We at the Digs see a number of similarities between our city’s potholes and those freaky crop circles found in the English countryside. Both materialize somewhat mysteriously and have brought great fame to specific geographical regions. And each pothole, like every crop circle, possesses unmistakable artistic merit. You just have to squint to see it.
A few weeks ago, while driving along Fort Pitt Boulevard, we squinted at the monster pothole at the Market Street intersection and discovered that it resembled, in both shape and size, a barnacle-encrusted humpback whale. Our vehicle then fell into the hole and everything went dark until we emerged on the North Side.
That particular pothole has since been filled with several tons of asphalt and so now it resembles a Vermont-sized liver spot.
Back at the PG archives, we checked our clipping files and found 21 folders labeled “Potholes.” While this isn’t a record (the Steelers clippings consume more than 200 folders), it certainly qualifies as an obsession. Pittsburgh newspaper reporters love writing about roads resembling swiss cheese.
The first file we opened dated from the mid 1970s. This was our city’s “Golden Age” of potholes. Some were so large a reader suggested building bridges over them. In 1972, one article noted, the 3700 block of Bigelow Boulevard was declared a “disaster area.”
Then, in 1976 came an age of enlightenment, at least for one Pittsburgh Press writer. “It’s pothole blossom time!” he cheered.
Newspapers soon developed a pothole rating system. On Ohio River Boulevard, a reporter spotted a “six-hubcapper,” which meant that six lost hubcaps littered the immediate area. Roads at the time were choked with Chevy Vegas and Ford Pintos and AMC Gremlins, cars so loosely bolted together that they geysered auto parts when encountering even the shallowest of potholes.
Late in the decade, a mean-spirited and maniacal pothole on William Penn Highway in Monroeville flattened the tire of a Pittsburgh optometrist. He pulled into a nearby gas station and found five other motorists waiting to get their tires repaired. Enraged, the optometrist formed an organization called Pothole Victims of Pennsylvania. Potholes would finally face justice.
And in February 1977, experts discovered a possibly bottomless pothole on Friendship Avenue. “Granddaddy,” it was labeled. In an effort to determine the hole’s depth, Scientists dropped a Dodge Omni into the abyss. Eerily, the vehicle was never heard to hit bottom. Perhaps the hole was a window into another universe.