I awoke early, pulled on my clothes and stepped out the door onto the back porch. It was a fine clear morning: the air was fresh, the recent humidity had all but dissipated.
I set out on foot down the street, then turned right onto Winthrop, crossing over to the opposite side. The sidewalk was torn up at regular intervals to accommodate the new street drains. The edge of the macadam had been scarred in preparation for paving. A town highway truck passed by, rumbling down the street.
I rounded the bend to find not a single car parked in the small lot outside Peyton’s barber shop. I quickened my pace to the front door. The sign in the window said “Closed.” As I bent down to retrieve the morning papers lying outside the door, I checked my watch: 6:45 AM.
I pulled the Times from its plastic wrapper and skimmed the headlines on the front page. A pickup truck ambled down the street and eased into the lot. Five minutes later Peyton appeared in his truck. As he walked over to where I stood reading, we both looked up, suddenly surprised by the thopp-thopp-thopp sound of a helicopter.
“That Lifestar?” Peyton said.
“Sounds like it,” the man in the pickup said. He got out and searched the sky, but no helicopter appeared. Gradually, the sound faded into the distance.
Peyton pushed a key into the lock and opened the front door. We followed him inside. It was warm and muggy.
“Be with you shortly,” Peyton said, disappearing into the back of the shop.
“Right you are,” the pickup truck man said.
I sat down and continued reading. Two more men came in. “Get the lead out, Peyton,” one of the newcomers said.
“Who’s that?” Peyton’s voice came from the back.
“A dissatisfied customer,” the man said.
Peyton appeared in his blue smock. “Have a seat,” he said to the man. “We don’t open ’til 8:00 AM.”
We all chuckled as Peyton motioned me into the chair. I sat down, took off my glasses and slipped them into my shirt pocket.
“What’s new?” Peyton said, fastening the drape around my neck.
“Not much,” I said. “Is all that road work affecting your business?”
“That street,” Peyton said, “is a pain in the arse. Some of the old-timers can’t figure out how to get here anymore. They’ve had it blocked off for weeks.”
“It seems like a long time,” I agreed.
“I hear they’re supposed to pave it this Thursday,” the pickup truck man said. “About time.”
“You got that right,” Peyton said. “They couldn’t get it done soon enough. It’s affecting my business, all right.”
He started in over my ears with clippers, then switched to a comb and scissors to even it out.
“I saw they put up a sign downtown at the lower end,” I said.
“Yeah,” Peyton said. “They won’t let cars through except local traffic, but even the locals are scared to drive past the barriers.”
“This sign said: ‘The Road Less Traveled,’” I said.
Peyton kept right on snipping. “Yeah, well the one out here says ‘Road Closed.’ People read that and they back up and turn around.”
“They’ve got another sign at the top of the street, too. That one says, ‘The Road Not Taken,’” I said.
“Pain in the royal arse,” Peyton said. “You wonder who thinks these signs up anyway? You want your beard trimmed?” he asked.
“Sure, you can trim it. Moustache too.”
He finished up, pulled the drape off my chest and shook off the excess hair. I reached for my glasses and adjusted them on my nose.
“They should be done with the paving by the end of the week,” the pickup truck man said.
“Couldn’t be soon enough,” Peyton said. “And I’m not the kind to whine, neither.”
I paid and stepped out into the bright sunlight. Already you could feel the heat coming up off the macadam. I crossed the street and retraced my steps up the broken sidewalk. Workmen were already moving their heavy machinery into place.
Dr. Hampton stepped out of his front door and stooped to collect the paper as I sauntered past his house. “Fine morning for road work,” I said, smiling at him.
He stood up with a hand on his hip. “They tear it up, resurface it, roll it smooth, then tear it up again—a never-ending cycle.”
“Your local tax dollars at work,” I said.
And then I thought of another sign: ‘Temporary improvement, permanent inconvenience.’