There must be a proper, scientific name for a pothole. Something you can use in conversation to make yourself sound insufferably important.
You’d like to think professional road experts call it an Asphalted Cavity or a Negative Surface Ration, or something that would make you feel like an insider when you called it in on the radio: Yeah, we got a Spatial Deficiency, class 12.
Me, I prefer to call a pothole a poh-tho-lay. People look at you oddly — “you mean pothole?” — and you laugh and say, “Well, if that’s how you want to say it, bless your heart, but it’s poh-tho-lay. French word, means ‘Bane of the Carriage.’ ”
You’d feel classier saying poh-tho-lay, but to be honest, POT-HOLE is almost onomatopoeic; you hear the rim hit the edge and bounce out.
As long as the subject’s up: Do you get e-mail alerts when a pothole in your neighborhood is reported?
Very useful. Previously I had to rely on audio cues: the clunk of a snapped axle, curses, the soft phoomph! of airbags deployed, followed by a scream if the driver had a cup of coffee in one hand.
Now I get updates on pohtholays automatically. It’s a service of Mpls 311, a k a the number to call when no one’s bleeding.
You can use the online service to report things that need fixing, graffiti that requires eradication or a code violation by a neighbor you don’t like and frankly no one likes — he never comes to the block party events and doesn’t recycle, and his neighbor says his wireless network is named Ed Gein’s Cabin. Let one scrap of paint peel on his garage and BANG, you will e-mail the city so hard.
If you sign up for alerts, you get instant updates that make your cellphone buzz, and since we’re all trained to react to vibrating cellphones like we think we have a suffocating hummingbird in our pocket, you whip it out and stab the glass: What? WHAT?
The alert had a picture of an unshoveled sidewalk. Someone had dropped a dime on someone for not clearing the walk in a timely manner. I was encouraged to watch the problem or chime in — a form of passive-aggressive shaming that makes you wonder if stonings wouldn’t be more popular if we could just click on an app — or use the built-in accelerometer to indicate how hard we’d like the rock thrown at the head of the condemned.
I decided not to follow the Case of the Himalayan-Like Impassable Walk, because I don’t need any more alerts. My phone is set up to sing a breathy little melody when eBay has some new items I might like, for example, and between the bleeps and spasms the phone issues when there’s a new text or e-mail or Twitter alerts, you can’t always keep them straight. I think it’s eBay, I swipe, click “Increase Bid,” and find out I’ve just offered to pay $14.65 to have the sidewalk shoveled. No!
But then I got the pothole alert. I clicked on the picture. There it was, all right: the Mariana Trench of Minneapolis. Good luck getting them to fix that one! Filling it up will consume half the annual asphalt budget, and that’s not counting the cost of sending down two men in a bathysphere to find out how deep she goes.
Oh, yes, oh, by all means, I will join the fight. So I clicked, and by joining the fight, thereby doubled the number who cared. This was the apogee of the technological revolution: I was following a pothole on my cellphone.
Well, I got an e-mail alert a few days ago from Mpls 311, and I opened it half-expecting “Two good men lost in lower depths of pothole, hope you’re happy.” But no:
“Minneapolis 311 commented on Pothole #480414.
“Filled with asphalt 4/22/13.”
As the Russian proverb says: “Trust, but verify, then arrest,” or something like that, so I drove over to see. Sure enough, the hole wasn’t just filled, but topped off like a cupcake. Almost a speed bump now.
So, what have we learned?
That the folks who fix these things not only have to spend their day spreading something that smells like rancid ocelot musk — they also have to make sure it’s entered in the database that connects to the program that tells Concerned Citizens that their Citizen Concerns have been heard and addressed.
It’s quite a nifty system, really, and a round of applause for everyone who set that up.
Also, the pothole has a name — or number — indicating that there have been 480,414 holes in the street that have been identified. At least on my block.
Add the rest of the city, and the number must be huge.