Writer Bailey Triggs contributed a piece to popular Boston blog, Bostonist. Head over to http://bostonist.com/2008/03/19/riding_the_t_is.php for the original article and pictures!


March 19, 2008
Riding the T is a Beach: The Boston Society of Spontaneity's Winter Luau

On Sunday afternoon, there was more than one parade making its way through the streets of Boston. Despite the typical New England March near-snowing, 37 degree conditions, around twenty of Boston Society of Spontaneity's "improveratti" gathered in tropical attire with the mission to bring their traveling beach party to the T. Beginning at the Aquarium stop with leis piled high, the BostonSOSers rode the T to Airport, where they camped out: sunning themselves, hula dancing to their own tropical soundtrack, and offering leis and sunscreen to passersby. After being asked to move the show along by the MBTA police, the group finished their party up by the Aquarium with a conga line and a game of limbo.

Bostonist got an opportunity to speak with BostonSOS mastermind James Cobalt to find out if Boston beachless-beach parties are really where it's at.

Bostonist: What was your favorite reaction to the beach day?

James Cobalt: I think our winter beach party (without a beach) was a great success! The participants reportedly had a great time and I saw so many positive reactions from the people we came in contact with. When I met with the members that afternoon I brought them 400 Hawaiian leis to give away. A couple hours later they were all gone and every single one of them caused somebody to smile. My favorite part of the afternoon was when we started a game of limbo in the plaza by the Aquarium. At first it was just a few young kids that showed interest, but two minutes later everyone in the plaza wanted to play to get a free lei! That was a great feeling to see so many people just letting their inhibitions go and cutting loose in public like that.

More mid-winter beach parties with James after the jump!

Bostonist: What are you hoping people (both participants and bystanders) get out of this kind of event?

Cobalt: First and foremost I want everyone to have a good time: both the perpetrators and the bystanders who suddenly find themselves in the middle of some silly new world. I'm trying to create situations that involve positive interactions between strangers; I want people to create new connections with the people around them and force themselves to question how they think the world works. There’s a forced human interaction that’s disappearing in this digital networking era. It’s so easy to create our own world where we only have to interact with those of the same mindset: Why talk to the person on the same bench when you can call your like-minded friend on your cell phone? Why share philosophy in a coffee house when you can use wi-fi to access Facebook on your laptop? Tuning to just one station breeds extremism; There are so many options to customize our reality that the more you're connected, the more of a disconnect you could experience. And there is so much fear amongst different types of people it's ridiculous. Maybe there's always been fear amongst the different, but the rhetoric and discrimination often under the guise and excuse of national security just feels out of control now. I'm tired of pointless, right-restricting, inconvenient exercises supposedly done in the name of my personal security. When secularly handing out leis to delighted patrons of the subway is considered a security risk there's something wrong with mindset of some people. I don't want that kind of protection.

Putting random, different people in these fun, silly situations lightens the mood, breaks the ice, and gives them this shared experience to talk about. It’s acclimating people to the idea that something that's different doesn't mean its dangerous; in fact different can be fun and enlightening! It's just one tiny step towards that goal; but it’s a step in the right direction, the opposite direction the fear-mongers are walking. I love how BostonSOS's members come from many different political, philosophical, ethnic, and religious backgrounds. It really surprised me at first the amount of diversity it attracted, but then I was falling into my own trap. We're really not that diverse; everyone wants to have fun!

Bostonist: Why do you think, even though you made calls to clear BSOS's presence with the T cops and the Aquarium folk that people still came to ask the group to leave?

Cobalt: A couple days before the stunt I had spoken to a couple people at MBTA and even explained everything we were doing to the MBTA transit police who told me to "have fun." One of our members spoke to security at the Aquarium as he used to work there and knew a lot of people. I spoke to a couple people there as well. I think one of the problems is its hard to get to the right people to speak to. These kinds of organizations have these firewalls of people protecting the people who make decisions from your phone call. But everyone I spoke to was so cool and casual about it I didn't think we'd need to get something in writing, which is another adventure all together as something in writing means someone is liable for allowing something to take place. Now I see why the other groups all over the country just don't even bother. It wouldn't have made a difference. I could have saved three hours one evening doing something productive instead of sending out emails and making phone calls to make sure we wouldn't have any trouble. Still, I'm letting a few bad apples spoil the whole batch: most of the MBTA and Aquarium employees got a real kick out of it. A couple MBTA security officials that were telling us we had to leave did so wearing our leis and apologized profusely stating it wasn't their decision.

Bostonist: What's next after this winter beach party? Snowball fights in summer?

Cobalt: We get so many suggestions but the vast majority of them just can't be done. I refuse to pull off something that could be dangerous in anyway or makes a fool of someone or plays on negative stereotypes or violates some obvious local ordinance. This means that we can only use about 1% of the ideas that get thrown our way. To take your quip for example: snow ball fights in the summer sounds like a great idea, but we have to analyze it from every angle. Could this appear politically or religiously motivated? Could this be dangerous? Could this damage property? Will this encourage strangers to interact? Will it cause joy in bystanders? Are there any regulations against throwing things in this area? Will this block pedestrian traffic? Does it fit into our overall style and mission or is it more suited for urban playground groups like New Mind Space and Boston's Banditos Misteriosos? The list goes on and on. Primarily, we really want to create spectacles that give a positive experience for everyone without offending or inconveniencing anyone. Still, with a mere 1% of usable suggestions we have our calendar booked solid through to next March, so you haven't heard the last from us.

Visit Boston Society of Spontaneity's website for video and pictures of their Beach Party on the T and information on future events.

By Bailey Triggs