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The rotary, a bottomless pit of human foibles

Driving into a rotary is like entering a buzz saw at high speed.

Fowl observation: A feral chicken pauses near a roundabout in Ditchingham, England, called the Chicken Roundabout because a colony of chickens has lived there for 50 years.

LUKE MACGREGOR/REUTERS/file

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It is reflective of my uneventful life that when a friend asked what was new up here in Maine, the only thing that came to mind was the new traffic rotary in Bangor.

In reality, this is no small potatoes. Rotaries are all but unknown in my state, so building one is an occasion of note. Normally, Mainers must travel to Boston for the white-knuckle experience of entering a buzz saw of traffic at high speed. For those unacquainted with the concept, a rotary is a tight, circular roadway designed to keep traffic moving along. The alternative, I presume, would be complicated intersections studded with stop lights. The rotary does away with this in favor of a continually flowing spinning wheel of cars and trucks, which rely entirely on the instincts of the drivers as to when one should enter and exit the rotary. A fair amount of courage is involved.

This entering part is the most treacherous, because it is like stepping into a current – once you're in, one has the feeling of being swept away. But the most important thing to remember is that rotaries rotate counterclockwise. When we got our rotary in Bangor, this was not pointed out to the initiates: On its inaugural day, I watched as the woman ahead of me edged into the rotary and drove off to the left – clockwise – against the flow of traffic. It's a tribute to the forbearance of Maine drivers that no one so much as honked at her. Rather, they allowed her to meander along, slowly weaving among the stopped drivers, until she found her exit point, where she cruised off (wondering, perhaps, why everybody else seemed to be going the wrong way).

When cars first arrived on the American scene, newspapers published etiquettes for their use. Horses – drivers were advised – always had the right of way. (They still do.) But no such gentle advice exists for the use of the rotary. The result, from what I have seen, is something that would make an interesting installment for the hit TV show, "Survivor."

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