Long before the advent of the all-volunteer Army in the United States, soldiers convicted of desertion were painted with a yellow line down their backs and whipped. The yellow stripe symbolized cowardice.
But for one animal in 1990 Maryland, yellow means deceased -- at least in the eyes of a state road crew.
The particulars of the animal's life are unclear. What is clear is that the creature (whatever it is) isn't playing possum. It's dead.
But adding insult to injury, the critter was swathed with a bright yellow line across its back -- a victim of progress and a new paint job for Ritchie Highway.
It seems that in repainting the yellow shoulder marker on the stretch of northbound Ritchie, the crews did not remove debris, including the dead animal, from the line of fire of truck-mounted spray nozzles.
By all appearances, the animal simply was attempting to cross a busy highway in Anne Arundel County between Pasadena and Earleigh Heights roads --no doubt, like the famous chicken, to get to the other side.
There's no indication the creature ever served as a member of any branch of the armed forces. Regardless, for those who know the stretch of road that connects Baltimore to Annapolis, the crossing would hardly be considered cowardice.
"Goodness gracious," exclaimed John Hammond, a spokesman for the State Highway Administration. According to Hammond, though, the SHA crews performed their duties thoroughly and by the book.
The results, nonetheless, were not exactly in SHA plans. The line on the median side of the road ran up the highway, over the animal, and continued on to the horizon. The scene was reminiscent of a Warner Bros. cartoon made real -- only the creature didn't spring back to life, accordion-like.
"It's just one of those flukes," Hammond explained, saying that road crews had spent the day before the painting on planning and prepping the area (i.e., removing dead animals and other debris).
"It doesn't normally happen," he said. "It's quite likely that the animal kill happened after the inspection."
Road painting is a complicated process, involving several trucks and a number of workers. When the painting convoy came along last week, anything that had accumulated after the inspection was painted over. The operators couldn't stop, because doing so would endanger motorists (painting is done around traffic), and, as Hammond said, "create a big mess."
The animal, whose carcass graced Ritchie Highway as late as the middle of last week, was removed by SHA workers by Monday and disposed of without ceremony. Now, the only thing marking the site is a slight irregularity -- apparently some touch-up paint was used -- in the shoulder marker.