Of Road Grime and Religion

I drove past a new roadside shrine on the way to work today. A cross of flowers next to about 50 feet of flattened guardrail. What the hell is up with these things? Either they've become hip in the last few years, or I just never noticed them before. It used to be just the bikers did it to commemorate where some other biker bit it. They have that whole brotherhood thing going, so I can almost see that -- but now it seems that every time there's a fatality of any sort, up goes the shrine.

I realize that someone died there, and the shrine is probably some distraught person's way of helping deal with their grief, but I find them a little bit irritating. I don't want to know nor do I really care that someone died on that spot. It's a bit gruesome, like staying at a B&B and finding out someone kicked off in the bed you're sleeping on. Maybe I don't like to be reminded of my mortality any more than I already am, and that's why they bother me. But I love old graveyards, so go figure.

Case in point: There's one about 3 miles from my house. It's been there for about two years now, and I pass it every day. It's two wooden crosses, one painted purple and one painted blue, and there's almost always fresh flowers. It's right in front of a large tree on the top side of a 'T' intersection, directly across from a stop sign.

Clearly, the driver of the vehicle was completely shitfaced and drove straight through the stop sign at a spectacularly high rate of speed instead of turning right or left. This smacks a bit of natural selection to me, and I'm not sure that if I had done something so amazingly stupid I would want it immortalized with any sort of roadside extravaganza. It does, I guess, act as a kind of message to the still living -- don't drink and drive. So there's that, but we already knew that.

This is not even taking into account the religious aspects of it, nor the fact that these shrines are sometimes erected on private property. If you own a nice piece of property and someone gets creamed in your front yard by a log truck, somehow I doubt that you'd enjoy a nice Carnation Instant Cross and some candles placed there to remind you of that fact. Plus, they've got to be a total bitch to mow around.

When you think about the religious aspects of it, it becomes even more baffling. You always hear the justification of the people who put them there. They say things like, "I can feel Steve's presence here, I really can." or "I think Joe and Tammy would want people to remember them on this spot."

My question is: Why? What the hell is wrong with Steve and Joe and Tammy? Were they completely insane? If so, then maybe I can see their position. Hunter S. Thompson once said, "Some may never live, but the crazy never die." If their goal was to gain some semblance of immortality by driving at insanely high speeds into a bridge abutment and have unknown strangers wonder just what the hell they were thinking when they did this, then I guess the shrine serves that purpose. You never forget the crazy ones.

Mostly, it makes me wonder about the person erecting the shrine in the first place. Do they even know what the deceased would want? Do they care?

You can think about it two ways: Either the person believes in an after-life, or they don't. Either way, one thing is for sure -- they are almost certainly not hanging around the side of the road freezing their semi-transparent nads off, just waiting for you to drive by and toss a few prayers and a long-stemmed rose their way. I mean, think about it -- If you were a spirit, wouldn't hovering 3 feet to the left of some dead flowers thumbtacked to a torn up telephone pole be the absolute last place on earth you'd want to be? Call me crazy.

So do me a favor, ok? If I bite dirt in a six car on I-87 at any time in the future, I would request that someone scatter my ashes off a cliff in the adirondacks. Please do not chain my translucent ass to some rusted out car parts on the side of the highway. Thanks.


  1. About 10 years back I used to drive down through baja all the time. Most of the road was completely desolate, a two lane highway through desert with sheer drops of about 10 feet on either side. There were those crosses the whole way, too many, along with the rusted remains of overturned cars. It constantly reminded me how bad things could get if I lost control during that drive. Ever since then, i've found those crosses to be more and more unnerving to me, no matter where I am. I wish they weren't so popular these days.

  2. Thank you. I have felt this way about roadside crosses for a few years, but never knew how to put it words. They freak me out. And no, I don't think that the erectors of the crosses know or care what the deceased want -- usually people who do those kinds of things are looking for something to make them look "good" or "caring" or "religious". It's a bunch of bull.

  3. Excellent post topic. My question is this: Why stop at roadsides? The old guy who bit the dust in the supermarket aisle doesn't deserve a crudely built cross? How about operating rooms? They'd be full of the things. In fact, hospitals wouldn't have room for beds! There'd be crosses in KFC's across the country, I'm sure, for those who choked to death on chicken bones ... at least, this would be the case if we started leaving shrines at every "death spot." Isn't that why our society feels the need for cemeteries in the first place? How many shrines does one person need?
    Love your writing style.

  4. So I guess I have to bring back the present I got you for your birthday. I could have swore you told me you thought those crosses were cool.

  5. Awesome. Everytime I see those I think. Wow some idiot died here. Here's something even more ridiculous. On the road behind my parents house I used to drive past this house that had a whole shrine in the front yard that said MATT in huge letters spelled out in black rocks in a bed of white rocks around a tree stump. I asked about it one time and it was in memory of a kid that hit that tree almost certainly being a jackass and driving too fast on a curvy road. It was erected by the parents of the kid on these strangers property and they cut the tree down too in his memory. Brilliant. Their moron kid wasn't successful in killing these people's tree with his car so they asked them if they could cut it down in his memory.

  6. I've got news for you--they put up these little shrines everywhere. They put one in front of John F Kennedy Jr's apartment after he and Carolyn were killed. I saw one at the entrance to a shopping center. (After all, this is New Jersey.)