Musings From The Bottom of a Pothole

Tim Cotton

Tim Cotton | Apr 04, 2017

The American pothole has a Wikipedia page. It is informative and mildly interesting. Finding myself searching for technical information on holes in the asphalt has solidified my certainty that if I remain on my current life path, I will never have a Wikipedia page of my own.

They don't give out Wikipedia pages to just anyone, you know.

When your roads are already in poor condition, potholes (Potholius destructus) are a year-round occurrence. When the frost is coming out of the ground in the spring, avoiding potholes becomes more of a full-time occupation for the American commuter. New potholes appear as if by magic and cause damage to tires, rims, and the lower lumbar region of public works employees tasked with the endless shoveling of hot-patch asphalt from the back of ten-yard dump trucks into two-foot diameter holes.

Driving over the recently filled holes allows you to become part of the often overlooked tamping process and also gives you an opportunity to hear your tax dollars at work. The cacophony of bituminous pitch and gravel coating your wheel wells and chassis resonates throughout the interior of your vehicle and causes the anal retentive weekend auto detailer to use words which would make even the public works foreman cringe. You know that the pitch which sticks to your recently waxed ride will be most difficult to remove.  

Potholius destructus pictured here in the act of ensnaring its prey. While hubcaps are the preferred meal, a pothole will adapt to the local habitat.

The severity of the potholes in the northeast United States becomes breakfast banter at the local diner counter. Old men wearing Dickies workwear and dirty baseball caps converse about the Red Sox, place bets on when the ice will “go out” of the patron's favorite fishing pond, and the location and severity of potholes in the general vicinity of their home or stomping grounds. Cursing usually accompanies the first and third subjects.

We could discuss the freeze and thaw cycle, the intrusion of water into the roadbed, or the lack of cash being thrown at the infrastructure of the American transportation system, or we could just agree that potholes are treacherous and we should avoid hitting them directly when we can. It is not always that easy.

If you want to discuss the freeze and thaw cycle, got to the Wikipedia page. They have diagrams!

If the local news media in my area is anything like yours, spring is the time for multimedia journalists to start their spring series of stories on potholes, bumps, and broken pavement. Their main goal will be to find someone to talk about a specific section of road, or entice a vehicle owner to vocalize what the smashing of under-car-parts sounds like. I will admit, I look forward to any person who will be goaded into making noises on camera. I find stories with verbalized sound effects much more satisfying. I am a simple man.

If the reporter is worth their salt, the story must include an interview with a tire service technician speaking about the uptick in tire sales caused by the lack of properly inflated radials being destroyed by cavernous holes in the asphalt. The story cannot be complete without that same technician holding up a D-shaped rim of a 2006 Chevrolet Impala after it was taken out of service for causing a strange vibration (thump, thump, thump) that became obvious to the driver after the tire came off the rim.

Martha Stewart's got nothing on this guy! 

In the days of the hubcap-covered wheel, some vehicles would be divested of the chrome beauty rings after a direct strike on a substantial pothole. The caps that were left behind were often hung on trees and telephone poles in order to serve as a warning sign for other drivers to be cautious of the upcoming chasms in the macadam. I liken them to an aluminum or steel scarecrow stuck in spruce trees to signal speeding souls to slow their roll or cause shocks and other suspension parts to suffer.

A true yankee would stop and peruse the tree branches for a cap that would match the other two or three on their car, or to grab a relic for decorating the side of the garage or mailbox post. Aesthetically appropriate collecting and recycling. We are good at that.  

"B-U-M-P, spelled out vertically, notates an area where a frost heave has reared its ugly head. Due to lack of uniformity and specificity, the B-U-M-P sign can be anywhere from three feet to one quarter of a mile prior to where the B-U-M-P is actually located."

In Maine, we have orange signs that are placed on telephone poles by caring highway workers.

B-U-M-P, spelled out vertically, notates an area where a frost heave has reared its ugly head. Due to lack of uniformity and specificity, the B-U-M-P sign can be anywhere from three feet to one quarter of a mile prior to where the B-U-M-P is actually located.

As you can imagine, some people slow down, but others actually speed up. The difference in velocity is a personal choice. Those who speed up tend to be driving someone else's car. Sometimes the B-U-M-P signs are still displayed on the telephone poles long after the frost heave has settled back into the roadbed. You are often left wondering where the heave was and this sometimes leads to disappointment.

I also know that many signs are relocated by mischievous Mainers purely for entertainment value. Simple porch sitting can be turned into an epic family event if B-U-M-P signs are removed, or moved to locations where there is no frost heave. To a bored Mainer, the driver’s facial expression of extreme disappointment can be entertainment enough. We need to find something to do while we wait for mud season to come and go. Most of are not significant enough to have our own Wikipedia page.

Vote now: Think your hometown can contend with Maine's pothole season? 

Our editors want to know. Vote here to determine which state has the worst potholes.

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