USA, land of the micropayments

Who cares about change?Who cares about coins anyway?It’s our first day on the road, and in order to get some distance on Massachusetts we hit the interstate and made it all the way to Washington DC. Driving a Dodge Avenger with lots of space, which is good since we are driving around with a lot of stuff. One disadvantage of going on a road trip directly after a 4 month stay abroad is that you have to carry with you all the extra stuff you have accumulated. 

Driving around here illustrates nicely how the US is a country based on micro payments. The latest in a long line of examples are the toll booths, which are too frequent for comfort. We spent more then $20 on the 8 hour drive from Boston to Washington. And these hidden costs are everywhere. Every service person are expected to get a 15-20% tip, they are even taxed based on this perceived income. Most stores add the consumer tax at the register, so you rarely pay the price listed anyway.  Health insurance is another case in point, showing that even though taxes are low, you have to pay extra if you want essential things like health care. Every place of interest has an access fee, with the George Washington Estate bragging how “no tax dollars are expended to support it”. It is all supported by visitors. 

Whaddayaknow.. "tickets required".

Poor Abe, barely even got to win the war.

All these small things, while innocent on their own,  add up in the long run without anyone being none the wiser. This is the beauty of micropayments, and why it works as a business model. That you could run a country on the same principle had never crossed my mind, that was, until I saw it with my own eyes.

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Frankie leaves Boston

And so our four month stay comes to an end. The last few days have been so busy I haven’t had time to write much, between getting my passport in order, arguing with police officers over poorly written reports, zombie movies, dinners, workouts, exploration, games and goodbyes the last few days just flew past. The last night was spent packing all our stuff, somewhat anti-climatic I have to admit. Going on a three week vacation now also feels rather strange, as I am more then ready to head back to Bergen. However, that feeling will surely pass as soon as we hit the road. 

It has been a nice few months, and hanging out with the good people at Gambit has been a pleasure and a privilege. Encounters with Americans has been positive with only a few exceptions, and I find Boston one of the most comfortable cities I’ve visited and one I wouldn’t mind moving to. 

But now it’s time for bed, we are driving to Washington tomorrow and I for one intend to be well rested. So long Boston, it’s been a blast!

Boston crime statistics (and zombies)

With our stay coming to an end, let’s see what we have survived so far. Due to the Boston Police having a presence on twitter, everyone can have their own little readers digest of the recent criminal activity in this beautiful little New England town. Today they posted the numbers for the 1. January – 25. May time period. I just happen to know that we are in district D-4, so this is us: 

Homicides: 3
Rape & attempted: 6
Robbery & attempted: 105
Aggravated assault: 108
Burglary & attempted: 153
Larceny & attempted: 1343
Vehicle Theft & attempted: 83

Total number of crimes: 1801

How about that. Now district D-4 covers the neighborhoods of Back Bay, South End, Lower Roxbury and Fenway area, hardly a large area. How many people living in these areas I couldn’t tell you, but given that it’s one of eleven district stations in the City of Boston and wikipedia lists Boston with just over 600.000 inhabitants, we get an idea. 

Very American I must say.

Just for fun, let’s look at the numbers for Boston as a whole:

Homicides: 22
Rape & attempted: 94
Robbery & attempted: 845
Aggravated assault: 1357
Burglary & attempted: 1145
Larceny & attempted: 5593
Vehicle Theft & attempted: 906

Homicides with a firearm: 18
Non-fatal hits: 89
Firearm related arrests: 274

Total number of crimes: 9961

I’d compare this to Norwegian numbers, but they aren’t nearly as neatly bundled or easily available. My understanding is that these numbers aren’t horrible, and are to be considered low and well within what we should expect in this day and age. I will simply let these numbers hang, as a nice little snap shot of our time in Boston. And for those who thought a zombie apocalypse would be hushed down, think again:

 

First response unit.

False alarm!

Frankie goes to Fenway

Right...One of the most American things you can do is to attend a baseball game. Now the local team is the Boston Red Sox, and they are winning a lot these days. As with all team that win a lot, they have a large fan following. Also, Fenway Park is one of the old traditional baseball arenas, and it always draws a crowd. This means that getting decently priced tickets is hard, and adding to the fact that their website is horrible, we figured it was best to just head down there. 

With the warm air and generally decent weather, the area around Fenway was packed with people. The air smelled of hot dogs and various junk food, as “scalpers” (black marked ticket vendors) walks around trying to peddle their overpriced tickets. We opted for the line for game day tickets, a cheaper alternative to the $150 black marked ones. But the line was long, and as the game starts we call in quits. Just as we exit the line it starts raining, and within minutes it’s pouring down worse then I’ve ever seen since we got here. Huge rain drops are virtually bouncing off the pavement, and rivers are running down the street as we take cover in a nearby CVS.

Ball game? No thanks.

Ball game? No thanks.

After considering ourselves lucky for getting tickets, we headed on home and picked up a pizza before hooking up with Matt to see the new Star Trek movie. While I found the intro sequence rather cheesy I enjoyed the rest of the movie even though I don’t have much of a reference frame as far as Star Trek goes. Watching it also made me somehow want to see the old series. Anyway, the fact that there are no numbered seats in American theatres still annoys me, and yesterday it caused us to have to go to a later show as there were no two seats next to each other when we got there. At least they gave us new tickets, though they didn’t have much of a choice.

Park + night = win.

Park + night = win.

On the way home we took some pictures in the park. Happy days.

It’s all fun and Cosplay till someone …

It’s the last weekend in Boston, and we grabbed a few friends for dinner and bowling, or so was the plan. Started off with dinner at the Cactus Club, a very decent restaurant on Boylston street just down the road from us. As always the food was excellent and the portions generous. On the way over there we noticed several anime characters walking the streets, and Eitan could inform us that there was a anime festival going on this weekend. After dinner we followed the first blue-haired girl who walked by, and suddenly found ourselves in Prudential Center surrounded by pop-culture characters.

Scout from Team Fortress 2, and Eitan.

A Scout from Team Fortress 2, and Eitan.

Alas, my camera was without a flash card which was sitting safe and sound in my laptop. A quick trip around Prudential produced a new card, and we got to take a few pictures before the battery went flat as we were trying to shoot an awesome looking Rorschach. Some costumes were good, other not so good, and it made me want to produce a decent halloween costume for this year. After hanging out a little we went over to Kings to do some bowling. Or so we thought.

One awesome looking pirate costume.

One awesome looking pirate costume.

With my passport stolen the only ID I have is my drivers license, which is good enough for most places. However, no luck with the guy at Kings, who really didn’t care that we were clearly over 21. Not being my usual convincing self after beer and a rather strong margarita, we went to Solas instead, an Irish pub which knows how to read an out of state ID.

Castle Island and JMS

Yesterday marked the second last Friday in Boston, and we went for a little trip to South Boston to check out the Castle Island, a fort with a corresponding park and beach just outside the airport. One of the warmest days so far this year, yet the water was freezing so people were for the most part just licking sun on the beack and dipping their feet in the ocean. The fort was still a fort, closed except on special occasions and pretty impenetrable. Perfect place to haul up during a zombie apocalypse, in other words.

30+ degrees. And damn that Golf Stream for the cold water.

30+ degrees. And damn that Gulf Stream for the cold water.

Afterwards we headed over to Gambit for beer and games. After a few rounds of Punch Out, a Wii remake of an old Arcade game, the board games people started showing up. Matt had two tickets for J. Michael Straczynskis talk at the Comparative Media Studies Center at MIT, the second Julius Schwartz lecture following last years inaugural speaker Neil Gaiman. Ditching the board games we headed over there, wondering what he was this strange creature was planning to talk about. For those not in the know, JMS have been involved in TV-shows (most notably Babylon 5, Twilight Zone, Murder she Wrote and He-Man), comics (Rising Stars, The Twelve, some Marvel heroes), and lately branched into movies with Changeling and the soon to be movie adaptation of one of the best zombie books ever written: World War Z. But enough about the man.

An interesting fellow for sure.

An interesting fellow for sure.

Strangely enough, he chose an approach more suited for a life coach seminar, talking about the importance of failing and how running the risk of failure is always important. “Do you live the life you want to live?” kinda thing. He added stories from his life, but sadly they all ended with him coming out on top, which while funny and well narrated, hardly underlined what he was trying to convey. During the following Q&A session with Henry Jenkins he showed how he was able to consider much of what he had done during his career as crap, and even tooled Henry a little when He-Man was brought up as a topic. It’s always interesting to see people live, get a feeling for what kind of person they are, what they are about and how they chose to present themselves. 

We left after an hour, feeling somewhat unsocial and hungry, and got back to the board game people who were playing Pandemic and Settlers. Night ended with Rock Band, before a walk home in the cool summer night. A day well spent.

A trip to the embassy

A key to unseen doors. First on my agenda was to get some new identification papers. A few emails and a phone call later led me to the honorary consulate in Boston. Filled out some papers, coughed up $105 for processing and the transport of papers to and from the embassy in New York, and I was all set. Should have an “emergency passport” by Friday or so. Hardly a problem at all, the people there was nice, friendly and helpful. The insurance company have so far failed to respond to any emails though, but I can always wrestle with them when I get home. 

Other then that we have a new heat wave in Boston these days, which is downright awesome. Went out for pizza with some people from Gambit, and opted for beers instead of bowling which was the original plan. As luck (?) would have it we ended up at Asgards karaoke night, and while the song selection was horrible and the vocals was mediocre for most parts, the crowd was lively and the place was rather entertaining. The line was too long for any of us to get a chance at singing, which was just as well.

Thieving bastards!

*sniff*Right, so I was at the local Starbucks yesterday, drinking an iced latte and reading a book when I get to wondering what the time was. So I turn for my shoulder bag which is hanging over the side of my chair only to find that it’s no longer there. There wasn’t much in the bag though, my iPhone, and, as I realized as I’m walking home to change the password on my email, my passport. Damn. I have got into the habit of carrying it around everywhere since it’s the only officially acceptable ID over here, and so I kept it in my bag never even thinking it could be stolen right under my nose. 

So I reported the incident to the Starbucks staff, and as Tim fills out their form I’m wondering what their interest in tracking this stuff is. I flag down a police car in the street, give them a report of the incident and get a case number for future reference. Then starts the process of getting new travel papers, which can be anything from pretty trivial to pretty damn hard. It also seems unlikely that I’ll be getting a new iPhone, as the new 3G costs a fortune in Norway and is from what I understand not possible to buy here anymore without signing a contract. It will be interesting to see how much I get for the iPhone from my travel insurance, though chances are I’ll only get about half of what a new one will cost me. They will cover the cost of anything related to my passport, so that’s not really an issue. 

On the bright side, lets look at this as a chance to do a case study on the American bureaucracy, as I email embassies and talk to government paper pushers in order to go through a process thousands of other people have gone through before me. How good is the system that deals with these things? Stay tuned and we’ll discover it together.

Summer traffic

Every once in a while, people stop thinking. Driving seems to facilitate this, which gave birth to the concept of road rage. In it’s mildest form, people curse under their breath or maybe even honk their horn. This is often followed by creating dangerous situations for themselves and others, under the pretence of being “right”. Actually, I’m just making pretext for posting this picture. We were out enjoying the sun as the steady flow of cars suddenly stop. Turning, we see the following: 

 

Some times people are just wrong.

Hardly a fair fight.

Boston Duck Tours offers tours of the city using actual amphibian transport vehicles from World War II. It even takes you for a trip on the river, and provides fairly entertaining guides. These monsters are constantly driving around in Boston, and having taken one I’d recommend it as a nice way to see the city. How anyone can crash into one of these things is beyond me; their big, bright, easy to spot, slow moving and not exactly quiet. This genius still tries to cut out in front of the armored boat car and pays for his aggressive driving in full. His little toy car is promptly crushed by the WWII machine. The sound from across the street can best be described as that of a soda can being crushed by somebody who doesn’t care much about soda cans. Afterwards the driver just kept in his car, feeling like an idiot. The guy with the hat was driving the boat, which left the crash unaffected.

And who said there is no justice in the world?

No 17th of May

Somehow, I kin...It’s actually kinda strange to be away from Norway on the 17th of May, specially in a city where there is no kind of celebration what so ever. Makes you miss home; the crowds, the people, the partying and the sheer happiness that engulfs the nation. When we lived in Copenhagen there were lots of Norwegians about, waving flags, drinking and stuffing themselves with ice cream and hot dogs. In Boston, not so much. The web didn’t turn up anything useful, so we went for brunch on North End wearing our tell-tale red, white and blue ribbon through Newbury Street, Boston Commons and the financial quarter side trying to fish out some Norwegians. But to no avail.. forgot for a minute that we’re not very social nationality. On the way back we picked up some cake at Mike’s Pastry, which for good reason seems to be one of the most popular bakeries in all of Boston. The walls are covered with cakes of all types, and the air smells of sweet fudge, hot chocolate and warm cookies. The place have been crowded every time we’ve walked past there, busting with Italians and tourists. But no Norwegians who dared to say hello.

Sadly I had no luck with Anonymous yesterday, as they changed their venue for the masquerade at the last minute something I didn’t find till I checked their forum later on. For those not in the know, Anonymous is the international anti-scientology movement, though from their Boston forum it just seems like a group of kids with nothing better to do. Hope you enjoyed the national day celebration, maybe even Hulens 40th birthday if you were in Bergen. 

Gratulerer med dagen!

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