Cheap Geek Tour
Wed, Sept 29, 2004
While eating breakfast, Robert runs out of comics (they have only a measly page and a quarter) and discovers that there's a "Bird Sightings" column in the paper. This is a listing of various birds reported to have been seen by people in the Boston area.
The column reports that the American avocet that was spotted at Suffolk Downs in Revere on Thursday was seen over the weekend at Belle Isle March in East Boston AND was still there Sunday morning. Sounds like a little avian hanky-panky to us!
Bird names sighted in the Boston area that appeal to people like Robert: white-rumped sandpiper, dickcissel, rusty blackbird, sapsucker (it's fun to say!), ovenbird (aren't all birds oven birds?), dickcissel (so funny, it gets mentioned twice!), wigeon (a pigeon that can't "p"?).
Look! Up in the sky! It's a dickcissel!
The weather today is different from yesterday: it's rainy and windy. The paper swears on a 6-pack of beahs that it'll get sunny later today. This is the very last remnants of Jeanne, and for a moment we feel guilty about whining, when people in Florida had their homes blown away by a much stronger version of Jeanne.
Fortunately, we quickly get over it and go back to grumbling about being wet and windblown.
We see a mini-Cooper on the road, and are reminded of an incident that the Duck Boat Pilot (remember Amelia Airhead?) told us. Seems a paddy wagon was transporting criminals from the Glamor Slammer to some less glamorous place when a car raced through a red light and the paddy wagon swerved to avoid it, burst through a fence, and landed in the Charles River! Fortunately, no one drowned and the paddy wagon was eventually recovered.
The car that struck fear into the heart of the paddy wagon driver? That's right: a mini-Cooper.
We're feeling like old pros as we cruise past the Braintree train lot, check that it's full and casually head to Quincy Adams. "Ah—the regulah lot's full. Head to the othah one."
But we arrive at Quincy Adams right as that parking lot fills up! Yikes! (Tip to people wondering how to make money in Boston: build some more goddamn parking garages by train stations—we would have paid $10, maybe $20, to avoid driving into town!)
Unfortunately, the only map we have with us is a Tourist Map, which only covers Points of Interest in Boston (which doesn't include Transit Stations, because these tourists didn't dick around until 9:30 am and got parking spaces in Quincy Adams and caught the train there).
So we decide to drive towards Boston until we can find a train station.
We're stuck in traffic that's moving pretty slowly (although not as slowly as on 520).
Laura plays with the CD player in the car, causing the car to swerve back and forth between lanes. As Robert whimpers in the front seat, she points out, "The thing is—you can drive like a doofus and everybody will just think you're from around here."
We were hoping that the "Andrew Square" exit would correspond to the "Andrew" train stop, so we bail out of the freeway and drive into a semi-disreputable section of town (semi-disreputable = only some of the buildings have steel shutters on them). And hurray, there's free parking only a block from the train station (we have to park behind a backhoe, but hey, it's free, and it means we don't have to drive and try to park in downtown Boston).
We have heard that Harvard has a pretty good paleontology museum, so we head there. There's nothing like looking at 70-million-year-old bones to make you feel young!
The big exhibit is about glass flowers and plants, which were made by a couple of nutty Russians 100 years ago. (And, no, it's not what we expected to see in a paleo museum either).
The flowers and plants are amazingly lifelike, and apparently were done entirely by hand. The crazy Cossacks would carefully heat glass and use metal tools to mold it into shape. Then they would carefully pack it up, ship it to a museum and open a box full of glass pieces (really).
Eventually, they figured out how to pack the stuff so it wouldn't fall apart until after it was sold. Somehow or another, Harvard ended up with a couple of thousand of these pieces, all carefully laid out in a climate-controlled room.
Our respect for Harvard is dropping by the minute. Not only did the student at the desk advise a visitor to "Walk slow" (Robert immediately corrected her—"Walk slowLY!") but we also find a Godzilla Rex dinosaur on display. (Back in the olden days when we were kids, dinosaurs were thought to be reptiles—stupid and slow. And T. Rex was always shown standing up on his tail, like Godzilla. Since then, science got smarter and realized that dinosaurs were precursors of birds, were active, and would have balanced on their legs—think 10-ton roadrunner going 60 mph.)
There are only two dinosaurs on display and although one of them (a velociraptor) is in the correct position, the other one is in the classic G. Rex pose, balanced on its tail (it's some sort of early plant eater—we were too upset to really notice).
We're in an exhibit on even-toed mammals (even number of toes on each foot, like cows and horses—which makes us odd-toed mammals).
Suddenly, our respect for Harvard shoots WAY up! On exhibit is an "almost modern horse" labeled "Hippotigris shoshonensis Gidley"! A Gidley horse!
This is cool! We get a picture of Laura standing next to the aft end of the horse ("Just like our wedding picture"—har).
[Later that night, the Internet tells us that James W. Gidley worked for the Smithsonian in the early 20th century and found a number of fossils in America. This horsie is one of his finds. We think he's a relative, until we see a picture of him. He's in a suit.]
We walk through Harvard Yard, as a peace march comes through (about 100 students holding peace signs and walking solemnly).
A tip for those who have thought of "pahking the cah in Hahvahd Yahd": Don't. You'd have to drive through a number of barriers and across several sidewalks. The local authorities are sure to notice.
We see a lovely church on campus and decide to check it out (we figure it's probably Episcopalian and we have member passes). Whoops! It's a dining hall. And in the nave is row after row of cafeteria tables filled with chattering chewing students.
Harvard is kinda weird.
We find the "Coop" bookstore, which although it is short for "cooperative," is pronounced as in "chicken coop." Maybe it's something in the water supply...
Anyway, it's a pretty cool bookstore and we manage to drop a few bucks picking up some books that we just have to have.
A word about "Harvard Square." We had envisioned something like "Red Square" on the University of Washington campus—a large open space where thousands of students can congregate. Nope. Harvard Square is about the size of a basketball court, with a subway station in the middle of it. Around it are streets, and a couple of office buildings. We had passed through Harvard Square about four times looking for Harvard Square before we realized it.
The subway station is pretty cool, though. There are fruit vendors and book sellers, and a Dunkin Donuts and actual street (subway?) musicians. This is probably to make up for the total and complete lack of parking.
We're now working on our Masters Degree in Subway-ology by taking the Green Line. All of the other subway lines are pretty straightforward—you're either Inbound (towards Boston) or Outbound (towards parking).
The Green Line branches. Several times. Which particular Green Line train you choose to catch depends on where that train will eventually end up. And where that train eventually ends up determines whether you stay here, or go down the stairs and through a passage and go over there, or go up the stairs and then down some more stairs and to the end of the platform to way and the heck over there.
Fortunately, we've been to Harvard (har) and can figure it out.
Now, we're at the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum in the "Museum" district.
The deal is that Isabella was loaded. She married a guy who was loaded, so she had a heaping helping of money.
She bought a bunch of stuff: paintings, sculpture, priest vestments, pews—if it was Italian, ol' Izzie (as she was never known) stocked up on it. She had so much money that when she died, her estate included her house with all the art, enough money to set it up as a museum, and a rule that everything be left exactly how it was (seems Izzie was also something of a Control Freak).
On our way in, all of our bags are carefully inspected, in case we're art terrorists who plan to hold a Rembrandt hostage ("Free our comrades, or the apple gets it!"). They also make us check our packs into the coatroom, in case we decide to liberate a chair or a table or a 6-foot tall candle holder (without the guards every five feet noticing).
Robert is taking notes in his Palm when one of the guards comes up to him. "Sir, we don't like people to use electronic devices because we don't know what they do."
It takes notes! See! Robert cheerfully points out, but they make him put it away, anyway. We try to figure out what they think it might do. Shrink a painting so we could stick it in our pocket and run away? Neutralize the alarm system? Let us send coordinates to our space ship so they could levitate the entire building?
We are in the Flemish wing, with some Rembrandts, and Robert is taking notes using his mechanical pencil. Apparently, Robert fits the profile of art thief, because ANOTHER guard comes up to him and tells him that "they" don't want people to use pens near the paintings.
Robert manages to convince the security staff that he is, in fact, using a pencil, and they grudgingly allow him to keep it.
These people have a great future with the TSA.
The museum doesn't mention much about something that we research later that night on the Internet.
On March 18, 1990 at 1:24 am (early the day following St. Patrick's Day), two men dressed as police got the drop on museum guards and tied them up, made off with about $300 million worth of paintings, including a Vermeer, three Rembrandts, some Degas works, and a Manet. None of the paintings has been recovered and there's a standing $5 million reward for information leading to their recovery.
Naturally, the museum's reasoned response is to forbid the use of pens and PDAs in the museum. Like we said—a great future with the TSA.
We are wending our way back through the branches of the Green Line to the Red line.
As promised, the wind and the rain have gone away and sun and blue sky are visible through the remaining clouds.
Amazingly enough, our car is still there with all four wheels.
We have dinner at a local upscale Ivar's-like joint called "Legal Sea Food." They serve yummy seafood. We have Boston clam chowder (delicious!) but pass on the Alaska Salmon—seems a bit silly to order it here....
Our serving lady is fascinated that we come from Washington (we tell her how everybody carries an emergency scuba tank for when it rains hard) and insists that we need to try the Dunkin' Donuts here because "they're so much better."
Tomorrow night, while the rest of the nation is watching the presidential debates, we'll be at Harvard schmoozing with Nobel Prize Winners at the Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony.
Never abandon the duck,
Robert & Laura