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Some time ago, in Texas:

A dusty old man with sandblasted skin looks proudly at a job well done. Twisted lengths of spiky wire between rough-hewn posts of osage orange make ease of what split-rail fences and hedgerows could never do. The cows and bulls and steers groan uselessly against a fence they can't knock over or walk through. No more will their owner have to deal with break-outs and break-ins and fence repairs and hedge trimmers - they're penned in for good.

A while later, in Germany:

Beneath the hazy yellow ghost of mustard gas, trenches stretch across the muddy countryside like huge snaking graves. From time to time, machine-gun fire and mortar blasts break a silence almost as deadly as lewisite. And above the foxholes and the trenches and the grizzled young veterans lay a wasteland of dead bodies and spent ammunition casings crisscrossed by a barbed, already-rusting spider web.

Not too long ago, in Michigan:

SECTION 7.06.02. PURPOSE OF FENCE. Fencing along a highway is a means of preventing unwanted and likely hazardous intrusion of animals, people, vehicles, machines, etc., from outside the right-of-way line into the vicinity of moving traffic.

A neatly-manicured meeting of the state transportation commission glances over the revised MDOT Standard Specifications for Construction, and approves its updates:

SECTION 808.01. DESCRIPTION. Furnish and erect or move existing, woven wire fence, temporary fence, protective fence, chain link fence, high-tensile wire fence, or pedestrian fencing of structures. Secure the Engineer’s approval for the method of splicing wires in woven wire fabric and barbed wire.

Conceived behind a large oak desk in the state legislature, written on a large oak desk in the state legislature, approved and ratified over a large oak desk in the state legislature. The highway itself seldom enters the equation, and when it does, it's as a complete abstraction, an idea of what the interstate transportation system ought to be, guard rails and barbed wire and standardized roadside appurtenances strongly recommended from behind a large oak desk in the state legislature.

Here and now:

A massive concrete cloverleaf splicing together I-696, I-275, I-96 and M-5 towers over the standard highway-side fare - impassable mud-and-iron swamps bearing "NO SWIMMING" signs, abandoned steel mills with unlabeled 55-gallon drums in their back lots, low-rent apartments where peeling facades reveal the incompetence of the last five painting contractors. A stout, graying, and extremely late man in khaki pants and a vaguely stained dress shirt searches himself for a tourniquet or a bandage or anything made of fabric, really, because the red spot is getting bigger and the car is still a mile away. Now, of course, the notion occurs that stopping to get gas before getting on the highway would have been a good idea - two minutes late to fill up is better than thirty to walk to the station and back - but it's too late for that to help. The car is on the shoulder, the hazards are on, and the rusted spines put up in the name of safety have done the only thing they were ever designed or able to do - hurt people. The man loosens his tie with a slight pang of regret. It was his father's tie, pale blue and silk with subtle pinstripes that went with almost anything, but today it would have to be dyed red.

The gas can sits on the coarse gravel, contents still sloshing slightly with the movement they had before being set down. The man's tourniquet - although he's not really sure if it's called a tourniquet, never too good with that kind of thing - isn't doing a very good job. It might be time to call a doctor, he thinks - but the five hundred freshly-grown adults at Steven's graduation aren't going to wait for him to have his wound dressed. He's probably walking across the stage now, the old man thinks. And his grandson didn't get to see him - but more importantly his grandson didn't get to see him, and - shit. The red has soaked through the tie. His leg is getting numb and isn't going to make it a mile, that cut is deeper than he thought, and calling an ambulance and looking like an oaf is probably better than dying on the side of the road and looking like more of an oaf...and the cell phone is in the car. World of shit. He holds a hand out and raises his thumb in an appeal to the decency of his fellow man, but it's illegal to pick people up on the side of the highway. Someone could get injured.

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