In Boston, ride with Charlie at your peril

Boston has the oldest subway system in the nation. Paul Revere may have taken the Green Line on one stage of his ride. But the transportation authority is trying to move into the 21st century. This week, they introduced “CharlieTickets” on the midtown line I ride almost every day. Charlie, of course, is the hapless straphanger immortalized in a ditty four decades ago by the Kingston Trio. The lyrics begin: “Let me tell you the story of a man named Charlie. On a tragic and fateful day, he put ten cents in his pocket, kissed his wife and family, went to ride on the MTA.” But Charlie’s journey goes awry: “Did he ever return? No, he never returned. And his fate is still unlearned. He may ride forever ’neath the streets of Boston. He’s the man who never returned.” Always quick to embrace and celebrate failure (see Red Sox, 1919-2003), Boston’s subway honchos have dubbed 2006 “The Year of Charlie.” They’ve even emblazoned his visage on the new high-tech tickets. It’s a disturbing image: half a face, no nose. He’s hanging precariously out a subway-car window (which must be illegal; it’s certainly unsafe), holding out his ticket in an attitude of anguish and despair. Even allowing for artistic license, the concept is flawed. The guy got lost and is doomed to ride around forever. He is NOT a satisfied customer. The Web site promises that with a CharlieTicket, “you’ll be good to go!” Fare enough. But what a long, strange trip it will be.