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Welcome to 'Dodge' City!


February 25, 2023

Ketchikan, Alaska -
Welcome to Pothole Season!

Hmm, that's not quite true. Pothole season is year-round these days, so you were already in Pothole Season before I wrote this. I am not welcoming you to anything, especially since at least one of your cars is already embedded in an apparently bottomless pothole somewhere in Our Fair Salmon City.


I was thinking about Potholes the other day when a Facebook thread fell - literally - into a series of pothole jokes.

"That one is big enough for a zip code!"

"That one has its own Coast Guard cutter!"

"That one's not a pothole, it's what happens when a Chinese kid digs through from the other side."

That last one probably needs a "splainer."

My Dad used to always accuse me of trying to "dig to China" when I put a hole in the back yard. That was a common refrain in the 1960s before GPS systems, when we really didn't know where anything actually was.

Not that we do now, but at least we have all these high fallutin' technological gizmos to help us pretend we do.

I was told several years ago that someone digging a hole from Ketchikan would not really end up in China, they would end up somewhere in the Southwest Indian Ocean.

Actually, they would probably not make it through the earth's molten core, which would most likely melt the shovel at 9,800 degrees Fahrenheit. Not that anyone has ever actually been there to measure that temp for certain.

But I digress.

Speaking of which, did I recently read a headline that the earth's core has stopped spinning? How do they know? We certainly don't have a Stern-Gerlach device at the center of the earth. Unless Jules Verne accidentally left one there.

What does it even mean if the core stops spinning, or, Foucault forbid, reverses direction? I mean does core spin even matter if all those "dead people" are continuing to spin in their graves because something we living are either doing or not doing? Does that action overcompensate for the core? Is life just one big opposite and equal reaction? What would Sir Isaac Fig Newton say about that?

Actually, I am more worried that the earth's core is apparently cooling at the breakneck rate of 100 degrees celsius every billion years which means it could totally chill out in about 51 billion years. Global warming, my buttooski!

But I digress, again.

Anyway, I am here to ponder potholes not to probe the iron-nickle plasma of our innards.

Of course, every time we hit a pothole in Ketchikan (every 3.4627 seconds, according to the K-POW (The Ketchikan Pothole Observation Website )) we jar those innards significantly. 

I was thinking that as I rattled down Tongass Avenue yesterday. At one point, the pothole tsars at the Alaska Department of Transportation questioned our local fixation on potholes and came up with 42 as the number of potholes between the tunnel and the Hoadley Creek Bridge.

That number was, unsurprisingly, a bit of a lowball.  At the same time, I drove that section of road and counted 1,254,342,895 potholes. 

It's like when government estimates inflation. No government anywhere wants to report any inflation. So ,they take housing, fuel and chocolate prices and announce they have risen 2 percent. Meanwhile in the real world, a house costs $500,000, it costs you $100 bucks to fill your gas tank and a box of chocolates requires a bank loan. 

But I digress, again and again.

The state will always tell us that we don't have that many potholes because then they are under less pressure to actually fill them because IT'S JUST NOT THAT BIG OF A DEAL, RIGHT?

At any rate, the road continues to deteriorate, and the number of potholes continues to outstrip the portions of Tongass Avenue that actually are still covered by unbroken pavement.

It's like an old truck we once had in our family.

It was a bit long in the (gear) tooth - having actually been fabricated by Henry Effing Ford himself - and most of the systems like clutch and brake only worked sporadically. Best of all the floorboards had rotted through, so you could actually see the road rumble past as we drove along. That was totally cool to my 10-year-old self.

I loved looking down at the floor and seeing the road.

Just like today, when I love looking down a pothole and seeing some kid from China staring back at me.

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Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.

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