My Mother The Turnpike
A conversation between a paved road & an unpaved road

UNPAVED: You certainly look nice today.

PAVED: (condescendingly) Thank you. I wish I could say the same for you.

UNPAVED: Do you?

PAVED: Of course. I have hesitated to say it in polite company, but you really are behind the times. And you are so impressionable, in a way I could never handle. I mean, even one hour of light traffic and I barely recognize you. How can you stand it?

UNPAVED: Hm… Well, to me this is normal. I prefer it this way, really. My semi-natural texture prevents high speeds, and I happen to enjoy the traces that bodies leave upon my surface. It makes me feel more connected to them, and I believe it makes them appreciate me more.

PAVED: You must be joking. I’ve never heard of a road that does not want high speeds.

UNPAVED: Well, clearly you have been spending too much time with other major thoroughfares. I have met plenty of paved roads that never experience speeds higher than 20 mph. I even went on a date once with a cul-de-sac who said she’d only experienced double-digit traffic a handful of times.

PAVED: You went on a date with a cul-de-sac? I find that very hard to believe. They are notoriously sophisticated and highly sought after as mates. Especially in communities that wish to be gated but lack the means. Were you wearing a disguise?

 

UNPAVED: (sighs) I think that you are basing your opinion purely on gossip. This cul-de-sac was passionate, thoughtful, curious, and a very close friend of all the neighborhood trees.

PAVED: And you find this to be an attractive character trait?! You disgust me, truly. Every time I meet a tree I feel such rage I practically I start seeing red.

UNPAVED: That is unfortunate. Why do you feel this way?

PAVED: Are you kidding? Trees disrupt the lives of The Paved more ferociously than any other object, creature, or structure.

UNPAVED: That simply isn’t true. What about excavators? They completely destroy your kind (and mine, at times). And heavy loads, especially when coupled with excessive heat or sunlight can cause a great deal of damage as well. Trees only disrupt your life if their planting doesn’t take your combined needs/reactions into account.

PAVED: That’s easy for you to say. If a tree root started pushing up from underneath you, I bet you would consider it a sign of affection. You two would probably get real cosy together…

UNPAVED: Well, not exactly. I certainly wouldn’t be rude, but if the root got in the way or presented a potential obstruction for the traffic that I serve, it would pose a difficulty. Though not an insurmountable one.

PAVED: You know, I really don’t like your attitude.

UNPAVED: How do you mean?

PAVED: I mean, do you know who I am? My mother is one of the first stretches of the New Jersey Turnpike, North America’s first asphalt superhighway. I’m too classy for this.

UNPAVED: Classy? I would agree that you have an impressive family history, but I thought that we had moved beyond arbitrary notions of social classes. But, certainly, you must be very proud. I read a very compelling quote once from R. Bruce Noel, retired Turnpike Authority Engineer: “We probably had the most outstanding pavement…never had to be town up [or] replaced. And it will be there forever.”

PAVED: (pridefully) Or what about the infamous words uttered in 1949 by William Wesley Wanamaker, the man who was hired to expedite the project?:

“Long sight distances, wide travel lanes and shoulders, easy curves and no crossroads assure safety and comfort. With fifteen traffic interchanges where vehicles may enter or leave, the turnpike will connect with leading highways to famous seashore resorts east and to other points west – ”

UNPAVED: (interrupting) Are you crying?

PAVED: (sniffling) No… Thinking about how much she means to commercial and personal transport in such a highly trafficked area just gets me choked up sometimes. She has such purpose…

UNPAVED: And trees do not?

PAVED: (scoffing) There you go again…

[…..]

Images by Laura Hyunjhee Kim

[1] Department of Public Records, “Construction Progress Updates,” The New Jersey Turnpike Authority – Press Release, Department of Public Records (Trenton, N.J.: November 12, 1956): 1.

[1] Caption (back of map), 1949 New Jersey Turnpike Map, New Jersey Turnpike Authority, Department of Public Records. New Brunswick, New Jersey.

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