So, I drove the family to Massachusetts and back. And I said I would write
a post about it. But all I have is this pile of three dozen receipts. How
am I supposed to weave them into a story? I guess I’ll start with a
This road trip was funded by a grant from the estate of
BIL #1, who died
last year of alcoholism after being thrown out of the Army for refusing yet
another tour of duty in Iraq. I consider him to be a war casualty.
Day 0: Preparation
Buy gas: It is 1:45 PM on September the 26th. The big trip begins
tomorrow. I am at the recently-opened gas station down the street from my
house, filling up my tank. I buy 67⅔ litres of gasoline for $81 (that's
about $4.80/gallon for Americans). I am thinking that perhaps I shouldn’t
buy so much gas, since it’s cheaper across the border in New York, but I
don’t want to deal with the stations near the border — last time I had
trouble with a gas pump that wouldn’t accept my American credit card because
my address doesn’t have a zipcode.
This gas station has a large sign that says “Mac’s” with an owl
logo. The pumps have logos for Shell Oil. The receipt says it’s from
Shell Canada. Nowhere to be seen is the name ”Alimentation Couche-Tard”,
which I think is the shadowy megacorp that actually owns this store. They
not very nice
and perhaps the
people should keep them in mind. Still, they were willing to spend lots of
money to build this station in my little town, so I guess they have some
redeeming social value, unlike the banks who refuse to open any branches
The receipt also includes a store number, a gas pump serial number, a
transaction number, a credit card approval number, a sales tax ID number,
zzzzzzzz... You know what? I don’t give a shit about this crap! Let’s
jump forward to the middle of the story, because that’s just the kind of
left-handed doggie that I am.
Day 5: Aquarium
October 1st is one of two days of our trip that were set aside for visiting
museums, on the grounds that BIL #1 would have wanted us to have some fun
with his money.
Drive to Boston: We are on our way to the
New England Aquarium. I paid some tolls on
the Mass. Turnpike to get here, but didn’t get any receipts so fuck it. I
haven’t been to this aquarium in many years. As we get closer to it, I
vaguely remember that it has some sort of parking problem. I pass by one
garage that seems quite far away from the destination, but advertises $18
for aquarium parking. I keep going in hopes that maybe something more
convenient will show up.
Parking: We arrive at Central Wharf, which is a mob scene with
wall-to-wall tourists. Eventually, at 1 PM, we complete the maze of one-way
streets to arrive at the parking garage that is adjacent to the aquarium.
The charge is $35. Ah, now I remember! The aquarium and the garage next
door are enemies; it is the $18 garage that is friends with the aquarium
(get your parking stub stamped for a discount). The aquarium hates the
$35 garage because it causes people to feel cheated before they even
get in the door, which reduces the take from their gift shop, etc. This has
been allowed to go on for many years, so I presume the City of Boston is raking some
off the top from the garage. Mustn’t miss an opportunity to scalp the
out-of-towners! The whole thing stinks of corruption, which overpowers the
slightly-fishy odour of the wharf. As we exit from the garage, we are
accosted by barkers trying to sell us overpriced tours on harbour boats.
For a moment I feel like I’m back in Mexico. But we must soldier on because
that’s what BIL #1 would have wanted.
Waiting in line:
It is Saturday at a museum. The line to get in is very long. I generally
avoid lines, figuring that anything *that* popular is probably overhyped. But
“visiting the aquarium” is our scheduled activity for the day, so we enter
the line. I feel like a sitting duck with a neon sign over my head saying,
”Attention all pickpockets! The tourists are ⇒HERE⇐ and they can’t leave this
line.” But our time spent in line is uneventful.
* * * * *
I later learned that #OccupyBoston was holding a demonstration at South
Station, about a mile away, but there was no evidence of any disturbance at
Central Wharf. I wish the occupiers well, but the situation is similar to
the end of apartheid in South Africa: it is very, very difficult for
the oppressors to climb off their pedestals, having told each other all
their lives that they *must* remain on the pedestals because otherwise
surely the unwashed masses will tear them limb from limb! Well, no,
actually the masses just want this horrid financial game to be over. It is
only after food becomes unaffordable that the violence will start. There is
still time for the top 0.01% of the ultrarich to do the right thing, but
very little evidence so far that they can find it in their hearts to do so.
There is some confusion among the occupiers about who their enemies are.
While “the 1%” is a catchy phrase, most of the top 1% hates the ultrarich as
much as the bottom 99% do. Once all the wealth has been sucked out of the
99%, the vacuum will then be turned upon the 1% and probably many of them know that. The real
enemies are people whose names you have never heard of, who have fudged the
public records so their loot appears to be spread out among a horde of fake
nominees, because they believe that if their lives ever became public
knowledge then of course they would be put to death immediately. You might
as well call them ”the Voldemorts”.
Of course, it is presumptuous of me to be speaking on behalf of the 1%. I
am not now, nor have I ever been, nor have I ever wanted to be, a member of
that class. At the peak of my career as a software engineer, my income was
barely into the top 20% for Americans; it is much lower now. I have always
refused offers of promotion into management. I have never kissed anyone’s
ass (no, it’s not just a figure of speech) and I don’t intend to start now.
I have gotten into stock trading, not because it’s a popular pastime among
my rich friends, but because my health is poor and it is one of the few jobs
that truly doesn’t need anything more than a brain, a computer, some seed capital, and a
whole lotta nerve.
The stock market is broken. It has become a casino where the world’s wealth
is gambled away. It should be restored to its proper function. But in the
meantime, if you’re not playing, you’re losing. The world’s corporations
are taking the money from your pocket and putting it on the stock market.
If you want it back, that’s where you have to go. To win, all one has to do
is be smarter than the average bankster, which seems like it shouldn’t be
that hard. But the banksters have had many years to hone their game, while
I am a newbie.
Many people have written their versions of ”What #OccupyWallStreet’s demands
is one from Shah Gilani, who is a member of the 1% and has been neck-deep in
Wall Street for 30 years. The language is a little stilted, and some of his
demands are perhaps too lenient, but he seems to be roughly on the same page
as the protesters outside his offices. That’s a refrain I’ve heard from
many sources: most of the people who work on Wall Street agree with the
protesters, not with their own overlords. They hate how corrupt their jobs
* * * * *
Aquarium entrance: At 1:40 PM we finally got to the front of the
line. In the meantime, the rear of the line had become maybe 20% longer. I
pity the fool who joins it now! Admission is only $91.80 for a family of
four. As soon as we get in, we immediately find ourselves at a penguin
feeding show. I really dislike the crowd-control language that the emcee is
using, so I wait on the nearby benches until the show is over.
Lunch: At 2:20 PM we head to the cafeteria. I get a salad. Later I
get the runs; hey Toto, maybe we really are back in Mexico? The kids get
chicken fingers and French fries, which are heavily coated with some bright
orange powder of indeterminate origin and purpose (I suppose it *might* be
food). Only $31.51! McDonald’s would have been healthier and tastier.
Aquarium exhibits: I liked the deep-sea tank, because it was a fake
diorama. They can’t actually replicate deep-sea conditions in an aquarium
tank and it is very hard (or impossible) to capture deep-sea creatures alive
and put them in tanks. You can’t even taxidermy them because their bodies
explode when you bring them to the surface.
Aquarium gift shop: The receipt says we bought a T-shirt for $25, but
I don’t remember that because I waited outside.
LongHorn Steakhouse: In Franklin MA, just down the street a ways from
our hotel. We had stayed at this hotel in the past and thought this
restaurant was worth revisiting. Just over $100 for a family dinner with
tax and tip. I think the food was not as good as I remembered. Perhaps
the restaurant has had a change in management? Wikipedia
the LongHorn chain was bought by the Olive Garden/Red Lobster people back in
2007. Ah well; something’s gotta give in a “down” economy. Receipt is
dated 7:21 PM.
Stop & Shop supermarket: In same shopping plaza with LongHorn.
Just popping in for a few items while we’re here. $22.35, 7:43 PM.
Buy more gas: Actually, this was 11 AM. I am mentioning it out of
order BECAUSE I CAN! And because I wanted to start with the
driving-to-Boston scene. Only $3.39⁹/gallon! Filled the tank with 17½
gallons. Sunoco station in Franklin MA.
Jo-Ann’s Fabrics, Walpole MA. Wifey bought $45.62 worth of sewing
supplies. We could probably obtain them in Canada, but Jo-Ann’s has a nice
selection and we remember them fondly from our old life in New Jersey. The receipt says we
completed this purchase at 12:03PM, while the receipt from the $35 garage
(27 miles away in Boston) says we entered there at precisely noon. I think
the garage is lying its head off.
The Walpole Mall is just sad. Around half the stores are out of business.