To reach the Delaware River from our house in Equinunk, PA we can take either of two routes. One has infinite potholes and 28 twists before we reach the river. The other is a slightly less crumbling road with 13 crests over which you can’t see the next stretch of road, where there might be sharp turns, slow-moving farm equipment or even slower-moving farm animals. Or random alpacas.
We do not cross the river with the panache of George Washington standing boldly in the prow, the wind rippling the flag, his hand resting on his thigh as he firmly looks across and ahead. The wind does not ripple our banners, rather we are rattled both literally and figuratively.
On the New York side of whichever bridge we have crossed, what do we see? Un-derelict pavement. Smooth asphalt being laid, several inches thick, the thick smell of tar on a summer’s day rising from it.
I love the smell of asphalt in the morning. Smells like undamaged car undercarriage.
And it hits us.
Pennsylvanian’s pavement envy.
A couple of years ago, just as we had arrived here, a passionate and effective group of Wayne County residents got together to bring local legislators to our area to see for themselves the road conditions in Wayne County, and state road things began to happen.
The road before our house was resurfaced for several miles in each direction; it was heavenly to drive on, instead of its previously harrowing condition. My overnight visitors are no longer startled awake at 3 a.m. by the sound of trucks crashing into that giant muffler-killing pothole 20 feet before our house. When we bought the place, we hadn’t realized a two-lane road in the middle of nowhere was actually a major thoroughfare.
This season, the PennDOT-contracted company covered up that nice smooth highway with fresh oil and chips. When we first saw a sign for “fresh oil and chips,” we thought they must be a homemade farmstand product, like firewood or fresh eggs. But no, fresh oil and chips are not delightful farm goods, nor related to that pretty sweet smelling asphalt New York uses on its country roads. No, fresh oil and chips are crushed stones, probably like what medieval prisoners were made to crawl on on their way to being drawn and quartered, pressed into some gooey stuff, which is laid over fresh pavement to protect it against future potholes, as the vinyl slipcovers of my youth protected furniture against the ravages of being used. (One family I visited in junior high actually had roped off their living room.)
Perhaps we will no longer need to navigate by road obstacles instead of more interesting landmarks: “After this next curve, be sure and stay toward the side- the middle of the road seems to have been clawed by Godzilla. Now, coming up here, stay away from the edges, they’re really crumbly, and who knows what’s underneath.”
In front of one house, the side of the road is disintegrating in several spots, the gaps on the edge varying from a few inches to almost a foot, tempting drivers to risk tumbling off the road entirely—as if the homeowners were wreckers who lured ships to their doom on rocks near the shore to plunder the shipwrecks for booty. Any spoils from our trips to Honesdale would yield more hemorrhoid cream than Spanish doubloons.
Our go-to guy for hauling, who also does moving and lawn mowing, told us he no longer is willing to work in Wayne County because of the damage the roads do to his trailers.
As happy as we were at first to be paying less in property taxes this side of the Delaware, we are beginning to realize that the difference between New York’s and Pennsylvania’s taxes is more than made up for in car repair costs. We do not need Freud to uncover any suppressed reason for our Pennsylvanian’s pavement envy.
Leah Casner and her husband bought their home in Equinunk in 2019 for weekends and to retire to. The ability to work remotely made it possible for them to move sooner than planned. Her essays have appeared in The New York Times, International Herald Tribune, Newsday, Chicago Tribune, New York Daily News, Miami Herald, and Chicago Tribune, among others.
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