Storrow Drive in Boston is a two-mile expressway that follows the southern bank of the Charles River and connects Allston to the Back Bay, Beacon Hill, and other downtown neighborhoods. In the novel it is nicknamed the “Storrow 500,” as explained in a dedicated endnote:
Local argot for Storrow Drive, which runs along the Charles from the Back Bay out to Alewife, with multiple lanes and Escherian signs and On- and Off-ramps within car-lengths of each other and no speed limit and sudden forks and the overall driving experience so forehead-drenching it’s in the metro Police Union’s contract they don’t have to go anywhere near it.
Our narrator says Alewife, but the Storrow actually becomes Soldiers Field Road just west of the Boston University Bridge. As we discovered on Brainerd Road, David Foster Wallace didn’t always observe the seemingly arbitrary name changes to which Boston streets are infuriatingly prone.
Infinite Jest’s repeated descriptions of the Storrow as a test of will suggest the author had some traumatizing experiences on this particular expressway. Anecdotal evidence supports this characterization, and Wikipedia (which is never wrong) does, too:
The road is notorious for speeding and aggressive driving because police enforcement along the road is difficult without a breakdown lane.
Further invocations of death-defying feats on the Storrow are found in the oft-referred-to (by me) driving sequence that takes Gately from Ennet House down Commonwealth Ave. and up into the central neighborhoods of Cambridge:
To get to Inman Square you veer over three lines to get off the Storrow 500 on Prospect St.’s Ramp of Death and slalom between the sinkholes and go right, north, and take Prospect through Central Square and all the way north through heavy ethnicity up almost into Somerville.
Not that this makes any kind of geographic sense. Even allowing for Wallace’s hyperextended version of the Storrow, we’re either talking about the Boston University Bridge or the Harvard Bridge (somehow this is nowhere near Harvard University) or maybe Cambridge Street. Some of these roads eventually converge with Prospect, but none share a collinear path, and there is no ramp, rendering judgments about its deadliness absurd. Surely this is inspired by a real place; readers are more than welcome to register guesses in the comments.
From the Back Bay overpass where I photographed it, the Storrow seemed nice enough: a gently curving stretch of highway lined with trees and bookended by buildings soaring over the foliage. That said, I suppose it did resemble something of a leafy, green gauntlet, with drivers racing from one end to the other as quickly as possible. Then again, you know, it is a freeway.