June 29th, 2005

Tom Lehrer is Smug

Fort Point and the Summer Street bridge

My new job's office is in the Fort Point Channel section of Boston, a beautiful old cluster of buildings and factories and artist lofts and whatnot all along the ol' Fort Point Channel. In fact, I work in what used to be one of the Necco factories, and every day pass by an old ghost ad for the confectioner high up on a brick wall. Fort Point's a neat mix of the old and new, aged old brick buildings slouching next to the giant new convention center, the biggest goddamn thing I've ever seen. Scale and proportion play tricks on you in Fort Point, especially crossing the Summer Street bridge back towards South Station. You are exposed on the bridge, out in the open, to the right is that tall tall tall thin shiny silver building, to your left is the Giant Ass Post Office, and ahead of you, Summer Street's wide lanes give you an open, unobstructed view of a very large expanse of city buildings across the square. Oh, lordy, it's a wonderful conglomeration of old Art Deco and new rose sandstone and it's all there in sharp detail before your very eyes, and every time I manage to look up at it, instead of down at the sidewalk or under the construction-protected scaffolding, I am in awe. It's how I remember my first view of the Rocky Mountains, which just spring up out of nowhere right in front of you, and you get such a clear view of their height and majesty, even from far away, that you can't believe how big the damn things are. So it goes with the view across the Fort Point Channel.

Equally amazing is the Summer Street bridge itself, though I'm not sure how many people contemplate it as they cross it every day. The bridge is rather low to the water, as are all the bridges in the vincinity that cross the channel. There used to be a time when a taller ship actually had a reason to get to the end of the channel (now just a dead end with no docks or ports or nothing) so the bridges across had to be constructed to facilitate access when needed. The Summer Street bridge, built in 1899, is not a drawbridge. No, sir, no boring old drawbridges for this city! Nor does the movable bridge section just rotate on a central pivot to allow a ship to pass by. Can't do that with the Summer Street bridge -- for one, its two lanes are actually two separate bridge sections. And for two, things needed to be more interesting.

I'm not sure what the actual architectural term for this kind of bridge is, but it probably has to do with "butterfly" or something, because what happens is this: Each of the two movable bridge sections is mounted on wheels, set on several parallel tracks going out diagonally from the bridge itself. When the bridge needs to move, both sections move diagonally out on their tracks, independently of each other, making an opening for a ship to use. Now it's been a long time since any ship needed to access that part of the channel, and the bridge looks to me like the movable bits have been permanently glued/welded/otherwise affixed to the non-movable bits and so will never separate like that again, but here's a Very Detailed and Accurate Artist's Rendition of Collapse )

Add to this the brown ironwork above the bridge, with "1899" stamped out in brilliant stencils, and you realize that hey, people were pretty freakin' smart a hundred years ago. I'm fascinated with this bridge because it's the most unique movable bridge I've ever known. I've known regular drawbridges, both single and double, I've known bridges that pull the movable section vertically up, like an elevator, with a little pilothouse on top (and what a ride that must be), I've known bridges that swivel on that central pivot point, but never have I ever met a bridge that does quite what the Summer Street bridge does. And more power to it, even if it'll never slide out ever again.

Tomorrow I may tell you about how my phobia of crossing under certain raised drawbridges (didn't know I had that, did you? Well, when was the last time we ever went under a drawbridge together?) and about the vertical-lift bridge in Portsmouth, New Hampshire that I simultaneously adore and fear.
Make Mine Moxie

better red than dread

I hear that Red Sox pitcher "Ladies Love Cool" Bronson Arroyo is playing songs from his new CD at Avalon sometime in July. Uh huh. Again, I say, uh huh.

And that got me thinking: If he suddenly, like, choked onstage, would Mike Timlin or Alan Embree come out from the wings, pick up the guitar, and finish the set?

Cause if so, that'd be awesome.
Tom Lehrer is Smug

define your hate

I like to sit at the ends of Red Line cars for two very important reasons:

1. It lessens by half the number of people who might have to sit next to me, and
2. The little window indentation, if there, makes a dandy armrest.

There's a third, lesser-important reason, and that is that all kinds of lovely racist graffiti can be found on the sill from time to time. This kind of graffiti (or, for the most part, any graffiti) does not exist anywhere else in the car. It's all on the sill. Perhaps it's because a little up-and-coming Klansman can hide his work-in-progress, or at least halfway obscure it, before letting it fly free to enlighten the rest of the world. Whatever the reason, reading it always makes me feel great, because it reaffirms for me the fact that these kooky "White Power" types ain't got the brains God gave a goose. As Gene Wilder said in Blazing Saddles, "They're ... the salt of the earth. You know -- Morons."

Considering the trains pass through Dorchester, Quincy and Marblehead, it's no wonder such bon mots get scribbled hastily on the sills. I mean, there's a Southie kid right now, as I type this, who's sitting at the end of a Red Line train with his Red Sox cap on backwards, just passing the time thinking about how he quite dislikes the chinks, and then he wonders "Well gee, how can I share this message with others? How can I express my feelings succinctly and wholly, without compromising the integrity of my thoughts?" And then he reaches into his pocket and quite by accident finds a Sharpie...

...and tomorrow when I go to work and ride on the sill, I'll find "I Hate chink's" scribbled almost incomprehensibly near my arm. I always tend to move my arm away from the writing, lest it rub off.

I only bring this up because today, while riding the Red Line home, I found this impressive piece of wisdom written near my arm:
fuck all
Nigga black
spic Latin
gooks asia & Middle east
And I went "Whoa! Hey! Thanks for taking the time to carefully define each term there, pal!" It was a charming little dictionary and quite enlightening to boot -- I didn't realize 'gook' had branched out to the middle east as well. Was there like some kind of bigot conference where this definition change took place? "Gentlemen, distinguished Chairman, I hereby propose that the term 'gook', usually reserved for those of Asian descent that we don't like, also be amended to include any and all peoples of Arabic lineage currently residing in the Middle East, since I figure we hate them all equally." "The chair recognizes the delegate from the Peckerwoods, but wonders what you think is so wrong with 'raghead' in the first place."

All I know is that the bookly fellow who scrawled the index of hate on the sill is going to feel mighty confused when that Roman centurion stomps the living crap out of him for malinging that beautiful, scholarly, dead language.