- Ada, Oklahoma

December 6, 2013

Charlie’s wife should have given him clam “chowda”

Lone Beasley Publisher

Ada — “Now let me tell you of the story of a man named Charlie on a tragic and fateful day. He put ten cents in his pocket, kissed his wife and family, and went to ride on the MTA.”

— Written by Jacqueline Steiner & Bess Hawes, made famous by Kingston Trio

Boston is a great town with scrumptious dining, first rate professional sports, vast shopping opportunities, nice people, and scads and scads of history. But as Kenny Chesney sang in his hit tune “Please Come to Boston,” that doesn’t mean it’s my kind of town. 

It’s a fun place to be, as my wife and I discovered when we visited our son and daughter-in-law this Thanksgiving. But not permanently so.

It isn’t a great exaggeration to say most Americans, this one included, use their cars to drive across the street. One doesn’t do that in Boston. Residents there almost always take the Massachusetts Transit Authority (MTA) trains rather than personal vehicles because of the unlikely chance a parking spot will be available once they arrive at their destinations. 

This results in a great deal of physical exercise because riders arrive at the MTA depot to board via “shoe sole express” as a friend of mine used to say, by which he meant walking. More exercise is required once the train stops because depositing all of its inhabitants in front of the exact place they are attempting to get to is a physical impossibility. Additional walking is involved.

This may explain why the only fat people in Boston are tourists. The Bostonians we saw all seemed to be thin, or at least thinner than your average Oklahoman, this one included.  

Most interesting to us – and a testimony to Boston’s sense of humor - is the fact the easy access frequent rider pass one buys from the MTA is called a “Charlie” card. Later research proved what we suspected, that its name is a reference to the hapless fictional rider who was the subject of the old Kingston Trio hit “The MTA.”  

In the song, you may remember, Charlie never figures out how to get off the thing. His dutiful wife goes to the “station every day at a quarter past two” – and through the open window “hands Charlie a sandwich as the train comes rumbling through.” 

We couldn’t get the song’s chorus out of our minds. “Well, did he ever return? No he never returned, and his fate is still unlearned. He may ride forever ‘neath the streets of Boston, he’s the man who never returned.”

It is a fate we also might have suffered except for the fact our son and daughter-in-law have lived there long enough to become expert MTA travelers.   

Another indication of residents’ humor is that the sign promoting clam chowder we ate at one of our destinations advertised it as “Clam Chowda,” a reference to natives’ challenges in pronouncing Rs. 

To say it was delicious understates the case by an MTA mile. Charlie should’ve been so lucky.