Car & driver

Got pollen?

In “More Lines for a June Heat Wave,” Leslee mentioned her “pollinated car.” In case you think the image of a vehicle “Dusted with / mustard powder” is a bit of poetic exaggeration, here’s an image to show why all of us with allergies here in New England have been sneezing and sniffling these days.

Parallel parking, Masshole-style

Boston isn’t known for vehicular kindness. The streets here are narrow, crowded, and poorly marked, and drivers act accordingly. I notice myself driving differently on my long weekends in Newton compared to my short workweeks in Keene. In Keene, I drive slowly and defer to other drivers; in Newton, I run yellow lights and heed the dictum of “every driver for herself.” When in Rome, act like the Romans; when in Massachusetts, drive like a Masshole.

Gangsta chic?

Today J and I went to lunch in Waltham, and on the way we witnessed a hit-and-run accident. The car in front of us swerved, sideswiped a parked car, and kept going while pedestrians stood slack-jawed on nearby sidewalks. “We’ll get his plate number,” J shouted through his open window to several shocked passersby as we continued after the culprit. But because it was lunchtime on a Friday in Waltham, we were quickly cut off by another car and never got close enough to the Anonymous Masshole to read his or her license plate.

Hit-and-run accidents are not unique to Boston. But somehow the notion of “keep moving, and perhaps no one will notice” seems particularly urban, as if the sheer number of people sharing our streets and sidewalks makes it easier to pass the buck. Today after enjoying a thank-God-it’s-Friday lunch, some poor soul returned to his or her parallel-parked car to find its driver’s-side mirror torn from its now-dented side. Shit happens, and so do hit-and-run accidents. It’s part of what living in the city is about.

This is my submission for today’s Photo Friday theme, The City. In defense of the oft-maligned motorists of Boston, I shot both of today’s pictures in Cambridge, MA.

Found a friend

The stuffed dog I spotted at the laundromat earlier this month is back…and he’s found a friend. Here’s hoping Blue Octie has had a similarly happy ending to his tale of lost and found.

Still closed

From this angle, the rotary construction project at the intersection of Main and Winchester/Marlboro Streets in downtown Keene doesn’t look terribly different from when they started detouring traffic back in May. Yesterday I was back in Keene after more than two weeks away, and I was hoping to be able to drive on the new rotary. Instead, I found freshly painted directionals on new pavement, but Main Street itself is still closed, at least if you’re driving in a car rather than riding a bike.

Biking the new rotary

It takes a surprisingly long time to turn an angular intersection into a circular roundabout. In the meantime, residents have had to withstand a summer of construction noise, re-routed traffic, and dead-ends. Being more off-road-worthy than cars, pedestrians have already tested the fresh pavement, crossing this usually-busy intersection as if there were no construction getting in the way.

Rotary pedestrians

Viewed from another angle, rotary construction looks more like deconstruction, the segment of Winchester Street that borders the northeastern corner of the Keene State College campus being an unpaved, dusty mess right now.

Still under (de)construction

Considering that parents will be moving their students back to campus next weekend, you have to hope construction will be completed by then. Otherwise, frustrated families will have to yield to construction headaches.



Writer and humorist James Thurber, having been born and raised in my hometown of Columbus, Ohio, once said “the clocks that strike in my dreams are often the clocks of Columbus.” I can’t recall the striking of any memorable clocks during my Ohio childhood, but it seems I’m haunted instead by the cars of Columbus, finding them evocatively indicative of the kind of neighborhood where I grew up and my parents continue to live.

Parked, with graffiti

It’s not uncommon to see wrecked cars parked in my parents’ neighborhood. On-street parking is free and ample in my parents’ neighborhood, few folks have garages, and even fewer can afford expensive repairs. If you live in my parents’ neighborhood and your car gets totaled, you probably have to wait for an insurance check–if you even have insurance–before you can make repairs or buy a new ride. In the meantime, you and your family might have to rely upon a different kind of wheels to bring your groceries home.

Alley cart

When I walk Reggie in my parents’ Columbus neighborhood, I take far fewer pictures than I take in either Keene or Newton. It isn’t an issue of Columbus being less interesting or photogenic since I’m convinced my penchant for the old and abandoned was born in the gritty neighborhood where I grew up. Instead, I take fewer photos in my old Columbus neighborhood because I, unlike Thurber, haven’t yet discovered how to bridge the space between the world I come from and the world I now find myself.

Being a wandering photo-blogger is strange enough in New England, where my neighbors have both computers and Internet access. In a high-crime, low-income, digitally-deprived suburb of central Ohio, my laptop finds No Available Networks when I try to pirate free wifi, and wandering with dog and digicam is outright strange and possibly dangerous. As a result, I try to be extremely discreet as I explore my old neighborhood, pulling out my camera only when no one is around and something is odd or unusual enough to scream “snap me.”

This is not a sign

My old neighborhood, after all, likes to keep its secrets as well as its treasures hidden, and as a former-resident-turned-outsider, I try to respect locals’ sense of both privacy and pride.


More than anything, I think, it is culture shock that makes it difficult to photograph, make sense, and then blog the world I come from now that I’ve returned to this, the very different world where I now live. Yesterday morning, I packed my car in a gritty Columbus alley; this afternoon, after driving all day yesterday and now finding my feet after a good night’s sleep, I unpacked the same car here in Newton, a tony suburb of Boston. Here in Newton, I needn’t fear the neighbors’ chained pitbulls and Rottweilers will attack me or Reggie when we go for a morning stroll; here in Newton, people don’t park wrecked cars in front of their houses. When I walk my dog in my parents’ neighborhood, I am acutely aware that I am the only lone white woman walking a street where brown faces are the norm; when I walk my dog in Newton, I am acutely aware that I couldn’t on an adjunct instructor’s salary afford to live here.

How far, then, is it from my parents’ neighborhood in Columbus, Ohio to the lush and leafy streets of Newton, Massachusetts?

All in a day's drive

A long day’s drive will take you from one world to another, the divide between them being more than miles.

Stuffed dog in car

Now that it’s August and officially Too Hot to leave a live dog in a parked car, today at the laundromat I saw this stuffed dog posed in the driver’s seat of a nearby minivan, looking just like this dog did last December. I guess stuffed animals imitate life?

Be sure to check out this month’s installment of the Festival of the Trees, hosted by Via Negativa and narrated for the first time ever by an invertebrate. If that last statement intrigues you, click on over to “meet” Pterry the blogging (and supremely photogenic) katydid. Enjoy!

Intrepid Yankee fan

A word to the wise. If you’re going to drive around Boston with a hand-painted Yankees logo emblazoned on the back of your vehicle, you might choose a friendlier vanity plate to avoid offending (and enraging) Red Sox Nation.

Happy flower, Newton, MA

Although I’m not one to wear my politics, personal philosophy, or sense of humor on my sleeve, much less my car bumper, I do believe our cars say something about our selves. With this in mind, today I spotted two separate cars in Newton, MA that suggest that optimism is alive and well, at least in one upscale Boston-area suburb.

Every breath is a gift, Newton, MA

Is it me, or is there something hugely creepy about a life-size, realistic baby doll crammed and abandoned in the back of a locked car?

This is where the rubber doesn’t hit the road. After years of deliberation and debate, construction on a new Main Street rotary started today here in Keene, meaning one of the most congested interchanges in town–the intersection of Main and Winchester/Marlboro Streets–is closed through September.

This means many of my preferred residential dog-walk routes, including usually quiet Grove Street, have turned into major thoroughfares (or virtual parking lots during rush hour) as traffic is re-routed to and from downtown. Heaven help the folks who live on Grove Street and now have a steady stream of slow-moving traffic in their front yards.

One of the things I’ve always liked about Keene is its extreme walkability. I have a five-minute walking commute to and from campus, and I can walk to the bank where I do business, the gym where I take yoga classes, the downtown apothecary where I get prescriptions filled, as well as Keene’s post office, public library, and artsy movie theatre. On weekends, I drive 90+ minutes to go to Zen practice and see my Massachusetts friends, but on weekdays, my car seldom leaves my driveway. Over the next few months, I think I’ll grow increasingly grateful for that fact.

Despite Keene’s walker-friendly design, however, it has always been a vehicularly congested town. Since first coming to teach at the college in 2001, I’ve always wondered how a town of 20,000 could sustain so much traffic: at any given moment, it feels like everyone, their mother, and their dog is driving, separately, on local roads.

In addition to truly local traffic, part of Keene’s seemingly perpetual congestion comes from outlying areas. In addition to folks who drive from surrounding towns to their jobs at the college and various local factories and businesses, a regular stream of emergency vehicles hurries through Keene on their way to and from the only hospital for miles. Heaven help anyone who had a medical emergency this morning and thought they’d zip down Main Street on their way to the hospital.

As a literal dog- and street-walker, I’m used to walking around traffic, relying upon any of a number of pedestrian short-cuts to get to and from pretty much anywhere. But the sheer magnitude of this current project has even me stymied. On any given day, whether on foot or in my car, I normally pass through, by, or along the Main and Winchester/Marlboro intersection at least once during my comings and goings: even my five-minute walk to campus involves this intersection. So today has me studying maps trying to figure out where to walk the dog–and how to get to the post office–without having to navigate a major traffic jam.

To make matters worse, the Main and Winchester/Marlboro rotary is only one of several construction projects happening simultaneously this summer in Keene. There’s also a rotary-in-progress at the intersection of Winchester Street and Route 101: another interchange that was a traffic snafu even before construction began. And on West Street, they’re widening the road, which will be a relief when construction is complete but is another traffic headache in the meantime.

The cumulative effect of all this road construction is a logic problem of daunting proportions: to get into or across town, you first have to figure out how to drive around town. Figuring out how to navigate Detour X to get from Point A to Point B will make this one interesting summer. And as a polite and ever-helpful dog- and street-walker, heaven help me when it comes to giving directions to confused tourists. Maybe I should take as my personal slogan the statement so popular up in Maine: “Ya cahn’t get theyah from heyah!”

This afternoon, contemplating a quick dog-walk to the bank and back, I thought I’d avoid vehicular back-ups by taking the rail-to-trail bikepath that runs through my almost backyard. But wouldn’t you know it, that’s under construction, too. Heaven help us all.

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