Tuesday, 14 October 2014

How to Attract Police Attention in Massachusetts

Leaving Albany, there were two reasonably direct routes that we could have taken to reach Boston. The fastest route would no doubt have been the I-90 interstate running through the south of Massachusetts, but it is a toll road all the way from Albany, and as well as being expensive, would no doubt have taken us on a route bypassing anything that the west of the state has to offer. Instead we chose to drive down Highway 2, a scenic road that threads its way through a mountainous area at the juncture of New York, Vermont and Massachusetts, before winding through the forested hills that continue to the edge of Boston. The section of the highway on the eastern edge of New York State was particularly steep and twisting, and the slow crawl upwards seemed to continue for longer than the relatively tame altitudes would suggest possible. We stopped for lunch in the picturesque college town of Williamstown, before driving one of the most scenic sections of the road, known as the Mohawk Trail.

Not wishing to drive into Boston during rush hour, we stopped for the night on the outskirts of Fitchburg, electing to complete the remaining 40 miles into Boston in the morning, outside of peak traffic hours. Our night outside a quiet suburban park passed uneventfully, but whilst sitting down to breakfast the following morning, we got a knock on the door from a pair of local police officers. Until re-entering America from Canada, we had managed to drive around 10,000 miles in fourteen states without any unwanted attention from the police, but in the following two weeks we had provoked alarmed responses on three occasions.

On this occasion, the police had been called by someone concerned that our truck looked suspicious, and had been dispatched to check that we were not engaged in anything shady. Even after checking our passports, running our plates, and asking a number of questions, the officers seemed reluctant to leave, and I suspect that they had doubts about whether we were being honest. The police advised us that throughout our stay on the east coast, our truck was likely to attract attention from the law, and explained that Jim’s appearance could be construed as suspicious in view of the high terrorist threat level. I can appreciate the nervousness resulting from the attacks in Boston and New York in (relatively) recent history, but I struggle to see how a large foreign plated motorhome can raise suspicion. I’m not aware of any significant terrorist attack in living memory that has been perpetrated by people not trying their utmost to blend into their surroundings, and certainly can’t see what a terrorist would want with a suburban playing field and dog park. Regardless, we were told that it would be in our interest to warn the police in whichever towns we were visiting, that they should not be surprised if they received concerned calls about our truck.

After finishing our breakfast, we returned to Highway 2, and drove the remaining distance into Boston. Knowing that Boston’s small streets and congested centre would make parking difficult, we elected to find a place to park outside of the centre. Partly to be near to a friend we were visiting, and partly to be situated near to a metro station, we chose to park alongside a playing field in the suburb of Medford. The one-way street was wide enough for us not to cause an obstruction, the neighbours seemed interested in the truck and happy for us to stay, and the street had no parking restrictions posted. As recommended we called the local police station, and spoke to an officer who seemed to think that we would be of no concern. It was therefore a surprise that on our third day parked in Medford, we were ordered to move immediately by two police officers who were passing by. The officers were friendly and polite, and were extremely impressed with the truck and our travels, but still insisted that we move immediately out of their district. Thankfully we had the generosity of our friend Ash to fall back on, and we spent the remainder of our stay in Boston, parked on his driveway.

We ended up spending more than a week visiting Boston and Cambridge, and occupied our time visiting the major tourist attractions, walking around the various neighbourhoods, and eating and drinking well. In particular we ate some great seafood at Legal Sea Food and the Barking Crab, both of which seem enormously popular with locals and tourists.

After a week of the normal overindulgences that seem to go hand in hand with our time in major cities, we were ready to engage in some more wholesome activities, and so we bade farewell to Ash and his unreservedly welcoming housemates, and headed for the coastline south of the city.

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