I'm writing this column from the passenger seat of a Volvo as my wife drives on Interstate 90 (the Mass Pike) from Boston to the Berkshires, small mountains in western Massachusetts. The passenger seat is a great vantage point for observing the countryside and the traffic, which is my purpose today. Besides, my wife is a better highway driver than I am. I negotiate city streets and traffic like a broken-field runner who avoids all tacklers, and that's especially important now in Boston during the construction project known as The Big Dig. If you haven't heard of it, look it up. It's the biggest highway project in history, and one of its consequences is that routes around the city change every week or so as the construction proceeds. Real Massachusetts city drivers like me don't mind that so much: We're used to making up our own patterns of travel anyway, all the while avoiding eye contact with the other drivers. Highway driving requires different skills and a more relaxed, gentle, go-with-the-flow attitude. If driving were music, city driving would be all heavy metal, while highway driving would be the symphony. My wife is a maestro.
My goal today is to check on the sanity of drivers in winter. Let's look out the window.
As we start our trek, we've just had a snow storm, the biggest of the winter: At least a foot of fresh snow in Boston. The road is slick. Reasonable people clean their cars off before driving after a storm like this. Not the jerk passing us in the Lincoln Navigator. He forgot to scrape his back window, and snow is flying off his roof like tickertape in a parade. It's coming right at our windshield, temporarily blocking our visibility. Why didn't he clean the car? Is it too tall for him to reach? Why does he even need that SUV in the city, where the vehicle is wider than some streets?
Now, we're about 50 miles outside the city and the roads are getting more slippery, which makes conditions perfect for the slalom drivers on the road today. They're weaving back and forth between lanes like downhill ski racers. And, they're all driving some kind of SUV. I keep hoping one of them goes off the road—without hurting himself, of course. After all, these are off-road vehicles.
Up ahead, there's a Silverado. Man, they are wide. It's a strange design, but that's not my complaint. The driver is in the passing lane, going at far below the speed limit. There's room for him to move over to the center lane, but he won't. More opportunity for the slalom drivers.
The further west we travel, the more pickup trucks we see, most of them Ford F150s. That makes sense: We are getting into some rugged rural areas, about 100 miles west of Boston, and pickups can come in especially handy here. F150s are practical, and at one time they were the best-selling vehicles of any kind in the U.S. I once interviewed a farmer in Louisiana who drove his for a million miles, having changed only the transmission. Wait: Here's a guy passing me while talking on his cell phone? He's in a Toyota 4Runner. At highway speeds on winter roads, that's dangerous—and stupid. Maybe he's calling his undertaker—or mine.
Even here in relatively relaxed rural western Massachusetts, we are being passed on the left and right—and we're doing 70 mph. Some of those drivers probably have radar detectors. I wonder if they feel hypocritical telling their children to obey the law when they use devices intended to let them break the law and get away with it.
We've now arrived at our destination: Pontoosuc Lake near Mt. Greylock, and out there on the ice and snow I see about seven drivers. They're peeling around the ice, doing 360s. At last, a group driving according to the conditions of their road. And they're all piloting SUVs.
Reach Teague at firstname.lastname@example.org.