If you drive an unfamiliar road, you watch the signs. Usually, those road signs give you fair warning of what’s about to come up. I used to drive a Honda that handled so well that I knew I could take corners at up to 20 mph faster than marked before it felt like it was too fast to make the corner. ‘Maria Andretti,’ I know, but I also know that my little pickup doesn’t handle like that, so I heed those signs and take corners per my truck’s mechanical capability. No brainer.
Last night as I was just about ready to feed Odin, this flatbed tractor trailer hauling a crane went speeding by my driveway, and eye-balling that monster, I judged it to be going close to 50 mph. Now, this photo was shot while standing in my pasture and shooting in the direction that truck was headed. See that sign? Well, it really is a 90 degree curve there, and not that far away. The speed limit on my road is 35, so that sign is placed where the corner coming up wouldn’t be a problem if going the speed limit. But, at 50?
I held my breath and listened hard. What complicates things even further is that my road is a gravel road, and the recent rains have made it pitted and muddy, and that corner is shaded by trees on both sides, so it’s a good bet that it’s still quite goopy. I heard the engine disengage, heard the tires lock up and skid, heard a few big, metallic clanks, and then the engine roared once again. Somehow, that driver made that curve, and with the crane still on the flatbed. I have no idea how.
That got me thinking. And seething. When I bought my land back in 2005, the seller told me the dirt road was slated to be paved the next year. I have no idea which “next year” he meant, because it still isn’t paved. Well, not on my end it isn’t. The other end of the road was chip-sealed earlier this year. That chip-seal ends right about the place where the county judge lives. Isn’t that convenient?
You see, the county judge presides over the quorum court, and the court’s main purpose is to handle the county’s money. One main function of the county is to care for county roads.
To give credit where credit is due, the roads were cared for pretty well around these parts. I’m still not used to roads with no shoulders or guard rails, and I still think the little wooden bridges on gravel roads are quaint, but the gravel roads were usually graded and stoned often.
Well, they were maintained – up until the latest natural gas boom and the subsequent screeching halt of said boom when miles of pipe bought from India was put into the ground to get that natural gas to market turned out to be unable to handle even half the pressure the pipeline was intended to handle. During testing of the sub-par pipe along 26 miles, several sections exploded. Suddenly, whole companies closed down, the money stopped flowing into the county coffers and things started going to hell. The gas companies had agreed to pay half the cost of maintaining the roads their heavy trucks tore up for the duration of the natural gas boom. Now, the compromised roads crack, wrinkle and pit at will, disintegrating with just normal traffic use.
Until you’ve lived on a gravel road, you don’t know what dust is. My home is 300 feet back from the road, yet if I dust on the weekend, by Wednesday morning, everything inside is solidly coated. You can’t see out your rear view mirror while driving down the road at a conservative 25 mph, and forget about washing your car. The size of the ‘gravel’ stone they lay down is about the same size as the stone laid under railroad tracks, and it chews tires up as if they were paper.
Still, my gravel road, from beginning to end, was maintained far better than it is now, and I attribute the lack of care more to the fact that the other end is now chip-sealed than anything else. The good ol’ judge goes to town the other way, and though his garbage trucks come this way, he himself never sees this end of his road.
No surprise, the final straw is that my end of the road is the “poor” end. Though far more numerous, the homes on this end of the road are worth only a fraction of the palatial mansions on the other end.
Yeah, there’s all sorts of signs pointing to who gets what. Maybe if one of those garbage trucks painted up to advertise the judge’s last campaign will hit one of the huge potholes on this end of the road and bust an axle. Then, maybe then, the rest of the road will be chip-sealed too.
Then, when a huge tractor trailer goes flying by at 50 to hit that 15 mph curve, I really will hear metal crumpling and crashing.