11 Boston Skyline - Boston SkylineBy Robert Gillis
Published in the Foxboro Reporter and the Boston City Paper, 7/2010

In my years of working in the great Metropolis of Boston, I have observed and experienced much, and I thought it might be useful (or at least illuminating) to provide you with his handy guide of things I can tell you about the Hub from an insider’s perspective. While hardly inclusive, it’s a nice start…

  • First and most importantly, look both ways before crossing the street, ESPECIALLY on one-way streets. Wrong-way drivers are occasional, but wrong-way bikers are a given. Bikers are supposed to follow all traffic signs and laws. They don’t. Never forget that and you’ll stay out of the hospital.
  • It may go without saying, but forget parking. I mean really, forget it. First, the lot prices just about require pre-approval at your local bank. Second, if you park at a meter, rest assured you WILL get a ticket the nanosecond your time runs out. Meter maids are more plentiful than pollen in spring and just as pleasant. Park in a tow zone? Your car WILL be towed. Park in a handicapped spot? Well, in that case, you’re a jerk, and I’m glad your car got towed.
  • Don’t walk through Boston Common after dark. I mean, d’uh.
  • Regarding the MBTA, the commuter rail is extremely efficient and doesn’t deserve most of the complaints I read about. My biggest complaint? The new automated robot voice system. Yeah, announcing stations and times is a job no one probably wanted to do, but nothing beat the eloquent gentleman named Manny at South Station announcing the schedules with, “Good morning all you beautiful people!,” and “Here we go, it’s Monday!” God love him.
  • The Green Line is not as bad as people claim, but, “The Red Line had delays” is still an effective late-for-work excuse. Because it’s always true. Even as you’re reading this, there are delays on the Red Line.
  • On another note, be nice to the tourists. Tourism is Boston’s number one industry. Personally, I like giving directions and telling people where to go. (Wait, that didn’t sound right). Let me tell you the first place I send them — the observation deck at the Prudential tower an hour before sunset. At only $11 it’s the best view of the city and you’ll get to see it day and night. The panorama will blow your mind. Also, even if you’ve lived in the city all your life, take a duck boat tour. They are wonderful, informative, humorous, and you learn so much about the city while traveling on land and sea (well, the Charles River)!
  • If you work or live in the city, be sure to check out the tourist spots — they are a lot of fun.
  • Post office square is a delightful place to have lunch, sit on the lawn, and enjoy trees, shade, and girls in their summer clothes. On a related note, we males have a rule ladies: If you dress like a street-walker, guys have a right to stare.
  • On a more serious note, whenever you see anyone selling the Spare Change Newspaper, BUY a copy from them. This wonderful paper empowers the homeless and allows them to make money with some dignity. Remember that no one sleeps in a doorway in the winter by choice. Give them a few dollars. If you can, and if they are approachable, get to know some of them, or at least try to help them if you can. Some of the best conversations I have are with John D., a homeless man who sells Spare Change near South Station.  Don’t refuse to help the homeless because you believe they’ll only buy alcohol with the funds. For some of them sleeping on the streets, it’s their only comfort in life. Or do what I do — buy them a sandwich and coffee.
  • On the other hand, there are scammers out there, so be observant. I’m always reminded of the supposedly homeless lady (with the same outrageous hat) who told me on THREE separate occasions (several months apart) the exact same sad story that her pocketbook was stolen and she needed money to get back to Worcester. Scammer.
  • Speaking of sad stories, if the text reads, “A man was arrested last night for allegedly selling a class-B substance,” you’re reading the Globe. If the same story reads, “A gutless punk was busted for peddling smack and tossed in the clink,” you’re reading the Herald. That said, it’s good that we still have two newspapers in town. Perhaps one day at least one of them might go back to real reporting.
  • Also, I recommend regularly reading the free magazines and papers that are available on most street corners. The Weekly Dig, Improper Bostonian, Stuff, and the Phoenix keep you up to date on Hub happenings and each offers a different (and often thought-provoking) perspective on city news. Skip the Metro. It’s all information from the web — yesterday’s information.
  • Even though Filenes is gone, there’s still a lot to do in Downtown Crossing. The pushcarts sell a variety of food, and the excellence of several will surprise you. Just make sure they wear gloves and you should be OK. Also, be sure to give the local delis and sandwich shops a try. The owners and employees are generally friendly and the variety is excellent.
  • Likewise, patronize the numerous fruit stands. I worked a summer at a fruit stand and can tell you that these folks work hard and the quality is great.

Boston is an exhilarating place, and we residents and worker bees tend to be blind to the incredible energy and variety the Hub offers. Don’t make that mistake. I encourage you to discover or re-discover our modern Athens. You may think you know Boston but trust me, she has a way of surprising you, so take the time and make the trip. And have a cannoli at Mike’s in the North End. They’re incredible.

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