Everyone warned me before I even moved to Massachusetts.
I didn’t believe them, of course, because I wanted to believe that no state could be so brutal, so distinctly defined by a single negative characteristic. Besides, this was the state of marriage equality! This was the state of affordable health care for all! This was the home to great institutions like MIT and Harvard. Still, I should have believed their cautions: Watch out for those Massholes! Massachusetts drivers are ruthless. You’ll become one too! Everyone does!
For the first six years I lived in Boston, I didn’t even own a car. I took the T everywhere, slowly learned the bus lines, navigated the subway cars, learned to look out for the jeers of drunken frat boys parading around with red-liquid-filled water bottles and learned to switch cars when seated by the man proselytizing and warning us all of the end of days. I learned to ride. On occasion, when faced with the necessity of taking a cab, I noticed a couple of aggressive driving tactics: the general swerving, the overused horn. But, I told myself, cab drivers are aggressive everywhere. I’d survived many a New York City cab ride, and Boston had nothing on those drivers.
Mostly, gratefully, I lived a life without Massholes.
Recently though, a move to Roslindale and a commute to Dorchester for a 7 a.m. school start time meant I had to get a car. My friends warned me again: Be careful out there! There are Massholes everywhere!
I scoffed. I paid for my used car. I began my new commute.
For the first six years that I lived in Boston, I didn’t even own a car... I lived a life without Massholes.
The first morning was like a dream: At 6 a.m., long before the majority of the city was awake, I drove to work with ease. Massholes, I told myself, they’re a myth as much as the first Thanksgiving. I decided that Massachusetts’s residents just had a knack for storytelling.
That is, until I began to commute home. I was routinely cut off by multiple drivers, cringed in silent terror as I was cursed out by angry men for driving (at most) 5 mph over the speed limit and watched as my fellow drivers blatantly ignored the basic laws (Hey friends, red light means stop, OK?). At its worst, I watched a man in a large van reach out of his window and take a strong but unsteady swing at another man who was begging for cash. Sitting helplessly at the red light just two cars behind, I watched the man’s thick arm graze the panhandler’s jaw. When the man swung back, the driver got out of the car and showed that he had at least one foot in height and 50 pounds in weight on the panhandler. More words, more swings, and the driver got back into the car just as the light turned green.
“Where the hell are we living?” I asked my wife when I got home. Clare, another Massachusetts transplant, gaped at the story. When I told my Boston coworkers, however, they sighed resignedly and said, “Welcome home.”
I’ve never even gotten a parking ticket. I can’t become that arrogant, aggressive, angry driver who gives the rest of us a bad name.
I can’t become that, I promised back. I won’t. I’m a rule-follower. I’ve never even gotten a parking ticket. I can’t become that arrogant, aggressive, angry driver who gives the rest of us a bad name. I can’t.
However, when I found myself visiting my old North End neighborhood, I realized that I am not exactly without blame.
In the car, I’m patient, cautious and calm. I listen to the radio. I reflect on my day. I never check my phone. But walking through the North End, my own feet revealed how this state had changed me. Here I was, barreling through tourists, weaving around strollers and angrily making sarcastic comments to my wife about other people taking up as much sidewalk as possible. Don’t these people know we have somewhere to be? Do we all have to walk like we’re on vacation and desperately in love with some authentic North End culture that probably hasn’t existed in decades? And why are there so many strollers? Why do families with young kids even bother going out? Don’t people know that real people live here? My insides were boiling. My mind was racing. I felt my own self-importance swell.
As I weaved around a family of eight, who no doubt were waiting doe-eyed for the chance at a real Boston cannoli, I realized that I had become the Masshole that I had feared. Maybe it was only by foot, but some statewide culture had invaded my blood and I no longer recognized myself.
I’d like to say that I wept with embarrassment. I’d like to say that I’ve somehow reformed myself by taking a class in anger management or committing to simply “enjoying the moment.” But I’d be lying. I haven’t.
But I’ve kept that inner Masshole from coming out in my driving, and for now that’ll have to do.