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Driving in New England Explained

I spend considerable time in New England because the company I work for is based there. I have learned that driving in New England is different than driving anywhere else in the USA.

The first thing you need to know about New England is that it isn't new. In fact, it is old. Everything is older there than anywhere else in the country(except for people, they are older in Florida). The roads are old. The bridges are old. Old roads are narrow. Old bridges are weak. Both are in constant need of repair, which is why there are repair crews on every route you need to go. Deal with it like a Bostonian - honk.

The next thing you need to know about New England is that they didn't plan the roads. Legend has it that in Boston they paved the paths the cows used to use to get to market. In Providence, they got the cows drunk first. Cows are notorious for not going in a straight line. This means there are no straight streets in New England. None. There are no parallel streets either. There is one and only one road that goes toany destination - do not leave that road for any reason or you wills pend hours wandering.

Since there is a unique road to each destination, there are places where many of these roads come together. Anywhere else in the country, they would build an intersection, in New England they build 'rotaries'. Rotaries are simply wide stretches of pavement surrounding a park where several roads come together. Generally, there are no lines to indicate lanes - there is just a large volume of traffic going round and round. New England drivers are very creative when it comes to selecting lanes in the absence of lines. The number of lanes of traffic in the average rotary will vary considerably based on time of day, weather conditions, and whether the Patriots won their last game.

Since everything in New England is old, and there is only one road to each destination, New Englanders have no need for street signs. If you are on a road, you obviously must know where you are going. There are street signs indicating the minor streets so you can tell where you are supposed to turn, but there are no signs telling you what road you are on. When two major roads intersect(usually at a rotary), there is obviously no need for signs, because drivers on both roads know what road they are on, and know they are crossing a major road because there is no sign indicating the name of the road.

Do not, under any circumstances, ask a New Englander for directions. Since there are no street signs, all directions are given in terms of landmarks. Old landmarks. Sometimes landmarks that are no longer there. By law, directions given in New England must contain at least one reference to a farm that had a pivotal role in a battle of the Revolutionary War. Brush up on your history.

Once you get there, remember that "The first parking space you see is the last parking space you see" (thanks for that quote, Jesse). In the grand tradition of our founding fathers, it is sometimes necessary to perform civil disobedience to achieve your goals. This is why you will see people standing or sitting in parking spaces while their friend (or spouse, or someone who paid them) turns the car around to get into the space. There are urban folk tales of company presidents who got their start as parking entrepreneurs in Boston, but these are largely unsubstantiated.

There is also an unwritten rule of the road that you must learn to drive in New England: "He who makes eye contact loses right-of-way". This is especially true for pedestrians. For example, if you are a pedestrian in Boston and not paying attention to the cars, it is theirresponsibility to get out of your way. If you make eye contact with a driver, then it is your responsibility to get out of theirway. Of course, you want to know where the cars are in case they really don't see you. So, the trick to crossing a street in Boston is to know where the cars are, but not let them know that you know wherethey are.

If this sounds too complex for you, remember the bumper sticker I saw during an early 1996 snowstorm. It said Welcome to Boston. Don't get upset, just drive like we do.

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This page, and all contents, are Copyright (C) 1996, 1997 by Steve Heyl, Denver, CO, USA.