Friday, September 30, 2005

The Zen of Parking Meters

At some point a couple of nights ago, Summer said, "ah, the hell with it.." and let Fall take over. Yes, yes, as I'm sure some of you are saying, "Ed, we know, Fall began last Friday..." Ha, ha. I know. But it really did suddenly switch over to Fall here. One day, it's warm, sunny, gentle breeze, we got our fans going throughout the house, then I go outside the other day and boom- Fall's here: still sunny, but definitely cooler. The air's got that crispness that you know is only going to get cooler, and- hey, when did the leaves starting fall off the trees and blowing down the streets? Sheez.

BU is on this long city street called Comm Ave. There is one indisputable law of driving around the school and is: Thou Will Pay To Park. It's a $1 an hour to park along Comm Ave using the traditional parking meter. My goal every time I drive to school - find a meter with some time left on it. Of course, it's never that easy. There's a 4 hour limit on the meter, which means I usually have to run out and keep feeding the meter quarters....which leads me to this observation, in an age of modern wonders, why, God, does this city still rely on machines that only takes quarters? You can only ask the poor undergrad working at the coffee shop for change so many times before you're face is plastered on a poster by the register with a sign below it reading, "Do not give change to this man."

So driving in takes some planning. One needs to avoid the meters that are Out of Service (they only have a 1-hour limit). I'm convinced the meters work on a kind of Karma system, where if you leave a meter with let's say, 30 minutes on it for the next driver, you will be rewarded with extra time at some point in the near future. There's even a rumor of a magical meter that's permenantly stuck on "45 minutes".

Sometimes the meters don't tell you they're out of service. Like yesterday, when like an idiot, I started to put quarters into the meter without noticing the time on the meter wasn't advancing. Now, like most people, you'd probably advise me to stop putting quarters into the meter, but I'm not that bright. What do I do? I put another quarter into the meter just to be sure its broken. It was. Crap. No use hitting the meter. I've tried. It hurts. In retrospect, I can imagine this might have been humorous to watch. "Oh, the meter's brok- wait, is it broken, maybe if I put one more quart- damn! [slapping front of meter with palm] come on, are you kidding me-"

Yup, very funny.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

There is no radiator in the bathroom

Which is probably good, because that’s one room in the house where Jack won’t accidentally burn himself. We looked into radiator covers, but they are about three hundred bucks a pop (each one has to be custom made). Anyway, it gets cold in bathroom. I took a bath this morning to fend off my weary knee joints – hoping the hot water would help. Really, I just wanted to start reading Jeanette Winterson’s book, “Oranges are Not the Only Fruit” and the bath seems to be one of the only places I allow myself to read for enjoyment.

I’m not completely irresponsible – just this morning after dropping Jack off at day care, I came home to check email and do a quick job search (I’ve pretty much taken a break from sending out resumes- I think the key is to focus on networking). Of the 20+ cover letters and applications I’ve sent out in the last three weeks, my only real job bite has been through a woman that Ed knows at school. She teaches in the education department, but also works at Mazer, a company out of Ohio with Boston offices that produces educational materials. Two weeks ago I sent my resume to the people in Ohio, received a writing sample to edit, sent it back, confirmed its receipt, but haven’t heard back. This week I tried to connect with the executive editor in Boston, but no luck yet. This morning, the woman who works with Ed emailed me to let me know that she might have some freelance work available. Tomorrow I meet with a temp agency in downtown Boston to take a myriad of computer tests (bought my “Excel” study guide at Brookline Booksmith the other day to study). Friday I meet with a guy who worked at Pearson Publishing and is working for a literary agency (thanks, Nicole, for the contact). Next week I start the re-training for scoring online SAT essays. So, maybe the job situation is coming together, hey?

With all of this in mind, I activated our new cell phone with a Boston phone number (thus adding another layer of concrete on our Boston-as-home foundation), put the kettle on and ran the bath. Of course, with the workers hammering the hell out of the house – putting on vinyl siding—my sore knee joints ended up taking a back seat to an emerging headache. I persevered through the first chapter of “Oranges,” turning up the jets to drown out some of the construction, popped a Naproxin to knock out all the physical pain and focused on the mental relief of “things working out.”

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

It Might Be Cold in Boston, But it's Freezing in Seattle

Being the calm (?!@%!), laid back northwesterners that we are, Ed & I were on the anxious side of curious to discover how people interacted in Boston. We assumed that all those tales we heard about crazy driving and the "fast-paced" east coast would mean that everyone here would be too busy or bothered to acknowedge--let alone speak with-- two rain soaked Washingtonians.

The truth is that Bostonians are geuninely nice. Everyone we've met- in our neighborhood or on the street in town- takes the time to have an engaged conversation, as if they had nothing else to do. And yet, at the same time, they gracefully end the conversation without any awkwardness. Bascially, people get all their daily "stuff" done here while simultaneously putting people first. It's amazing. This ability for folks to be genuinely interested in you, I have to admit, is a strange phenonmenon. Think about it, if you live in or around Seattle, people are good a small talk- but that's it. No one really wants to hear about how hard it is to balance work and parenthood or why you think you and your sister are getting along so well. You've got your friends (hopefully) for those conversations. To be honest, I usually could care less myself. Sure, I'll engage in a quick conversation about the weather at the local coffee shop, but I usually don't know what else to say because it doesn't really make a lick of difference to me if the weather was 10 degrees warmer or cooler than yesterday. It's almost as if everyone in Seattle has their 'stock' discussions- enough information that everyone could respond with a few words, and without being offended (or interested); but not so much information that you dared reveal any individuality, and (GASP) make a new friend. More and more, Seattle seems to me like the Seinfeld episode where Jerry tells Ramone (the pool guy), after Ramone's followed Jerry on his errands, "yeah, I got enough friends, I don't need anymore."

Am I crazy or what? Perhaps it's the west coast (or, more specifically, Seattle) that is distant, superficial, and, well, cold. The Seattle Times captured the Seattle Freeze phenonemon in a relatively recent article. Specifically, how easy it was for newcomers to make friends in Seattle. I gotta tell you, I lived in West Seattle for nearly a year (right on California - the heart of the neighborhood), walked EVERYWHERE, and made only one new friend- another mom who I met on Craigs List. I'm not suggesting that I didn't cultivate my own reserved personality, but there were many days when Ed was gone 15 hours for soccer that I would have loved some company- I mean, I was willing to chat it up with the woman on the street in front of our apartment building - the one who reaked of cigarette smoke, had the thinning figure of a recent drug-addict, and was either homeless or jobless (or both) since Jack and I would run into her at random times during the day. Anyone else who seemed, well, more like my stereotype: frazzled middle-class mom, seemed to be too busy with their own frazzled, middle-class lives.

We've been in Boston a little over a month, have been offered to be driven around to understand the city, been given half a memebership to BJ's (like Costco), invited to dinner with folks that we continue to talk with, and participated in a block party- one where nearly everyone on the block attended, only having been invited by a flyer stuck to their door. And, as I've mentioned before, on my first night in Boston, we met a woman and her family who invited us to her son's first birthday party - and we just met. That would never happen in Seattle. (By the way, we didn't go to the party and I've been terrible about getting in touch with her- call me frozen). I'm telling you, people are more willing to add new people to their lives here. So, thanks Boston. We feel genuinely welcomed.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Leave the Car at the State Line

We've been in Boston a little over a month now. I'm pretty sure we're not leaving anytime soon, so I (finally) headed into Canton (only got lost once) to purchase car insurance. We've been putting it off because, well, it's damn expensive. Our yearly cost is roughly $1000 more than what we paid in Washington- and that's the best deal we could find. Oh, and by the way, finding a car insurance agent was no simple task; there's no State Farm here (what we had in WA), no AllState- none of the 'bigger' names you think of when you think car insurance. On top of the increased insurance is the fact that we had to put down 1/3 of our premium. I signed the $649 check (gulp) and handed it over to the nice lady at Liberty Mutal. Then, proceeded to drive to the gas station to pump $2.84/gallon gas in before Rita reaked havok on that expense.

At least we only have the one car; our landlords (they live on the second floor) have three cars - one that a teenager drives (double gulp). As far as I can tell, we should give up cars and trucks all together. Ed's biking has been going well (we do need to get a headlight for the bike, though now that the sun goes down before he gets home). Ed is the bike's fuel, he can bike anywhere you can walk, and he doesn't have to pay any bike insurance (BU is picking up his health insurance bill). Also, and we need to check out the rigid biking laws, Ed can circumvent all those pain-in-the-ass one way streets and rotaries a car must endure.

This is my last post about the cost of gas and transportation, I promise. I thought anyone thinking about moving to Boston might want to know what to expect.


Monday, September 19, 2005

Gas Schmas

Even though gas prices have stabilized at around $2.99 (remember when gas was $1.00? oh, adult nostalgia: gotta love it), we're trying to avoid the pump as much as possible. Ed's been driving to BU for his long days (7-7 on Mondays and Wednesdays), but parking was at least $12/day. This weekend Ed bought a bike. I wasn't convinced that we we'd save money because there are only so many weeks before the weather won't allow such commuting (and then it's onto public transportation which is about $5.00/day). Ed argued the health factors (10 mile bike ride a day) and that a bike was an inexpensive second "vehicle." He left this morning at 7:10- two bags on his back (ugh), made it to BU by 7:55, showered and called to say he arrived safely. Of course.

We should probably start putting the money we save on gas aside for the winter heating bills. The neighbors (fellow counseling psych doctoral canditates at Boston College) told us that their average heating bill last winter was around $140/month. That was before Katrina. Know any great sweater discount stores?

Thursday, September 15, 2005

What We'll Have for Breakfast

Before I quit my teaching gigs, I went to an orientation at one of the community colleges I was working at. I met up with my not-to-be fellow instructors and somehow we got on the discussion of blogs and blogging. One of the tenured ladies (note small hint of bitterness at the term "tenured") scoffed a bit, commenting that she didn't understand why anyone would want to read about what someone else had for breakfast. In the spirit of annoying that woman off and in the spirit that our readers actually do care about our daily lives, we thought (yes, Ed & I are writing this together) we'd update you on some of the more mundane happenings in Boston.

Without further ado, here's the "best of Boston - so far"

Best Meal Since I've Been Here

Ed - steak tips and mashed potatoes from Bases Loaded near Fenway
Laura - homemade Cuban burgers with garlic mayo

Favorite Day So Far

Our visit to Waldon Pond

Favorite Thing About Our Place

Ed - we have a yard
Laura - our lavender bathroom with jacuzzi tub

Not So Favorite Thing About Our Place

Ed - the fact that we only have one bathroom
Laura - cleaning our hardwood floors (good thing you can't see our feet)

Favorite Boston neighorhood (other than our own)

Ed - Back Bay
Laura - Jamaica Plain

Something We Didn't Expect From Boston

Ed - Friendliness of strangers
Laura - how much I like the clear distinction between seasons

Jack's Favorite Things About Boston (other than turning 14 months old today)

Sidewalks (walking them forever) and slides!

Oh, and tomorrow for breakfast we are planning on having scrambled eggs, boca sausages and tea. Jack will have soymilk (vanilla flavored), too.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Crackin' Up

Like just about everyone we know (and probably everyone we don't know), Ed & I have made mixed "tapes" since college. We used to put our favorite songs on tape, but finally caught up to the 21st century last year and began burning our mixes on CD. Ed burned his first CD mix the morning we were driving down to Seaside, OR, to stay with friends - aptly titled, "Back to Seaside 2004." I listened to "Back to Seaside" tonight while driving to rent Sex and the City DVD's (don't tell Ed, but I miss cable terribly). Annie Lennox's "Pavement Cracks" is the fourth song and I haven't heard it since last winter. I was immediately transported from a somewhat sticky Boston summer evening to a cold, wet night driving down California Avenue in West Seattle, rain drops smearing the windshield. It's a good song, but what particularly struck me tonight is how the words and the rhythm are in contradiction to one another. The song starts out almost ballad-esque, Lennox's rich and full voice emmiting hope, but the chorus is, well, depressing:

"Love don't show up in the pavement cracks,
All my watercolors fade to black,
I'm going nowhere and I'm ten steps back,
All my dreams have fallen flat."

I couldn't help but think about the last year- how I felt trying to adjust to parenting while trying to figure out what it meant to be husband and wife AND mom and dad. Plus, it was only my second year teaching and I had liked it so much, but the kind of good work I wanted to do hadn't really been possible with a baby. Dreams? Hah. Last year was about surviving. When I'd listen to this song- and sometimes I'd have to turn it off it was so painful--I would let myself imagine the watercolors of my life - you know, those individual apsirations that stay with you (hopefully) even as your "self" is somewhat absorbed into your family. Usually, I'd push those thoughts out of the way before they had a chance to turn black, remember that we were moving to Boston and that I just didn't have the luxury right now for being selfish. And, yeah, that's a bit depressing.

Anyway, after the initial bars of the song, the tempo picks up and Lennox chants in the background, her somewhat droning tone echoing her trademark voice in The Eurythmics. Later in the song, not moments after the song gets even more rocky, the following lyrics held me in the moment:

"Where is my comfort zone, A simple place to call my own?
Everything I wanna be comes crashing down on me."

Would you believe I felt exhilarated? I mean, here I am, jobless, having agreed to move to Boston even though my teaching career and professional relationships were promising, we were seeing (and cherishing) our family regularly, plus I was loving the place I was living in - and I hear a few lines from some song that remind me that I don't feel settled, don't have a comfort zone really yet - financially, career-wise, or even geographically- well, this all came crashing down on me. And yet, the realization that I didn't have a comfort zone didn't crash down on me; it was more like a warm wave washing through me. I felt lucky that there are so many "things" I wanna be. If I felt too comfortable, which is just another way of saying that if I was able to clearly define and label who I am, I wouldn't be in a position to ponder what I might be.

Just like the lyrics and tempo of the song, I was (and am) experiencing genuine contradiction. I am lost, yet certain that I'm going in the right direction. I was reminded of a sermon I heard Sunday when I visited a Congregational Church in Jamaica Plain. The pastor reminded his parishoners that being a Christian means "holding contradictory emotions in creative tension." God, I love that line (to be conistent, part of me hates it, too). Basically, I remembered an ephiphany I had in graduate school: "Emotional tension is good: it means I'm alive. If I felt too comfortable and everything felt settled, I might as well be dead." It's why I love the Everything But the Girl Song that is the title of this song. I mean, when it all comes down to it, the real miracles come when the shit is hitting the fan, but I still feel hopeful, and, well, alive. The truth is I have NO IDEA what path my life will take here in Boston (if the way the roads are out here is any indication, I should avoid expecting clear directions). Now that I'm stripped of many of the influences that might keep me from having insights I might not have-- being in the same general area I've lived all my life or keeping my tunnel teaching blinders on-- I am free to pick (or see) the shape my life can/will take. In other words, I'm ready to flash a welcoming nod to destiny.

We'll talk more later when I still haven't secured any interviews and our rent is due. For now, thanks, Annie Lennox for your honest words and hopeful voice.


Monday, September 12, 2005

And I call myself a Literature Scholar

Last Sunday, we visited Walden Pond with friends (the ones who graciously let us stay at their house while waiting for our furniture). The state park has a replica, plus the actual remains of, Thoreau's cabin- the one he used to write his famous "Walden" reflections on - um, on.. well, that I don't know. You see, I never read Thoreau (but I did read and enjoy writings from his good friend, Emerson, who, apparently, used to own the very land that surrounded the pond). My literature education focused on contemporary authors, mostly women, and I left both of my degrees with a slight distain for the so-called "dead white guys." Much like the vibe in academics and politics these days, it became quite easy to have an open attitude for the "correct" authors (women, non-American cultures)- and wholeheartedly dismiss the former perspectives of those who had been in the spotlight for so many years. That's not only prejudicial, but just plain silly - to dismiss someone because they come from a particular era or group that may or may not have representated the oppression of other groups (e.g. Thoreau was able to spend oodles of time reflecting and writing precisely because his sister washed his clothes, made his meals, and tidied up the cabin- leaving little time for her own creative endeavors- if she allowed herself even entertain such thoughts). While I champion the voices that usually don't have agency to speak or be heard, I ultimately appreciate a genuinely beautiful piece of writing. So, I read some "Walden." It's not bad. Makes me long for hours to just sit and think. Reading "Solitude" was a nice break from the main writing I'm doing these days- cover letters and resumes.

Visiting Walden's Pond was also a nice break from adjusting to our new home. It doesn't look like a pond, though. I always imagine a pond as something you could walk across. This "pond" was at least a mile long (that's a guess). It's definitely a lake (we decided that a pond needs to have lilypads). The water was warm and the beach spotted with the usual assortment of sandy shoes, towels, umbrellas, and little kids' naked bums. Like our neighborhood, the park reminded me of a movie scene- particularly the scenes from the film, "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood" (book was better, of course). If you saw the movie, the four girls grew up on the beach during summer. The moms sunned in their lounge chairs while the kids ran, jumped, and swam in the lake all day under the perfect warm sun-- as if summer was just one long day a the lake. Imagine those scenes, take out the fifties outfits, and you'll know what Walden Pond was like last Sunday. Jack played in the water; Ed took him out pretty deep. Jack would sqeal, half afraid/half excited whenever Ed would bounce him up to his chest in the lake (see picture, below). The weather was warm- perfect for swimming. About fifteen minutes after we arrived, though, a big, black cloud settled over us and spilled warm rain drops on us for about twenty minutes. At least the rain was warm, too.

After the pond, we traveled to a sculpture museum in East Concord - complete with a life-sized car from the 40s, spray-painted silver, whose windows were replaced with televisions playing David Bowie videos. All the modern sculptures were outside, so we had a picnic dinner and wandered around to look at the pieces, reflecting the sun through the recent raindrops. Like many drives outside the city, the road leaving Concord was lined with vast amounts of trees, all promising brilliant fall colors soon.

I went home, happy to have had a good day (finally). With fall around the corner, and Halloween not far away (apparently apple-picking is a big deal here), I'm getting excited about having real seasons. It's nice to have something to look forward to.
Jack & Ed swimming at Walden Pond Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Hey! Gas isn't Cheap!

So how's gas prices where you're at? (Wait, our European readers, put your hands down, we know it's always been expensive for you. I'm sorry.) Us Yanks simply aren't used to paying more than $2 a gallon. It's now hovering around $3.15 here in Boston, and for the first time this week, I've asked myself, "do I really need to drive there?" Yup, we've been spoiled.

What to do? What to do?

The great James Lileks has some ideas.


Monday, September 05, 2005

Rules of the Road -- Boston Style

I was forced to learn the rules of the road here in Boston from Day One. Terrified as I may have been, Jay and I wanted to see Fenway Park for ourselves, so we started out to find the ballfield. Five minutes and 5 honks of the horn (not mine, other drivers) it became clear that I had some basic rules-of-the-Boston-road I would have to learn if I was going to survive. It's been 3 weeks since I arrived, so I've got some basic rules that Bostonians would want visitors to their city to know:

Rule #1 -- The car horn is a multi-facited communication device. For instance, at a stoplight that's just turned green: "Please go now" tranlates into honk-honk. "What are you waiting for, you idiot" is hoooooooonk. "That's some nice driving but your too close me right now" might be honk-honk, hooonk.

Rule #2 -- It might seem like this lane can only fit one car, but really 2 cars can use this lane side-by-side just fine. Get used to tight driving spaces.

Rule #3 -- Red lights are only a suggestion.

Rule #4 -- Yellow lights are your sign to gun it. In fact, I think you're expected to make that yellow light just out of courtesy to the guy behind you.

Rule #5 -- You'll have to turn left across oncoming traffic at some point. Therefore, it's not uncommon for people turning left to gun it as the light turns green to beat the oncoming lane. Nice and safe.

Rule #6 -- Boston has these driving cirlces called rotaries. In theory, a car already in the rotary has the right of way. In practice, the best advice is to yield regardless to the bigger vehicle, because he'll probably kill you otherwise.

Rule #7 -- Just cuz your on Washington St now, doesn't mean it's the Washington St you're thinking of....there's 3 different Washington Streets, 2 different Boylston Streets and approximaley 2 dozen different South Streets. Good luck with that.

Rule #8 -- The city emblem might have an outline of a person crossing the street. Jay-walking is a city pasttime in Boston. No one waits for the signal.

Rule #9 -- Just cuz it says 7 miles from your destination on Mapquest, doesn't mean it's close. Thanks to 17th Century designers who thought anyplace was a good place for a street, it is impossible to go in a straight line from Point A to Point B in Boston. The city is a jumbled spider web of streets. We just found the quickest route to BU and it involves an endless list of lefts and rights.

Finally, you can't take a horn, a steely glare, or a shout from another motorist personally. It's all just part of driving in Boston.


Sunday, September 04, 2005

My blog duty

Apparently it's the duty of every blogger to comment on Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. So here goes.

The Media: good coverage during the tragedy, reminded me that they're still capable, but they also share some of the blame for hyping storms in the past. You also don't help by making people think a Bewitched-style nose wiggle would make help magically appear.

The President: It's perceptions that count, stupid. I think President Bush waited one day too late to let people know he was on the job...I know, I know, "what really could he do?" But in times of crisis, Americans need to know someone is on it.

The mayor of New Orleans: Ok, let's add this up -- 400+ city buses and 200+ school buses at your disposal in the days before the storm hit...uh-huh, I'd be pissed at me too.

The Left: You can beat Bush over the head with this all you want. It won't help. They remind me of people who see the image of Christ everywhere (in a cloud, a stained wall, a pita). Instead of Christ, they see Bush at the root of all the world's troubles. My mocha wasn't that good this morning... fucking Bush. Keep this up people and Bush'll be able to appoint another person the Supreme Cour....oh, wait.

There, that's it. I've done my blog-triotic duty. Remember: When it starts to go down, get the heck out of town.


Friday, September 02, 2005

Leap of Faith

Not that moving to Boston wasn't a leap of faith - but I've decided to take that leap and make it a huge jump. I got a call Thursday from one of the community colleges I was teaching at -- one of my classes was taken away. I've been set up to adjunct at two colleges. "Adjunct" is the term commonly used for instructors who don't have a full time/tenure job- the "fill-ins" for extra classes. For the record, there's usually only about 6-10 full time instructors for every roughly 40-60 adjuncts- that's 40-60 people, who, like me, are paid 1/3 less than their full time counterparts and have no benefits. The numbers vary per college, but there's always at least triple the adjuncts for full-timers.

"My" class was taken away because- being new, and thus having NO seniority, a full-time person who is guaranteed a full-time job, had to be given my class because enrollment was low. That's another beautiful factor of adjuncting- even though you may sign a contract, if student enrollment is too low and a class won't fill, an adjunct can lose his/her job right before, during, or after a course starts. This on top of the fact that I have no job security other than that semester or quarter that I have the class (provided it isn't cancelled or given away). I teach the class, hope that I do well enough to be considered to teach the next term and hope that there is a class for me to teach. Ed said that my position is similiar to those men who wait in Belltown (Seattle) or at Home Depot near the Starbucks' headquarters, hoping to pick up some labor gigs. Except, I'm on the corner every couple of months with a sign: "Hey, you need an English or Writing class taught?"

I'm fed up. I like teaching and I'm good at it, but this is ridiculous. I can't take the instability anymore. So, with the goal of financial and job security in sight, I've made a decision that rocks our foundation even more than the move: I called both colleges and told them I'm not going to be able to teach ANY classes. Yeah, it's a bit crazy to turn away a job and turn towards no job, but considering that the first time I would even get paid is mid-October (yeah, SIX weeks after I started teaching), I figure I can find a good, full-time job with benefits that will pay what I'm worth (or relatively close) and get paid around then, anyway.

It will be interesting to see what happens. I am surprisingly calm (shock?) and confident (cocky?) about this decision, though also anxious about the details. But, if anything this last week has taught me, is that the details will work themselves out- sometimes painfully, sometimes with ease. Besides, if thousands of people like those in the Mississippi Gulf are finding ways to survive, I've got absolutely nothing to complain about.