Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Joy of Fats in Rochester

May 10th, 2011

Cheeses, ice cream, patés — things that are good in the mouth — are popular in at least one shop at the Rochester (NY) Pubic Market. We had our first breakfast there this weekend and shall be back.

Regular readers know my feelings about this market (like here). I’ll note it one last time, with jealousy, resentment and admiration, that this one is bigger, more diverse, better, open more days (3), and has vastly more local produce, plants, pies and even wine than Boston’s.

When we pick up or unload #2 son and his possessions at college, we normally stay at a hotel-like-object with a breakfast. We did not Friday/Saturday and figured to eat at one of the coffee shops at the market. The Latino/hippie one was no longer in business, so we scouted. The first three were full of pastry scoffers and besides we wanted some protein instead of sugar.

Ah, but the fourth place in turned out to be the right option. We initially thought a cheese shop would not suit. Hah!

ROCcheeses

VM Giordano Imports was a marvel from many angles. There little chalkboard that read they had breakfast was the lure.

Inside, it was all sights and smells to titillate gourmands and gourmets alike. The counters and coolers had perhaps 200 different cheeses, far beyond anything I’d seen, certainly in Boston. Other coolers had dozens of hams, sausages and patés, and the racks behind the registers were a quilt of light to tan to black homemade loaves, rolls and bagels.

It’s open on two of the three days, not Tuesday, but Thursday and Saturday. It was an anthill of customers. There’s a row of maybe 10 stools by a wall bar and four tables for two to four. Nearly everyone was shopping the market and apparently made Giordano’s part of the weekly run.

While we waited for our breakfast specials (smoky Italian ham, and egg and goat cheese on an Asiago or pumpernickel bagel for us, at $4 per, including a 12-ounce coffee), we saw and heard food joy.

I also learned that the Spanish blue cheese was the strongest flavored of the type they ever had. Perhaps I should have taken a chance on some, but did not because it was a warm day and we had 10 or so hours before getting home. The elderly man who ordered some for two salads he would make got a finger of it (turned out to be 0.2 pounds) and left grinning in anticipation. Many other customers either came in for specific favorites or tried slivers before deciding on cheeses, sausages, and patés.

A good advertisement for the store was the food orientation of the staff. None of the five was chubby, but they nibbled too and spoke knowledgeably to customers about the goods. They had their own favorites and enjoyed suggesting uses and pairings.

There seemed to be food life beyond Giordano’s too. The customers turned the conversation to ice cream and anticipation of the area’s seasonal parlors. Someone asked whether Shark’s was open. I had never heard of it, but one of the clerks said he’d just been by and their season had not started.

Then there was a chorus of raves. Staff and customers alike outdid each other with praise for Shark’s (Custard & Ice Cream). It was the area’s best, no the world’s best, yes and with the highest butterfat content of any, and with the best choices of flavors, and a reason to survive the arctic-style winters.

I just visit Rochester a few times a year. Shark’s was new to me. I’ll fix that the next time we go. The world’s best ice cream in a cultural hole somewhere about 15 miles South of a city no place in particular sounds like a destination.

We came away with one new favorite and the potential for a second. That’s a food lover’s reward for a road trip.

Abounding Building Delights

April 4th, 2011

Sorry, Hub-ophile, this has nothing to do with Boston…except perhaps to praise our town for maintaining far more of its history and architecture than NYC or other big U.S. burgs. On that recent trip to Manhattan with two chums, I did find small delights amid the rain/sleet/snow/hail at some of the detail remaining there.

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morton

Along old (long old) stamping grounds in the West Village’s Morton Street, many of the walk-ups keep their nobly beautiful doors and imposing stone guards.
From Art Deco and earlier periods, throughout Manhattan, many window and door ornaments as well as finials and friezes speak to a detail we no longer demand. mortonclose
winterpots Around Washington Square Park, mundane detail such as planters speak well of both the resident’s intentions, their attention to detail and their comfort in leaving such small treasures in public.
The grandly detailed, triangular  Flatiron (Fuller) Building at Madison Square displays multiple levels of changing architectural interest. Even from the ground, the fourth floor of the 1902 gem shows an art gallery of scupture. flatiron
flatironclose There’s an odd animistic delight in having a building stare back at you.
Manhattan building art and artifacts are not all historic or stone. On Greenwich Avenue, for example, the apparently year-round whimsy of a lighted African Santa on a street-facing gets nods and grin even from Village locals. gvsanta
esb Many years ago, I worked next door to the Chrysler Building, overlooking its upper gargoyles. Since then, I have kept an eye to such cartoonish guardians. The Empire State Building abounds with them.

The only point here is in Boston, Manhattan or anywhere, don’t forget to look up as you tour or commute.

Mildly Buffed Lower East Side

March 27th, 2011

An overpriced bar and a hookah café on East 3rd Street? Odder than I, say I.

Walking two friends by my old Manhattan apartments included the Hells Angels’ block — 3rd between 1st and A. I had to count mentally  more than once as it was the same and different. Yes, it was the early 70s that I lived across the street from the club house.

Then we residents liked to note that it was the safest block in the five boroughs. No burglars or robbers bothered you, even on this seamy block. the two huge plate-glass windows of the Mike (Sr. and Jr.) Fiumefreddo butcher shop were clean and no one dared break them.

This week, the townhouses still look New York dreadful, but I hear they are a lot more expensive. There were five bikes on the curb of 77 instead of 20 or so on both sides when I lived there.

The butcher shop is now The Edge. Customer reviews online at Yelp say it is a dive bar that charges uptown prices (although they are quibbling over $7 craft beers they want to cost $6). Another site sums it up as, College-y meat market next to a Hell’s Angels hangout. A haven for neighborhood alcoholics during the day and a watering hole for NYU hotties at night.

To me the oddment is that there is a bar there at all. The Cafe Khufu hookah bar down the street seems stranger. Then I remind myself how long it  has been since I lived there.

The Angels I knew are gone or dead. For continuity, there house is still there, despite a failed retaliatory suit by the feds to seize the club building (lost in 1994). Amusingly enough, the club now has a website, replete with sales of calendars, collectibles and t-shirts. The latter includes the shibboleth often uttered by Vinny, the biggest, meanest, hairiest Angel and the one I spoke with most frequently — When in doubt, knock ’em out!

Suddenly I’m humming TMBG and hearing lyrics from Older:

You’re older than you’ve ever been and now you’re even older
And now you’re older still
Time
Is marching on
And time
Is still marching on

There was a time, boys and girls, when people who didn’t live on this block of East 3rd sensibly did not go there. That’s changed, probably for the better. An overpriced dive may not be as positive, particularly as it speaks to the Fiumefreddos departure and likely demise.

Mike and his dad were great butchers and kind neighbors. They’d cash checks and lend you money. They’d donate spring lambs each year for a block cookout the Angels would host, replete with lots of nasty red wine made in the basement next to me by an old Italian woman. It was a loud, seedy, colorful and safe place to live.

Today? It’s a little the same and a lot different.

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Twice Favored by the MBTA

March 25th, 2011

Harrumphing aside, and despite what my sons might say, I am capable of praise as well. On this week’s zoom in and out of NYC, the Boston T met its skeds and delivered me on time to and from the farthest reaches of this city.

Cynicism would note that I have been reduced to cheering this lumbering, sputtering, bureaucratic service for doing its job. Indeed, there are many reasons why I prefer going by bicycle in the great wheel and on its spokes from Winchester to Wellesley to Stoughton. It takes less time for me to bike from the bottom of Hyde Park to Davis Square for example than to drive or depend on bus/trolley/subway combos. Of course, as a skinflint, I delight in it being far cheaper.

Ah, though on pre-dawn Wednesday, the scant and silly Fairmount commuter rail options worked perfectly and on Thursday night, the equally spare and precise hourly buses from Ashmont to home dovetailed exactly with the Red Line from South Station. Perfecto.

The grousing on Universal Hub of late for delayed, cancelled, vomit-splattered trains, and those with surly staff is understandable. We have a fair mass transit permeation here. So many of us are carless or choose not to pay for commuting, shopping and hitting shows and shops in parking, time and space seeking that we are virtually captive to the T.

Regular readers here and at Marry in Massachusetts know I eagerly await the Purple Line. We can skip or slide the half mile from the top of Fairmount Hill in the bottom left of Boston to the often dilator commuter rail. Its sked is plain silly, with only a few morning runs into town, no weekend service, and a mere two evening returns from South Station — 7:30 and 9:40 — totally in the wrong times to see a show or have a decent meal.

The new sked supposedly within a year will give some choices to the tens of thousands of largely middle class and poor, many of color, who are far from the Orange and Red Lines and who have heard and seen the rare commuter trains roll over and through their neighborhoods with no stations and no service. Also, there’s a fair chance the fare will finally drop from $4.25 to a subway $1.70/$2. That’s fair fare for areas in Boston when many farther stops North and West have long been the subway cost.

Enough carping. Let me note that the T did me right:

  • The 5:51 a.m. arrived at 5:51 at Fairmount and hummed me into South Station in plenty of time to bolt on Bolt for Manhattan.
  • As a bonus, three of us guys got driver Dan who looked and sounded like an off-season Santa, who named our ride the Ship of Good Cheer, who took pictures of us, and who was highly skilled even in the narrow chute of the Midtown tunnel.
  • On the return, traffic in the Bronx into Connecticut had us running behind. Many fretting teens with texting thumb tics whined into their iPhones as did the inane middle-aged guys, constantly updating their families at length about nothing of action — their exit or whether they had the right cell number to call in four hours when they arrived in Boston. Blah, blah, drone. These folk must also need nightlights.
  • We arrived at South Station at 8:33 p.m. and the hourly bus from Ashmont left for my house in 27 minutes. Miss it and the half-hour ride to within 100 feet of my front door would turn into three times that, either with a Red to Orange Line, then a 32 bus to Cleary Square and a 15 minute, mile-plus walk, or waiting for the Mattapan trolley and likely walking the two plus miles in the dark up the wet road. Worse can happen, but those are not what I would seek. The option would be the kill an hour in or near South Station and take the last Fairmount train.
  • Instead, I hustled like squirrel in front of a feral cat. I galumphed the many station stairs, skirted the Atlantic Avenue side, and careered three floors down to the outbound Red Line. Within three minutes, the Ashmont train arrived and made good time to its terminus.
  • Both the South Station platform and the bus shelter on the other end were full of passengers. My trip was fully orchestrated as though all awaited me.
  • The 24/27 bus was nearly full. It is an hourly show after all. I arrived at figurative curtain time, took a seat and enjoyed the brief play. Even the passengers getting on covered with huge snowflakes seemed cast in a musical about Boston in winter.

Praise to the T…and to fortuitous timing. I appreciated jolly Dan on the ride down as well. Mass transit and cheap buses worked wonderfully. May all of my and all of your commutes and special trips be so blessed.

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Sledding toward Boston

February 26th, 2011

Yesterday was our first overtly dangerous trip on NY’s Taconic Parkway. From my teens, I have tooled up and down between NJ or NYC and more recently from Boston to and from New England and Canada. It’s always slower than an Interstate, rife with rolling hills, low traffic, scenic and free. Friday though, it was a setting worthy of a 50’s movie, wherein the hero and heroine confront nature and out-of-control situations.

Thursday, we were on 90 West from Boston and up to Amherst, then back to 90 and down 50 miles on the Taconic. Headed to Poke (Poughkeepsie), we passed the real points of interest on the Western pike — the Ty-D-Bowl blue ice formations on the road cuts, colored by minerals in the rock. Then just over into NY, we turned South on the Taconic.

As though they were declaring truth in advertising, several deer families were by the watch-for-deer signs, only 10 or 20 feet off the road. The occasional still-golden willows were undulating delights. Locals have direct access to the road, giving us amusement at some of the green signs — BULLS HEAD ROAD, NINE PARTNERS ROAD, NEXT ROAD, and RIGOR ROAD. The parkway’s visual surprises more than paid us back for dropping into the 50MPH world.

Overnight though, the rain came quick and stayed hard. It shifted into sleet, teasing us with a half hour of snow, but returning to freezing rain. The tour guide at the CIA repeated, “Watch your step!,” “Hold the rail!,” and “It’s slippery here.” By the time we headed back on 44 from Poke toward the Taconic, we were in driver-training horror.

We saw a heavy panel truck that had simply skidded off 44 into two feet of roadside snow and ice head first. A trooper was headed — slowly, cautiously, with lights — to the rescue as we passed.

I drove down, the longer day given the side trip, but dry and safe. My wife insisted on sharing the duties and taking the wheel back. Haar.

The Taconic was slippery at best. We saw a Suburu that waddled all over a lane, while going maybe 15MPH. We passed several guard rails with obvious impacts in the packed snow. Clearly at each indent, a driver had lost control but was able to back out and proceed.

The parkway was iced over with that sleet and 30 seemed the maximum safe speed.

Then coming down those formerly pleasant rolling hills, our van seemed to hydroplane on the ice. She shifted into a numbered gear on the automatic and slowed.

Not everyone was so cautious and at several points we saw the effects. At one, a Suburu SUV had taken off nearly half a Toyota’s rear bumper. The car had its hazards on and took the right lane, immobilized with hanging parts, while the SUV had pulled off ahead. At another point, three cars had collided. It seemed no one was injured, but the local firefighters used flares and were stopping cars to insist they drive at 5MPH maximum. The three cars with their drivers and passengers were all stuck, two embedded into guard-rails on the left and one off its wheel on top of a snow/ice mount on the right shoulder.

Occasionally, some fool would tool by at 60MPH, sliding past the rest of us. We could see their vehicles wobbling and fishtailing. We did not see them in piles farther ahead, so they either managed the trip or disappeared off the road entirely.

At the top of the Taconic is Route 90, which becomes the Mass Pike a short distance East. It was plowed and fairly passable, except for occasional patches of 100 yards or so. In MA, the sleet became rain, which in contrast to the previous 90 minutes seemed very safe indeed, messy and requiring wipers and regular washer squirts, but 65MPH worked.

We didn’t see any deer on the way back. They surely had more sense than the drivers and waited out the storm.

Earning Poundage

February 25th, 2011

block-heads

Slogging through the slush today on a CIA tour (as in cooks, not spooks), son #3 got culinary truth from a second set of guides. We previously had toured Johnson & Wales in Providence. Oddly enough, we did so in driving rain there also; we sense a pattern and may do any future cooking-school tours online.

Down in that other Hyde Park (New York this time), I was surprised by the expansion and relative grandeur of the Culinary Institute of America campus. A few friends of mine have gone there — restarting careers. One foundered in liberal arts and decided to get real; she was the first woman to graduate at the head of her class, 1975. Then as she had established herself as a chef in Manhattan died much to0 young of cancer. Another had a successful spin in IT in NY State, raised a kid to college age, divorced and needed to become another person. She is a famous chef in Santa Fe.

I had spent days at a time on the campus back when the main dining facility clearly showed what it used to be, the nave of a Marist chapel. That building is still in use, but there are five high-end restaurants for the public and numerous endowed buildings. For example, we ate at the Catrina de’ Medici, in a few fancy building paid for by the Colavita oil-oil folk. (That meal requires its own post.)

Today’s tour highlight for me was a brief aside conversation by guide Chelsea. She’s about to graduate and go to Cornell for a viniculture concentration.

As the times I have visited over the years, I noticed what is all too obvious — there are a fair number of hefty students. Professors tend to be around for a long time. Some are stocky, and others very thin. I thought of the 1938 Block-Heads, in which Oliver and Hardy are set to cooking on their own.

Chelsea spoke of everyone trying to get to the campus gyms and pool. The students often have to taste what they make all day, and sometimes have homework including 45 different cookies they made. They have to look at, feel, smell, taste and thoroughly describe each, with their reports strictly graded to see they understand the distinctions. Even if you do the wine-tasting equivalent of spitting it out, that’s a lot of butter and sugar.

As we slipped over the pavement in the sleet, I asked her if the national fascination with obesity factored here and whether students hassled each other. She said it was a big issue and chefs as well as students were aware of it. The students didn’t deride each other, she said, but the school added additional nutritional information and courses.

Then when the group caught up, she said that a peril of getting a CIA degree came from the eating. She was a mesomorph and not fat, but not junkie thin as is the underwear model fashion. She announced that she arrived several years before as a size six but was far from that now.

She added that stereotype at typical colleges is that the meal plans and inactivity mean there is a freshman 15, that is students put on 15 pounds in the first year. “Here, we talk about a freshman 45,” she said.

Curiously Pleasant Subway Trip

February 14th, 2011

Something New Yorkers and Bostonians share is a dread of dirty-smellies, particularly on the subways. I got a chuckle a few days ago from a variation on that theme.

I slid over undulating sheets of iced waves that should have been sidewalks to Mattapan Square. It seems Milton has three very strict snow-emergency rules — Chapter 6, Section 10 forbids sliding or coasting on a public way without a permit from Selectmen or the Chief of Police, Section 13 bans throwing snowballs, again on any public way, and Section 3 reads you can’t move any snow from your property into a public way. The bylaws don’t bother with the silliness of clearing your sidewalks of ice and snow. Harrumph, surely anyone foolish enough to walk in winter deserves the worst.

From there, the Mattapan high-speed rail, a.k.a. the trolley, is frequent and quick to Ashmont. Ah, there where the subway begins, the vicissitudes of urban transit are in charge of your body and timing. The trains arrive when they arrive and leave when they leave. Moreover, many passengers are in for the long haul. They are likely to be headed to Downtown Crossing and many to Harvard, Davis and Alewife.

mints

This inspires you to look carefully as you enter a car. You likely know which end of the train you’ll want to be on for the right exit strategy. You’ll almost certainly have your choice of seats at Ashmont. You’ll really want to be careful about your proximity to cellphone yammerers and screamers, those dirty-smellies, and the obviously demented. You might be elbow to elbow for 20 to 40 minutes.

On my last right north, I smelled him from 12 or more feet away. To my amusement, it was not the scent I might have feared.

I checked him out. He was deep into his tin and not noticing me or anyone. He had on old clothes, but they were clearly clean and well taken care of. I could surmise that he was not homeless, but not quite all the way in the present. Perhaps he lived in a group home.

What he was noticing and into, and what permeated half the car, was the curiously strong Altoids scent. It was the red-trimmed peppermint variety. The oils filled the air between us, aggressively and agreeably. He carefully and with apparent pleasure plucked three or four at a time to place into his mouth. There was a man who enjoyed his mints. He rolled back when they were in his mouth and grinned his satisfaction.

If there was a wee lesson there, it would be to go with what is before you and be aware of it. I might well have seen a not-quite-together fellow and ignored him or worse thought ill of him. Instead even my low level of awareness let in the pungency of his mints and a glimmer of his pleasure in them.

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Winter Fluffer

January 16th, 2011

After a glance, my uxorial unit declared the backyard looks like a field of Marshmallow Fluff®.  That’s how winter should be, and how it is in my childhood recollections.

We’ve been a week with scant new snow. We had a pathetic dusting last night, sky dandruff. Yet, the air has been colder than average and not modulated by that famous ocean effect that Boston gets. Our 18 inches up on this hill stays a solid foot, even after several sunny afternoons.

For much of my childhood, I spent vacations and for a few years lived in the Eastern panhandle of West Virginia. To my memory, snow that came stayed.

Romney is in the mountains and on a plateau surrounded by them. The huge apple orchards and corn fields overlooking the Potomac were white from the first flakes, on and on, with regular new snows.

Normally fluffin-town snow in Boston, if it deep enough to cross-country ski in, stays that way one to three days. Temperatures above 30F, bright sun, and no new snow quickly reduce the good stuff to intermittent grass decoration and junk that sticks to skis.

I’m quick to grab the skis (sometimes snowshoes instead) and head to one of my Boston ski resorts — the Arnold Arboretum, Franklin Park’s golf course or the nearby Blue Hills Reservation in Canton/Milton. Alas, I used to walk to the Forest Hills Cemetery when we still lived in Jamaica Plain, but two years ago, the management there got grumpy, nasty and non-accommodating.

It’s not a huge deal to drive 45 minutes or even a couple of hours to get to a bona fide cross-country course. They have groomed trails, warming houses or huts, places to pee and such. They do charge say $20 a person, but the big thing is that they are OUT THERE. It’s fabulous to ski Boston. I have an odd pride in being able to do so, even hitting someplace twice a day or more than one location.

So, I’ve been grokking the cold weather keeping the deep snow for my amusement and sport. Tomorrow again will be bitterly cold — more obvious in the arboretum or particularly on the Devine golf course, which only means faster skiing and no slogging in the gummy stuff.

If global warming means hotter summers and colder winters, at least the second part keeps my fluff deep and hard enough for play. Bring it on and keep it on the ground, if you please.

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Highway Ice Skating

January 8th, 2011

Bang…bang against the Jersey barrier…

This morning in the worst of the icy snowfall,we got to see a Masshole in prime form. Having learned to drive in the absurdly steep and serpentine mountains of West Virginia’s Eastern panhandle, I’m fine on snowy roads. I can’t say the same for most of our locals. This morning’s bozo was such.

At 30 degrees, 128 had two inches of road nasties, a porridge of snow and ice. The shoulders and onramps got the highway plows’ residue of six or so inches of the perilous muck. That’s where the Masshole’s arrogance met defeat by physics.

His Ford Expedition should rightly be a Ford Exhibitionist. He gunned it over the snow and ice bank and around cars on the ramp. Big man=Big jerk.

We were in the middle of three lanes two vehicles back, in prime viewing position. The fat new SUV immediately spun counterclockwise. Through the grace of coincidence, it slid across three lanes without taking out any smarter drivers.

Somewhere between the third lane and the mini-shoulder and Jersey barriers, the Masshole managed to steer into the skid. It was too late to get back in the traffic flow, but at least he didn’t go headfirst into the concrete.

Instead, the driver’s side rear swung into it. In an impressive discarding of trim and metal, the side and bumper and lenses fairly exploded like a toy blown up with firecrackers.

That was no place to stop. Even at 45 MPH, it was plain the Masshole would not be seriously injured despite his reckless wreck. Sure, he’d have some considerable inconvenience – snaking his Exhibitionist to the breakdown lane, waiting for a wrecker or nervously heading to home or the dealer’s to begin the repair spiral. For him, he likely will escape charges as well as injury. He’ll lose some cash and get an insurance surcharge.

To those of us he put at risk, he won’t get enough punishment. Yet I think I can speak for all of us in self-interest that we were relieved to have been mere spectators.

FAST LANE = SLOW TECH

December 9th, 2010

flatlineSing, Goddesss. Sing the wonders of the computer age…at least the 20th Century version.

Confounded by surprising warnings and inconsistencies of the MA Pike system, I peeked under the lid of their internet/accounting system. It was scary.

Starting the morning of 12/7, I did as I do monthly, verify the online only report of our FAST LANE account. That is tied into our two transponders. I check because I had read of common errors, including misreads through muddy windshields and billing at truck rates for cars.

Issue 1: Uxorial unit and middle son had driven to far Western New York State nearly a week before the billing notice. While the MA tolls appeared, no NY ones did.

Issue 2: Yesterday, three of us drove a little West to find an evergreen to kill for our Christmas revels (unsuccessfully as it turns out; the so-called farms were not perking during the week). At five FAST-LANE booths in or out, we got yellow lights with LOW BAL. messages. Yet, we are on automatic replenishment to a credit card, a card which is working for all other purposes.

Issue 3: At the sixth booth, leaving the Pike at 128, none of the three lights flashed. Rolling through the booth, we did not hear the buzzer which goes off if someone skips paying or does not have a functioning transponder.

For the last, we pulled over and went to the little office at the plaza. There a pleasant fellow, whose early dinner I had interrupted judging from his jaw action, explained nothing but tried. He said the data gathering and billing were totally separate from the toll takers and other plaza functions. He surmised that if we didn’t hear any warning sounds that either we recorded accurately or the equipment was failing to record or react. He figured the lack of lights was a simple malfunction of the plaza equipment. He said to go home and call in the morning.

It turns out that after that call this morning, I conclude that I had inadvertently been exposed to the slacker culture of the FAST LANE system. Do they ever not get databases, computers and networked communication.

The short of it is that I had no problems…so long as I was willing to wait for the Pike people to catch up, and I did not travel so far as to overrun their ability to realize they had taken money from my credit card.

The cold, but seemingly knowledgeable support woman had heard these questions before. The deal is:

  • Yield the password and account number to get help. You must give the operator your allegedly secure info to get any help. Then, I suppose, you trust the Pike not to goof on your account. I’ll be changing mine.
  • Three days and sometimes longer are necessary for any out-of-state systems to bill FAST LANE and maybe longer for this to appear in the online reports.
  • 24 hours and sometimes longer will pass before instate transactions appear online.
  • 24 hours and sometimes longer are necessary for account replenishment to appear online or to get to the computers linked to the plaza controls.
  • Yellow lights are what the Pike people refer to as a courtesy. That is, they have billed your account so that it is below $10, there’s nothing you can do about it, and you never know if you’ll get the red light and buzzer before one computer in their system tells the others that they have sucked money from your credit card.

This is 1990s technology at its most mediocre. There is absolutely no reason they can’t conduct instate transactions in real time, either recording transponder charges or knowing when they have billed your credit card. You should be able to log into your FAST LANE account seconds after passing a booth and see the charge.

I find it a little hard to believe they can’t clear other states’ compatible systems in under 24 hours — 72 is likewise very primitive in internet terms. Whichever state(s) systems are clogging the works need upgrading immediately.

If MA has any fear that your credit card won’t pay them, they can check that immediately online and automatically, as every online vendor as well as any restaurant or store in the world can. Get with the program!

My eyes roll repeatedly thinking that they demand your login to access your account. That is a failure of both concept and execution. Why feign security if your system requires support minions to break it with every call?

Perhaps equipment, as the set of lights at the Southernmost booth at 90 onto 128 did, can fail. Yet, even my car has automatic electronic notification when lights fail. Plus, humans at the plaza see and pass by the array regularly. They should be permitted to notice equipment failures.

I’m pretty sure this junior-high level IT implementation could get quick fixes. I’m positive that any decent network administrator could diagnose the issues and specify their solutions.

Looking at this morning’s online statement, I see that the account replenished five days before the warning light began to appear. I won’t call to ask what happens when a driver gets caught in the limbo of LOW BAL. when there is none in reality. I’d bet that they would happily sent a trooper down the road behind you for allegedly running the toll, leaving you to sort it out later, maybe with the help of a lawyer.

The FAQ at the site is not reassuring, to wit:

If you chose the manual replenishment method for paying your FAST LANE tolls, you are being notified that you have a low balance and that you should replenish your account before it falls to an insufficient amount. Otherwise you will be issued a violation, which will result in a $50.00 fine per occurrence. If you chose an automatic replenishment method (e.g., credit card, bank account) to pay your tolls, your account should be automatically replenished that evening. If you continue to get the “LOW BAL” light call the FAST LANE Service Center at 1-877-627-7745.

In other words, they take no responsibility for their failure to join the 21st Century in processing transactions they control in a timely manner. Recording transactions? Communicating charges and replenishment? Sharing data on its own network? Well, if you have to, when the Pike gets around to it. Yawn.

FAST LANE = sloooooooow, low tech.

Tags: harrumphharrumpherMassPikeFAST LANEdatabaseinefficiency