Road Work

Here’s a needed bit of infrastructure work coming to pass — these dudes repaving our rural road. Now as far as the eye can see we have nothing but flat black asphalt. It’s lovely. Also, watching the repavement was strangely hypnotic; Krissy and I gawked at it for several minutes. There was something almost Zen about it, not counting the asphalt smell.

45 Comments on “Road Work”

  1. The asphalt smell reminds me of summer school. My school would redo the playground and parking lots during the summer, and the odor would permeate the classrooms and be almost overwhelming outside. Funny how things stick together in your memory – I haven’t been in school for 30 years, and the smell is still a reminder of school.

  2. There’s something about man shaping the world into uniform and smooth surfaces. Think on natural formations: we marvel at nature’s random effects that leave smooth even surfaces: crystals, smooth water, rock formations, sand dunes, etc. I guess we’re tuned to look for outliers in the rough and random world or something.

  3. Well, I too have infrastructure work in the vicinity but it’s not really socialist, though if you squint hard enough it could be denounced as feminist.

    All the tunnel borer machines for the London Crossrail project have female names….

  4. I kind of like the smell of asphalt, although it is better in short doses.

  5. maybe I’m weird, but I too have a thing for the smell of hydrocarbons, both burnt, and unburnt. Probably has a lot to do with the freedom of 4 wheels and an internal combustion engine, not to mention time in my youth spent under the hood making things go fast.

  6. I spent 2 summers in college with the Ohio DOT as an inspector on road repaving projects. Hot, smelly work. Walk along behind the paver with a trundle wheel to measure how many feet of asphalt each truck lays down (to make sure they weren’t skimping and making the layer too thin) and stick a measuring rod in to measure the thickness, every so often lay down a square metal plate in front of the paver, wait for the paver to run over it and dig it out to send it to the lab for materials analysis. Then lay down and wait for the next wave of trucks to come from the asphalt plant to start all over again. Keep an eye out for thunderstorms and tornadoes. At least that’s how it was 25 years ago. Ah, it brings back the memories.

  7. First off let me say – “Cut my Taxes, but pave my streets” (working in government this reflects the mentality of half my phone calls).

    They now have machines which can grind up the old asphalt, remelt it and repave the road with it in one pass. I have not yet seen one in operation, but I really really want to. If it was only self aware it would almost be scary.

  8. There’s something about a fresh, smooth river of asphalt. My street is scheduled to be paved this summer, and I’m stoked. Sure, it will be nice to get it milled down and resurfaced–it’s a wreck, but I’m giddy about the arrival of the machines. Always have been, ever since I was a kid. The noise, the stink, the sixteen guys leaning on shovels–it’s a joy. They better not do it while I’m on vacation.

  9. Was it one of those kind that lays out a steady stream of asphalt like extruding Play-doh? Those are cool.

  10. At least your road work doesn’t last for months, like it does here in the city.

  11. As a counterpoint to everyone who enjoys the county workers repaving the road, not quite so nice if they are redoing the road on the main artery between home and where you work. Delays that double transit time can change the experience from Zen to a concentric circle of Hell.

  12. Bruce

    The CrossRail project is around five years away from completion, and they are digging up roads as well as using 1000 tonne tunnelling machines, all endowed with female names. I’m pretty sure that VD et al regard this as a horrible example of SJW at work, because only guys names are suitable for 1

    So think yourself lucky that it’s only six months…

  13. My husband used to run a dump truck for a paving company. Old timers would wrap their lunches in foil and stick them in the freshly loaded asphalt to warm. Sounds great, smells inedible.

  14. Oh man, fresh asphalt. Makes me wanna ride my bicycle on it. And tomorrow is National Bike to Work Day!

  15. One of the things I miss about living in Iowa is being understood when I talk about asphalt. (Macadam? What is this strange substance!) Pretty sure our road never got paved, though. Tsk.

  16. Beej- ride your bike on freshly laid asphalt?? I’ve ruined 2 sets of car tires driving across fresh hot asphalt. The first time I did it I drove across the hot asphalt, then across some gravel. My car’s steering completely disappeared. I was actually sliding across the road. I had no idea what was going on until I got out and looked and saw that basically my tires were all wearing cement overshoes!

  17. When they finished I35E between the Mississippi River and downtown St. Paul, I rode my bike on the finished (and cooled down) asphalt before they opened it to traffic. It was smooth as silk and a wonderful ride.

  18. You get proper ashphalt in your brand of rural? Swanky. We only have tar and chip up in this joint. (S. Ont.)

  19. These “dudes”. These are grown men doing you a service. Show respect to your countrymen. Dudes are surfers and teenagers. Working men are men. Not dudes.

  20. Jack:

    Also, bear in mind that an older definition of “dude” relates specifically to grown city-dwelling men, i.e., not surfers or teenagers. You are using the word in a colloquial sense — as am I, only in a different (and very well established, as shown by the definition above) manner. In the very well understood manner that I’m using the word, calling these dudes “dudes” is not in any sense disrespectful, and you look silly for suggesting it is.

    Also, dude, who the fuck made you the Word Police? Can I see your badge? Do you have a warrant? Speaking as a grown man who also uses words on a professional basis, I will use whatever word I damn well please, and if you don’t like it, the door is right over there.

  21. First thing we did when my daughter finished college was pave our gravel driveway. Have it paved, I mean. At first I felt bad just sitting on my deck watching the crew do all the work. But after about 30 seconds of work, it was clear that all anyone else could possibly do was get in the way. Six guys and perfect choreography. One shoveling into the hopper, one driving and steering and adjusting the starboard limiter, one on the port side, one checking depth, and a bunch of movement and dance I don’t remember except to say it was beautiful to watch.

    And the end result is still lovely.

  22. I agree: the smell of asphalt is soothing; however, I wouldn’t want to smell it all day every day.

    When it comes to new-road-smell, my favorite is tar-and-chip.

  23. You should ask Krissy what non-Zen smells she overlooks when watching you work. :)

    I hope it’s not too early in the AM for a fart joke. Are there blue laws in bad comedy?

  24. As an engineer in the highway business I can tell you… it’s very zen to watch those guys at work. Most paving crews have it down to a science. And the after effect is a lot like a fresh blanket of snow. Just a layer of pure black coating everything and flat and smooth over the rough spots.

  25. Some of my best friends — BEST friends — are road workers, and they let me say “dude” all the time.

    The SMELL!! Ah, the best part for me. Reminds me of summer break as a kid.

    Worst part is the gravel spitting up into your car. I drove an open top Jeep with big tires on a new road once, and wound up with a cupful of tar covered gravel in the back. Never got the asphalt polka dots out of the cloth seat.

  26. Note to self: Do not poke the Scalzi-bear ar 5:30 in the morning! ;) (good answer though – especially for that god-awful hour)

    I’ve been using “dude” is the general, generic term for “a guy” for at least the last 35-40 years. If you want to talk surfers, then you’re into “surfer dudes” and “beach dudes”. As to teenagers (and younger), those, as any Disney sea turtle will tell you, are “little dudes”. And according to, the feminine is “dudette” (which, interestingly enough, says orignated “from dude in the surfer/teen slang sense”).

    Of course, then there’s also the Big Lebowski use of the term which is a little bit more nuanced, but that’s for another time…

  27. What Beej said – Makes me want to ride my bike on it.

    About dude – I told my teen age daughter when she jokingly asked me if her friends should call me sir, that I would prefer they called me dude.

  28. Man that truck gets to work with Betsy, I’d give my left two lugnuts to do that!

    (parent brain is a terrible thing sometimes)

  29. I LOVE the cool machine that takes in the asphalt in front and then lays it down in such nice even ribbons. I have always harbored a secret desire to operate heavy machinery! Sigh…I make do with my small tractor, but it does have a bucket on the front.

  30. I’m not a skateboarder, but I have to say that riding a skateboard on a really smooth, freshly paved road is really satisfying. Seems flat and not very busy either so not too much in the way of hazards.

    I know your mind is thinking this is not going to happen due to age / inexperience with skateboards, general fitness / coordination levels etc. But REALLY. There are these longboards that are really stable with big, soft fat wheels on them that anyone can ride. Wear a helmet so the smart writer-y bits don’t get damaged and have some fun! Would LOVE to see pictures of various Scalzis skateboarding.

  31. I love the smell of asphalt in the morning. It smells like . . . victory.

  32. fresh smooth asphalt under my road bike tires is something like flying, something like heaven..

    here in suburban Denver they decided to make our streets out of blocks of concrete, which sound like driving across train track sleepers, badabump badabump over every damn seam.. then the roadwork consists of jackhammering the old lump of concrete out and putting in a fresh one with even bigger seams between it and its cohorts. Hideous. I long for asphalt..

  33. They recently repaved a stretch of road near my house. It was horrible when they’d torn it down to the bumpy parts, but when it was all done… so nice! I enjoy driving on it now. Fresh asphalt is a wondrous thing.

    Nobody’s said “dudette” in 30 years. It was always a silly term. “Dudes” as a collective noun is entirely gender-neutral, like “guys”. Males and females have called me “dude”, I’ve called them “dude”. We’re all dudes, though of course none of us are The Dude.

  34. Maybe some of the Zen feeling is actually *caused* by the smell of the asphalt. Sort of a road ‘trip’, if you get my meaning.

%d bloggers like this: