The Longest Miles

Surviving cross-town traffic on a school day.

I dropped my two kids at the and one morning last week as part of a particularly slow trudge across town to get to the highway and begin my commute in earnest.

There had been the usual game of chicken at the intersection near where it’s a testosterone inducing challenge to decide whether the northbound folks turning toward the High School can cut in front of the southbound traffic or whether the east and westbound traffic on Park should turn left before or after those coming from the opposite direction. It’s not clear that the dashed lines are helping – nobody seems to know what they mean. And ya, there was the usual abundance of inexperienced drivers trying to turn across traffic among the buses and hurriedly commuting parents.

But things didn’t go really off until after I’d completed the traffic cone slalom up at the Middle School and descended back down Oakdale. Ya sure, I had to wait behind a few cars to get back out into the flow on Park, but that could be expected. What wasn’t expected was the extended line of crawling westbound traffic on Park.

Could it be that someone had actually stopped to let someone pull out of Central Street? Surely not. The obstruction lay beyond Central in the form of flashing blue lights. I figured it must have been an accident and relaxed a bit, hoping no one was hurt.

My heartburn was rekindled, however, when I realized that what the officer was directing traffic around was not some threatened human life, but rather a DPW truck methodically using its little crane to drop a scoop into each and every catch basin along the road and withdraw a dripping mass of mud and sand.

No, I don’t have a special affinity for spring floods and I fully understand the need for the stinky and somewhat disgusting clean-out of these storm water receptacles, but did they have to do the main commuter route at 7:15 AM on a school day? Was the sludge extraction really that urgent that hundreds of caffeine-deprived drivers had to wait their turn to cross into the oncoming lane to avoid this hazard and reach their downstream baristas?

And just as I regained my cruising altitude, I spotted the neon green jacket of yet another of – this time directing traffic around utility workers adding to the collection of potholes and patches that form the washboard section of Park St. between the and Route 28. They had a game going there where they switch digging spots each day to keep you guessing and yes, they’re hard at work by the morning rush hour too!

When I’d finally looped twice to enter and exit the drive-through, fought my way back out onto 28, and continued West on Park Street (without cutting through ), I was lucky enough to find myself behind the last of the morning school buses making its frequent stops and pick-ups.

As I eventually reached 93 North and accelerated my way onto the highway behind a sewer-deprived eighteen-wheeler, I was looking forward to the relaxing drive through the Route 495 Lowell bridge construction - it was a breeze compared to the four mile crossing of North Reading! Thank heavens the seniors are out!

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