"During driver training, you were probably taught to use hand signals as an alternative to directionals to tell other drivers where you are going. However, in the Boston area, hand signals are used to tell other drivers where to go." (p. 133)
Driving in Vancouver can be a dicey affair, as many of the drivers here are very strange and don't appear to know what they're doing. It annoys my wife even more than it does me. When my wife and I were looking over a list of books to review, The Boston Driver's Handbook: The Almost Post-Big Dig Edition jumped out at my wife. "That should be funny," she said. So I asked for it. Does it live up to its promise? One thing I do know. After reading this book, driving in Boston sounds even worse than driving here. And that takes some doing!
The book starts with a basic overview of driving in Boston. It tells us about the philosophy ("Commandment Number 1: Thou shalt reach thy destination as quickly as possible. Everyone and everything else be damned."). It talks about what kind of car you should drive. A sparkling new car is just an invitation to be hit, or at least bumped. The best kind of car is an old, beat-up car that already has plenty of bumps and paint scrapes. The authors then go into the street layout of Boston and how confusing it is. They say that there is no way that you can navigate by street signs. The streets twist and turn and confusing one-ways abound. The cool thing about this chapter is that they talk about every section of Boston, detailing the different traffic and parking problems that they present, like how street fairs in the North End can play havoc with basic navigation, sometimes absorbing drivers who are invited to join the fair and then never seen again. This is an extremely interesting section, especially for somebody who's completely unfamiliar with Boston. It may be even more so for the experienced Boston driver, forcing a nod of the head and an "Amen, brothers!"
The third chapter is about the Big Dig, with the authors explaining just what is planned, what has happened so far, and what will happen once construction is complete. They tell how the Ted Williams tunnel is currently (or at least at the time of this book's writing) quite beautiful and relatively empty, but as people get wind of it, traffic patterns will adjust and it will become just as dirty and polluted as the other tunnels. One thing that just sounds horrifying is how the new Central Artery will only have three exits, while the old one had twenty-seven. I don't even have to live there to find that idea frightening. You don't have to be familiar with Boston to find this chapter interesting as an example of the lofty goals of major construction and how the reality of it usually doesn't quite fit. Again, the authors are quite detailed in telling how the construction has affected things, and they don't avoid giving the positives as well as the negatives here. They're just cynical, not unfair.
The rest of the book is full of the basic and more advanced maneuvers that the expert Boston Driver has to learn. There's the basic cut-off, where you cut in front of the car next to you in order to pass the car in front. There's the sidesqueeze, where you ease into the other lane until the car next to you brakes to avoid hitting you. You then cut them off and go on your way. I love this quote from the basic maneuvers section:
"One of the cardinal rules of driving is surely 'Stop on Red.' However, if the light is red for more than five seconds, you can assume that it is broken. You may proceed after a quick check for cross-traffic and police cruisers." (p. 52)
The authors also tell about entering the endless traffic circles, really confusing left turns (one of the diagrams in the book is an intersection where you're actually going into the oncoming lanes in order to make it through the intersection before the light turns), parking, and many others. Some of the information would be useful here in Vancouver as well as any other cities where traffic is a nightmare. However, a large part of the book is based on Boston Driving culture, such as going the wrong way on a one-way street being the only way to get to some places. It's funny to read about, but don't try this at home. I especially enjoy the suggestion that parking and driving on sidewalks is sometimes necessary, as long as you look out for pedestrians.
The book is written in an easy style that is entertaining and doesn't take too long to read. The information on Boston and its environs is fascinating; it almost makes me want to go there, though there's no way I'd want to drive there after reading this book. There's no way I'd survive! The book is marred only by the final chapter (before the final exam), which gives there ideas for how Boston Driving will evolve in the next hundred years. It tries hard to be funny, but usually falls flat.
If you're planning a trip to Boston or planning to move there, this book could prove invaluable. Even if you're not, it's a funny look at driving in the wild streets of a city, and it just may make you appreciate your local traffic a little bit more. Either way, it's a fun read.