Kristen answered the door in her apron. Wiping her hands on it was the only way she could have been more of the picture of domesticity.
"Aw, muffin," I said. "Look at you!"
It was the second time I'd met her in person. And she was the one I "knew" the best.
I inspected the place, it being new both to Kristen and me (her roommate, a friend named Colleen, isn't even moved in yet), and was pleasantly surprised by the hunter green walls in the bedroom (it had been difficult to picture via her typed descriptions), but enjoyed most the living room / dining room with its wide windows and tasteful decorations.
We talked about Jason Varitek's strikeout with the bases loaded the previous night against the Indians.
"I hate to tell you, Kristen," I said solemnly, "But that sucked."
"Yes," she said, bending to check something on the stove. "I'm not speaking to him right now."
We were midway into an in-depth analysis entitled Alan Embree: What is His Deal this Year, Anyway? when Sam manifested herself, first via cell phone and then in yellow-t-shirted person, what before had been a two-dimensional picture come to life.
"Dumbass, you got lost," I said, and she hugged me.
I'm not kidding, it's the first time I ever laid eyes on this girl. She hugged me. And it was completely not strange.
I showed her Kristen's bedroom, wanting her artsy opinion on the hunter green. We were in there when Steve Brady arrived.
It was all I could do not to run over and squeeze him. Instead, delightedly, I cried, "HI STEVE BRADY!!"
He appeared taken aback at first. After a brief conversation, he left to check on Kristen in the kitchen, and I turned to Sam.
"Do you think he knows who I am?" I asked her. "Should I have introduced myself?"
"Hmm, I don't know," she said, appearing to think about it for the first time. "I mean, I knew who you were right away."
Steve came back. With my characteristic subtlety, I greeted him with, "You know who I am, right?"
"Yeah," he said, looking even more weirded out.
"Okay," I said carefully. "You seemed like you didn't."
"No, it's just weird meeting you," he said. "You're like, the original."
"Like, the only person I'd be more nervous to meet would be Edward," he said. "You're like No.2."
I looked at Sam. She shrugged. I looked back at Steve. "Whatever, Steve Brady," I sighed. That was the end of any awkwardness for the evening.
Catriona arrived next. She looked the least like her pictures for whatever reason, so I said, at first, "Annette?" This was my only mistake in identifying the others.
"No," she said, stepping into the room.
"Oh, duh!" I slapped myself on the forehead. "Catriona!"
When Annette arrived, I felt even stupider. I've never seen her picture, but hello, that was clearly Annette.
I'd seen at least one picture of everyone besides Annette, but this was something different--after all, pictures are often shockingly inaccurate. But it was clear, in the end, without any formal introductions, who everyone was. They all just looked like themselves.
We sat down at the table. "Are you going to make us say grace?" I asked Kristen.
"Hello!" Sam held up a hand, then pointed to herself. "Jew!"
"Do you know a Jewish grace?" I said.
"Well, sort of," she said.
"Is it in Hebrew?" I said. I love the sound of Hebrew.
"Go for it."
"Okay," Sam said. "Everyone needs to take a piece of bread."
Everyone did. I made sure Annette had a piece of bread--I couldn't see that she already did past the salad bowl. I may have been a bit too forceful in doing this. Everyone appeared to forgive me quickly.
"Boruch atoh adonoy," Sam said. A silence fell.
"Elohaynu melech ho-olom, hamotzi lechem min ho-oretz. Amen."
The spell broke after another second or two of quiet. "Now you can break your bread," Sam said a bit sheepishly.
I'm not religious by any means, but I'll never forget that, Sam's blessing over the bread at our first meal together, much if not all of the core of the weird phenomenon known as Surviving Grady represented around the table.
Later, Steve would say, "It's weird, how not weird this is."
For some reason, Sam's blessing brings it all together for me. Maybe because it was a moment of meditation, to reflect on where we were and why. Or because it spoke of our differing backgrounds, and how we enjoy them. Or because it felt like something larger gave its metaphysical sign of approval, just then, over our gathering.
It's weird how right it felt.
Beth and Sam's Excellent Adventure
So, as all parties are wont to do, this one began to wind down a little after we ate Kristen's delicious dinner while telling stories (Sam's about the sea lamprey was the highlight for me), cheered the TB 9 NYY 4 score on NESN's ticker, watched some stuff on SportsDesk, and spent approximately 1/3 of our time making Steve Brady suffer through Bill Mueller talk.
Sam had mentioned she was parked at Wonderland, at the end of the blue line, and also how her mother was convinced she was going to be cannibalized by recently escaped serial killers after Sam told her she was "going to meet friends from the Internet." My car was a bit of a hike from Kristen's house, so I offered Sam a deal.
"You walk me to my car, so I don't get raped and / or killed," I said, "And I'll give you a ride to your car."
We had Kristen look up the directions on her laptop (what Sam disparagingly referred to as "Giy-aaant Laap-toop"), thus failing at the goal, articulated earlier by Steve Brady, of all of us actually managing not to touch the computer.
The directions seemed simple enough: Storrow Drive to 93 S. to Exit 24 to 1A to Wonderland. Half hour, tops, to get in there and then back on track home. Piece of cake.
We got to my car, drove down Beacon St., merged onto Comm Ave, took a left and merged onto Storrow--
Except, not. The ramp was closed, blocked off with cones, with the flashing lights of a construction crew behind it.
Thinking quickly in the absence of detour signs, I got onto Storrow Drive westbound instead, figuring we'd head an exit in the wrong direction, turn around, and jump on the eastbound side.
Which we did. Except when we got to the next exit, about five miles down the road, and I went to take two lefts, the better to turn around, I found I could only take one. So we continued down a perpendicular street for a ridiculous amount of time trying to make a U-turn. Finally I made a blatantly illegal one, silently warding off any nearby cops with telepathic rays (yeah, or...something like that), and we got back onto Storrow Drive eastbound, arguing about college vs. professional football.
Yay. Storrow drive to 93. Piece of--
We finally got to the interchange, and the on-ramp to 93 S was blocked off the way Storrow Drive eastbound had been. So, hopping on 93N, I repeated the same maneuver, heading to the first available exit, turning around, and merging again onto 93S.
...except once we got to the lower deck, orange cones, backed up by an idling cruiser, blocked our path again. We headed back toward Storrow Drive but bore right onto the surface streets instead of back through the tunnel, and that's when we started to see the detour signs.
What followed next was a new and intriguing version of hell, if hell is the soul forced to perform the same futile task time and time again. Again and again, we followed detour signs all the way to interchanges with 93, and found them blocked off. I'm not talking two or three times. I'm talking like eight times. I'm talking virtually every on-ramp to 93 both north and southbound in the heart of the city. In the course of Detour Hell, we found ourselves in the following places, in approximate order:
- Government Center
- The Financial District
- Long Wharf
- Government Center
That's right. Government Center appears twice, because we came to it twice. We went round the detour merry-go-round for an hour, and found ourselves at the same exact intersection, with an orange sign ahead, taunting us, "<--DETOUR".
I had planned on not smoking with Sam in the car, but the last pretense of that had gone out the window somewhere around the third interchange we found blocked off. When we hit Government Center for the second time, I took to unabashedly chain smoking, something I don't usually do under any circumstances.
Because, as Sam noted, this was the point where both of us tacitly began to worry that we were never going to be able to leave the city, although she completely loses me when she starts going off about bears, because my vision of our ultimate fate was being found by our friends and family panhandling on Long Wharf in 2007, having sold my Camry and all our other possessions for food long before. At some of the less lucid points on our journey, I began planning a way to head directly from the city, if we ever got out, to work, rather than trying to get home again first.
Completely inexplicably, after following the Government Center detour sign again, we found another detour in a different direction, and drove past two more blocked interchanges with 93 before finally merging onto it.
That's right. We did, finally, get the car onto 93.
We finally ended up turning onto Mass Ave in Boston, stopping at a gas station where I asked the man sitting heavy-lidded behind the bulletproof glass how to get to Rte 1A, because really, screw 93 at this point.
"Go straight down Mass Ave, six lights and take a left," he mumbled.
"That's back to 93. I need to get to 1-A near the airport," I said.
The man gave me a very helpful shrug.
We headed back on 93. I got on the phone with the state police non-emergency line, saying "I'm really sorry to be calling you, but I have no idea what else to do."
"Ma'am," said the trooper on the other end of the line somberly. "I suggest you follow the detours."
Luckily, Sam's mom had called, sure that I had turned out to be the escaped serial killer she'd predicted, and told us we could get to Wonderland via Rte 1.
So we followed, and followed and followed, the detours per the trooper's suggestion, and finally, on our third pass of the evening through Long Wharf I realized that the detours were following the path of 93 on the surface streets, but that 93 between the lower deck and the southeast expressway was completely closed. The detours also made little to no pretense of actually allowing access to any of the exits or interchanges found on 93 between those two points.
We wound up on the bridge with the Zakim on our left, following signs for Rte 1. I figured, since that was beyond the roadblocks, we'd just get on--
And then, I shit you not, the exit to Rte 1, north of the Zakim bridge, no less, was blocked off.
This exit is on the left side of the road. There was a detour, of course, on the far right side of the road, across four lanes full of fellow pissed-off detour refugees, about a hundred yards ahead. There was no way we were going to make it.
Sam's mother, still on the phone, told us to keep going. We wound up on Rte 99 in Everett, missed the interchange with Rte 16, ended up on Rte 28 in Malden, turned around on 28 and then somehow were magically on Rte 16 West, turned around again and ended up on Rte 16 East, and then, finally, on 1A heading toward Wonderland.
86 years for the World Series felt like less of a wait than the torturous period before finally reaching Wonderland. Okay, perhaps I exaggerate a bit. But considering I'd had to pee since our first tour of the Financial District, not by very much.
I dropped Sam off and followed the directions she'd given me from her mom (I made her repeat them three times): Rte 60 to Rte 1 to 95 S. When I started from Wonderland, it was 2 in the morning. We'd left Brookline at around 11:20 pm. I finally got back to Lowell at 3.
I texted Kristen about this around four hours later as I headed to work (yes, I am a Yuppie Warrior). I told her, "Sam and I had quite the little adventure last night."
"Uh oh," she texted back. "Does everyone still have all their limbs?"
"Nothing like that." I replied. "I didn't get back till 3, though."
"Jesus!" her message came back seconds later. "How was Mexico?!"
This is a map of the route I had originally planned to take:
And the route I ended up taking: