As the Village Turns 

Still life with pothole

click to enlarge Swerve! - RICH TOSCHES

Our village street maintenance workers are trying hard to fill the potholes in our roads. They've filled some 2,000 of them so far this year, according to their records. And they nearly filled a really big one about a month ago. But just as the steamroller got to the hole to finish the job, anti-tax crusader Doug Bruce dug his way out, coughed up a mouthful of asphalt and ran away.

Anyway, I've caught what turns out to be community spirit (I have the most severe form and have actually broken out in a rash), and I don't want to criticize these efforts by our street repair folks. However, I feel the need today to discuss an unusually large and prominent pothole, a hole that was deeper, to use the old expression, "than any news story ever presented by a Colorado Springs television station."

This hole, located downtown on Pikes Peak Avenue just east of Cascade, was 4 feet long, 5 feet wide and more than 10 inches deep at times, forcing thousands of cars to swerve into an adjoining lane to avoid it while others -- the brave, the incoherent, the rental car drivers -- slammed into it and took quite a jolt.

Frankly, the last time I saw anything like this, Neil Armstrong's footprint was in it.

I first saw the pothole on a Sunday evening. By Monday morning it had grown to an eye-catching size. That afternoon I spent three hours at the pothole, staring at it and wondering:

What could have created such a crater?

Who would fix it?

When did I stop having a life?

click to enlarge Swerve! - RICH TOSCHES

Just before noon, a truck from our city Utilities department arrived. Workers got out. They began to size up the problem. After 15 minutes they had determined that it was, indeed, a hole. Then, after some discussion about who was on overtime and who wasn't, two men picked up shovels and filled in the pothole.

With dirt.

I furiously scribbled notes, hoping to turn a simple story into a 7,500-word epic about what I guessed was a critical worldwide shortage of asphalt.

But quickly the workers left and I did, too, giving myself plenty of time to tend to other events on my day's busy schedule, highlighted at 2:30 p.m. by running my hands over my windshield wiper blades to check for routine wear.

Early Tuesday morning found me back at the pothole. It had rained during the night and, surprisingly, most of the dirt used to fill the hole had washed away and now rested in muddy piles against the curb.

And then the morning traffic rush began. Here are some of my notes:

8:14 a.m.: A new, white Lexus LE sedan piloted by a woman and far exceeding the posted 25 mph speed limit slams into the pothole with such force that her passenger, an elderly man, frantically reached up and grabbed that handle above the door, the handle designed by carmakers for use when your teen-age children get their learner's permit.

8:16 a.m. : A blue Oldsmobile Achieva ("The Car That Time Forgot") swerves violently into the adjoining lane. At that moment the driver decided it might be a good idea to see if, perhaps, another car was in that other lane. There was. She swerved back into the right lane, slammed through the pothole and kept going -- never touching her brake pedal -- in a remarkable demonstration, I'm guessing, of how you can still lead a fairly normal life after being struck in the head by lightning.

8:22 a.m.: A young motorcyclist dude-type person on a dirt bike roars around the corner, swerves around the pothole and lets out a loud "Whooaaaa!" sound before cranking up the motorcycle engine and racing off toward Tejon Street where, I imagine, he plowed into a bunch of schoolchildren and elderly nuns, although I didn't actually see that.

click to enlarge Oops! - RICH TOSCHES

And the cars and trucks and motorcycles kept coming. And swerving. And thudding down into the hole.

The next day, more than 72 hours after the hole was born (and some 30 minutes after I called the city and began asking questions about it), a city streets department crew showed up, shoveled some asphalt into the hole, packed it down and left.

Here's what the street department supervisor, Randy Zettlemoyer, had to say about the chain of events:

"We got the call Sunday night about a water leak and possible road damage, so we sent a guy to check it out. He determined it was a Utilities water line, so we called Utilities. They checked it out and said they didn't think it was their line because the water was not chlorinated, and all of their water is chlorinated."

(Knowing the water was clean was comforting to me as I knelt down in the street and took a long drink from the hole, sniffing the air and looking nervously over my shoulder for approaching lions.)

It was the next morning, Zettlemoyer confirmed, that a Utilities crew returned to the giant hole and filled it with the dirt. (And yet still we wonder why it takes six months and 1,300 phone calls to straighten out a mistake on our monthly bill.)

Anyway, after I told Zettlemoyer about the pothole and said I had, in essence, spent the better part of two days interviewing the hole and was probably going to write about it, a streets department truck showed up at about noon on Wednesday. The truck had asphalt. The hole was so big, however, that a second truck had to be called in with more asphalt.

"We filled it with asphalt as a safety measure until we can figure out what's wrong and whose water line is under there," Zettlemoyer said.

Which was good enough for me.

I just hope someone has been able to pry that old guy's hand off the Lexus LE's ceiling handle.


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