Dear Cobblestone Streets,

Who doesn't love cobblestone streets? The romantic, old-world charm. The handlaid, historical implications. The quaint, aesthetic patterns. If a rough-hewn cobblestone street doesn't bring the cultivated Europhile to climax, it'll at least get them all warmed up.

Here's some cobblestone porn for the minority of you who weren't able to wack it to my Walmart Hottie post

But much like babies, living with cobblestone is a whole different experience than visiting once a year. As it turns out, cobblestone has a few "quirks" that make it less than pleasant to cohabitate with.

First off, this may come as a surprise to those who haven't had to regularly traverse cobblestone, but irregular 5" x 5" bumps aren't exactly an ideal surface... for doing anything.

Walking, for example, is something people sometimes like to do on streets. If I had to give cobblestone a grade for walkability, that grade would be an "F." Unless you wear big puffy running shoes around all the time like some slack-jawed Philistine, cobblestone eventually hurts your feet because you can feel the individual stones creating little, domed pressure points through your shoes. The only silver lining here is that cobblestone severely punishes those backpacking hippies who try to wear vegan hemp TOMS on their trek across Europe.

Cobblestone's irregular surface also snaps high heels with abandon. I guess gay men who don't go out in drag could be in the clear here, but otherwise, you will eventually find yourself lurching up and down while cursing cobblestone or walking next to a partner who is lurching up and down while cursing cobblestone.

In wet or icy weather I refer to cobblestone as "The Euthanizer" for its uncanny ability to take down the elderly and pulverize their bones to dust like so many sticks of chalk. Yes, you heard that right- softball-sized stones polished to a smooth sheen by years of foot traffic don't provide optimal traction under adverse weather conditions. Who knew?

Another thing people sometimes like to do on streets is use a wheeled vehicle. It's pretty much the only other thing streets are good for. Once again, cobblestone gets an "F" for rollability.

Riding a road bike on cobblestone streets shoots vibrations through your wrists like a jackhammer. You can feel the muscles in your neck and upper back tense up and start to cramp as they strain to keep your skull from bouncing up and down like a bobblehead. You'd think mountain bikes would have an easier time, but no, not really. The grapefruit-sized stones are cleverly designed so that they're just big enough to be obnoxious and just small enough so that your suspension fork can't rebound in time to soak up much of the blow.

The gaps between the cobblestones also serve as a perfect reservoir for shards of glass and other sharp objects.  There was a stretch of time before I started using tire liners where I actually had to keep spare inner tubes and a hand pump in my backpack at all times because I was reliably getting multiple flats per month.

I actually didn't notice the rusty screw when I took this picture, but finding sharp objects in cobblestone is like a Where's Waldo? poster- look long enough and eventually you'll find something. If the street lamps are bright, cobblestone surfaces actually sparkle at night with all of the glass shards. Walking barefoot on this surface is obviously an exercise in imprudence.

Cars don't often drive on cobblestone, but when they do the tires paradiddle a fluttering clack. I can't say I don't like it. The people who live on the street and have to fall asleep to that noise every night might have a different opinion. The ride is a little rough when you're in the car, but unlike the bicycle, at least the wheels are big, broad, heavy, and wide enough apart to tolerate the cobblestone's incessant needling. That is unless you're unfortunate enough to find yourself on one of the rare 50 kph cobblestone streets in which case the ride is very rough and every plastic panel in the vehicle starts to chatter and screech like a colony of enraged dormice.

Maybe you'd like to push a stroller or baby carriage. 

You can. You can. Your baby will probably suffer permanent brain damage or die of a cerebral hemorrhage on the spot, but you can do it.

Of course there's more to streets than just usability. Some things are awful in their own right, but they make up for it in other ways. The stuff at the dollar store sucks, but at least it's cheap. Instant coffee tastes like dog shit, but at least it's easy to make. 

Cobblestone gets an "A" for cost and ease of maintenance. The "A" stands for atrocious.

I realize that the top photo features pavers, which are technically not cobblestones, but the maintenance techniques are similar. The main difference is that cobblestone is more expensive and painstaking to lay.

I guess it's almost as quaint as the cobblestone itself that (thousands?) of Segmental Paving Foremen still have jobs in the year 2016, crawling around on their hands and knees, carefully arranging cobblestones into geometric patterns. And it's almost as surprising that (tens of thousands?) of city maintenance workers are tasked with caring for these cantankerous, labor-intensive streets. But they kind of remind me of blacksmiths. I mean, we could scrap the machines and keep tons of blacksmiths employed making nails and hammers and whatnot, but it would be an inefficient use of time and resources. Everyone is better off, at least economically, when the machines make the nails and the blacksmiths learn to do something that leverages rather than competes with technology, like repair the machines or design new, hitherto unimagined gadgets on a CAD program. Sans cobblestone, I bet half of the current maintenance workforce could be freed up to go do more useful, lucrative things. Imagine thousands of extra shiatsu masseurs.

Despite the constant preening by thousands of workers all year long, cobblestone does occasionally fall into disrepair. Cobblestone can also be dismantled rather easily, which leads me to my final gripe about cobblestone- security.

Normally, mob participants have to bring their own projectiles with them to the riot, but with cobblestone you've got a ready arsenal of grapefruit-sized stones just waiting for any malcontent with a crowbar, screwdriver, or simply the patience to find the stones that are already loose. 

Where did the missing cobblestone go? Maybe it's been thrown through a storefront window. Maybe it's lodged in the back of someone's skull. Missing cobblestones are like missing prison inmates- wherever they are, they're almost certainly up to no good. 

There's a long and storied tradition of cobblestone chucking. In Baltimore during the War of 1812, for example, a mob gathered cobblestones with which to stone Federalist peaceniks to death. But you don't have to go back two centuries to dig up an instance of rioters using cobblestones for something other than their intended purpose. 

Paris, 1968

Thanks to Europe's cobblestone infestation, pavement hurling is still very much an option for the modern mob.

Rennes, 2016

Cobblestones are like the 6-inch designer stiletto heels of pavement. They're expensive, they're dangerous, they're impractical, and they're uncomfortable... but they sure do look good.

Sebastian Braff


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