Hermann Hates BOSTON DRIVERS
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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Mon, 17 Mar 97 17:18:29 -0800
Subject: Hermann Hates BOSTON DRIVERS
[This column is amazingly accurate. I've been promising myself I would
write it for decades, but now I don't have to... But I couldn't resist
adding a few annotations to rectify omissions in an otherwise perfect job.
Thanks, Hermann -psl]
Hermann Hates BOSTON DRIVERS
--a column that brakes for nobody--
Copyright 1997 by Andrew Hermann
Let me just preface this column by making one thing clear: I like Boston.
Boston is a fine city with many outstanding social, cultural, and
architectural attractions, and if you extend the term "Boston" to include
neighboring towns like Brookline, Cambridge, and Somerville, you not only
piss off the residents of those neighboring towns, you make "Boston" one of
the coolest metropolitan areas on earth.
The only thing I really don't like about Boston is crossing the street.
When I first moved here, my impression of Boston traffic was one of total
anarchy. You never knew what was going to happen when you stepped off the
curb. If I was in the crosswalk, cars sailed past with horns blaring. If
I jaywalked, people skidded to a halt and cheerfully waved me across into
the path of the bus coming up behind them in the passing lane.
On the other hand, being in the passenger seat with some of Boston's most
egregious "Massholes" makes jaywalking seem about as dangerous as pinochle.
Squealing tires, flipped middle fingers, and extreme close-ups of other
vehicles' rear bumpers are all part of the experience. I once commented
gratefully to a friend of mine on the contoured hand-grip in his
passenger-side door handle, and was informed that the door handle hadn't
originally come that way.
Well, I've now lived in Boston long enough to learn that traffic patterns
in this city aren't based on anarchy. There are definite rules that can be
used to anticipate the behavior of other drivers and help you reach your
destination intact and on time. So next time you're in Boston, remember
these few simple guidelines.
First, for drivers:
RED LIGHTS. In Boston, other vehicles flock to red lights like flies to
sugar. Therefore, it is always best to accelerate towards a red light as
fast as is humanly and mechanically possible. If you don't, cars and
trucks will pull out of parking spaces, driveways, loading docks, and side
streets ahead of you so fast that you'll be stopped dead in your tracks
before you can say "gridlock."
[Also it is forbidden to stop at red lights on major thoroughfares after
midnight, lest you block the important truck traffic at that hour... -psl]
CROSSWALKS. Similar to red lights, crosswalks, when clear, should be
accelerated towards with all due haste and recklessness. Boston walkers,
like dogs, can sense fear and will strike without hesitation if you don't
step on that gas pedal. For those occasions when you come to a crosswalk
that is already in use, make sure you bring a good book and perhaps a few
sandwiches. Once they've secured a crosswalk, Boston pedestrians will cling
to their position tenaciously and it may be hours before you can spot a
chink in their defenses large enough to force your way through.
Remember: it IS illegal to run over a pedestrian in a crosswalk. It's also
illegal to run over a jaywalker, which seems really unfair, but apparently
the authorities think your driving skills lack the pinpoint precision
necessary to strike to wound, and that death is an excessively harsh
punishment for stepping out from behind a parked delivery truck into the
path of twenty oncoming commuters who are already late for work because they
had to sit for half an hour at that crosswalk two blocks back.
TURNS. All Boston intersections have double left-turn and right-turn lanes,
even if there are only two lanes in total. If you're making a right
turn--or a left turn off of a one-way street--red lights and stop signs do
not apply to you. If you are the second car waiting to make a left turn,
give the first car a five-second grace period and then go ahead and turn
left whether they have yet or not. If they do start to turn left and cut
off oncoming traffic, use them to screen you and make your left turn beside
them--this is known as the "pick-and-roll" and is a perfectly legal maneuver
since you are not actually obstructing anyone who has the right-of-way.
SIGNALING. When turning right, to avoid confusion, use your turn signal
only after you have already started your turn. Otherwise, cars behind you
might assume you're just double-parking and try to cut you off before they
notice you're still moving. Turning left in Boston requires tremendous
concentration and it is therefore best not to use your turn signal at all.
ONE-WAY STREETS. All greater Boston streets are two-way after the bars close.
ROTARIES. There are no traffic laws within Boston rotaries. It's every
man, woman, and drunk teenager for themselves. Watch the chariot scene from
"Ben Hur" for tips and tricks and then go get 'em.
[Actually, there is one law; it comes from sailing's "Rule of the Road" and
says that the car on the right has the right-of-way... so the car entering
the rotary has the right of way... Think of it as the gridlock guarantee!
BREAKDOWN LANES. Due to an obscure land exchange act from the 1870's, all
breakdown lanes in greater Boston are actually under Montana state
jurisdiction and therefore have no enforced speed limit. Driving in them
at maximum velocity is actually quite safe, as most Boston vehicles are
totalled long before they reach the point of breaking down.
MERGES. This "You go, then I'll go" stuff is for drivers of a lesser ilk.
In Boston the rule is this: whoever's front bumper has forward position is
not responsible for the ensuing collision. So check to make sure the car
next to you looks like it's insured, stick your nose in there, and go for
BICYCLES. When coming up behind a bicyclist, always honk repeatedly to
make sure the bicyclist knows you're there. When passing, leave at least
eight feet of room between yourself and the bicyclist, even if this
necessitates going into oncoming traffic. Always allow the bicyclist to
pass before making a right turn, unless they're wearing one of those dorky
helmets, in which case the best move is to cut them off.
[There's one last driving rule that wasn't explicitly stated that supersedes
all the others; whoever has the most rust/dents/damage wins, no contest.
It's very useful when you decide you'd like to be in the next lane where that
shiny Jaguar is--just veer on over in your rusting Dodge Dart; you
definitely have the right-of-way. -psl]
Next, here are the rules for Boston pedestrians:
CROSSWALKS. As noted above, most Boston drivers will not yield to
pedestrians in crosswalks unless they are traveling in large packs. There
is, however, one surefire technique to make them stop. Step off the curb,
turn, and fix an icy stare at, first, the oncoming car's front end, and then
its driver. The driver will assume that you are memorizing his or her face
and vehicle year, make, and model for any ensuing court case, and duly hit
JAYWALKING. The best way to jaywalk in Boston is just to step out into
traffic. Don't look to see if there are cars coming; if the drivers see
you see them, they'll assume you won't try to cross and continue full steam
ahead. But, if you step blindly off the curb, the startled drivers will
stop and let you pass. Remember, most Boston drivers have already struck
several pedestrians and can't afford to hit another one. You have the upper
PEDESTRIAN CROSSING SIGNALS. At some intersections in Boston pedestrians
have their own set of crossing lights, usually labelled as "walk" and "don't
walk," but occasionally featuring a little white man in the role of "walk"
and a red hand standing in for "don't walk" (there's some deeper symbolism
here but I leave it up to you readers to sort out). Most are synchronized
with the flow of vehicular traffic and therefore more deadly than jaywalking
(see "TURN SIGNALS" and "ONE-WAY STREETS," above), but the better ones
actually stop all traffic long enough for pedestrians to make it as far as
the middle of the intersection, at which point all the lights turn green at
once and the pedestrians must desperately scramble to the opposite curb like
Marines charging across the beach at Iwo Jima. As a pedestrian, your best
bet at these intersections is to press the little button that activates the
crossing signals, then walk out into traffic as you normally would. By the
time you successfully reach the other side of the street the pedestrian
cross lights should be activated and the drivers can be safely left to sit
in their cars and admire the triumph of civil engineering that is your
typical Boston intersection.
Finally, a few special words should be devoted to that last major component
of Boston traffic, bicycles. When riding a bicycle in Boston, all you need
to remember is this: all drivers and pedestrians are terrified of you.
Most bicyclists in Boston, you see, are couriers who, judging from the way
they ride, are put to death or at least beaten severely if they can't get
a package from the financial district to Newton Center in less than ten
minutes. The rest are all drunks and psychotics who had their driver's
licenses revoked and now apply the same kamikaze standards to their cycling
etiquette. Drivers and pedestrians will expect the same of you, so don't
disappoint them. Ride against traffic, run stop signs, jump curbs in
crowded business districts. You're just as likely to get killed by actually
following the rules of the road, so you may as well at least get there on
time. In fact, come to think of it, that's the Golden Rule of Boston
traffic in a nutshell.
So next time you're on the streets of Boston, be sure to remember the rules.
Other drivers will appreciate your consistency if not your consideration.
And don't take it ill if someone honks at you or flips you off--such
gestures are merely an admission of defeat and an acknowledgement of your
superior driving prowess.
Good luck, God speed, and keep that insurance card handy. You're going to
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© 1997 Peter Langston