Stupid idiots

When I first moved to Salem from Dallas, I was amazed at what stupid fucking idiots all the drivers are! And I don’t even in the normal way. Everyone expects angry drivers, selfish drivers, drivers who aren’t paying attention. There is plenty of that in Salem and everywhere else, for sure. But in Salem, and in the greater Boston area in general, the drivers who bothered me the most were the ones who were… weirdly over-polite!

People here constantly stop dead on a main throughway, with dozens of cars backed up behind them, to yield right of way to a person at a stop-sign coming on from a side street. All the time! It’s so common that cars stopped at stop signs to turn on to a larger road will simply go, assuming that the oncoming traffic (with no stop sign) will slow down or even stop to let them in.

It was baffling to me. Don’t people realize that yielding to someone who doesn’t have right-of-way can cause accidents, especially on busy roads when the drivers around you aren’t expecting you to stop or slow down? Don’t people know how this is all supposed to be done?

But over the first few months of living here, I slowly realized why Boston drivers are like this: the roads here are so fucked up that if they didn’t create their own “protocols” for managing traffic, nobody would ever get anywhere.

I had entered stage two: I was amazed at what stupid fucking idiots the civil engineers and city planners were! Why are there so many intersections between gigantic overly-trafficked streets and tiny residential roads that are only managed with a stop sign? Why is there such poor support for left turns on busy streets? What the fuck is with roads randomly going from 2-lanes to 1 lane with no signs and no warning?

The realization hit me the hardest when I was on a short one-lane off-ramp from a highway, turning left onto a very busy fast-moving three-lane street at an intersection where I had a stop sign and the main road didn’t. The thing was completely jammed up on both my off ramp and the main road I was turning on to. And what I saw amazed me: Every single driver in this clusterfuck was very politely treating that intersection as a 4-way stop sign.

That was when it dawned on me: these drivers aren’t “ignoring the rules of the road”. They aren’t even being “overly polite” — to use the label I had in my head when I first moved here. They are literally just coping: finding some kind of solution that will get shit done, despite the weird fucked-up road system.

Eventually I entered phase three: There weren’t any “stupid fucking idiots” planning the roads, either. These intersections aren’t the product of someone planning them that way because they were stupid or lazy. These intersections evolved over time. These roads were originally horse trails, that got paved over, then widened, then added to, then paved over again. And nobody has the money to tear it all down and build an “efficient” road system in its place… not as long as people can “get by” with the current one.

So now, I’m not blaming “stupid fucking idiots” anymore. The roads are a mess, and driving is a mess, and messes are something that happen when large systems evolve slowly over time. And I’m happy that, at least in this one small example, I was able to get past my very human instinct to find someone to blame and realize that in a lot of messed-up situations, everyone is just trying to get by.

Hang on.

That sounds all sweet, like a nice lesson learned. It’s problematic because there are more layers here: the way capitalism allows short-sighted politicians to remove funding from infrastructure, the fact that people who have privilege often “just get by” by leveraging systems of oppressing instead of making themselves aware of the system’s fundamental injustice. And so on, and so on. This kind of thinking isn’t a way to say things can’t get better.

But it does help ameliorate road rage, at least.

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