Last week, the War Department and I got a little stern with the kind of folks who like to schedule your time for you, failed to answer the phone and sneaked out of town. Not much in the way of an excuse, except celebrating almost 40 years of endurance.
We headed south.
It didn’t take long to discover we should have left earlier. By the time we got to McKinney, we had endured a long and frustrating busted-pavement and barricade adventure. We didn’t intend to. That wasn’t in the plan of the day. The original goal was to scoot out for an anniversary lunch in Plano.
It was a good plan, but it didn’t survive. A pleasant drive came to a hard stop on Highway 121 north of Melissa. A half hour of creep and crawl and only a quarter mile later we had determined this is the place where old Texas Department of Transportation orange barrels go to wither away their final years. It’s a barricade-friendly place where there are no deadlines, no established schedules, no regular workers — no escape lanes — and no requirement to be visibly productive.
Ayup. Welcome to summer in northeast Texas.
We‘ve grown accustomed to the perma-struction on Highway 75. They’ve had that chunk of highway under destruction and repair since before the first time I drove over it 20 years ago. We expected it. There has never been a time in my memory when it wasn’t festooned with barricades, heavy equipment and unsupervised contractor mayhem. And we knew that had metastasized into a slowly expanding necrosis exiting 75 and connecting to 121. Now it has finally festered into a massive open wound stretching from 75 up past Melissa and is creeping north and east with hideous determination. I’m pretty sure some of it has already escaped containment and infected South Church Street right here in Paris.
Just a bit lower on the highway travel obnoxious scale is the jaw tightening grinding noise on Highway 82, which starts instantly when you pass from Lamar County into Fannin County, and doesn’t stop until the other side of Bonham. Whatever they used for chip seal on that hunk of road may be durable, but it is inexplicably loud at highway speeds. If you’re trying to listen to the radio, you’ll need to pump up the volume well past the halfway mark ... but all it does is add to the noise in the cabin and eventually make your ears ring. Our car is well insulated and normally is quiet enough to either converse or listen to the radio comfortably. Not so much there. Traveling over 82 through Lamar County isn’t loud. I hope both engineers and contractors bear that simple fact in mind when it comes time to chip seal Lamar County.
While I’ve got a good grouch on, let me add to the irritation list, the constant pa-dap, pa-dap, pa-dap, pa-dap, pa-dap, pa-dap, pa-dap of almost any highway in Oklahoma. Those things can get a fellow into trouble. Especially if the song on the radio has a similar, but just a little faster beat. It’s pretty easy to tune the rhythm with your right foot ... and easier still to win a hand-written invitation to a special court room critique of the effort. Those sudden right-angle corners after miles of mesmerizing pa-thumping can also lead a man to ruin — if you don’t know Oklahoma has a predilection for such things.
On the local front, I notice they‘ve shaved the top two inches of perfectly serviceable — and fairly recently applied — blacktop off the exit ramps from Loop 286 to Lamar Avenue. I’ve got a quarter that says they’ll re-surface it on weekdays and re-stripe it during rush hour.
Yes, Paris is big enough now to admit we have rush hour traffic slowly building up, necessitating a lot more road construction. Once the frustration is vented, we really need to have patience, compassion and sympathy for our highway department planners, engineers and workers. There just ain’t any way to win for them. If they do it today, people gripe. If they do it tomorrow, folks say they’re getting lazy. No way to win.
I suppose it doesn’t help that relative time dilation and compression is an active curse of the human mind. Construction work is a necessary evil, and the general public is fast enough to grouse if the unavoidable soaking rains and blistering heat make a few potholes and cause ripple-cracks in recently surfaced roads. Perceptive compression can and will tend to obscure the fact that what we think of as a recently paved road, may actually be ten years or more between repairs and resurfacing. And some roads — no matter where you live — are naturally subject to forces which make permanent fixes impossible.
So, from the grumbling stool here at the Paper Radio, it’s a good thing we’re coming into summer. Now the roar of the air conditioner can add some much needed masking to the sounds of hot radials on permanently temporary road repairs.