Politicians have ignored infrastructure. It’s said spending money on bridges, water pipes, and roads isn’t sexy. (Okay, they’re right. It’s not even marginally attractive with beer goggles.) The pols don’t prioritize maintenance and think our eyes will glaze over (they absolutely do glaze over.) We won’t see them as dazzling heroes, and boy, do they want us to. Inside every politician lurks a wannabe movie star.
Congresspeoples, you aren’t the shiny objects. We have celebrities for that. You’re supposed to be boring. You’re in Washington to ensure we have clean water running through big pipes that don’t break and cause sinkholes that swallow our cars and our favorite strip mall (where the movie theater is.) We aren’t supposed to have expensive car repairs from potholes and deteriorating pavement. Yes, you’d rather open a sparkly new stadium surrounded by vapid jocks and cheerleaders, but we really, really need to not worry about bridges collapsing as we cross. Call us picky.
Human nature hasn’t changed one iota. We’re still headstrong, greedy, and power-crazed. History, schmistory. Some full-of-hubris-yahoos-in-charge think they know better and ruin everything for the rest of us. So, here’s a cautionary tale about boring, totally un-sexy, road maintenance.
The Dark Ages in Europe. It even sounds scary.
Called that because a thousand years of crucial advancement pretty much disappeared. It was like everyone but the Church and nobility (and even many of them saw no need for such a tedious thing as literacy) was abandoned and raised by wolves. No science. Or reading. Or artisans. Or hygiene. Basically, they turned rather feral. Believed bathing could kill you. Imagine wearing never-washed clothes for months. Enduring crawling lice. Can you imagine the stink? No tooth care, so toothless by twenty-five. Bad occurrences were witches’ fault. But Asia and the Arabian world didn’t suffer a backward lurch. ‘Cause the cool stuff that advanced civilization developed in the Arabian and Asian cultures.
When the sprawling Roman Empire fell in 476 C.E., western societies disintegrated. Romans had maintained roads from northern England to Portugal to northern Africa, the Middle East, and on to the whole of Eastern Europe. They sent patrols to safeguard merchants and other travelers. As Rome expanded its reach, merchants safely (relatively─for the time period) traded goods all across Europe, Asia, and through the Mediterranean Sea region. With them came Greek philosophy, Arabic number systems, advanced building techniques, public water systems, and so much more.
Once Rome lost its mojo, the roads did also. It was dangerous to travel beyond your local area. Without the Roman soldiers, roving bands of thieves had open season on the travelers. To go anywhere required sleeping by the side of the road nearly every night. Imagine the dangers that went along with that prospect. It wasn’t like the Robin Hood movies. Men in tights and jaunty hats didn’t merrily wait to come to your rescue.
Road maintenance stopped. Paving stones dislodged. Trees and shrubs grew back. Taking a cart across the countryside broke wheels or axles. There was no AAA. No Holiday Inn. Not even a Cracker Barrel. You were on your own.
So, because Uncle Ray and Cousin James never returned from a trip to sell rutabagas and buy cloth, Europeans became insular. No one wanted to travel and brave the unknown dangers that lurked. Over time, they forgot all kinds of helpful information. Became afraid of strangers and foreign ideas. And had to eat way too many rutabagas. And wear poorly made clothes made of the crummy cloth woven by old Aunt Tilly, who seriously had no gift for it.
Now, I don’t think there’s any chance that modern-day math homework will go away (sorry, kids) because of crumbling infrastructure, but being able to travel safely to other regions is a big part of what shapes us. And local produce is great, but I’m not so hot for rutabagas.
In my new home town of Key Largo. I was pulling out of the bank parking lot onto Overseas Hwy. (The one main road through the length of the island. Other smaller roads, that connect to each other, exist in some parts, but none enable you to avoid Overseas Hwy. for very long.)
There are two lanes heading north, and there wasn't anyone in the nearest lane. No one in the further lane had a blinker on indicating an intention to move into the other lane. It looked safe to pull out into the closer lane.
So I did. And as I made my move, a huge pickup truck with a long trailer attached decided to switch lanes, and he clearly didn't see me. He was going about 60MPH, and I gasped in horror as he swerved into my lane and never hit the brakes. I drove onto the shoulder as fast as I could. He missed me by inches.
I pulled into the next parking lot to calm myself. I've been through a lot of close calls, but this one had me shaking.
Another reminder of how fast it could all end. Reminded to be grateful every day. Might take me a while to find the funny in that encounter, though.
The Anglo-Saxons called August ‘Weodmonath’, which meant ‘weed month’. I couldn’t agree more. If you've read my humor book, A Little Bit Sideways, you might be familiar with my ongoing battle against my evil nemesis—weeds. Especially those dinner-plate sized crabgrass monsters. Maybe August is their mating season, because, boy, do they multiply. Along with cock roaches, crabgrass will be among the organisms that survive an Extinction Level Event.
But I digress. The Romans gave us August, after Augustus Caesar, whose real name was Gaius Octavius Thurinus. Supposedly, the Roman Senate bestowed the title of ‘Augustus’, meaning ‘exalted one’ upon Gaius. The gossips at the time said he self-bestowed the moniker. Since his Uncle Julius had the month of July named for him, good old ‘Gus’ followed suit and named a month for himself, too. So, two-thousand years later, by using the name August, we’re still honoring a Roman emperor who left his wife for his mistress on the very day that wife gave birth to his only child, Julia. Eventually—and quite hypocritically—he banished Julia for cheating on her husband, and went to war against his brother-in-law, Mark Anthony. Granted, Antony had dumped Gus’s sister and taken up with the reportedly goddess-like and irresistible Cleopatra, but it was Antony’s quest for power that had really ticked off Gus. These were not great role models, unless you’re writing Game of Thrones plots.
Before all that mess, August was known as ‘Sextilis’—the sixth of ten months in the Roman calendar. It was invented by the not-so-genius King Romulus, who, for some reason (wanna bet it had much to do with wine?), left the winter season out of the whole shebang. Seriously. Ten months of either thirty or thirty-one days each left sixty-one unaccounted for days in the winter. I guess nobody had doctor’s appointments or social engagements then. Everyone just hung around home and survived until Martius (March), the official beginning of a year, finally arrived, and they could once again schedule debauchery parties, gory gladiator death spectaculars, and send out save-the-date-for-our-wedding cards again.
The Egyptians, Mayans, and Sumerians had calendars, too. All had issues trying to rectify a lunar year with a solar year. It involves boring details I’d have to study to understand. If I must study, I prefer it be for bringing forward far more useless and silly information. Plus the explanation will make all our eyes glaze over. With those calendars, though, a day or a week, or, at times, a month, would have to be inserted once in a while, but at least they didn’t just ignore sixty days like they didn’t exist.
But the Mayans take the top award for scaring the crud out of so many back in 2012. I take that back. The Mayans didn’t do it. Modern lunatics did. Convinced lots of folks that a fictional planet named Nibiru would collide with earth when the Mayan calendar ‘ran out’. NASA had to put out many notices refuting the baloney coming from Internet hoax sites.
Why would anyone purposely make up stuff to scare people? My guess is a small percentage of fiends do it for kicks. And the rest? Well, follow the money. What happens when panicked people think there will be a mass extinction? Those who can afford it will buy whatever’s offered to help them be the ones who survive. If you trace the survivalist equipment (doomsday prepper) ad purchasers on the bogus sites, I think you’ll find the real culprits.
It never stops surprising me that humans can be so gullible. If we get hit by a huge asteroid or a planet, and you survive it, trust me, you’ll wish you hadn’t. After your survivalist canned goods run out, you might have to find a way to cook crabgrass and cock roach stew.
I believe the only way to get through the slings and arrows life throws at all of us is to find the humor.