Sunday, August 12, 2007

Have Baby, Will Travel

Last week, Robbie had to travel to Boston on business, so Emerson and I got to tag along. We quickly realized this had come at the perfect time because our days of easy traveling are coming to an end. The week before, we spent a couple days “Up North” at the lake home of some relatives. I think all that time driving in the car and then being passed around from person to person finally motivated Emerson to move, because the moment we got home and set him on the floor, he was off. He’s known how to roll for some time now, but suddenly he decided to use this skill to explore. If we took our eyes off him for a minute, we’d find him playing with the houseplant or half stuck under the couch. And when he wasn’t busy rolling, he was using his voice to imitate cawing peacocks or incensed monkeys.

Yes, Emerson has reached a new stage I like to call “twist and shout.” My sweet, relatively quiet baby that we could take to fancy sushi restaurants or throw on a plane with little anxiety is rapidly disappearing. But overall, we are still fairly lucky considering what we put him through. Case in point - traveling in Boston during a heat wave.

Boston is an amazing town to visit no matter who you are, but it was especially exciting for me as a Unitarian Universalist ministry student. Not only is Boston the denomination’s headquarters and home to plenty of churches, it’s filled with UU history – from leaders of the Revolution like Thomas Jefferson to Mr. Ralph Waldo Emerson himself. So after Robbie headed off to work and Emerson took a good nap at the hotel, I decided it would be fitting to start my sightseeing at the UU headquarters on historic Beacon Hill.

I strapped Emerson to me in a sling and began the long trek from hotel shuttle to commuter train to subway system and then through various lines to get Beacon Hill. As I emerged onto Boston Common, the 90-something degree heat and having a 16lb pound baby strapped to my body with several yards of fabric hit me immediately. Apparently it hit Emerson too because within seconds his little head bobbed forward and his body went limp with sleep.

I passed by a man on a bench who took one look at Emerson in the sling and called out “Ma’am, does that thing hurt the baby?” Several smart-ass comments came to mind, but instead I shook my head and pointed out that he was comfortable enough to be asleep. Apparently people make dumb comments about all sorts of things, not just albinism.

I proceeded to walk up and down the hill, looking at the signs and flags hanging from the beautiful brownstone buildings, but I didn’t see any sign of the UUA. Finally I called information for the address and discovered it was right where I had gotten off the subway. In fact, I had passed it about three times already! By the time I hoofed it back up there and realized it did in fact have a small golden plaque that read Unitarian Universalist Association, it was already closed for the day.

I spent the rest of the afternoon playing with Emerson in the Frog Pond in Boston Common, wandering around the Public Gardens, and visiting the various historic points. Robbie met up with us for dinner at a Thai restaurant, where the baby showed off his new busy-body skills by continuously grabbing at everything in sight. After eating, we decided that the commuter train station looked close enough to the hotel to walk back – at least that’s the way it appeared on the map. So we blew off trying to get back to the station in time for the last hotel shuttle and instead wandered around Beacon Hill some more.

Later, we arrived at the commuter station mere minutes after the last shuttle. We both felt confident as we walked across the enormous empty parking lot and onto the main street. But as we walked, we quickly realized we were in an industrial area that didn’t seem so familiar. With no signs of commercial “civilization” in sight, we were forced to keep walking….and walking….and walking. The road was pitch black except the neon signs of scattered industrial buildings, semi trucks rolled past every few minutes, and in between the buildings were long stretches of overgrown fields.

Luckily Emerson was blissfully unaware of our rising panic since he has passed out on Robbie’s shoulder long before. It was an eerie place – too remote for wandering criminals but I imagined a good place to run into a crazy hobo. This thought was incredibly amusing and yet just scary enough that when a small animal rustled in the field that we were walking by, I actually shrieked in terror.

Finally, we walked into a commercial area and Robbie recognized one of the restaurants as the one he had eaten lunch at earlier that day with his coworkers. Instead of following our gut instinct to head left, he decided he had driven to the restaurant from the other direction, so we turned right. However, within a few minutes, we were back into the industrial zone. Before getting ourselves into worse trouble, we decided to stop at a hotel and call for a cab.

Right before the cab arrived, Robbie bought a bottle of water with what little cash we had left. The woman at the front desk had assured him that if the cab didn’t take credit cards, there was an ATM we could stop at on the way.

When we got in and explained to the driver what had happened, we quickly learned two things: 1) We had actually walked the right direction up until we turned right instead of left and 2) We were not all that far from our hotel. Later, we also learned that the station on the map that we had been referencing was in fact very close – it was just a different station that had been closed down for several years.

Anyway, of course this cab didn’t take credit cards, so the driver pulled into an ATM in the strip mall and Robbie jumped out. As we waited, he told me stories about his long work hours, his horrible case of sciatica, and the piece of gray, frostbitten meat he found in the station freezer and was currently using as an ice pack. I sympathized the best I could while simultaneously wondering what health codes applied to unthawing meat in taxi cabs and why Robbie was taking so long getting the money.

My worst fears were realized when Robbie returned empty-handed and explained that the card had an error. There was another machine in the hotel lobby, so we drove the rest of the way and I waited in the cab as Robbie ran in again. Another long wait and another bizarre conversation passed before he returned empty-handed. The money was in the bank, but for some reason none of our cards would work.

We desperately scrapped together all the small bills and loose change we could find and miraculously found the exact amount of the fare, no more no less. We apologized profusely to the driver for not having enough for a tip and he was very good-natured about it. I sent lots of best wishes his way to fix his sciatica. Or at least for him to find a real ice pack.

We finally stumbled into our hotel room, exhausted, embarrassed and shaken up by the card problem. But our little Emerson was wide awake again and as energetic and happy as we were beat. I flopped down on the bed and played airplane with him above my head, grateful for his squeals of laughter after our bizarre night. Then, as if perfectly timed, he smiled down at me and let loose a stream of spit-up right into my face and hair – and wide-open mouth.

The next day, we did find out the bank cards had been fixed, so we weren’t forced to beg on the streets as stranded travelers. And we did eventually get to see the UUA headquarters - lingering as long as possible in the air-conditioned book store. We also played in the fountains and lay out in the grass of Harvard Yard, ate Italian food in the North End, ordered fresh seafood in America’s oldest restaurant, and of course spent an entire day dragging Emerson through the heat so we could see the historic sites on the "Freedom Trail."

But my favorite highlights of the trip were listening to little kids talking with heavy Boston accents (on par with a kid who looked like a mini Tony Soprano speaking Italian in the North End) and taking a water taxi through the harbor to the airport. Through it all, Emerson remained mostly patient and good-natured, and we spent a lot of time and kisses thanking him for it.

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