“Draw, you mangy dog,” snarled Blackie. No one could face down Blackie. He had the fastest gun west of the Pecos and a really bad temper too. And a bit of a drinking problem, truth be told. When he said draw, you could run, but you could not hide.
“Blackie, I was just funnin’ with ya,” he assured him. “No, really, just messin’ around widya. Puleeze, Blackie. I got a wife. A kid. A farm. I’ll never fun witya agin. No way,” he assured him.
Blackie was having a difficult morning. Charbucks had overburned his coffee and his pumpkin spice donut was stale. His horse had bitten him and he had trouble starting the car, too.
He had a really bad headache (too much hooch?) and he was pretty sure he was already late for work. He really needed to shoot someone, but this guy was so lame.
So he shot the bartender.
Then he went to work — selling stocks and bonds. Some days are just rougher than others.
That’s kind of how I think of my house, these days. The roof doesn’t leak and the basement doesn’t flood. The heating system still works and I have a functional kitchen.
I even have some flowers in my wild garden.
I know it’s not going to be my personal mansion and I do not set forth from it thinking of it as the backstage area to the forestage of Life. This place is pretty much all of life and we could be doing a whole lot worse.
Today, it’s where we live, where we sleep and eat, and where we try endlessly to keep it from falling down faster than we can shore it up.
We have some lottery tickets. I could look them up, see if we got rich and I don’t know it yet. But when asked these days what we’d do with the money, I think ” A simple, bright house without steps and cleaning people to come in once a week and do the basic stuff.
There is no free parking in Boston. There is no free parking in New York either. I don’t know about the rest of the big cities, but I’m betting it’s pretty much the same. Assuming you can push your way through the traffic and actually get to the city … what do you do next?
Weaving through Boston traffic on any given day can be a traumatic experience. Cars and trucks pop out of side streets, apparently without so much as a glance for possible other traffic. If you can find a parking place (good luck with that), it will either cost you a fortune … or pretty much the same amount for a parking ticket.
I have stood there, calculating which is going to cost more — the ticket or a legal spot. The legal spot is usually not only more expensive, but it’s much less convenient than parking wherever you happen to be.
My first car experience in Boston traffic was waiting at a light and getting hit by a car leaving a parking space. I got hit by a parked car standing still. At a light. Welcome to Massachusetts.
How about the people leaving illegally parked cars and stand there with their doors open, waiting for you to knock it off the frame?
I do not know if all cities are as bad as Boston, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they are. Of course, now people lurch wildly through streets talking on the phone. Blind and deaf to traffic, at the very least can’t we ban cell phones in cars? AND while walking on the street?
Considering how often we stand at an intersection waiting for the driver in front of us to get off the phone and drive, it’s hard to tell who is parked and who isn’t.
Out here, in the country, the roads aren’t as packed with traffic as they are in town. You can generally find a place to park — at least in the village. Out in the country, it’s perfectly legal — but the odds are very good that someone — texting or talking — is going to come around a curb and whack your car.
Remember TV shows where the cop or private detective could park anywhere? There was always a spot for him, even in the middle of Manhattan or Los Angeles. I want to see more realistic shows where the guy misses his appointment because the IS no parking. And he doesn’t have $120 for two hours of downtown parking.
Following them … and not by much of a distance, either … were a mixed bag of posse wannabes. A few professional lawmen, a clutch of bounty hunters, and anyone else that had a gun and a horse and could be drug up by the sheriff and the railroad people.
The horses were exhausted and it wouldn’t be long before they collapsed unless they were allowed to stop, rest, drink, eat. For that matter, it wouldn’t be much longer before they, themselves, collapsed.
Whose idea was this, anyway? They could have hit a bank or a Wells Fargo shipment. Hell, they could have hit half a dozen stagecoaches without setting off this kind of frenzy. It was those railroad guys. They really didn’t like bandits. Which they were. Damn.
Don’t you hate it when that happens?
It was getting dark, now. The sun was setting over the mountains. Where could they go? Ahead were the Superstitions … and there was nothing up there but jagged rocks. Where was water? Some grass for the horses and a place to lay themselves down and breathe.
In the distance, they could hear the hoofbeats of oncoming horses. They looked into the fading sun and they knew.
“But your honor,” he whined, “I had no idea the lamppost would fall on his head. It never fell down before.” Of course, he pondered, no one else had weighed three hundred pounds and leaned on it before, either.
The judge banged his gavel on the desk twice to emphasize his point. “Son,” he exclaimed, “You can’t just go putting up stuff without properly setting them in the ground. We have laws about such things.”
“What laws? I didn’t know there were any laws. There were no lights on the street. I wanted a light so I’d know where to turn into my driveway. From the street, all you can see are trees and darkness. Besides, all my neighbors told me I couldn’t set my mailbox in cement because when the snowplows come, they would knock it over … and if it’s just standing in the dirt, you just put it upright and that’s it.”
“The lamppost was electrified,” the judge reminded him.
“No wires. Just one of those bulbs that collect daylight so it shines in the dark … or at least until it runs out of saved light.”
“It hit him on the head. He’s in a coma. In the hospital.”
“No one told him to lean on it. Who hangs around the street at night, learning on lampposts? Who does he think he is, Bogey?” As he made this comment, a mist rolled through the courtroom and the lights dimmed.
“My word,” thought the judge. “I think it IS Bogey!” And who was that fat guy? Sidney Greenstreet? Or maybe … Orson Wells? Was this a courtroom or a television set for Law & Order? When he heard the background music, he began to worry. He didn’t have a union card … and there were laws about that.
It turned out there was no law against putting up a lamppost, properly or otherwise. In fact, the city charter was singularly free of laws regarding lights and posts and implementation of said devices. “Well,” commented the judge, trying to see the plaintiff through the rolling mist, “There oughtta be a law.”
Ultimately, the judge ruled the lamppost an “attractive obstruction” and told the gentleman to please stop putting up lampposts.
But it was too late. He had already lit most of the town and it had cost a pretty penny at that. However, in line with safety regulations, each post had a sign stapled to it that said:
“Beware! Leaning on this lamppost can result in serious injury and crushing incidents.”
It was a small victory in an endless battle for personal freedom in a world which already had too many stupid laws. And you just knew, there’d be a brand new lamppost law as soon as the mist rolled out of the courthouse.
When we lived in Boston, traffic was life. It was like getting up in the morning. It was getting to work, the grocery, the doctor. Anything and you always had to calculate how much “extra” time you needed to deal with traffic.
I had audiobooks in the car to keep my brain engaged. Traffic was as fundamental as roads and bridges. You couldn’t go anywhere without adding an extra hour — in case traffic was bad.
Traffic was always bad, but sometimes, it was lethal. These days, I don’t think about traffic because we don’t have much. We don’t commute. If we need to drive, we schedule it for when there is likely to be little or notraffic. Locally, a traffic jam is a tractor with two cars waiting at an intersection.
Or road repairs.
Until we moved here, traffic was a primary issue in our lives. It controlled our working days and holidays. Gridlock before and during holidays could effectively close the city. I once tried to pick Garry up from Channel 7 which was less than a mile from home. Normally, he walked, but he had things to carry and so he asked me to come and get him.
I left the parking lot, drove a block, and had to stop. Nothing was moving. An hour later, I was in the same place. I finally made a U-turn and went back to the apartment. The next day “GRIDLOCK” was the headline. The entire city had been stuck because it was the Friday before Christmas.
Less than a year later, we moved from Boston to Roxbury, about 4 miles outside downtown Boston. There were trees. Empty lots. Almost the suburbs. You could park — for free — on the street.
Then came the Big Dig.
The Central Artery-Tunnel Project, called The Big Dig, was a monstrous project involving rerouting and redesigning virtually every road in, out, around, and through Boston. If you lived in the city, there were no areas unaffected by it. It was supposed to solve the city’s traffic disaster. Ultimately, it made it easier to get to the airport, but the rest of it? It’s still a permanent jam that will never go away.
Was it worth it?
The Big Dig was the most expensive highway project in history. To absolutely no one’s surprise, it was plagued by cost overruns, scheduling disasters, water leakage, collapses of ceilings and other parts of roads and tunnels, impressive design flaws, blatantly poor workmanship, nepotism, corruption, payoffs, substandard materials, criminal arrests for a some of the aforementioned offenses (but not nearly enough), and four deaths.
The project was supposed to be finished by 1998 and cost $2.8 billion. I am sure no one in Boston expected it to cost that or be finished on schedule — and we were right. It took an additional nine years and was finally finished in December 2007 It cost more than $14.6 billion. The Boston Globe estimates when all is said and done, including interest and fines, lawsuits and so on, the project will total more than $22 billion and won’t be paid off until sometime in 2038. Or later.
The Big Dig forced us out of Boston. One day, I had to go grocery shopping. The supermarket was a mile away. It took me two hours to get there and another hour and a half to get home.
“Garry,” I said that evening, “Let’s get out of here!”
We fled. Traffic had overtaken over our world. Nothing was fun. We couldn’t go to a restaurant or a movie. We couldn’t shop, park, or get to or from work and should we get where we were going, there was nowhere to park. People trying to visit couldn’t find our us because the exit to our neighborhood kept moving and was often closed. Out-of-towners roamed helplessly through Dorchester, looking in vain for a street sign.
Sometimes we couldn’t find our way home.
We must have spent years of our lives sitting in traffic.
We live in cities because that’s where the jobs are. You don’t find jobs with a future in small towns in the country. With all the telecommuting talk, most jobs still require you to be there. Most jobs require live interaction with colleagues and customers.
We underestimate how badly the wear and tear of commuting affect our lives and psyche. If it takes hours to get to work, you are already tired when you get there. Public transportation often takes even longer than a car and is a lot less comfortable.
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