When is the last time you really looked at the surface of a road?
I do not mean while driving or riding in a car. I mean walking or sitting along the curb and staring at the road? My guess would be, in this day of asphalt and blacktop, it happens rarely if ever.
I grew up in a neighborhood built around the river and steel industries. The roads, in many cases, lasting into the early eighties, were made of large cobblestone or brick (called sett). Big square granite stones with sand between them,
If you have never seen this type of road, or did not have the luck to grow up on and around them, it may be hard to understand what it is I miss about them.
Originally laid because they made travel easier for horses and carts, offering traction and better footing than dirt or, when it rained, mud, the sett and cobblestone roads were already being phased out of many highly traveled areas by the time I was growing up.
For me, they were a source of endless fascination. Our driveway was lined along the edges with the remnants of the stones that once made up the driveway itself. I spent many hours as a child examining the worn and smooth surfaces of the stones and the maze of spaces between.
They were an integral part of the landscape and the roadmap of my childhood.
Not always for the better
The stone streets were murder on the ever more expensive automobiles and, as snow removal became an important part of keeping a growing city moving in winter, (they were impossible to scrape completely clear of snow or ice) they became a liability in most eyes.
Let me tell you what they did do.
They slowed you down. The speed limit on our street, a fairly well traveled artery, was 25. . . and you had to be a fool to go much faster over those stones. Many a hubcap became a treehouse trophy or home plate for a wiffle ball game after being found along our road, lost in the night by those too drunk or too young to know when to slow down.
You could play on the street anytime of day or night with little fear of a car ever surprising you. Even today's hybrid or full electric cars would make enough sound passing over those stones to warn you ahead of time.
These are roads laid by hand. Each brick set in place and filled in. That part was timely I am sure, yes, but I can recall few road crews setting up for now customary days or weeks on end to have to repair them.
These roads had give and move, the stones and the sand between them flexing with heat or cold. On occasion that some might need replaced, it was often a one day job done by hand. No machines, no smelly asphalt, no high tech engineering. Simple.
They are beautiful. Today they are often referred to as "up-market", quaint or unique.
All words I have never used to describe a blacktop road anywhere at anytime. . .
We've lost so much beauty in this modern age
Everything is supposed to move faster and easier
Cities accumulate, suburbs sprawl and the ugliness seems to have no end
People and places have become dull in this scenario
Along with those gains has come a loss of just as much if not more
Cobblestone roads are just one example
And we just went ahead and paved over them
These colorful ribbons of our life blood
We willingly replaced them with ugly black veins
We poisoned a bit more of what made us feel
All these years later, the avenue I grew up on is all but gone.
The geography is the same
The curves, the hills, the houses. . .
But the stones are gone
Black veins that no one notices run the course now
People speed without a thought
Children stay clear
They paved over it all
Right through the heart of my childhood