Because it's a pain in the butt to find me on the Boston Globe website.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Driving Col. No. 3

Who taught YOU to drive?

“Tailgating”

By Peter DeMarco

If the person in front of you is driving too slowly, well, God help them.

That’s the punch line, more or less, for every joke about Boston drivers who tailgate. And the jokes are endless.

“’The Push’ is a simple maneuver that kindly tells the snail in front of you: "Hey, get out of the way,” reads the driving humor website www.Masshole.net. “To utilize The Push, drive up behind the offending vehicle and apply pressure. Your distance should be such that you can hear what radio station they are listening to. The Push can be accompanied by flashing headlights during night driving to increase effectiveness.”

Statistics on tailgating are hard to come by. But Charles McGowan, (cq) a former hearings officer for the Registry of Motor Vehicles who’s spent the past 20 years as an attorney specializing in motor-vehicle related law, says tailgating-related accidents are commonplace. “It’s a Boston sport,” he says. “I think most people do it subconsciously.”

But what, exactly, constitutes tailgating? Is it enough to stay a full car length behind someone? Two car lengths? What if you’re in heavy traffic? And what’s the punishment if you’re caught?

THE LAW SAYS …

Tailgating is both unsafe and illegal, says Officer Michael McCarthy, (cq) a Boston Police Department spokesman. But it’s also highly subjective.

“There’s not an exact definition. Like, here’s the law that says you have to be X amount of feet behind someone,” he says. “It depends on the road conditions, speed. If you’re bumper to bumper in traffic, you’re going to be up close to someone. The general rule of thumb in the city is that you should be able to see the bottom of the tires of the car in front of you. Even in traffic.”

The AARP tells members to abide by the “Three-Second Rule.” Pick a landmark – a building, street sign or telephone pole. When the car in front of you passes the landmark, start counting. If you reach the landmark in your car before counting to three, you’re driving too closely.

Another guideline says you should allow a car length’s distance for every 10 miles of speed. For example, if you’re driving 50 M.P.H., the gap between you and the next car should be five car lengths long.

The experienced Boston driver, no doubt, will find flaws with such guidelines. People tailgate to prevent other drivers from pulling in front of them. By staying back, what’s to stop others from filling the gap and slowing you down?

The answer, McGowan says, is nothing. But the consequences of tailgating are serious – especially road rage - and if you rear-end someone, you are almost always at fault. The police, meanwhile, can charge you with a number of violations, from the rather innocuous “Following too Closely”, which carries a $35 fine, to criminal charges of driving to endanger.

- 30

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Banging a U-ie

The Inside Scoop: Well, you learn something every day. Like, I break the law just about every time I turn the ignition key. U-turns are more illegal than I ever dreamed. At least my shortcut through the Korner Konvenience parking lot (got to love the use of the "K") is legal. Though I do feel guilty about never, ever buying anything from there.


Who taught YOU to drive?

U-Turns

By Peter DeMarco

Like a lot of Boston drivers I don’t think twice about making a U-turn. Whether I’ve missed my street, or I’m stuck in traffic with a clear escape route in sight, I just bang a U-ie and all is well again.

Even on Massachusetts Avenue, where signs clearly state that U-turns are not allowed, I’ve figured out a way. Spotting my favorite convenience store, I put on my left turning signal and pull into the parking lot. But instead of continuing into a parking space, I make a semi-circle and scoot out the parking lot’s second curb cut, putting my car back on Mass Ave. in the direction I want to be.

The best part about my little convenience store U-turn? It’s totally legal.

Well, I think it is.

In truth, I always check to see whether a police cruiser is parked in the church across the street before I make my move. If I’m feeling particularly paranoid, I might even pull into a parking spot for 10 seconds, then back out, as if I’ve thought better about buying a Herald.

Which leads us to this week’s topic: Just when is a U-turn legal? The law is pretty clear when “No U-Turn” signs are posted, but does that mean they’re legal at all other times? Can you cross a double yellow line while making a U-turn? Can you use a convenience store parking lot as an accessory?

And if you’re hopelessly stuck in traffic – gee, when does that ever happen? - do the same rules apply?

THE LAW SAYS …

For answers I headed straight to the Registry of Motor Vehicles’ driver’s handbook, where the section on U-turns contains the following sentence:

“Unless a NO U-TURN sign is posted, you are allowed to make a U-turn as long as your path is clear and it is safe to do so.” (cq)

Case closed, right? Not exactly, I soon found out.

Unfortunately, the RMV driver’s handbook isn’t accurate, said Lieutentant Jack Albert, (cq) traffic commander for the Cambridge Police Department.

According to Massachusetts General Law, regardless of the situation, you CAN NOT make a U-turn over a single or double yellow line. The thinking is that it’s often dangerous to do so. And while a U-turn saves you time, other drivers may have to slow down or stop to allow you to turn, which isn’t fair to them.

Albert couldn’t explain why the RMV handbook doesn’t say this. “It’s bizarre,” he said. But confusion is pretty much a given when it comes to U-turns, he added.

“When you stop people (for making a U-turn) they definitely have that look on their face – ‘What did I do?’” he said. “They say, ‘I wasn’t aware of it. I thought it was only illegal when it a sign was posted.’ So I would say a lot of people aren’t aware of the law.”

Amie O’Hearn, (cq) director of public relations for the Registry of Motor Vehicles, said that the driver’s handbook is an evolving document and agreed that the section on U-turns might need to be rewritten to make the rules more clear.

“That’s interesting that you bring this up,” she said. “The U-turn is something that drivers are always worried about. You’re out there driving – should I do it? Should I not? It is something that leaves a doubt in your mind. I will definitely mention this to the driver’s manual committee.”

The fine for an illegal U-turn, Albert says, depends upon what offense the officer decides to charge you with. Failure to yield to oncoming traffic carries a $35 fine; a U-turn violation on a state highway such as Mass. Ave, which is also Route 2A, is a $20 penalty; making a U-turn in a business district in Cambridge violates a city bylaw and will cost you $50.

As for my convenience store U-turn - “The Boston Driver’s Handbook: Wild in the Streets,” by Ira Gershkoff (cq) and Richard Trachtman, (cq) says my maneuver works just as well at gas stations – Albert just shrugged.

“You’re not impeding the flow of traffic,” he said. “I don’t think anybody is going to fault you for that.”

- 30

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Dark chocolate - yeah, it's a tough job

The Inside Scoop: To set the record straight, I did work for this story. Though eating chocolate is pretty much the easiest work there is. Anyway, the Gelateria was awesome. Reminded me so much of Florence, when I was 20 and could eat gelato three times a day without ever thinking twice. (Ah, to be young again.) Cardullo's was really neat. I had no idea so many chocolate bars even existed. My buddy Mark, fresh back from Iraq, downed bakalava with me. Always good to share the sweets. But Laura made out by getting the chocolate lab, which to my knowledge she still hasn't eaten because it's too cute.


By Peter DeMarco

Globe Correspondent

Chocolate is the safest of standbys when it comes to Mother’s Day gifts. But what if, this year, you got Mom dark chocolate? More pure and bitter than milk chocolate, dark chocolate is soaring in popularity based on reports of its positive health effects. (A certain antioxidant in cocoa may help lower blood pressure, studies say.) Found in everything from ice cream to dark chocolate baklava (see below!), dark chocolate’s unique, rich taste stands out no matter where it’s found. But don’t just take our word for it – find out what Mom thinks.

Cardullo’s
6 Brattle St.
Harvard Square
617-491-8888

For a primer on the vast world of dark chocolate I headed to Cardullo’s, home to 1,000 different chocolate bars, the widest selection in the city. “It’s what we’re best known for,” says head buyer Jamie Kubik. I began with Chocolat Bonnat, (cq) an expensive ($7.49) French bar whose high percentage (75 percent) of cocoa yields a nice bitter taste. Next came a rich-smelling Dolfin brand Belgium chocolate bar infused with – surprise - Earl Grey tea. My favorite, however, was the “Black Pearl Bar,” a wild combination of ginger, wasabi, black sesame seed and dark chocolate made by Vosges of Belgium. For those who can’t decide, Kubik designs dark chocolate bar gift baskets with enough variety to suit any mother’s craving. ($50)

Gelateria
272 Hanover St
Boston
617-720-4243

Fashioned after a traditional Italian gelateria, Frank DePasquale’s hip gelato shop is breezy, bright and modern, with video screens on a wall showing clips of gelato being made. Glass counter cases are filled with a rainbow of varieties – 50 in all - including cioccolato, a pure dark-chocolate creation, and bacio, a yummy, slightly crunchy hazelnut and dark chocolate mixture. “Our gelatos have between 3 and 6 percent butterfat,” says head gelato maker Giovanni Gagliotta. “We make them without eggs. No heavy cream. No butter. They’re not like ice cream. They’re much lighter.” Try three flavors for $3.75, or, for an extra dollar, have your gelato served Sicilian style in a brioche bun.

Café Nation
380 Washington St.
Brighton
617-783-4514

I love watching crepes being made, so I hovered near the counter at Café Nation as my server ladled three scoops of Ghirardelli dark chocolate bits onto the batter and scattered sliced strawberries on top. “It’s very simple,” says co-owner Alvin Tsang about his popular dark chocolate and fresh strawberry crepe. “Just the two flavors melted together.” Café Nation serves a host of crepes for breakfast, lunch and snacking, with ingredients ranging from crab to California barbeque chicken to, of course, dark chocolate. Chocoholics on the run can also grab an iced mint chip latte, iced mocha or iced black and white mocha, all made with a Ghirardelli dark chocolate sauce.

Beacon Hill Chocolates
92 B Pinkney St.
Beacon Hill
617-725-1900

If chocolate makes you smile, wait until you see Beacon Hill Chocolates’ dark chocolate lab truffles. Shaped like tiny Labrador puppies, they have ears and tails made of almonds and miniature chocolate snouts and feet. They are, in my girlfriend’s estimation, “the cutest things ever.” Paula Barth opened her old-world-style chocolate shop on the corner of Charles Street just last month. She’s already built a following with her high-end imports, which include both fun shapes (dogs, cats, dominos, ice cream cones) and catchy flavors (chili pepper, champagne, peanut butter) from Belgium and Oregon chocolatiers. Individual pieces are $2.25 to $2.75, or by the pound for $49.95.


Athan's European Bakery
1621 Beacon St.
Brookline
617-734-7028

And

407 Washington St.
Brighton
617-783-0313

I almost can’t recall all of Athan’s dark chocolate offerings, from cookies to gelato to dark chocolate-covered candied figs to homemade Jamaica dark chocolate sponge cake layered with sweet dark cherries. But the bakery’s dark chocolate baklava had to be my favorite. Made the traditional way with buttered filo dough and syrup, each piece is rolled into a cigar-size tube with a strip of melted Belgium Callebaut dark chocolate in the center. Do I really need to tell you how good it is? No mother should have to settle for one heavenly vice when she can have two in every bite. ($9 a pound, or about 80 cents per piece.)

The Independent
75 Union Square
Somerville
617-440-6022

Head chef Paul Oberhauser keeps a bar of super fine dark chocolate in the kitchen just for himself, so his desserts are bound to be dark chocolate extravaganzas. “Dark chocolate adds more of a purity to the flavor,” says Oberhauser, an admitted addict. “When you start with a more pure chocolate, you have more control with your food.” His Callebaut dark chocolate pudding cup, topped with a spoonful of creamy dolce con leche and served with a butter cookie (his grandmother’s recipe) will arguably satisfy Mom’s most dire dark chocolate craving. She’ll be surprised at how sweet it tastes, too. Oberhauser’s flourless chocolate raspberry torte, meanwhile, makes a fine backup choice. ($7 each)

The Boston Left - Driving Col. No. 1

This week’s Traffic Stumper is the infamous “Boston Left.” Or should we say, the ambiguous Boston Left. Depending whom you ask, the Boston Left is one of two driving maneuvers.

According to “The Boston Driver’s Handbook: Wild in the Streets,” you’re making a Boston Left when you come to a T-intersection and you pull out into the right-bound side, thereby blocking traffic, while waiting for an opening in the traffic on the left-bound side. This move often involves crossing a yellow line of some sort as well as angering the drivers you’ve cut off.

Others say you’re making a Boston Left when you’re the first car in line at a red light and you gun the engine to turn left as soon as the light turns green. If you’re cutting off oncoming traffic in the process – or narrowly avoiding an accident - so be it.

No matter how you define it, you’re breaking the law, says Lt. Jack Albert, (cq) traffic commander for the Cambridge Police Department.

“The rule of thumb is you can’t block the free flow of traffic. You’re failing to yield to the oncoming vehicle, which has the right of way,” Albert says. “You should yield until you’re either signaled by the oncoming driver that he’s letting you go, or you wait until the intersection is clear.”

Albert says his officers routinely cite drivers for making Boston Lefts at the intersection of Prospect Street and Massachusetts Avenue. The fine? $35, according to state law.

Traffic column begins

The Inside Scoop: So I got recruited to write this traffic tips column. I wasn't quite sure it would work but, writing this post a few weeks after this story ran, I'm pleasantly surprised how many people are writing in with comments about their traffic hang-ups. The key is getting the police to talk, which as always takes about 10 phone calls, depending on which department you try. (Some are better than others, though with such as easy topic as this, I shouldn't have to jump through hoops.) Whatever. They're helping and it's working out.



It's a jungle on Boston's mean streets.

Care to play by the actual rules?

By Peter DeMarco, Globe Correspondent | May 14, 2006

The first rule of the road in Boston couldn't be more clear: Get there as fast as possible.

Rule two: Blow by as many people and cars as you can. Rule three: Ignore everything -- yield signs, bumbling pedestrians, cracks in the earth's crust releasing molten lava -- that gets in the way of rules one and two.

Which is -- all together now -- to get there as fast as possible.

OK, OK. Aggressive driving isn't an actual rule, but it does describe, with embarrassing accuracy, how Bostonians often act behind the wheel.

Which is precisely why City Weekly is herewith launching, for your amusement and possible edification, a weekly column exploring the age-old mysteries of driving in the Athens of America.

Have we forgotten the real rules, as found in the Registry of Motor Vehicles' driver's handbook or Chapter 89 of the Massachusetts General Laws, the ''Law of the Road"?

Did we know them in the first place?

''The rules of the road say who should do what in a given situation," says Mark Raisman, proprietor of Colonial Auto School in Jamaica Plain. ''The question is, who will follow them? You've got a population that thinks they've got the right of way all the time."

Count this writer among the masses. After 15 years of Boston driving, I've developed my own little mantra: Everyone else on the road is a jerk. Depending on just how badly I've been cut off while merging onto Storrow Drive, I've been known to replace the word jerk with a far more unpleasant term.

The sociologist in all of us might ask, ''Why have we become this way?" After all, we weren't born knowing how to drive a car, let alone drive one aggressively. The students who graduate from Raisman's school are courteous drivers. They respect the rules. Rumor has it, they even use their directionals.

Some blame the cows who wandered around Boston centuries ago, carving out the city's crooked and thus difficult-to-drive streets in the process.

Art Kinsman, spokesman for AAA Southern New England, says the problem is of more recent creation.

''Over the past 25 years, there has only been approximately a 5 percent increase in lane miles, where there has been probably a 125 percent increase in the number of autos on the road," he says. ''That's a national stat, but it can apply here. Even with the new Central Artery, for the most part, we're driving on a functionally obsolete road system that was built in the '50s or '60s and is trying to handle 2006 traffic."

Ira Gershkoff, coauthor of the humor book ''The Boston Driver's Handbook: Wild in the Streets," says that Boston drivers are so conditioned to witnessing bad driving that it becomes the norm.

''If something is illegal, or a bad practice, do we know it? Probably so," he says. ''One time in traffic I went to the breakdown lane, zoomed to the front, and sort of weaseled my way back into the front of the line. I said to the person sitting next to me, 'Don't you hate people who do this?' I think we do know it's wrong, but it becomes second nature after a while."

Of course, many drivers embrace the stereotype of the bad Boston driver, claiming no one in the country is crazier than we are at navigating cars from Point A to Point B. This column, and the ones that will succeed it each week, won't promote that belief. In fact, based on recent driving statistics, it's not at all clear that we're as bad on the roads as we're cracked up to be.

According to the Registry of Motor Vehicles, the number of citations issued in Boston for failing to stop has dived from 27,000 in 2000 to 14,000 in 2005. Speeding violations dropped from 21,000 to about 6,000, though it's unclear whether that means fewer drivers were speeding, or whether police were de-emphasizing traffic enforcement.

Massachusetts leads the nation in car accidents per 100 drivers. The national average is 3.97 a year; we're at 7.33, according to 2003 data collected by the Insurance Research Council. But Chris Goetcheus, spokesman for the state's Division of Insurance, argues that a small number of drivers are to blame.

''In June of 2004 we found that 54.1 percent of Boston residents had no accidents or moving violations on their record in the previous six years," he says, citing his most recent figures. ''That's pretty good."

But pretty good isn't good enough. And it certainly isn't great. Which brings us back to the purpose of this column: a week-by-week review of the rules as they're actually written, explained to us by driving instructors, police officers, crossing guards, and the like.

Why review the rules now? Well, for the past few months, state legislators have been debating the merits of increasing the minimum driving age to 17 1/2, thinking that our youngest drivers may be too reckless.

Our own view: A lot of us drive too aggressively for our own good. Clarifying the rules couldn't hurt, right?

I'd be a hypocrite if I told you I obey all the rules we'll be covering in upcoming weeks, dealing with everything from U-turns to jaywalking to funeral procession etiquette.

In fact, I'm sure that on some of them, I'll be the first to be enlightened.

Now, if I can just remember to use my directionals.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Dark chocolate madness



I can't publish my dark chocolate column here until Sunday, but it's a goodie. Three words to nibble on: dark chocolate baklava!