The inbound Red Line train rumbled into Harvard Square, bearing morning rush-hour passengers who looked more zombie-like than usual at 7 a.m. today. Then I realized what was amiss. Absent from their clutches were coffee cups. No Starbucks, no Dunkin Donuts, not even the iconic blue-and-white Grecian coffee cups, whose designer died last week. The passengers were all decaffeinated.
One woman, her head tilting forward as she dozed, cradled a gallon jug of water in her lap. Those who managed to keep their eyes open stared at my large iced coffee, which I had bought in Cambridge, the Ellis Island of safe water. While residents of Boston and other communities surrounding it are experiencing a water frenzy, the People's Republic of Cambridge has its own water supply, thank you. One Cantabrigian could not resist sending this message out on Twitter this morning:
Once the train crossed the bridge into Boston, we were back in an unsafe water zone, i.e., one of the places where the tap water, as one official explained, could infect you with parasites. (You wouldn't know about it until a week later, when you would suffer from severe gastrointestinal cramps and other symptoms, a description I heard just before sitting down to dinner.) A woman at Park Street asked me where I had bought my coffee.
At a downtown Starbucks, a man in a business suit breezed in and placed his order for a tall decaf. The barista, in a weary voice--she, too, was coffee-less--said that there was no coffee because of the boil water order. "Decaf, too?" he said. Not only had he failed to notice the sign outside the entrance, the absence of a line and the empty seats, something else obviously had not registered.
The lack of coffee has hit Boston's college students at a time when they most need the caffeine--pulling all-nighters to finish papers and study for finals. Like many of us, they carry bottled water with them to sip throughout the day. This morning, one of my students brought in a glass bottle of water to our last class this morning. She smiled and said that she had boiled it herself, having resisted purchasing environmentally unfriendly bottled water. Teasingly I said, "How did you heat up the water?" She paused. Her rent, she noted, includes utilities. She didn't have to pay for the gas used to boil the water. A moment later, she knocked the bottle over. We gasped. Not to worry, the lid was screwed on tight.
On Twitter, several nicknames--or hashtags, so-called because they are marked with a pound sign--for our water-challenged days have popped up. The most unwieldy of them is #aquapocalypse, which fails to roll off the tongue easily, yet seems to have caught on the most, perhaps because it sounds the most catastrophic. Indeed, President Obama has declared the Massachusetts water crisis a disaster on Monday afternoon. Another entry that will have a place in the Library of Congress archives is #H2OMG. Clever, yes, but does one say, "H 2 Oh-em-gee?" The neologism, #aquapuncture, at least, hints at the reason for our woes: a burst water main.
A Downtown Crossing food vendor was selling fresh-brewed coffee, along with hot dogs. "How do we know what kind of water he used?" one passerby said to another. She stopped for a moment, as if wrestling with temptation, then moved on.
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