i'm on the train from boston to lowell. it's a "commuter rail" service, with conductors with the stiff round hats with the tiny visors, clipping tickets and whatnot, even though i've bought my ticket with an app on my smartphone. you show your phone screen to the conductor and there's your ticket: sometimes they'll put some kind of little card on the seat to show you've been okayed, other times they don't. i guess it depends on how confident they are in remembering that you've been checked off.
i've spent the last day and two nights couchsurfing in a small town called maynard. it started out as a mill town, gradually drawing in workers and their families from the surrounding faming towns until maynard outgrew acton and stow, two of the worker-contributing towns nearby. it's still cold enough that there is plenty of snow on the ground and the time i spent yesterday walking around the town was filled with small-town america and light flurries of snow. i didn't feel cold at all but i had my thermal underwear on, along with my big blue coat. no need for gloves or scarf or beanie. i'm glad. as i mentioned to a few people, i didn't want to get acclimated to the new england cold, only to start freezing my butt off when i get to chicago.
even though i've only had four nights' sleep here, i have the palpable sense of my holidays disappearing in a quick-running stream away from me. the sense of time passing is acute, made more so by stopping at a war memorial in a park in maynard. the main memorial facing the most direct route from the road is for soldiers lost in world war i and i was startled by just how many soldiers sharing surnames there were. several names had four or five people, others had six. i looked to the memorial for the fallen in world war ii and was interested to see some of those same names, and none of others. the town gave of its sons several times over the years but those two wars, maneating juggernauts that they became, consumed the most by far and i wondered as i looked around the town and at the names on the other memorials after wwii, just how great a change was rendered by those men being cut down in the prime of their lives.
greater boston seems to me to be an interesting conflation of old and new. i have seen little of the boston of ally mcbeal or the practice, and certainly none of boston legal, but what i have seen smacks rather more of the town, the boondock saints, and good will hunting. even new houses are built in such old styles that they look hardly any different to the hulks they stand beside, the colours of the paint and the styles of the decorative shutters the few clues to which buildings are older than which. the outlying towns that feed boston through its commuter rail system seem very small and self-contained but they show clearly that the money that keeps them alive flows out from boston, not around the grand market circles from town to town.
the towns remind me of places like olinda and woodend, leura and katoomba, bulli and kiama, only more closely and conveniently connected. the ride from south acton (where i was most conveniently dropped off by my couchsurfing hosts) into north station in boston took less than an hour, whereas commuters from the illawarra's south coast sometimes travel from kiama or nowra up to sydney on a daily basis, some three hours' travel each way. here in massachusetts, small town america doesn't start very far from the big city.
i'm heading back out again to lowell, out to the north of boston, where i'll meet up with my friend whitney, who's offered to drive me out to gloucester, a seaside town for deep-sea fishermen and setting of the wolfgang petersen film, the perfect storm. i'm planning on visiting the bar from the film but i've read mixed reviews. we'll see what it's like when we get there. i'm looking forward to seeing the atlantic ocean up a bit closer and a more personally than at the waterfront near quincy market and the north end of boston.
not long to lowell now.