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Road-side detritus


The city’s streets usually provide the most mundane vistas.

With limited exception, they stretch horizon to horizon in monotonous monotone, ranging from uninspiring blacktop to insipid gray concrete, with only an occasional pothole or — if the road user is lucky — maybe a fresh bit of roadkill to break up the boredom.

And that’s a good thing. There’s nothing more distracting than a roadside circus.

But every now and then, I’ll encounter a bit of side-of-the-road detritus that alleviates the tedium and brings a smile to my face.

I was reminded of this over the weekend when I participated with my kids in the Color Run downtown. At four points over the 5K course, volunteers squirt colored cornstarch on participants. By run’s end, everybody was motley and a bit blinded and emphysemic, blinking and hacking and congratulating themselves on a run well done.

I’m still digging colors out of crevices — my left ear, for instance, is a never-ending fount of forest green; my right continues to stain cotton swab after cotton swab a vibrant pink — which makes me awfully glad it’s not the Naked Color Run. It is, after all, a family-friendly event, and I’m convinced, though I admit I’m a fan overall of the human form, that it’s not meant to be viewed, naked, in all its flouncing, running glory.

But I digress …

Predictably, the end result of all that hue-flinging Saturday was a lovely, albeit temporary, paint job on a handful of near-downtown streets Sunday. It’ll be gone before long, but it was striking the day after.

It reminds me of another favorite road-sight I’m familiar with this time of year: the aftermath of the Free State High homecoming parade. For the next couple of weeks, a short stretch of Wakarusa will be stained by the Skittles and Starbursts and Smarties and various other candies thrown from the parade participants as they float past.

Part of me is bothered by the accompanying trash, but the rainbow of man-approximated and -synthesized fruit flavors warms my soul.

Every now and then, I’ll happen upon a spray-painted sign.

Some are intended for road crews: marks to show where the pavement needs fixing, for instance, or signs where future crews are to place road signs. I was so proud of myself to decipher that “RCA” marks the future spot of a “Road Construction Ahead” sign.

Simple minds, I know.

And then there are the spray-painted signs for organized rides and foot races in which I participate or at least with which I am familiar. A recent tour of Civil War sites went not far from my home, and a spray sign pointed the way, with a short note promising it to be the last hill of that day’s ride.

Big downtown events, too, tend to bring out the best — and worst — in roadside distractions. Big celebrations result in broken glass (bad), condom wrappers (really?), human vomit (at least I assume it’s human; you can’t really dust for vomit) and all sorts of stains, pools and puddles that tickle the imagination and offend the senses.

Final Four parties are the best (and worst).

By far, however, there is one downtown event that stands out.

I always rue the first day or two after the annual Old-Fashioned Christmas Parade.

The human onlookers are a generally clean lot, but the main attractions — the horses — tend to leave little presents behind. Though the poop patrol does its best to clean up afterward, and traffic does most of the rest, little pockets of road apples get pushed outside the tire track, right where the responsible as-far-to-the-right-as-practicable cyclist tends to pedal.

I’d rather dodge potholes than horse poop any day … but they both stink.


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