Back from Beantown

me_boston

I came, I saw, I whale watched.

I should have learned my lesson by now: Every time I go on vacation, something huge and unexpected happens. In 2006, I went to Cleveland, Tennessee, and my grandmother died. In 2007, I went to Washington State and there was a huge fuel crisis. In 2008, I went to Washington again and came back to discover a friend had not only accepted a brand-new job but made solid plans to move. (This one, obviously, is much better than what happened in 2006 and 2007, but still.)

I have got to stop underestimating my supernatural powers.

But I’m happy to report that this year’s unexpected happening has a positive note: namely, Pam is pregnant! (If you don’t watch “The Office,” please stop reading. You’re sucking the joy out of my post.)

OK, now that that’s out of the way I can get on to the business at hand: recapping my jaunt to Boston (if you can call an eight-day trip in Boston a “jaunt”), home of “The Departed,” The Dropkick Murphys, Boston Common (also seen in the aforementioned film) and untold other wonderful things. Since it’s impossible to cram eight days’ worth of walking, getting approached by four very polite panhandlers, driving, getting lost in downtown Boston and eating something that was simultaneously very spiny, rubbery and chewy at a Vietnamese restaurant (it was tripe, you see), I’ll hit a few highlights and lowlights.

Brattle

When I saw Brattle, I'm pretty sure the choir of angels in my head finally got the chance to rejoice.

Best find: The Brattle Book Shop on West Street off Tremont in Boston. A used book store filled with various and sundry treasures (the first collection of Emily Dickinson’s poems! vintage postcards with inscriptions!), Brattle’s worth the T ride it takes to get there. Spending two hours in a bookstore and walking out with a sack full of hardback books for $7 or $9 each? That is my inner geek’s idea of a good time. (Wait — I have an inner geek?)

Want to know what a waste of $8 looks like? What a coincidence -- I have a picture!

Want to know what a waste of $8 looks like? What a coincidence -- I have a picture!

Winner of the Glorious Disappointment and Utter Waste of Time Award is … the Salem Witch Museum! Nestled in downtown Salem, where profiting off the deaths of 19 innocent people is not only acceptable but encouraged, this time suck/so-called “museum” is nothing more than a 20-minute presentation in a dark auditorium with wax figurines and voiceover narration. Don’t be fooled by the official-looking building: The Salem Witch Museum is a tourist trap, alright. Which I fell right into. Learn, I beg you, from my idiocy, and use that $8 entry fee to purchase the T-shirt below as a souvenir.

Ah, Salem -- profiting from the deaths of

Ah, Salem -- profiting from the deaths of 19 innocent people and unapologetically ignoring basic punctuation rules in the process.

Or here’s an even better option: Take that money, go buy yourself a witch costume, wander around Salem and see if you can recoup your expenditure. Given the high quota of foolhardy tourists (including me), it shouldn’t take too long. Bonus: You’ll have yourself a bona-fide Salem-approved Halloween costume for the next Halloween!

When I die, I want my headstone to read: "Here lies Meredith Carter. On May 12, 2009, she saw two Humpback whales. She died happy."

When I die, I want my headstone to read: "Here lies Meredith Carter. On May 12, 2009, she saw two Humpback whales. She died happy."

Best Bucket List Adventure: Hands-down, the New England Aquarium Whale Watch. During the 90-minute trip outside Boston Harbor, I admit I began having some doubts. This was mainly due to the fact that the naturalist, realizing we were antsy because we hadn’t seen any whales yet, started filibustering her own whale watch. So determined was she to distract us that when she exhausted her Humpback whales playbook, she moved right on to Northern Right whales, then Minke whales, then dolphins, then (and this is where I suspect she was sorry she knew how cold that water was because she wanted to swim back) the NEA’s refund policy on whaleless whale watches. But before Nervous Naturalist could take the plunge, we spotted our first Humpback — a female named Cajun — feeding. About 30 minutes later, Etch-a-Sketch (a male who lived up to his zig-zaggish name) swam under our boat and made me scream like a little girl for, oh, about the 40th time in two hours.

I shipped up to Boston, alright, but my wooden leg was NOWHERE to be found.

I shipped up to Boston, alright, but my wooden leg was NOWHERE to be found.

Ah, yes. One bottle of Water Babies sunblock: $7. One whale watch ticket: $44.95. Getting to cross something off my bucket list? Priceless.

The fine folks of Woods Hole, Mass., do enjoy a little gallows humor now and again.

The fine folks of Woods Hole, Mass., do enjoy a little gallows humor now and again.

“Meredith, You’re Not in Minimally Adequate South Carolina Anymore”: The best indicator of this phenomenon — which isn’t that different from Toto’s “Oh, hell, I’m not in Dorothy’s bike basket anymore!” moment — was the sculpture in Woods Hole, home to countless renowned marine mammal research facilities. I’m a fan of morbid humor (as in “Aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?”), so Woods Hole, I salute you.

Oh, Emily, how could you not be at the museum for the book signing?

Oh, Emily, how could you not be at the museum for the book signing?

Worship, But Worship Slant: It wouldn’t be entirely inaccurate to say that my copy of Emily Dickinson’s poetry — the 1976 edition, that is — is, well, kind of a like a Bible. I’ll even go so far as to admit that sometimes, when I have a problem, I’ll whip out that dog-eared book, open it to a random page, point to a poem and find an answer to said problem. (I do the same thing with episodes of “Golden Girls.”) But don’t write me off as a whack job with an Emily shrine made of salami and other assorted fresh cold cuts stashed in my closet; I swear I’m just a garden-variety fan. Which is why I had to make a pilgrimage to the Emily Dickinson Museum in downtown Amherst, Mass. Since Emily Dickinson is like, say, my Bob Dylan or Tom Petty, the two-hour tour flew by. That $10 admission fee was a small price to pay for getting to see where America’s greatest poet (oh, yeah, I’m a little biased) changed history.

Forget Myrtle Beach -- give me the rocky, craggy shores of the Maine coastline any day of the week.

Forget Myrtle Beach -- give me the rocky, craggy shores of the Maine coastline any day of the week.

Best Misty-Eyed Kodak Moment: Growing up, I never quite remembered to pay much attention to the jar of rocks my grandmother kept stationed on a windowsill in her den. It wasn’t until she died and our family began the painful but inevitable process of consolidating her life into boxes that I remembered the glass jar and claimed it as a memento. It turns out each unusual rock represented one of her travels, and one was taken from Maine’s coastline. In Ogunquit, Maine, I couldn’t help but take a few to add to her collection. And though I’m not the sentimental type, after I picked them up I could hardly see to climb back up the rocky walls.

The Mary Baker Eddy Memorial: A tribute to original thought in a state that encourages it.

The Mary Baker Eddy Memorial: A tribute to original thought in a state that encourages it.

Is This a Cemetery or Is This a Cemetery?: For years I hated cemeteries (one too many Stephen King/George Romero movies, or that really creepy scene in “Now and Then”). But then I started to appreciate their strange, unsettling beauty. Because cemeteries are like snowflakes or Jackie Earle Haley movies: original, unsettling and yet reassuring. Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Mass., stands as the first landscaped cemetery in the U.S., and its crown jewel is the Mary Baker Eddy Memorial, dedicated to the woman who founded the Christian Science movement. My religious tendencies are murky at best, but I can’t help but admire a woman who bucked the system and was, in her own way, a revolutionary.

Boston: It's like New York, but with less lines in the roads and better crime dramas.

Boston: It's like New York, but with less lines in the roads and better crime dramas.

Chatting with (very polite) panhandlers in Harvard Square, hunting down deplorably tacky trinkets in Boston’s Chinatown, navigating the T with just a map and my wits, accomplishing a lifelong dream of whale watching: I’ve got to say that Boston 2009 was one hell of a trip. Does anyone have any cranberry juice? I feel a toast coming on.

(Do I really have to keep pointing out the “Departed” references?)

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