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Trip 22 -- NYC-Boston Walk

Day 10: Milford to Newton Centre

Today: 49076 steps/38.75 km/24.08 mi/8h 18m
Total: 411952 steps/369.68 km/229.71 mi/71h 39m

I'm eager to get out and start this last long day of walking, partly because it's overcast and cool, and partly because I won't have to deal with motor vehicles for the first two hours. I'll be continuing on the old Air Line, here called the Upper Charles Rail Trail.

Once again, my body begins the day with all the agility of the Tin Man, but after a few hundred steps I've loosened it into walking shape. I don't know what my little toe wants. It's tender and seems to be rubbing against the next one, but I dare not try another Band-Aid. The pain soon goes away, or at least I stop noticing it.

If my walk were a symphony, this trail would be the long adagio introduction to the grand last movement. Tomorrow's short two-hour stroll to Boston, the last seven miles, is a mere coda. All is quiet and still today, and I take it slowly. There's plenty of time, though I do have plans: at 5:00 I'm due for an early dinner at the Farmstead Table in my hometown of Newton. Tomorrow is my parents' 51st anniversary, and we're starting the celebration a day early so my brother, sister-in-law, and seven-month-old nephew can join us before they enjoy a brief getaway of their own.

There are few enough people on the trail that we all say hello when passing each other. There are a few dogs and a few bikers, one of whom has his toddler in tow, rolling behind him in an attached little carriage. Almost everyone wears a mask and keeps their distance.

Whereas the trail in Connecticut had little information about its features -- a simple sign pointing toward the tristate marker, no information at all about the Hermit Cave -- here in Massachusetts there are information boards aplenty. The trail itself is hard-packed dirt and easy on the feet.

The road signs marking the entrances to towns in Massachusetts have a distinctive "bookleaf" shape, and on the trail it's no exception: As I enter Holliston, I pass a miniature version of the sign, complete with the town's date of incorporation, December 3, 1724. Farther along is a sign for businesses at Village Plaza -- again, a scaled-down version of what must be on the road. It's a promise of pizza, ice cream, liquor, pet training, and "tia chi" lessons.

I'm traveling through the former town of Braggville, named for Arial Bragg, a maker of button boots in the 1790s. The town was also known for its granite quarries. It had a railway station, and trains would deliver milk to Boston from a nearby dairy farm. The recession after World War I brought about the end of rail service and the town itself in 1919.

I come to the Wenakeening Woods, land occupied by the Nipmuc tribe before European settlement. Through the trees I can make out the home of Simeon Cutler, a lieutenant in the Revolutionary War. We learn from Frederick Morse Cutler's "Holliston Soldiers in Revolutionary War" that according to Simeon's wife, when the British burned Charlestown, "the glare was reflected in her Holliston home with sufficient brightness that she could see to pick up a pin from the chamber floor." All the town's men were out fighting, with the result that "the calves were growing too strong and lusty for her, while there was nobody in town able to put the young monsters out of mischief by transforming them into veal."

The Phipps Hill Tunnel looms up, a magnificient horseshoe made of stone, and I walk through. Its construction by Irish workers took a whole year, so long that many of them settled in the area. Some took on other jobs, such as in the shoe business; Holliston was once the largest shoe producer in the country. The Irish settled particularly in Mudville, an area of Holliston mentioned in the poem "Casey at the Bat." Casey's Pub is an Irish bar in the old train station, and I would have been delighted to go in had it been open at 10:26 on a Sunday morning.

Somewhat incongruous to all this history is a series of placards along the trail that contain the pages of the book "Kintu and the Fairy Bee," a traditional fairy tale retold by local teacher Mary Beth Numbers that was inspired by her work with children with disabilities in Uganda. I pass a field of horses, and then there's the 8-Arch Bridge, built in 1847 by Irish and Italian immigrants.

It's time to leave the woods and wetlands and get back onto Route 16, but only for about ten minutes. Then I take Woodland Street and West Goulding Street, passing large homes with lawns so green I might be in Ireland myself. The air smells sweet. An unpainted house is signed "Circa 1710," and a man is lying under it, doing repairs.

Now it really is time for lunch, but I'm still plodding along rural roads. Near step 22,000 is the intersection of Lake Street and Farm Road -- it doesn't get much more rural than that -- and South Street takes me past what appears to be a giant cornfield.

I come to Route 16 again and follow it through South Natick, along the Charles River. There's a coffeehouse, but I'm uninspired. I keep going, passing the Riverbend School, in whose grounds stands the white building of Peletiah Morse's Tavern, built in 1748.

I'm sure to find lunch in Wellesley, I tell myself. But the only two places open along Route 16 are a Thai restaurant and something called Rice Burg, both of which are offering to-go food only. I can certainly respect establishments not opening their doors for inside dining, but with Wellesley and Babson colleges nearby, this is one of the greenest areas of the state. Is there really no room for people to be served outside -- or at least to have a place to sit after they collect their meals?

Thai food sounds too heavy so close to an early dinner, and I don't want to have to find a spot to eat it. Rice Burg is one of those places where you have to make up your own meal by selecting a type of bowl, create a salad, and add protein. The instructions are too much for my tired mind and besides, there's a giant sign on the door saying there's no public restroom. They do have "riceburgers," but I don't trust them not to fall apart. I press on and will save this admittedly enticing concept for another time.

My route takes me off the road once again and onto the Sudbury Aqueduct Trail. This is nothing like the rail trail; it's scruffy, uneven, and made up of roots, branches, and rocks, and it has steep sections leading to and from the handsome brick aqueduct facility towers. At times it's barely a path at all, and I just love that this dinky stretch of dirt is part of the vital connective tissue taking me efficiently from Manhattan to Boston.

I see signs for the local 59 bus, which I used to take from high school on the way to music lessons. I pass under Interstate 95, and I feel so strongly that I'm in the home stretch of this walk. My spine tingles the way it does when I'm listening to a piece of music and anticipating the most passionate parts.

Cook's Bridge (step 41,000) takes me across the Charles River from Needham into Newton. Captain Robert Cook owned this land in 1714, around which time the first bridge was built; the current stone bridge is from 1857 and was built by the mason Nathan Crafts of Newton, who died as a result of an accident during its construction. Etched into the sidewalk are the two municipalities' names, pointing in their respective directions. I've never entered my hometown via this bridge, but suddenly I feel as though I'm more home than not.

A pizza place is closed, and so is a deli, and so is a pub, and so is a sub shop. I'm not particularly hungry and dinner is in less than two hours, but I could use a rest. Google Maps is having fun with me. It brings me down a tiny dirt path behind some houses, and then it wants me to snake through a parking lot. Instead I walk along the Upper Falls Greenway and emerge near a takeout place called B.Good. First I head directly to the restroom. Then I have a smoothie with kale and apple and a Stubborn black-cherry-tarragon soda, and I sit down for the first time in more than seven hours.

Now I really do know where I am, at the north end of Needham Street. The miles I've put behind me have suddenly connected with the streets I know from my past, like when you find the one piece of a jigsaw puzzle that connects two large completed sections. I never knew there was a greenway behind there; perhaps 25 years ago there wasn't. Down Needham Street is the New England Mobile Book Fair, an immense and chaotic bookstore whose main feature I remember being that everything was arranged by publisher, so there was no easy way to browse by subject or author. Farther down is the intersection where my car conked out coming off of Interstate 95.

I need to go in the other direction, up Centre Street and into Newton Centre; I've always liked that it uses the British spelling even though it results in signage at the light-rail station saying things like "Newton Centre -- To Government Center." I arrive at Farmstead Table at a minute to five, and the rest of the family is there immediately after. As if on cue, a man walks by with a Bully Boy Distillers T-shirt.

Farmstead Table has a short menu so that it can do everything well and source it locally. I have tacos with Brussels sprouts and then half a chicken and chocolate mousse. We sit outside and have plenty of room. My dad remembers drinking Bully Boy gin there, but they don't carry it now.

It's getting late for my nephew, and my brother and his wife drive him back to East Boston.

"We didn't bring the car. I hope that's OK," my dad says. I laugh.

Our house is a mile away. The three of us walk home together. It's only a 230th of the journey, but it's nice to have the company.

Go on to day 11