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.