Lileks: Lessons from the Great Gusher of '13

  • Article by: JAMES LILEKS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 5, 2013 - 4:00 PM
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An area near the Hennepin Avenue Bridge remained closed Friday morning after a major water main break in downtown Minneapolis flooded streets and cut off water to a substantial swath of the city just before rush hour Thursday afternoon.

Photo: Richard Sennott, Star Tribune

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Visited the scene of the Great Water Main Break of 2013 a day after the deluge, and aside from the blocked-off streets you couldn't tell anything had happened.

I don't know what I expected -- a hundred guys with Shop-Vacs and mops, perhaps. A helicopter lowering an enormous bathtub stopper. But it looked normal.

That's when it hit me: We may just have experienced something rare these days -- a story that cannot be hyped up beyond its obvious significance. For example:

• We are not going to have a conversation about decaying infrastructure. Early reports suggest someone poked a hole in the main, perhaps because someone mistakenly switched the backhoe controls from "poke" to "pierce the core of the Earth."

You have to feel for the guy. Anyone who's ever had a calamitous UH-OH moment at work knows how it goes. Jittery brain-racing panic. Please stop please stop oh man if I started running now I could probably be in North Dakota in six hours get a job in the oil patch maybe they'll ask if I have any drilling experience well I brought in that Hennepin Gusher you might have heard about ... .

So no, it wasn't old pipes. We could have a conversation about workplace safety, but let he who has not burst a pipe with a jackhammer and shut down toilets in adjacent skyscrapers throw the first stone there.

• The media were sober and responsible. No news outlet breathlessly reported an "unstoppable surge of dihydrous monoxide that experts say could form a sheer wall several hundred feet high capable of scraping downtown Minneapolis clean off the map in as little as 2 million years."

• We are not going to be lectured about taking our utilities for granted, because that's stupid. No one will ever flush a toilet and think, "You know, the water-main break reminds me we're just one accident away from going out to the john in the backyard with a Monkey Ward catalog. Thank you, intricate system of buried pipes."

No, the water came out, and it was a problem, and then it was fixed, and the water went away. End of story.

There's the question of laws requiring enormous corks on all building sites, but that's a conversation for another day.

jlileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858

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