All right. Calm down. Relax. Take a breath. But don't relax too much. You're in one of the most terrfying cities to drive in. The scenery might be interesting, but, let's face it: You're lost.
Keep in mind that Boston is a maze filled with crazy-ass drivers and their mortal enemies: the pedestrians. Unlike places like New York, here "DON'T WALK" means "well, you might want to consider it...hell, why not." So you have to keep your wits about you. You want out, you want the relative "safety" of Route 128 (I-95 for outsiders). Let's try to get to it.
Step One: The Hazards of the Journey (What Not to Do)
- DON'T think that driving straight will somehow take you directly out. More often than not, a large, multilaned street will turn into a blind alley, even if you somehow manage to stay in the "Straight ahead" lanes.
- DON'T try to follow a numbered route. Oh, on the map Route 28 might look easy to find, but trust me, it will dance out of your grasp like the gingerbread man. Reassurance markers? What are you, kidding?
- DON'T stop on the street to look at a map. One, this will cause the driver in back of you, probably me, to want to wipe you off the face of the planet, and two, you have to feel it....trance it, in the words of Will Self.
- Lastly, once you reach a highway, DON'T try to pull any super-clever, I'm-going-to-take the-backroads approach, no matter how bad the traffic jam. Leave that to the professionals.
Got it? Good, now that that's out of the way...
This is something you can do if you're driving, provided you can read signs and not slow down. It would be better for you to stop somewhere, if you're lucky enough to find a place. You need to find out where you are. Let's go through the process:
Find a street sign. This is a good first step. If you recognize it, then good, use it to your advantage. Try to find a cross street, rather than an address. Numbers don't help anybody.
Find out what neighborhood you're in. All right, maybe the name doesn't help you. Fine. There are other clues:
If you are looking at a street sign, what style is it?
- If it's green with a seal, then you're somewhere in the central part of Boston: Downtown, the North End, Beacon Hill, the Back Bay.
- If it's green wihtout a seal but still has large white letters, then you're probably in Boston's equivalent of the Outer Boroughs: Charlestown, East Boston, South Boston, Allston, Brighton, Dorchester, Roxbury, Hyde Park, Mattapan, Roslindale, and so on.
- If it's white with black letters, then you're in Brookline.
- If it's green with small letters, then you may be in Newton.
- If it's blue, then you're probably in Somerville.
Boston is peppered with parking permit signs. Usually this will say the neighborhood.
- Maybe there is no sign. What type of street are you on? If it's big, is there a trolley running down it? Chances are, you're either on Commonwealth Ave. or Huntingdon Ave.
- What does the area look like? If you're in a neighborhood center, it'll probably say on the sign, or a nearby T stop. If you're just in some random place, then here are some basic descriptions:
- Massive earthworks, Jersey barriers: You're right at the famous Big Dig! Look for the I-93 onramps.
- Skyscrapers: You're in the Financial District or Copley Square.
- Brownstones, wide street: You're in Back Bay or the South End.
- Brownstones, narrow street: You're in Beacon Hill.
- Older brick buildings, generic: You're in Charlestown.
- Older brick buildings, Italian phrases on storefronts, banners, trattorias: You're in the North End.
- Older brick buildings, Irish phrases on storefronts, banners, union offices: You're in South Boston.
- Older brick buildings, hanzi everywhere: You're in Chinatown.
- older brick buildings, hipster stores: You're in Cambridge, Back Bay, or Allston/Brighton.
- Older brick buildings, WASPs, homeless, street performers, freaks, and monstrous traffic: You're in Harvard Square.
- Older brick buildings, frat kids: You're in Back Bay near Kenmore Square.
- Smells like food, extreme tourist density: You're in Faneuil Hall.
- Tenements: You're in East Boston, Dorchester, Roxbury, South Boston, or Mattapan.
- Tenements, Northeastern students: You're in Mission Hill.
- Hospitals every ten feet: You're on Longwood Avenue in Back Bay.
- Normal apartments, generic urban area: You're in Cambridge, Allston, Brighton, or Jamaica Plain
- Medium income houses: You're in Jamaica Plain, Allston, Brighton, Hyde Park, Roslindale, or the outskirts of Cambridge.
- Upper income houses: You're in Newton, Brookline, or West Roxbury.
- Gorillas running loose: You're in Franklin Park. Near the zoo.
Landmarks are also important clues. Boston related nodes should help you out there.
Step Three: Getting Out
This is usually easier than it seems. One basic way is this: When in Rome. Follow everyone else, except for: taxis, buses, and cars with rims worth more than the car. Especially during afternoon rush hour, which in Boston runs from about 5 AM to 11 AM in the morning, and 3 PM to 8 PM at night. (Think I'm kidding? No way.) Usually, everyone's clearing out. Massive traffic jam? Good. Join it. Love it. Again, no backroads. Don't even think about it.
Other ways include:
- Using the sun to navigate. Go east. At some point you have to run in front of the Big Dig.
- Using the Prudential. Try to get to the Prudential, if you can see it. Good. Did you get there? Yes? You're in Copley Square. Keep circling around it. With a little luck, you will get on the I-90 onramp. It says "I-90W New York". Good.
- Using the Big Dig. Follow any dump stuck. Bonus points it says "Construction Vehicle: Do Not Follow". Follow that bastard, avoiding the many stones, pebbles, and human bones that may fall out of it. If you're lucky, it will take you to the Big Dig. Other ways: Follow a Peter Pan, Greyhound, or Concord Trailways bus that says "BOSTON" on its placard, but get out of the way when it gets into the Bus Lane. You should be at South Station, right near I-93.
- Do you see a blue Anchor Church bus? God, aren't those everywhere? Why?
- Follow signs for Storrow Drive or the riverfront. If you see signs that say "CARS ONLY", then go under them. You're home free.
And that's about it. Hopefully that helps. If not, well, you can always abandon your car and take the T. Maybe next time you'll take that instead!