Detours AheadBy DAVE KIFFER
March 20, 2018
Welcome to Road Construction.
Once upon a time the seasons used to be pretty well delineated. Well, not the Wets of course. They all just drizzle together. Some are wetter than others, some are cooler than others, but it is all one big monsoon season. That’s why it has always amused me when someone sends me an email asking when the best time to visit Ketchikan, sunshine wise, is. I run out of polite ways to advise "never."
Even worse is when someone writes to tell me they are planning to get married in Ketchikan and they want an outdoor wedding and they want to know a good location and I suggest “indoors.”
Yeah, yeah I get that once in the "Grand History of the Internet" someone got lucky and had a drop-dead gorgeous outdoor wedding in Ketchikan on a beach with eagles soaring overhead and orcas frolicking just off shore. And those photos are still out there floating around giving the false impression that it could happen again.
But I digress.
We are here today to join together, in unholy matrimony, this town - Ketchikan, and this relentless inconvenience - Road Construction Season.
Don’t get me wrong. The roads need to be fixed. Right now Ketchikan has more potholes than pot heads, and that is saying something.
In fact, on the South End of town there is one pothole that is so big - how big is it? - that you drive in one end of it and when you come out the other end you are driving on the Alaskan Way Viaduct. In Seattle.
Of course, that is assuming your car comes out in one piece. Some of the local potholes have become so destructive that insurance companies now consider them Acts of God, which further bolsters my belief that the Deity does indeed have a sense of humor. You can imagine him/her turning to one of his/her Olympian attendants and saying “Potholes, they’re what make a Subaru scrap metal.”
But it is not so funny on this end of things. A drive across town involves the gnashing of teeth every 11.6 seconds when a front tire connects with the edge or bottom of a pothole and you have that sickening sentient second where you wonder if you remember how to remove the undersized spare from its cage in the back of the car.
Which is another thing.
I miss full size spares and I miss having them located in obvious places.
I mean, seriously, do you feel better when you put on that Hot Wheel sized spare that is six sizes smaller than the Big Wheel you used to peddle around on the driveway?
And - since 99.9 percent of flat tires happen either after dark or during the heaviest rainstorm of the season - do you really want to be fussing with removing half the hatchback to find one?
But I digress, again.
The signs warning "Road Narrows" or "Detour" have sprouted up like so many skunk cabbage in Our Fair Salmon City heralding the arrival of Spring.
Once upon a time I suggested that Ketchikan have it's own version of the Nenana Ice Classic. You know, that nifty contest that gets people to fork over significant amounts of good money to guess when the ice will break up on the Tanana River. What a scam. Let's use our grand human powers of deduction to determine when a bunch of ice crystals will give way and a tripod will tip over. Alaskans will bet on anything.
Especially during a spectacularly dull winter.
But, since I am all about economic development, I figured that we could do something similar here. We could take bets when the first jackhammer would crumble the first bit of asphalt and Road Construction (or ReConstruction) season would begin. It seemed fool proof. Roads have been "breaking up" here since the beginning of time.
Unfortunately my idea coincided with a rare construction epoch in which the Alaska Department of Transportation had more federal highway dollars than it knew what to do with.
Speaking of which, next time you are sitting around puffing out about how "self reliant" Alaskans are, you might want to look out at any fresh asphalt and remind yourself it was paid by someone in New Jersey or California or Missouri.
Anyway, because the state had so much federal money it decided to go ahead and "fix" all the roads in Alaska at once. Which led to an endless Road Construction season that spanned several years. As a result, there was no "breakup" because all roads were in a permanent state of "breakup."
Interestingly enough, that state of permanent potholism continued even when the federal highway bucks did not. Yes, we still get more than our fair share of those dollars, but not enough to ever complete any projects.
As a result, our roads now have this half done look in which shiny smooth asphalt is interspersed with potholes playing "Deadliest Catch" with our car suspensions. And that's why our roads tend to resemble an airfield that has been carpet-bombed by an enemy air force.
Which also explains why our cars keep going airborne off the numerous bumps and obstructions that have begun popping up.
Thank goodness the flaggers are there to make sure we land in the right gate.
The one that says abandon hope all ye who drive here.
On the Web:
Contact Dave at firstname.lastname@example.org
Dave Kiffer is a freelance
writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.