Thursday, March 10, 2005


If you don’t own a car, you don’t realize the extent of the damage done to Interstate 93 by construction. Until that is, you have to be at the airport.

A major highway has been turned into a backwoods dirt road, a major artery into something more like an intestine with major blockage. In the race to Logan International Airport, you find yourself instead on an impromptu tour of Boston with uncountable others, all surely horrified at enforced glimpses of the North End, the financial district, Chinatown and the traffic lights arrayed like hiccups to keep drivers from speeding, even if those drivers left their homes thinking they’d be cruising down a multilane stretch of asphalt upon which adhering to the speed limit is considered a cry for help.

And the detour signs, oh, the detour signs. Like mischievous imps they leaped from nooks and crannies along the tortured roads, always gesturing vaguely toward at least two options, one to actually take you to Interstate 93, the other likely to bring you to hell. Or Winchester. Or Gardner. Or Easton. Somewhere far from where you have to be as the minutes run circles around you, screaming with urgent reminders that the flight you were meeting is landing in five, four, three, now two minutes.

Actually arriving at 93, you surge onto it in relief, celebrating freedom, until suddenly you find yourself in South Boston with off-ramps stretching out in selfish languor. Next exit, 76 miles. And it brings you to Neponset.

You overshot the exit. Or you finally got on 93 with the airport exit behind you. Never mind. Turn around. But can you get to the airport on 93 north? You must be able to. But this is Massachusetts. Roads laid out over cow paths, revised by that great civil engineer, M.C. Escher. You can take Route 16 north to Interstate 93, but you can’t come back. You can get lost forever in the loop of 95, 128 and 93 south of Boston, coming back to Boston when you think you’re off to Rhode Island and finding yourself in Mansfield when you were shooting for Andover.

So when you see a state trooper pulled off to the side of the road, you pull in behind, leave your hazard lights blinking, your car door open. You run up with caution, knowing troopers live on the edge, ready to shoot when a situation seems threatening or uncertain.

Except this one, who’s absorbed in poking at the keypad on his cell phone.

You stand next to him for several seconds, waiting for him to look up, but he doesn’t see you. So you call out “Excuse me!” but he doesn’t hear you, and when you do it again, he looks up — away from you, gazing out at passing traffic.

Finally he looks in your direction, rolls down the window and, in response to your request for help in getting to Logan, threatens you with a $100 fine for pulling into a construction zone.

You apologize and ask your question again, and he repeats the warning. Because it’s dangerous to pull out, see.

Time has slowed down.

You want to scream.

There’s not even much traffic.

He repeats his warning.

You repeat your question.

He finally answers.

And you get in your car and drive off, finding signs for the airport almost immediately, marveling as you accelerate past that the “construction zone” is merely the interior lane of Interstate 93 north endlessly blocked off by orange cones with a state trooper cruiser sitting every half-mile or so, troopers inside probably all diddling with cell phones and Game Boys. No construction at all.

The construction is to come.

Great fearsome God almighty, the construction is to come.

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