Monday, March 05, 2007

Piper Road

You may have heard that some old cities are laid out on cow trails. I don’t know if that’s true. What I do know is this: Some cities, even newer cities, contain old streets.

They run alongside the new streets, sometimes crossing under them. They’re broken up by parking lots and buildings and sprawling new intersections. But if you can find them, you may be able to use them.

People who can always figure out how to make a difficult left turn that others avoid? They’re probably using an old street. People who get places early? They know how to find these shortcuts. But they won’t usually do it while you’re in the car, because they don’t like to give themselves away; and at those times, they may actually seem disoriented, because they don’t know how to get places the regular way.

Now, using old streets is not necessarily safe. Most of them aren’t in very good shape; some of them were never paved. If you happen to have a flat or fall into a pothole and damage an axle... don’t bother trying to call a tow truck. They’ll tell you there’s no such street, and if you try to explain to them how to get there, they’ll likely dismiss you as a prankster or a drunk.

Piper Road is paved, although the pavement’s wrecked after all these years of official nonexistence. It runs alongside Southeast Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, mostly on the west near the river. Parts of it loop over to the east side, under the bridge onramps. Getting across MLK is pretty hard at rush hour, so I used Piper Road a lot when I worked down in that area.

I don’t recommend it.

I got paranoid about people finding out how I was getting around. I wouldn’t discuss my commutes with anyone; even a casual remark about the traffic was enough to make me change the subject or leave the room. I told myself I didn’t want it to be “discovered”, that if “too many” people found out about Piper Road, it would get crowded and I’d lose my “edge”. I even suspected my mechanic might be able to tell—by analyzing some kind of residue left on my car—that I was regularly using an old street.

I searched for Piper Road on old city maps and aerial photos. I never found it, and I’m not sure what I would have done if I had—bought up and destroyed all the copies I could find, I guess. I hope I wouldn’t have gone as far as destroying, for instance, library property. I hope.

There’s no dramatic denouement to this story. I got a job in a different part of the city; I changed my commute habits; the obsession faded. I don’t think there are any old streets in the parts of town I mostly drive in now, but I’ve kind of made a point of not looking. As far as I know, Piper Road is still there and still not known to many people.

So if you find it... good luck to you. Don’t use it too much.

6 comments:

Whitesnake said...

Nothing better than places like this. Sad that time takes its toll.

Richard said...

Know what I like? Alleys. Dark, bright, cluttered, well kept, doesn't matter. For me, taking an alley is like being in a whole other city, and when I step out I'm in wonder I've arrived. Thanks for the post.

paisley said...

newsy and fun... a different offering all together for you....

Greyscale Territory said...

It is always the byways that leave us with some of the most precious memories of all. They suddenly seem to transform into a kind of spiritual highway.

Gemma

tumblewords said...

Truly enjoyed this vignette! I, too, sneak around on back roads to speed up travel time. And I never tell anybody...

onemorebeliever said...

most enjoyable tale of city life...i'd forgotten abt the secret of backroads..the historical aspect was a nice detail... and especially the obsession that really made me laugh...