Repeated snowfall pushes drivers to breaking point

City streets have been reduced to lanes barely wide enough for one car, testing drivers’ patience.
Barry Chin/Globe Staff
City streets have been reduced to lanes barely wide enough for one car, testing drivers’ patience.

The guy weaving his van down snowbound, swarming Dorchester Avenue does not just want to turn right onto this side street — he wants to fight about it.

The reason for his hostility is not entirely clear, but anybody driving in Boston right now just might be ready to brawl.

On snow-packed side-streets, we are facing off in low-speed games of chicken.


In snarled traffic circles and icy intersections, we are angling for every inch. And out here lately, the biggest jerk always wins.

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The shoveling is breaking our backs, and the cold is breaking our spirits. But in Boston, it is the driving that has broken our psyches. Plodding down snowy city canyons just wide enough for our cars, the mere sight of an oncoming driver up ahead is enough to make us honking mad.

We were perfectly reasonable people not so long ago. Now we are maniacs encased in thousands of pounds of filthy steel. It took us only three weeks to snap.

The evidence this week is everywhere there is a street. In Dorchester, someone in an SUV refuses to squeeze through the just-big-enough lane left by a delivery truck. The guy unloading the truck points and shrugs. Next come the horns.

The hilly streets in Southie turn into automotive Jenga. Parked, or simply immobilized, the cars are mashed so tightly together that they seem to be relying on each other for support. Back into a parking spot to get out of the way and you will run over the lamp someone left as a space saver.


And the vast mounds of snow turn every stop sign into both a blind intersection and an opportunity to explore the efficacy of prayer. “They build these huge piles at every corner so you can’t see,” said Ray Magliozzi, who doled out automotive advice with his late brother Tom on the radio show “Car Talk” from 1977 to 2012.

Magliozzi thought he left plenty of time to get to a recent physical therapy appointment at Massachusetts General Hospital. He lives in Cambridge, he said, and he could just about hit MGH with a stone. He left the house at quarter to four.

“At 5:30, I abandoned ship,” he said. He told the guys at his shop in Cambridge he would be e-mailing in the brake jobs from then on.

“I’ve been humbled,” he said. “Until further notice, everyone is going to be late for everything.”

Not everyone got that particular memo. Headstrong stalemates arise any time two cars confront one another in streets so narrow there is room for only one to pass. In Dorchester, a school bus bullies a Prius into backing up a block into someone’s semi-shoveled driveway. The driver throws her hands up and retreats into her smartphone while car after car blocks her path forward.


“Most people don’t like to back up,” Magliozzi said. “They want the other person to back up, because they don’t know how to do it. If you told these people they had to back up half a block, they’d shoot themselves.”

It’s also kind of a miracle they don’t shoot each other.

Boston Police Lieutenant Michael McCarthy said there have been no reports of episodes in which drivers have decided to step outside.

“It’s very rare around here that you see a courteous driver,” said Dana Scott, a driving instructor with South Shore Driving Academy. Scott has been giving lessons in the snow.

“It’s been a nightmare,” he said. He coaches his students to favor courtesy above all else. “You don’t know the mind-set of that driver. Maybe they had a really bad day and some little traffic mishap can set them off.”

Irked by three weeks of misery, their vocabularies of antagonizing gestures are extensive.

“No hand gestures!” admonished Diane Gottsman, a national etiquette expert and the owner of the Protocol School of Texas. “As much as you want to let them know clearly — with hand gestures — how you feel, just don’t escalate the situation,” Gottsman said.

Sometimes, though, sanity still prevails.

The angry van driver on Dorchester Avenue who wanted to fight, shouts something unprintable and just drives off.

The SUV driver holding up traffic and too worried to squeeze past a delivery truck gets an assist from a motorist behind her, who jumps out of his car to guide her through.

Most people are just trying to find a way to cope with the indignities. For Magliozzi, it’s usually a smirk.

“A smirk does it. It says, ‘You jerk, what’d you do that for?’

“I’m too old to get into a fight.”

Nestor Ramos can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @NestorARamos.