Boston Day 2: Feeling dumb in a city of smaht people

Day 2: Saturday July 2nd, 2016

Today was the day I was able to pretend I was an ivy-league student, if that student never actually got to enter any buildings on a campus overrun by tourists!

We woke up fairly early (by vacation standards) at 8am in order to pick up our rental bikes on time at nine. We picked up a map of the bike paths around the city, which would have been more useful if Boston labeled all of their streets. Instead, however, we needed to count the bridges and streets we crossed to determine where we were on the map.

We rode northwest to Cambridge, home of MIT and Harvard. Our first stop was MIT. We rode around a bit on the MIT campus which has some very cool modern structures. When I think of MIT, I just think about how you always hear about “students at MIT developed a piece of paper that cures cancer” and stuff like that. The school seems to just have a perfect environment to foster such useful creativity. MIT is where the internet started. THE ENTIRE INTERNET. Right there, right on campus. I believe it was actually by a professor who developed ARPANET but still. There’s something in the water. Dang, I should have refilled my water bottle there.

A museum dedicated to the awesomeness of MIT students is found in the properly named MIT Museum. Eric and I stopped there and learned about the internet in an exhibit completely created by MIT undergrads (19 and 20 year olds are explaining the internet to me, and how the internet can break if signals are interrupted on the other side of the world). There was an exhibit about an MIT student explaining stress and pressure of materials in glass blowing. And there was an exhibit on a special machine used to test DNA damage, that helps test cures for cancer. One test performed with the machine was to see how kiwis help repair damaged cells. More tests need to be run, but kiwis could help cure damaged cells and therefore, cure cancer. So eat your kiwis, everyone! A 19-year old MIT student told you so. The whole thing just made me feel like my entire college experience was insignificant. Oh, you wrote a book report on Don Quixote? That’s nice. This girl is finding how fruit could cure cancer.

Upstairs, the museum had a huge robot exhibit with robots that MIT students had developed or robots developed in labs on campus. There was an amusing video showing the experiments in the 1980s with mono-pod robots and walking robots that do front flips. The technology reminded me of that scene when Erlich Bachmann started kicking the deer robot in Silicon Valley.

There was a photography exhibit showing extreme zoom photography and high-shutter-speed photography, the latter being the first of its kind, capturing for the first time a hummingbird flapping its wings or a ball bearing landing in a glass of milk and forming a droplet. In general, there were a few beautiful exhibits that combined science and art. There’s an artist named Arthur Ganson who develops useless mechanical machines and robots simply to amuse. One, for example, is a toy chair that delicately bounces over a small toy cat. Another is a push-machine that cranks gears that crank a plastic hand holding a pen that writes on a paper “Faster!” The faster you push, the faster it writes.

Another display of beauty/art/science was the holographic exhibit which had rainbow-colored holograms that were pictures of people, objects and food. One was even a life-size holograph of Bob Marley.

The final exhibit was the recent student theses, which is an amalgam of everything in the museum presented in simple projects that students created. One was a student who bypassed the simple assignment of creating blocks out of paper by creating triangular prisms out of paper that connect to each other. Essentially, he created paper legos. Just for fun! Another was a musical instrument (Laser Harp as it’s labeled) that was basically a laser-detecting teramin, in the shape of the MIT school emblem. Put your hand inside and wave it around and it makes music! There was also the pinball machine constructed from old pianos that played music when you flung a ping pong ball inside. All from your average 21-and-under MIT student. Eric and I visited the gift shop afterwards so he could buy himself an “always blue!” ball like the one in Silicon Valley. It’s super fun to play with.

Down the street we ate at The Miracle of Science, where the menu is abbreviated and written on a giant chalkboard periodic table of elements. The outlines of the boxes, instead of denoting material, denote “sandwich” or “appetizer.” The number in the corner isn’t the atomic number but the price. Super nerdy but super delicious.

We hopped back on our bikes and rode to Harvard. We’d previously bought tickets for the Hahvahd tour online for only $10 each, and the tours ran every half hour so we showed up around 3 and were able to jump on the 3pm tour. I was a little disappointed in the tour for a couple reasons. I heard great things online saying it was theatrical and funny, but it was just your average tour with the occasional pun. The second issue I had was how HUGE the group was. There’s no cap on the number of people who join the tour, so whoever shows up for that time slot is present. At one point our guide counted the group and there were seventy of us!

That being said, the guide (a current junior) was very enthusiastic and it was still very informative. We learned the three lies of the John Harvard statue (which I’d already heard in my dozens of views of The Social Network). We learned how the library was built with a donation from a grieving mother whose son (a Harvard student) died aboard the Titanic, and how there are special clauses that require additions to be added underground as opposed to up or out. It’s the second largest library in the world, and what you see is just the tip of the iceberg (pun provided by the guide). The gated campus is amazing, as you would imagine from a super-old university. But it’s overrun by tourists. I wonder how it looks during the actual school year, because in the summer it’s like nerd Disneyland with foreigners from all parts of the planet.

The tour ended after about an hour, so I explored the famous Harvard Bookstore, which has both old and used books. It even has a book machine, so they can print you a rare or out-of-print copy of the book you just can’t find anywhere else. Printed, bound and covered, all right there, in an instant.

As it drew closer to 5, Eric and I hopped back on our bikes towards the city. We wanted to ride by Fenway and also return the bikes before 8pm when the rental store closed. We rode through the beautiful waterfront path and Emerald lakes park, which is not nearly as busy as Chicago’s lakefront path would be on any given summer day, and found ourselves near Fenway. How we found it with all the unmarked roads, I’m not sure. I’m only 80% sure that Eric’s blood can detect the direction of any nearby baseball stadium.

We got our picture and off we went to the heart of the city, which was bustling with pedestrians and traffic. I’ve never once ridden a bike in the city of Chicago, fearing that the first time would also be my last. But after this experience, I feel like I should. It didn’t seem as dangerous as I thought it would be, and it was pretty exhilarating weaving through pedestrians and traffic. We are the ones in control! NO ONE CAN STOP US!

It was nice that Saturday was cooler than Friday, because even with riding bikes for several miles and weaving through bumper-to-bumper traffic, I didn’t really break a sweat. Success!

After returning our bikes, we walked through the courtyard near Feneuil hall where there were street performers gathering crowds with singing or acrobatics. We returned to the hostel to freshen up and have a snack (that homemade raspberry snitter I brought with me really does the trick). We checked with the front desk at the hostel and found there was a historical bar crawl they were starting at 9pm. We decided we’d meet the group at the first stop instead of the hostel lobby, since it was now nearing 8pm and we hadn’t yet eaten.

We ate on the terrace of The Salty Dog near Feneuil hall so we could officially dine on some seafood. Eric got clam chowder and I ordered the crab cakes. After dinner, we headed off to The Green Dragon, the first stop on the bar crawl.

The bar has an old tavern feel to it, but the widescreen TVs behind the bar and the live band playing The Strokes and The Killers bring it to the 21st century. Soon, a huge group of hostellers walked in, which was obvious given the solo travelers pulling out passports to show the bouncer, and the fact that it was a group of about 30 people. After mingling with Michael, the hostel dude running the event, and a couple Aussies named Shane and Jackson, it was time to go to the next stop.

Michael led our group back over to the shops near Faneuil hall where we walked through an alley to Wild Rover, a multi-story bar/club that would be the second and last stop of the night. We skipped the line and avoided the cover charge as a group. The first floor was a usual bar with TVs playing sports and karaoke set up in front. Behind the bar were machines churning alcoholic slushies in several different flavors, for only $6 each. Eric headed back to the hostel around 11pm and I hung out with my new Aussie and Irish hostel friends for the remainder of the night.

Some karaoke highlights were the “yes I’m definitely in a Boston bar” rendition of “Sweet Caroline” accompanied by the entire bar’s worth of singing voices. A cute Irish girl from the hostel wearing a denim overall skirt and french braided pigtails went up and impressed everyone as she belted “9 to 5” by Dolly Parton in a perfect country twang, which was surprising given her Irish lilt. However, Shane informed me she’s apparently a folk singer back home, who just broke the charts. Her name is Naomi Campbell, if you’re interested in checking out her music!

After karaoke ended at 1am, the group moved upstairs where there already was a growing crowd on the dimly-lit dance floor. There was a DJ spinning a mix of old and new R&B and Rap. Despite the crowd, there was still room to dance. We stayed until 2 or 3am, when we all decided it was a good time to head to sleep.

I forgot to mention how at some point today, Eric and I discussed what the best/worst new roommate situation would be. Eric wasn’t a fan of the Argentinians we had on night one, since Friday morning they used the snooze button, resulting in their alarm going off no less than three times. I slept through it, but Eric didn’t. The Argentians only overlapped with us one night, and we had new roommates now, who remained for the rest of the trip. Surprisingly, our roommate who snored was the most soothing snorer we’ve encountered. It’s like one of those ocean noise machines.