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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.

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