Boston traffic can tax the patience of even a practicing Buddhist. In the spring issue of the magazine Buddhadharma, book editor Brian Arundel describes how he thought he was making spiritual progress—until he moved to Boston, where city residents’ “seeming disregard for the welfare of strangers” include famously reckless driving habits.
“There’s this thing that drivers do here when the light turns green: shoot out and turn left in front of you, before you can make it through the intersection,” Arundel writes. “My fellow transplants call it the ‘Boston left,’ and it’s so engrained in local culture that it’s actually more common than not.” Arundel says he eventually made peace with Bostonian ways, with one exception: “I still react irrationally to the Boston left.”
I can commiserate. For the past decade I’ve lived in Jersey City, where the exact same maneuver is commonplace. But guess what it’s called here? The “Jersey left.” And if you’re from western Pennsylvania, you’ll know it as the “Pittsburgh left.” On Urban Dictionary, contributors bestow other regional labels: “Massachusetts left,” “Rhode Island left,” “New York left.”
When it comes to insulting other people’s driving, it turns out, the lingo we use can be intensely local. But the fact that Boston’s regional driving sins show up under different names elsewhere suggests that the city hardly has a monopoly on sketchy driving practices. In fact, paradoxically, what these geographically specific names suggest is that we may be a nation more united in terrible driving than we know.
Consider the “rolling stop,” in which the driver treats a stop sign as a yield. The region most identified with this casual technique is California, and, like many such traffic insults, it’s especially favored by those in the immediate vicinity, in this case neighboring states such as Arizona and Oregon. I found a reference to the “California stop” all the way back in 1964, when an Arizona state commissioner named John P. Clark was arrested in Tucson on charges of driving drunk and failing to heed a stop sign. Clark admitted to newspaper reporters that he had made a “California rolling stop” but denied being intoxicated. In the late ’70s and ’80s, “California roll” developed as an alternate term, no doubt helped along by the popularity of the sushi roll.
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