Laugh so you don’t cry: The Pothole Funnies

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Yes, it’s hard to laugh when you’re faced with a car repair bill of $400 caused by a surprise pothole. Some people even suffer physical injuries from hitting a street crater, so of course no one is making light of that. But potholes are inevitable. Laugh we must.

Think back to your own last pothole moment. If you were talking on the phone when you hit or fell into an asphalt crevice, you might have let fly some unfortunate words that were inappropriate to the conversation. An F-bomb in range of your mother-in-law or a client leaves its own lingering injuries.

But tragedy + time = comedy. And it takes a lot less time when the tragedy happens to other people.

It’s pretty much like watching someone you don’t know slip on ice. Or pratfalls in the style of The Three Stooges, Lucy and Ethel, Will Ferrell and Ben Stiller. You laugh at their expense and feel no guilt.

This article is dedicated to the delicious sense of TNMT: that’s not me there.

Everyone has to admit to having a certain degree of Schadenfreude, that quintessentially German invention of joy in the folly of others. We all experience this because we’ve all hit a few bumps in the road ourselves. Most of us emerge alive if not a bit rattled. We know that these hapless souls who are experiencing gaping holes on highways will get through it. Maybe they’ll laugh about it too, one day.

Here is a potpourri of pothole mirth. Try to feel just a little bad about how much you enjoy it.

The basic online pothole video

First they invented webcams, then came the inevitable drivers-in-distress-set-to-ironic-music videos. Just how much you enjoy seeing this says something about the kind of person you are:

Basic online pothole video

Potholes in California a political career terminator?

While those of us living in northern, snow-slammed climates always thought that potholes are solely the result of road salt and freeze-thaw cycles, in fact the Golden State gets its own share of crumbling pavement (potholes are disintegrating roads caused by moisture and neglect due to inadequate road repair funding). Here’s Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” take on controversy around Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s pothole publicity stunt (Samantha Bee interviews a critic whose real name is Bump):

The Hole Truth

Chicago pothole disables a city garbage truck

Another myth shattered: We tend to think the larger the vehicle, the more resilient it is to bumpy roads and other assaults of the highways. We need to think again. A City of Chicago garbage truck suffered two wrecked rear axles from hitting a single, take-no-prisoners pothole – and made good TV copy as the blue behemoth sat crumpled in the street:

Wrecked

But small cars not so smart, either

Still, Slate.com’s Seth Stevenson wouldn’t recommend the Smart Fortwo car for Chicago or any other city with significant pothole problems (make that, “all cities”). Here’s what he wrote in August 2008:

“If there’s a drawback to the Fortwo’s ride, it’s the bumpy suspension. You can feel every jolt—to the point that you’ll start grimacing in anticipation of the potholes up ahead. Perhaps this is a consequence of the car’s small wheelbase. Or it may be part of the trade-off involved in engineering the Fortwo’s responsive steering. (With its teeny footprint, zippy handling, and quick acceleration, the Fortwo may be the greatest car ever for slaloming recklessly between the cement pillars of an empty underground parking garage. I’m just guessing.)”

We add the slaloming feature helps avoid the potholes. Even if that technique is misinterpreted by police in some cities …

A hapless driver was pulled over for erratic driving, which she (convincingly to me) says was all about avoiding potholes. This is a problem multiplied many times over, worldwide, to be sure. But seriously KMBC-TV, do you routinely report traffic tickets on the evening news?

Life’s not fair in Kansas City

A hapless driver was pulled over for erratic driving, which she (convincingly to me) says was all about avoiding potholes. This is a problem multiplied many times over, worldwide, to be sure. But seriously KMBC-TV, do you routinely report traffic tickets on the evening news?

Driver Ticketed After Avoiding Potholes

I half expected The Onion TV news logo at the end. At least it’s nice to see something other than murder and mayhem in the Show Me State.

Across the border, in Kansas, there’s a bit more of a take-charge attitude. (Do they say that on their license plates?)

Topeka: Fix our streets campaign (“Pothole Syndrome”)

You gotta love political ads that can make you laugh. Given the amount of television time given to campaigns in election years, it certainly makes for better entertainment than learning about the dark, scary secrets of a candidate’s opposition. In fact, this ad accomplishes the nearly impossible – it makes a pothole seem funny yet worth eliminating:

Pothole Syndrome

The same ad campaign takes a copy-free classical music route with this ad titled “Topeka Pothole Suite.” Watch it and then replay with your eyes closed; it’s an exercise in ignoring a problem:

Topeka Pothole Suite

When it comes to potholes, there’s an app for that!

The power of crowd sourcing has come to the battle against potholes. In Boston, upstart city hall staffers are being credited with setting up a system that allows people with iPhones to snap and send photos of potholes and other municipal nuisances with a request to fix it.

Boston.com

Take a look at that map. If it were me running the Boston pothole department, this would be a horrible way to start each day. But this leaves a lingering question: Why is there an apparent lack of pothole problems in Dover? Or do Doverians simply not have iPhones? Hmmm.

Potholes Honolulu

Reportedly, tropical rains “pelt and pummel” roadways in paradise, as Hawaii and Honolulu in particular have some of the most potholed streets in the country. The ever-helpful eHow website instructs drivers on how to pursue compensation from the city for damages caused to their vehicles from a pothole. On the surface, it looks easy:

Step 1: Record the pothole location, with the exact address.

Step 2: Take a photograph of the pothole and any damage it caused your vehicle.

Step 3: Obtain witness information and make a copy of a police report, if applicable.

Step 4: Determine if your accident occurred on a state or city roadway. State roadways are excluded from claims to the city and include H-1, H-2, H-3, Kahekili, Kalaniana’ole, Pali, Likelike, Kamehameha, Nimitz, and Ala Moana.

Step 5: Call (808) 523-4115 and request a claim form from the Department of Accounting and General Services.

Step 6: Perform repairs, being sure to obtain receipts for all work done on your vehicle.

Step 7: Fill out the form, including your contact information and the date, time and location of the incident. Include with your claim all report and receipt copies and send to DAGS, Kalanimoku Building, 1151 Punchbowl Street, Honolulu, HI 96813.

Step 8: Wait up to three months while a decision is made on your claim.

Easy, right? This process is pretty much standard operating procedure in cities everywhere. But let’s consider the real life experience of your average hard-working Hawaiian (when not surfing, luau-ing or tending to pineapple crops):

Step 1: Record the exact address? Do potholes have addresses now, and if so, why not use their junk mail to fill the holes?

Step 2: The assumption is that everyone has a camera on them when driving. Clearly, all Japanese tourists do. But I have to think about my own mother who is still learning to use her newfangled, stripped down-cell phone designed for senior citizens. No iPhoto for her. And since Kodak has discontinued selling 35 mm camera film, she doesn’t have a functioning camera either. Note to mom: next time you go on an Hawaiian cruise, stay on the boat.

Step 3: Witnesses? Aren’t they the people swerving to avoid hitting you in your moment of pothole impact? If a witness lives or works near the pothole, they might be helpful. Unless they they’re the narcissistic type for whom television shows, YouTube or just having a life is more interesting than watching traffic.

Step 4: Hawaii has a state roadway named Kalaniana’ole? Aside from the fact it sounds like something you’d order at a Taco Bell, one has to be thankful it’s excluded from damage coverage. Sure, you’re SOL on paying for that broken wheel rim, but at least you don’t have to take a spelling test in front of a city bureaucrat.

Steps 5 and 7: Call the city for hardcopy forms; e-mails and online forms are simply not for everyone. And be sure to drive (on your broken wheel rims) to the drug store where they can print that digital photo that you need to submit.

Step 6: Perform the repairs before you know who is paying for it. Just like with our health care system.

Step 8: Wait three months, because there’s a good chance you’ll forget the whole thing by then. Likely, there will be other pothole hits that will have you scrambling for cameras, witnesses and city forms.

Repair shop empathy in Chicago

While the Windy City struggles to repair thousands of potholes each day, the private sector pitches in to do what it can. News crews stay on top of it, to be sure, as seen with the clip from CLTV, an all-news local cable station owned by the Chicago Tribune. Each news report on potholes features footage shot dozens of feet away from the station’s headquarters, as identified by the station’s crack research team.

You gotta love the repair shop proprietor who feels for his many customers coming in – at a fourfold increase, boo hoo hoo – with this sound bite: “This is the kind of business we wish we didn’t have,” he says. “You know, some of these tire and rim packages cost a thousand dollars.”

Chicago pothole problem

But for the fact he provides employment and must meet a payroll, one assumes he’d give his services away out of deep concern.

Seinfeld: The Pothole episode

While the clip doesn’t actually show a pothole, we get a look at the chain of events that can conspire to disaster from events on a road. Elaine is irresponsibly ditsy, Kramer stumbles as usual and Neuman suffers the consequences:

Seinfeld – The Pothole

In conclusion …

Potholes are everywhere, and with the aging road system still being fixed largely with 19th century technology, they’re only getting worse, inevitable and expensive. We’re all paying dearly for road repairs and auto insurance premiums. Learn to laugh out of necessity because – to paraphrase the 17th century poet John Donne – “Send not to know for whom the pothole hits. It hits at thee.”