Friday, August 4, 2000
Have you felt library-deprived this summer? I certainly have. As you read this, I am returning home from my family's annual beach vacation, laden with books I had to gather from libraries throughout the surrounding communities. I spent days before I left, travelling from Lincoln to Acton to Bedford to Westford, scouring their shelves for the books that used to be so easy to acquire at the Gleason Library. In the past, either the books I craved would be right there on Carlisle's shelves or a day or two away by interlibrary loan. After my summer journey through neighboring libraries, I've come to realize just how spoiled I've been by our hometown library and staff.
I've come to another conclusion—all of the libraries I visited underwent renovations in the last decade and, for the most part, I found the changes disheartening. Each library had gained significant space, but had lost some of its charm and a good deal of its warmth. Acton's library, for example, has patrons entering through electronic doors into an expansive lobby which is barren except for the checkout desk and a central staircase that leads up to a massive main room. There's an overall feeling of Grand Central Station on a very slow day. In all the libraries I visited, there seemed to be a lack of cohesion and, to my mind even worse, a lack of comfortable seating. With all the extra space, where were the groupings of overstuffed chairs, beckoning me to dive into a good book, I wondered? Could it be that, with all the emphasis on updating the 20th century library to meet the 21st-century's technological needs, the idea of providing a haven for readers has become obsolete? I found myself longing for a good bookstore, where there always seems to be a chair or two right where I want one.
So here's what I'm hoping to find when I get my first glimpse of the new and improved Gleason Library: loads of space, dotted with a multiplicity of computer terminals, but also some cozy areas where inviting chairs will urge me to stop for a few moments and leaf through that new book on perennial gardens or the latest memoir. Oh, how I've missed that.
Many theologies adhere to the precept of balancethe notion that for every quantum of pleasure there must be a countervailing unit of pain. (Red Sox fans are an exceptionthey believe that some unimaginable season-ending torture will outweigh whatever short-term joys they may experience during the summer). For better or worse, I am among those hardy Carlisleans who help maintain cosmic harmony by balancing the pain of a daily commute against the idyllic splendor of our pastoral community.
I have worked in downtown Boston for my entire professional life, and have accordingly endured a variety of commuting experiences. Having grown up in a small midwestern town, my Boston commute required some adjustment. I eventually learned the following core principles. First, there is no painless way to commute to Boston from anywhere. Second, one's commute is an appropriate topic for conversation and debate around the water cooler. Third, everyone lies (or at least exaggerates) about his or her commute. Finally, everyone claims their commute is better than mine (except for those who enjoy complaining that theirs is worse). The truth, as always, lies somewhere in the middle.
I measure commuting time from door to desk. As a general rule, Boston commutes range from one-half hour to about an hour. (Those Newtonians who claim a fifteen-minute commute are extreme examples of the exaggeration phenomenon unless they live in a toll booth and work in a parking garage.) Our migration to Carlisle was a product of several incremental decisions to accept "just fifteen minutes more" on our daily commute in exchange for more open space at the end. Apart from time, though, the salient intangibles vary.
For example, our first house was in Arlington, halfway up a very steep hill. Each morning I walked to the top of the hill to catch the #78 bus to Harvard Square, then took the Red Line downtown; each evening I returned on the Red Line but took the (more frequent) #77 bus up Mass. Ave. to the bottom of our hill. Mine was a Sisyphean commute, always uphill.
With any commute, coping mechanisms help. Most Carlisleans avoid traffic by leaving home early in the morning. National Public Radio does its part by airing particularly escapist pieces during the morning rush hour. I know drivers who swear by books on tape. That strategy has its limitations, however, as my wife learned when she pulled up to a toll booth during a particularly colorful bit of dialog in Primary Colors.
For those who can maintain a regular schedule, the commuter rail from Concord offers a most pleasant transport. In an otherwise tumultuous work week, my train rides often provide my only personal time. Some work, others sleep. I readthe newspaper inbound and a book homebound. I have a short drive at the Carlisle end (during which I catch the radio news), and a short walk at the Boston end (which allows me to claim that I get daily exercise).
I have grand aspirations. For example, I've parked near Harvard Stadium and ridden my bicycle along the Charles River in and out of town. Alternatively, I could get the exercise (without the river view) by riding my bicycle to the Concord train station. Above all else, however, my commute is a product of habit, if not inertia.
My daily commute has an enormous effect on my daily life, yet it is not a matter of any daily decision. It is the harmonic consequence of my choice to live a convenient distance from the Estabrook Woods and Kimball's.
© 2000 The Carlisle Mosquito