A Ride In Arlington & the Secret Panoramas of Boston

Symmes Hill, Arlington, MA

Symmes Hill, Arlington, MA

By April 2017, having not Ubered for over a year—or is that called Untering?--I decided to hit the high road again.  Having just finished a rigorous spring semester in an MS degree program, I was eager to get back to work as an Ubermensch (Yikes! I didn’t want it to come out sounding that way, but you get the point).  It took me a few days of shuttling around to get back into the mindset, and I decided this time around to try something different.  I was going to work 10-14 hours a day, seven days a week.  I had done a few 10+ hour days before.  I needed to make some money and I wanted to see if I could try to shoot for grossing $1000-1500/week.  I knew I had it in me because previously, for the first two years after creating a startup back in 2001, I clocked in 80+ hours a week with no Sabbath rest.

April is the month for the Boston Marathon (and Paul Revere’s ride to boot), so it seemed somehow appropriate for me to resume my Ubering that month in 2017. It is also a time of transition for students who are finishing their semester and doing a lot of Uber rides (to and from bars and airports, for example). 

Soon after I began again, I got a signal one day for a ride out in Arlington, a suburb of Boston near where I live in Waltham.   Arlington was formerly called “Menotomy” back in colonial days.  It was a key town along the path that Paul Revere traversed on his midnight ride out to Lexington and Concord.

As most Metro-West Bostonians know well, Arlington is bisected by Massachusetts Avenue, a main thoroughfare that leads from downtown Boston out into the suburbs and across the entire state.  Mass. Ave. is flanked on both sides by steep hills. I’ve since come to observe that these hills are part of a ring of semi-continuous hills that encircle the “Boston basin” virtually on all sides.

I suspect few other people are aware of this observation. I dug further and found this wonderful website called "Hills of the Boston Basin".  Aside from documenting a list of all the heights and hills surrounding the Boston area, there is a photo of a wonderful, 30-foot model of the circular hills that was built for the Paris Exposition of 1900.   The website links to another interesting 19th century book about Boston hills and topography, "A Description of the Topographical Model of Metropolitan Boston".

As it happened, the call came from a street far up on one of these hills.  There was initially nothing special about the ride.  Street after street, I climbed the hill on one side of Mass. Ave., through a suburban neighborhood filled with the usual mishmash of homes with varying architectural designs. But as I approached the home of my rider, I was treated with an unexpected surprise.

In front of me opened up a breathtaking panoramic view of the entire downtown Boston landscape.  I had never before seen a view so all-encompassing and stunning.  And in the middle of seemingly nowhere!  I felt like Keats’s Cortez upon a peak in Darien.  Or perhaps just having hiked to a peak overlooking the Grand Canyon. I would have never known of this spectacular view had I not gone to pick up the rider that day.

Like many riders each week, this customer was going to Logan Airport.  This was maybe a 25-minute drive.  As is often the case, I ended up talking to her about different subjects, including what I had just seen behind her house.  She mentioned that the area she lived in was called Symmes Hill, the site of a former hospital that was now occupied by an upscale apartment complex and an assisted living facility.

I mentioned I had seen maybe a dozen such “hidden” sites around Boston that I could recall.  Maybe more.  It was at that moment that I mentioned to the rider that I should start writing these sites down so I could maybe put them into a blog or even a book.   That was the beginning point of my doing double duty as an Uber driver and an observational note collector.

It took me another year and a half to begin this blog, during which time I compiled more than 90 pages of notes on all sorts of curious information.  I’ve compiled a list of 150+ of these hidden vistas from my own trips as well as from tips about other locations of views given to me by riders.  The Arlington rider suggested I write a book and call it, “The Secret Panoramas of Boston.” Well, it has become a whole lot more than that.

I could probably go on forever with this view finding, but I'm going to post panoramic spots on this blog so folks can

·       comment on these spots,

·       submit a photo of the spot (since I do not have photos taken from most of the view points I've found--just the address coordinates I noted after I saw a particularly stunning view somewhere), and

·       choose to submit their own secret panoramic views as well. 

There are likely thousands of spots like this when you think about the tops of all the apartment buildings that have such a view.  But I'd like to try to focus my posts on public viewing spots, places where anyone can go to appreciate the view.

So Uber driving has opened up vast new panoramas for me beyond merely schlepping people around from place to place.

Symmes Hill

Symmes Hill