2013 Road Trip Notes, Day 2: Square Pegs in a Roundhouse

On the outside, our Boston accommodations sport a unique architectural design. This 185-year-old brick roundhouse was originally a fuel depository, left an empty husk for decades until it was snatched up and overhauled by one of the major chains over a decade ago. The front doors are easy to miss, recessed into one wall with minimal ornamentation. If you ignore the signage, from a distance it resembles an odd factory or a super-villain’s designer warehouse.

On the inside, it’s as modern, elegant, and packed with extra flourishes as one would hope to find in a big-city hotel, though some big cities have disappointed us in that department. (Orlando, I’m looking in the direction of your refrigerator boxes cleverly disguised as “suites”.) Our room has more furniture and appliances than we expected, plus its own anteroom and plenty of space if we were the kind of weird family who exercised as a group. In terms of amenities and interior decoration, it’s easily in the top ten all-time overnight experiences.

Our surroundings tell a very different story, one that I’m not sure would entice the average vacationing suburbanite.

I’m reminded of an anecdote punk legend Henry Rollins told during his “Provoked” spoken-word tour several years ago. Rollins tends to vacation in odd places not to relax, but to satisfy his curiosity and/or do things other people tell him he shouldn’t. As Rollins told the story in brief to his followers (and at greater length when I saw him live — search YouTube for “Henry Rollins Provoked” and enjoy), when he was informed that Pakistan was a terrible place for Americans to visit, that was practically a triple-dog-dare to him. With the kind of timing that would look contrived if it happened in a movie, our hero flew overseas to Pakistan the last week of December 2006, the same week Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated.

Considering Rollins’ physical stature and renowned fearlessness, one can imagine his travelogue wasn’t a tale of him hiding in his hotel jacuzzi for a week till time to go home. He stuck it out, walked the streets, saw a country in chaos, and witnessed true turmoil firsthand. Time interestingly spent.

The way I figure it, south Boston can’t possibly be that bad. It’s important to keep perspective, you see.

We heard our first police siren as soon as we opened our car doors, and I’ve heard two more in the last ten minutes while typing this. This street seems to have more than its share of loiterers. The “free parking” promised on the website shares space with the unused end of a gas station lot. The crumbling sidewalks and empty storefronts aren’t exactly spoiled with infrastructure overfunding. The nearest restaurant is a pizza/sandwich takeout joint with hand-lettered signs, four tables inside, no A/C, and canned drinks. It reminds me of the kind of places where Bodie, Poot, and other Avon Barksdale employees would fetch the best dinner in town.

It’s not how we or our peers normally envision our vacation getaways. We’re a long, long way from the bike routes, ADA-approved sidewalk ramps, and meticulous floral arrangements that we saw streetside last year in Boulder, Colorado. On the other hand, it’s not too far removed from the section 8 apartment housing of my childhood, now that I think about it.

Regardless: we have a long to-do list and three days to check off as many items as possible. If something goes terribly wrong, consider it a lesson learned and a most unusual storytime in the making for you, The Viewers At Home. Updates as they occur.

Best part of today: my son and I discovered this takeout joint’s cheesesteaks were really, really good.

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