I had been led to expect that the drivers in Massachusetts would be rude, pushy, speed-demons, cut-you-off-crazy, etc etc. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that people in MA actually observe the rules of the passing lane! Really! It is the coolest thing. EVER. If two people are in the left lane of the highway1 and the car behind is driving faster than the car ahead, it is polite and expected that the car in front will temporarily move aside, to the right, let the faster car pass, and then get back into the left-hand lane. And if the car in the left lane gets passed on the right, they will move over into the right lane (with a bit of shame) after being passed. Sometimes, if the front, slower car is not realizing the behind car wants to pass, it is not considered rude for the behind car to quickly flash their lights.
This whole beautiful scenario would never ever ever happen in UT. People pass in every lane, including the right lane (which IS considered rude here).
Most people in UT cannot merge. For real. I remember being stuck in traffic on I-15 at 10:30pm only to find out the hubbub was caused by a 1-lane merge because of construction. ONE LANE people. Merging is not even noticed here. It happens so effortlessly. People just know that you go every other car and everyone gets in as tightly as they can and it's awesome! They go down from 4 lanes to 1 and you hardly notice it's happening!
I think most of the "rudeness" can probably be attributed to the shear craziness of the road layout. The streets look as if a road engineer's toddler dumped a bowl of spaghetti onto the ground and served as the inspiration. Where we live, it's rather rural so there are just a few main roads, but in Lowell and Boston it is out. of. control. insane!
- Have you ever been to a 7-way stop sign? I have.
- Have you ever been using google maps, had it say "turn slight right" and wondered which slight right it was talking about? I have.
- Have you ever looked at the map and wondered why the roads require you drive in such a round about way when if you blazed a trail straight there you would travel one-tenth the distance? I have.
- Have you ever been following phone directions and every other street you pass it says you can turn there and arrive with a similar ETA? I have.
- Have you ever had directions tell you that when the road Ts you should turn left, but if you turn right you'll have a similar ETA? I have.
In fact, when people meet up at a location, as common as commenting about the weather is to ask which way they took to get there.
Don't even try using GPS in Boston when you're near a "highway" because it gets really confused and will think you're on when you're not or off when you're on. And then there are the underground highways... just forget about it.
On the plus side, when you finally know how to get around without a GPS the drive always feels like you're taking the secret back-road way to get somewhere, which makes you feel cool.
Also, it's a really, really beautiful drive through all the trees. It still takes my breath away.
Lots of driving:
I remember looking at houses and Jay being excited that we were only a 20 minute commute to work. 20 minutes?!! That sounded horrific to me. Spending 40 minutes in a car? Every. single. day?!
When we lived in Provo, UT, Jay was a 6 minute drive from work. We had a grocery store, doctor's office, orthodontist, gym, dentist, restaurants, elementary school and high school (and like 7 churches) all within walking distance. I rarely went to Walmart because I knew it would take 12 minutes to get there2. TWELVE! Who has 24 minutes to spend driving to walmart!!
Now, as I've spoken to more people around, 20 minutes is, in fact, a great commute! (especially since he only goes into work on days he is teaching or has a meeting... working from home is an even better commute!) Jay's dad drives 45 minutes one way AND he leaves at 4AM to avoid the rush-hour3 traffic. 45-minutes to an hour is considered completely normal.
I pretty much assume that if I'm going anywhere outside of our town (which is most of the time, since the only thing inside our town I drive to is the elementary school and the library) it's going to be a minimum 10 minute drive, and usually closer to 20. Luckily, we have discovered audiobooks and the peace in the backseat that comes from listening to them, so I try to think of our commutes as educational experiences.
Also, the kids are trapped when I feel the need to
Freeway on/off ramps:
Whoever planned the ramps that connect two freeways together should be fired (if they haven't been already...) It is very hard to explain to anyone who lives here. They don't get it. How could you do it any other way? I started to feel like I was going crazy until I heard an Oregonian friend complain about the same thing. It will be difficult to explain without a picture, but I'll do my best...
Let's say you are on highway A and you want to get to highway B. So, you take the exit and guess where it spits you out? Right before highway B's exit to get back onto highway A! It's completely insane! So now you have a scramble of cars who have just entered highway B and want to remain there, but they are in a lane that will automatically shove them back onto the highway they just came from. Meanwhile, they are trying to change lanes into a mass of cars who want to be on highway A and so they all have to essentially trade places. It's very stressful and unnecessary and a great cause for traffic during the earlier mentioned rush-hour times.
Punny/rhyming freeway signs:
On the other hand, MA has some pretty clever freeway signs such as "click-it or ticket", "Don't drink and drive. Arrive alive", "Use yah blinkah", "Designated drivers make the best New Year's Dates", and "Keep calm and drive on".
Something I strongly dislike about the roads here is they are mostly very narrow and lack a left turning lane. This means that if old Joe in front of you needs to turn left during a busy time, there's going to be a big backup of cars behind him, waiting for him to turn. Making people wait behind me stresses me out to no end. I strongly dislike inconveniencing people. However, I've come to see that it's just the way of life here and I've never been beeped at for not turning when I should have, or heard someone else do it either. (It's probably worse in Boston though).
Right of way ignored:
Because of the left turning thing I just mentioned, there is a very strange phenomenon that has appeared seemingly out of kindness, but I still find obnoxious at times. On many occasions, when there is a backup of cars behind a timid left-turner, an oncoming car will slow-down to let the left-turner go ahead. (Usually, the slowing car will flash their lights as a sign that they can turn left) There are times when I have been a grateful recipient of such treatment, but there have also been times when people do it unnecessarily and it just causes confusion- such as when the car I decide to turn after ends up being a person that decides to slow down to let me go, but doesn't flash their lights. Now not only are the people behind me being held up, but the people behind the slowed car must stop as well. It's particularly annoying if the car that slows is the last car in a string of cars. They need not have slowed because there was nobody behind them, and actually, now I end up waiting more time to realize they are slowing than if they had just kept up the pace and let me go after them.
This kind of driving requires mind-reading of strangers and is probably the hardest thing for me to get used to.
All things being said, I think driving here has made me a much less road-rageous creature and also much more compassionate to the seemingly weirdo driver. Having been lost many times and therefore doing some weird maneuvers on many occasions myself has allowed me to more easily give crazy drivers the benefit of the doubt.
When I was a kid, I think we were allotted 3 snowdays, which we almost NEVER had to use at the end of the school year. I can only remember a small handful of times when school was cancelled because of the snow, and the picture I have of myself was with the snow depth actually tower above the height of my 4th grade self. I still remember walking to school one time when the wind and the snow were coming down with such force that I couldn't even see my hand when it was completely outstretched in front of my face. School was not cancelled that day.
Here, it is much much more common. The last 3 years we have used almost all of our 5 snow days. I used to laugh and point fingers at these wimpy New Englanders who cancel school when they suspect an all night storm, but now that I've driven around in it, I understand why.
The roads here, as I've mentioned earlier, are very windy and narrow and hilly and all the trees make for poor visibility as well. One time I drove to Jay's parents (who live a 4 minute drive away) during a snow storm and I slid off the road when I was barely driving 5mph around a curve.
Also, the snow here is much much wetter than it is in UT and therefore is much more prone to forming ice on the roads.
My final point about closing schools so easily is every child is picked up in a school bus here. Buses are much less stable in snow than even a front-wheel drive minivan.
So there you have it. On a whole, I find driving here to be more positive than I expected. If we could just combine the passing/merging habits of MA with the better planning of UT, we might be on to something!
1. New Englanders call them "highways", not "freeways". To me a "highway" has high speeds but may, occasionally have lights whereas a "freeway" would never have lights. They do not use the term "freeway" out here at all.
2. looking back, there were many, many, much better reasons not to shop there...
3.Rush-hour is a misnomer. It's a lot longer than 1 hour. a lot.