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Lost In Boston! January 16, 2009

Posted by littlebangtheory in Love and Death.

OK, this doesn’t happen to me.

I navigate by the sun, the moon, the stars, with an innate affinity for The North and The West which seems to originate from my medula oblongata, near as I can tell.  And when that fails, I’m a wizz with maps.

But this past Saturday, as I left Nahant on a mission to photograph a particular bridge on the northern edge of Boston proper, I had a couple of handicaps.

Firstly, I didn’t know what street/route the bridge was on, nor its name.

And secondly, I didn’t have any moon or stars to navigate by, as the evening had become entirely overcast.

Add to that my increasingly relevant far-sightedness, which doesn’t allow me to read a map in dim light without dime-store glasses (which render me unable to drive,) and I’m betting you can groc my dilemma.

So I managed to embed myself into downtown Boston without a plan for finding My Beloved Photo Op, other than rubbernecking and praying.


If you’ve ever driven in Boston, you’re either clicking out of this clusterfuck or rolling on the floor laughing ’cause I’m an idiot.

C’est la vie.

But anyway, there I was, Hellen Kellering my way through a city which was laid out by goats.  I spent a lot of time in heavy traffic, trying to read obtusely oriented street signs in the dim light:

boston traffic

Pardon the three second hand-held shot through my filthy windshield, but I wasn’t getting out to clean it right at this point.

Now I’m no quitter, and I pursued this course for close to an hour, operating on the assumption that Two Wrongs Don’t Make A Right, but Three Lefts Do.  Which would work like  a charm in Phoenix, but falls flat as a ninety-year-old tit in Boston.

Trust me on this one.  It’s the only place on Earth where you can find one way cul-de-sacs (and I have.)

Eventually I noticed a kiosk labeled, “City Map,” and being a map guy, yelled “Eureka!” ..but to no avail.  Parking in Boston is a non-starter, and worse than that in winter, when many “spaces” are lost to snow banks.  So I drove on, quite a bit as I remember, ’till I found a parking space within eyeshot of such a kiosk, and made my way back to it armed with a complement of recently passed street names.

You know, there are several streets on a map of Boston, and a simple “You Are Here” would go a LONG  way toward making these kiosks more user-friendly.

So, swallowing my maleness (figuratively speaking,) I asked passers-by, “Hello, where am I?”

The first couple I accosted were from Pennsylvania, and were just about to ask me the same thing.

The next was a kid from New Hampshire who didn’t know and didn’t care, but liked my camera.  A lot.

The third was a more helpful and ebullient gentleman, who explained it all to me in great detail, in what language I haven’t a clue.

This is Boston.

I looked around, feeling lost and defeated in my quest to photograph Whatever Bridge, and noticed that I was surrounded by a type of beauty which doesn’t exist in my rural world, divorced from nature yet somehow engendered by it, the branches of my boreal world rendered in rectilinear perfection, illuminated by surreal light:

glass atrium

…that’s a store of some kind, by the way…

I started walking, with camera and tripod over my shoulder, and came to a street scene which pleased me.

Now, perhaps there’s a way to capture this stuff more efficiently, but I’m a “nature photographer,” remember?  So I set up my kit on the sidewalk and, like a true denizen of The City, ignored passers-by as  I moved in for The Capture.  I assessed that it would be a thirty-second exposure, and spent some time evaluating the traffic patterns so as to minimize the interference from Passing Objects.

“Excuse me, what are you doing?”  …I heard, and turned to see a large man approaching, uniformed, flak-jacketed, laden with ammunition and pointing an automatic assault weapon in my general direction.

I believe I must have blinked some as I ran through the gamut of possible replys.

Gesturing toward my camera and tripod, I considered my options:  “Why, as any fool can see, I’m bakin’ a goddam cake!”

I refrained, on accounta I’m allergic to lead.  Instead, I fell back on What’s Natural, my Inborn Hick:

“Gee, officer, I ain’t never seen nothin’ so purdy, I was just takin’ a pitcher!”

Ouzi Man looked me up and down, a bit skeptically.

Oh, did I mention that I was in my underwear?

Yes, my fuzzy tights, with hiking boots, not exactly Haute Couture for city floks, but I was just driving through, you see, and hadn’t planned on getting out of the car.  And above that, a poofy down jacket I’d bought for my ill-fated assault on Denali, but that’s another post entirely.

Well, as it turns out, I was directly across the street from the Israeli embassy, and given the current situation in Gaza, they’d had some credible threats of bombings, and there I was, all spindly-legged and poofy-chested and looking like I was packin’ fifty pounds of plastic explosives on my little geek torso, and The Man was rightly concerned.

I asked him, wide eyed, if his gun was The Real Deal, and with obvious pride he confirmed my suspicions.

Then we both chuckled, him with amusement, me with relief that I might yet live.

After a bit more small talk, he retreated to his side of the street, and I took my picture:


That silvery building in the urban crease is what caught my attention, and what I set up for.

After that, I packed up and brailed my way westward to route 2, glad to be still alive, and glad to be heading back to the safe haven of the hills I call home.


1. Sylvia Kirkwood - January 16, 2009

That was some adventure and no one can tell it like you! I love it! and I have been in Boston a few times, not in a while, but as I remember the traffic was a mess. One time in particular because I was there to see a Yale/Harvard football game and it was nutty! Your pictures are gorgeous though, so it wasn’t a total waste. Glad to have you back, fuzzy tights and all.

2. Tengrain - January 16, 2009

Boston might as well be Rome. Worst drivers in the world in a city that somehow manages to cross the same river every few blocks.

I don’t try anymore, I just hire a cab whenever I am there, and let them bleed my wallet dry.



3. Bob - January 16, 2009

That was funny, Cuz (but only because you din’t get kilt by Teh Man).

Cities are evil, is my considered opinion.

4. TheCunningRunt - January 16, 2009

Ten, thanks for stopping by.

It’s true, most Sane Folk don’t deem to drive in Boston. As a rule, I love it – I dig the challenge.

This was the first time in my life that I didn’t get where I intended to go, and I’m a bit concerned about that – is it me, or something different about the circumstances of my visit?

Time will tell, I guess…

And Sylvia, it’s always a mess, though assuredly sometimes more so. And I bet a H/Y game falls into the “more so” category!

5. Jennifer - January 16, 2009

I wouldn’t be concerned. That’s what happens when you start venturing beyond your normal territory.

Don’t worry. You still have a good sense of direction, and you’re still good with maps. Just, there are times and places where whatever our skill set, we’re out of our depth.

Granted, I’ve never been to Boston. But I am a literate, bilingual, organized-minded, culturally savvy person – and yet I could tell you things about the Costa Rican phone book that would curl. your. hair. Yes, even yours.

6. Bobbie - January 17, 2009

These shots are fantastic!

7. Pagan Sphinx - January 17, 2009

What a funny story. Only in Boston. Had that been me, I would have just curled up in a fetal position on the sidewalk and asked someone to call 911 to take me to the Mass General mental health wing. 😉

Nice city shots. I’m not a REAL photographer like you but as you know, I love to take pictures. But I need a lot of variety or I get bored. There are a few places in the County that I’m wanting to photograph in all the seasons but otherwise, I’m all over the place. Whatever strikes me fancy.

8. GourmetGoddess - January 17, 2009

Were you looking for a newer bridge or an older one? An older bridge is the Longfellow, which is full of graffiti. A newer bridge is the Lenny Zakim. It is white, with lots of cables…. it looks a bit like the very graceful tooths of a comb. It was put in as part of the whole Big Dig. Like the rest of that mess, it has a construction flaw that might cause the concrete to buckle way before its time. It is actually hard to get to unless you know exactly where you are going, and I would actually suggest that the better pics of it would be gotten from some of the surface streets underneath it, largely because it is in the center of a nasty twirl of highways. Depending on what view you want, somewhere over near the Museum of Science might be good, possibly N Point Blvd, or the other side, near Bunker Hill Community College, on Water Street (I am not certain that is still in Boston of if it is in one of the ‘burbs).

Boston traffic can be horrid. I usually enjoyed it as a challenge while I was there, but once – a few days after I had surgery and was heading back in for a checkup – it so overwhelmed me that I ended up in a very expensive parking lot by accident, sobbing on the side of the road. Luckily the attendant was merciful, as he validate my parking and let me park there for free and found a way to get me to actually where I really wanted to go.

9. littlebangtheory - January 17, 2009

PS, I recall being the “911 guy” when a Boston officer was decidedly unhelpful to you, and the distance between us pained me.

And I, too, have my favorite local vistas, and look forward to rendering them in all their seasonal glory!

GG, it’s a newer bridge, looks like a suspension bridge, on the north side of town. I suspect you nailed it as the “Zakim,” and yes, a shot from the general environs is what I was looking for. But I was balefully unprepared for this shoot, as it was a last minute idea.

I may head back there in the near future to get it right.

10. +clumber - January 18, 2009

My best Boston story (okay, technically it’s a Cambridge/Boston story) was from a friend who grew up in Cambridge and in his youth was walking along the Charles when a car pulls up and asks him how to get to Fenway. He considered for a moment or two which would be the best way to get there, whereupon the driver says “Come on kid, I don’t have all day”. My friend says okay, here’s the fastest way “Go across this river and get on the Mass Pike going West, you’ll see signs for Fenway. Have a nice day!”.

Locals (are there still any locals left in Cambridge or Boston?) call the Longfellow the Salt and Pepper bridge, and was one of my favorites. And the Smoot Bridge was the next one up-river, I believe. Also filled with graffiti, but MIT graffiti, so it’s technically funny. If only there had been a Kibbles and Bits bridge for dogs like me!

11. +clumber - January 18, 2009

Ooops, make that “dogs like me”. I guess I am in a fog!

12. littlebangtheory - January 18, 2009

Bish, that’s pretty funny! I’ve done that too, when people have asked for directions in a rude way.

And the Typo Fairy stops by here regularly to tidy the place up, so the “fog” is gone.

All in all, I’d say you do exceptionally well with those paws!

13. Spartacus - January 18, 2009

Yes, CR. You are a nature photographer, And now you know firsthand how cities can be jungles. It sounds like you had quite an adventure in the big city. Next time, stop in and have a beer somewhere.

14. susan - January 19, 2009

Having spent 16 years living in Providence I’m more than a bit familiar with driving in Boston. I particularly remember one time, when my parents were visiting and our son was little, trying to drive to the Aquarium. We kept passing it on various levels of the overpasses all the while listening to the very entertaining comments of our passengers. The good news was we did eventually get there but on the way we found something even better.. I can’t recall if it was at the Science or Children’s Museum but we got to see a Jim Henson exhibit of all the original Muppets – many in the stage sets they’d used for the shows and movies.

15. Jane R - January 20, 2009

I miss Boston… I actually get lost more here in Greensboro!

Which makes me a Big City Kid. I still can’t get used to all these highway-ish Southern Sprawl Streets.

I laughed reading your tale — affectionately of course.

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