Boogie Down Boston, Part 2

FEBRUARY 11, 2007

Quote of the day, 2/11/07:

“1,500 years ago people were SURE the Earth was the center of the Universe, 500 years ago people were SURE the Earth was flat, and 15 minutes ago you were SURE people were alone on this planet….Imagine what you’ll KNOW tommorrow.”

Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones)
Men in Black, 1997

Okay, Men in Black was on TBS last night, and I caught a little of it. Always kind of cheesy, but pretty good. An enjoyable watch. But I’ve always really liked that line; Agent K is trying to convince Will Smith, soon to become Agent J in the movie, to join the Men in Black (MIB). Smith had just seen his first aliens living in New York City fifteen minutes prior, explaining the third example given in the quote. Every time I watch that movie, I remember this quote. So that’s why posted it. Anyway….

As you can see by the title of this entry, I’m not here to talk about MIB, although I probably could for awhile if I wanted to (I stopped watching shortly after that quote though, so I’d have to go back and watch it). No, in actuality, I’m here to talk about Boston’s nightlife, and why it gives me massive headaches from time to time. Here goes nothing.

My night started around 8:30, when I showed up at my friends house in Somerville to play a little poker. After a little debate, it was decided that we would play a tournament instead of a cash game (I myself wanted a cash game, but got voted down). Anyway, there was about 12 of us, so we split up the tables. About two hours later, I was knocked out as the fourth guy left at the final table (table 1 of 2), making me the last guy to get knocked out without at least getting my money back. Ouch. But there was a good news: I had gotten a phone call, and people were meeting at a bar in the North End. Hell yah, something to do! After giving all my homies daps (giving my friends five, for those of you not down with the lingo), I headed out. The only problem: no dress shoes, no luck, and my dress shoes were a twenty minute drive away at my apartment in Allston. It wasn’t worth the risk of heading to the North End with sneakers and jeans on: so off to Allston it was to get my shoes. Forty minutes later, I was eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and heading out the door of my apartment with ironed khakis and dress shoes on (of which I need a new pair, badly). After finding out where the bar in question (The Living Room) was, 101 Atlantic Ave., I had a decision to make: drive towards the general vicinity, park, and walk; or take the T and walk from there. The problem was that I didn’t know exactly where the bar was: I don’t know the North End that well. So it was decided: I would rather take the T and walk around trying to find some random place then try to find a parking spot and some random bar at the same time.

I headed to the Harvard Square Redline stop, armed with only two twenty dollar bills, and was rewarded with about 18 Sacajawea dollars after putting my bill in the Charlie Pass machine. Grrrrrrreat. After hopping off the train at the Park, I was off, walking through the cold towards the North End. About 10 minutes later, with some help from some friendly Bostonians (that’s right, friendly Bostonians), I was able to find the Living Room. By the time I made it, it was about 12:15; more than enough time to hang out with some friends and grab a couple drinks. Wasn’t I surprised then, when I found out the bar closed at 1am; nix that former idea, time to meet some friends, say hi, realize the bar is closing in a few minutes, and awkwardly hold my coat and not order a drink while I wait for the bar to close. Fun!! (I wanna say, in the midst of all this sarcasm, that I actually really like this place. Good atmosphere, good vibe, people dancing, a piano in the corner, and most importantly, everyone was beautiful. If I hang out at a place like this every weekend, maybe I’ll land a hot girlfriend).

Anyway, after some logistics problems locating a coat, we were out into the frosty air (I’m guessing low 20s, perhaps even the teens). Ofcourse, being only 1:15, there were bars open: so someone had the idea to head down the street to the Sail Loft, which was open until 2am. Hey, good thinking! So down the street we walked, only to find that the Sail Loft was open, but no more people were being let in. God, I love this town!! There’s absolutely nothing to do after 1am!! Ofcourse, in a normal situation, a large group of people like this would go to a diner or something, warm up, grab some food, and then head out for the night. But wait, I forgot!! This is Boston, where the only places to eat after 1:30 are random Chinese places about 35 miles apart from one another!! Awesome!! So of course, there were only 2 choices left: grab a taxi and head home, or hang out on the street corner and enjoy the city. As much as I like hanging out when its 15 degrees and windy, I think most times I take the cab option. So, as there were about 12 of us, the logical thing to do would be to grab two cabs, split fares, and get to where we were going.

But as luck would have it, its impossible to get a cab in the North End at 1:45, so luckily we were able to enjoy option 1 before trying out option 2: hanging out on the street in the freezing cold. At this point I was dead sober, but I would say I was the only person in about 500 square feet who could claim this. Drunk people, when waiting for cabs, do strange things: lie down the road instead of standing on the sidewalk, trip and fall while trying to catch cabs, and generally act confused and bewildered at how cold it is. Without being alcohol addled, I was able to really see how absurd the situation was: people everywhere, trying to catch cabs, and every cab being full. It was unbelievable. I mean, you would think that in a somewhat major city you could leave a bar and catch a cab within 10 minutes: but it definitely took about 20 to get one, and even then I had to stand on the yellow lines in the road to flag one down. In the confusion, I decided to let all my immediate friends get in the cab, and then I would split a fare with the part of the group I didn’t know quite as well. After getting everyone in the cab, I walked back to the sidewalk to where the others were standing.

Some guy in an expensive looking coat asked me “Who got in that cab?” To which I answered “Dustin,” expecting it to be one of Dustin’s friends. This numbnut responded by snarling “Dustin?! Who the f**k is Dustin?! I don’t know a f**king Dustin!” Okay, I had a few realizations at once here. Not only was this not Dustin’s friend, but Dustin’s friends were no longer here, meaning I was paying for a cab fare by myself (about 20 bucks). My second realization was that I was surrounded by assholes, which didn’t really surprise me (the Sail Loft is filled with them), but the two realizations at once made me very angry. But instead of saying anything, which I really wanted to, I bit my lip, turned around, and walked down the street in search of a cab. As the Boston hip hop artist Akrobatik states in one of his songs, “Cooler Heads Prevailed.”

Ofcourse, it took me another five minutes of walking in the middle of a street to catch a cab: I ended up flagging down a mini-van cab, and I really didn’t care that I was wasting about 7 seats. About twenty minutes later, I was back to my apartment. On the ride home, I explained the problems we had finding a cab to the driver: he kind of laughed and said it was always busy on Fri. and Sat. nights. Which makes perfect sense. Out of further curiosity, I asked him how many cabs are in Boston: he answered about 2,000. The city limit population of Boston is about 600,000; the metro area is 5.5 million, making it the 6th largest metro. area in the country. That means that counting the entire population, there is one cab per every 2,750 people.

In comparison, lets look at New York, which at about 18.7 million has one of the largest metropolitan regions in the world (the in city pop. is listed at about 8 million). After googling NYC cabs, I found out that there are 12,053 Yellow cabs servicing the city (it was much easier to find the exact number for New York, because there are numerous cab companies in the surrounding areas of Boston, such as Somerville’s Green Cab or Brookline’s Red Cab, whereas in New York its mainly Yellow Cabs. So, for the time being, we’re going by the number the cab driver gave me, which while maybe not exact, is probably at least close, for Boston cab totals). Now, if you do the math, that means that there is one cab for every 1,551.4 people in New York. Comparably then, without population skewing the results, New York has about twice the number of cabs.

My roommate brought up a good point: people don’t take cabs as much in Boston in general. During the day in Boston, most people drive around Boston and park in parking garages: in New York, about half of the daytime traffic is made up of cabs, mainly because a large majority of people who work in New York don’t drive into the city. So, okay, the point is taken: different cities, different mentalities. But because of this, there’s no way to increase cab numbers on weekends?? I mean, its ridiculous: on the ride home, as I watched from my mini-van, it was an endless line of people flagging down cabs and giving us the finger. The fares are there: the cabs should be. Its a basic economic principle I learned about in Macroeconomics 001 called Supply and Demand. There is a massive surplus of drunk, freezing people outside of bars on the streets of Boston late night, all desperately willing to pay taxi fares: this surplus needs to be addressed and taken care of.

While we’re on the subject of cabs, there are some other issues at play here that make the situation worse. For instance, it has come to my attention recently that Cambridge cabbies, due to union restrictions, cannot pick up people in Boston after dropping someone off in the city; and vice versa for Boston cabbies in Cambridge. I mean, this makes absolutely no sense at all. These cities go hand in hand; they are both respectively where most of the nightlife is, and people are going back and forth all the time. It would seem beneficial to cab drivers if they could pick up fares from both cities, going back and forth all night: but hey, I guess the unions know best. If you happen to see a cab with no one in the back seat driving through Boston one night, and he simply passes you without looking your way, there’s a good chance he’s a Cambridge cabbie on his way back to the home base after dropping someone off in Boston. Hey, he has a good reason to ignore you: according to my source, its a $1,200 fine if a Cambridge or Boston cabbie is caught breaking this rule.

So you see, there is a lot of political nonsense complicating things. And if you happen to be heading somewhere where the fare isn’t going to be that high, like say Somerville via Faneuil Hall, there’s a good chance you’ll simply be turned down. I’ll never forget the night a friend and myself were trying to get back to Somerville. I think it was late October, and neither of us had jackets on. And it was raining. And we must have gotten turned down by about a dozen cabs. It would usually go like this: “Where you going?” “Somerville.” “Nope.” Peel out. We ended up walking all the way through Charlestown, and then eventually we got a cab. But we were soaked and pissed by that time.

I guess my main point after all of this is: this is a problem, and it should be addressed. It doesn’t help that the T shuts down at 1:30am, a half an hour before most of the bars close. As much as I’d like to roast the T for closing so early, there’s really nothing you can say. They run on double tracks, unlike the four track system New York has, which allows New York trains to stay open all night. According to T officials, about eight hours of maintenance has to be allowed every night, and hey, I’m not arguing. The reason for double tracks: when the trains were built, it was decided that due to Boston’s complicated system of two hundred year old underground pipes that aren’t marked, it was a probably a good idea to stick to double tracks. Hey, at least there’s some logic being used here. It still doesn’t help the situation, though; it just leaves more people who either walk around looking for cabs or end up driving inebriated. And no matter how much sense it makes, whenever government officials or politicians give explanations in this town, I end up taking it with a grain of salt. Sure, it makes sense that the T closes early: but I always get the feeling that we’re not getting the whole story.

Well, the important thing is that I ended up getting home. Wide awake, wired, not a drop of alcohol in me, ready to do anything. With all due respect, I work hard for forty hours a week, and I like to party hard on the weekends. But this time around, there would be no hard partying. Nope, I got in at about 2:30, watched a little TV, and fell asleep. Yup, just another wild, crazy, night on the streets of Boogie Down Boston. But there’s always hope: we’ll see what next weekend brings. Until next time,

Greg

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