After visiting friends and family in Boston last weekend, we drove home amidst a tumultuous storm; relentless heavy rain and unsettling gusts of wind. I wasn’t feeling well; hadn’t slept much the night before and felt exhausted and headachy, so Carol kindly offered to get behind the wheel despite the conditions. She then experienced a condition I call “passenger-itis”, where somehow a well-known route becomes completely unfamiliar once you move from the shotgun side to the driver’s seat.
We’ve made the trip between Maine and Boston countless times, together and solo, and can practically identify from memory which fast food joints present themselves at each turn-off — “Wait until the next exit because the McDonald’s at this one doesn’t have a drive-thru.” Carol seemed completely unfazed by the sopping, blustery weather and was sailing (almost literally) along in the outside lane as we passed the sign indicating our exit was coming up in two miles. After traveling one of those miles she still hadn’t started to move toward the right-hand lane, so I prompted her to get ready for the upcoming merge: “Honey, we’re approaching the exit for 95 North.” She still didn’t react for a moment, then asked me, “Is this the same 95 that we usually take?” I told her that, although some routes are marked as “alternate”, it wasn’t in the context of a parallel universe and yes, it was the same paved multi-lane interstate that winds along the East Coast and that we always take to get home. There was no “other” Route 95 to seek out.
I sensed she still didn’t believe me but she moved toward the exit nonetheless. It was an A-B exit; one ramp heading north, another just past it heading south. Now Carol saw the half-mile indicator but was confused since it was labelled by town versus direction — “37A – Peabody” or “37B – Waltham”. “Which one do I take?” she asked me. I reminded her that Peabody was north of Boston and therefore that sign was the one to follow. I sensed she still didn’t believe me but she took the Peabody exit anyway.
[A short aside: locals know the correct pronunciation of “Peabody” is “PEA-b’dee”, with nary a pause between the first and second syllables. Years ago we were watching a police procedural on television which was ostensibly set in Boston but obviously filmed on a West Coast soundstage since we never saw the principals stepping anywhere outside in the Hub. In this particular episode the cops were tracking a criminal escaping via car through his cellphone usage, calling out the names of the various towns he and his handset drove through. One investigator sprinted over to a conveniently posted area map and traced the route, coming to the conclusion that the authorities could intercept the perp as he approached a suburban location spelled M-e-t-h-u-e-n. Unlike Peabody, this town’s name is pronounced pretty much as it’s spelled: “Meth-OO-en.” But instead the Hollywood actor exclaimed, “He’s headed straight for Meth-WHEN!!” Don’t these show folk have people on-set, or working in the commissary, who know how to say things as the locals do? They might as well have advertised this show was set on the gritty streets of “BUS-tone”.]
Anyway — now we were on 95 North and would remain so for the next 120 miles. Visibility was poor with the rain and reduced even further as night came creeping across the sky. Still, we’d been this way many times before, so I was surprised when Carol asked me if the bridge we’d just driven over meant we were now in Maine. “No, honey — that’s the bridge from Massachusetts into New Hampshire. We still have to drive through New Hampshire before we get to Maine.” “Oh, sure…” she replied, though I sensed she still didn’t believe me. The Granite State leg of the trip is over in a flash, even when we take the time to stop and purchase tax-free liquor, so we were crossing the Piscataqua (don’t ask me how to pronounce that) River soon enough and found ourselves back in our adopted home state.
I don’t know how much time passed before I heard Carol ask, “How far is it to our exit?” In Massachusetts and New Hampshire the exits on 95 are numbered in an ordinal sequence, but in Maine they are numbered by their distance in miles from the state border. I said our exit was number 86, so we had 86 miles to go on the highway. “I know that,” she replied. “I mean how far is our exit from where we are NOW?” “Well, where *are* we right now?” “I don’t know — aren’t you paying attention?” I replied no, I wasn’t — due to my excruciating headache I was trying to keep my eyes closed and so hadn’t seen the last exit or mile marker we’d passed. Just then I spotted the illuminated sign for Cabela’s, the huge outdoor goods supplier, so I knew we were passing through Scarborough and were still south of Portland and so had about another 40 minutes before leaving the highway. I informed Carol of such and thanked her again for driving while silently wondering how she could be so disoriented doing something she’d done countless times before.
Once we left the highway we had another 18 miles to go on local roads and now it began to rain and blow even harder. Carol drove cautiously and we made it home without incident. As she parked the car she asked, “Is there anything you need to bring in the house? Because if not, just leave it in the car until tomorrow and let’s make a run for it now without getting everything sopping wet.” I agreed that was a good suggestion and dashed toward the door. I had my key in hand and was prepared to get us inside as quickly as possible — but for some reason the lock was stuck and I couldn’t get the door to open. I became increasingly frustrated while continuing to turn my key and rotate the doorknob, my grip getting more slippery with each attempt since we were being pelted with rain. Then I heard Carol say in a calm tone: “The key turns the other way to unlock the door.”
I’ve already petitioned the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to request an update to their signage.