Roll out the (orange) barrels


David Lindeman - Contributing Columnist



I want you to know that unlike some people from Ohio, I don’t have a built-in prejudice against Michigan. I think there are some great places in Michigan — well, at least in the top part of the state. You could drop the bottom half into Lake Michigan and you wouldn’t be missing much.

But there’s one thing that really bugs me about Michigan. In fact, it seems to me to be one of the great ironies of America. Michigan at one time was the center of the auto industry not only in the country but in the world. You would think people who relied so much on the automobile would know how to build roads. They do not.

The roads in Michigan are possibly the worst in the universe.

I recently took a business trip that required me to drive to the north side of what is left of Detroit. I survived, but I’m not sure my car’s suspension did.

As far as I can remember, the roads in Michigan always have been like this. As you head north on the highway, the roads in Ohio are pretty smooth. But once you cross the state line, you notice an instant change.

“What just happened?” my wife asked as she bounced up and down in her seat.

“Welcome to Michigan,” I said.

And when you get off the highway — well, you want to avoid that if you can.

Potholes the size of small vans are not uncommon. Crumbling roads are the norm. What’s more, it’s not a secret. Talk to someone from Michigan and they will tell you all about how lousy their roads are. It’s just the way it’s always been, I guess.

We managed to make it to our destination in one piece and stayed off the roads until it was time to go home. Then we had a real adventure.

Our GPS decided to get us back to the highway a slightly different way than we came. Alas, we were using a GPS that doesn’t update traffic conditions, which was our mistake. But we figured a 20th century GPS was good enough when you’re driving on 19th century roads.

When we got to our entrance ramp, we discovered it was closed. The highway at this particular place not only was being worked on, it was gone! Nothing down there but dirt and rocks. So we drove on, deciding to ignore our GPS since it wanted us to go back to the destroyed road. We weren’t in a hurry; we’d just follow the detour signs.

So we tooled along for a while following little signs until we came to a big detour sign — which had been damaged so that only half of it remained. As we attempted to decipher the sign, we went by what might have been the best road to take. We’ll never know, because there were still some more little detour signs up ahead. So we followed them.

Dodging holes in the road and jumping from lane to lane to avoid the miniature Lake Michigans that dotted the roads after a heavy rain, we kept following the signs. Our compass said we were going south, so at least we were pointed in the right direction.

Before long, we found ourselves in downtown Detroit. I have to tell you, downtown Detroit really isn’t bad and on a Saturday afternoon, it can be kind of pleasant because there is no one around. We pulled over to the side and dragged out an old road map. We turned the GPS back on. We found another detour sign and decided to follow it.

Sure enough, it got us back on the right track, but we had to go north a number of miles before finally getting back on the highway not all that far from where we started out. Life is like that sometimes.

Bumping along, we sped south and before long there was the sign: Welcome to Ohio! Land of smooth roads! As soon as we crossed the line, we ran into a stretch of construction. But did I mind driving two inches from a temporary concrete barrier with a semi on the other side? No, sir. I was heading home.

It also gave me a new outlook on road construction in Ohio. It seems to go on all the time. There are more orange barrels in Ohio in the spring than there are daffodils. However, I now realize orange barrels mean at least we’re fixing our roads. That beats the alternative.

David Lindeman is a Troy resident and former editor at the Troy Daily News. He can be reached at lindy@woh.rr.com.

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David Lindeman

Contributing Columnist