Monday through Thursday this week, my kids and I drove the 20 minutes to the commuter rail station and then took the train into Boston, where we spent the morning riding swan boats, playing on playgrounds, sketching artwork in the MFA, and measuring our ears at the Museum of Science. After lunch, we headed to my son’s ballet class and then took the train back to the middle part of the state, getting home in time for dinner.
We had a blast.
By the fourth day, my kids both had a decent mental map of the portions of the T that run south of the Charles River. I estimate that we walked about five miles each day in the July heat, and my amazing children kept up with a minimum of complaining. They returned home worn but excited to share their adventures with their dad.
The kids loved the dance class and the museum visits and the Frog Pond on Boston Common, but each day they would spontaneously proclaim, “I LOVE public transit!” Which is good because we spent a lot of time traveling.
From our house to our Boston destination each morning, it took about 2.5 hours (20 minutes driving to the commuter rail station, an hour or more on the train to Boston, then an hour on the subway to wherever it was we were heading). It took about an hour to get to dance class from our morning activities, 45 minutes to get from dance to the train station, and then an hour and a half until we got back home. And that’s on the days the rail system ran smoothly and on time.
It was also pretty spendy. For four days, it cost us just about $100 just for train and subway fares. And the kids both ride for free. But really, it would have been at least that much in gas, tolls, and parking if we’d driven, so the expense doesn’t bother me that much.
So my kids and I love public transit, but what is it we love, exactly?
1. Together time. It’s great to sit on the train and read or talk and interact with each other instead of navigating traffic. My daughter loved that she could read on the train and not get a stomachache. My son loved that he could sit on my lap for an hour while I read his Ladybug and Ranger Rick magazines to him.
2. Novelty. There’s something magical about climbing into a hole in the sidewalk and finding a train down there that will take us all over the city via a simple, colorful map. I wasn’t too keen on how often I found my four-year-old licking the metal railings, but by Thursday that novelty had worn off, thankfully.
3. Friendly people. Public transit seems to bring out the best in Bostonians. In their cars, they range from unpleasant to hostile, but on the subway, they’re practically magnanimous. Every time we got on a train, someone would stand up and offer my children a seat. When my kids squirmed and knocked into the strangers on either side of them, I would apologize and would inevitably be greeted with an understanding smile. When my son dropped his dinosaur book, the man across the train retrieved it and handed it back. One conductor on the commuter rail called my son “little man” and another gave my kids “tickets” he’d then come back and check for later. My son kept his safely in his pocket, and checked for it before we boarded each train.
4. Self-righteousness. For part of our commuter rail journey, the train runs parallel to the highway, and each day I would look out the window at the cars and think, “Those poor bastards.” And each afternoon when the mom across from me in the dance class waiting area said, “Of course, you drove today, didn’t you?” I sat a little taller when I said, “Nope. Why would we?” (I’m not particularly proud of this one, but I have to admit that it’s probably part of what I liked about taking public transit. I feel so self-sufficient getting from A to B without my car, and it makes me a little smug.)
It’s been a bit of a letdown to return to suburbia where we can get hardly anywhere (safely) without taking the car. There are good things about living out here—we’re close to berry picking and cool hikes and we get to see spotted turtles and foxes on our morning walks around the neighborhood—but it’s tough to see an alternate way of getting around and know I can’t access it in my daily life. It’s triggered another round of Salt Lake City nostalgia.
Each day since our adventure, my son has asked, “Mommy, when are we going to Boston again?”
I’m not sure when we’ll get back, but I’m happy to know that when we do, it’s possible that the journey will be as rewarding as the destination.