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The other day I turned off onto the quiet country road that leads to our neat but not overly ostentatious home and was almost blinded by the bold yellow line that had been painted down the middle of our peaceful road in the time I'd been gone. It was surprising to see this newly added center line because in the 20 years we've been going down this particular road it had never been given a bold center line before. Just what had changed on our little road to make it - all of a sudden - worthy of a bright new bold center stripe?
It got me to thinking about the whole question of road painting and the weighty decisions that have to be made in road painting “circles” about things like: Which roads deserve center stripes and which should be left completely unpainted? Once those important decisions are made somewhere by someone I assume the road-painting decision-makers then move on to questions like: Is this particular road a single-striper or a double-striper? And finally: How important does a road have to be to get the additional and always impressive white stripe along both sides in addition to the double stripes in the middle?
In summer I've often seen the road crews from the state Department of Transportation out repainting the lines on major roads like Route 1 and Route 26 and Route 3, but I've never seen a crew slapping a center-line on a quiet country road like ours and I'm just sorry I missed the show.
After doing a minimum of research into the complex, somewhat secretive road-painting process I learned that the major roads of Maine are painted in summer in a two-step process. First, the large, a specially equipped paint truck, moving at a snail’s pace, will spray a thick layer of paint onto what they claim is a “freshly cleaned” road. (If you happen to come up behind one of these ponderously slow rigs, you might as well pull off the road for an hour or two and read a good book.)
Then there follows the spraying of tiny glass beads that are supposed to imbed themselves into the paint and provide that “sparkle” you see when your headlights hit the road at night. The paint and beads are supposed to dry into a thick layer in a few minutes so there is supposedly little smearing. Yea, right. Actually, when you consider thousands of miles of road that are painted there is less smearing than you'd think.
The sprayers are located on the front of the truck and extend off both ends of the bumpers so it can paint the edge and center lines at the same time with – what we're told – is the correct spacing. The driver doesn't weave but carefully follows the edge of the road as he paints the edge and the center line or lines and the other three crew members are supposed to help keep the sprayers lined up correctly and make sure the truck and spraying equipment are running properly. The line on the other side of the road is painted on a return trip, after the crew heads for another coffee break.
After learning all this I can tell you that driving down our road with its bold new center-stripe will never be quite the same.
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly
throughout New England. John’s e-mail address is
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