The second city we visited on the Great Cross-Country Barcrawl was Boston. Too few hours after stumbling back to the hotel from Passenger, we trundled over to Union Station in Washington to board the Acela north. Amtrak and Sheriff Joe want you to believe that the Acela is “High-Speed Rail”. I’ve ridden real high-speed rail, and the Acela ain’t it. It took six hours to get from Washington to Boston.
In fairness, the ride was smooth and pleasant. The seats were very comfortable. And the Union Station boarding experience beats the Reagan National boarding experience with a stick… takes it’s lunch money… and sleeps with its sister. And the tickets were downright cheap for business class. If you have the majority of a day to waste, or are traveling a shorter distance, it’s a worthwhile ride.
While we enjoyed our two evenings in Boston, our reason for including it on the itinerary was powerfully sad. We spent our day in Massachusetts out in the country with family to remember my late Uncle Duncan.
Commander Duncan P. Stevens, USN (Ret) served America as a Naval Aviator, piloting A-4 attack jets in both the Korean and Vietnam Wars. He once told me, “Dougal, flying those jets was the most fun I ever had… right up until people started shooting at us.” Upon finally retiring, he went into property management, managing commercial developments from skyscrapers in San Francisco to shopping malls in Des Moines. He passed away in Maine this last Winter, after a long life well-lived with his one true love.
My life has been influenced by a variety of uncles (all now sadly passed), but Duncan was always my favorite. He was an example for me in many ways, good and bad.
First, he had the gift of always making things look easy. Of course, they seldom were, but that is the trick now, isn’t it? He was responsible when needed and irresponsible when he could get away with it, and occasionally when he couldn’t….
He was outraged when he saw Animal House back when it came out, claiming that they stole something he did at Stanford for the film. (For the record, the horse was already dead when they delivered it. This is less funny, but a whole lot more impressive logistically.)
My uncle liked to call friends and family at the end of a long night of “conviviality”. My mother, his sister, was his favorite person to reach out to in later years, which wasn’t ideal for my Dad, since we lived on the east coast, and Duncan the west…. I never really got the big deal during the last election about 3AM phone calls. In our house they were considered kinda charming.
My mom wasn’t the only person Duncan drunk-dialed out of bed. Back when he was on active duty and Franco-American relations were in one of their periodic rougher spots, my uncle and a friend drunk-dialed Charles De Gaulle. At 4AM Paris time.
They got through.
As you may have guessed, my uncle was also a drinker. And I learned a lot from him in the booze world as well. Much of it in the what not to do category. Between wars, while he was back at Stanford to finish his degree, he lost his license for DUI. He had to bicycle to the base to fly his jet….
Duncan P. Stevens lived eight rich decades, and given the way he lived them (DUIs, liver abuse, two wars, carrier night landings) I suspect he must have had compromising pictures of Death himself hidden away in a lawyer’s office somewhere. After a heart attack a few years ago, he woke up in Intensive Care, where his surgeon told him, “I don’t know how the hell you are still alive. I’m just not that good.”
He will be missed. So, do me a favor: Next time you are out somewhere, raise a glass and offer a toast “to Commander Stevens”. He deserves it. And it’ll confuse the hell out of everyone around you… which he’ll enjoy famously.
And now, back to the frivolity. Here is the into for my Washington breakdown. And below are my Boston Reviews: