Building Chocolate Pudding Road through the Mountains in the Clouds

by John Latta, Editor-in-Chief -- jlatta@rrpub.comby John Latta, Editor-in-Chief -- [email protected]

I can’t remember how old my son was then, maybe five, maybe six. We’d driven from Florida for a vacation in western North Carolina. It was well into the fall and it was sharply cold. The mists that make these mountains smoky came down below the peaks every day, sinking, settling on us like damp clouds. We swam in the creek for as long as we could stand its iciness and huddled with people from the other cabins around a huge bonfire listening to stories about moonshiners and Indians. We were deep in the Tusquitee Valley in the Nantahala National Forest. We’d make day trips: the Georgia Mountain Fair in Hiawassee, Murphy N.C.’s old shops, a favorite diner in Hayesville, N.C. We’d fish for trout at a stocked lake where we didn’t have to try very hard. Then we’d come back and burn big logs in the fireplace, maybe pan fry some trout.

For a six-year-old, pretty much everything can be interesting, but what most fascinated him was a road being built past the cabins. With the rain and the runoff, its surface when we arrived was, we decided, very much like chocolate pudding. But there were dry days and work would begin again. We’d lean on fence posts and watch. As I recall, we also found a flat rock that warmed when the sun came out, and we’d sit on it and watch.

Like a number of six-year-olds that you know, he never ran out of questions. What were these huge machines, what were they doing, why were they loud, why did they smoke, where did the road go, why did it come this way, when would it be finished, could he drive on it one day, why don’t they sink in the pudding, who’s driving them, where do they live, how do they get their lunch, and on and on. Back then, most of my answers were guesses. But he was fascinated.

What made me think of this after all these years (he’s 22)? What occurred to me I think is that maybe young people don’t choose careers with their gut as much as they used to. Just a passing hunch. But it seems such a clinical process to me sometimes. And no, my son didn’t go into road building; there are, after all, endless things to be enthusiastic about when you’re six. But I suppose I thought that if people in bridge and road industries shared their enthusiasm – because, man, you have it in spades — with children just waiting for someone to throw gasoline on their imaginative fires, it might turn out to be a very valuable investment.