A stake through the heart.
That's what it felt like yesterday when Allstate published its 10th annual America's Best Drivers Report and awarded Worcester and Boston, two Massachusetts cities 38 miles apart, with the gold and silver medals, respectively, for most car crashes per capita in the nation.
Upon learning of this dubious distinction, local television stations instantly knew that such a story cried out for "man in the street interviews," and we got plenty of those. Maybe there were people interviewed who were horrified, but most interviewees who made the cut for broadcast seemed to treat it as if it were a badge of honor.
Frankly, I felt a bit like Claude Rains in the film Casablanca who, just prior to collecting his winnings, exclaimed "I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on here."
Boston drivers are legendary in their demolition derby attitudes. The driving Zeitgeist has forever treated traffic rules as purely advisory. A green light means "go," and a yellow light means "go like hell." Pedestrian crosswalks might as well not be there. If you're riding a bike, you'd better have good radar. So, one learns early on that driving in Boston is not for the faint of heart.
And right now it's at its worst as 152,000 college students return to 35 colleges for the next school year. Thirty-seven thousand live on campus in the heart of the city. Another 50,000 live in apartments around the city. The rest are commuters. The majority of the commuters ride the oldest-in-the-nation transit system. Boston University, alone, has more than 31,000 students.
So, I can absolutely understand Boston, a city I love, winning the trophy for 2nd place. But, geez, Worcester? Really? The most dangerous city in the America for car crashes? Worcester's like a home town to me (so is Boston, by the way, so I'm doubly hurt).
Worcester has 181,000 people spread out over about 38 square miles. There are ten colleges in the city, not 35. Students total less than 35,000. Worcester never seems to have the driving hyperactivity one finds in Boston. Although the two cities are connected by the Massachusetts Turnpike umbilical cord, they are like yin and yang. They don't even have the same water supply. It's true that Worcester has a lot of traffic lights, so the yellow light "go like hell" possibility exists, but the traffic density is so much less than Boston's that one rarely sees the Boston mania. Friends from Boston visit Worcester and think they've gone to the land of Zen.
Right now, you may be asking, "So, where's the safest place to drive in America?" That, according to the driving gods at Allstate, would be Fort Collins, Colorado, a city of more than 56 square miles with a population nearly 30,000 less than Worcester's. A city of two, count 'em, two colleges, one a community college, the other Colorado State University. A city with 30,000 college students, and I'm assuming that most of them always wear a smile and speak kindly of everyone.
Actually, Fort Collins looks like a beautiful place where everyone rides bikes without a worry and where the average blood pressure is so low that nobody has to worry about getting life insurance. Congratulations, Fort Collins.
The question I'm left with is this: How did Worcester, the city of the seven hills, home to the Hanover Insurance Group (and everyone knows that insurance employees are good drivers) earn Allstate's first place, bottom of the bird cage award? Beats me. I'm stumped and, yes, shocked. My Great Mandala has been poleaxed.
I'm going out for a drive.