Story is that the roads ’round these parts “developed” as a series of cowpaths (or possibly Native American foot paths). Which goes a long way toward explaining why streets twist and turn, why street names change without warning (or signs), how you can be on “one road” for a mile and make 28 turns, and how you can be driving on Rt 1 South and 95 North at the same time, while heading east. But it does not explain why major roads are not labeled. When we moved here and were lost (remember that one time, honey?) and
in a state of extreme frustration stemming from rotaries and something called “the Lynnway,” we asked, “What is the %*^# name of this street?” We were greeted with this friendly motto – “If you don’t know, then you probably shouldn’t be here.”
The fact that these roads stem from cowpaths does not, however, explain why lanes merge and end without warning. Driving on 128 is a nightmarish game of lurching forward and squealing sideways, while exasperated grunts or terrified squeaks escape your chest, depending if you are driver or passenger. Neither do cowpaths explain why it’s acceptable to pull into oncoming traffic to make a left turn and wait, blocking traffic. Or why pedestrians walk against the light at a snails pace as if they were not placing themselves in mortal danger. Why the public hasn’t risen up in revolt and screamed: “Cow paths be damned – we want real roads with clear signage and predictable patterns!” is beyond me.
Needless to say, without such a mass revolt against the poor street planners of MA, I had to employ some serious coping mechanisms to ensure I was not driven into a frenzy or a mental institution as I go from one town to the next. I first tried the phrase “Serenity now” but ended up bellowing it a la George Castanza. I tried deep breaths but ended up nearly hyperventilating. I tried soothing music but ended up jabbing the radio off and hurting my finger. At any rate, I have finally taken a bit of an internal chill pill, and come to peace with the reality that is driving in my town. Except sometimes it creeps up and takes me unawares. Like when I was driving with my son and his friend the other day.
We were agonizingly close to home. The salty air tingled in my nose, and as the crow flies we were close. The problem was the jam of cars in front of me. There is one particularly short light, compounded by the turn lane which people clog and force the cars to inch along in an ever lengthening centipede formation. It’s truly maddening. By the time I got close to the front of the line and was eeking along, the truck in front of me stopped completely and I pounded my steering wheel as the light flashed from green to yellow. “You’ve got to be kidding me!!” Big inhale. Big exhale, and then I saw the pedestrian for whom he braked. Fine, I grumbled to myself. Just great. Big sigh. Then I heard a little voice from behind me. “That driver was not very nice.” “Yeah,” echoed the other little voice. “Dumb driver.”
Hearing those little voices mirror my thoughts and verbalize my own body language stopped me in my tracks. “Actually, boys, that was a nice driver. He stopped to let that guy walk across.” “Yeah,” my son continued, “But it made you go slower and now we won’t get home as fast!” Big breath for real this time. I was suddenly pulled out of my traffic -induced pity party and realized I had better tread carefully. “Boys, he was driving safely, and I was the one who is impatient. I was in a hurry, but I’m glad that he did stop. I would hate to be driving too fast and hit someone who was walking across the street.” The light turned green and we made it home and the boys were talked about that driver the rest of the way. As we rumbled over steel plates and flashing orange construction cones that somehow did not seem as infuriating, I realized that the boys were watching me – they were paying attention to my body language; my patience level and visible frustration were cues to them. It didn’t much matter what I said, my pounding on the wheel communicated how I really felt. I had to own up to it, and then re-adjust my attitude. Because how I drive matters to these little people much more than what I say about driving. If that’s true for driving, then how much more so for other areas of life? Oh, boy. This just got real.