Did She Ever Return?

I was in Boston recently dropping off family members to catch a 6 am flight. It was the two hour window before boarding of 4 am which meant we left the house just after 3 am. Ugh. I can’t remember the last time we had to leave to go anywhere from Logan. It’s still as confusing as ever to get in and out. (Thank goodness for MHT or Manchester/Boston Regional Airport being in our backyard!)

So, I’m by my lonesome now after leaving them on the curb in front of American Airlines and headed back into the night. How difficult should it be to get back on the highway I thought? Right? After paying the toll, I made sure to pay attention to the signs for 93 north. I thought I saw two different ways but I was sure it said south and not north. That’s all I would need to be on the Mass Pike. I exited the ramp only to come to a set of lights and a “detour” sign. Great. Now I had to (as my mother would say when faced with the unknown) follow my nose. There was no one else around at this hour to follow on the same loop back to 93 north so I had to follow the itty bitty signs that kept me on a detour through a maze of streets in Boston. (Did I ask for the tourist route? I don’t think so.)

One confusing moment I faced at one point along the way is there were two detour signs going in two different directions on the same pole. Now what? But I persevered, decided what I thought was the right way and kept going. I was now going down streets of Somerville still following those tiny signs. This whole detour route was not well marked at all. The signs looked like rusty leftovers from other attempts. I did recognize areas I’ve been to before but still no luck to the highway. Finally over a ramshackle bridge and down and around several more streets there was a ramp going up and it landed me on another ramp to 93 north. Halleluiah! When I told others of my unplanned side trip there was a very appropriate comparison to another unfortunate person’s name that everyone (who knows anything about Boston lore) is familiar with. The following is the words to the song where we all know the tune.

“M.T.A.”, often called “The MTA Song”, is a 1949 song by Jacqueline Steiner and Bess Lomax Hawes. Known informally as “Charlie on the MTA”, the song’s lyrics tell an absurd tale of a man named Charlie trapped on Boston’s subway system, then known as the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA). The song was originally recorded as a mayoral campaign song for Progressive Party candidate Walter A. O’Brien. A version of the song with the candidate’s name changed became a 1959 hit when recorded and released by the Kingston Trio, an American folk singing group.

The song has become so entrenched in Boston lore that the Boston-area transit authority named its electronic card-based fare collection system the “CharlieCard” as a tribute to this song. The transit organization, now called the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), held a dedication ceremony for the card system in 2004 which featured a performance of the song by the Kingston Trio and then-governor Mitt Romney.


 

Let me tell you 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
Went to ride on the MTA

Chorus:
Did he ever return,
No he never returned
And his fate is still unlearn’d
He may ride forever
‘neath the streets of Boston
He’s the man who never returned.Charlie handed in his dime
At the Kendall Square Station
And he changed for Jamaica Plain
When he got there the conductor told him,
“One more nickel.”
Charlie could not get off that train.

Chorus:
Did he ever return,
No he never returned
And his fate is still unlearn’d
He may ride forever
‘neath the streets of Boston
He’s the man who never returned.

Now all night long
Charlie rides through the tunnels
Saying, “What will become of me?
How can I afford to see
My sister in Chelsea
Or my cousin in Roxbury?”

Chorus:
Did he ever return,
No he never returned
And his fate is still unlearn’d
He may ride forever
‘neath the streets of Boston
He’s the man who never returned.

Charlie’s wife goes down
To the Scollay Square station
Every day at quarter past two
And through the open window
She hands Charlie a sandwich
As the train comes rumblin’ through.

Chorus:
Did he ever return,
No he never returned
And his fate is still unlearn’d
He may ride forever
‘neath the streets of Boston
He’s the man who never returned.

As his train rolled on
underneath Greater Boston
Charlie looked around and sighed:
“Well, I’m sore and disgusted
And I’m absolutely busted;
I guess this is my last long ride.”

Now you citizens of Boston,
Don’t you think it’s a scandal
That the people have to pay and pay
Vote for Walter A. O’Brien
And fight the fare increase
Get poor Charlie off the MTA.

Chorus:
Or else he’ll never return,
No he’ll never return
And his fate will be unlearned
He may ride forever
‘neath the streets of Boston
He’s the man (Who’s the man)
He’s the man (Oh, the man)
He’s the man who never returned.

You may think (duh) “well why didn’t you use your cellphone or the fancy car GPS?” I am tech challenged I’ll admit but then I wouldn’t have this creative story to share.

“Charlie” credit information: Wikipedia

Debbie Curtin writes stories about people, places, events and other topics of interest that engage the reader. As a member of the New Hampshire Writer’s Project, Debbie keeps ‘in the game’ with other like minded people. She has been an artist and creative person all her life and uses the unlimited sources of inspiration that abound everywhere in her writing as another art form.