Winter at 28

Updated: Apr 21, 2019

When I moved back from As I looked at tickets back to Minneapolis, I found that it was actually cheaper to buy two separate flights - one to an east coast city, and then a separate one to Minnesota - rather than buy a ticket that gave me a two hours layover somewhere random. Never one to let a vacation potential pass me up, I contacted my friend Kathleen, who lives in South Boston, and asked if she was up for a visitor. When the terrible day came, Kathleen kindly picked me up at the airport, and we headed to her house for Chinese food and a lot of wine to drink away the sorrow. Between the alcohol, the jet lag, and the shock, I only got about two hours of sleep.

Now, I have known Kathleen since we both did Peace Corps in Senegal. And as is custom in Peace Corps, we spend a good chunk of our time in Africa daydreaming about food back home. She always spoke fondly of a diner near her house. As I had heard tell of this diner for four years by the time I was with her, I figured I simply had to experience it.

And oh. my. god. First off, we walked over to the Galley Diner, walked in, and I stopped dead in my tracks. "It's SO American!" I whispered to her, taking in a sight I hadn't seen for 17 months. It was small, with only a few tables and some table tops at the counter. We settled into a table, and the owner came to give us menus. As this was my first American breakfast in a hell of a long time, I went a bit crazy. French toast, bacon (as floppy as it can come), coffee, orange juice, and hash browns. When I took my first bite, all of the crushing sadness I was feeling went away. It. was. amazing. And, as it's a diner, it was cheap! Between eavesdropping and asking Kathleen to fill what I couldn't pick up, it's owned and operated by an older couple who seem to have learned how to cook in Heaven. Or Massachusetts, either way.

Kathleen had adopted a dog, Sabashka, in Senegal, so when we got back from breakfast we had to take her out on a walk. I bundled up, ready to experience my first snow in four years. We walked through the neighborhood down to the bay. Kathleen and I were a bit more interested in the snow than Sabashka, who had to coaxed out even with her booties on. While Sabashka made it increasingly clear that she wanted to go home, Kathleen made it increasingly clear that she had to poop first. I just shivered and watched the waves. Finally, the dog grudgingly squatted and we were soon back in the warmth of the house.

However, we couldn't stay cozy for long. We had things to see! We caught the bus - after missing one because Kathleen wasn't quite at the station yet and the driver was not pleased with my attempts to have him wait for her.

Our first stop was to CVS in order to get flu shots. However, as it was late January they were no longer carrying the vaccine. So back to the bus, and we went towards downtown. We got off at Copley Square, where there was another CVS. Which was also out of the flu shot. I'm all for adventures, but trekking around looking for a vaccine isn't exactly the most exciting of them.

Anyways, we had chosen to get out at the square not for its pharmaceutical options but because the Boston Public Library is there. Not a tremendously exciting building on the outside, this is a perfect example of why we should not judge a book by its cover (ha, ha, book idioms about a library, see what I did there?) Upon entering, you are transported to a grand academic mecca. The 19th century designs, statues, and paintings were impressive. We stood and gawked for several minutes, momentarily forgetting that we were "just" in a library and not a palace.

We finally made it up the picturesque stairs and found the Bates Hall, which is the main study area. I've seen libraries like this in the movies but never in person. There were a few what looked to be grad students spread out through the hall, but it is a large room so one person every five tables made for quite the solo study space. We slunk around the walls in order to admire the room (and old books that line the walls) without disturbing the people who were actually using the room for its intended purpose.

After we had our fill of the library, we headed back outside and walked a few blocks over to Commonwealth Avenue. The "rich people land" of Boston, beautiful, grand houses lined both sides of the street with a lovely park going up the middle. It was the dead of winter, but even with the snow and dead trees, it was a beautiful walk. I cannot imagine how lovely it must be in summer or especially fall.

We followed the avenue to Boston Common, Boston's main park. I had last been there ten years earlier in a sleepy haze, so it was nice to explore it awake (even if it was cold). As we walked towards the skyscrapers in the distance, we came across a statue of who we both assumed was Paul Revere, a Boston (and American) hero. Kathleen had even told other visitors that it was Revere. However, upon actually reading the plaque next to it, turns out it's George Washington instead. Cue embarrassed laughs from us both.

As we continued through the park, we passed an older man who appeared to be homeless. He was singing to himself in a gruff voice that actually reminded me a bit of Louis Armstrong. He wasn't singing a penned song, though, but was making up his own lyrics. As we passed him, he threw in a lyric about "the woman in the leather jacket and curly brown hair" aka Kathleen. We both giggled and smiled at him, and he smiled back.

I had dinner plans with my aunt and uncle that evening, and although Kathleen was invited she decided to head home for a few hours of alone time instead. After a couple of hours of catching up over Italian food and limoncello (which my uncle had never had before, I don't think I've ever seen him so happy), Kathleen re-appeared and I bade my family goodbye.

Kathleen wanted to go to an Irish pub, but on the way over there we happened across the scene in the picture.

Now, let me remind you, this was January 30. Both of us kind it, but then recovered into two different reactions. Me: "oooh, yay!!!!" Kathleen: "WHAT THE F%$*". Needless to say, I pestered her into a beer in the accompanying heated room in order to enjoy the view but then she pestered me into leaving the second the last sip had been drunk.

And then it was off to the Irish bar, where we each had two pints. However, the two hours of sleep the previous evening were hitting me, so we headed home after that and I asleep real fast.

The next morning, we decided to forgo breakfast in order to have a large, early lunch at Teranga, a Senegalese restaurant. We got on the bus and excitedly headed off towards lunch. We also stopped at another CVS, to more apologies over an outage of flu vaccine. So now we know and you do too, get your flu shot early (in my defense, the flu shot in the UK was for a different strain, I was searching for the vaccine I would now need)! It was nicer weather than the previous day (and by that I mean it was actually a little colder but it was sunny, which is what really matters), so the mile (1.6 km) walk from the bus stop to the restaurant felt refreshing rather than a chore (side note: I love to walk around cities, I will gladly do 35,000 steps in a day. But not so much in the Boston winter). As we neared our destination, however, we noticed what was absolutely a drug deal taking place outside. We were surprised that the restaurant was allowing that to happen in plain sight of its sign, but the thought of lunch was too enticing to worry about such things. However, once we actually got to the door our question was answered - they didn't care because they weren't there - it was closed. We sadly looked over the menu posted on the door, and then headed off a couple of blocks to McGreevy's Boston, the bar where one of Kathleen's favorite bands, the Dropkick Murphy's, got their start.

As we munched on our burgers, we absent-mindedly watched the various televisions and their various sporting events. It was the Wednesday before the Super Bowl (which was being held in Minneapolis, so at least that was something exciting to return "home" to). I watched a press conference that was being held in the Mall of America. It was kind of fun to see clips from the mall, downtown Minneapolis, local media personalities, etc.

Once we were happily fed, we backtracked slightly, as we had passed an interesting building near the Senegalese restaurant and we wanted to know more. Turns out it was the head of the Christian Science church, which publishes the Christian Science Monitor. Kathleen said that there was something called the Mapparium that she had always wanted to see, so in we went.

Tickets were sold off to the side ($6 for adults), and "shows" are every 20 minutes. You're not allowed to take pictures inside (but there is a selfie poster outside, which Kathleen and I obviously took advantage of), but there are videos on youtube if you're interested. And you should be interested, this place was a trip.

The Mapparium is from the 1930s, and is an inverted, 30 ft (9 m) globe made entirely of stained glass. It was based on the geopolitical situation at the time, so several spots on the map (the USSR, Francophone Africa, and Siam are just three examples) are no longer in existence. The walkway that you stand on is at level with the equator, so you are smack in the middle of this thing. You go in with a small group and a guide, who tells you about the history of the room. The guide will also point out something you will have undoubtedly already noticed - due to the glass's spherical nature, the acoustics in there are insane. I've visited other so-called Whispering Galleries, but none have had quite the effect that the Mapparium does. When you open your mouth, you will hear your voice directly behind you. In plainest terms, it really cool. The last bit of the tour is a light show that is a bit cheesy, but it's pretty to look at, at least.

The rest of the day was spent meandering the Charles River. The river has a lovely sidewalk (which is probably much lovelier when its not cold), and it helped that the sky was blue rather than grey. We did stop at the Science Museum for 45 or so minutes, not to go into the exhibits but to warm up. We sat on a bench near the entrance, so that we wouldn't have to buy a ticket. Thanks for the heating, Science Museum!

Once we felt we had perhaps intruded upon the Science's Museums heating a bit too long, we headed back out to the wintery day. We walked back to downtown Boston and found a giant CVS. "That one HAS to still have shots." We told each other. did! Kathleen's insurance covered hers, while I had to pay the $40 out of pocket. We were taken into the little back room, got jabbed, and proceeded back outside. And then both said at the same time, "does your arm hurt?" Both of our arms hurt for days after that, I've never had that happen before! Worth it though.

We had plans to meet a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer trivia night at a bar somewhat far away from where Kathleen lived. We took the T (Boston's metro) from the CVS to Dorchester, about half an hour down the line. We got there a bit early in order to take advantage of Happy Hour (and to eat a dinner that wasn't too late, old people that we have become). As we finished our meals, the trivia guy began to set up. Meanwhile, we did not see anybody that looked to be an RPCV (we thought maybe there'd be a table sign or something). We asked the bartender if she knew if anyone else there was from Peace Corps, and she said she'd ask around.

We never heard from her, so we figured nobody else had come. A team of two for trivia, always promising! But after the first question, the bartender came back around the corner, spotted us, and said, "oh! Sorry, I forgot to tell you, there's another woman sitting over there whose from Peace Corps." So we slid off our chairs and joined her. Still though, three people in the entire Boston area coming to an event that's Facebook RSVP count was in the dozens, that's a bit of a bummer. It was fun to chat with her though. We all shared a plate of nachos, and some more beer. By the time trivia was over (we absolutely did not win), neither Kathleen nor I had any interest in a long T ride home, so we hailed a Lyft. 20 minutes later, we were back with Sabashka.

My last day in Boston, we went back to the Galley Diner for breakfast (this time I was a bit more constrained - just French toast and bacon this time). And then we just hung out at home, talking and watching movies. When the time came, she brought me back to the airport and dropped me off. With a hug and a big "thank you!!!" to her, I went inside. I got in line to check-in, surrounded by jubilant Patriots fans who were headed to Minneapolis to watch the game. Now that I had separated from my friend and was confronted with going to Minneapolis, the deep sadness that I had arrived to Boston with three days earlier returned. It was a bit bizarre, being that unhappy surrounded by so much joy.

I could not have asked for a better city or friend to have returned to America to. Boston is the most similar American city to the UK, so it was the best transition option. And it was good to have a mini-vacation with a good friend who helped me take my mind off of the situation I was in. She's a keeper!