What It’s Like to Have a Massachusetts License Plate on a Cross-Country Road Trip

Hint: there's a lot of sports talk.
massachusetts cross country road trip

The author and the Massachusetts road trip vehicle in Glacier National Park.

Driving across the entire United States takes a whole lot of patience and skill, among other things. In the case of a Massachusetts driver, it also takes certain amounts of Red Sox small talk, pretending to think it’s funny when you’re called a Masshole, and performing several renditions of a Boston accent.

When you’re the lone Massachusetts plate for many miles in a state like Oklahoma, people notice. Gas station attendants, fellow travelers, store owners, and anyone else who happens to see the particularly bland Mass. plate has something to say about it. So while the cross-country trip is an all-American adventure, Massachusetts natives experience a unique brand of the road trip.

I speak from experience, having been a cross-country passenger/dutiful navigator twice this summer. Regular folks across America didn’t want to talk about Massachusetts per se, but rather, about what a cartoon version of a Bostonian might be interested in. Our plate prompted conversations that truly did cycle through sports, driving, and dropped Rs. The following are a few takeaways from these trips.

People want to talk about Tom Brady.

Just about everyone has an opinion on Deflategate, as well as a few questions. So did he do it? Did he NOT do it? Would he lie? How are we still Patriots fans?

Or there was a more terse remark: “Cheaters!”

After the Patriots, they’ll move on to the Red Sox.

Sports talk cannot be escaped, even in a tiny convenience store in Washington state this August.

Cashier: “You guys are from Massachusetts?”

A nod.

“You Red Sox fans?”

(Yes.)

The cashier looked down at his Yankees jersey and wagged his finger. A woman behind us in line decided to comment on our baseball allegiance, too.

Woman: “You should have said no!”

And their laughter ensued.

Let it be known that this repeated, unfunny banter gets tiring pretty quickly at every rest stop, and that yes, we most certainly have been to Fenway Park before.

Massholes have a reputation to uphold.

Sports is undoubtedly the number one topic, but bad driving is a close second. Bad drivers are put under a microscope in parking lots, so when we expertly avoided being backed into by a (terrible) California driver, another woman called out, “And they say Massachusetts drivers are bad!”

Accent performances are common.

To the surprise of many, not every Massachusetts resident is afflicted with an unmistakable, heavy Boston accent. For some, it’s more subtle—and that prompts questions. This was the case with a cute older woman on a beach in Oregon.

Woman: “Aren’t you supposed to have a heavy accent? What’s that thing people always say?”

“…Pahk the cah in Havahd Yahd.”

Woman: “That’s it! Why don’t you sound like that?”

If you happen to see another Mass. plate, it’s probably passing you.

Among a sea of colorful plates from places like New Mexico and Utah, it’s easy to spot the plain white and red of the Massachusetts license plate. On our trip from California to Boston, we came across another Massachusetts vehicle on a long, empty highway in Montana. After driving hundreds of miles without seeing very many cars, we got our first glimpse of a Massachusetts car when it appeared out of nowhere and whizzed past us. Of course.

Cruising around the country is no easy feat. It’s an adventure that allows you to see the beauty of the good ol’ U.S. of A and gives a professor from Indiana someone to talk to about Cuffy’s Cape Cod sweatshirts with. Defending your teams and your driving is a small price to pay for that.


Madeline Bilis Associate Editor at Boston Magazine @madelinebilis
mbilis@bostonmagazine.com


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