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All by myself
30 ways to avoid the crowds in Boston
BY CHRIS WRIGHT

THEREíS A LOT to like about Boston in the summertime. No snow. No students. Nomar. The summer months, however, do come with a serious downside: maps. And not just maps. Foldaway maps. Foldaway maps with people from Iowa and Norway on the ends of them. People with maps in their fanny packs clogging the sidewalks, cramming the buses, quacking at us on our own streets. Quacking! Under such intolerable conditions, there is only one thing to do: declare war on Norway. Sorry, no. The thing is, itís not only the Norwegians and the Iowans who are to blame. Many Red Sox fans are homegrown, as are the well-heeled mobs who patronize the arts, the reckless roller bladers, the too-close T riders. The only thing to do, if sanity is to be maintained until the weather renders outdoor life unthinkable, is to find ways to avoid the crowds. Weíve thought of 30. There may be more.

Walking the Freedom Trail at this time of year can feel like taking part in the Million Videographer March. Itís difficult to get a true sense of freedom when youíre being jostled and mobbed by what appears to be the entire population of Iowa. To escape the camera-toting masses, try walking the Freedom Trail one block to the right.

Freedom Trail information, (617) 242-5642.

There are two ways to avoid Red Sox crowds during the baseball season: one, stay as far away from Fenway Park as possible; and two, visit when the Sox arenít playing. Every day, Fenway Park offers hourly tours around the stadium. Along with learning about the teamís illustrious (cough, splutter) history, youíll have a rare opportunity to experience this magical ballpark without the sounds of beer being slurped from 30,000 plastic cups.

Fenway Park Tours, (617) 236-6666.

Many people labor under the mistaken impression that laying their blanket out on the Esplanade at the crack of dawn on the Fourth of July will secure them a nice, comfy vantage point from which to view the fireworks. In reality, laying your blanket out early simply means that more people will be given the opportunity trample it over the course of the day. To avoid getting into blanket-related fistfights, head over to Prospect Hill Park in Somerville, which not only offers a splendid view of the fireworks, but is said to be the site of the first colonial flag-raising, shortly before the Revolutionary War.

Somerville Chamber of Commerce, (617) 776-4100.

The Museum of Fine Arts houses an impressive array of masterpieces ó the John Singer Sargents, the Paul Gauguins, the Vincent van Goghs ó but it can be difficult to enrich oneís soul whilst straining to get a glimpse of Madame Roulinís eyebrow over someoneís right shoulder. While the collection at the Museum of Dirt, in South Boston, isnít quite as distinguished as the MFAís, at least you can contemplate Sonny Bonoís front-yard dirt and Dave Barryís lint in tranquility.

Museum of Dirt, (617) 585-7000.

Everybody wants to drive across the elegant but cumbersomely named Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge. You can see them driving backward and forward, necks craned, cameras at the ready, oblivious to the road ahead. There are not too many people, however, who willingly drive over the just-plain-cumbersome Tobin Bridge, which is a shame. Not only is the Tobin a marvel of postwar engineering, it puts you on a birdís-eye level with giant chimney stacks, which is always interesting, and it has the distinction of being the place where one of Bostonís most high-profile suicides ó Charles Stuart ó met his watery end.

Tobin Bridge Administration, (617) 242-7979.

Poor William Dawes. While Dawes also made the perilous "Midnight Ride" during the Revolutionary War, he gets none of the name recognition enjoyed by fellow rider Paul Revere, perhaps because Dawes wasnít credited with the (apocryphal) quote "The British are coming!" ("The Regulars are out!" just doesnít have the same ring to it.) Instead of joining the throngs who invade the Paul Revere House each day, spend an afternoon tracking down the place Dawes called home back in the 1770s. Chances are you wonít succeed, but you can at least rest assured that youíll be the only one trying.

Bill Dawes home page.

If youíre in the mood to feel fat, pasty, and shoddily dressed, Newbury Street is the place to do it. With more perfectly browned skin on display than in the rotisseries at KFC, Bostonís trendiest street will subject you to a nonstop torrent of ego-destroying sensory input. But over on Marlborough Street, which runs parallel to Newbury a couple of blocks away, the trees and architecture offer the afternoon stroller a chance to behold beauty without feeling like the Elephant Man on a bad-hair day.

Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay, (617) 247-3961.

Harvard Square in the summertime is every ochlophobeís nightmare. While not quite as picturesque, Magoun Square in Somerville ó described by the Somerville Chamber of Commerce as a place to "buy everything from clothing to hardware" ó at least offers the possibility of taking a stroll without being accosted by crazed balloon twisters and multiply pierced panhandlers. If you take your large regular from the Magoun Square Dunkiní Donuts and go sit on one of the nearby newspaper boxes, you could almost be at a Paris café. Almost.

Somerville Chamber of Commerce, (617) 776-4100.

Going to see a summer blockbuster can seem a little like competing for the last lifeboat on the Titanic. However, many movie theaters in town offer pre-noon screenings, often at reduced prices, and always with reduced crowds. One caveat: do not go to see anything even resembling a Disney film in the daytime, unless you want to experience what Danteís Inferno describes as "the wretched children, who were there in multitude, whimpering and whining for the Fruits of Juji."

Boston Phoenix movie listings.

On June 14, roughly two-thirds of the earthís population will convene on the banks of the Charles River to enjoy the sights and sounds of the annual Cambridge River Festival. Those who desire a more sedate river experience might want to try splish-splashing further up the Charles, where the sights of discarded FREE MINUTES! flyers and the sounds of a half-million flip-flops flapping are not quite so prevalent.

Charles River Canoe & Kayak, (617) 462-2513.

While many visitors to the Charlestown Navy Yard go specifically to set foot on the USS Constitution, there is another, relatively overlooked warship a matter of steps away. The USS Cassin Young, a World War II destroyer, might not have the same glamorous appeal as Old Ironsides, but a tour of the vessel offers fascinating insight into the no-frills, claustrophobic conditions aboard those built-for-speed ships. Getting on board is a damn sight speedier, too. Indeed, the guys who conduct the Cassin Young tours are usually so happy for the attention, they all but pipe you up the gangplank.

Charlestown Navy Yard, (617) 242-5601.

If youíre looking to find every book Michael Crichton ever wrote, or looking to rub shoulders with fellow Crichton enthusiasts, try one of the bustling, airport-terminal-size bookstores around town. At Avenue Victor Hugo, meanwhile, even the cat scorns mass-market fiction. Here youíll find dusty first editions exploring Ukrainian architecture in the early 1820s, books with titles like Meanderings of a Fisherman, and very few fans of Jurassic Park.

Avenue Victor Hugo, (617) 266-7746.

Visiting the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial, which honors the Massachusetts 54th Regiment, can be a moving experience. In fact, if you donít keep moving, youíre likely to be trampled by somebody with a video camera and inordinately large thighs. Which is one of the reasons more people should make the trip from the Boston Common to Joe Moakley Park, in South Boston, home of the James Brendan Connolly statue. While Connolly didnít give his life for emancipation, he did win the first gold medal of the modern Olympic Games, for, of all things, the Hop, Skip, and Jump.

South Boston Online.

There is no small amount of hyperbole in the name "The Boston Massacre." Though the Brits did open fire on a crowd in front of the Old State House, they killed only five people. The morbidly curious might get more joy from visiting Castle Island, in South Boston, where Bostonís own Whitey Bulger (who was likely responsible for more than five deaths) did much of his plotting. Lore has it that the gangland leader chose to visit Castle Island because the wind made it difficult for the feds to tape his chats, but this could as easily have been achieved by the roar of traffic in front of the Old State House. A more likely reason for Whitey favoring Castle Island, besides the convenience to his house, is that it isnít crawling with camera-toting tourists.

Castle Island information, (617) 268-5744.

 

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Issue Date: May 30 - June 5, 2003
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