This Month

I HAVE long wondered why the Boston motorist makes such a problem of himself; traffic in New York is no less congested, but drivers there are far more urbane.

Pulling out from the curb is all but unpardonable in Boston, and any driver already in motion will prevent such a thing if he possibly can.

No Boston driver will wait in a line if he can manage to head up a new line on the wrong side of the street and balk oncoming traffic in the bargain. To make four lines where only two can pass, thereby forcing every car in all four lines to come to a dead stop, is highly regarded in Boston.

Boston is distinctly not a squarecorner town. Any of its drivers will take a half-block run along the wrong side of the street in order to force a left turn against oncoming traffic. My impression is that this is practically a penitentiary offense in most cities.

Cutting in and out, on the theory that the overtaking car enjoys the only right of way, is in the best Boston tradition. The driver’s seat in this town really ought to be facing backwards, with the forward view provided by a front-vision mirror.

A hand signal simply prompts the driver behind to a blast of his horn, indicating that he understands your intention and does not propose to let. you carry it out.

At intersections, the prudent driver must not let it be seen that he is aware of other drivers about to intersect his course. If they do see that he sees them, they construe the situation as a challenge, or an affront, and claim precedence regardless of all other circumstances. Thus the safest crossing is achieved by (1) furtive peeks while seeming to look in the other direction; or (2) genuinely not looking at all. This is the same condition that makes the use of the hand signal so unprofitable.

The Boston motorist will always stop so as to block cross-street traffic when he himself is obstructed. This puts him ten or fifteen feet nearer his Dream Street.

I note few or none of these characteristics in the New York driver, and I have finally figured out the main reason underlying the two dissimilar situations.

The New York driver is a philosopher. Thoroughly accustomed to traffic, he has long since surrendered as an individual. He will not writhe and pout and glare simply to pass another car or to keep another car from passing him, because he knows that traffic has no end: there will be just as many cars in the next block.

If a New York cab driver comes up on another car which is about to pull out from the curb, the cab driver’s first feeling is one of pity: imagine the poor sap, his thoughts go, who expects to get anywhere in this mess. Well, let’s ease him in just for the gag and watch what happens to him. The despairing courtesy with which a New Yorker waves a recruit from the curb into a cross street blocked by hand trucks, moving vans, excavations, and open manholes is unknown in Boston.

A Boston driver will follow another car for blocks, six inches in its rear, just to keep it from backing into a parking place.

The Boston driver, a hick at heart and a hick in conditioning, has never brought himself to believe in traffic, His Dream Street, towards which he is forever plunging, carries no traffic but himself. That is the true intent of Nature, he believes. Once he has out cheated his rivals in any given jam, he expects to be in the clear. No more traffic for the rest of his days. Yet at the very next block, he is involved all over again with new miscreants who have actually dared to intrude their cars into his delicious, traffic-free fantasy. It gets him down.

The Boston motorist’s slogan in all traffic situations is “Sauve qui peut!” The slogan doesn’t work out as well as it should, simply because too many Massachusetts drivers have espoused it. Thus the Boston driver who sneaks past on your right side and makes a left turn across your bows is all too often obstructed by another Boston driver who believes that the ideal right turn in heavy traffic shall begin only from the extreme left-hand lane. The resulting impasse is of interest mainly to smalltime bodily-injury lawyers and the statisticians who compute the annual increase in liability insurance rates. The driver himself remains frustrate. He knows that The rules of the road are intended for other drivers to obey in deference to himself, yet the other drivers — being true sons of Massachusetts — harbor exactly the same conviction in their own behalf.

Baffled at every turn on his home grounds, the Boston driver comes into his own on reaching the Connecticut state line. What exhilarates him is his mastery over the Connecticut drivers. These law-abiding motorists with a habit of driving in the right-hand lane are further handicapped by their good manners and a sense of public decency. The generous 55-mile speed limit of the Merritt Parkway seems to satisfy these humble creatures. The Boston driver swoops in on them like a buzz bomb.

By way of showing Connecticut the stern Massachusetts code of motoring, our visiting hero settles down in the left lane and pigs it there, right across the state. None of this servile moving over for him. He will drive it at 40 — more likely at 70 — but he is the only one, he feels, who appreciates the left lane, and there he stays. The only difficulty comes when a hapless Connecticut driver ventures to pull out and overtake a slower right-lane car: a toot from behind warns him that the visitor from Massachusetts is displeased and coming on full blast, in no mood to tolerate even a hint of company in his own exclusive high-speed lane.

San Francisco, like Paris, toots at blind corners without slowing down. Washington is capable and friendly. Chicago is tough, tense, and rapid. Philadelphia is baffling but not hostile. New York has learned to live with itself.

But Boston is out to punish any and all who turn a wheel on its streets.