Hell Hole

Tom Bodett

Tom Bodett | Mar 18, 2014

There is a pothole on a well-traveled street in my town that is becoming so big and so infamous it would at this point be easier to turn it into a State Park than to fix it. I would share a picture of it with you, but it is so large that it sucks up all available light.

There are holes in the roads this time of year that, while not sucking up all available light, are perfectly adept at sucking up SUVs.


My wife and I each drove separate cars through this hole in the past week. Or, more accurately, we drove them into and then out of the hole. I didn’t see it because it was underneath a puddle. She couldn’t see it in the dark. I only had a flat tire to deal with. She drives a Volvo XC70 – the curb weight of which is heavier than the curbs. She not only flattened two tires, but bent the over-priced aluminum alloy rims beyond repair. We had it towed back to the dealer where we traded it for a new lease. It was due anyway, but let’s face it, the pothole killed a Volvo.

Vermont's lethal Volvo Killer strikes again, leaving a fresh victim in its wake. (Tom Bodett)

If you were to stop and look into this particular pothole I have no doubt you would find other less formally abandoned cars at the bottom of it. During the after-school rush one day this week I saw two cars with two flattened tires each pulled into a parking lot near the pothole. Drivers with anguished looks and cell phones pressed to their heads stood stunned beside it.

The most frightening aspect of the Hell Hole is that it is not even spring yet -- when such things as potholes, frost heaves, frost boils, and pavement breaks are as ubiquitous as daffodils. I am writing this to you now in the event that when the weather warms up I’m never heard from again.

I am not new to this situation. I lived in Alaska for many years where the massive spring thaw was referred to as “Break Up." It was unclear whether the origins of the phrase were from the break up and flushing of the river ice, or the break up and flushing of Alaskans’ marriages – both common and annual.

There was a mud hole on East End Road, just outside of Homer, AK, that got so bad every year that the state highway crew used to leave a backhoe there with the keys in it. You drove up to or into the mud, chained up to the backhoe and pulled yourself through. You left the machine and the chain there for the next guy.

That would only work in Alaska where you could steal things like backhoes if you wanted to, but there was no place you could take it, sell it, or hide it. I suspect here in Vermont it would only make it through noon the first day before someone had it in their backyard digging up the old septic tank.

Roads across North America can claim potholes and mudholes, but the HOLY city of Rome has to deal with cobblestone holes! And yes, the lousy pun is intentional. This is Car Talk, afterall. (Wanted Worldwide)

Nearly as disgusting as said septic tank are frost boils. If you’ve never seen one you’re lucky. They are exactly what you think they are – bulging mounds of festering road surface that spew mud out the top when you drive past. This happens because frost comes and goes the same way – from the top down. Frost under the roads in Vermont can go three to four feet deep. When it begins to thaw, the surface material and all the moisture trapped in it turns to ooze, but is still trapped by the frost underneath it. So you have a layer of soft mud sandwiched between a skin of asphalt and two feet of frost like a demented Eskimo Pie. Drive over it, and it squirts mud at you. Which is still – it must be said – better than driving into it.

Frost boils look a little benign to the uninitiated, but trust us: If you see one of these in person, then run - don't walk - in the other direction! Your toxic mud-free face will thank us later. (Ensign)

What Alaskans call Break Up, Vermonters call Mud Season. Very literal. No ambivalence. We stop washing our cars as soon as the sap buckets go up on the trees and we don’t wash them again until the middle of May or so. When the Volvo dealer asked what color the car was that we were returning, I had to think. Looking at it was no help.

I’m sure there is a bright side to all of this and as Vermonters we are inclined to find it. If you read your history you know that, aside from leaf peepers, Vermont has not been invaded by a hostile force since the Yorker Wars of the early 18th century. I’m not saying that our mud season is solely responsible for these 300 years of peace, but you can’t say it’s not either. By the look of things today, we’ll be safe for another 300 years.

Editor's note: Got a surefire way to avoid getting sucked in to a Hell Hole of your own? Let us know in the comments below.

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