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The other day I turned off onto the quiet country road that leads to our neat but not overly ostentatios 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 new center line because in the 20 years we've used this road it had never been given a bold center line before.
It got me to thinking about the question of road painting and the weighty decisions are made in road painting 'cirles.' Decisions llike: Which roads rate center stripes and which are left unstriped? And, what has changed on our little road to make it - all of a sudden - worthy of a bold center stripe?
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 always impressive white stripe along both both edges.
In summer I've often seen the stripe-painting crews out repainting the lines on the major roads - like Route 1 and Route 26 and Route 3 - but I've never seen a crew slapping a new center-line on a quiet country road like ours. I'm just sorry I missed the show.
Usually these painting operations consist of a large, ponderously-slow truck equipped to hold and spray the thousands of gallons of paint needed on our thousands and thousands of miles of paint-worthy roads. In fact these trucks move so slowly that if you come upon one heading in your direction, you might as well pull off the road for an hour or two and read a good book because you'll just drive yourself nuts following one of these road-painting rigs.
Generally there are at least four men on the crew of the paint truck. I'm not sure hown much all that paint costs but I'm sure - at 15 percent commission - the salesperson who sells it makes a very nice living
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, specially-equipped paint truck, moving at a snails pace, will spray a thick layer of paint onto what they claim is a 'freshly cleaned' road. Then there follows the spraying of tiny glass beads that are supposed to imbed themselves into the paint and provide that 'sparkle' we always when our head lights 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 sprayng equipment are running properly. The line on the other side of the road is painted on a return trip, as they head 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. Contact John at mainestoryteller@yahoo.com or 899-1868.
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