One of the many benefits of a (third) career as a college professor is being able to decide what to do during the summer months. One can teach during a short summer term and get paid for that, or one can opt not to teach and not get paid for that. Since there are considerably fewer college students in the summer, most professors must decide not to teach at least one month each summer. I usually take all three months off, or at least out of the classroom.
This past week marked the annual national meeting of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) in Washington, DC, one of the non-teaching volunteer symposia I have been attending the past several Junes. My wife Carol and I decided to drive rather than to fly this time; airline prices have not come down nearly as much as gasoline prices have (and why do they still charge “luggage fees”?), and we had plenty of time. Rather than leaving Edgefield County and heading for I-95 and its predictable traffic, we decided to drive up I-81 through the scenic Shenandoah Valley and make the trip two days each way rather than one – a route I would recommend to anybody with the time. It’s beautiful, the temperature in June is reminiscent of Edgefield in May (remember Edgefield in May?), and the traffic is much easier than I-95. But what struck us both this time was the condition of the roads and highways.
The interstates through South Carolina are in the condition that all of us know: a patchwork of mostly filled in potholes, some emergency repairs here and there, and rough enough that the sound of the tires is noisy in the car. Once we reached North Carolina and then Virginia, though, it was different, perceptibly. The noise level was down. The roads (for the most part) showed that they had a new surface of asphalt – new being a relative term, meaning sometime in the past five years – and there were flowers planted alongside the highway. One could concentrate instead on the traffic and the beauty of the surroundings rather than trying to avoid the discoloration ahead (is that a dip or a hump coming up?). We could turn the radio down, converse with one another, and in general enjoy the trip.
Here in South Carolina, our state government has been talking about doing something to our roads for a decade. This session, literally on the last day of the term, they finally allocated some funds – which even they stated were far below the needed level – for road and other infrastructure repair. Maybe next year, we’re told (again), we will be able to set in place a long term fix for our roads and bridges, one that will not only fix those that are in the very worst shape this year but that will maintain the others to avoid their decline next year to the bottom of the barrel. But we get used to the disrepair of our infrastructure, and after a while don’t seem to notice it as much.
Take a trip this summer. Enjoy your vacation. Drive on good roads in other states, and notice the difference. And when you get back, contact your legislators. We can do so much better.