Category Archives: Random

The Boston Symphony on a weeknight: Death is gaseous and awesome

One of the nicest things about being a student in Boston is the $25 “BSO Student Card,” which lets you attend certain Thursday night performances of the Boston Symphony Orchestra for free. Of course, Thursday night is not the big night for the Boston intelligentsia to attend the symphony, and tickets for the cheap seats are actually cheap, even if you’re not a student. Thus, it’s fair to conjecture that you get a different crowd at the Thursday night performances, to put it politely, and it’s clear that many of us “far in the back” are not taking the experience as seriously as those paying $150 for the privilege. I fear that the musicians probably think of Thursday night as riff-raff night, and regard it as a rehearsal for the weekend’s benefactor show. If they don’t, they probably will from now on.

This week the orchestra played Edward Elgar’s “The Dream of Gerontius,” which is a huge piece for full chorus and orchestra with pipe organ. It is a setting of a poem of the same name, which deals with the death of a man and his transport beside his guardian angel to His final Judgement and on to Purgatory. (Too much capitalization there? Well, better safe than sorry, I say. The grammarian version of Pascal’s wager.)

The beginning of “The Dream…” is a somber orchestral prelude, setting the mood using perhaps the quietest tone in which I’ve ever heard an orchestra play. (For the first time I’ve seen, the concert notes are printed with the admonition “Please turn the page quietly.”) The hall is hushed, and this beautiful string adagio begins to wax quietly, creating a hallowed, church-like atmosphere. But it does not last long, this being Bingo night at Symphony Hall. An older gentleman in the balcony starts to go into a comical, high-pitched coughing fit that sounds like an asthmatic cat being repeatedly gut punched. They are probably looking frantically for this guy in whatever ICU he wandered out of. Going out in public was probably a poor call, but he clearly has a health problem and can surely be forgiven, if not lauded for his thematic complement to the subject matter. Jesu, Maria–I am near to death, And Thou art calling me; I know it now, sings the tenor. But there are others for whom Judgement will not be so kind…

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How to drive to and from Logan without a toll

I’ll depart from my usual genre of pointless complaining to actually put up something of use. Well, at least of use to the 1% of my readers who live in Boston. (Which prompts the following Zen koan-like question: what is 1% of ten people?) So, if you don’t live here, may I suggest you read my fascinating take on Sarkozy’s fight with labor unions? Nothing entertains like dated editorials on French politics.

So, you live in Boston? You’ve probably figured out by now that the only thing Boston hates more than an outsider is an outsider in a car. There is a secret office of the mayoralty tasked solely with making life difficult for people who are visiting. They are the ones who make sure less than half the streets have signage, and of those that do, half are incorrect. They are also the creative minds behind the five-way-intersection-without-a-light. Not to mention my personal favorite: the InstaMergeâ„¢ whereby two (sometimes three) lanes suddenly turn into one. (Check out Route 2 entering Cambridge for a prime example. The first time it happened to me I thought I’d missed something. It took me three trips before I caught on that I was just no longer in civilization, and not suffering from occasional blackouts while driving.)

Boston is designed to be learned, not taught, and once the initial grieving process is completed, the truth is living here can be enjoyed as a series of small triumphs as you learn the ropes. What once held you back now holds back others, and the unintentional (or is it?) genius of Boston’s hostility to outsiders becomes apparent: the obscurity of the city is just a tax on newcomers, with the dividends going directly to the natives.

A perfect example of this is the toll tunnels and bridges to the airport. Blindly following the advice of the road signs leads one to pay about $7 in tolls when picking up a friend from Logan. However, it’s quite possible to pay nothing if you know which ones to use, though it’s hard to find them. I suspect this is not an accident. Fortunately, nobody reads this blog, so I’m not going to ruin the secret by publishing it here. (Note to my fellow Bostonians: if this blog actually starts getting more than 300 visitors per day, I promise I’ll take down this post.)

To get to Logan: This one is fairly easy and probably fairly well known. Take 93 South from any point north of Storrow Drive (or take Storrow Drive itself) and you have the option of the Callahan tunnel, which is toll-free outbound from the city to Logan. You can also access the Callahan tunnel from downdown Boston by following signs for Route 1A. Not only is this free, but it’s actually often quicker than taking the more advertized Route 90 East tunnel. If you have a GPS it will probably take this route if you ask for directions to Logan and tell it to avoid toll roads.

To get back from Logan: This is the hard one, and is best explained by a map. Here the evil Sumner tunnel and Tobin bridge duo conspire mightily against the thrifty driver. You need to drive towards Revere on Route 1A and take the first exit (it comes quickly). Take the Chelsea Street Bridge from Route 145 out of the airport. Then cut through the industrial blight and get to Route 99, where you’ll take the Malden Bridge to freedom. It’s a bit out of the way if you live in Boston, but actually quite direct if you live in Cambridge or north. I know this sounds confusing, and it’s even more so in real life, so just check the map I linked above. The best way to do this is to enter the route into your GPS ahead of time by telling it to go to the two bridges enroute to your final destination; the GPS will likely figure out the rest. (As an added bonus, you get a tour of Boston’s old working waterfront area, including the main food distribution centers and our energy infrastructure. If you’re like me, it’s fascinating to see the machinery behind the Boston economy, and it’s amazing that it it is hidden so well, so close. At some point maybe I’ll write an article with photos on all the interesting infrastructure hidden across the river in Chelsea.)

Granted, the return trip makes for about two miles of extra driving, but it’s not about the time or the measly $3.50, it’s about the moral victory. Enjoy. By the way, it’s one thing to publish this secret on the internet, but for godsakes don’t tell anybody about it.

A now a quick word from the late Norman Mailer…

Today’s Wall Street Journal includes a great quote from Norman Mailer, who recently managed to revive his career by dying:

I always felt [Timothy] Leary really was a sort of bland asshole. What was it: “Turn on, tune in, drop out?” I thought he absolutely was wasting a generation. So I have nothing good to say about him, and I felt that with all the excitement being liberated, there also were some very bad things happening, including the finer sensibilities of a generation being exploited and finally consumed, consumed for too little. . . . I felt rock & roll was just monotonous compared to jazz and never liked it. I always felt like it was taking over and it was the equivalent of LSD in a way. That everything was getting cheapened. I think this is true to this day. We live in a cheaper environment now than we used to.

Transhumanism’s first target

I’m thinking of having my teeth completely replaced by implants. We did not evolve to live to be 90, and our teeth are in no way equiped to make the journey with us. We spend ridiculous amounts of our time brushing them, filling their defects, having them pulled and replaced and straightened, all so that the little shits can betray us in our 70s and have to be replaced by dentures anyway. I can’t imagine how much time and money we spend in a lifetime maintaining our stupid teeth and fighting the fact that our longevity has overtaken parts of our biology.

Let our dental technology catch up with our medical technology. We can make materials that can protect a 4 million pound space shuttle hitting the atmosphere at over 17,000 MPH, but we’re still stuck with teeth that get bested on a daily basis by microscopic bacteria? You pay a few thousand dollars to have all your teeth replaced once you’re an adult, and then you never have to worry about them again. Think of the money and time we’d save! If we all had bionic teeth, it would be worth a half percent of GDP growth, easy. And goodbye bad breath, which could be just the thing to reverse the declining birth rate in America. There’s another percent right there.

You might ask, “Why doesn’t everybody do this? Why don’t dentists recommend this to people if this is such a good idea, genius?” The answer to that is self-preservation. The dentists know they have the technology to make themselves obsolete, and they’ve been hoping nobody would point this out. Don’t be surprised if I’m found floating dead in the Charles one morning, with a #7 dental pick in my back.