Don't Even Go There—Travel Writing for the Rest of Us

Even if the world is your oyster, you can still chip a tooth on its shell. While travel magazines feature exotic locales of breathtaking beauty, we expose sites so depressing that no traveler this side of Edgar Allan Poe would venture there without a tub-load of tranquilizers. Take Las Vegas (please) and the $5.99 all-you-can-eat buffet line at Sam’s Town. That's the world we explore at Don’t Even Go There.

On this site, we tell of places we’ve visited but wish we hadn’t. We reveal vacation plans gone awry and relate horror stories from the road best abandoned. These true stories reflect where we’ve chosen to go. We only have ourselves to blame. We rarely needed to exaggerate—the truth really is stranger than a Dan Brown novel.

Don’t Even Go There: travel tips for those of us who aren’t escorted by security guards, pampered by wealthy benefactors, or provided a generous per diem. This blog is for seasoned travelers and armchair tourists who want the real world first-hand and head-on, with all its drama, horror, and humor. You’ll laugh at us, cry with us, and decide to stay home more often.

06 January 2009

The Roads to Ruin

Since we’ve just returned from a trip to our original hometown (to visit family and do some shoveling), we decided to post this related story. It’s a tale of caution to everyone, whether you’re a seasoned business traveler or a road-tripping college student. Don’t take this warning lightly; take it to the bank and put where it can draw interest. It’s that valuable. —MB & JS
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They seem to be everywhere—on highways, country roads, and especially city streets. They force pedestrians to flee in terror. They chase Porsches down cul-de-sacs. They treat red lights like they treat parking tickets: laughed at and disappearing in the rear-view mirror.

“Boston drivers:” aggressive auto-pilots with hatred in their hearts and blood on their bumpers. You’ve heard the rumors. You know the stories. You might’ve even used it as a curse yourself when someone cut you off. Boston has a reputation for baked beans, banning books, and bad driving habits.

But this myth doesn’t quite reflect reality. We should know. We spent our formative years learning to drive there. “Boston drivers,” we are happy to report, aren’t born without proper control of their motor reflexes or good judgment. No, they are regular people forced into an unnatural and dangerous environment: the streets of Boston.

You’d think driving in Boston, where “Boston drivers” form a demented majority, would thrust you—if not into a fetal position—at least into near-fatal or flashback-inducing circumstances. Sometimes it does. Boston drivers heed the creed that “he who hesitates is lost.” If you don’t know where you’re going, then get the hell out of the way. Boston drivers obey the unwritten rule that the crappiest car always has the right of way, regardless of what other traffic rules may seem to apply. After all, a Lexus driver has more to lose in a collision.

But there’s more to it than simple philosophies. As Boston drivers themselves will tell you: it’s a matter of survival. Not yours, theirs.

Boston is a city that grew up without the automobile. In its infancy, Bostonians relied on the horse and buggy (basically, a narrow box on wheels). As a result, many of Boston’s inner-city streets can barely accommodate a Cooper Mini. Moreover, Boston’s streets wind around hills with nary a straightaway in sight. No one cared back then, and it was easier for the horses. No one had yet heard of “city planning,” which even today sounds vaguely Socialist.

But that’s not why Boston is such a perilous place to drive. Other early American cities have narrow, winding streets, but aren’t noted for the Death Race that characterizes Boston’s daily traffic. What’s the real story?

As you drive around the city, trying to find the right exit or a certain address, you will notice a few things … or the lack thereof. Street signs, for example, or accurate highway markers. Missing, poorly placed, and badly labeled signs are so prevalent in the Boston area that natives have learned to pretty much ignore any sign by the side of the road, including speed limit signs.

If you’re driving in Boston, you best know where you’re going before you start. If you’re lost, you’re going to stay lost. If you think you can just circle the block to return to where you were, you’re mistaken. One-way streets and hidden curves will direct you instead farther away from your destination. A friend once called from a pay phone to get directions to a party in a northern suburb. “I don’t know where I am,” he said, “but the area code is 401.” That’s Rhode Island for you folks from Boise.

Boston drivers, in their own skewed way, are as predictable as the next driver. During one year commuting from Malden to Cambridge, we saw a car go through a red light every single day. It became so nerve-wracking, we began stopping at yellow lights. The strategy backfired. Cars swerved around us, honking madly, to zip through the red light anyway.

The streets of Boston favor a mad, hell-bent attitude—survival of the foolish. At least Boston drivers exhibit very little of the road rage common to the highways of LA. That’s a good thing—you could argue that fewer southern California drivers might help the gene pool, whereas Massachusetts drivers might be Harvard students, MIT graduates, or Berkeley School of Music dropouts: in other words, the cream of humanity. Instead of shoot-outs, Boston drivers take their frustration out in different ways, like aiming for critters in the road, pretending pedestrians are fair game, and challenging the laws of physics. Be warned: it’s a mindset that becomes infectious after a mere month of experience.

Lessons Learned: The next time you see someone driving an old beater like he owns the road, get out of the way. Don’t get mad, take pity. If he’s really from Boston, think of where the poor bastard had to learn to drive. That kind of experience will scar anyone. Boston drivers? There but by the grace of God (and geography) go any one of us.
How We Saw It
Blight-Seeing: 2
Communication Breakdown: 4
Customer Dis-service: 1
Discomfort Level: 4
Grunge Factor: 2
Inactivity Guide: 2
Rent-Attainment: 1
Spontaneous Consumption: 1
Fun Fraction: 1/5
Vibe-Rating: 3, if you enjoy danger

If You Won’t Listen to Us
Nearest Airport: Boston Logan International Airport
Native Population: 591,000 (city only)
Normal Attractions: History, architecture, museums, Fenway Park, colleges, nightlife, Boston Common, fine dining, Quincy Market and Faneuil Hall, live music, and Cambridge.
Final Point of Interest: Boston’s nicknames include: Beantown, The Hub (of the Universe), The Cradle of Liberty, City on the Hill, and Athens of America. We prefer “Bawstin.”

3 comments:

Lisa Kennedy-Cox said...

Yet another not only well-written, but accurately portrayed depiction of an American city that lives up to its bad name for worst drivers ever. I can't wait to write about traffic in Bangkok.

Mark Bloom and Jason Scholder said...

Lisa knows Boston traffic, having survived it. We can't wait to read your account of Bangkok. That's the area outside of Revere, isn't it?

(Sorry, fans, that's kind of an inside joke. Back in the 80s -- but probably still true today -- Revere was known for big hair, gold chains, and loose women, not necessarily in that order.)
-- Your friends, MB & JS

Mark Bloom and Jason Scholder said...

The following comes from an acquaintance named Mike Beck (we swear we're not making this up):

Having driven in Boston since high school in Dorchester, then later as a tour guide for Latin American tourists, I too had the crazy Boston driver view. Yet after two stints fighting Mumbai rickshaws and Hyderabad traffic circles, I realized that Boston is a piece of cake.

Keep up the great posts and insightful views. Your humor makes us think and laugh.