Brain Strains and Automobiles

WHEN you travel anywhere in the world and say you're from Chicago, people will hold their arms pretending to wield a submachine gun and make rat-a-tat noises with huge, simpering grins on their faces--a futile attempt at portraying the city's gangster heritage. When you say that you live in Boston, people stretch out their arms to mimic driving a race car and make horrible screeching noises, with grimaces of abject horror on their faces. This shows an astute and intimate knowledge of the city.

Boston area drivers make New York, Paris, and Beirut drivers--the latter being known for plowing into buildings while carrying tons of explosives--look like little old ladies from Kansas. Professional bus drivers have threatened to quit if sent to drive in Boston. Unfortunately, this frightening phenomenon affects Cambridge as well. When I applied to school here, I had no understanding of the "evil driver syndrome," or the black magic it would soon use to suck me into its vortex of fear and hatred.

I originally came from a city of good drivers, an idyllic setting where all the roads are wide enough for both driving and parking, and where people stop so that you can cross in front of them, smiling as they wave you on. I was unprepared for the driver-pedestrian civil war that rages in the winding, pockmarked streets of Cambridge.

However, I did not discover this battlezone immediately. If I had, I might have been able to transfer in time to avert the tragedy that has befallen me, that keeps me up at night bathed in a schizophrenic sweat, that has released my primordial, sub-human instincts and makes each day a living nightmare. Now, it's simply too late.

Living in the Yard as a freshman, one is like an innocent young princess, who since birth has been locked in a granite tower surrounded by a black and murky moat filled with starving, rabid mutant crocodiles. Since she never leaves, she has absolutely no idea how dangerous it can be. On the rare occasions when I crossed over to the Coop, I simply waited for the light to change. At first, it did strike me as strange that the cars never stopped, but I somehow whistled my way through that carefree year, my illusions intact.

THIS naive faith in the universal sanctity of traffic laws was eternally shattered when I began to live in the Quad. My first day of class I walked peacefully and unsuspectingly through the Common and found myself standing on one of the islands in the middle of Mass. Ave., where you cross to reach the Science Center.

I was a bit nervous because the cars were going much faster than the posted speed limit, but I couldn't know the horror that was about to befall me. The first hint came as a huge garbage truck, with workers hanging off of all sides, arms flailing, came roaring from beneath the underpass. I couldn't tell, it all happened so fast, but it seemed that they swerved toward me on purpose.

I remember hearing someone shout "grab his hat," then I felt a blow to the side of the head. Then I was on the ground-my new Boston Red Sox cap was gone, there was laughter coming from the truck halfway down the street and I was covered in black sludgy water, apparently from the mud puddle that had been in the gutter at my feet just moments before and which I had made a careful mental note to avoid.

I had barely regained my senses when it happened again. From out of the haze of mud dripping from my forehead and eyelids, from out of the cloud of exhaust left by the garbage truck, a car was aiming straight for my head. Maybe the driver had decided to pass another car by going over the island without seeing me, or maybe he thought I was a mud puddle, or maybe he simply wanted to hit me for the sheer sadistic pleasure, but whatever the motive, that Honda's grille left an imprint on my forehead that remains to this day.

I lay for days in Stillman Infirmary, reliving the shocking events, and I vowed to myself that I would never again be so used. I formulated an intricate plan, brilliantly designed to take revenge on the wretched drivers of this urban jungle.

BUT something in my mind must have snapped that fateful day, and I found myself more and more wanting to hurt others as I had been hurt--to force little old ladies to climb street lights, to catch baby carriages on my car's bumper and push them down the street at breakneck speed, and to turn normally healthy young Harvard students into quivering lumps of processed vegetable matter. At the same time I wanted to force all Honda drivers into trees and make garbage trucks do triple Louganis spins into brick walls. My plan would accomplish all this, and more.

I became a Shuttle driver.

Now I have a Class 2 license, which makes me legally qualified to pilot anything over 15,000 pounds, regardless of whether I have ever had training or not. I've racked up three kills in just a few short weeks, along with 14 hospitalizations, two of which are in intensive care. I've discovered that a Shuttle can get up to 57 m.p.h on the curve which goes beneath the underpass before it starts to flip over. I've caused approximately $27,500 worth of damage, all of which is paid for by Harvard, since the University cannot afford to fire any of us right now.

I think the nightmares and sweat that I mentioned previously are leftover guilt from remembering the Harvard students that I've caused pain and suffering. They remind me of how I once was. But they'll get over it--the Shuttle system needs more drivers, Besides, even my nightmares are less and less frequent. I've always said, if you can't beat them, join them.