Boston, Where Everybody Knows Your Name

By Brian Fischler

After a nice six week break from traveling all over the country, it was back to my Flight for Sight adventure. Unfortunately, due to MLB teams’ schedules for home games and my silly friends actually having lives and being out of town, instead of traveling to multiple cities, this trip was a one and done: just a quick jaunt from New York City to Boston.

I had initially planned to take Amtrak all over the Northeast Corridor, but was surprised to learn how cheap it was to fly from NYC to Boston, so we booked me on a JetBlue flight. Who knew it was monsoon season in Boston?

I had planned to leave on September 11th, but being a New Yorker I was not exactly wild about flying on the day of remembrance. I had a colleague in Boston who was planning on going to the Red Sox game with me on September 11th but, when he had to cancel, I decided to leave on September 12th instead. I was hoping to stay with my good buddy from collegeJeff Brewer. I stayed with Jeff the last time I was in Boston, which was 22 years ago. So, I rang him up, only to find out– the nerve of this guy! He had turned his spare bedroom into a home office during the pandemic. Again, how selfish are all my friends? We thought about me staying at a hotel, but with my Flight for Sight funds dwindling down, a hotel would add costs we were hoping to avoid. Thankfully, a Perkins School for the Blind employee heard Flight for Sight’s Executive Director Mike Walsh on a podcast and had reached out. A friend of hers, Mika Pyyhkala offered a spare bedroom that I could stay in if I wanted. So Mika and I jumped on a phone call, as I obviously had to make sure that he was not a serial killer. You would be surprised how many serial killers there are in the blindness community. (Kidding!) Mika and I hit it off immediately, as we are both big blind tech guys. I was kind of amazed that we had never connected before as, at our level, the blind tech world is not that big. Yes, I am being cocky. You are allowed to be cocky when you are a blind tech god. It’s one of the advantages to being in the club.

With my plans all set, I headed to Boston on September 12th. It was nice to be able to pack a small bag compared to the suitcase, carry-on and backpack I lugged all over the country on my first leg of my Flight for Sight adventure. It was great being able to use the Amazon Basic Backpack suitcase I purchased a few years ago. A great product if you are only traveling for a few days. As a guide dog user or white cane user, it is so nice to have both your hands free.

I headed off to the airport and got a great Lyft driver who lives in my neighborhood and had seen me walking around with Wesley. So nice to get into a rideshare where there are no hassles about your guide dog. I arrived at LaGuardia and got to the check in counter. I should mention that this was the very first time I was able to fill out the preflight JetBlue guide dog forms online by myself. It only took JetBlue two years, but they finally fixed the issue of the drop down inaccessibility for screen reader users where you need to select which airline you will be flying. So nice that I did not have to ask my mommy for assistance filling out the guide dog paperwork.

I breezed through the check in process and TSA with no issues. It’s only about 40 minutes in the air to Boston and I did not get the bulkhead due to our last minute booking of the flight. I was way back in row 23. I had not sat this far back on a plane in probably over a decade but it was no big deal. I sat next to a very nice lady from New Hampshire. I typically do not talk to the people sitting next to me on the plane. Just a nice hello, and let me know if the dog is in your way, but my seat mate was so friendly that we talked the entire way to Boston. Before I knew it we were touching down. Not sure if I have mentioned in any of these blogs, how surprising it is for a blind person when the plane touches down. You know you are descending but the moment the plane hits the ground it is a tad alarming when you can’t see any of it. There’s a split second where you need to check to make sure you are still alive. I typically ask the person sitting next to me to slap me across the face to make sure. No one has ever turned down the offer. I am kidding about the last two comments.

As usual when I landed, even though I had put in a request for a meet and assist, there was no one there to meet me. I know several blind people are able to get around the airport on their own, but I am all about getting out of the airport as quickly as possible and find that, even with the annoying waits, it is easiest to do it with assistance. As I was waiting, a very kind flight attendant came up to me and asked if I needed help. Her shift was over and she was heading to the rideshare area. She ended up walking me to the cab line and offered me some very useful advice for future flights. She said, even though I do not need it, the odds would be much higher of someone actually being at the gate to meet me if I request wheelchair assistance instead of a meet and assist. I will definitely be testing this out on my next flight. If anyone tries this, do let us know.

I got in the cab and headed to Mika’s place. It was an uneventful ride to South Boston. Yes, Southie, where Matt Damon and Ben Affleck grew up. However, when they grew up there, it wasn’t the greatest neighborhood. Thankfully these days it is a very nice place to live. I arrived at Mika’s and texted him, and he came down to greet me. We headed up to his pad, sat down, and talked for a bit. He showed me the room that I would be staying in, and let me tell you, I have never ever had a host as amazing as Mika, and that includes family too. Apologies to my family members reading this. In the room that I was staying in, there was an entire welcome basket with bottles of water, towels, even slippers if I was so inclined. You know it just occurred to me…I wonder if the bottles of water were like a hotel and cost $12 bucks. I will have to double check my bill when Mika sends it to me. Lol.

Mika may be the first person that I have ever met that actually has more talking smart devices than I do. I thought I had the ultimate blind man cave, but Mika may have me beat. He has smart air conditioners, microwave, locks, toaster, TV’s, speakers, the whole kit and caboodle. Impressive stuff. We spent a few hours comparing notes, and before we knew it, it was time to head to Fenway Park to meet my buddy Jeff.

We took a Lyft because, like NYC, Boston has a rideshare-paratransit option. We met my buddy Jeff at the very famous Cask ‘n Flagon, which is directly across the street from Fenway. Amazingly, even with a doubleheader due to yesterday’s rainout, the bar is not packed. We decided to grab dinner here, as it would be nicer than eating at the ballpark. I had the pastrami Reuben, which was delicious, along with a Sam Adams Wicked Hazy. I am not a big beer guy, (in fact, I probably drank more beer on these Flight for Sight journeys than in the last ten years combined!) but the Wicked Hazy was fantastic.

Brian, Mika, and Jeff are at Fenway Park. The field is in the background

After dinner we popped into Fenway. Our seats were way up in the right field grandstand. It was kind of like a private box area. I have been very disgusted with my Yankees for the past three years, so the fact the Sox were playing the Yanks gave me the opportunity to express my displeasure with my Yankees. I actually started (or tried to start) the “Yankees suck” chant at Fenway. Fenway is such an awesome ballpark. I went there when I was a kid with my parents. We all had a beer at the game and got to sing Neil Diamond’s fantastic “Sweet Caroline” in the bottom of the 8th: one of the coolest traditions at any ballpark. Surprisingly, the Yankees won the game. I guess that makes up for their terrible play when I caught them at Coors Field in Denver.

After the game, Jeff walked us over to an area where it would be easier to get a Lyft. It was now 11pm, and Jeff had a little bit of a hike to get home, so we bid him adieu, and we headed to Mika’s neighborhood pub. Ah, an authentic Boston Southie bar. I tell ya, I actually love the hardcore Boston accents. Mika does not have one even though he grew up here. They totally took care of us at Mika’s bar. Fun place, we closed it down, and headed back to Mika’s.

The next day, we arose to a heck of a storm. Boston has been getting a ton of rain lately. In fact, the whole North End is dealing with terrible flooding, and this was all a few days before they got hit by a tropical storm. I had planned to possibly go and walk some of the Freedom Trail, or take a tour around the harbor, or possibly hit up the JFK Presidential Museum, but it was pouring cats and dogs, so I ended up just hanging at Mika’s. One downside to a guide dog, is it can be very difficult to get rideshares with a soaking wet dog. I got some work done during the day, Mika and I talked a little, and then Mika headed off to a meeting. Even though I missed my whole day in Boston, I wasn’t about to sit on my ass during the evening. At about 5:30 pm I summoned a Lyft and, due to the weather, it took me over an hour to get one. My ride finally arrived, and I got lucky, as I got a very nice driver who loved dogs and didn’t mind a little bit of wet dog in his car. We headed off to where everyone knows your name, formerly the Bull and Finch, but now known as Cheers Boston. They did not film Cheers in this bar, as it was filmed on a Hollywood sound stage, but the Bull and Finch was the inspiration for the hit TV show, and the outside of the bar was used as an establishing shot in the show. I got there, of course, in the rain and headed down the famous front stairs. Even with all the rain, the bar was packed. In fact, at first, I could not even get a seat at the bar. I told the maître d’ I would just stand at the bar and wait for a seat to open. As I was doing this, a nice couple offered me their seat. Hey, maybe everyone here really does know your name. I sat down and immediately everyone at the bar, mostly tourists, started talking to me. The maître d’ even came back and asked if my guide dog Wesley needed some water. You immediately know the quality of a place when they offer your guide dog water. The bartender Chris was from New Rochelle, NY, and had worked at Cheers for over 10 years, so I said, “So, you’re like Sam!” and he laughingly replied, “Funny, no one has ever said that before!” Wink, wink. I hit up Mika and he joined me after his meeting. We had some apps and drinks and, when we went to leave, the bartender gave me a very nice beer mug that had the Cheers logo on it. So yeah, I had an absolute blast at Cheers, and made a great call to come here.

Empty glass mug with the Cheers logo on it.

Mika and I then headed over to another local bar and it was packed with locals. Something tells me Boston may have a fairly big drinking crowd. We had a blast at this bar as well, talked to a ton of locals, and I had two orders of amazing deviled eggs. After a tremendous evening hanging out in Boston, we called it night.

The next morning it was back to the airport and back to NYC. Again, this now makes NYC, Dallas, Houston, Phoenix, Los Angeles, San Diego, Seattle, Denver, Cincinnati, and now Boston with zero issues with my guide dog and the airlines and TSA. It’s nice when there are no hassles, and I can definitely tell you that it will not be another 21 years before I get back to Boston, as I absolutely loved the city.

To engage with this blog on Facebook go here.

Photo Description 1: Brian, Mika, and Jeff take a selfie at Fenway Park. The field is in the background

Photo Description 2: Empty glass mug with a Cheers logo on it.