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Substandard Roadways

I found these old road signs in several places in and around Louisiana’s Chicot State Park. I had never seen one before. At first… I kinda laughed when I saw them. It’s a rather ambiguous warning. What exactly does “substandard roadway” mean? Are the foundations about to crumble at any moment? Did they pave it with second-hand asphalt? What exactly was wrong with the road? On this beautiful, sunny morning everything looked fine to me… but what unknown danger was waiting around the next bend? Sharp curve? Falling rocks? Potholes? Dead end? Animal crossing? Should I just turn around?

Turns out that these signs are unique to Louisiana, and come from a program that was abandoned in the early 1990s… apparently, at least in part because of the ambiguity. The idea was to warn drivers about roads that fell short of meeting the highest standards — lanes too narrow, missing or inadequate shoulders, poor grading, etc. These were mostly older roads that were state-of-the-art in their time: before SUVs and low-riders and monster-sized pickup trucks were available to the masses. They just weren’t designed to accommodate that kind of traffic the way modern roads are. These “substandard roadways” weren’t bad enough that they needed to be shut down… and while most folks never have any problem using them, it wouldn’t hurt to pay a little extra attention when you find yourself on a “substandard” section. In a perfect world, every road would be freshly paved with wide shoulders and flawless drainage… and there would be no accidents.

But it’s not a perfect world. We’re living in a fallen, less-than-ideal world. When we hit a particularly bad stretch, sometimes there are warning signs… but we can miss them or misunderstand them. So more frequently than we’d like to admit in life, our substandard understanding collides with a substandard circumstance… and people get hurt.

I was glad to see 2011 come to a close. In many ways, it was a difficult year for me. I felt like I could see the signs that something wasn’t right — just like those deprecated and ambiguous “Substandard Roadway” signs. I didn’t know what they really meant or why they were there. All I knew for sure was that I was on a difficult road, I was there alone, and I could only guess at why. And I guessed wrong. I was so concerned about a possible sharp curve ahead… that I wound up getting hit by the falling rocks I wasn’t even expecting.

And that’s just life sometimes.

After something like that happens… it’s probably human nature to want to turn around and go another way, to abandon the difficult road in favor of a different one. It would be easier… but if we refused to travel on anything but the best roads that met the ultimate standards… we’d never get very far.  And the most amazing things in life… well, they tend to happen most frequently when you choose the more difficult road.

I’m not making New Years Resolutions this year. But I do have a goal or challenge for myself: to take the more difficult road, to do it quickly (rather than delaying and avoiding it), to travel it completely without unnecessary u-turns, and to accept that some things are just plain substandard… and I might not be able to (or even need to) fix them all.

Unexpected Solutions

I just got back from another roadtrip. I love taking long drives, especially when I get to be in the mountains or explore areas that I haven’t visited before. Those road trips put a lot of miles on my car… which means more frequent oil changes during those times of the year when I travel the most.

I’ve always been pretty faithful about getting my oil changed… but until I got my current vehicle, I had never really noticed any difference performance-wise before and after oil changes. And I never thought much about that, because it was just a maintenance thing. I was doing it to prevent problems, not correct them. Plus, since I use one of those full-service oil-change places, I got all of my fluids checked, my tires filled, windows cleaned, and the inside vacuumed too :)

But my current vehicle always seemed to “perk up” noticeably after an oil change… almost like it was happy to be clean and topped off! Since it’s a convertible and more of a “sports car” than anything I’ve ever had before, I just figured it was more sensitive to oil and fluids than the average sedan. The most striking difference I noticed was that the gas pedal was so much more responsive! Then it would slowly lose some of that responsiveness as the odometer closed in on my next scheduled oil change.

I assumed that the responsive gas pedal had to do with something that the oil change guys were checking, lubing, or topping off.

But I was wrong.

I accidentally discovered the *real* reason for my post-oil-change perk up the other morning.

It’s the vacuuming.

It turns out that the floor mat “creeps” up under the gas pedal as I go about my normal driving routine. It slowly makes the pedal physically harder to push. But if I just pull the mat back a bit… which you pretty much have to do when you’re vacuuming the inside of the car… instant improvement!

I love finding unexpected solutions. Sometimes big improvements come from small, seemingly unrelated adjustments!