Dead Man’s Curve

There are many legends about the construction of the infrastructure in our country, the most famous of which is about that hero of tall tales, former five-star general and President of these United States of America (1953-1961), Dwight David Eisenhower, but this one is lesser known, so listen. When the asphalt was being laid, the road crew fashioned straight strips and bowed bits, off-ramps and on-ramps, fast lanes and passing lanes and slow lanes and shoulders, when one day the Chief Engineer said, Fine, fine work, but now it’s time to build Dead Man’s Curve. The grumbling from the laborers was not muted. No one quite understood why they had to build a Dead Man’s Curve. It seemed against the natural order of highway fabrication. Perhaps it was even against the Heavenly Animus. It was possible the Chief Engineer had forgotten about the natural order. The laborers explained: The purpose of road making is to make roads that do their best to help motorists drive safely to their destinations, wherever those destinations may be. Some of the crew even tried to remind the C.E. about the on-ramps in Norka. The on-ramps in Norka were unnecessarily short and led directly into traffic, forcing the commuters not only to jam on the accelerator, but also to maneuver immediately into a horde of automobiles already traveling at least sixty-five miles per hour, if not faster. Of course there were loads of accidents. The C.E. was scandalized. Not only was the C.E. good friends with the engineer who had developed the roads in Norka, he, himself, the very Chief Engineer standing before them, had been a consultant on the project. Norka, after all, was to be the place known for short, dangerous on-ramps; and this was to be the home of Dead Man’s Curve. It was to be right here. Couldn’t you just see it? One of the laborers argued that there was no need for a Dead Man’s Curve, and subsequently showed the C.E. how it could be avoided. Nothing doing. The crewmen grew mutinous, said that there would be no end of trouble with Dead Man’s Curve, that the Governor would have to change the posted speed limit, that big warning signs and arrows would have to be erected, that ultimately a bypass would have to be built, that the name itself displayed a common disregard for the safety of travelers. Again, nothing doing. The C.E. wasn’t the designer of the road anyway, he was only the person who made sure the road was built correctly. So the construction workers, with (again) not a little grumbling, built Dead Man’s Curve.

Of course there were loads of accidents.

In the days following, the Governor changed the speed limit. Big warning signs were erected. And arrows. Ultimately, it was decided a bypass had to be built. Some thought of changing the name (rather like the Cape of Good Hope), but they decided that “Dead Man’s Curve” certainly was the most descriptive. The crewmen went to the C.E. and said, See, we told you so.

Yes, yes, you are all very keen. Now, get back to work.

The crewmen, who had been laid off for some time (and who were starting to feel the pinch of unemployment), were confused.

We have the contract for the bypass, you idiots!

And so the laborers all patted the C.E. on the shoulder, generally agreeing that he was a gentleman, a scholar, and a person of great foresight, but they asked, If you don’t mind, Mr. Chief Engineer, if it isn’t too much trouble, we would like to see the plans for the bypass. The C.E., as he informed them, wasn’t normally in the habit of showing plans to his underlings, but in this one case he’d allow it. Looking at the blueprints, the crewmen saw that the bypass wasn’t really a bypass at all, that the motorists who had to drive on Dead Man’s Curve before would still have to drive on it, and, yes, some of those travelers would luck out, while many others would end up in (perhaps fatal or at least highly injurious, likely expensive) accidents. Did the workers complain? Were they mutinous? Did they speak of the natural order ? Not a bit of it. For they saw they’d be working on the “bypass” for quite some time, and that the “bypass” itself would require other roads, and those roads would in turn require more roads all to make the original “bypass” worthwhile, all facilitated by that grand original design of Dead Man’s Curve (bless its heavenly name!), and the crewmen were assured that the public funds required to endow this “bypass” were all firmly in place.

Andrew Farkas’ Self-Titled Debut was published in 2008 by Subito Press (University of Colorado at Boulder). Andrew’s other stories have appeared in or will appear in The Cincinnati Review, Pank, Artifice Magazine, and The Brooklyn Rail, amongst other places.