Life in the streets: Our predators and us

They have awakened, and now they drift around town, hunting us.

On Tuesday I hit a pothole so hard I thought I’d given myself a concussion.

I was driving through the Baker Hill neighbourhood of Cranbrook when it struck. It was right in the intersection of 3rd Street South and 13th Avenue, and surfaced with gravel so it was even harder to see than potholes usually are. I was amazed at the level of violence that occurred as I drove into it — it was like a head-on collision with an invisible car. My head whipped back and forth on my neck, and I would have screamed if I hadn’t bit my tongue so hard at the same time. I had to pull over, and after a moment got out to see if the car was all right. I’ll find out for certain, I suppose, when the rear wheel falls off. If I drive headlong into your car in the coming days, don’t be surprised — I’m afraid my tie-rods will have snapped off by then.

I’ve driven by the pothole since, with the same impulse that prompts the cat to approach the violent chained-up dog. I stare at it, fascinated. I’ve walked on it. I’ve seen many extreme disturbances on the good ol’ roads of Cranbrook, but this pothole feels like it’s uniquely mine. Or rather, I belong to that particular pothole. We share a common destiny.

Now, for years I’ve driven up and down 4th Street South, so I thought I knew everything there was to know about potholes, sinkholes, wormholes, shellholes, foxholes, bugholes, ratholes, hellholes, and the sundry “holes” of our streets that make the surface of the moon seem like a roller-skating rink by comparison. But now I see that I’ve known nothing at all. I now understand that these things are organic, alive and motile — that is, they can move about. I don’t know if they are malicious, but then again, is the lion being malicious when it clamps its jaws around your neck?

It’s pothole season, they say. Potholes only exist as energy during the winter, then frost heave turns this energy into matter, and the potholes awaken. They wake up hungry — hungry for destruction — and begin their jellyfish-like drift around the streets of Cranbrook, hunting automobiles, setting their traps, biding their time, until their prey — yours truly — stumbles right in.

If all this sounds like I’m complaining about our streets, oh no, I’m not. In some ways, I’m proud of the topographical personality of our streets. We live in Cranbrook, we drive our streets without fear. I also understand that this is the fate of all towns built on swamps, of which there seems to be a surprising large number in the world.

Colonel James should have drained that swamp before paving it over. But now it’s too late, and we must live with the potholes, much like the gazelles live in harmony with the lions.

A politician could get elected by a landslide just by promising to fix roads, and nothing more. People would flock to vote for him or her, even giving up certain other election expectations — improving the business climate, for instance. However, that would be akin to that same politician selling us the above-mentioned swampland as the perfect platform for perfect roads.

The City of Cranbrook owns 158 kilometres of roads valued at $178 million. To bring all these roads to an “acceptable” condition (the City’s term, in a recent engineering report on the matter), the City would need to spend $59 million this year alone. Each following year, according to that same report, the City would need to spend $4.2 million to keep these roads maintained.

This year, the City has enough money to finish 14th Avenue South (which they’ve been working on for a couple of years), and the rest of their budget will go to fixing 2nd Street South (pending approval). They’ll start at the highway, and work east until the money runs out. Fair enough — these streets are major arteries. I’ll look forward to bombing down 2nd Street next year without all that curious bobbing, weaving and swerving from side to side that we Cranbrook drivers practice to avoid the holes.

As for the neighbourhoods and the sidestreets and my driving thereon, well, as I said, I will live in natural harmony with my predators.

And if you happen across a monster pothole at the intersection of 3rd Street South and 13th Avenue, remember, that one’s mine!