A Thought or Two About Roads

We were driving back from a party at the house of a colleague. The Faculty of Education had decided to give me a surprise “do”, a sort of thank you for my time as Dean. I’d been told it was all going to be very informal, and had turned up in jeans and a sweat-shirt to find everyone wearing ties (ties!) and brightly coloured socks. This, apparently, was a tribute to the fact that I’ve been known to go a whole semester wearing a different tie each day, and to the fact that I don’t like grey, black, navy blue or similarly boring socks. It must be something to do with having to wear them throughout my formative years, the forced collectivism of the English grammar school.

The party was a good one, and a shout-out here to Fiona and Sandy for so graciously opening their beautiful house. It’s one of those Architectural Digest places, designed with a perfect room overlooking a tidal bay, with the dunes and the ocean beyond. Just gorgeous.

Everyone was in good form and we had a great time. There were only slightly exaggerated stories and lots of good cheer, and nobody got too inebriated, so there weren’t any fights or loud arguments, and the hosts didn’t have to spend their evening wandering around with mops cleaning up vomit. As Stanley Holloway said in another context, “in fact, nothing to laugh at, at all.”

Anyway, it was on the way home that I noticed the road. It was smooth, a beautiful flat surface. There was a light dusting of snow in the air, and the wind swirled the flakes around like so many miniature tornadoes. The car drove serenely on, the headlights casting a luminous haze between the hedgerows.

Then we got to town.

Pretty much as soon as you enter the city limits of Charlottetown you hit the potholes. The road surface is cracked and cantilevered, and the light dusting of snow congeals in drifts which hide the edges of the broken asphalt. The car shudders and bounces, and the headlights stab in all directions like manic search lights, seeking a squadron of enemy aircraft one moment and an escaped prisoner hiding in the bushes the next.

“Why is that?” I wondered. “Is it simply another example of the urban – rural divide?” After all, the same situation exists in Afghanistan, where the smoothly paved roads of the provinces are replaced by the crumbled chaos of the city streets. But at least in Afghanistan there is a logical reason. The various armed forces want smooth paved roads so that they can visually identify any attempt to plant an explosive device like a mine or an IED. Convoys want a certain degree of certainty in their travel, but not so much certainty that their routing is predictive.

But on the Gentle Island? The only thing I could think of was … tourists. Perhaps the delicate underpinnings of a Winnebago are different from other vehicles? Perhaps stomachs unused to selecting different types of potato for different recipes simply can’t cope with the unsettling bounce of a poorly maintained street? Certainly their routing is predictive. The Trans-Canada highway which splits the eastern part of the province from the bridge to the ferry – paved and smooth. Highway 2 from Kensington to Souris – paved and smooth. Up west the terrain is unknown, but I’m told that nobody except the residents go up beyond Misgouche anyway.

And then there is our residential street – the road to Mordor. One can imagine two poor tired hobbits circumnavigating the suburbs of Charlottetown, “oh no Sam, not another pothole!” “It’s alright Mr Frodo, have some of this Elven bread and keep a hold of my rope”. Perhaps I should put up a sign saying that we have Piping Plovers nesting next to number 77, or that Lucy Maud’s third cousin’s step sister’s great grand-daughter once played on the swing in the park down at the end of the street. That would bring some tourists, and perhaps more than a quarter inch of asphalt over the existing fissures.

Eventually we rattled back to the house. I lit the fire, and we settled down with the newspaper.

“Oh look, here’s an ad, they want the worst drivers on the Island to interview for a new TV reality show.”

“They’ll find it hard to make that call,” I muttered, but that’s another blog.

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