Naples v. Massachusetts on the Seat Belt Freedom Index

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Wearing your seat belt is a good idea. Full stop. Please do not write in telling me that I am urging people to break the law. I am simply recounting a story from 1986, the first time I ever stepped foot in Naples, Italy. Lots of people hate the place — chaotic, sometimes 3 people and furniture driving down the road on a moped, sometimes those mopeds on the sidewalk (but only when cars aren’t parked there)… There is the Mergellina district with heroine and, uh, other things.

There is also one of the most beautiful bays and overlooks around, the best, best, best pizza, and there are beautiful women who actually read books (unlike in Rome). So, on balance, a great place. There is also history and stuff.

The point? Oh, yeah. They are adamant in their refusal to wear seat belts.

The memory of Naples came back to me when I heard that today a number of people, whose family members had been killed or injured in car crashes, were on Beacon Hill lobbying senators and reps to stiffen the state’s seat belt law. Horrible stuff.

Forgive the juxtaposition of bereaved parents talking about the loss of their kids (something we all understand) with a bit of whimsy. But the news brought back a memory of my first Neapolitan flee market, where among all kinds of hot and cold food (hard to do here–really hard to get a street license), home-made wine (couldn’t do that here – no license), a glass-blower (that’s definitely not possible on the street), motorcycle parts (nope), all kinds of fake Rolexes (nope), black market Marlboros (nope), and other fantastical people and items, there was a woman hawking white t-shirts with a black stripe running from the left shoulder to the lower right side of the abdomen. I asked the woman what the t-shirt was for. She answered: “We don’t like people–especially in Rome–telling us what to do.”

Is that freedom? Irresponsibility? You decide. One thing I am sure of is that she had to be among the herd riding mopeds down the sidewalk, the entire way home zigzagging in and out of pedestrians, husband and kid in tow, the box of unsold shirts dangling dangerously off the back.

There is danger and something quite beautiful in chaos.