I thought of an additional New England phenomenon, one I neglected to mention in my recent post on the subject.
Call it Fact F. It can be summarized as, “if you need to ask, you shouldn’t be here.”
It’s roughly connected to Fact C, “If you weren’t born here, forget about it,” but it has a somewhat different flavor. I’ll give you some examples of the way it operates.
Recently I was driving on a turnpike in New Hampshire (yes, there are a couple) when I came to a tollbooth with three “exact change only” booths, and only one booth with a toll collector of whom one might ask a question. And yet nowhere, absolutely nowhere, was there a sign informing the driver of the amount of the toll to be collected here. Not on the approach, not above the booths, not on the basket into which you dropped the money, nowhere.
In Maine, the is another toll road. It’s called, logically enough, the Maine Turnpike. They are better there at posting the tolls; the turnpike even has EZ passes now (a system for which New Hampshire is still gearing up). But the Maine Turnpike has its own problems. It has signs, yes, but some exhibit what I call passive-aggressive signage–that is, they tell the unsuspecting tourist (on whom Maine’s economy more or less depends) to go the wrong way–the longer way, or the way with the higher toll.
Then there is the northern New England minimalism about the street sign in general. Boston is typical in this regard. Although it’s a great city to visit (just don’t take your car), it’s renowned for convoluted roads and terrible traffic. There are signs on almost all the side streets, even the little bitty inconsequential ones, but many main streets lack them. It is assumed that everyone knows the main streets and only needs help with the more obscure ones. So the non-resident has the strange experience of being able to drive and drive and drive for many miles along huge thoroughfares, looking vainly at every street corner for a clue as to what street he/she might be on. I believe that, were a study to be done, about 25% of Boston traffic at any one time would consist of just such people (in the fall, when college begins, it would probably be closer to 75%).
The situation would be bad enough if Boston streets ran parallel to each other. But they most decidedly do not; they crisscross constantly in alarming fashion. This makes it difficult, even if one is on a main street like Beacon or Commonwealth, to actually stay on that street, or to follow directions, if one should be lucky enough to have some (or wimpy enough to ask—it does no good, believe me). There is that moment of truth when the traffic all comes together in one big unregulated mishmash (typically, there are no traffic lights at these free-for-alls), and you have to make your choice minus any guidance at all—and then drive on, vainly looking for proof that this still is Beacon Street, mile after signless mile.
But we love it.