Pushing 40


40 mph

It doesn’t take long, after you move to Ipswich, to understand that this town has a pace all its own.

About 40.

That’s 40 miles per hour.

No, it doesn’t matter that you’re on the 25 mph section of Linebrook Road. People there zip past my house doing … eh, let me check my radar … about 40.

It also doesn’t matter that you’re on that taut little north-south slingshot of Route 1 that slices across the western extremity of Ipswich, where the speed limit is 50. You can be in a great big hurry, but you’re stuck behind someone going … oh, I would say … about 40.

When you move to Ipswich, they sneak in while you’re asleep and embed a chip in your brain; the very next morning, you’re not capable of driving any other speed. The sign says 25? Aw, maybe 40 will be OK. The sign says 50? They can’t be serious. I’m driving 40! Yeah, 40: the sensible speed.

Oh yes, as you’re approaching Ipswich center, you touch the brake. Why? Because the sign tells you to slow down? No. You touch the brake because an elderly fellow is hobbling across Central Street to Marcorelle’s, and you will send him careening to the pavement if you hit him, and if you hit him, you will have to stop and get out of your car for the whole police report thing, and you will wind up on the police log page of next week’s Chronicle. All of which will really, really undermine your speed advantage. And until now — since you’ve been driving in Ipswich, after all — you’ve been doing about 40.

Sure, there are parts of town where you don’t drive 40 … places where you drive about 40 the first time, but then you learn not to. Washington Street, for example. Town Meeting debates aside, it’s not really about whether to narrow it or widen it or make it a pedestrian parkway. It’s about potholes. The first time you take Washington Street — where the official limit is 30 — you go about 40. You do that once. Then, after you get your car out of the shop, with your alignment adjusted and your axles welded back into place and your vertebrae re-sequenced, you pick your way along Washington Street like a land mine tester.

But basically, here in Ipswich, we do about 40.

As a new resident, I learned this first. I learned this before I learned about the Clambox, or realized the truth about the Feoffees. Before I ever tried to get on the beach without a sticker in my window. Before I attempted to debate selectman Ray Morley about the value of labor unions. I learned this before all of that: we, here in Ipswich, drive about 40.

Hello, officer, what seems to be the problem?

Well, do you know how fast you were going?

Yes sir, I was doing about 40.

And do you know what the speed limit is?

Yes sir. I’m an Ipswicher. We go 40.

Oh. OK, then. Move along.


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