Waltham is a wasteland, at least the part I’ve seen so far. Remember those old-west towns from your high school history book? The ones that cropped up on the side of a trail for no purpose other than to house the passing settlers by and the occasional agent computing conference? Apparently I-95 is the new Rt. 66 and Waltham, MA is such a town.

2:00 PM. I call the Westin from the bus to ask which stop to get off at. “Oh, we’re not the Westin downtown. You’ll have to hail a cab,” they inform me. Whoops – but not a problem.

I hop off the bus at the next stop and nearly straight into the cab behind it. It turns out to be maybe the best driveby taxicab tour of a city I’ve ever had, complete with a description of MIT so concise it deserves to be in their admissions brochure: [in my attempt at transcribing the Boston accent]

“Tat ovah thear is MIT, wheah all te crazy smart fucks invent fucked up shit. Usually I get frequent fliah businessmen who wanna go theah. Sit in the back ahn theah Blackberrys. Those guys, wahkaholics. They sit at Cape Cod in the summah wit te’ fuckin Blackberrys sendin shit on fukin email don’t know how to fuckin relax. Ya kid’s in the watah! Quit ya workin!”

40 Minutes and $65 later. We pull off the outer beltway of Boston into Waltham. “Waltham is one ‘a tose business oasis pahhks where all the companies go from MIT to build shit like patriot missiles, but tey’re real quiet about it cause ta people’d get upset. So what you gahtta do is darive 10 minutes down tis highway, see, cause tat’s wheah tah Wellesley girls ah. Radcliffe girls hate Wellesley girls.”

The hotel looks like a business, covered head to toe in green-tinted glass. After checking in I walk up and down the street to see if there was anything better to do. The place is a ghost town. Nothing here but chain hotels, gas stations, and empty business offices. The sidewalk on the street begins and ends randomly, as if they had excess asphalt in some parts of the road and figured it was better than no sidewalk at all. Hotel, hotel, gas station, hotel, empty office building, rental car place. Car rentals must be a big industry in Waltham.

The Charles river is nice, if inaccessible by foot, just past a half-finished construction project and a giant highway bypass. The bypass is right outside my window, cars wooshing by on the outermost beltway of Boston, but no buses. No buses or public transport comes to this side of town, the girl at the front desk told me with the same tone of voice a doctor would use to inform a family that the operation didn’t go well and, we’re sorry to say, amputation was necessary. Nearest restaurant? 10 minutes by car. So needless to say I’m about to have the first room-service meal of my life. The hotel is beautiful; I’m sure the conference will be interesting. But if anyone ever suggests a vacation to Waltham, MA to you, run in the opposite direction as fast as you can…

By the way, I’m here to present a paper on Fido, a framework for information query and dissemination in distributed multi-agent societies. It’s pretty cool, if you are into that stuff, so check it out.