Saturday, March 18, 2006


What are those blinky things on the corners of my car?

So, a relatively large number of people don't live in the Boston area, which is cool, (actually, I often wish more people would live elsewhere...) but now and again some of you fine people decide to drive around here. This happens quite a bit in the summertime High Tourist Season (stay off the drugs, tourists!) and a few of you probably came by for spring break to see friends at other colleges or whatever. Now you wish you had gone to Cancun, but that's another issue. If you are not from Boston and have driven or plan to drive here, you should know a few things, and, ever helpful, I will tell you a few of them here.

We will start small, with the cars themselves. When I first came to live in Watertown, MA to work in Cambridge, MA, (two fine cities with ancient and fearsome graveyards), I thought people were driving like absolute morons. It turned out, as it so often does, that I was the moron. I didn't know the Local Rules (thanks for the term, Dad), and I nearly paid for my ignorance with my life. Or at least my car. Its bodywork, specifically. And the term is "Masshole," not moron, by the way.

OK, so people living in and around Boston, though politically liberal, are among the most socially conservative in the nation. The ability to buy beer on Sunday was achieved in our state last year, for heaven's sake. This has several consequences. The most conspicuous is that no one ever uses their turn signals, ever. EVER. Turn signals were not found on the original cars, and were never used on horses and/or carriages, so the fine people of Massachussets do not feel they are necessary. "Can't you have that vulgar thing removed?" they will ask the car salespersons, pointing to the turn signal doohickey coming off the steering wheel, with an expression which would not be different if said doohickey were coated in a thick layer of dung, abuzz with flies. In a similar vein, they never touch it.

This is not to say that there is no way to know what other drivers are about to do, however. If you see a car that has slowed down or stopped, and none of the funny yellow lights are blinking, then you should assume the car will be turning, probably left. If you are driving and plan to turn left, DO NOT SIGNAL THE TURN. Your blinking light will be assumed to be the hazard lights, with the right bulb out, and everyone behind you will slam on their brakes, causing a huge accident. It happens all the time. Believe me, everyone knows you will be turning left just by the way you are slowing down. If you are not turning left, then you should use the universal "going straight" signal - raise your right hand so it can be seen from behind you (signals in MA are done without opening the window - it ain't Duluth, but it's COLD here most of the year) and extend the middle finger from an otherwise cl0sed fist in a "straight" fashion. How logical. No one needs to get hurt.

A note on turn lanes - we love 'em here. Parts of Waltham are a virtual slalom course of right turn only, left turn only, right turn only, etc. for reasons reminiscent of the ergot infection of the local rye which allegedly led to the Salem Witch Trials. Here's the trick, though - tradition and precedent, remember? If you remember the time before there was a special turn lane, you are under no obligation to obey the restriction. Again, in Waltham, where apparently they ate a bunch more rye bread last year, a few new Left Turn Only lanes were added to the local intersectionry. Quote from the Metrowest Daily News from a councilperson who wished to remain anonymous: "Hee hee!" Anyway, when you see a car in a turn lane, and it is a car from before 2000, and especially if you see a license plate with green numbers and letters (they switched to red in 1967), do not expect that car to obey the sign any more than you would expect the car to sneeze and suddenly turn into a giant armadillo.

Good luck and drive safe. ly.
Your humblest and most devoted servant,

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