Ray Duckler: Driving around, looking for the hole story
The roads around here are a pain in the butt.
They dip and rise like gas prices, spilling coffee and knocking GPS devices off dashboards and windshields.
Have you driven on Minot Street, between Pleasant and School streets, in Concord lately? How about Carter Hill Road, near the city’s apple orchard?
I drove on them yesterday, part of an 80-mile journey to research this column. About a million years ago, Fred Flintstone probably had a smoother ride while taking Wilma out for Brontoburgers.
But “yabba-dabba-doo” never crossed my mind.
More like “yabba-dabba-what-the-heck?”
“Boy, the potholes are amazing this year,” said Jeff Chaplain, owner of Village Street Garage in Penacook. “It’s a big bummer.”
This big bummer could swallow a big Hummer.
Or at least a two-door Chevy.
It’s an annual event this time, like turning the clocks ahead (this Sunday) and getting psyched about baseball.
But those are good things. They remind us that winter’s cruelty is almost finished for another year, a big old bear ready to hibernate so we can peek outside and feel the warmth on our faces.
Meanwhile, the past few months have left behind potholes and stretches of road uneven like a roller-coaster track.
Something about water freezing
and expanding immediately under pavement. Something about the weight of cars passing over as the expansion takes place.
“We see this every year, so it’s nothing new,” Chaplain said.
Said Chaplain’s young mechanic, Daniel Holway: “It seems to me that this winter is particularly bad. It’s been a rough winter. January and February really froze the ground, so it’s really, really bad at this point.”
Village Street Garage is near Sanders Street, a narrow, obscure stretch of Penacook road scarred from the current cold war.
Business, as you might suspect, is great.
“A ton of suspension work,” said Deanna Memmolo, Village Street’s receptionist, seated at her desk.
“The salt is corroding exhaust and brake lines, and they’re bouncing like heck over the potholes,” added Chaplain. “It wears out the suspension and the wheel bearings.”
All at a cost of a few hundred dollars here, a few hundred dollars there, he said.
Less than a mile north on Route 3, at the Citgo garage, Louie White often hangs around the lobby and helps his friend, owner Eric Collins.
He listed the headaches customers face these days: “Struts, tires, flat tires, rims, alignments. These potholes, they bend everything. I think this year is worse than other years.”
Car owners come in and wonder why it takes so long to fix the roads, said White and Bethany Collins, the owner’s wife. They come in and mention their taxes. Where is their hard-earned money going?
“Good for business, sucks for them,” Bethany Collins noted. “Mother Nature is what it is.”
Minot Street is a mess, bumpy and mean. So is Carter Hill Road, along the sleepy apple trees that will soon form the perfect juxtaposition.
Little Pond Road, near Jordan Farm and Star Granite Co., is bad, too. Penacook and Merrimack streets in Penacook, near Morrill Farm and the local historical society, are worse.
Cows are there, watching this bumpy ride unfold.
So beware. Those warning signs you see all over the place don’t do enough.
“Frost Heaves” should read “Frost Heaves!!!”
Listen for clunks, squeaks and rattles, said Holway. Your car might be trying to tell you something.
“Pay special attention to shocks and struts,” he added. “You don’t want to hit a pothole with worn-out shocks. That could cause further damage.”
At that moment, Chaplain’s wife, Liz, due to give birth late this month, called from the hospital after a routine checkup.
“Two centimeters dilated,” Chaplain told us, pretending he knew what that meant.
“That means the baby has flipped over and the head is ready to go,” Memmolo said. “She could give birth earlier than expected.”
I had to know.
“Might that have anything to do with the car bouncing over potholes?” I asked.
Chaplain, a blank look on his face, shifted his eyes quickly toward Memmolo.
“No,” he said. “Right?”