Thursday, January 26, 2006

Cambridge, MA: Bartley's

Mitt Romney Turkey Burger - 2 stars
about $9 with onion rings
January 25, 2006

Cambridge, MA: Pinocchio's
Chicken Parmigiano Sub - 2 stars
about $4 (small)
December 5, 2005

Worcester, MA: Crowne Plaza Hotel Room Service
Chipotle Chicken Sandwich - 1 star
about $8 with fries or fresh fruit
January 23, 2006

Worcester, MA: Prospect Cafeteria
Chicken Breast with Spinach and Roasted Tomato Sandwich - 0 stars
about $5

San Francisco Airport: Boudin Bakery
Turkey and Avocado Sandwich - 1 star

One of the few redeeming characteristics of business travel is the occasional opportunity to visit people and places that you haven't seen in a while. On my last trip to Massachusetts in early December, I made sure to stop at Pinocchio's, the favored late-night haunt of my rooming group in college. The thin-crust pizza is still excellent - even better than the best substitute I can find in California, which is Gioia in Berkeley. The chicken parmigiano sub was not quite as good as the steak and cheese subs of my memory, but still one of the reasons to live in New England.

Of which there aren't many, as I recalled on this trip. On Monday morning, I woke up in my hotel near Logan to three inches of snow on my car and thick blankets of enormous snowflakes floating lazily down onto the roads, with 70 miles to drive to the prospect's offices over slushy roads partially blocked by accidents. The afternoon at the prospect was relatively uneventful - the chicken sandwich was one of those combinations that probably sounded good to someone who doesn't understand food very well (a lot of those in New England), but didn't realize that a few spinach leaves actually have no flavor, and roasted tomatoes are actually sour more than anything else.

The real adventure was that evening, when I had to buy a hub or switch for the next day. I set out for the Radio Shack that should have been 3 miles away, according to Google Maps. To summarize, the round trip took one hour and twenty minutes. First I got lost on the streets of central Worcester, but by driving in the general direction I needed I found Grafton St., which the Radio Shack was on. Then I drove into a rotary, took a guess at where to come out, went a quarter mile to a fork, guessesd at the left fork, drove for a couple miles, and turned around. Then I went through the rotary again, went out a different street, drove for a few miles, turned around, went back to the rotary, and asked for directions at a 7-11. Those directions took me back to the fork, so I stopped there and for directions in a pizza store. I must have misinterpreted those directions, because this time I took a right at the fork and drove about 5 miles before stopping at an intersection and asking for directions again. This time I got accurate directions to Radio Shack via a different route, found it, and bought my switch. However, because I didn't realize my current orientation, I now left Radio Shack the wrong way and drove away from Worcester for about 5 miles before stopping at a Dunkin' Donuts and asking for directions. Finally I arrived back in Worcester, drove slightly aimlessly through a few abandoned streets, and eventually found my hotel.

The only other time I can recall being significantly lost in the last five years was in downtown Lowell, Massachusetts, so I blame this on New England streets. On my analysis, the key issues are these:
1. Rotaries
2. Rotaries with unlabeled streets
3. Rotaries where a given named street (e.g., Grafton) enters at one end but is not the street that exits 180 degrees opposite (Hamilton in my case)
4. Winding roads in general
5. The general principle that at any intersection you only label the smaller street, so you can never find out what street you are currently on
6. Snow, which makes quick U-turns risky

I guess I'm just a Californian.

From a travel and dining perspective, the rest of the trip was relatively uneventful, apart from working past midnight every night, forgetting my favorite sweatpants and sweatshirt in the hotel in Worcester, and drinking so much green tea (by the way, in Worcester you need to bring your own green tea bags) that my hands were trembling most of the time I was presenting. The hotel's room service was surprisingly edible.

The highlight of the trip was dinner at Bartley's in Harvard Square on Wednesday night. Bartley's is a landmark, as they say - small, old, cash-only, frequented at one time or another by numerous luminaries, and packed, even on a Wednesday night between semesters. The Mitt Romney burger (can't stand the guy, actually) has Swiss cheese and grilled onions, and though it probably would have gotten 3 stars in its cow-based version, was still highly satisfying, and I even splurged on a strawberry frappe, since even if you can get a milkshake in California, they don't call it a frappe (rhymes with wrap). So something good did come out of all of this.