Go West Young Man! (Part Two)

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic
This continues the story of my arrival in the USA from Ireland in 1970.

Submitted: April 12, 2009

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Submitted: April 12, 2009



Go West, Young Man!
Journey to the New World – Part 2
First visit to Harvard College Observatory
The next day, Wednesday, the rain had eased to drizzle. Bob showed me how to get to Harvard University by the public transport system, which from Milton was actually quite easy. You got on a light rail sort of thing at Central Avenue, and popped a quarter into a machine. Four stops later, you got out at Ashmont, and changed to an MBTA Red Line subway train. No extra payment was necessary, the light rail being considered an extension of the Red Line. The Red Line proper had its southern terminus at Ashmont, and its northern terminus at Harvard Square, so it was pretty straightforward: get on at one end and get off at the other. The Red Line ran above ground for a while, and then tunnelled under the heart of Boston, emerging again only briefly to cross Longfellow Bridge to Cambridge, on the other side of the Charles River. (If, around the turn of the millenium, you watched the TV show Ally McBeal, you will have seen shots of Red Line trains crossing this combined road and rail bridge.)
Bob walked with me as far as the Harvard University International Office, and then left me to my own devices. Here I obtained my university ID card and a thick bunch of leaflets about this and that. Some might even have been about the other thing. Then I headed for the housing office, where free phones were available to accommodation-hunters. However, I found out that it was necessary to be quick. At least at this time of year, as soon as the office opened people would make a mad dash for the latest lists, and then for the phones. By the time I tried, there was nothing suitable left. However, the rain had stopped, and I spent some time looking at shops, thinking in terms of buying some sort of little portable radio, because that would be one of the first things I’d need when I moved into a place of my own.
Harvard Square and the streets in the immediate vicinity had a large number of shops, dominated by ‘The Coop’, which was a moderate-sized department store where university members could get discounts. I had lunch at a cafand then phoned the office of Jim Hobson, who was in charge of the project I’d be working on. I wasn’t actually due to start until 1 October, but I thought it would be as well to make myself known as early as possible and make sure there were no problems. I could envisage rolling up on the due date all eager to start work and the receptionist saying: “Clyde who? Never heard of you. Go away.” Better have it happen now, if it was going to.
Jim Hobson (or his secretary) told me to come right on over. The observatory is located at 60 Garden Street, a little over a kilometre from Harvard Square. To get there, you could walk across Cambridge Common and up Garden Street, and then up a steepish hill to the observatory, nicely situated in a small wooded enclave. Alternatively you could go down into Harvard Square Subway Station, and in the level below the trains you’d find single-decker trolleybuses (‘trackless trolleys’) that went up Concord Avenue and you could get off at the other side of the Observatory. This also saved climbing the hill.


I’m fairly sure I walked on that first day. I spent the afternoon at the observatory where, in addition to John Young, whom I’d already met at a conference in Belfast, I was introduced to Jim Hobson. John was to be my immediate supervisor, and Jim was his boss. Both were likeable guys, family men, hard-working without quite being workaholics. In most of my day-to-day work, it would transpire, I would be dealing with John, and I would see Jim mainly at project meetings.

I got a brief tour of the building. I was shown the large office that I would share with two other project members still not known to me. I also visited the library and met its somewhat intimidating female custodian. Then I headed back to Milton on the Red Line in the rush-hour.
After dinner, Bob set up his slide projector and I showed some of the slides that I’d brought, which included a few pictures with our Belfast next-door neighbour in them. While trying to clear a slide jam, Bob put the heat filter on a plastic table cloth which promptly got a bad singe mark. Continuing to fiddle with the hot projector, he then burnt his hand quite badly.
Apartment hunting
On Thursday I went back to Harvard but the housing office was shut. Well, there were other options. I picked up a free street map from a gas station and went to a realty office that advertised in the Boston Globe. An agent, around my own age, called Bill, drove me to an apartment in Watertown, about three kilometres from Harvard, in the direction away from Boston (west). The apartment was on the ground floor, and although it seemed to be in good condition, there wasn’t much natural light. It had low ceilings and I’d have had to buy a lot of lamps to make the place nice, and would have had big electricity bills. An additional problem was that there was no easy way to get to and from Harvard without a car. So I knocked that one back.
The next place Bill took me to view was a large apartment block, much older, right on the north side of Massachusetts Avenue about 200 metres west of Central Square, Cambridge. The apartment was on the fourth floor and it had high ceilings, with big east-facing windows giving plenty of natural light. While it wasn’t as clean and modern as the Watertown one, and had a slightly higher rent, it was in a much better location. It was about a half-hour’s walk from the observatory, or, if I wanted to use public transport, I could take the bus or the subway to Harvard Square and then change to the trolley. It would be easy to get to Boston, too, either by subway or even on foot. Just across the street was a drug store and a barber’s shop, while nearby Central Square itself had a large supermarket, banks, and a big post office. There was a smaller supermarket even closer. Although the apartment was officially unfurnished, it actually contained a settee, a chair, two tables, two lamps, and two single beds. I was told I could use these items until the owner wanted them back. One thing I didn’t even consider at the time, which became a bit of nuisance later on, was the lack of a designated car parking spot. Anyway, I liked the place and I took it. Apartment 45 at 863 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, was to be my home for nearly three years.
After I signed the lease at the realty office I opened an account at a nearby bank and then, since it was a beautiful day, I walked into Boston, a distance of about four kilometres by way of Longfellow Bridge. I bought some film and some aerograms, and had a brief look around before taking the subway back to Harvard to the payroll and personnel offices to fix up some paperwork relating to tax and health insurance. Then I returned to Milton.
After dinner, Bob set up his slide projector and his three sisters came up from downstairs, and I showed again the slides that I’d shown the previous night. While trying to fix the condenser lenses which he’d put back the wrong way, Bob set the heat filter down on a foot cushion, which promptly had a hole melted in its cover. Exasperated, Bob took the filter and held it under the cold tap, whereupon, of course, it promptly shattered. The rest of the slides were shown on a projector belonging to the three sisters.

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