Honolulu Lite


Wednesday, August 1, 2001

Pothole fixer’s
life is fo’ filling

Being cynical is more or less mandatory for a professional "investigative humorist," but I was surprised at how calmly I took the news that it takes seven people to fill a pothole.

In fact, being surprised at how unsurprised I was, was the most surprised I've been about surprising things lately.

Before I learned that it takes seven people to fill a pothole, if you had asked me how many people I think it takes to fill a pothole, I might have ventured two or three or maybe four on the outside.

I mean, I've seen some pretty big potholes, but on average it appears that one or two shovel loads of asphalt and gravel would properly fill the run-of-the mill pothole. This being publicly funded work, you might assume that there is some rule that mandates each pothole must be assigned at least two shovelers (a veteran pothole filler and an apprentice).

Then you figure someone's got to drive the truck. And maybe there has to be one other guy in the back of the truck, the designated asphalt flinger or whatnot. Four people. Tops.

But no, it turns out that it takes seven people to fill a pothole. On the surface, that would seem a massive amount of manpower for what appears to be a fairly straightforward enterprise. I could see needing seven people to dig a hole. Whenever a hole has to be dug on a city street, there are great hoards of people involved.

There are people assigned to stare blankly into the hole. Others to chart the progress of the excavation. Others to control traffic, which is to say, figure out who is most anxious to be somewhere and to delay those people.

Hole-digging being a serious matter, there always is an off-duty police officer assigned who often helps the fellow staring in the hole do his job. At the bottom of the hole, I assume, is one man doing the actual digging. That's just a guess. You never see what's in the hole, so there's a chance nobody's down there at all.

But a pothole is a hole that already exists -- and a shallow one at that. I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings, but I bet that after a few tries, I might even be able to fill a pothole.

I also don't want to dump on pothole fillers. Filling potholes is God's work. And it's thankless. Next time you pass a pothole filling crew, stop and ask them if anyone has ever thanked them. They'll say no. And it's dangerous work. You choke on auto exhaust and asphalt fumes all day. Cars race by, their drivers annoyed that you have the audacity to fill a pothole while they are using the roadway.

So, while it's not brain surgery, filling potholes is essential to a smooth-running society and streets in general.

I learned that it takes seven people to fill a pothole when it was announced the city has bought a machine that will allow a pothole to be filled by just one person. Such technological leaps are stunning. You'd think that first they'd invent a machine that would need only five or six people to fill a pothole. The city plans to assign three people to the one-man machine anyway. One to run it and two to run interference from him. That should seem surprising. But for some reason, it isn't.

Alo-Ha! Friday compiles odd bits of news from Hawaii
and the world to get your weekend off to an entertaining start.
Charles Memminger also writes Honolulu Lite Mondays,
Wednesdays and Sundays. Send ideas to him at the
Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., Suite 7-210,
Honolulu 96813, phone 235-6490 or e-mail

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