Monday, December 3, 2012

The Everyday Miracle

You'll never ignore that ordinary strip of pavement under your wheels again.

Chapter 1: My obsession with asphalt was born on a bike ride through a cemetery 

I don't remember how I ended up there that day. Maybe I pedaled up for the view, a smashing panorama of the San Francisco skyline that lies at the end of a grand network of roads and paved lanes that reach up into the hills. Or maybe I was delaying the end of a too-short ride by tacking on a detour that meandered among prim headstones and Munsteresque family crypts. What I do remember clearly is sensory—sniffing the freshly cut grass near the entrance, then noticing the sound of my tires on the pavement, something like sizzling bacon. As I started riding uphill, the smooth, black, buttery layer of asphalt gave way to something crunchy, like the crumb topping on a coffee cake. Little cascades of stones skittered away from my tires. The pavement changed again, tight and brownish. Cracks appeared, then a puzzling, fresh patch of pitch-black asphalt. There came a pothole. And, just past a grave labeled Nutter, the pavement gave up entirely, and the road turned to dirt.  

All the major existential questions rushed at me: Why does some asphalt stay and some asphalt go? Where do roads come from?

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