Friday, May 11, 2007

My lovely vacation continues here in Billerica. I should note that while most normal human beings would of course pronounce this bill-AIR-rick-uh, the locals say bəl-RICK-kuh. Then again, the woman in Dunkin Donuts this morning asked me a question that I couldn't comprehend in the slightest, and on the second try (plus context) I identified as "creme and sugar?" But I'd swear that the first time she said it, she didn't use a single phoneme that I normally associate with those words.

Yesterday I biked the nine-mile roundtrip on the Battle Road between Lexington and Concord, saw the Old North Bridge, and then went to Grindhouse, which was awesome. Today I got up ridiculously early to bike the Minuteman Bikeway, which is a 21-mile roundtrip from Bedford to Cambridge. That may have been a bit ambitious, but I can still walk, and I do have feeling back in my hands and wrists now.

Then I went to Lowell, which was kind of a history expatriate homecoming. You see, as a grad student in U.S. social history in the late '90s, there was no avoiding the Lowell mill girls--Yankee women who worked the Lowell textile mills in the 1830s and 1840s. Not only were they women working outside the house way before that tended to happen (especially for women from good families), but they were also proto-labor activists of sorts. Taking all these facts together, any good U.S. social historian gets their panties all in bunch and swoon at the mere thought of the Lowell mill girls. My complete and utter boredom in the face of phenomena such as the Lowell mill girls should have told me something early on in grad school, but I guess I was a bit thick about these things.

The biggest threat to my tranquility the last several days has happened every time I get into the driver's seat of my car. There are two distinct problems, and I'll treat them separately.

One is that I hate Massachusetts drivers. Now, I'll admit that every place has bad drivers, and every place thinks it has the best drivers or the worst drivers. Michigan is no slouch here--this probably has to do with the state-wide delusion that the state legislature has banned the use of the turn signal. It hasn't. I looked it up. I'll also note that as I believe Anna Karenina said, all good drivers are the same while all bad drivers are bad in their own way. The Massachusetts version is that drivers turning left here have the right of way. And by "have" I mean "aggressively assert". They'll put up with 25 mph meandering country roads, but they'll be damned if they'll wait until no one is bearing down upon them before taking their God-given right to turn left RIGHT NOW.

Two is 25 mph meandering country roads. The roads here are a mess. If you want to drive around here, you should know that all roads are required to change names every mile or so, and you usually won't be informed. Any numbered road is required to move to a different road periodically, and you may or may not be informed. You know how most state roads will reassure you every so often that you're on that road? Not here. If you assume you're on the correct road just because you were on the correct road and have continued to drive straight, you will probably end up at least 10 miles in the wrong direction. Mapquest and Google Maps will not help you. Sure you can print them out, but every time the directions say "Continue on x", add 10 minutes to your expected travel time for you to figure out what that should mean, then figure out the hard way what it actually means, then struggle to find a place to turn around. Oh, and despite that struggle, I've decided that Massachusetts is no longer the Bay State, but from here on out will instead be the U-Turn State.

For all that, don't feel too sorry for me, because I'm still having a heaping helping of relax-y goodness.


Mike B. said...

The two Michigan driving rules are:

1. The word "limit" in "Speed Limit" refers to a minimum, not a maximum.

2. You may exit the freeway from any lane. You do not need to be in the one closest to the exit.

Michigan -- the state that no longer requires written tests on license renewals. Pass it once, drive forever.


Mark said...

The U turn state seems apropos, given the suggestion of the letter 'U' in the curve of the inner Cape, running up the South Shore on one side and up to P'Town on the other.

As far as road nomenclature goes, I find that I am flummoxed when I go somewhere with planned names and grids. Too much order!