When you grow up in an apartment overlooking the MBTA’s Green Line, with a mom who considers this a feature, not a bug, the trolleys might just grab your attention.
Such is the story of my kids. Their imaginations revolved around watching trains, traveling on trains, thinking about trains, playing with trains, being trains. Everything. Always. Trains.
Instead of growing out of it, my sons grew into it: Jack is now a transportation planner, and Campbell is a transportation engineer.
As mother and sons, we’ve connected over lots of stuff, but the T bond has been extra strong. And one thing I’ve learned? If the universe hands you a bond with your kids, embrace it. And roll with it all the way to the end of the line. And back. And again.
Through the years, as they’ve launched wonderful independent lives and married magnificent women, our shared affection for public transit and the MBTA has helped keep us close. And that’s why we were bound and determined to reunite as a trio in celebration of a T milestone that’s been a long time coming.
On Monday, the Union Square branch of the Green Line Extension to Somerville and Medford opens to the public. This is the first expansion of the MBTA’s subway system to be completed since the 1980s, before Jack and Campbell were born. The long-delayed project is a big deal for the region, of course. But for us, it’s personal.
I would say the Green Line, to me, means my childhood. It means looking out the window and seeing the trains that go by, and cataloging in my head which trains are going by.
To me, there's never been anything better than just sitting, ideally, in the front window seat of a Green Line car, and just watching the world go by. And it's just a great spot for self-reflection, for finding your inner peace and for just enjoying some really nice scenery. —Jack
When Jack and I were growing up, the three of us would ride the Green Line almost anywhere we would ever go. To Fenway. To the Red Line so we could get to Harvard Square. We'd take it to the Blue Line so we could go to Revere Beach. Almost any day that we had free together, the three of us would probably be going somewhere on the T. —Campbell
This month, to be clear, the three of us had no intention of waiting to join the opening-day crowds on the Green Line extension.
Thanks to the perks I get as a serious journalist who definitely does not want special treatment because mumble mumble trolleys and children and heartwarming nostalgia, the MBTA came through. The T agreed to give us a sneak preview trolley ride on the brand-new line, weeks before the masses hop on board.
We got a ride into the future, resonating with our past.
The expedition began at the gleaming new and still-under-construction Lechmere Station in Cambridge. Under the close supervision of MBTA staff, our squad stepped onto a trolley bound for destiny. Or, at least, bound for Somerville.
The journey was brief. A few minutes after the trolley clickety-clacked out of Cambridge, we’d arrived something like a mile away at the (also) gleaming new and still-under-construction Union Square station. Then, we retraced our steps.
For some people, this might seem anti-climactic. We are not those people.
On the excursion, we marveled at our luck, at the iconic views — The Boston skyline! The Tobin Bridge! The Bunker Hill Monument! The Zakim Bridge! All those MBTA commuter trains! — and at the novelty of the entire experience. The three of us huddled together on the Type 7 trolley, in the front seats just behind the driver, just like yesteryear. Only this time nobody asked me for Cheerios in a sippy cup.
My brain has already seen 100% of the current MBTA subway system through the front window of a train. And [riding the Green Line Extension is] the first time that I'm seeing with my own two eyes a new and better rail. ... For the T, this is the first step in saying this is possible. This is something that can be done. —Campbell
[The extension] really does symbolize a lot about hope and progress, and about believing that things can change for the better, even when there are significant obstacles in your way. And we're just really excited to go out there and experience the new stations and experience the new route and do it as a family, together — just like we used to do joy rides when we were little kids. It's as perfect as you could possibly script. —Jack
As we ride the Green Line Extension on the Somerville branch, I’m reveling in the moment; my sons' joy; our camaraderie. I’m also flashing back to my kids as toddlers, quizzing me on MBTA map facts. And I’m thinking about how a very young Jack used to chat with us about his own system of classifying Green Line models, dividing the rolling stock into categories he labeled "upwheels" and "underwheels" and "sliding door underwheels." Because why not?
Throughout my life, I've been known as the person who can navigate any public transit system. It was a skill I learned early on, and I would certainly credit my growing up about 100 feet from a T stop for that skill, and also for my preference for showing other people how easy it is to get around by public transit, as long as you have a little bit of patience.
[Now] that the Green Line Extension is real, and is a genuine extension of the line that I grew up on, all of a sudden that feeling that the MBTA is this static entity that always has been exactly what it is — that’s been shattered a bit in a very good way. Realizing that the MBTA can grow and can change is just really exciting. —Campbell
While my grownup sons peer through the train windows on the extended line, discussing the finer points of transit-oriented development, I’m once again the mom of Campbell the preschooler, who calls on me to throw a series of birthday parties that leverage the value of his middle initial, "T." Thus began the Campbell T Party. His slightly mystified friends would join us in trolleying to the end of the line at Riverside, looking at trains through a fence, and trolleying back home again. You have never seen a happier birthday boy.
Even though it’s March 2022, I’m re-immersed in a vanished October, using my nonexistent crafting skills to create Green Line trolley Halloween costumes for Campbell and Jack, complete with interchangeable destination signs attached by Velcro, including separate labels for the B, C, D and E trains, and for good measure the “X Instruction Car” — all to the exacting specifications of these miniature experts.
At last, the common threads of togetherness and trains deliver me right back to now, just as the round trip from Lechmere to Union Square to Lechmere ends, too soon.
The thing that makes the T special to me is pretty much the Green Line. It’s a trolley system with multiple branches; it runs in the street; it runs on its own grade-separated right of way; it runs underground; and it runs on a viaduct. But it's all done with these adorable little trolleys. I will certainly say that the street-running Green Line is probably the cutest rail public transportation network in the United States. —Jack
It's the oldest subway in America and I love that. And so all I want to do when I'm riding this new part of it is to share that that, and I want to bring everybody with me, you know? —Campbell
I would like to make a pledge right now that every time that the rail is extended on the MBTA, we will ride it together as a family. —Jack
Family bonds, folks, I’m telling you. Savor them as the joy rides they are. You might just get to familiar places in a whole new way.
WBUR's Aimee Moon co-produced this story.
This segment aired on March 20, 2022.