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by Jeff Wilkin

Type A To Z

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Black Sunday

When people buy houses, they know they’re signing up for bunches of home maintenance jobs.

Mowing grass, raking leaves and shoveling snow are among seasonal projects. Electrical and plumbing upgrades are often part of home improvement plans. So is painting the garage.

One job is just plain misery, and is a task every homeowner must dread. That’s sealing the driveway.

Heat, grime, sweat — this job has it all. Every three or four years, we have to spread thick black tar over personal pavements. The anguish must be conducted during the summer, preferably on a hot day, so the goo melts into cracks and crevices ... kind of like cheese melting onto a hamburger.

Sunday was my day in the sun and sludge. The job was everything I remembered it to be.

Click HERE to see a photo of the driveway before its makeover.

Prep work came first. I started at 8 a.m. Saturday morning, clearing some potted plants and a few wooden pallets from the playing field. Then I hacked and cut weeds from the sides of the driveway, and evicted some hearty greens that had managed to poke holes through the macadam itself.

I swept leaves and small stones off the path, and hit the 70-foot-long path with water. The whole job took about two hours, and I figured I’d do my shopping as the real heat started to move in. I was at my neighborhood Home Depot shortly after noon.

At first, I thought they were out of my favorite brand of black — Latex-ite, “Airport Grade.” The pallet at the store was empty, and I noticed another pallet full of the stuff stocked on a higher shelf. “Boy, this was full this morning,” said a guy who arranged for a fork lift truck. The hot weather had convinced others to join the sufferance movement.

I grabbed three “Airports” — you never know when someone is going to land a plane in your driveway, so I use the heavy-duty formula. Each five-gallon pail cost $20 each, and another $8 for crack filler put my investment at about $70. My father bought five “Airport Grades” last summer and only used four, so I glommed the extra one. A recycled rubber squeegee on a wooden stick saved me a few more bucks.

The tarring began at 9 a.m. on Sunday, and fat chance of escaping the heat. It was 82 degrees when I opened the first bucket and began slapping on the slop. Click HERE to see the elixir of youth for all blacktop.

I was wearing a red T-shirt earned by finishing the Saratoga Springs Teachers’ Association running race on Nov. 7, 1982, a shirt that had been consigned to my paint box a couple years ago. It was already spotted and streaked with gray and white; black smears were going to fit right in. Maroon shorts — cut from old sweat pants — old sneakers and a stained Siena College cap from past painting adventures were also part of the outfit.

I lathered up in sunblock, sun-prevention factor 50. So the whole package was a bad fashion look. But to paraphrase David Byrne of the Talking Heads, “this wasn’t no party ... this wasn’t no disco .. this wasn’t no fooling around.” Life during war time is one thing; life during tar time is another.

Click HERE to see this writer on the job, in a photo taken by neighbor Tim Arnold.

The Latex-ite hit my faded black driveway and each swath turned the pavement a deep midnight blue before drying to black. I stepped in some of the stuff, and even though I was wearing gloves, still managed to seal-coat my fingernails.

I kept moving, stopping for occasional long chugs of limeade. I managed to put a light layer of tar on the bottom of my shirt, and think it must have heated up under the sun; I later found a minor sunburn just below my stomach.

“Hot enough for you?” a sunglass-wearing neighbor asked, with obvious good intentions.

“See if you can turn it down a little,” I answered, sweating like a madman, with sort-of good intentions.

A few ants stumbled onto the driveway, and either saw or smelled the tide of approaching black slime. Either way, they hustled out of the way. For some reason, a bunch of yellow jackets were attracted by the scent, and buzzed around the open container. Imbeciles.

But this is what Hell must be like. Lost souls paving an eternal, endless driveway, tossing pail after pail of “Inferno Grade” tar on the path in 100-degree heat, as devils wearing sunglasses and smiles sit in lounge chairs, drink Old Milwaukee and ask “Hot enough for you?” every 10 minutes. And the limeade is always warm.

Click HERE to see the necessary tools of the trade.

I finished about 1 p.m. Like Quint in “Jaws,” my great black shark took four barrels. But my “shark” stayed down.

With the temperature at 92, I concluded the operation in the traditional manner — three empty barrels at the front of the driveway, tar-coated squee-gee resting across all three. It says “don’t tread on me” to all comers.

The finished work passed my number one rule on all domestic improvement projects — it looks better now than it did before. To see the “finished work,” click HERE.

A 20-minute cold shower followed. The blacked-up sneakers and gloves were as dead as fried chicken, and had to be thrown away. I’m afraid the 1982 shirt may also be doomed after 27 years of service ... my 1997 Corporate Challenge running race T-shirt may be the next sacrifice for the paint box.

The whole job took about five hours, and I can still smell that burnt, tar odor a day later. And while I have thought about assigning the job to professionals, who have quoted $120 and $130 fees in the past, I’m not sure they could do a better job. They always seem to be in a rush, heading from job to job. This is also a job I can do myself — unlike plumbing and wiring projects that require more experienced hands.

I have until 2013 — maybe 2014 — to change my mind.

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August 18, 2009
6:10 a.m.

[ Flag Post ]

Jeff - there is nothing you could ever do to get me to do this job ever again. (I wrote about my love affair with it myself many years ago.) When you're ready in about 4 years, I'll give you the name of a guy who'll do it for you cheap, and you can sit around and drink Old Milwaukee and watch, you devil.

August 18, 2009
11:25 a.m.

[ Flag Post ]

Joe, I may take you up on that! Think this was my fourth time tarring the driveway and parts of myself, and perhaps I will put out a contract on the job in a few years. I just don't want a speed king ... ever see those lawn guys work? In my neighborhood, they're just about sprinting on their lawn jobs ...

August 18, 2009
12:56 p.m.

[ Flag Post ]

Jeff u r the man but next time someone takes your picture suck your gut in please I'm begging you thats not a pretty sight.

August 18, 2009
3:50 p.m.

[ Flag Post ]

Hop-Sing, it takes a man's man to tar a driveway, I doubt you have the strength or stamina for the job. Such hard work might affect your bowling average ... and yes, it was a tight T-shirt from 1982, I think the camera is playing tricks on your eyes. More carrot juice, and fewer Red Bulls, and you will be on the path to righteousness and good health ...

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