Packed Suitcase | A (slightly geeky) Boston City Guide
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A (slightly geeky) Boston City Guide

A (slightly geeky) Boston City Guide

This fantastic guest post is written by Miellyn Fitzwater Barrows, a published essayist and travel writer, a television writer and producer, a produced screenwriter and playwright, and (if that’s not enough) she also writes for games.
I recently spent a Friday afternoon through Monday night in Boston, Massachusetts doing almost nothing that you would expect and having a blast.
The Reason
When Academy Award Winner Ben Britten* invites you to come see him in Boston, you go.

*(As his friends teasingly, but accurately, refer to him.  They made t-shirts that said “What Would Academy Award Winner Ben Britten Do?”.  Really.)

Half of Melbourne, Australia-based Tin Man Games and a dear friend from way back, Ben and his business partner, Neil Rennison, had procured a booth at PAX East.
Ben and Neil on a bridge.  They should start an Australian Euro Synthpop band.
For the uninitiated, as I was until a few months ago, PAX East is the East Coast younger sibling of PAX from Unplugged Gaming, a yearly conference for gamers and game developers put on by the creators of the on-line comic Penny Arcade.  This year, just under 70,000 people came to Bean Town to check out the latest tabletop, video, and computer games.  This conference covers it all and more with a fiery passion.  They have panels, they have concerts, they have exclusive opportunities to see and play the newest video and board games.  Some people come in costume.  And they stand in line, for hours, for the chance to check out the latest stuff.
As I’m writing a book for Tin Man Games’ Gamebook Aventures, and my husband, Shaun, and I will be creating promotional videos for the games, they invited us to come, check out PAX East, and hang out with them in Boston.
Of course we said yes.
The Transport
JetBlue purportedly has nicer seats and more legroom than the other coach airlines.  I haven’t measured, but this feels true onboard.  They also offer the opportunity to pay an extra $20 to upgrade to an exit row for extra, extra legroom.  We did this on the way back.  At 5’4”, with most of it in my torso, it didn’t make that much of a difference to me, but my 6’ tall traveling companion found it to be a significant few inches.  I can speak to the elbow room, though, and their seats leave just enough for knitting.  I worked on a pair of Red Sox Socks for Shaun.  Seemed appropriate for the trip.
The Conference
PAX East
This three-day conference took place in the Boston Convention Center.  In the lobby, Irrational Games had an impressive installation for the new Bioshock.  I of course had my picture taken here.
I don’t know what that thing plans to do, but we feel like we should be worried.
Pop Cap Games had a booth in the lobby as well, where they handed out traffic cone hats to promote their game Plants vs. Zombies.  A surprising number of people wore those hats.  They looked ridiculous, but I love them for doing it.  I have since become addicted to Pop Cap’s word game Bookworm.
The lobby was quiet and mostly empty.  You had to go through a set of glass doors to get to the main hall.  Walking out onto the landing overlooking the exhibition floor was a bit overwhelming.  There were so many booths, so much noise, and a rather imposing Pikachu balloon suspended from the rafters overseeing the festivities.
I bet you can’t find Waldo in this picture.
The event had an interesting mix of exhibitors, developers, and fans.  Coming in from upstairs, you’re hit with the scope of this operation.  119 Booths.  69,500 fans.
All the big companies had booths including Bethesda, Rockstar Games, Nintendo, Sony, Pokemon, Dolby, G4TV, Utilikilts…  Oh yes, Utilikilts was there.  If you’re unfamiliar with these manly work kilts with cargo pockets for tools and a modesty strap for standing on ladders, you should check them out.  Ben, of course, has one and he loves it.
Tin Man Games had a booth in Indie Alley, across the aisle from a Anime Arcade-Style game and next to an apparently home-built prototype game with a screen attached to a moving seat.  The guy drove all the gear down from Canada and built it in the booth.
The variety of concepts, artwork, and marketing approaches was vast.  There was much to learn.
Neil and Ben, iPadilicious.
I helped Ben and Neil sell the game to passers-by for a good chunk of each day.
Ben giving Waldo the sales pitch.
It took me a bit to get up to speed on the pitch but by the second day I had it down.  I knew you’d want to hear it so here goes:
“Did you ever read the Choose Your Own Adventure books when you were a kid?  Well that’s what the Gamebook Aventures are, but with light role playing thrown in.  You still have the traditional points where you choose your path, but there’s also some dice rolling, which add an element of fate to the book.  The original books were about 100 sections.  The book that we just came out with is 800, so you get a lot of opportunities for exploration and gameplay.  All of the books are written exclusively for the series and all of the beautiful artwork is hand drawn for the books.  We have five books out right now, with the sixth coming soon.  They’re all fantasy books, and all take place in the same world with its own lore, but we are soon to be branching out into Sci-Fi, Young Adult, and humorous Supernatural Romance.  I’m actually one of the authors, working on the first in a series of the Supernatural Romance novels.  The series is called Love Bites and the first book is Vampire Boyfriends.  This one won’t have role playing, it’s for more casual readers and gamers.  You’re the main character, a female college student who goes to bars and has sex with vampires.  Sometimes you become a vampire, sometimes you just die, and it’s lots of fun.  Right now we have apps for iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, but we’re coming to Kindle, Android, and desktop.  It’s pretty perfect for these types of platforms because it can be so interactive.”
People seemed pretty into the product and women in particular were excited about my upcoming novel.  A number of visitors mentioned that they came by our booth because of the ad in the program.  Money well spent.  I came away feeling proud to be a part of this innovative app.
Ben was proud of me.  My pretty t-shirt, courtesy of Neil.
PAX Hilights:
The tabletop gaming section full of maybe 50 tables of all sorts of games.  All you had to do was sign up and play.
The classic arcade room where you could play all the old school full sized classic arcade games like Donkey Kong and Ms Pac Man for free.
The When I Grow Up panel and screening where I got to see the first episode of a series about a guy, Sean Baptiste, who has a brain tumor and is trying on different professions as a way to explore life in a new way and to help in his recovery.  The first episode is “Stand Up Comedian” and it really is a funny, poignant look at a compelling person.
Plus I won a 60 GB Solid State Drive from the Patriot booth that might just make my MacBook Pro the fastest machine ever.
The Grub
Bukowski Tavern
How does one go about buying this type of property?
Saturday morning, Shaun’s run took him past this little red building attached like a barnacle to a multistory parking garage.  A fan of the writer, he took a picture and posted it to Facebook.  A former Boston native friend sent us back there for lunch, telling us that it wasn’t to be missed.  He did not lie.  This dark little place was home the moment we walked in.  You feel like Bukowski could have had a permanent seat at this bar.  Everything from the fact that they were playing Nina Simone to the house-brewed beer on tap made us wish we could pick up the entire place and plop it down in our neighborhood in DC.  You must try the hummus appetizer and the Steak Bomb sandwich.  Note that this bar is cash only, but salvation, in the form of an ATM, is out front.
Whiskey Priest
Across the river from the Convention center, we went because of the name.
I could bathe in their tomato clam chowder it tasted so good.
South Street Diner
Featured in the Jon Cryer classic Hiding Out.  We had breakfast there almost every day.  The Aussies were all about hitting up this traditional American diner where you could get American bacon (apparently Aussie bacon is closer to Canadian-style).  Our rather large waiter had a dry wit and was particularly charming.
You can’t go to Boston without hitting up a true Irish pub.  This one did the trick.  I wasn’t too crazy about the Butternut Squash soup, but I happen to make this so I might be a snob.  We were invited to participate in a promotional Scotch tasting so, of course, now I love this place.
The Bleacher Bar
The white space is the tarp over the ball field.  Imagine how early you’d have to be to get one of those three tables on a game day.
Attached to the outside of Fenway Park, The Bleacher Bar has a huge glass roll-up door where you can actually see into the ballpark and out onto the field at field level.  I’m told that the men’s bathroom has a window so you won’t miss a play while at the urinal. I don’t even want to think about how busy this small bar gets during games, but I’m sure it’s a blast to be there with so many Sox fans.  The pastrami sliders made the perfect afternoon snack.
The Retail Therapy
Boylston Street
There wasn’t much time for shopping, so we stuck pretty close to Boylston Street.  They had a decent range of stores and it seemed like a nice part of town.
Important to know: there is no tax on clothing in Boston.
Also important to know: if your favorite sports team is actually good, the local Marshall’s will be jam packed with clothing and other memorabilia.  I got a Pedroia t-shirt and a Red Sox warm-up jacket and a Youkilis jersey for Shaun all for under $50.
We stopped in the Apple Store, which is the largest in North America.  I didn’t know that at the time or I would have explored it a bit.  The front was entirely made of glass and it has a gorgeous circular glass stairway in the center of the store.
City Sports originated in Boston.  If you’re a runner, like Shaun is, it’s kinda cool to have a City Sports Boston t-shirt so he got one there.  They also had Red Sox shirts, but I liked the ones we found at Marshall’s better and they were much cheaper.
Tannery II proved to be a great place to pick up a new pair of shoes.  They had one of the largest selections of Danskos I’d seen in a store.  They also had a nice selection of Frye boots and men’s dress shoes.
The Digs
Park Plaza Hotel
Centrally located with a nice lobby and decent, but small, rooms.  Shaun loved the pillows.
We chose this place because it was one of the block-booked hotels for the conference.  We weren’t too far from the Convention center, had access to a conference shuttle that we never used, and had flyers and other conference information in the lobby.
One complaint is that our bathroom was dirty, which took two separate trips to the concierge desk to remedy, but they did make up for it by offering to comp our breakfast one morning.  The breakfast in the hotel restaurant wound up being over $40 for cereal with fruit, pancakes, a juice and three cups of coffee.  At those prices, I’m glad we weren’t paying for it.  Of course, I had to ask the guy at check out to take the breakfast charge off of our room bill, but he did without any argument.
Our last night there, after a few good hours of drinking in the hotel bar, we were approached by a group of conference attendees.  It’s funny how working a booth makes you something of a local celebrity.  They said that they had been meaning to make it over to the booth but hadn’t been able to.  They were quite nice and, more importantly, very interested in the product.  Ben whipped out his iPhone and gave a fully automatic demo.  I suppose after having run through the spiel as many times as he had, he could do it by rote.
Excitingly, the hotel bar had Laphroaig on the menu, my favorite Scotch.  Neil had never tried it before.  He sampled it pretty thoroughly.  Judging from his sleeping through breakfast the next morning, I think we recruited a new fan.
The Shrine
Fenway. Park.
I almost cried when we rounded the corner in the taxi and I first saw this historic ballpark.
My absolute passion for the Red Sox, outlined in my as yet unpublished essay How Baseball Saved My Marriage (While I Fell in Love With a Man Named Big Papi), began in 2005, but you would be wrong to accuse me of being a post-World-Series-win fair-weather-fan.  I married into a long line of Red Sox fans where Fenway was church and that means a lot coming from an Irish Catholic family.  Shaun’s grandfather had season tickets and even knew some of the players.  Thinking of generations of his family coming there to sit in those seats and see games was pretty amazing.
They have one section that’s full of original seats.  It’s tough to imagine sitting through a four-hour baseball game on these hard, wooden chairs, but for my precious Sox, I’d endure.
We took the tour, along with about thirty Japanese tourists, most of which didn’t seem to speak English or know anything about the Red Sox.  Still, I think we all enjoyed it.
Even Shaun.  Though he looks grumpy in this picture, I can assure you he had a good time.
We sat on the Green Monster.  We saw the Hall of Fame which was literally in a hallway.  We did not get to the Ted Williams seat or down on the field or into the dugout or locker rooms.  We probably would’ve gotten to see more if the park hadn’t been under renovation, but just walking up those ramps and sitting in those seats was a thrill.  The field was covered up, so I can only imagine what it looks like in the spring.  It probably looks just like heaven.
The End
All in all, I loved Boston.  It feels like a small town, but it’s obvious that there’s lots to do.  I would definitely recommend setting aside at least a long weekend to explore.  But you gotta go during baseball season.  Tell Big Papi I said hi.
Miellyn Fitzwater Barrows is a published essayist and travel writer, a television writer and producer, a  produced screenwriter and playwright, and she writes for games.  She is currently writing a Gamebook Adventure called Vampire Boyfriends for Tin Man Games. She knits like a madwoman, makes a mean butternut squash soup, and is the master of the four day weekend trip.  She believes very strongly in bad television, good beer, and bragging about one’s significant other. She lives in Washington, DC with her brilliant editor/filmmaker/chef husband and her plant, Rufus.  Her website is
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