Thursday, May 21, 2009

I'm shipping up to Boston

Dropkick Murphys: 'I'm Shipping Up To Boston'

All week I've had the song "Shipping Up to Boston," by the Dropkick Murphys, running through my head. Odds are you've never heard that song. It's about a pirate (or, at least, a sailor who communicates through the medium of screaming) who's on his way to purchase a new wooden leg -- Boston, apparently, being home to a fine selection of prosthetics.

On the whole, then, the song is totally irrelevant to my life. Except for the fact that I am going to Boston.

As I write this, I am tapping away on my laptop aboard a Great Western train quietly gliding its way toward London. The green of countryside flashes past under typical cloud-laden British skies. A bloke from Newport sits uncomfortable in his seat, unsure as to whether it is his.

For those of you playing along at home, it used to be that riding a train in Britain was a first-come first-serve experience. You got on the train, you sat down. If there were no seats, it meant you had to stand (and that you were most likely travelling through Wales). In truth, that system still exists. But if you purchase your tickets online you will be arbitrarily assigned a seat, which is lovely and convenient -- because it's always nice to know that you'll actually have a place to sit -- but causes all sorts of trouble for the British.

Contrary to popular perception, British people function quite well without rules. They will apply their own little systems to whatever situation presents itself and for the most part everything works out grand. But if you give British people rules, their brains lock down and refuse to think outside of said rules, regardless of their necessity.

So, you have a train carriage that is mostly empty but for a bloke with a laptop and an Asian lady with a rather pungent sandwich. Throughout the carriage there are a number of seats with little white scraps of paper indicating that someone will be sitting there at some point, but there are a great deal more seats with no strips of paper at all, indicating that he who dares sits. Our man who boarded at Newport found his appointed seat but his female counterpart decided that she wanted to sit facing the other way and promptly established herself in a row of unticketed seats.

"Here," Newport said. "Those aren't our seats."

"They are now," said the woman.

He stood for no less than five minutes, staring at the seat, before finally giving in. With each new station he swivels uncomfortably, expecting someone to come along and not only eject him from his seat but quite possibly the train. Perhaps even the country.

Maybe he'll end up on my flight.

As I say, I'm going to Boston. Flying there Wednesday from Heathrow, spending several days with Paul and BK and then setting out on my own across the American expanse. Physically I will at least pass through Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas and Iowa. Some places will get more of my time than others.

The ingrained desire of Americans to tear across the incredible distances of our country is well-documented. It is Manifest Destiny. This is what the Lord Our God ordained. And people have been doing it for years. I'm not breaking new ground; walk into any American coffee shop, throw a brick and you'll hit someone who read On The Road in college and has romanticised their own similar journey ever since. The road trip is written onto our souls.

But shockingly few Americans ever get a chance fulfil that destiny. Some of us are lazy, most of us are tied down by jobs and finances and every other thing. I am able to go because I am equal parts lucky, stupid and impractical. But, the point is: I'm going. And I am really excited.


Jim Downey said...

Happy travels!

Missouri, eh? If you're coming near Columbia, would like a bed in a nice old house, dinner & whatever amount of conversation strikes your fancy (either in good ol' American English or in halting Welsh with my good lady wife), check my blog for an email addy. We've most of the summer unscheduled.

Cheers -

Jim D

Pearl said...

Actually, I love that song.


Sounds like a lovely trip. If you find yourself in Minneapolis with nothing to do (how could that be?!), let me know. I live in Northeast and will gladly buy you a beer.


Annie said...


Wierdo said...

The most travelling I'll be doing is to bruge for two nights. Sigh. Jealous much? Yes I am.

mary said...

Best of luck to you, have a great time!