving the airport and getting on to (say) the turnpike, though admittedly this was always confused. And it would be nice if people leaving the airport knew they were going to need to pull out $2 for the tunnel and 50 cents for the turnpike toll, before they arrived at the toll plazas.

Nevertheless, I arrived in Concord, only to discover that there was only one restaurant open at 10PM on a Sunday night. Luckily, Makaha is a reasonable Chinese restaurant. And only in America--the waiters in the Chinese restaurant were practicing saying "Maricon!"

In class, the instructor mentioned that some process was "creating an illusion for you" and one woman said, "David Copperfield." I found myself thinking "Whether I am the hero of my own life..." and wondering what Barkis and Murdstone had to do with all this before I realized that she meant the (current) magician.

Sample exchange from one one of the classes: "What's the symptom [of this situation]?" "It's very slow." "It's always very slow. Which kind of slow is this?"

Proof of my compulsiveness is that I was upset I forgot to pack two books, and so brought only nine--knowing I will be visiting used bookstores halfway through. (And of course, there's another 800,000-word book in the hotel room anyway.) I did do the usual fannish thing: "What is the first thing a fan packs in her bag before a trip?" "Another bag to hold the books she buys." (Well, I also knew there would be training manuals.) But I exercised restraint and bought only thirteen books during the two weeks.

Lexington has two bookstores: Waldenbooks and Books Upstairs. The former is open late, but very predictable and small (maybe four feet of philosophy, and about two on Judaism). The latter is used books, interesting, and closes at 6PM. It's also what you could call a "Tardis bookshop"--larger on the inside than the outside. You can barely see it from outside--it's just a doorway between two store fronts--but inside it covers a huge area.

Concord has three bookstores: Concord Bookshop for new books and Barrow Book Store and Books with a Past for used. All close early--the used bookstores at 5PM and Concord Bookshop at 6PM--but the Concord Bookshop has a more interesting selection than Waldenbooks, and a very friendly staff. The Barrow Book Store had no science fiction that I could find, other than a few mixed into fiction--pretty unusual for a used book store. Books with a Past has a smaller selection than Upper Story Books in Lexington, but is also on the second floor. Must be a Massachusetts thing.

A couple of miles west from Concord (in Acton) is Willow Books & Cafe, which I almost got out of without buying any books until I passed the large table of discounted Penguin books. And up the road a ways in Burlington is a Barnes & Noble superstore. I didn't go in, but from the outside I could see why Massachusetts abolished counties--several of them were smaller than this store.

I've traveled to many countries, and eaten a lot of different foods, but I still suffered a bit of culture shock when Gourmet Farms in Lexington asked if I wanted cheese on my hot black pastrami on dark rye. (Their mustard was good, though.)

Every once in a while a synchronicity so bizarre arises that it must mean something. In this case it's that the instructor one day kept referring to "oids" (shorthand for "object IDs"), and it wasn't until the evening when I was reading Isaiah Berlin's "The Hedgehog and the Fox" that I realized how apt that was. Because Berlin took his title from Archilocus's statement "The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing," and this was footnoted with the original Greek:

"Poll' oid alopeks all' echinos en mega." And this reminded me that "oid" meant in fact something very like "thing" or "object," so calling the ID of an object an oid is either apt, or recursive.

"The Hedgehog & the Fox" should be of interest, by the way, to fans of alternate history, since it discusses the validity of the "Great Man" versus the "Tide of History" theories. (The main thrust is actually talking about how Tolstoy wanted to promote the idea that individuals did not have a major effect on history, while believing that individual lives at the level of the common people were important.) Isaac Asimov's original "Foundation" trilogy actually supported both theories: "psycho-history" is "Tide of History," but the Mule threw a monkey wrench into it as a "Great Man."

Thus endeth the lesson.

On the way to work every day, I pass the "Frost Conservation Area." My first reaction was, "Isn't there enough frost in Massachusetts without setting aside a special area to conserve it?" Then I realized, "No, they mean the Robert Frost Conservation Area."

One problem with Maps-on-Us and other on-line routing services is that they provide no context. When you look at a map to plan a route, you can say, "Okay I turn left on Main Street. If I hit Route 3, I've missed that turn, and need to turn around." But you don't see the surrounding area with the routing services.

Thursday we went to Legal Seafoods in Burlington. Good food, but a really long wait (for six--when our number dropped to four, we got seated in five minutes), but whatever possessed them to decide to coat the outside of the shell of a steamed lobster with butter? Wasn't it hard enough to eat before?

I decided to take Route 2 to Amherst instead of the Turnpike. It was almost empty--I don't know if this is normal, or just true at 8AM on a Saturday. Driving on Route 2, I passed a stopping area that had a sign that said, "No sanitary facilities." That was true of the rest stops in Michigan even when they had toilets.

I had told my friend in Amherst that I would call her when I was about a half-hour away, but there are no phones from where one gets off Route 2 until Amherst--no gas stations, no stores, nothing.

We hit the usual bookstores in Amherst (Valley Books, Raven, Atticus) and then drove to North Hatfield for Troubadour Books, since car-less Kate never gets a chance to get there (and I never do either, come to that). I had thought of trying to get to the Northampton bookstores, but the reminder of how wretched the traffic is on Route 9 cured me of that, since we needed to finish up by 2:30PM (Kate for work, me to go to my parents' house).

I spent the rest of Saturday and Sunday with my family, having lunch with my parents and my brother and sister-in-law, and returning to Concord Sunday evening.

As usual, where I go, severe weather follows. Monday we got twelve inches of snow in Concord. (It could have been worse--my parents got twenty-five inches!) Luckily, my mother had given me one of her dozen or so spare scrapers (which she no doubt got free at various times), and it only took an hour to get back to my hotel from the training center (versus the usual twenty minutes). Of course, as I was driving back, at night, in a blizzard, on a unlit road that I hadn't driven in this direction before, with all the signs completely covered with snow, I realized that if I got lost I would have no way to find my way back until morning at least. Luckily, I didn't get lost, and by the next morning the roads (and the hotel parking lot) had been cleared.

Wednesday night I decided to go to the meeting at the NESFA clubhouse. This was yet another example of how the art of writing instructions/giving directions has died. The directions on NESFA's web page said to take Route 2 east to the end, then take Alewife Brook Parkway north. Problem 1) Route 2 does not actually end at that point, even though that is how locals refer to it. It continues as a regular thoroughfare rather than a divided highway, and non-locals will keep following the signs. Problem 2) There is no sign for Alewife Brook Parkway. This is apparently Route 16, which does have a sign, but the directions don't say this.

The bottom line is that I got well and truly lost and ended up in Harvard Square, which is well on the other side of the clubhouse from where I started. I then managed to find a street mentioned in another part of the directions, which then said to take Prospect to Union Square and then turn north onto Somerville Avenue. Problem 3) Union Square is not labeled as such. Problem 4) By now I'm completely turned around--which way is north?! Left or right I could do, but north? Eventually I got headed in the right direction, and it involved driving the wrong way down a one-way street for only half a block. I even managed to spot Lowell Street (a fairly minor side street) for my right turn. Then it was supposed to be straightforward--take Lowell to the clubhouse. Except that the bridge was closed, and had been for a year, and there was a detour which wasn't mentioned on the web page.

Well, I did eventually find my way there, but someone definitely needs to re-do the directions. There was no business meeting, but I did help collate "Instant Message" and chat with people for a couple of hours.

And naturally, even coming back was a problem. Traffic to Logan Airport was terrible, finding the gas station was difficult (and getting back from it to the car rental company nearly impossible!), and the flights were all messed up. I arrived at 5:45PM for a 7:30PM flight, so they switched me to the 6:00PM flight, which was then delayed to 7:30PM and eventually took off at 9:00PM.

Books bought (15):

Anderegg, Michael: Orson Welles, Shakespeare, and Popular Culture

Books read (11):

Evelyn C. Leeper (