Monday, 24 February 2014

Boston - Public Transport & Snow

We've been living in Boston for three weeks now, and I'm finally starting to not feel lost when wandering around our local neighbourhood - South End. It's fairly flat and all the streets are pretty much in a grid layout, so you'd think it would be easy, but by the same token, everything looks the same, especially with all the red bricked terraced (or as they call it here, 'brownstone') residences lining both sides of the road.
Just the day before yesterday we managed to board the Orange Line T (subway train) going in the wrong direction, due to some confusion over what constituted 'Outbound' versus 'Inbound'. Still! We're slowly getting there, and it's not as if I haven't seen locals puzzle over T maps before.

Apparently, one of Boston's nicknames is 'The Walking City'. No doubt the image of a massive, two legged metropolis strolling down the coast is easily conjured up, but this is obviously in reference to how easy it is to get around without a car, both via walking (or as my family used to call it, the '#11 Bus') and public transport. The difficulty of driving is exacerbated by the dearth of parking in the city. On the sides of most streets, you're likely to be faced with a confusing medley of parking restriction signs. In winter, if you're dumb enough to ignore a 'space saver' (e.g. a deck chair) placed by a resident who has carefully shoveled the snow from 'their' parking space, you'll likely be in need of a good panel beater.
Overall, the T is very reliable and gets to a pretty wide area, even outside of the main city. Unfortunately, the system doesn't exactly exude a sense of modernity or cleanliness, especially when compared with Asian subways like in Hong Kong or Singapore. I still haven't even managed to get myself an RFID card for payment, as it turns out you can only purchase these at very few locations, not every station. But I can't really complain - waiting a maximum of usually 8 minutes per train is a far cry from sitting forlornly at an Auckland bus stop for over half an hour, wondering if your ride will ever arrive.

The major thing we've had to adjust to here is, of course, the snow. While lounging in the sun in Cancun, we had heard reports of massive snowstorms up the East Coast, and braced ourselves accordingly for our arrival into Boston. Surprisingly, apart from the brisk cold air, we didn't see a hint of white on the ground. In fact, I was almost a bit disappointed as I'd actually been looking forward to experiencing the quintessential Boston winter weather. 

Well, I didn't have long to wait - a mere two days later, Boston officially declared a 'snow emergency', which makes it sound a lot more dramatic than it really was - in fact, snow emergencies are so common that there's even permanent signs on the side of the road which forbid roadside parking. Apart from office workers telecommuting, and endless reports on the local news about the weather (actually, I think that happens all the time anyway), life seemed to go on as usual here - most shops remained open and nobody seemed too worried.

When I stepped outside just after the snowfall had begun, my face spontaneously broke out in a massive grin. It just looked and felt so magical! Soon, everything from parks to parked cars was blanketed in white powder. It was great! I didn't understand until later why locals despise the stuff so much, and sometimes wistfully mention moving somewhere warmer.
First, once it starts snowing, you have to shovel it. Constantly. On sidewalks, if you don't shovel the fresh powder immediately, continual footsteps have a compacting effect, making it even more difficult to remove later on. Secondly, snow melts into puddles of water, which then refreezes into ice overnight - a major slipping hazard, as I found out from personal experience numerous times. And if your car's been parked on the side of the road, you'll need to add 5-10 minutes to your commute time, when you're clearing the stuff off your vehicle before you can even start driving.
Finally, the massive mounds of snow which are piled onto the kerb between the road and the sidewalk take a long time to melt, and when they do (as they are now), they look like some disgusting blend of black dirt, rubbish, and slushy ice. In fact, it's so gross I'm not even including a photo of it. Trust me, it's not pleasant.

I've now come to the conclusion that snow is a bit like fish - amazing when it's fresh, but almost sickening when it's gone off and become putrid. Over the past few days, the weather's been positively balmy - up to around 10°C, and melting a lot of the previous weeks' dumpings, but apparently the 'Polar Vortex' is back later this week, with further chance of snow. I'm sure the locals are dreading it, but personally, the novelty value is still far from wearing off, and I really hope I see a few more flurries before spring kicks in properly.

1 comment:

  1. Haha I know what you mean about snow. Fun while it's snowing. Terrible a few days later. Imagine the Afghan poo-dust / mud snow after a few days!! Still, Boston looks beautiful in the sun and snow.