Guest Op-Ed: Exclusive Interview with Charlie on the MBTA

By Alison Barnet

(A take-off on the Kingston Trio’s 1959 classic song, ‘Charlie on the MTA’)

AB: Let me tell you the story of a man named Charlie who recently returned to Boston and took a ride on—not the MTA— but the MBTA. What brings you back to Boston, Charlie? I thought you would never return!

Charlie: Well, I’m here to visit my sister who still lives in Chelsea and my cousin in Rox-ber-ry. The family’s so spread out I’ve done nothing but ride forever ’neath the streets of Boston since I got here. I even changed for Jamaica Plain—by mistake.

AB: Poor Charlie, you’ve been through a lot in your couple of days here. What’s your opinion of the MBTA?

Charlie: You know, these are tragic and fateful days—far from that conductor back in the Sixties telling me “One more nickel,” and I couldn’t get off that train. You’ve got long-overdue track work, service suspensions, ceilings caving in, and all those slow zones. Riding the T is not comfortable at all. I almost got hit with a guy’s backpack, and the people on both sides of me were driving me crazy yakking loudly on their cell phones. Too bad it’s illegal to touch the driver! My opinion is that the MBTA’s fate is still unlearned!

AB: So I want to know what you think of our CharlieCard? You must be flattered.

Charlie: Flattered?! You’ve got to be kidding! You know how they show me holding on to my hat with my left hand, my tie flying, and holding that green thing up with my right? Well, that green thing isn’t a ticket; it’s a folder of legal documents. I’m suing! Not only did they defame me, using my good name in vain, they completely missed the point. The old Charlie was a victim, a symbol of protest, not some goofy Forties suit type! My name’s all over the danged place but it just makes me feel like shouting: Get poor Charlie off the MBTA!

AB: I wonder if you’ve been on any MBTA buses since you’ve been here.

Charlie: &*(^#@! One day, I waited half an hour for the so-called #1 bus. They ought to call it the Minus 1. When it finally came, it was packed to the gills, and I couldn’t even get close to a window to hold on to my hat and wave my pretend pass. You know how my wife used to hand me a sandwich through an open window? Well, today, even if the windows could open, she’d have to shove it past two dozen riders as the bus goes rumblin’ through. It’s a scandal how the people, even us elderly, have to pay and pay—and then can’t even get on!

AB:  So, Charlie, any other MBTA thoughts?

Charlie: I decided the heck with buses, I’ll take the train. Well, one night my grandson was due in at the airport, and I wanted to be there to meet him, so I studied the new subway map and figured the best way was to take what they call the Silver Line. So what comes along? A bus! I’m on this bus that calls itself a line and we’re nowhere near the airport, and the plane is due to land! Now all night long, he’s crying, “What will become of me?”

AB: Oh, Charlie, will you ever return?

Charlie: Will I ever return? No, I’ll never return.

AB: Any last words for Boston?

Charlie: I’ll see ya in court!

Alison Barnet is a longtime South End resident and  author of five books on the neighborhood’s history.

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