A Run through Boston by Yan Z. '12
Having an adventure was easy. Carrying the camera around was the hard part.
Recap: I survived the last week of February with hit points to spare, despite running out of energy cards sometime around Thursday afternoon. During my confrontation with Level 10 Opponent “Electricity and Magnetism Exam” on Friday morning, my challenger played the familiar “Long, Hideous Integrals” attack card, coupled with an “Insufficient Time Remaining” damage card. Equipped with foresight and past experience, I pulled out the “Approximately-convincing-but-not-really-correct math because I didn’t actually calculate anything, oops” card from my emergency deck, slapped it all over page 2 of my test booklet, and continued to the next round of combat. Faced with a barrage of Conceptual Quantitative Questions as I neared the end of my life points, I took a gaspingly unprecedented risk and whipped out the Lagrangian Formulation (on an introductory E&M exam!) and proceeded to spew unneccesarily-but-hilariously theoretical answers over the dwindling battlefield of questions about giant disembodied vectors in space and electrostatic motors. It appears that graders can have a sense of humor too, however, since I got an A anyway.
In case you didn’t care to read the previous paragraph, in which I describe my 8.022 exam in the style of a narrated Pokemon card game tournament, the short of it is that I used the Lagrangian on a test in the vain hope that this would amuse the graders and probably (hopefully) ended up getting LOL points for my gratuitous referencing of theoretical mechanics.
(Ignoring the possibility that nobody read the last page of my test booklet closely enough to notice, or that my handwriting had changed into an approximation of Cyrillic by that point, both of which are entirely probable.)
The day after Friday happened to be a Saturday. Let me restate this so that profundity will not go unheeded: it was Saturday. It came after a Friday. This seemed like a miracle.
Last week was a thick, stubborn clump clogged in the metaphysical sink of time. The momentous advent of Saturday was like a welcomed influx of Drain-O. Saturday came in sun-drenched breezes and swirled in a nebulous illusion of infinite possibilities, an eternity of restless, test-less days. I woke up at 7 AM. A marvelous savoring of hours ensued.
And then I looked out the window and thought, Boston is at my doorstep. I should walk over it, because that’s what most people do with things on their doorstep, unless they’re telephone books, which most people recycle. (There the analogy ended.)
Well, life is short. Why not run?
So I grabbed a map.
And chucked some spare change and a $500 camera into a knapsack. (And now, a message from our sponsor: the MIT Brain and Cognitive Sciences Department. They gave me this bag for free!)
And off I ran, striding down Massachusetts Avenue to the Charles River Esplanade . . .
Across the Harvard Bridge . . .
. . . and into Boston, the greatest city in the entire world south of Canada and north of Connecticut and east of New York and west of the Atlantic, except for Cambridge. That’s a compliment.
After ten minutes of cobblestone sidewalks and generic New England charm and (insert other quaint detail for local color), I beheld the open gates of Boston Common, “the starting point of the Freedom Trail and the oldest park in the country,” according to its equestrian-friendly website. No horses did I see, but statues aplenty.
I also learned how to focus a camera, for just about the first time in my life.
Resting my camera in the shade of a willow, I leapt into an empty pond and immediately sank into 4 inches of mud. I leapt out shortly thereafter to prevent camera theft.
Onwards I ran, through the discoursing innards of Boston Common, out the South end of its tree-lined intestines, and back into the streets of Boston. Finding myself abruptly deposited in the heart of the Theater District, I decided to detour into Chinatown. A few blocks later:
Washington Street: a chaotic resounding of bakeries, hole-in-the-wall restaurants, grocery markets, pawn shops, and traffic violations, as incongruently and densely packed together as a 12-note cluster chord in an Ives sonata. Skipping down the curb and over a few elderly pedestrians along the way, I rounded a corner and practically tripped over a Vietnamese sandwich shop about the size of my floor’s bathroom.
Everything in sight was fresh and under 5 bucks, so I caved in to my inner gourmand and shelled out $2.75 for a sandwich. Were I a humanities major, I would write that it was a life-affirming sandwich, about twice the length of my head, redolent with the toasty breath of an oven, stuffed with spicy curried chicken and pickles, gloriously piled onto a soft baguette reminiscent of French colonialism. Heck, I might just become a humanities major. It was the best sandwich of my life, even better than the one at Subway that I had on March 12th of 2005, the crumbs of which I have saved in a locket.
So I walked down the street, oblivious to the careening taxis and streetside peddlers, wonderfully enraptured in the prophetic sandwich that I was consuming with reckless gusto. And then I saw a Chinese bakery and suddenly felt homesick, not for my own home in St. Louis, but for the childhood home of basically every protagonist of every Amy Tan novel ever written. This is just a complex way of saying that I really wanted to buy some bread.
I purchased a meat pie, which cost about 70 cents, which is like .000000001% of my total tuition. This justified my decision to go into every other bakery I encountered and buy more meat pies.
No kidding! Evidence follows.
Having gulped my fill of Chinatown, I looped back to Boston Common hauling a backpack stuffed with baked goods and, seeing that the afternoon was still in its languorous youth, ran downtown via Tremont Street.
Sprinting into the Faneuil Hall Market Place, a 250-year-old hub of American marketplacing, I greeted the imposingly Colonial front side of Quincy Market. I considered stopping in for purposes of enriching my historical education, but then I saw a Starbucks inside.
At last, a horse!
And then I stumbled into the vague outer rim of Haymarket, a bustling, overcrowded sprawl of fruit vendors and cheesemakers and butchers clashing for the attentions of every overstimulated nerve cell in your body. The produce and meat is perilously cheap, but wrestling through the crowd is just plain perilous.
Did I mention the staggering ethnic diversity of the bread? It staggered me.
Tangential anecdote: Will ’12 tried to buy a single fish at Haymarket a few weeks ago and got one for free, inexplicably. Will is a logical person who sits in my 8.022 recitation and asks ridiculously mathematical questions, so it’s no surprise that Will took the fish home, cut out its eyes, installed LED lights in the eye sockets, and made a fish circuit. Anyway, back to regularly scheduled programming.
As irresistable as the prices were, I resisted the temptation to indulge my desire for a giant slab of questionable fish. Next time, though.
By then, it was getting close to 2 in the afternoon, which meant that I was starting to feel a strong natural urge to do linear algebra homework. When you go to MIT, the need to work on problem sets becomes part of your Circadian rhythm after a while.
So I called it a day and ran back to Random Hall.
Moral of the story: MIT has a nice doormat known as Boston. I probably could have stated this more gracefully, but I didn’t, and now you have to deal with the fact that I called Boston a doormat at least twice in this entry.
Appendix I: A map of my route. Going counter-clockwise, I’ve put blue markers on Random Hall, 77 Massachusetts Avenue (where all the tourists take pictures of themselves obstructing the paths of MIT students), the statue area at Boston Common, the sandwich shop and cluster of bakeries in Chinatown that I lovingly patronized, Quincy Hall, and Haymarket. From the MIT campus, all of these destinations are easily reached by bike, which is The MIT Student’s preferred mode of transportation.