Boston, Massachusetts - June 2000 Megamail

Absent for many months, but not forgotten, the dreaded MEGAMAIL has resurfaced. For those of you looking forward to the Christmas Spain Megamail, I regret to inform you that it got so big that I just plain ran out of steam writing it! Such a pity.

The good news is that I can instead regale you with my exploits in Boston this past weekend.

The cast: I Honestly Don't Know These Guys Sam, Wrongway Marty, Big Spender Chris and yours truly.

The sordid story begins on Thursday afternoon as Chris, Sam and I drove to Milwaukee for our flight to Boston, via Philly. Chris' passenger side Seattle was non-functional so both Sam and I rode in the back seat. My comments which referred to Chris as 'Jeeves' and 'Driver' were not well received by him. I thought he would at least have the dignity to raise the partition, but apparently his car does not come equipped with one.

The drive proved uneventful, though a note for those of you heading to Summerfest from Madison: there are patches of construction that you may want to take into consideration. Nothing major though.

We drove to Marty's place of employment, truly the ugliest brown office building on the planet, and then received a ride from one of his co-workers to the airport. There we had a surprisingly inexpensive 24 oz Leinies Red to kick off our journey.

And so began a long day of waiting. Yes, the flights to Boston ended up taking a full two hours longer than scheduled, if not longer. In Philly we picked up some rather crummy pizza for dinner and had a disappointing lager before our next flight, which kept on getting delayed. The thing about Philadelphia's airport that struck us as odd was that it basically was a shopping mall. There were all sorts of stores there that just didn't seem to belong in an airport, including a Gap of all things! The humanity!

We arrived at our hotel in Boston at close to 1 am. The asshole clerk insisted that we couldn't fit four people into the room whereas I insisted that I specifically said there would be four people in the room when I made the reservation. He tried to sell us another room which we declined. Upon arriving to the room, it was plenty big for all of us.

Actually, before we got to the room, 603, we stopped in at room 608 to get in. Why? Because the asshole clerk said it was room 608 and naturally I believed him. The funny part of this is that as were unsuccessfully trying to get into room 608, the security guy was passing through. As I was double checking the room number, he up an opened up the door. Ooops. Now, we don't know if anybody was in there, but doesn't it seem kind of odd that the security guy would open up a door without any kind of proof that we belonged there?

Anyway, it was late, and having no idea what bar time was in Massachusetts, we headed out for the Boston Beer Works, a brew pub two or so blocks away. Unfortunately it was closed, but there were a number of establishments still open and we tried one and had a Black and Tan in a plastic cup. That just isn't right for those of you who know what a Black and Tan is. A number of the bars required a stiff dress code of no sneakers, no boots. That canceled the three amigos out immediately as were were wearing T-shirts, shorts and sneakers.

We were quite hungry but unfortunately the Burrito Max and all the bar grills were closed. We were quietly tempted by The Sausage Guy, a street vendor that sells cooked sausage. The first time we passed him we all thought it smelled gross. The second time, with beer inserted and being even hungrier, we seriously thought about it. But in the end, we found a Quickie Mart and gobbled up a bag of Sun Chips. Actually, we still were thinking about getting some sausages and bringing it up to the hotel room just to gross out Chris with the smell as he leaked out and went to bed instead of going out with the rest of us.

The next day we got up early with the goal of walking the Freedom Trail, which is red bricked path through historic downtown Boston. We decided to walk to the start of the Trail, which was a good mile or two away. Our hotel, by the way, was the Howard Johnson Kenmore, which in the end, wasn't all that bad. It is in a fairly good location with access to many bars and right next to a subway station.

So, we walked down Commonwealth Avenue for a bit and then hit Newbury Street, which is sort of State Street done right. Many shops and restaurants and bars along the way, all in these brick buildings on brick sidewalks or not... but the point is that there was a lot of brick in Boston.

Along the way we found a restaurant called Tapeo which seemed to serve Spanish food. We were all impressed by the menu and decided to seriously consider coming back for dinner that night. More on that later.

The Freedom Trail starts at Boston Common, which is a fancy name for park. And so our journey began and we saw a great number of historic sites. We quickly became confused as just about everything said it was the oldest something. Oldest church, oldest protestant church, oldest church in old downtown, oldest tavern, oldest bar, oldest Starbucks, oldest residence, oldest house still remaining built in June 1680... you get the picture. Everything, but everything was the oldest of something. It got rather sickening after awhile.

Much of the morning was spent on this mini-history lesson. Many of the attractions require a separate entrance fee, but then again, many were absolutely free so you can go both ways if you want. After a period we ended up at Quincy Market which is a huge, mostly outdoor, complex of restaurants, cafes, street vendors, street performers, you name it. Basically, tourist paradise. Though we didn't stick around long here, we did come back.

This was also the first time during the trip that Marty got lost. During much of the journey he was desperately looking for a bathroom. Well, he apparently was in such a hurry getting to one that he forgot how he came in and thus ended up taking the wrong way out. It took a few minutes for him to figure that out.

And so the walk along the Freedom Trail continued. Just so you know, it seems like the further you get on this trail, the less and less that there is to see. You might want to consider going in the opposite direction that we went and start out at Bunker Hill instead of Boston Common.

Somewhere in the Italian district we succumbed to our stomachs and had lunch. Although the tables were not outside on the street, the windows were open to the outside so it was just as good. And the food, despite taking awhile, was fabulous. The waitresses, judging by male reaction, likewise were fabulous. Lots of thongs... we like thongs. I forget the name offhand, but it was at a corner in the Freedom Tail, and somewhere just south of Old North Church... or whatever the church is where the lanterns were hung for Paul Revere's ride. As you can tell, the whole history thing stuck on me quite well.

Though we could have easily fell into a food coma, we pressed on. Next stop, as indicated above, was the church where the lanterns were hung that told Paul Revere if the 'British were coming.' The church was most peculiar in that instead of pews, it had cubicles. Yes, it looked just like an office building inside. Inside of each cubicle were some benches and in the old days, the cubicles were bought and decorated by the people. The guide must have went to the Federal Express School of Fast Talking for she crunched a good 15 minutes worth of material into about 3.

Not too long after that we ended up at the U.S.S. Constitution, the oldest... something. Although one can board at any time, only those on the free tour can go below decks. The line was rather long so we headed to the a nearby destroyer for a look first. It claimed that it was not modified for safety, but I was majorly disappointed because there were all sorts of "don't go here" signs, locks and rope. Bastards. That too, at least was free.

After a $2 lemonade, we got on the U.S.S. Constitution for a rather unique tour. I say unique because the two guides, navy regulars, desperately tried to be funny and manly at the same time and only marginally succeeded. Also, some of there comments were far from PC. That didn't bother me of course, but I was thinking that it might piss somebody off. A lot of rips on marines too.

But all in all, the Constitution is a definite must see and do when in Boston. There is also a substantial museum dedicated to the ship, but we were nearing the end of our patience with the Freedom Trail and decided to finish it up with the walk to Bunker Hill.

Bunker Hill is now pretty much a park with a miniature Washington Monument in the middle. At the base there are some rather detailed and highly interesting scale models of the battlefield. They were in 3D and therefore gave an excellent idea of what things looked like from both the American and the British point of view.

Chris had the marvelous idea of walking to the top of the monument. That would 294 steps in layman terms. Definitely *NOT* something you want to do at the end of a long day of walking, but, like the fools we were (are?), we did it anyway.

WARNING, 294 steps is a bitch! Especially as there is no circulation at the top and you just steam yourself every second you are up there. And the view, through two tiny portals, isn't all that terrific anyway. So, if you must walk up the tower, make sure you do it with fresh legs. Ours were absolute jello afterwards.

But to make things worse, our grand plan of taking mass transit back to civilization were crushed as there were no subway line nearby. Thus, we decided to head back to Quincy Market and have beer to think about what we would do that night.

We stopped before we got to Quincy Market at a brew pub. That was false advertising though because they didn't make any beer... though they had an excellent selection of microbrews to choose from.

Around this time, the blister forming on the bottom of my foot exploded as I stepped on it. At first I thought I stepped on a mouse because it was all kind of squishy, but then the pain set in and I knew what it was. Yes, walking all day has its drawbacks.

At Quincy Market we did the usual tourist types of things, looking for knick knacks, being annoyed by young women on cell phones, drinking beer, etc. Before too long, we were hungry and decided to head to the Tapeo place I mentioned earlier. We thankfully took the subway, which we got lost enroute to. The subways costs $.85, which, when compared to Madison's disgusting $1.50 is a real bargain.

Not surprisingly, we picked the trendiest restaurant in the city to have dinner. Upon arriving at the restaurant, there was a huge crowd gathered waiting for a table. As the restaurant was Spanish, we let our Spanish ambassador, Sam, take care of everything. We suggested she show a little skin to improve our odds. When asked, the host said it would be at least 2 hours for a table outside, maybe less inside (which had a different hostess). BUT, he *also* said, that for you, meaning Sam, I think we can get you in sooner.

Yeeehaaawwww! We put our name in both for a table outside and inside, just in case.

So we went down to a nearby bar, had a beer and came back in about 30 minutes to check on our progress. When we returned, we opted to stick it out and had a $4.50 bottle of Spanish beer to toast the occasion. The decor was encouraging and the plates that they were serving the food were also encouraging. Yes, this looked like a really good Spanish restaurant.

As fate would have it, a table opened up for us outside before we finished our beers and so began a scandalous dinner. Everything was authentic and everything was fantastic... even scandalous. Especially the garlic shrimp. If you go there, be sure to use and ask for bread. The portions may seem small, but they often come in sauces that are perfect for scraping up with bread. We were all expecting a dinner in the $80+ range for the four of us, but it ended up at $65ish, but with tip, it rounded out to $20/person. Which really isn't doing the food justice. It was really that good.

Afterwards, we hit the Boston Beer Works brewpub. The night kept on getting better because this place was really nice. It had an enormous number of beers on tap for a brewpub, something like 16 and there was a very wide spectrum. Chris got the Blueberry and they actually added real blueberries to the beer and they were floating up and down. Sam got the hefeweizen, I got the cask conditioned red which was extremely smooth and Marty had a cranberry cider. All were exceptional.

Despite Sam's pleas to go dancing, the rest of us were exhausted and so we headed back to our hotel to end a truly exceptional Friday.

The next day, needless to say, we woke up a bit later. Our goal for Saturday was to visit the New England Aquarium which we heard rave reviews about. Then we would pick up the rental car and go to Marty's relatives which lived south of Boston near the ocean.

On our way to the Aquarium, we stopped again in Quincy Market for breakfast, courtesy of the Crepe Nazi. The parallels between this guy and the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld were striking. Both were assholes, both didn't quite give you want you wanted and you feared this guy would swipe the crepe back from you and say, 'No crepe for you! Come back.... one year!' Despite his attitude, the crepes were OK.

On the way to the aquarium, we witnessed once again the spectacle of what Bostonians term 'The Big Dig.' This multi-billion dollar highway project involves moving the hideous looking I-93 completely underground and have an avenue or a pedestrian friendly boulevard in its place. It has been going on for years and it makes the already difficult task of driving in Boston impossible.

Anyway, the aquarium was very, very cool. The centerpiece is a cylindrical tank about 3 or 4 floors tall that people can walk entirely around. It is filled with a wide variety of saltwater fish, turtles, sharks, eels, you name it. It is very, very cool! Almost worth the $12 admission charge alone. They have this moray eel that has got to huge! We could only see the head but that was as big as a cantaloupe!

The aquarium also has some penguins which are fun to watch, as well as some seals and otters. A separate show starring a sea lion named Gutherie was also quite entertaining. Well worth the wait. The rest of the aquarium is your typical fair, but I was most impressed with their African Cichlid tanks.

After the aquarium we headed back to Quincy Market one last time and got a quick snack. I tried the clam chowder bread bowl. Sorry, it wasn't the best clam chowder I've ever tried.

And then we went back to the hotel to pick up our bags and called a cab to take us to the airport and our rental car. Some of the subway was down or else we might have taken that to the airport.

Traffic was already getting snarled and the cab driver, though we could barely understand him, obviously new a few things. Before we knew it, we bypassed all the traffic and were at the airport. Furthermore, he gave us directions so that we could avoid all the traffic as well. And if that weren't enough, the fare was noticeably cheaper than the original cab ride out of the airport. Wherever you are Mr. Cab Driver, thank you!

Not long after we got the rental car, a box of death called a Kia Sportage, Marty made the bold statement, "we'll be there in 15 minutes". Some elaboration on this statement: a) the time was then 4:15, b) 'there' was his relative's house.

About an hour and fifteen minutes later, we showed up.

Traffic wasn't the issue. First Marty said we needed to take highway 3A, when in fact we needed highway 3. But that actually wasn't too bad because they weren't totally in opposite directions. So in all it only probably took us three or so extra miles of city driving.

Upon getting closer, Marty took a wrong turn and that ended up taking some additional time. To Marty's credit, he did get us to where we needed to be without a aid of map or directions.

Marty's aunt and uncle, Nona and Chuck, live in a nice house a stone throws away from the Atlantic. They have a boat, but unfortunately it got damaged in a storm in the Dominican just a week earlier and so a trip on the big pond wasn't in the cards. :(

That night they fed us 'Carolina' styled barbecue sandwiches... which are basically normal barbecue sandwiches, but with coleslaw on top. It was quite good. That night we went to check out a rockin-blues band at some bar off yonder. Apparently Marty and his uncle share the same navigational skills for first we showed up at the wrong bar and then we took several wrong turns before finally getting to our destination. The band was OK and Sam finally got in her dancing.

On Sunday we again woke up rather late and took a walk by the sea. It was very nice and the stiff breeze cooled things down considerably. Later on we went to a museum which highlighted the shipbuilding and some of the more spectacular shipwrecks which occurred in the area. The staff was highly knowledgeable which made the rather modest collections stretch a lot further.

Afterwards we had lunch and then headed to the beach to suck up some sun and then take a dip. A note of caution, the Atlantic Ocean around Boston is none too warm. It was like walking into a big Long Island Iced Tea. It took me a couple of times, but I finally took the plunge... and then instantly ran for shore to heat my body back up. Yes, I did speak with a higher pitched voice. We didn't leave the beach until the tide was lapping at our feet.

During the late afternoon and early evening hours we entertained ourselves playing Sheepshead. Only four people were playing so the action wasn't as great as if there were eight people playing. But still, anytime one can play sheeps, one plays sheeps.

For dinner that night, we treated our hosts to a seafood dinner... something we really didn't have on the trip yet. We found the restaurant without incident, but luck was again against us as it was closed on Sundays. After some poking around, we ended up at the The Lobster Tail or something like that. I opted for the Filet Mignon and lobster tail and it was decidedly average. Marty and Chris opted for the dual steamed lobsters and in hindsight, I should have gotten that instead. Bastards!

Dinner was late and so we only did some chit chatting before retiring for the night.

The last and final day on our trip started by Marty getting us lost again. Now I know he will vehemently deny that charge, but let the truth be known. I was driving and Chris was navigator because Marty was sick of taking our shit about his navigational skills. All we asked of him was that he get us back to the main highway. Our goal was to see the Museum of Fine Art in Boston before heading to the airport.

Most of the trip to the highway proved uneventful. At some point we came to a busy intersection and I asked Marty which way. He said straight. And straight we went. Not long after we crossed under a major highway. Chris asked, what highway was that. Marty responded with a number different than the one we were looking for. We continued straight for many unknown miles until Chris indicated that we went way too far.

And so we back tracked and came back to that major intersection and lo and behold, we needed to turn there to get to the major highway, the one that we indeed did pass underneath. Marty's defense to all this was that by passing us under the target highway, he accomplished his mission. The three other people in the vehicle did not concur. What are your thoughts?

Without further incident, we found the museum and parked in a nearby ramp. That was a mistake. $15 for two hours of parking is a bit steep I think. Although we only saw a fraction of what the museum had to offer, it was quite interesting. If you go yourselves, make sure you a lot at least half a day for the museum.

Trying to find a nearby fast food joint proved unsuccessful so we decided to return to the airport. Although we were never lost enroute, we did take a decidedly zig zag path. Upon being greeted with a sign that the tunnel to the airport was only for commercial traffic, I was going to go to an alternate route. I was vetoed by my backseat drivers and we plowed into the tunnel anyway. A cop saw us and high speed chase ensued. We left him toasted in a pile of construction barrels. Maybe those Kias aren't such bad cars after all? Naa.

And so ends Boston. If you are lucky, you'll be getting another megamail in a month to summarize a conference in Seattle.


Cemetery along the Freedom Trail.


Sam's all smiles for the camera.


Three amigos climb Bunker Hill.


Lighthouse near Scituate.


One last beer before we leave.