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Taking the slow road in Canton

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Road work is causing traffic to move through downtown Canton slower that a three-wheeled Amish buggy in a blizzard.

This has everyone grumbling.

There’s a rumor that the grumbling reached an historic height when a young Amish man wrote “WTF?!” in big block letters on a sign that he hung from his horse’s neck as he stood mired in one of the many traffic jams on Main Street this summer.

I have not confirmed that rumor - and doubt that it is true because WTF is shorthand that means What The Fudge when texting or sending an Internet message - and the Amish aren’t into the whole Twitter or cell phone scene. But I sure can see where the moonscape that used to be our quaint little downtown might move a God-fearing person to curse a bit nonetheless

I walk a lot these days. Or ride my bike. Or take ridiculous routes in my car to avoid cursing the work being done to make the downtown underground beautiful again.

That’s what all the tree-cutting-road-busting-dust-making-hole-digging work has been all about. Replacing pipes and other stuff that make a village work.

It doesn’t make things fun on the roads around here and it isn’t going to make Canton much more glamorous when it is finished. But it is work that had to be done.

You know all that if you live here. Not everyone driving through town has such local knowledge, though.

One night when I was walking home from dinner, a woman standing next to her car made a sweeping gesture as if to introduce me to the unmoving line of automobiles ahead of her.

“Is there any way around this?” she said. “I need to get to Watertown and I’ve been sitting here for at least a half-hour without moving.”

I thought about giving her the long answer.

“Yes. Take that road - Park Street - and follow it well past the college to a three-way stop sign. Stay right toward the sign that says “Russell.” Drive quite a ways until there’s another sign on a road that points right toward “Hermon.” Take that winding road until you’re convinced you are lost among the cows in the cornfields. Right about then you should see a building or two. That’s Hermon. Search out a bar called the “Skunk’s Nest.” Go in there, knock back a couple of Genesse Cream Ales ... then ask how to get to Route 11. You’ll be home free on the road to Watertown a few miles of cornfields after that.”

I’ve taken that route before, so I know it is effective. But I’ve lived in St. Lawrence County for a couple decades. I figured those directions might be a little troublesome for big city folk, so I went with the short answer to the grumbling woman’s question.

“Um, nope.”

“WTF?!” she said, oozing frustration as she opened the passenger side door and eased back into her car.

WTF indeed.

Life in Canton has not been pretty this summer. You mostly can avoid the mess if you know what you are doing. But even the most savvy and experienced Cantonites have been caught at least once in an unmoving line of traffic heading into town.

Here’s one way it happens: You are cruising along at 62 mph on your way home from work in Ogdensburg. For 10 or 12 miles you haven’t seen another car. You’re daydreaming about what to cook for dinner when a vee of geese flying south overhead directs your thoughts toward the coming winter.

Traffic jams are the farthest thing from your mind until ... BOOM, BANG, BING ... you’re just past the entrance to SUNY Canton and are stopped cold at the end of a long line of cars.

In denial, you sit for 10 minutes thinking things should start moving any second. The line of traffic grows as you watch cars back up behind you. Soon, 20 minutes has passed.

At 30 minutes you think about turning around and going back to the road to the hamlet of Morley you should have remembered to turn on in the first place to avoid this mess. But cars have you pinned in, so you sit and wait. And wait. And wait. At some point you call your husband or wife to vent.

“I’ve been sitting here in my car for an hour and we’re still not moving, honey. WTF?!”

It’s happened to me. It’s probably happened to you if your travels have taken you to Canton this summer. It happens to my Love Nugget - who works in Ogdensburg - once or twice a week. She daydreams a lot. And she is a big fan of Canada geese.

She wanted me to write a column about how bad the stupid traffic problems are. Her outline for the column went like this: “Write about how bad the stupid traffic problems are.”

I considered it. I also for a time considered writing about what a good job the road crews were doing on the whole to keep traffic moving most of the time.

I decided against either idea because traffic is always going to be bad when you rip up the main artery of the village. And road crews doing their best will never make the bad situation a good thing. Manageable, perhaps, but not good.

We are suffering through work that needed to be done before an antiquated sewer or water pipe broke under Main Street and left a sinkhole far more dangerous than the inconvenience of a traffic jam will ever be to any of us.

Things are probably going to get worse before they get better as crews start working nights to get the project finished before the first snow flies. That means you might sometime soon get snarled in traffic before and after dinner.

But your car is not going to end up at the bottom of a sinkhole, so quit grumbling. Suck it up and focus on the fact that this will all be over as soon as winter blows into town in a few short months.

Then, no doubt, there’s a chance you’ll be grumbling about getting stuck driving behind a three-wheeled Amish buggy in a blizzard.

At least you’ll be driving on a safe new road.

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