I walked through Downtown Crossing in Boston last week, with my 15-month-old daughter strapped to the front of me in a carrier we bought for the trip. The familiar smells of roasted nuts, the subway, and sewage greeted my wife and me as we weeded our way through the lunchhour crowds to a used bookstore we'd been itching to raid. We were relieved that Charlotte was napping so that we could hit the famous Brattle Book Shop and browse the stalls outside. Our daughter Charlotte has patience for many things, but not for the amount of time that Mom and Dad spend in any given used bookstore. She was open-mouthed and completely asleep when we reached West Street and the stalls.
We took our time. Then Charlotte woke up, and we left the stalls before going inside the rest of the store.
Ironically, that day I bought a book about consumerism about which I'd read in The Phoenix the day before, when our train came into South Station. The book was a buck. Since returning to Baltimore a few days ago and thinking about my own rampant consumerism, I realized that our week-long tryst with a city we love (and in which we used to live) was based largely on buying stuff.
We planned our trip in a set of Massachusetts "County Fair" edition Field Notes notebooks, and the graph paper is filled with tiny brown inked letters listing locations to buy stationery, books, art supplies, and coffee. Instead of an itinerary, we carried around a shopping list.
I suspect that we're not the only people to morph traveling into a sort of intrepid shopping trip, substituting another city for a semi-local mall on the outskirts of our own town. On several of the trips I've taken to New York City in the last few years, a large proportion of the evening commuters heading South to Charm City have traveled three or four hours (each way) just to go shopping. In June 2009, I took the Bolt Bus, which got a large group of shoppers and me to New York in three hours, for $10 each way. I thought to myself that, at least that way, the people who traveled all the way to Manhattan to shop for the day got at least as good a deal on their transportation as they did on their blouses and handbags.