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You Don't Have to Ride Jim Crow!

Jean Birkenstein Washington

Boston Herald

MSNBC feature

Robin Washington

Lost in the city

Boston Herald "Roads Scholar" column, September 10, 1998

Democratic candidates looking for a free trip to Washington to represent the Eighth Congressional District may have trouble getting past Downtown Crossing.

That's because seven of the 10 hopefuls failed the Herald's T geography test on subway lines running through the heart of the district.

"Aaaahhhh! Can't I call a cab? I'm directionally dyslexic so I'm already at a disadvantage," said Majorie Claprood at the prospect of joining thousands of voters in the bowels of the subway system.

The question: How do you get from the new Boston Police headquarters to the Cambridge Police headquarters using the T?

Each candidate was given one minute to answer, with no help from aides.

"It's the Orange Line but I don't know where the hell I'm gonna transfer," said Claprood. "I'm going to guess it's Downtown Crossing, and then I change to the Red Line and take it to the Starbucks stop."

The Starbucks stop?

"I know it when I get there. I follow my nose."

Must be some strong coffee brewing.

Former Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination head Alex Rodriguez called the challenge "easy," however.

"I'd walk over to Ruggles and take the Orange Line," he said confidently over a crackling car phone. "I'd get off at Park Street and take the Red Line to Central Square."

Pretty good. Except the Orange Line doesn't go to Park Street - an error also made by former Mayor Ray Flynn.

"The Orange Line is what I helped build," he said proudly.

Too bad they didn't give him a souvenir map.

Boston City Councilor Thomas Keane also fell for the Park Street misconnection before quickly correcting himself to Downtown Crossing.

Unfortunately, he couldn't say where to get on in the first place.

"Once I'm there, I know it. It's right across the street (from the police station)," Keane said, adding that he's never had occasion to make the trip by T.

Somerville Mayor Michael Capuano said he's thankfully never set foot in the Boston Police HQ, though he's driven past it.

"It's on the Orange Line. And it transfers at. . . I've never done a transfer between the Orange and Red Lines, so I don't know where they intersect," he said.

He did get Central Square right, and eventually guessed that the stop to get on was "somewhere after Ruggles."

But he was so far over the time limit that anyone asking him for directions on a station platform would have given up long before.

Leading them to George Bachrach, perhaps.

"Not a clue," said the former state senator, adding the useful information that his company is in a working class community in Davis Square and he rides the T all the time.

"It's a silly question," the man with the funny commercials added humorlessly.

Chris Gabrieli took the Charlie on the MBTA award: He correctly stated where to get on and transfer, but not where to get off.

"I actually don't know where the Cambridge Police headquarters are," he said.

So who got it right?

City Councilor Charles Yancey. "I used to go that way to Harvard," he said.

Former state Rep. Susan Tracy. "Believe me, I know. My car broke down during the campaign."

Millionaire man-of-the-people John O'Connor. But he added: "I usually make the trip in my Ford Expedition."

All respondents got the tiebreaker on the fare right - 85 cents. "Unless you're a senior. Then it's a dime," Tracy added.

Actually, it's 20 cents.

Got a commuting gripe? Write to the Roads Scholar at

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