Cau­tion: rough road ahead

The Compass - - NEWS -

I’m too de­pen­dent on Mr. Google. This morn­ing, af­ter half-an-hour of in­ten­sive search­ing, I’ve failed to find the poem that’s on my mind. It might help if I knew the poem’s ti­tle or the au­thor, I s’pose. I’m al­most cer­tain the au­thor is Og­den Nash but I have only one squig­gly line from the poem in my nog­gin — some­thing about road signs.

The line from the poem has spawned an epony­mous com­edy group as well as an en­tire sub-genre of hu­mour. That’s what I gather as a re­sult of my dili­gent re­search at Mr. Google’s house.

The poem in ques­tion, by the poet in ques­tion, has some fun play­ing with the word­ing of road signs, es­pe­cially — if I re­mem­ber cor­rectly — those that say things like SLOW CHIL­DREN CROSS­ING. The poet won­ders, for in­stance, about the pres­ence of FAST CHIL­DREN in the cross­walk. Hold the thought. If Dear­est Duck wasn’t gone to the su­per­mar­ket she’d surely ques­tion the by-road I’m about to take. Yet she’d trust me to find my way back to the main drag.

Know­ing the con­di­tion of many of our paved roads,

my eyes were peeled for pot­holes and as­phalt gorges suf­fi­cient to com­pete with canyons grand.

Veer­ing off… When I was a bay-boy liv­ing on my is­land home in a dif­fer­ent bay, the lo­cal gravel roads were of­ten rut­ted with pot­holes the size of millponds. Af­ter heavy rain, the pot­holes were deep and muddy. Au­to­mo­tive traf­fic was scarce in that Juras­sic age so bay-boy sailors could safely launch fleets of roughly-hewn toy boats and sail away to Man­dalay, or wher­ever, un­til their murky pot­hole mains ran dry.

Then Un­cle Rube with his horse and his cart filled with gravel com­menced his rounds. He shov­eled clay from his cart box into the pot­holes un­til they were filled to the brim. He tamped down the clay with shovel blade, boots and cart wheels.

Kinda like Sisy­phus, Un­cle Rube strug­gled to stay ahead of his end­less task. With Dob­bin and cart he pa­trolled his sec­tion of the lo­cal road at­tempt­ing to elim­i­nate the pos­si­bil­ity of pot­holes. …and so on. Pulling back onto the main road. Re­cently, I was driv­ing along a lo­cal thor­ough­fare with nary a po­etic thought in my nog­gin. Know­ing the con­di­tion of many of our paved roads, my eyes were peeled for pot­holes and as­phalt gorges suf­fi­cient to com­pete with canyons grand.

Cau­tion signs ad­vised me to be … well, to be cau­tious: CAU­TION POT­HOLES AHEAD.

Cau­tiously, I geared down for rough ter­rain, and wheeled on down the canyon wall.

Driv­ing safely from the pit, I steered around a bend and through an in­ter­sec­tion only to see an­other high­way sign: SLOW POT­HOLES AHEAD. Truly. Al­though pos­si­bly he’s the wrong poet, Og­den Nash and his SLOW CHIL­DREN poem popped into my mind.

We never see the FAST POT­HOLES be­cause, I s’pose, they dash swiftly from curb to curb and hiedee-ho into the al­ley­ways and lanes less trav­elled.

“Harry, my some­times inane love, you are about to wax ridicu­lous.”

Guess who’s re­turned from the su­per­mar­ket, hope­fully with herbal tea to com­pli­ment the frozen choco­late chip cook­ies hid­den in the base­ment freezer.

“Keep­ing my hand in, my Duck. Em­ploy­ing metaphor and hy­per­bole re­mem­bered from a pre­vi­ous life.”

I press on, not nec­es­sar­ily prov­ing Dear­est Duck wrong.

P’raps the FAST POT­HOLES play dodge ‘ em with the traf­fic flow. P’raps at speeds too swift for hu­man eyes to reg­is­ter, they hurl them­selves from right-hand curbs, and faster than au­tos in a Madza advertisement, dash to left-hand curbs and take refuge in those afore­men­tioned al­leys and lanes. P’raps, eh b’ys? It’s the SLOW POT­HOLES that cause so much trou­ble for mo­torists.

By na­ture, by def­i­ni­tion, those pot­holes are slow. Therein lies the haz­ard.

Un­like their swifter kin, SLOW POT­HOLES are not al­ways able to cross the gap. They fal­ter and fall, bro­ken craters in the wheel ruts.

Most driv­ers man­age to care­fully ne­go­ti­ate the iden­ti­fied holes.

Just as the fa­mil­iar MOOSE CROSS­ING signs don’t mean ab­so­lutely that moose will choose the marked spot to cross a high­way — for greener browse, I s’pose — SLOW POT­HOLES signs don’t mean def­i­nitely that pot­holes will ap­pear im­me­di­ately ahead.

Some­times, a kilo­me­tre down the road at a place with­out sig­nage, a SLOW POT­HOLE will stum­ble into the road­way, fall belly-down and be­come an abyss, a chasm.

Those are the frig­gers that catch front-ends un­aware and snap tie rods, crack con­trol arms, frac­ture axles.

High­way crews with dump trucks filled with peb­bled tar, like lat­ter day Un­cle Rubes, will never keep ahead of the peren­nial POT­HOLE MI­GRA­TION, eh b’ys?

Thank you for read­ing.

— Harold Wal­ters lives Hap­pily Ever Af­ter in Dunville, in the only Cana­dian prov­ince with its own time zone. How cool is that? Reach him at gh­wal­

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