Vacation without the T isn’t vacation from the T
Cambridge Day is part of a project called Voices of MainStreet — a weekly, nationwide Q&A in which editors at the money and lifestyle site MainStreet.com ask questions and bloggers answer them. For this entry, I was asked about spring cleaning.
The prime piece of advice I got before going to Miami for a mid-April vacation was to forget about public transportation there. The guidebooks I bought were skeptical, and humorist Dave Barry underlined that skepticism when he appeared on the NPR game show “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me” early that month, saying simply, “I advise people not to take public transportation.”
“We have a thing — it’s called Metrorail and [Metromover]. And we don’t know how to get up on that thing. It goes by. I’ve never met a soul who’s ridden on that thing,” said Barry, who admitted he had seen people using it. “You think, ‘I wonder who they are, and how they get there.’”
And then he told a story about how two guys brought a live, 6-foot nurse shark onto the Metromover. With predictable results.
The message pained me a little, since I’m a big public transportation guy — well, not the bus, everyone hates the bus — and rely on it and Zipcars to get me from place to place when I’m at home. But for the vacation lifestyle, including trips to Key West and the Everglades, it made more sense to get a rental car, and having our own parking space was even one of the reasons we rented a house instead of staying in a hotel. The one decision affected everything.
It was strange to drive everywhere, though, strange to deal with having a car (including a flat tire in the Everglades and a mysteriously falling rearview mirror), strange to be gaining weight even while going to the beach every day (as a result of overeating, surely, but also a confused metabolism) and not strange enough to see gas prices heading aggressively for the $4 mark per gallon. The Kia Forte the car rental agency gave us was somewhat of a disaster, and on one of the seemingly constant visits back to the airport car-rental complex (literally a multistory building and parking garage bigger than some airport terminals I’ve visited) we debated getting the $3.68 per gallon pre-paid fueling option. We did, even though the only time I’ll accept gas prices without whining is on vacation, numbed as I am by the rarity of having to pay at all.
The agents behind the counter had pointed out that their price was far cheaper than what we’d find on the street, and I’d noted seeing a Shell station at $3.77 per gallon for regular unleaded, and that the next station on the same street charged only two cents more.
The agents — Miami residents who, of course, drive everywhere because there are 6-foot nurse sharks on their public transportation, and because if you’re on rail you can only watch as several hundred 24-hour CVS and Walgreens stores pass by on U.S. 1, rather than go in and constantly buy whatever the hell Miamians need several hundred 24-hour CVS and Walgreens for — nearly jumped over that counter to shake me by the lapels and demand the address of the Shell station.
Now, last week, the lowest regular gas price in Miami was $3.79, five cents higher than in Cambridge, and the average was $3.88 — again, five cents higher. (As of Sunday night, the five-cent difference had evaporated; prices were, for the moment, the same.)
Make no mistake: The T is aging badly, breaking down and growing generally less reliable by the day, and the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority is too broke to do much about it. But it’s good enough I don’t need to drive, and there’s no potentially fatal aquatic wildlife on it.
And we don’t have to worry about missing out on all those 24-hour CVS and Walgreens stores because, as everyone knows, things around here shut down when the sun goes down, like our pilgrim forebears wanted it.