City street crews have been in my ’hood lately, sealing the countless cracks that mar our fair roads, and I have to admit to a little thrill of anxiety whenever they’re around.
I’ve road-geeked out a bit watching them.
As best I can tell, first the fine fix-it folks blast those blasted cracks with high-pressure hoses to clear out the pebbles, glass, organics and, in a few cases, small children and large dogs that have collected. Then they follow up with a super-cool blowtorch, I’m guessing to light the way so they can make sure none of their co-workers accidentally fell into the fell fissure. Then they follow up with a molten lava flow of — pardon the scientific jargon here — black goo that seals the deal, keeping water out and preventing additional water damage until they can return sometime next century to give the road the resurfacing it really needs, by which time, of course, our cars will hover on a cushion of air and roads will be superfluous.
I’m guessing the whole endeavor is more about saving money than suspensions.
Of all the roads I regularly ride on during my commutes by bike, mine seems among the worst, just like it’s always the last one to be cleared of snow (remember that stuff? Yeah, me either). The unmistakable ka-WHOMP, ka-WHOMP of car tires thwacking the cracking pavement rings out every time a car drives by.
On a bike, I find the Grand Canyon-esque “cracks” are a real pain. Literally. Take your eye or mind off the road ahead, and before long you’re guaranteed a real shot to the, um, undercarriage.
The sealing helps a little, but not much. Essentially, it acts kind of like rubber, a pavement prophylactic that provides a bit of cushion, but only a bit. The crack’s still there.
Awhile back, I decided to start a project. I planned to try to find the alphabet spelled out in the creative sealant jobs around town. At first, I was going to try to find the letters in order, but decided before long to find — and photograph — them as I found them. I recall finding E and S and J and L and O and P. I found a smiley face so distinct it had to be intentional. I found various other designs, and then I found my senses. My whole idea was to compile one compilation of road-sealant photo thumbnails, like a poster I saw a few years ago a photographer made by taking pictures of letter patterns on the wings of butterflies. It really was quite pretty. And I finally had to ask myself, Why on earth would anyone want to look at a picture of dried, black goop on dull, grey pavement?
I abandoned that project.
Now, about that anxiety.
I’m sure the sealant is a good thing, but as a cyclist I tend to tread over the street stopgap lightly.
Immediately after the high-pressure-hose portion of the process, the road is filthy. All that crud has to go somewhere, so it collects on the road for an unwitting cyclist to ride through.
I’ve felt the heat of that torch as I’ve ridden by.
But most worrisome of all is the prospect of the sticky, black goo.
I’m always afraid I’ll ride through a fresh batch and coat my tires with it. As I roll, I envision the gummy crud attracting all the left-over gunk on the road, thus my tires gain junk and circumference as I go until they eventually become unable to turn and I ground to a halt.
Or, worse yet, I picture myself riding into a freshly-glopped gap and disappearing, never to be seen again, like a sabre-toothed tiger into a Midwestern La Brea tar pit. Perhaps some future generation will stumble upon my remarkably preserved remains, still perched atop my bike, hose off the goo and puzzle over what a strange being I must have been.