Road noise

By Mir
February 6, 2014

There’s an intersection kinda-sorta-nearish to our house that was the topic of Much Earnest Discussion pretty much from the time we moved here, six and a half years ago. It was dangerous, people said. On the main road, people would peel off to another road on the left at kind of a Y and the angle of the road meant that they didn’t properly account for oncoming traffic, they said. People entering the main road from the side road couldn’t see the traffic well enough for a safe merge, either, they said. There were a lot of accidents there.

It was dangerous, they said, and so there was voting and planning and whatever else it is that needs to happen when you want to change the roads. For the better part of a year, I think, finally, that area was under construction.

They changed the way the side road curved; now, instead of a sloping Y, the other road loops around like it means to be a right angle (it doesn’t quite achieve that, but it’s close). And they installed a traffic light, too, because that makes it safer. It was unclear why the construction took so long, and it was a tremendous pain in the ass to get where you wanted to go, especially for someone like me, who isn’t very good with directions and had FINALLY figured out when and how to go that route.

They didn’t throw a parade when the work was done, or anything, but I can guaran-damn-tee you that it was MONTHS of “IF I run into someone at the grocery store, THEN we will discuss how great it is that we can drive that way again.” Not a lot happens here, after all. A shiny new intersection is big news, particularly if it took forever and you’re still giddy at not having to drive three miles out of your way.

I don’t know if there are fewer accidents now. One assumes so.

I end up driving that way several times a week. The work’s been done for years, and I have to think really hard to even remember what it looked like before they coaxed the side road into a deliberate arc and put the light in, or to even recall the righteous indignation of the Year Of Construction.

A few months ago, they started tearing up the side road again. Further down, this time—this wasn’t about the intersection, but maybe some utility work? They needed to access something under the pavement, for sure. They didn’t close the road, but for weeks, it was down to one lane, bored flagmen slouching around with their SLOW and STOP signs, calling to one another to verify whose turn it was to let a line of impatient cars through to the other side. First one lane disappeared down to a gaping clay maw, then it was restored and they dug up the other lane, then it was filled in and a fresh coating of blacktop went down across it all. For a few days that stretch of road was fresh and dark and mismatched to its ends and seemingly expansive because it hadn’t been painted yet. One night they came through and put down the white and yellow lines, and that should’ve been the end of it. Everything back to normal.

It’s not the same as it was, though, because for some reason which I’m sure has a logical explanation of which I am unaware, the timbre of the new section of road is different. I turn off the main road onto the side road, heading home, and before I get to the fresh pavement, the road sounds like… road. My car is cheap and doesn’t have fancy noise-dampening. Regular road noise is a repetitive prum-prum-prum static I barely notice. Now, I hit the redone section, and my stomach drops. Every time.

The new section of road feels like it might be grooved somehow. When the car wheels go that tiny rise up onto it, the usual noise-static drops off and for a split second, all is silent. Then the moaning begins. The new stretch of road sounds like a bad horror movie graveyard soundtrack—several different “oooohhhhh” tones rise up from the tires in eerie harmony. For the length of a football field or two, the car is penetrated by what can only be described as a chorus of mourning.

I am often melodramatic and no one loves hyperbole as much as I do, but this is not an exaggeration. It’s CREEPY.

At first I thought it was just my tires, or hell, just my imagination. (Stranger things have happened due to my never-a-dull-moment brain, after all.) But Monkey noticed it one day, and commented on it, and then Chickadee another day, and then one day while I was riding with Otto I heard it in HIS car, and while I was busy screeching, “IT HAPPENS IN YOUR CAR TOO, OH MY GOD, WHY IS THIS SO FUCKING CREEPY, WHAT IS HAPPENING HERE??” Otto was trying to explain to me about friction and surface smoothness and I was all, “That’s nice, honey, BUT I AM TELLING YOU THIS PIECE OF ROAD IS HAUNTED, THE END.” He assured me that with time the pavement would cure and settle and the noise would resolve. It hasn’t happened, yet.

It is weird even in the daylight, but downright unsettling after dark. I’ve found myself bracing for that brief, transitional silence moment between the static and the moaning, and even kind of holding my breath as I drive over the affected area. It sounds like a psalm I can’t decipher, sung in despair.

The last few weeks have gotten harder and harder. Those old familiar feelings of not being able to save the people I love or find solid footing are back with a vengeance. I want someone to send a crew out to reconstruct this dangerous Y in our path into an intersection with clear navigation and a safety light. I’ll go around for as long as I have to. I won’t complain about the inconvenience or how long it’s taking, I swear. Just fix it. Take all the time needed. Just tell me it WILL be fixed, eventually, and that we’ll be safe.

After months of clenching every time I drive through what I’ve come to think of as the Mournful Stretch, these days I slow down a little, if no one’s behind me. I strain to hear every note and tone. I know it’s just the road. I do. But I hear a lullaby of longing and loss that is both terrible and comforting.

The roads are always dangerous. Somehow I’ve come to feel a perverse kinship with this one that refuses to pretend it’s not.


  1. My Kids Mom

    I’m looking for a road metaphor to say “hugs.” I’m not finding one, so just: “hugs.”

  2. Heather

    <3 Sending love to you and yours.

  3. Amy

    This post is beautiful. You are in my heart and my prayers! So much love to you and your family!!

  4. Hally

    Hmm. I guess the only metaphor I can come up with is to place warning signs and caution cones all over the place? Know that the interwebs have sent you quite the construction crew to help shore you up. Because I’m thankful for all the days that you shored up the sides of slippery road I was travelling on. Mir, you handle it all with such grace.

  5. deva

    There is a highway in my hometown that has the same moany/groany sound to it. It is, oddly enough, the one that i have to take into town when visiting parents. It used to have a high-pitched whistley sound and now it’s a deep grumbly sound.

    I assume the highway got a new troll on that stretch.

  6. Mandy

    Ditto to all that has been said already.


  7. RuthWells

    Many hugs to you.

  8. Sharon

    Perfect. Each instance is different, but I know that feeling. Tears and hugs and all good thoughts for you and yours ~

  9. JennyA

    There’s something just out of my reach about life being a continuous journey along a road and a road being a static object. Give me some time and I’ll get there. In the meantime, hugs to you all. *terrorist fist bump*

  10. jodifur

    oh Mir. This was so beautiful. Sending love to you and yours.

  11. Stimey

    This is an incredible post, Mir, but I’m so sorry that you are going through this. You have so much of my love.

  12. HG

    Sending love. Lovely post.

  13. TC

    Beautifully rendered. I hope putting it down on ‘paper’ helps. Hugs.

  14. Eliza Beth

    There is a long section of freeway near my parents house that does this. I don’t like it either, both the noise and the vibration are unsettling, even in my fancy-schmancy heavy car.
    My guess is that the asphalt is cheaper and that’s why they chose it. Either that or they would say it helped with ‘no-skid’.
    Either way, I’m sorry you have to drive it every day.
    (cyber hugs)

  15. Denise

    *sobbing* again.

  16. Rasselas

    What a beautiful piece of writing, Mir.

    P-p-please don’t get eaten by the haunted road!

  17. Cheyenna

    Love and hugs to you and yours

  18. not supergirl

    Safe travels to you and yours, Mir. Even if your road is noisy, I hope it’s smooth and safe. (Also, hugs.)

  19. dad

    Roads often sing. It has to do with the interaction of tire tread and pavement surface. The grainier the surface the more noise. My guess is that either only the base coat of bitumen has been placed (letting it season before applying the finish coat which will fill in the pores) or the new surface is porous pavement which allows drainage through the road. None of this should interfere with the possibility of a good metaphor.

    In summary, life is haunting. Your road is not haunted.

    Elegant post.

  20. Kim

    Well said, dad. And Mir. Right there with all the other virtual hugs.

  21. Aimee

    This is such a gorgeous and heartbreaking piece of writing. You can get down the road, haunted or no. We don’t need to pretend it will be easy, but you can do it. In the absence of the right poetic words to say what I want to say, I offer up some Mary Oliver:

    Morning Poem, by Mary Oliver

    Every morning
    the world
    is created.
    Under the orange

    sticks of the sun
    the heaped
    ashes of the night
    turn into leaves again

    and fasten themselves to the high branches —
    and the ponds appear
    like black cloth
    on which are painted islands

    of summer lilies.
    If it is your nature
    to be happy
    you will swim away along the soft trails

    for hours, your imagination
    alighting everywhere.
    And if your spirit
    carries within it

    the thorn
    that is heavier than lead —
    if it’s all you can do
    to keep on trudging —

    there is still
    somewhere deep within you
    a beast shouting that the earth
    is exactly what it wanted —

    each pond with its blazing lilies
    is a prayer heard and answered
    every morning,

    whether or not
    you have ever dared to be happy,
    whether or not
    you have ever dared to pray.

  22. Katherine

    I’m sorry things are being hard again. I’ll send out my construction crew of prayers and best wishes that it all gets better soon.

  23. Jeanie

    We have a not-too-big draw bridge that makes the kind of sound you describe. We call it the humming bridge. Perhaps you could call your road the humming road instead of moaning or mourning. A little cheerier, no? I know it’s sometimes hard to be cheery, but I’m trying to help you out here. Am I helping? {Hugs.} (I somehow feel that I’ve really messed this up. Please forgive me if I did. I mean well.)

  24. Dawn

    I wish you could like comments on blogs the way you can on Facebook. I’d like your dad’s post repeatedly.

    I hope you and your family find your way back to smooth pavement soon.

  25. Leanne

    You always write even difficult things so beautifully. I’m right with you on “life construction”. I will happily put up with the interim hassle, just let me know that it will work when finished. Unfortunately regardless of how hard we wish for a solid plan of completion life simply doesn’t work as we would like. I have found that my faith and church family are immensely helpful. I know you used to have a church family but not sure if you do anymore. I think of your family often and send love, hugs, and prayers your way.

  26. Lara

    :( Haunting post! Hoping for smooth road again soon <3

  27. Andrea

    Hang in, Mir. Bumps in the road and all that other shit, ya know?
    Hopes & prayers & crossed fingers that everything smooths out soon.

  28. Peggy Fry

    Turn up the radio loudly. Try and sing harmony in the chord the road produces. Keep takiing those meds! Think about what your Dad said. Beautiful post!

  29. Sharon

    It sounds like the first “layer” (I’m not sure what the terms are). I had to three miles on this horrible highway while it was like this. It was so loud, made my car vibrate slightly, and it gave me a headache. After a month they finished it, and now it is like a regular road. Perhaps you can call the city and ask when it will be done? I hope it works out.

  30. A Different Kind of Zoe

    “It sounds like a psalm I can’t decipher, sung in despair.” Wow. Just… I heard it as if I had driven it…

  31. Chris

    So nice to hear from your Dad – I also wish to like his response

    A difficult time but a lovely post. I don’ t have your way with words but do know that the roads take you through something so hopefully this moaning (new road and otherwise) will be only temporary

  32. kathy n

    I know exactly what that sounds like…

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