Saturday, August 11, 2012

Seeing All of Boston in One Hour

By Loren Cruise

I stood outside the Prudential Center with a notebook in one hand and my camera in the other. I was not there for a new fall wardrobe from the countless stores at the Center, free samples at Teavana, nor delicious pizza from California Pizza Kitchen. I was going much higher today. My eyes scaled the side of the Prudential Tower, instead, slowly climbing past window after window until they reached my destination, the Skywalk at the top.

Today, I would stand on a cloud and look at Boston, a miniature model of the city to scale. I could reach down and pick up the moving cars or splash the Charles River with my fingertips. Well, actually, I was going to walk around the Skywalk on the top of the second tallest building in the city at look out at Boston through thick glass windows, but it felt like the same thing.

I’m not a huge fan of elevators, but to get up to the 50th floor of the Tower, it made a lot more sense than taking the stairs. When I stepped in, we shot upward like a rocket and I wouldn’t have been surprised if there were a button that would carry me into space. The elevator landed smoothly on the 50th floor with a small ding and I got out, followed by a French-speaking family of four and a couple who looked confused, as though they arrived there by mistake. Or maybe they were just in awe? I wouldn’t blame them because I felt the same way. The first thing that I saw out the window was Hancock Place, the city reflected on its sides looking more like an impressionistic painting than a mirror image.

The Skywalk in the Prudential Tower is unique. It is an observatory, the only place in Boston where you have a 365 degree view of the city, 750 feet from the ground. As you take a tour of Boston from the Skywalk, you can listen to an audio guide that draws your attention to specific landmarks and gives you a brief history. Along with being an observatory, the Skywalk is also a museum featuring exhibits about Boston in the past and present, and about immigration to the United States. I won’t get into detail about the museum, not because I did not like it, but because I feel like the truly magnificent thing about the Skywalk is the view.

I should really know Boston as well as the back of my hand by now, since I work at an information desk downtown, but standing up here it looks initially like a completely different city. However, when I look closer, I start to recognize Boston.

Working at an information desk, you get asked all sorts of questions, but one of the most frequently asked questions is, “I’m in Boston. What should I do now?” That is, unfortunately, one of my least favorite questions because I have known these visitors for twenty seconds. How am I supposed to know what they would like to do? So, I try to narrow it down. “Do you want to see historical sites?” I ask. Then, I suggest the Freedom Trail which would lead them to the Massachusetts State House, Faneuil Hall, and the Bunker Hill Monument to name a few stops. Standing here on top of the world, I can trace the Freedom Trail with my finger. The trail itself is two and a half miles long, but I can visit the whole thing in five seconds.

“Would you be interested in biking or sailing?” I ask. I pull out a map and give them directions to the Charles River where they can rent a sailboat. Or, I point them to the nearest Hubway station where they can rent a bike and cycle along the Esplanade. On my left is a trickle of blue with little white dots which look as though they were accidental brush strokes on this cityscape from way up here. If I walk around the Skywalk, I can follow the Charles from the Museum of Science past Fenway until it turns a corner.

When families need to cool off, I suggest that they visit the reflecting pool and fountain at the Christian Science Plaza. From my spot at the top of the Prudential Tower, I can look straight down at the plaza. I can vaguely see Newbury Street from where I stand, which is where I send people to shop. Scanning the bank of the Charles River on the Boston side, I can see the Hatch Shell, which is where I tell visitors to go for free concerts in the summer.

I felt like this was a map, one so detailed that even I could give accurate directions. I overheard a mother from New York commenting, as she looked at the Copley Square area, “You don’t see gridlock here. Everything just moves.” As I moved past the family, I overheard another conversation. As though they were looking at a large, fold out map, the woman had her finger pressed against the glass and was showing her husband how to get to Fenway Park. “But you can’t cross there,” said the husband. “It’s a walking bridge. See?”

This is a huge step in my career (in other words, my summer job). You want to see Boston? I can show you the whole city in an hour! It also changes what I want to do myself. I was familiar with the downtown area, Back Bay, Fenway and Kenmore, and a little bit of Cambridge, but when I was on top of that building, I saw so much more of Boston and Cambridge that I didn’t know existed. So, I’m going to put on some walking shoes and venture out into the strange, new places I have never explored before.

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