Here in New Orleans
, potholes tell almost as much about the city as they do about its drivers. You can tell a bit about what a driver knows by how he reacts to the potholes, since their location and number are numerous and omnipresent. They don’t just exist in the poor neighborhoods; here, poverty and wealth live side by side, not separated by class, color
, or location.
You know you are a local here when you are the third car in a series to run through a red light. You know your way around town when you can avoid all the potholes, and there are quite a variety. My favorite is what I call the reverse pothole, where a manhole cover has become eroded so that the asphalt around it is shaved away through wear, so that to avoid cutting your tires, you have to put the highest point of the manhole cover between your tires. They stick out like a bone from soft tissue, unable to be pounded down so they must be built up around, and the result is a mound like a pimple in the middle of the street.
There has been a lot of construction on the street where I work in Metairie, a suburb, and it’s being done simultaneously on both sides of a two way, heavily trafficked thoroughfare, so that all will be completed before Mardi Gras, when floats will be running on it for two weeks. When I went to pick up a friend from the airport on Thanksgiving day, I was one of few on the road that morning, and for once I got to see just what the road beneath me looked like in the absence of traffic. It looked like a back alley skin graft, buckled and filled, pitted and patched.
Where there is any erosion, there is cheap filler. Where there is massive reconstruction, there are many delays, so I can’t say which is worse. In some areas of the city where a hole has opened up, you can see the cobblestones underneath, you can see the rock strata of another time where there were no cars, no buses, no freight trucks, and you realize that in addition to the city’s streets having been built for the pre-car era, they have never been upgraded, only covered up. Even the paved jogging track of Audubon Park is cracked and crumbling, running like petrified lava outside of its intended borders.
I know my routes well. I know what sections have been dug out, filled with gravel, then hollowed out by passing cars. I know where cones will be, since they will be there for many months, sometimes years. I know which streets are cracked and upraised so bad that you need to slow down to a slug’s place if you value your suspension at all. It is not unlike knowing someone else’s body, knowing its contour and shape, its smooth and coarse dimensions, its sagging and its sighs, all of which comes with time and attention. Sometimes it is comforting to know someone’s flesh so well, and other times you long for something new, for a surprise. I am torn in both ways.