I may have spent my entire childhood save one year in Massachusetts, but I am seriously out of practice with the nuances of life and place on the eastern side. Yesterday, I actually went out of my way to use a crosswalk when the post office was directly across from where my dad had pulled the car over to the curb.
Mke east coast: You could just run across the street. The post office is RIGHT THERE.
Mke west coast: But there are cars coming in both directions, and they don’t look like they want to stop. Plus, you could unwittingly cause a rippling effect of car accidents that would shut down both lanes.
Mke east: Come ON. You are wasting time.
Mke west: No. It just isn’t worth it.
Compromise. Because the crosswalk followed a diagonal, I walked to just a few feet before the corner where it began and on the way back cut off the beginning on the other end.
I used to laugh at crosswalks in Washington state cities and towns where no cars were present, yet people would stand patiently and wait for the signal to indicate it was safe to walk. What kind of madness was this? Why were they just standing there when they could be speeding off to bigger and better things?
Well, each time I venture onto the road, as driver or passenger, I am reminded why everyone is in such a hurry around here. The experience of driving is terrible, and you want to get it over with as quickly as possible.
Yesterday morning, I made the decision to travel all the way from Lowell to Stoughton to visit the small city of Ikea (it even has its own main street—1 Ikea Way). There were no lollipop gents to greet me, but there was a kind lady who wished to offer me a large, yellow Ikea bag. I politely declined. The Ikea adventure is a story for another time.
What was more intriguing to me was how very far Stoughton felt from Lowell. I have also joked over the years about how people in Massachusetts are reticent to travel short distances—a 15 minute drive used to feel like an eternity to me.
When I lived in Washington, I regularly drove an hour just to get to a decent grocery store. The scenery was beautiful and drivers relatively pleasant, save for the summertime with the incredibly slow trailer and RV travelers. We would just settle in for the drive and watch for birds and signs of the seasons.
Moving north to Gustavus, there were only 20 miles of road to work with, so there was really very little reason to rush anywhere. Most destinations took no more than 10-15 minutes door-to-door.
An hour here is quite variable, and you get the added bonus of sharing the road with madmen and women. Traffic can happen anytime of the day, and rush hour seems to take place anywhere from 2pm to 7pm. People are even allowed to drive in the breakdown lane of Route 128/I-95 during busy morning and evening hours—hope I never break down!
I think that evolution here has functioned quite differently than other places. Here, those who develop the skills that allow them to avoid injury or death when crossing the street, changing lanes, or just driving along on the highway are those that will survive to pass on their genes.
I experienced a vision while traveling as a passenger the other day. I imagined that I was driving along at a reasonable pace on the highway. All of a sudden, a car came speeding up behind me. Instead of swerving around me, the front hood opened up and enormous metal jaws came crunching toward me, ate the entirety of my vehicle, and cleared the way for the car to continue on its way as if nothing had happened.
I am fairly certain this image came to me during stop and go traffic on the Lowell Connector when I passed a car from New Hampshire with the license plate “GOFSTR.” I did not roll down the window to point out the irony, nor did I mention that the plate might be better placed if this was meant as a message to the cars ahead.
I don’t know which thought frightens me more—being horrified by elements of life in the fast lane each time I leave my apartment or the possibility that I will assimilate.
And now for a kind word.
I really have met so many incredibly kind, warm people since my arrival here in the big city. People who hold doors open when you are carrying heavy items, people who say more than a quick hello in passing, people who seem pretty darn genuine.
Most folks do not seem very impressed with my decision to live in Lowell. I tend to get the facial scrunch when I tell people where I am living. Apart from all of the trash and loud noise, I find Lowell quite charming. The brick architecture is beautiful, and there are even cobblestone streets in the historic district downtown.
Being a country mouse in the big city for the first time as an actual inhabitant, I have to tuck away thoughts of hearing Great-horned Owl hooting and coyotes yowling their eery banshee wail in the night and focus on the benefits of living in a different kind of dynamic eco/socio-system for a while.