How to Score the Best -Shop-ping Deals

Fashion a name for yourself. Neiman Marcus invites only its charge card–holders to its fall “Private Night” promotion; whenever it extends discounts to the masses, the store also stages a sneak preview at which customers can get a head start on the crowds by reserving merchandise and picking it up once the discount window officially opens. Neiman's doesn't advertise these pre-sales, so you should make it a point to make friends with the cashier the next time you stop in to expand your collection of pointy-toed pumps. To receive advance notice of Louis Boston's annual sale, held each July, you just need to get your name on the store's mailing list. To gain entrance to Ermenegildo Zegna's coveted private sales, however, the average consumer has but one possible course of action:Shop when its buttery wool suits aren't marked down, and spend a lot. Frequent buyers are noted and rewarded with passes.

Get treated like family. Landing on the friends-and-family discount mailing list of an upscale atelier such as Kate Spade or even J.Crew can earn you up to 50 percent off goods that cost the proletariat full price. Swallow your pride, call the corporate headquarters, and ask, nicely, to be added to the master discount database. Of course, it's a good idea to mention how much you absolutely adore their products, how you've been a loyal shopper since birth, how your dog wears a genuine cowhide Coach collar, and so on. If you get shot down, try signing up for the store's credit card. Some stores track spending, then send out coupons based on how often — and how much — a customer buys.

Raid the vault. Even if you've already combed every overflowing rack at Filene's Basement, you may've missed the best booty. Enter along Washington Street, walk to the middle of the store and past the “bargain alley.” (Trust us, the selection is better where you're going.) Take the escalator down to the lower level and walk straight ahead for 30 paces until you see the glass-encased entrance to the designer vault. Inside, you'll find clothes plucked from the aisles of Louis Boston, Eye of the Needle, and other top clothiers. Work your way to the back room and you'll discover more steals from the likes of Dolce, Pucci, and Marni.

Furnish yourself with discounts. To create that yuppie-farmhouse look for less, spend a morning at the Crate and Barrel outlet in Woburn (781-938-8777) during its semiannual sale. Doors open at 9 a.m., but you'll want to be in line by 6. From there, it's a furniture free-for-all. When you spot an item you want, pounce on it. While hanging on for dear life with one hand, raise the other in the air; an associate will swoop in and affix a SOLD tag to your purchase. If risking an elbow to the jaw for a teak buffet strikes you as off-putting, check out the top floor of the store in Central Square, where you'll get dibs on cast-offs before they're shipped to the outlet. If you want to shop like a professional decorator — without actually paying one — wait for the Boston Design Center's biannual Red Tag Sample Sale, when the emporium waives its normal “trade only” policy and lets the rest of us in. (Call Contract Sources at 617-951-2511 for exact sale dates.)

How to Get Your Kid into Private School

Overprogramming is the new stickball, so it takes more than club soccer and viola lessons to make a kid stand out. Break open your checkbook and get Junior started on a résumé carefully tailored to the private school of his (or, well, your) dreams.

The Belmont Hill School has a flight technology club? What a coincidence: Your eager applicant has logged 100 hours in a Cessna! The East Coast Aero Club (Hanscom Field, Bedford, 781-274-6322) trains students for $102 an hour as soon as they're big enough to reach the controls.

It's the rare 'tween who can tie a woolly bugger. But that 'tween — now, there's a natural for Deerfield Academy's angling club. Northeast Fly Fishing Guide Service (38 Elm Street, Hatfield, 413-247-5579) charges $225 per day to lead clients to trophy fish. If your child's more artiste than athlete, sign her up for a $165 cartooning workshop at the Fuller Museum of Art (9455 Oak Street, Brockton, 508-588-6000). The experience may appeal to Milton Academy, which offers a cartoon club and a presumably even more socially awkward group for Japanese anime fans.

Finally, next summer, send your little one on the Ultimate European Tour, available for $4,099 through STA Travel (297 Newbury Street, Boston, 617-266-6014). He'll return amply prepared for the Model UN at Boston University Academy. Or prime your tyke for Noble and Greenough School's investment club by depositing his tooth fairy dollars into a brokerage account in Fleet's HomeLink Group (800-225-5353). Sure, once he's old enough to use the website, he may bet everything on Viacom, which owns SpongeBob SquarePants. But didn't you learn a valuable lesson by buying all those shares of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia?

Why It's Smart to Buy Suits in the Suburbs

Every Filene's Basement gets roughly the same — merchandise from the company's warehouse, but for customers, competition for the best stuff varies by location. For business suits in popular sizes and colors — as opposed to merlot or chartreuse — men do well to skip the whorl of the Downtown Crossing store in favor of the branches in places like Saugus and Peabody, which, according to the Census Bureau, have lower ratios of white-collar workers than Boston.

8 Museums You Can Visit for Free

] Institute of Contemporary Art, 617-266-5152; Free: Thursday 5–9 p.m.; Must-See Exhibit: “Splat Boom Pow: The Influence of Cartoons in Contemporary Art.” [2] Harvard Art Museums: Busch-Reisinger Museum, Fogg Art Museum, Arthur M. Sackler Museum, 617-495-9400; Free: Saturday 10 a.m.–noon; Must-See Exhibit: The Wertheim Collection of Impressionist paintings. [3] Harvard Museum of Natural History, 617-495-3045; Free: Every Sunday 9 a.m.–noon; Wednesday 3–5 p.m. from September through May; Must-See Exhibit: “Glass Flowers,” 3,000 lifelike models of 830 plant species. [4] MIT Museum, 617-253-4444; Free: Third Sunday of every month; Must-See Exhibit: The largest collection of holograms in the world. [5] Museum of Fine Arts, 617-267-9300; Free: Wednesday after 4 p.m.; Must-See Exhibit: Edgar Degas's Duchessa di -Montejasi with her Daughters, Elena and Camilla. [6] Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, 617-496-1027; Free: Every Sunday 9 a.m.– noon; Wednesday 3–5 p.m. from September through May; Must-See Exhibit: Hall of the North American Indian. [7] Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, 617-566-1401; Free: Daily for women named Isabella. Promotion does not apply to Stewarts, Stus, or Stueys. Tuesday through Sunday 11 a.m.–5 p.m.; Must- See Exhibit: Titian's Europa. [8] Museum of Bad Art, 617-325-8224; Free: Always. Must-See Exhibit: Toss-up. Either Circus of Despair or Sunday on the Pot with George.

Where to Buy Alcohol on Sundays

Thanks to a particularly onerous blue law that survived a legislative challenge last month, it's still nigh impossible to buy a six-pack or a handle of hooch in this state on Sundays, making impromptu tailgate picnics, dinner parties, and hair-o'-the-dog hangover cures unfeasible for most residents (except maybe the Romneys, who never have to suffer the consequences of going a little overboard at Saint, anyway). But, lushes, take heart: Like every law that comes out of Beacon Hill, this one contains a few loopholes.

First, the rules are suspended for the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year's. Second, liquor stores in towns within 10 miles of Vermont and New Hampshire — states that don't persecute their drinking citizenry on the Sabbath — are permitted, year-round, to peddle their wares on the seventh day of the week. The town in this category that is closest to Boston, just a quick drive north on 93, is Wilmington. And the best of its alcohol emporiums is Eastgate Liquors. “Eastgate is great,” says longtime regular Derek Ward, a Braintree restaurant manager. “In the winter, they get a lot of last-minute shoppers; in the summer, you go in there and it's really jamming.” Open from noon to 6 on Sundays, the brightly lit oasis is a Toys “R” Us for tipplers, stocking all the top-brand libations and a wide selection of beers by the case.

For oenophiles — or desperate boozehounds who either by choice or court order lack their own cars — a more convenient option can be found in the MBTA-accessible aisles of the kosher food markets of Brookline. The Butcherie, near Coolidge Corner, sells wine on Sundays, and its inventory is by

no means restricted to Manischewitz: Bottles of mashgiah-approved chardonnay, merlot, and cabernet sauvignon start at under $6. [Eastgate Liquors, 211 Lowell St., 978-658-8650; The Butcherie, 428 Harvard St., Brookline, 617-731-9888.]

How to Drive

BY MIKE DEMARE, BOSTON CABDRIVER I've been driving a cab in Boston since '76. These days, the traffic never stops; it's like nobody works anymore. And except for the senior citizens who are 80 and 90, everybody drives too fast.

You get these young kids, they're real hot rods. On 93, they're always cutting in and out. They don't stay in their lanes. I pull over to the right and stay away from them. I let them pass me. I'm too old to be a speeder.

Out-of-state drivers who are obviously lost,

I just stay behind them. I'm a very patient driver. If someone honks or gives me the finger, I ignore them, that's all. OK, sometimes I'll go even slower. I'm a nice guy, but sometimes it's fun to aggravate them, you know what I mean?

I stop for red lights — all the ones I see. I signal before making any turn. I'm also careful about yielding to pedestrians in crosswalks. There's a crosswalk on Beacon Street near Cheers and one downtown on Court Street near Washington where the police like to try to get you. They'll fine you a hundred dollars. The city is broke. They need the money.

I don't play games when I'm driv-ing. I drive safely. I don't have accidents. I might've gotten hit a couple of times, but it was always the other guy's fault.

Where to Hail a Cab

Don't just stand there. You can kill an entire lunch hour waiting for an empty cab on hectic Congress Street, but there are taxis aplenty at the nearby stands on Washington Street and at the end of State Street by the New England Aquarium. South and Back Bay stations, Causeway Street, and Harvard Square also have queues. So does Faneuil Hall, but if you're in the area after the bars close, you'll do better by strolling over to Cambridge Street.

Follow the tour-ists. The cab stands at luxury hotels are reserved for guests, but when motivated by a polite inquiry or a crisp $5 bill, most doormen will look the other way. Such niceties are not necessary at lower-end accommodations. Their queues are open to anyone. Feel free to jump in.

Know how cabbies think. If the corner outside your office is already occupied by someone looking for a ride, don't concede that turf, especially if he's got a backpack and you're carrying a briefcase:One dispatcher admits that cabbies will ignore college kids and scruffy hipsters in favor of businessmen and well-dressed couples. “They're going to tip,” the dispatcher says. “And they're well behaved.”

Where to Park for Free

Wellesley College has more men than Boston does free parking spots. But there are a few blessedly meter-free, no-resident-sticker-required spaces in this city. You just have to know where to look.

The South End. Whether you're having dinner at Ham-ersley's or grabbing a late bite at Pho Republique, it's worth checking Union Park Street between Washington and Harrison — next to the Cathedral of the Holy Cross — before shelling out to a pricey valet. (Of course, don't bother trying this on Sunday morning.)

The North End. On Charter Street, tucked behind a firehouse just past the intersection with Hanover, sits the lot for the Eliot School, where you can park between 4 p.m. and 7 a.m. on school days and anytime on weekends.

The Back Bay. While traveling down Newbury Street, cross all the way over Massachusetts Avenue and proceed to the oasis of little-used metered spaces across from the Other Side Café. For the physically fit and chronically cheap, a right turn at the end of the block leads to 10 spots that are completely gratis.

The Fens. This one came to us from a City Hall insider: Miner Street, just off Beacon Street two blocks east of Park Drive, provides a little-known option for Landmark Center shoppers, AMC moviegoers, and Red Sox fans.

Government Center/ Faneuil Hall. Give up. You're not going to find free parking anywhere around here. But Parcel 7 Garage at 136 Blackstone Street charges the unheard-of price of only $1 for up to two hours, $3 for three with a ticket validated by a North End restaurant, and $13 for a full day on a weekend. By Boston parking standards, that might just as well be free.

Why Traffic Jams Are Inevitable

Sure, you can take a cue from the antsy Red Sox fanatics who get to Fenway by turning off the Charlesgate overpass and barreling — the wrong way — down Boylston. Really, though, there are no good shortcuts on the cow trails of the city.

Just ask Matteo Marsili of the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics. In September, he and two colleagues reported the results of a complex computer simulation, which determined that drivers who try to outsmart traffic by strategically navigating across town actually fare worse — and create more congestion — than those who simply chart their course at random. The next time you flee Mass. Ave. only to wind up stuck in a snarl on West Newton Street, take solace in this: Your fate has been determined by the laws of nature.

Five Sneaky Shortcuts

New Hampshire. The clots that stretch from the Hampton toll plaza on I-95 South have grown so dreadful that Governor Craig Benson, who got stuck there for an hour on his way to a funeral, temporarily lifted the $1 tariff this summer. But even if that six-week experiment wasn't already scheduled to end this month (November 1, to be exact), the turnpike toll booths between Concord and Manchester would nettle skiers returning from their Sundays on the slopes. To get around that knot, leave I-93 at Exit 12S (Concord/ Bow) and proceed onto 3A South until you come to the Kohl's department store. Then follow the signs back onto the interstate. At the very least, you'll save 75 cents.

Connecticut and New York. Although resident turnpike authority rabble-rouser Christy Mihos has been calling for an end to the tolls on the Mass. Pike, the bottlenecks at the Sturbridge booths — especially coming from Connecticut on

I-84 — will once again greet drivers like an unwelcome uncle this holiday season. Avoid this by ditching I-84 just before it intersects with the Pike, hopping onto 20 East, then merging onto I-395 North near Auburn for a quick jog back onto I-90. This end-around, of course, also works in reverse.

Vermont. Technically speaking, this isn't a shortcut, since it is, in fact, the more circuitous path. But itinerant Phish heads who head north by following Route 2 to Interstate 95 North, then onto Route 3, before picking up Interstate 89, swear it's the fastest way to get to the Green Mountain State — particularly when leaving from the suburbs along the western half of 128.

The Cape and Islands. Word's out on this one among the hardened commuters who make weekly treks to their vacation homes, so on Friday nights this shortcut can become as clogged as the main route. But the rest of the week, it's often possible to avoid the Dantean misery that awaits travelers as they inch toward the Sagamore Rotary. Dial 617-374-1234 on your cell phone; if the recording says the backup at the bridge is longer than a mile, take Exit 2 off Route 3 and skirt the mess. Returning from the Cape, the secret portal is Exit 5 on Route 6. Hang a left at the end of the ramp, and then take the first right, which leads to an old fire road. Zoom along until you reach its end, where a right turn puts you back on Route 6 — and way ahead of the ignorant masses.

To the Airport. The new Mass. Pike connection to the Ted Williams Tunnel has made the once-hellish ride to the airport so easy for drivers from south and west of the city, people are volunteering to pick up their unwelcome relatives. But travelers who live northwest of town can still find themselves stuck on I-93. Here's a trick used by airport employees: Get off I-93 onto Route 16 eastbound and follow it past the Wellington T station into Everett. Look for Route 1-A signs and be sure to go south, not north. This will take you straight to Logan. B