Summer Postcards 2013

My Boston First World Problems

Victor C. Wu

I've seen the traffic get a lot worse than this. And I've seen people bike much closer than this.

CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts—This summer, I’m counting trees.  Or at least, that’s the way one of my friends likes to put it.

People are often amused when they hear I do vaguely-tree-related work.  After all, who does stuff with trees?  Isn’t that so, like, 18th century?  Well, I'm doing an internship at a startup, I tell them.  So basically, people have no idea what I actually do.  I'm doing coding, I tell them.  So basically, people have no idea what I actually do (they just smile and nod).  Maybe if I just lied and said I was working for Facebook then I would sound a lot cooler.  But before you assume this is my questionably legit, desperate-for-a-job summer “job,” let me try to clarify.

I’m working at a Cambridge-based startup called “SilviaTerra” (Google it, it’s real, I swear).  I suppose they count trees, in a sense; they develop software tools to make forestry much cheaper and more accurate.  I randomly stumbled upon this opportunity after intending but failing to fill out any summer internship applications during Wintersession.  Now, my summer project is to build one of SilviaTerra’s new tools, an Android app with some web components.  Moral of the story: procrastinate and good things will happen to you.  Always.

The small startup vibe, though, is definitely one of productivity.  It’s so much harder to procrastinate in the office when the office is roughly 12-feet by 12-feet and the only other people inside are the two co-founders (and occasionally one of their friends, although that might be pushing the room’s occupancy limit a little).  That’s why, of course, when I need to do something less than relevant (like write my Crimson postcards!) I “work from home” that day.  On a serious note, this is actually one of the beauties of coding that I’ve come to appreciate greatly—the flexibility to get your work done on your own time and to make up any work missed outside a stiff 9-to-5 routine.

Before settling into the work itself, though, I had to figure out how to get to work.  Of course, as a helpless Boston resident, my options for transit are walk, bike, bus, or T.  I ultimately decided on the bike—it seemed like what all the cool kids were doing (and besides, I’ve needed a bike ever since I found out I got Quad-ed).  Now, to be honest, coming from an area where distances are almost always measured in driving time, I wasn’t entirely sure what such a daily commute would be like.  As a bicyclist, you weave through impatient city drivers, pedaling right next to them as they attempt to improve how fast they can make turns or get through before the lights turn red.  Then there are the no-cares-given pedestrians you also have to avoid.  And with my lack of coordination and/or awareness, this could prove to be a serious problem.  I’m still kind of paranoid that I might wind up needing medical attention.  My goal this summer is to not fall off my bike.


Anyways, the commute itself takes me from Beacon Street straight through MIT to Central.  Every day, I bike across a bridge over the Charles that connects Boston and Cambridge.  For those movie aficionados out there, it’s actually the same bridge that Ben Campbell bikes on in the beginning of “21.”  My daily commute isn’t nearly as picturesque, though—I’m not sure if it’s just the Hollywood veneer or if somebody seriously ugly-ed up the bridge since that movie was filmed.  It’s full of potholes and strangely-shaped bumps, especially on the bike path (complicating my “don’t fall off” summer goal).  Nor is it nearly as fun and relaxing as it might sound, this whole quixotic concept of biking to work and all—most of the time it’s just me struggling to move my out-of-shape self over a (sadly) relatively short distance.  Unfortunately, the bridge is also inclined.

But at least now I can tell people I bike three miles a day.  Surely that’ll impress them.


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