Come puddle season — upon us now, thank you melting ice and snow — Boston drivers have yet another way to be jerks: the splash and run.
Whether they do it intentionally, taking sick pleasure in soaking pedestrians without even so much as a backwards glance, or whether fault lies elsewhere, is a question we’ll get to in a bit.
But first let’s join the Thursday morning pedestrian commute to the Longwood Medical Area via Kent Street in Brookline, a stretch of road feared by regulars for its large puddles and sidewalks that are typically poorly shoveled and icy, and on top of that, not wide enough to offer safe retreat from spraying water.
It was about 9:45 a.m. A flash flood watch was in effect, rain was falling, and drivers were zipping along without a care in the world, dry and cozy in their vehicles, showering poor schmoes on foot with salt- and debris-filled water.
Kylie McCarthy, 23, a clinical research coordinator wearing a nice dress and tights, weighed her limited and unattractive options as she headed into puddle alley.
She could stand and wait in the rain until no cars were in sight and start her passage then. But who knows how long that could take on this busy street, and she had a job at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center to get to.
She could make a run for it even though cars were heading toward her, in hopes that the timing gods were smiling, and that she could avoid a soaking without having to suddenly sprint across a long stretch of ice.
“Getting splashed really sets the tone for your day,” she said, and not in a good way.
She railed against all the drivers who’d splashed her in the past. “They act as if they’re the most important thing in the world,” she said. “I’ve definitely made some gestures.”
A few minutes later Mehmet Samur, a medical researcher studying cancer and heading down the same treacherous strip, a joyless waterpark, explained the situation in stark terms. “If you’re not careful,” he said, “no one will be careful for you.”
There are many ways your work day can get off to a bad start. You reach the bus just as the door closes, and the next bus isn’t coming for a half an hour. You forgot your dress shoes and have to go to an important meeting wearing sneakers. You drop your kid off at day care and fight your way to the office only to get a call from day care. Your child feels warm. Come pick her up.
But as (trivial) day-ruiners go, the splash puts it all together. It combines physical discomfort with a potentially ruined outfit with anger/annoyance with the feeling that you’re a loser, a character in a movie Who Is Having a Bad Day.
The phrase “ideal puddle conditions” isn’t one many utter with joy, but reached by phone, WCVB-Channel 5 meteorologist Mike Wankum did sound rather chipper explaining why we have it so bad right now.
“You’ve got rapid snow melt,” he said Thursday afternoon, “and on top of that we could get anywhere between one and three inches of rain, and the ground is frozen so the water can’t soak in.”
Not let’s turn our attention to the question of who’s at fault; Boston being Boston, the only pleasure we’re going to get from all this misery is in the naming of a villain.
Plenty of folks blame the drivers, whether their actions are the result of inattention, or, worse, attention.
On Thursday, veteran pedestrians speculated on why a driver would want to soak a stranger.
“It brings them an internal glow,” said Gareth Willis, 29, an instructor at Boston Children’s Hospital heading to work along Kent Street, only partly joking.
Note to drivers who claim Boston’s puddle-ridden and narrow roads give them no choice: at least slow down.
Other pedestrians took aim at the city of Boston (and other municipalities). “They should do a better job clearing,” said Angelina Bespalova, 20, a Northeastern University student who sustained a splashing on the way to school Wednesday.
Asked about whether it was culpable, the city e-mailed a statement: “The Boston Water & Sewer Commission strives to ensure proper drainage during inclement weather, which includes clearing debris from catch basins citywide,” it read, unsatisfyingly.
Few blame the victims, but comedian Steve Sweeney, who says he’s been splashed by people driving Volvos with “coexist” bumper stickers, explored the role karma may play.
Sometimes you hear people say, “They had it coming,” he said.
“Why did they have it coming?” he asked, playing both roles in the conversation. “I don’t know. No reason. They just had it coming. We’re all guilty of something.”
Perhaps that explains why a mailman walking through Fenway on his route gets splashed so often. “Sometimes they do it on purpose,” he grumbled, frowning and declining to give his name.
But then his face brightened.
“I did it once,” he said. “I splashed someone.”
When he was a boy in Southie, driving with his learner’s permit, he soaked a high school classmate. Ahhhh. The pleasures of being a teenage boy. His mother, sitting in the back, was not happy.
“When we got out she gave me a good crack on the back of the head,” he said.
And now karma is smacking him again.