Technicolor Dreams and Hillside Blues

I did not come to college to slide downhill.

On the way back from seeing "Titanic" at the Sony Fresh Pond Cinema, I decided I had had enough. Most Americans do not end their movie experience clawing their way up a muddy hillside, grasping onto prickly pine branches for dear life, and I wasn't going to finish off another Saturday night like that ever again.

By Monday morning, I was on the phone. I called the Cambridge Public Works department and patiently explained how Harvard students often go to Fresh Pond. I explained how they take the T to Alewife, wait for a green light and use the crosswalk over the Alewife Brook Parkway, walk across the bridge that spans the railroad tracks and then, with the movie theaters in sight, they, ahem, scamper down the hill.

Or rather, I explained that they "carefully scramble," as it suggests in the Unofficial Guide. I had spoken with Lisa Ann Halliday '98, editor of the current Unofficial Guide, about the experience. "I know that there is a better way, but that's what everyone does, so we put it in," Halliday said. "I added `carefully' so that hopefully no one gets hurt." Halliday also said that she herself had carefully scrambled often, though some of her friends had fallen in the process.

And that, I told the patient secretary at the Public Works Department, was why I had called. I wanted them to build a stairway into the hillside that would turn a questionable shortcut into a user-friendly thoroughfare, and I was wondering who had control over that sort of decision. She told me that all the bridges in the state were owned by the Massachusetts Highway Department, especially one on the Alewife Brook Parkway, which moonlights as State Route 2.


Next I called John Carlyle, the director of public relations for Mass Highway. He said he would look into my problem, but called back later in the day to say that the plans that showed who owned the hill-side in question--the Fresh Pond mall or the state--were in another office and weren't accessible.

"Typically the highway department owns a certain extension of feet off of the roadway so it's reasonable to assume that 10, 15, sometimes even 20 feet off the roadway is owned by the state highway department," Carlyle told me.

The Massachusetts Highway Department then sounded like the owner, but as of press time I didn't know for sure. The other potential owner, the Fresh Pond mall management, did not return my calls. Carlyle did say that anyone who wanted to lobby for a stairwell could write to the highway department (519 Appleton St., Arlington, Mass., 02174) and that the department would forward complaints to the rightful owner. Once such a complaint is filed, Carlyle helpfully explained, "A determination would be made about what portion of the land we actually own and we would go from there."

That's next Monday's project. For now, though, I present my complaints to whom it may concern, and welcome you to do the same.

Why am I steamed up about jogging down a hillside? It is not just safety; in theory, I could walk all the way around to the parking lot entrance and only have to negotiate Massachusetts drivers rather than a steep incline. It is also about convenience, and easy solutions.

The last time I was at Fresh Pond, I noticed how packed down the mud was in a distinct track leading from the sidewalk to the top of the retaining wall, and from there over a snow pile into the parking lot. If I were to guess, I would say this is the main pedestrian route to the theater, and it is a dangerous one.

It wasn't really going down that got me; it was going up on an icy night that convinced me stairs were a necessity. My friends and I were trying to make the last T after the late movie and they convinced me that crawling hands and knees up the hill would save more time than running all the way around. Holding on to a pine tree for dear life, at midnight on a windy January night, I wanted a staircase more than at any other time in my life.

This is the point where I would like to happily announce I reached the stair wizard who knew about the problem and was on the task: stairs, in two or three flights, with rust-proof hand rails on both sides. I would like to say he knows how many college students sleepily trudge up the hill after a movie in an effort to cut vital seconds off the time to the T station, perhaps the difference between a long empty train welcoming them home and shelling out the money for a cab.

Unfortunately, no one I talked to knew of the situation, and Carlyle said that the Massachusetts Highway Department might be able to help, but first he needed to find out who owned the land and, frankly, where it was. My fellow students seemed to know what I was talking about, though they shrugged it off as just another Harvard inconvenience, like switching sections or not quite making it to lunch after a one o'clock class.

Nevertheless, I dream of stairs. If you do too, make your feet heard.

Adam I. Arenson '00 is a history and literature concentrator and a resident of Lowell House. His column appears on alternate Fridays.


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