Transportation

Things We Never Thought We’d Miss about Taking the T

Absence makes this commuter's heart grow fonder.


2019 photo by Erin Clark for The Boston Globe via Getty Images

It’s just another day on the T. A loud screech at Boylston that makes your face scrunch up. The smell of something you can’t describe. An oncoming train is announced and someone runs down the stairs and across the platform, joining the mob that’s assembled at the door, as a few people trickle out before the crowd stuffs the car like a sausage. Everyone’s in their business casual best. Passengers check their phones, avoiding eye contact at all costs. No one is worried about the coronavirus in the slightest. Remember those days?

Ever since March 2020, our commutes have been… different. Those of us lucky enough to be able to work from home have had little contact with the trains and buses we love to hate. And absence, as they say, makes the heart grow fonder. Now, with an end to remote work in sight and plans for a return to the “new normal” just around the eardrum-irritating corner, Boston is about to be reunited with the MBTA. So here, in no particular order, are the things we’re finally willing to admit we’ve missed most about life on the T.

The collective misery

Photo by Spencer Buell

We can’t all agree on much, but the perennially busted, delayed, rage-inducing MBTA unites us all in a collective groan. Sounding off about track issues and “signal problems” is a citywide pastime that has been on something of a hiatus this past year, and the feeling of community that develops among enervated passengers on a train car that grinds to a halt mid-tunnel is something you simply can’t find anywhere else.

You are decidedly never alone

Craving human contact? There’s no better place to find it than on a too-packed Green Line train, standing shoulder to shoulder with nowhere to hold onto, hoping you won’t fall over when the train jerks when it stops, which it always does. Just being around that many people in general now sounds unsanitary, but we loved it.

The stairway to hell at Porter

Are you a stair walker or an escalator clutcher? This stop is a classic for Somerville residents, some of whom walk the 105 ft. stairs for reasons unknown. Health? Masochism? Annoyance at the line that inevitably forms at the bottom of the escalator? For others, ascending or descending the frightening height without having a panic attack is exercise enough, thank you. We might all be a bit more shaky than usual jumping on there our first time back, but we’re looking forward to it all the same.

The new college students

It’s tempting to get annoyed by the freshman horde, with their chunky backpacks swaying to and fro, and lanyards slung around their necks. But the trick is to balance that feeling by allowing yourself to feel nostalgic for the days when it was you hopping around on the T with your new college buddies, exploring the city with brand new eyes. With over 40 colleges in the area, it’s nearly impossible not to run into a couple of students on your commute.

Flash-mob fandom

2019 photo by Christopher Evans/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald via Getty Images

A really packed train car after a Red Sox or Bruins game, everyone decked out in collective Boston team gear, singing songs, raving about the game, maybe a few people with a visible buzz going, but with a sense of friendly camaraderie. Whether you attended or are just trying to get home, there was always an electricity in the air on game night. A sense of pride. And normalcy.

The speaker backpack guys

There’s always one. The songs, played at MAXIMUM VOLUME, don’t always fit the vibe of the train car (except for that one time a very friendly dancing man did this to Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5” at the Harvard Sq. stop and it just felt right). More often it’s some mumble rap deep cut, the lyrics of which can only be actually heard after rush hour. Oh, to have the confidence of a teen with a backpack and a subwoofer. Where are those guys now?

The summer-like heat that radiates from Park Street at all hours and seasons

Photo by David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Where exactly does this font of warmth come from, exactly? Maybe we’d rather not know. But what is certain is spending time in those heated depths on a chilly winter day is the closest transit infrastructure comes to giving us a big, warm hug.

It’s better than watching the news

The T is the front line to everything going on in the city. Construction, politics, everything—you’ll hear about it on the T. From the BC juniors explaining in non-hushed tones how they’ve figured out the answers to everything, to the woman airing her ex’s dirty laundry into her AirPods to the older man studying the Globe folded open across his lap just like he has for the last 40 years, the MBTA is a place where Bostonians from all walks of life get to the bottom of things.

The characters

Spider-Man guy, VR headset guy, Keytar Bear, the woman at Harvard Square with a microphone and boom box who sings really off-tune carols all day around Christmas. They are the spice that flavors our daily routines and give us something to talk about at the water cooler. The commute from the bedroom to the dining room table is infinitely blander by comparison.

The ultimate excuse

Running late? Boss on your back? The MBTA is the world’s best scapegoat—so long as there’s evidence of your train-delay plight on social media, of course. Bonus points if it hits the 12 o’clock news. Working from home ripped this get out of jail free card right out of our hands.

The blessed solo rides

Photo by David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

An empty train is a rare moment worth savoring. Pick whatever seat strikes your fancy, and just watch as the stops roll by, taking a moment of peace to yourself.

The communal morning coffee

With enough commuters going in all different directions, train cars packed with New Englanders, there was bound to be plenty of Dunkin’. Some people had a cup of Joe from Starbucks and they’re entitled to their (wrong) opinions. But there’s a reason SNL has such fixation on our love for Dunks: For better or worse, it’s in our blood. The luckiest commuters even have have one right inside their station. But without an actual destination to be “on the way” to, running on Dunkin just doesn’t feel quite the same.

The views

They often go unnoticed as you go about your routine. But pay attention and you’ll notice just how lucky you are to be in the city, to work and live around all of the historic buildings and art and scenery. The Longfellow Bridge takes the cake, but approach it with the right attitude and you’ll realize the T offers one breathtaking moment after another out those smudged windows. We miss them so.