It takes a long, long time to find a long, flat piece of blacktop
By Mark Rutledge
Saturday, July 14, 2018
My anthropology professor once told about a group of tribesmen who left the deep interior of the Amazon rainforest for the first time. When they saw a paved highway, the men asked their new friends how in the world anyone ever found such long, flat rocks.
I know a stretch of Interstate 26 where those folk might, until recently, have asked, “Could they not have found a flatter rock? Sheesh!”
For nearly 40 years, commuters around Johnson City have endured what my family refers to as the “bumpity-bumpity” section of Interstate 26. More specifically, it’s the right lane between the Boones Creek and State of Franklin exits.
Not long after the concrete highway was poured in the early ’70s, the southwest lanes along that stretch settled in a way that has since tested shock absorbers and quavered conversations. It has been a destination for trying out the suspension on a potential used car.
“Boy, this thing really takes the bumpity bumpity!” Or “If that’s the best it can do on the bumpity bumpity, they can keep it.”
The bumpity bumpity might be partly my fault. I was a kid when the road was being built, and it could be that my trespassing on the project served to hurry things along.
“We’ve got to get this thing done before one of these kids gets run over out here,” the project superintendent must have said.
The dump trucks and cement mixers were not yet recognizing speed limits and my friends and I were chased off by the road construction crew several times.
The new route made riding our bikes to Boone Lake to fish and swim too easy to resist. Paul Lockhart and I would tie fishing poles to our bikes. My dad made us also attach orange life jackets and promise to wear them, which we certainly did not.
It is possible, however, that the bright-orange things could have saved our lives anyway. Not in the lake, but by making us more visible to the big trucks that were building the highway.
Once the four-lane opened, we called it “the interstate” even though it did not qualify for that designation until the 1990s. That’s when they continued the four-lane over the mountain to Asheville, which did nothing at all to help smooth the bumpity bumpity.
Probably thousands of times I have heard myself or someone else utter something along the lines of, “I wish they would do something about this #*@% road!”
Well, we finally got our wish. I hopped on the interstate at Boones Creek this week to find that the concrete from my boyhood days had been covered up.
Traffic was as heavy and congested as ever, but everyone was smiling like a new Cadillac driver. I have not experienced such smoothness since I helped Gus Baldau determine how quickly his father’s Electra 225 could get to Johnson City from Boones Creek.
It might be the longest and flattest and smoothest blacktop I have ever seen. I wonder where they finally found it.
Contact Mark Rutledge at firstname.lastname@example.org or like him on Facebook at Mark Rutledge Columns.