Craigslist casual encounters weirdness: December 2015 (Boston MA) edition

The Thinker by Rodin

Today to spice things up and also because I’m getting a bit bored with these monthly postings, I’m moving my gaze east to Boston, about two hours away from me by car. With its larger, denser and more ethnic population it’s likely to be a wilder sort of place. Or perhaps people in Beantown are too busy ingesting their Dunkin Donuts (which overrun the area) than to attempt weird Craigslist hookups. Anyhow, I intend to find out.

First, let’s take a look at my Craigslist traffic for November. There were at least 199 web page views for these posts last month, up from last month. But overall traffic for this site was also up in November to 2746 page views, so the percent of Craigslist traffic dropped to an anemic 7.2%.

Anyhow, looking at the first page of casual encounters postings today, I can get a sense of who’s advertising. I see:

  • 46 men looking for a woman
  • 35 men looking for a man
  • 4 men looking for a couple
  • 2 men looking for a transvestite/transgender
  • 1 group of men looking for a man
  • 5 women looking for men
  • 0 women looking for a woman
  • 2 women looking for a couple
  • 2 couples looking for a couple
  • 2 transvestite/transgenders looking for a man

So maybe there are more heterosexual men in Boston than I expected. Usually men looking for men beat out the men looking for women. As a liberal area I would expect Bostonians to be open minded and kinky. Let’s find out:

  • She’s a young woman from South Boston and wants to turn a straight woman gay with her strap on. I don’t quite understand this logic but with her large derriere there at least should be plenty of inertia behind each thrust.
  • Women might want to avoid this 40-year-old black man from Boston. While it’s impossible to know how many sexual partners someone has had, it’s not a good thing when a poster shows pictures of himself having unprotected sex with a woman. Despite his “all natural” approach he does say he is disease free. If I were a woman considering him, I’d insist on a condom anyhow — maybe two at once.
  • She’s 30 and has “the biggest set of girls you have ever seen”. I’m guessing this means she makes Dolly Parton look underendowed. Men, if you like your women supersized above the waist, check her out.
  • He gets “a boner rubbing down a straight guy” but won’t make a move on you otherwise unless you want him to. By definition he won’t attract a straight guy, which may be why he is open to giving you a massage.
  • She is probably a he and is apparently the one flagging pretty much any ad. I guess it’s good to have an avocation but this is definitely an exercise in futility.
  • Are you an exotic dancer with a slim body that wants to dance (presumably for free) with a 63-year-old man from Wakefield? The proper response to this question is “Ha ha ha!” It’s not too hard to figure out this is the ad least likely to get a response tonight.
  • And speaking of us older men, here’s a 57-year-old married man from Woburn who is looking for a couple. He has a very odd submissive request that involves using a blindfold. Of course he can’t host!
  • What’s with all the older men posting today? He’s 58, married and from Medford and wants a couple, but really just the wife to play with but with her hubby watching. He says he’s into older women but I’m guessing he’s not that into them but figures at best that’s all he can attract. I’m trying to figure this out. First of all, at 58 what constitutes an older woman? Someone in their seventies or 80s? Maybe he figures it isn’t cheating if the husband is present?
  • But wait, there’s more horny older men. Here’s a 59 year old man looking for anyone to give him a hand job because wifey won’t put out.
  • Guys, she’s 27, Puerto Rican and wants to meet a husband’s naked body virtually on Skype. No you don’t get to see her and probably can’t hear her either so she is probably a he.
  • This 37-year-old man from Lowell better be ready to dial 911 because he wants a man to rip open his rectum. Let’s hope he is writing metaphorically.
  • He’s 35 and looking for a woman into incest, dogs, toilet play and diaper play. He really wants to be naughty, so he better anticipate coal in his stocking.
  • Usually Craigslist people want a big one but here’s a 44-year-old gay man from the Merrimack Valley into small ones.
  • Her idea of a casual encounter is a short-term place to stay near Chelsea.
  • She wants a job: a submissive boss who she can basically abuse. Expect her to come in late and leave early.
  • This is strange: She is 28 and wants a threesome with a man and woman who don’t know each other. She could probably make a go of this if she advertised for two men, but it’s filed under Women for Women. Oh, and she has to be the center of attention.
  • There is a lot of debate if “squirting” is real, i.e. not urine. She’s looking for a woman to show her how to squirt. I guess there is no Dummies book but if it’s just urination I have to think she can handle that already.

More in 2016.

Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard

The Thinker by Rodin

Sorry for the delay in posting. It takes time to travel places when on vacation, time to visit them, time to drive back home, time to unpack and time to reestablish some normalcy at home. The latter won’t happen until Tuesday when our refrigerator will be repaired. It died on us during our 12-day vacation.

In 2009, I got a free business trip to Cape Cod, more specifically to Woods Hole on the cape’s south end. I liked what I saw of Woods Hole and Falmouth to its north. My wife had never been to the cape, so it seemed like a good way station on our way back home. We drove from the Acadia National Park in Maine to Falmouth on Tuesday, a rather monotonous drive mostly along I-95. The most direct way to the cape for us was through Boston. The Big Dig under Boston Harbor was supposedly to relieve the traffic congestion. Considering what we endured about 3 PM on a Tuesday, it must have been even more hellish before the Big Dig. Congestion in downtown Boston added about an hour to our trip.

Falmouth though remains charming, just less so in the height of tourist season. Parking downtown is hard to find this time of year but we managed to find some parking not too far from The Quarterdeck, a restaurant like most in the area specializing in seafood. The Quarterdeck is built to look a bit like an old sailing ship, although you won’t mistake it for a real quarterdeck. Some of the wood used in construction though reputedly came from ships constructed in the 16th century. So in that sense it’s historic, and the food was as good and pricey as I remembered it. What were missing were the regulars at the bar. I guess there were too many tourists this time of year for them to bother. So perhaps Falmouth is best enjoyed outside the tourist season.

Our Wednesday destination was Martha’s Vineyard, an island off the coast of Massachusetts known as the playground for the rich and famous. In fact, it was very much in the news on Wednesday because President Obama was vacationing on the island. In addition, Hillary Clinton was visiting. This plus frequent squalls and high winds kept the skies cloudy, the winds brisk and the pavement mostly dancing with raindrops. It was the only mostly rainy day of our vacation, so we didn’t complain much.

Getting to the island though is a hassle. You can’t just drive to Woods Hole and catch a ferry. There is virtually no place to park there, so you park in lots near and around Falmouth instead, and pay $13 a day for the privilege, plus you purchase ferry tickets modestly priced at $8 a trip. It is technically possible to take your car to the island, but this time of year it requires making reservations months in advance. It didn’t bother us too much because the bus system is decent and it costs only $7 for a day pass anywhere on the island.

What did bother us were the weather and the traffic congestion it caused. Ferries normally dock at three different ports, but due to high seas from the rain and wind they all went into Vineyard Haven instead, which clogged the roads as people had to redirect to it. Having the president and former secretary of state on the island probably didn’t help either. So we spent much of the afternoon in the rain on a bus stuck in traffic, or waiting at a bus shelter in Edgartown. We needed our stiff umbrellas but there was not much we could do or see in Edgartown. Buses were not arriving on time. It looked like we should just head back to Vineyard Haven and go back to our hotel.

For a change though my wife was the one with more wanderlust, so she persuaded me to wait for the series of buses that took us to the far western side of the island, known as Aquinnah. Near the tip is Gay Head and its “painted” cliffs which were breathtaking. We also got a break from the rain by the time we arrived around 4 PM. It was more than the cliffs that was invigorating: it was also the stiff, moist breeze and the shimmer of a partially obscured sun on the water.

Gay Head, Martha's Vineyard
Gay Head, Martha’s Vineyard

As for the Vineyard itself, if you go through the hassle of getting there you can understand its appeal. First, it is viney. I did not see any grape vines, but it is a lushly green island with many bumps in elevation that don’t quite qualify as hills. Second, it’s an island so it is not easily accessible, thus it feels both cut off and safe. Third, it’s obvious that mostly those with money live on the island. Towns like Edgartown are full of Gingerbread houses, most of which look rented out, surrounded by downtowns full of mostly one of a kind stores and curiosity shops. And of course there are pricey houses, many on bluffs with huge yards that resemble plantations, and President Obama and family were likely on one of them. Prices were roughly fifty percent higher than on the mainland as well. We didn’t even try to rent a hotel room there. We might have been able to rent one if we had $300 or more a night to drop there. It was less than half of that for our hotel on Falmouth. The island also has beaches, but also lakes, seawalls and an airport. So in spite of the weather, it was worth going to. Simply the view of the sea from Gay Head justified the time and expense.

And that was pretty much our vacation, sans a very long, traffic-clogged trip home on Thursday and the discovery that someone had broken into our house while we were gone, someone who clearly had a house key, which made the burglary more curious as only three people we trust have a house key. No doors were busted in. Only some jewelry was taken which had more sentimental than monetary value, but it was a loss nonetheless. It must have happened in the late evening after my daughter had gone to work (she works nights). Police were called, dust prints from a hand were found on our comforter and our dresser drawers were ruffled through. We’ve never had an incident like this before, and it’s more than a little creepy. The locks will be changed on Monday.

Now my retirement starts in earnest. On Friday morning, I had to go to the store to pick up a few essentials for breakfast. I watched a long parade of cars go by our street, likely mostly working people off to a 9 to 5 job. Not me. Now I am just a guy with a busted refrigerator, a looted house and a lot of bills to pay. But hey, I’m retired!

King of the Hill

The Thinker by Rodin

The hill in question would be Beacon Hill, in Boston. There aren’t many high elevations in Boston, although there are plenty of hills. If any part of Boston does not go underwater due to climate change, it will probably be the neighborhood of Beacon Hill, home of the Massachusetts state capitol, which also includes the governor’s executive offices. (Massachusetts does not believe in governors needing a mansion). Older even than the government of Massachusetts are various Unitarian churches around here that predate the revolution. We saw one in Cambridge today that was started in the 17th century. We Unitarians got an early foothold in the New World in Boston, and we got premier real estate when it was still cheap. So the Unitarian Universalist Association holds some historic digs up here on Beacon Hill, including the Eliot and Pickett House on Mount Vernon Court. The Eliot House contains offices in the basement, meeting space on the first floor and guest quarters on the upper levels. The guest quarters are sort of like a B&B. In any event they are dirt cheap for Unitarian Universalists (UUs) to rent who are visiting Boston, a mere $120 a night that includes breakfast privileges and (since it’s a UU place) all the coffee you can guzzle down in the morning. You have to make your own breakfast, but the kitchen is reasonably well stocked, and the rooms are small, clean and quite nice but don’t seem to include maid service. The Eliot House where we are staying is truly right at the top of Beacon Hill. I look out our window and fifty feet away is the state capitol, with office lights burning brightly during the night.

Beacon Hill - you can't afford to live here
Beacon Hill – you can’t afford to live here

So we are feeling a bit smug. Rooms, if you can get them in downtown Boston in the summer, typically go for twice as much, and you simply cannot get a better location in Boston, just two blocks from the Boston Common. I expected though that this UU hotel of sorts would be overrun with penny-pinching UUs, but the place is eerily empty at night. I am pretty sure we are the only official guests here these last three nights, leaving dozens of excellent guest rooms in a prime location rentable but unoccupied. We would be alone except for one caretaker who is here to 11 PM. The Unitarian Universalist Association needs to do a better job of marketing the place, because the rooms are nice and clean, the location cannot be bettered and the cardiovascular opportunities getting to the top of the hill are excellent. Its only minus is the lack of parking, requiring $26 a day at the local Boston Common garage several blocks away.

Boston is hardly unknown vacation territory to us. We have been here twice on vacation before, and my wife comes up here annually for a convention. So we have seen most of the tourist sites and are working our way through some of the less popular ones, like the Paul Revere House. Given that overall Boston is such a great city, it’s no wonder that we would like to relocate to be close to it. So yesterday we found ourselves in the Boston suburb of Watertown (in the news recently as the location where the Boston bombers lived) talking to a local realtor about the price of housing around there to see if it was affordable. The long and short of it was probably not. We probably could find something we could afford, but it would probably not be big enough for our needs and would come with other less desirable aspects. We’d probably be in a duplex, we’d likely be close to rental housing and all the hassles that brings, and we likely would not have the luxury of a garage. This was in Watertown, ten miles or so up the Charles River. Our ideal location would be Cambridge, in one of those lovely high rise condominiums that line the Charles River. The realtor suppressed a smile. For some place that met our criteria we’d have to pay close to a million dollars, and our house is worth only half that much. There is also Boston’s crazy real estate market, modeling the Washington area where we live at the moment. It’s a sellers’ market, so properties are expensive, don’t stay on the market long, and are the subject of intense bidding wars. In short, it is probably not worth the expense, tradeoffs and the hassle to live close to Boston.

Boston skyline
Boston skyline

Boston though still remains a neat city. More exposure to it only leaves me more impressed with the city. Aside from its high cost of living, it has few downsides. I complained about the lack of ethnicity in Northampton. That’s certainly not a problem in Boston, where you can find every color in the rainbow and many in between. As in Washington, you will hear about half the conversations in languages other than English. It can credibly claim to be the most educated city in the country. Harvard and MIT are the well-known universities but there are many dozens more, so the city is infused with a highly educated workforce tending toward being younger rather than older. Boston has the most attractive downtown of any major metropolis I have seen, and it is easily walkable. If it is too far to walk to your destination, while its subway and bus system may be very old, it is convenient and cheap. It has this plus all the amenities of a big city, minus most of its downsides.

Boston of course is the city but it is surrounded by other cities and towns that make up a sort of inner Boston, and all sorts of communities further out that make up the Boston metropolitan region. Many of the streets have potholes. Much of its infrastructure is either in repair or needs repair. But it’s an old city that is paying the freight of maintaining an old infrastructure. Some things are unlikely to change. While mass transit moves people around, the roads won’t get any wider, so getting around by car is going to always be a hassle. Those are some of the compromises people make to live here. Mostly they are compromises people are willing to pay for. Overall you need deep pockets to live the Boston dream. Otherwise, like our friend Sian out in Cambridge, you have to get practical. You find roommates and rent a house and split the expenses instead.

Houses and rent get cheaper further out from Boston. So a far flung suburb like Marborough is not out of the question for us. But that does raise the question of why we should move in the first place. Why trade life in the suburb around one big city for the same around another one? What we want in retirement is something different and more satisfying than what we have: either to live the urban dream or live a life closer to nature. It should offer less hassle as well. Financially, the latter option looks like the only viable one.

Perhaps there is a more modest sized city that will still accommodate our needs. We will look again at Burlington, Vermont tomorrow. It’s Vermont’s biggest city, but tiny compared to what I am used to. The entire Burlington area is about the size of Reston, Virginia near where I live. Like Ithaca, New York it is unlikely to have the urban amenities we would like, and it is probably too far north and remote to be someplace we would actually retire to. Still, when I see condos like these in Winooski Falls I think, “I could trade all the extra snow and cold weather found in Vermont for a view of those falls every day outside my window, and the community that can be found in the right kind of condo community.”

Meanwhile, we can at least enjoy Boston while we are here. Our time here has included whale watching (we had four humpback whale encounters!), museum tours, walking around the Boston Common, dining in Little Italy and riding the T to various places. The Boston Common is such a delightful place to while away the hours. It is very much Boston’s Central Park and in some ways it is better. We can imagine living here off Mount Vernon Court on Beacon Hill, in one of these tall brownstone buildings full of overpriced condos and apartments. We just cannot afford to actually do it.

We can afford to visit Boston regularly, and I expect the Eliot House will be our choice of cheap digs again when we visit.

Something about Cambridge

The Thinker by Rodin

We are at the Royal Sonesta Hotel on the banks of the Charles River in (as the Car Talk guys like to say) “our fair city” Cambridge, Massachusetts. Cambridge may be the egghead center of the country, since it houses both Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The whole Boston area though is rife with universities and colleges, but Cambridge is in particular, which makes the city feel unnaturally young and overly educated. Yet the pretentiousness I expected to find in Cambridge (and in the Boston area in general) does not appear to exist. What I have found instead is something much more interesting: a real city, a real community and a friendliness among its citizenry that puts even southern states notorious for being friendly (like Tennessee) to shame.

If you want to experience Cambridge friendliness, try the 5th Street Laundry off Cambridge Street in East Cambridge. That’s where we found ourselves on Friday afternoon, with a large suitcase full of smelly laundry permeated with the odor of sunscreen. There is no humbler a place than a Laundromat. We arrived by taxi because it was just a bit too far to reach by dragging a suitcase on wheels. Inside we found customers, principally young people, all too happy to strike up conversations with us. It became more surreal when we exited the laundry and waited outside for our cab. A guy in the house next to the laundry became curious about what we were doing, started talking to us, and impromptu began flagging down taxis for us. No thanks, we said, as we expected our taxi to arrive momentarily. However, after waiting half an hour, he came out again and flagged another taxi for us, which we took back to the hotel.

Standing in the shade outside the laundry we observed a close knit community in its summer bloom. People waved to each other from cars passing along Cambridge Street. Neighbors were chatting with other neighbors. People wandering in, out and by the laundry started talking to us. One guy saw a friend in a car nearby, motioned him to the side of the street, and got into a long, animated and friendly conversation with him.

The laundry experience turned out to be one of many that occurred not just here in Cambridge, but also in Boston, Charlestown and other places we have visited. There is a natural friendly curiosity to the citizenry around here, but most surprisingly, a willingness to help people, even strangers, that would make Jesus proud. In a city rife with students, we found we simply could not carry our luggage on and off buses or public transportation. Students would step forward and unsolicited help lug the baggage. This would never happen in Washington D.C. I assumed Boston was a lot like New York City: cold and impersonal, but this is simply not the case. People instinctively give up their bus seats to an older person. People of any ethnicity are overwhelmingly polite and helpful. It seems to be stitched into the character of this city. Maybe in poorer and more remote areas of Boston that we haven’t visited this is not true. Boston, like any major metropolitan area, has had its share of ethnic tensions over the years.

Yet particularly in Cambridge it does not seem to happen. Everyone just gets along, which is amazing because it is incredibly ethnically diverse, and English is just one of the dozens of languages you will hear on the streets and in the shops. Still, it remains a principally white city, with a peculiar mixture of eggheads and regular guys like Click and Clack from Car Talk, many of whom are deeply rooted in their city. Those who are not, like the many transient students, seem to pick up the friendly culture of the city almost instinctively.

One of the reasons we are in the Boston area is to check it out some more as a potential retirement spot, and you don’t understand a place until you spend some time in it. We are repeatedly told that most people want to retire from Boston, not to it. A friendly bus driver told us about Boston’s harsh winters, the numerous double digit snowfalls that the area receives, the crusty hard snow banks taller than your head, and how its only really nice season is summer, which at least in this area seems mild. All I can say is that if I could afford to live in a real community like Cambridge, why on earth would I want to leave it? Why move away from a city with charm, character and community to an impersonal suburb in Northern Virginia like where I live where I know by name no more than a handful of my neighbors? I have lived in denser communities and I know their downsides. I am sure the snow and the ice would be annoying, but it would be a small price to pay to live somewhere that is not just a place, but a real community.

Another thing about Cambridge, due in part I am sure to the number of bright students living here: the people here look gorgeous: healthy, attractive, vibrant, basically alive. Yes, of course you will find some obese people here, but much less than the country as a whole. In many ways, Cambridge reminds me of Boulder, Colorado, another city where if the people are not exactly young they are at least fit and healthy looking. Some you will find jogging along the various pathways, but I suspect that many are fit simply because life requires them to do much more walking than us ordinary, sedentary Americans.

There is little reason to own a car, but plenty of reason to take the T, Boston’s public transportation system, instead. Which means: walking to the bus stop, walking from the bus stop, walking in and off buses, and going up and down subway staircases for a good part of your day. Exercise is something that happens naturally as a consequence of living here. And speaking of public transportation, by Washington D.C. standards it is unbelievable cheap. We bought a 7 day pass for only $15. This means you can cover most if not all of your transportation costs for $60 a month. It is so much cheaper than owning a car and if you know your routes and schedules, not that much of an inconvenience either. One car per household should be plenty, and may be one more than needed. If I lived in Cambridge, I would be tempted to get rid of my car altogether. Most of life’s necessities are less than a few blocks away. If I could buy it within ten blocks or so, I’d probably walk there, otherwise I’d take a bike if the weather is seasonal or public transportation.

Retiring to Massachusetts is more my wife’s idea than mine. The more I experience the Boston area first hand, the more inclined I am to agree that this area may be the right place to hang my hat for the next stage of my life.

Fine cruising aboard the M-S Norwegian Dawn

The Thinker by Rodin

Saturday, August 6, 2011 somewhere in the Atlantic

Freestyle cruising, them marketers on Norwegian Cruise Lines call it. But as we waited in Boston Harbor to cast off for Bermuda aboard the M-S Norwegian Dawn, freestyle cruising apparently is mostly about being loud. Up on Deck 13 the bon voyage party was in full swing. The cruise director Johnny Cash Sanchez (yes, that’s his real name) and band have much of the teens, preteens and young adults aboard boogying to some frankly dreadful music, like “YMCA” by The Village People. Hamburgers and corn on the cob there are aplenty. Most of the people on the deck are dressed for weather ten degrees hotter. The weather in Boston is spectacular: blue skies, but with the weather in the mid seventies it is not quite bikini weather. Finally, about an hour later than scheduled, our thousand foot long behemoth cruise ship finally leaves its birth. Accompanied by the usual pilot boats but also state police boats, we slowly move out into Boston Harbor, our fourteen decks such an obstruction that we temporarily shut down a runway at nearby Logan airport lest an aircraft graze our mast on approach.

Bon Voyage Party aboard the Norwegian Dawn
Bon Voyage Party aboard the Norwegian Dawn

We last cruised fifteen years ago. We were overdue to reconnect with the cruising lifestyle. Fifteen years ago this size of cruise ship was more on the drawing board than at sea. Today it is a run of the mill cruise ship: supersized for the supersized Americans it carries. We are still astonished by the M-S Norwegian Dawn, built in 1998: its length, its girth, the number of decks, its opulence, and the attention to every detail. The cruising industry must be extremely competitive. This is good for customers. This seven day cruise was surprisingly affordable. Fifteen years ago a stateroom with a window was too expensive for us. Today with discounts we were able to book a stateroom with a view, roughly 200 square feet, for about $2300, about $600 of that just in port taxes.  It is clean, comfortable and with our window it offers a hypnotic view of the sea rushing past us.

Norwegian Cruise Lines wants us to know that everyone is at our service, and they sure are. It’s almost a fetish. As we pulled out of Boston Harbor Friday night, we enjoyed our first dinner in the Aqua Dining Room where we were obsessively fussed over. My wife’s sensitivity to pepper resulted in entrees that were made especially for her devoid of them. It was hard to take more than two sips from my water glass without a server trying to refill it. After finally deciding on chocolate cake for dessert, I made the mistake of telling the waitress I thought about of getting the apple pie instead. She brought both.

It’s no secret that food is plentiful on cruise ships. The most daunting task in this life of leisure is not to overeat. Judging by the girth of most passengers and their heaping plates of pizzas, burgers and fries, they will fail at this task. Twenty four hour buffets allow not just constant grazing, but constant gluttony. Having sampled the buffet for lunch, I found I preferred sit down restaurant instead with tastier entrees and smaller portions.

Top tier dining on the Norwegian Dawn comes at extra cost and requires reservations, but the main dining rooms Aqua and The Venetian won’t leave you feeling cheated. The Venetian restaurant offers a breathtaking view of the ship’s rear. We happened to get the table at the very back and center of the ship. Both the Venetian and the Aqua are classy places to dine; gorgeously arranged rooms and with linens replaced with each set of customers. The Venetian comes with its own pianist in a tuxedo with an appreciation for popular musicals. Yet I have had better dining on other cruise ships. The best dining I ever had on a cruise ship was on our first cruise in 1995 aboard the late Dolphin cruise line’s Seabreeze I, an ancient ship by cruising standards (built in 1958) but blessed with gourmet cuisine. True story: the S.S. Seabreeze I now rests on the ocean floor off the coast of Virginia, having succumbed to rough seas on its way north for a refitting.

Those older ships were missing stabilizers now common on cruise ships. The result was I spent a couple of days on that cruise seasick. Aboard the Norwegian Dawn, seasickness is not an issue. I get more turbulence on a gentle airline flight. It helps that the ship has stabilizers and that the Atlantic Ocean is relatively calm: four to six foot seas on our journey to Bermuda. There is a gentle swaying of the deck, but nothing that triggers any feelings of seasickness. Bonine is available in our stateroom just in case.

Everyone is at your service, but that doesn’t mean that they are not also looking for ways to get into your wallet. The principle method is to keep you plastered at one of the eight bars across the ship, but there is also the compulsory casino, bingo and duty-free shops where you can buy likely very nice but much overpriced jewelry. We won’t be adding much to their bottom line, as we tend toward being abstemious and gambling simply does not interest us. A massage does very much interest my wife, so this will be our one indulgence with this cruising vacation.

I wonder when a cruise company will take this “at your service” fetish to the next level. There are already cruises for swingers, so apparently cruise ship staff can work inured among naked clientele. Why not enhance the bottom line and offer prostitutes as well? After all, once you are in international waters the cruise line is free to decide what they will allow. I am sure there are plenty of undersexed people on these cruises who might want to get back in touch with their libidinous natures. Such a service would give room service a whole new meaning.

I did not need a prostitute but we did very much need a vacation. If we have a problem it is that we do not take more vacations. We live our lives generally stuck in the rut of working, paying bills, doing chores and when leisure allows surfing the Internet. Surfing the Internet here aboard the Norwegian Dawn is generally a privilege for those with deeper pockets than ours. Per minute rates range from forty to 75 cents a minute. So we will wait until we are in Bermuda and find an affordable Internet café.

For me, the most important aspect of cruising is simply communing with the sea again. By nature I am not a beach person, but there is something awesome and humbling about being a speck of a boat in an immense ocean. Cruise satisfaction for me simply comes from having a deck chair, a book and a nice view of the ocean. I treasure the gentle sound of the waves moving past the sides of the ship, the gentle slow sway of the deck beneath my feet and the meditative feeling that comes from standing while holding on to a handrail and gazing out at the immensity of the ocean.

Next: a report on Bermuda.

P.S. To Laura, from Terri: I am a medium well and having a wonderful time.

New England is still calling me

The Thinker by Rodin

During the summer of 2008, my family took a roadtrip to Beantown, stopping along the way at artsy places like Mount Gretna, Pennsylvania and lowlife way stations like the Ghosthunters show storefront in beautiful (well, actually kind of ugly) downtown Warwick, Rhode Island.

This week I finally had a reason to fly into Beantown, a.k.a. Boston, Massachusetts. Beantown turned out to be a way station to my real destination, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, which sits on the southern side of Cape Cod. There I spent three days in a lovely conference room and spent my evenings wandering around Woods Hole and nearby Falmouth. The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute sits in what is probably the most bucolic campus in the country, with dozens of lovely building surrounded by maple and oak trees, joined by lovely walkways and with the Atlantic Ocean just a fifteen minute walk away.

As I told my daughter, I enjoy my short distance business trips the best. The shortest ones generally occur in my own time zone, and I can get there with a direct flight, generally lasting an hour or so. Getting there does not swallow most of my day. As it turned out, it took longer to drive between Boston’s Logan airport and Falmouth (where we stayed) than it did to fly between Washington Dulles and Boston. There were no weather or aircraft delays, just routine traffic delays trying to drive out of Boston during rush hour.

Cape Cod is further away from Boston than I thought. I imagined you could glimpse it from Boston Harbor but I doubt that is true, at least not at surface level. It is further east and further south than I imagined. Falmouth, where we stayed, turned out to be a lovely and typical New England town with plenty of stores, galleries and restaurants designed mostly for tourist season. In October, while the tourist traffic was somewhat off, the locals were friendly, looked well moneyed and were overwhelmingly white.

The citizens of this part of Massachusetts are an unfailingly polite group, or so it appeared to this visitor. A walk down the Shining Sea Bike Path into Woods Hole led to many pleasant greetings from fellow residents. Woods Hole is small and exclusive enough to make it nigh impossible to park without a permit. It is also a harbor town. Aside from serving oceanographic interests, it acts as a conduit for tourists to and residents of Martha’s Vineyard. For $7.50 you can board a ferry that will deposit you on the island. Make sure you also purchase a return trip and not miss the 9:30 PM ferry, or you may be in for a long and cold night. Particularly during the summer season, without a reservation you cannot count on a room at Martha’s Vineyard.

I looked hard to find things to dislike about this part of Cape Cod. Most towns in New England come complete with a picturesque town square or commons, which offer a lovely dose of tamed nature in what would otherwise be a busy part of town. In Falmouth, my group found plenty of old churches, meeting halls and restaurants. Dinner at The Quarterdeck in Falmouth revealed a tavern populated not by tourists but by locals, all of whom seemed to be on intimate terms with each other. There was not a hint of crime or litter in Falmouth. Nor could I complain that the town felt fake. Steeped in hundreds of years of history, it cannot help but be authentic. Nor, after walking its long main street, I could I find a chain restaurant, a real plus. If you do not enjoy seafood, you would probably be happier elsewhere, but if you do enjoy seafood you are blessed with abundant and fresh seafood at local restaurants, which you can watch being hauled in at harbors like Woods Hole.

If forced to find items to complain about, one could make the case that the local roundabouts found on the Cape as well as much of New England, while quaint, are annoying and create backups at certain parts of the day. I also checked the local real estate prices. The riff raff are apparently easy to keep away because they cannot afford to live in this area. It helps to inherit a relative’s property or to have a six figure income. Otherwise you probably cannot afford to live in this area, despite its conspicuous absence of supersized houses.

This second trip to New England in less than two years made me realize again that New England is loudly calling for me to settle there. Fortunately, it is also calling my wife, which means we will be looking at retiring, if not in some charming Cape Cod town like Falmouth, then somewhere in New England, providing we can afford it. While there are definitely some not so nice areas of New England (such as Revere, where Logan Airport sits) much of it is charming and inviting to those who like a northern climate.

I imagine New England gets much less charming in the winter, particularly during its abundant snow season. I suspect much of its charm would wear off after shoveling snow several times a week. Most people retire from places like Boston, not to these places. I may find that the milder climate of Northern Virginia where we now live is much better overall.

Still, now that I have an exposure to New England, I want to live here. It will be hard to convince myself to spend my retired years somewhere else.

Road trip to Beantown

The Thinker by Rodin

To have a good vacation you do not necessarily have to fly thousands of miles. That is our premise this year. There are not many areas left on the East Coast that we have wanted to visit. Since my brief trip to Maine a few years ago, New England became an area I wanted to see further. It is also reasonably close as it is only a long day’s drive away. It is mostly an undiscovered region for me. In addition, it has the virtue of being in my time zone. Jet lag gets old after a while.

Before heading to New England, we first elected to spend Saturday night in Lebanon, Pennsylvania. We spent much of the afternoon and evening in Mount Gretna, a near by and decidedly liberal (and well moneyed) township in the woods where respect for the natural environment is a high priority. Tourism accounts for a fair amount of its business. The Mount Gretna Playhouse hosts a number of shows during the summer. There were two last Saturday alone. We attended a performance of The Capitol Steps, which my wife and I saw for the first time in January. The Mount Gretna Playhouse is a covered amphitheater that is far larger than I expected for being in such an out of the way community. This time our 18-year-old daughter Rosie came along. A few of their numbers were familiar, but most were new or reworked. They seemed edgier than they were back in January and even funnier.

As for Lebanon, it is a sad declining city on the outskirts of Pennsylvania’s Dutch country. Like many cities in the Northeast and in Appalachia in general, it has seen much better days and it appears those days will never come back. Our stay at the Quality Inn in Lebanon was anything but. The hotel was musty. The free wireless was spotty. The free breakfast was non-existent. Our windowpane was cracked and there was dirt and mold around its seam. There was only one elevator serving its five floors and it was slow and antiquated. My daughter complained endlessly about her uncomfortable rollaway bed while my wife refused to take a shower in the hotel because she did not feel it was clean enough. It is at best a two star hotel. I hope that other Quality Inns have higher standards. Unbelievably, this was one of the less expensive hotels in the area, yet we still paid more than $120 a night for a room with a king size bed. We were glad to check out of the room.

Sunday we drove from Lebanon, Pennsylvania to Boston, touching five states in one day including two I had never been in before: Connecticut and Rhode Island. We elected to avoid New York City and navigated around it instead, taking I-81 to Scranton, then I-84 across the southern part of New York State into Connecticut. I saw some lovely and mountainous country I had not seen in more than forty years along the Hudson River. Connecticut charmed both my wife and I. We were especially intrigued with the cities of Waterbury and Meriden. We both ached to explore more of Connecticut, but we had to get to our hotel in Boston.

We stopped for dinner at an Applebees in Cranston, Rhode Island. For being the nation’s smallest state, Rhode Island seems to be doing quite well and Cranston was doing better than most, with expensive multistoried housing going up. Rhode Island surprised me because it was prettier, hillier and more prosperous than I expected. Cranston is also located next to Warwick. My wife and daughter are fond of the show Ghost Hunters on the SciFi channel. Two plumbers who are the hosts of the show now apparently make most of their money selling their alleged expertise in the area of the paranormal detection. Anyhow, we found their storefront for TAPS, The Atlantic Paranormal Society, which was an otherwise indistinguishable storefront along Warwick’s main drag. I snapped a few picture of my wife and daughter in front of the storefront. Apparently, the ghost hunters were busy elsewhere that Sunday afternoon, but we could see through the door that they left a heap of fast food wrappers in their wastebasket.

The sun was setting and thunderstorms ahead provided an illuminating show as we headed north on I-95 toward Boston. Our GPS had been acting cranky and would lose its satellite connections after about an hour or so. Consequently, we used it only sporadically when it seemed fresh. It took us to our hotel well enough, but with the crazy roundabouts that populate Boston it took several attempts before we successfully got on the right road to the Doubletree Inn Bayside where we are spending two nights.

Today we spent the day trying to get a brief taste of Beantown. I had been through Boston at age five or so but had no recollection of it, so I was seeing it for what felt like the first time. Our hotel near the convention center was far nicer and cleaner than the Lebanon Quality Inn, but a bit pricier. I picked this hotel because it was just a couple blocks walk to the T, Boston’s name for its subway system. The T is an aging transit system and it shows, but at least it is reliable. There are just six stations between our hotel and downtown Boston.

Unfortunately, we did not have much time for sightseeing. Today was inordinately cool for August as well as overcast and periodically rainy, with high at best making it into the low 70s. We spent most of the day inside the Museum of Science, which is on an island on the Charles River. This was just as well considering the weather outside. An IMAX show, a planetarium show, lunch in the cafeteria and a couple hours of wandering the exhibit halls later, we had seen enough.

From there it was a brief subway journey to the Boston Commons, where we dodged more rain. We did not have time to do much more than look around, but our time there did cement our decision to come back to Boston sometime and see the city properly. We then took the T to Harvard Square across the Charles River in Cambridge, where we met a friend. What little I saw of Cambridge impressed me. Of course, it helps to have two of the nation’s most prestigious schools there, including Harvard University, which is right across from the station. It seemed that Click and Clack were right because we found a number of bums hanging out at Harvard Square. We found no sign of Car-Talk Plaza, nor of the law firm of Dewey, Cheetem and Howe.

Thanks to our friend, we did dine at Bartley’s Gourmet Burgers, which the Wall Street Journal proclaims as one of the best burger joints in the country. I certainly enjoyed my “This Old House” burger, which was both juicy and very hot. Their hamburgers have unique names, most with political affiliations. (The John Kerry burger, for instance, says he voted this the best burger before he voted against it.)

We should end up at Boothbay Harbor in Maine tomorrow night, followed by a day in New Hampshire, a day in Vermont, and two days in the Hamptons.