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A weblog about the politics and affairs of the old and glorious City of Albany, New York, USA. Articles written and disseminated from Albany's beautiful and historic South End by Daniel Van Riper. If you wish to make a response, have anything to add or would like to make an empty threat, please contact me.


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April 20, 2019

The Mysterious Cavernous Pothole

Let’s talk about the best way to get rid of used cat litter

It is Spring right now, when the grass turns green and the potholes carved out by the snowplows of Winter make the road in front of my house a bone-jarring axle integrity test for passing cars.  Sure, everyone who drives a car inside a City complains about potholes, and the ones in front of your own urban home are the worst of all because they bother you the most.  Well, I’m no exception to that rule, but I think I have a few outstanding valid complaints.

Seriously, In Real Life It’s Deeper Than It Looks In The Photo
Seriously, In Real Life It’s Deeper Than It Looks In The Photo

Okay let’s get to the point, the main event.  There’s a short driveway a little ways up the hill from our house on some property that we own, where The Wife and I park our cars.  Directly behind that driveway are several pits in the pavement, and in particular, immediately behind where I park my pickup truck, is one gaping cavern that my vehicle falls into with a sickening ka-bump every single time I back out onto the road.

That hole has been there for well over two years.  Seriously.  Sometimes the City Department of Public Services (DPS) guys come through the neighborhood and fill potholes, once or maybe twice a year.  But for some mysterious reason they don’t patch this hole.  I don’t know why not.  It seems a pretty obvious candidate for patching to me, but it never gets taken care of.

I’ve repeatedly filled in the hole with rocks, broken bricks and concrete shards, along with dirt.  Many times I’ve thought to myself, “There, that will hold for a while.”  But then to my consternation after a week or even a few days the hole would be a foot deep again, the rocks and dirt and whatever having mysteriously disappeared.

Action Shot: The Hole Is Perfectly Positioned To Catch My Truck Every Time
Action Shot: The Hole Is Perfectly Positioned To Catch My Truck Every Time 

Now, barring some evil neighbor digging the hole out in the middle of the night just to annoy me, I simply assumed that rainstorms aided by passing cars and trucks had ripped out that loose material.  Sometimes I would see dirt running down the hill from the hole as expected, but what happened to the rocks and concrete shards? And why did the hole empty out completely during dry spells? It didn’t make sense. 

Understand that sad experience with the ways of the world has left me paranoid, but in what I hope is a rational way.  If something in the public sphere maintained by the governments isn’t right I always assume there’s a conspiracy unless proven otherwise. That’s a sensible attitude, or so I believe. I’m usually right about that stuff, kind of a safe bet.

You see, if the former mayor of Albany, Jerry Jennings, was still running the City there would be no question that he had gone out of his way to order DPS to carefully maintain that street cavern.  For real, he did that sort of petty miserable stuff all the time to people he didn’t like or saw as a threat to his power.  That was me.

City Of Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan, Apparently Attempting To Conjure Up State Money With A Magic Spell
City Of Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan, Apparently Attempting To Conjure Up State Money With A Magic Spell 

But, hey, I get along just fine with our current mayor Kathy Sheehan, and besides, as far as I’ve ever heard she doesn’t engage in childish retaliatory nonsense like that.  Okay, I don’t always see eye to eye with her policies but she knows damn well I’ve been one of her supporters. In my own way I’ve campaigned for her at election time.  I’m even occasionally accused of selling out to her, which doesn’t bother me because I think that overall she’s doing a great job, especially compared to her predecessor.

So late one morning about a month ago I saw for myself why the material I dump into that pit keeps disappearing.  I watched a street sweeper tooling up the hill come to a complete halt over the pit, sit there for like 30 seconds running those big round brushes that scoop up the dirt from the pavement. Then the guy driving the thing continued up the street. When I walked over to look I could see the cavern in the pavement was totally gouged out, nice and clean of everything I had recently thrown into it.

So maybe Mayor Kathy hates me after all?  Or maybe - this is far from implausible - some of the older DGS guys remember the standing orders from the former mayor to discriminate against this particular annoying character and haven’t been told to stop? Or perhaps something more sinister is at play here?

The City Site Doesn’t Say, But I Think Albany Uses These Elgin Pelican "Street Brooms”
The City Site Doesn’t Say, But I Think Albany Uses These Elgin Pelican "Street Brooms”

Really, no.  I think all that is going on with this street sweeper guy is that this part of the pavement directly behind our driveway is a low spot and collects a lot of dirt.  Some of it spills out of the pit after I fill it with crap, and the guy is just trying to do his job by sitting over the messy spot for a moment.  These guys get to know the roads they clean real well, they’ve come to know that this is a spot that regularly needs extra attention.

But why haven’t the patching crews that occasionally come through the neighborhood filled the hole?  I mean it’s been over two years. The holes that appear down the hill at the intersection by my house always eventually get patched, and when the street at the very top of the hill got a total repaving job last year, the holes up that way got patched.  But the big holes in the middle section of the street have been ignored.

Okay, This Is How They Clean State Street Before The Tulip Festival, May 2011, In My Neighborhood They Use Machines
Okay, This Is How They Clean State Street Before The Tulip Festival, May 2011, In My Neighborhood They Use Machines

I suppose what’s going on is that the City of Albany has a lot of streets, more than 670, and as we all know resources are limited. That’s because New York  State shortchanges road subsidies to Cities (other than NY City, of course).  That is the reason why suburban streets look so pretty and are almost always in great shape, while City streets in this State are comparatively rundown and poorly maintained. Effectively we urban dwellers subsidize roads in the suburbs while we get the odorous end of the subsidy stick and have to live with crumbling public byways.

But really, this is ridiculous.  I suppose now that the weather is warmer I could go buy a bag of concrete and fill the hole.  But I refuse to for some obstinate reason that I haven’t fully formed in my mind, something about the principle of the thing or where are my tax dollars going or something like that.  I mean, I’ve poured concrete in the nearby ruts past the pavement to stop erosion of my driveway, that works fine. And mostly I’m the only one inconvenienced by this big hole so why don’t I, huh?

This Cat Needs To Have A Clean Box
This Cat Needs To Have A Clean Box

Well, see, there’s this thing I’ve gotten into the habit of doing.  Every five or six days I haul the cat litter box out my front door and dump the contents into the hole.  Yes, that’s right, cat poop, cat pee and twenty pounds of baked bentonite, right there into the hole on the street. By doing that I’m probably breaking so many City, State and federal laws regarding hazardous waste, health violations, creating a nuisance and endangering the community that I could get thrown in jail.  But I do it anyway!  I’m a repeat offender! 

Of more concern to me is that it bothers The Wife.  Whenever she goes out to her car after I do my dumping she complains that it looks nasty.  But no big deal, the next rainstorm washes the pee-soaked litter out of the hole and dissolves it like it never was.  As for the nuggets of cat poop, they mysteriously disappear.  Maybe squirrels eat them.  Maybe they imbed into the crevices of tire treads and roll out to the suburbs, I don’t know and don’t care.

The alternative is to do what I used to do, pour the contents of the cat box into a double garbage bag, put it on the back porch and haul it out to the curb in front of my house on garbage day.  From there it would go to the ever-rising mountain of garbage and toxic waste off Rapp Road in the Pine Bush that we euphemistically call a “landfill.”  Some might think my attitude about all this is wrong, but adding more crap to the dump is, for me, the much greater evil.  Why not let the litter dissolve on the street.

Another Scenic Hole In Front Of My House
Another Scenic Hole In Front Of My House

Of course this is not the only pothole in my neighborhood.  There are plenty more, just not as deep or personally annoying to me.  This stretch of roadway around my house gets what I think is more than its share of annual Springtime pits in the pavement.  Eventually the DGS crews will come by, probably sometime in summer, and fill them in.  And hey, sometime around the middle of the last decade of the last century we got a coat of fresh asphalt over these streets. 

We can only hope that happens again. These stretches of pavement outside my door are stressed and beaten more than they ought to be by cars and trucks because it’s an alternate commuter route for suburbanites driving into and out of Albany.  The bulk of the traffic comes down the hill in the morning starting around 7:30 AM and makes a left turn past my front door, and after about 4:30 PM the traffic heads back the opposite way, kind of a shortcut around the nearby clogged with suburbanite traffic main routes.  As such the pavement gets quite a bit of wear and tear, especially close to the intersection by my house.

This is essentially a residential neighborhood, and the roads aren’t designed for such traffic abuse.  Hell, the street coming down the hill can’t even be properly called a street because it doesn’t even have a curb on one side, the side where I park my truck.  The pavement just disintegrates into a muddy rut where I pour concrete to stabilize it.  The far side of the street used to be like that too until about 15 years ago former Albany Common Council representative Dominick Calsolaro against all odds managed to get a sidewalk built there. We still call it Dominick’s Sidewalk.

Middle Of The Street
Middle Of The Street

Other than Dominick’s intervention, the City has never openly acknowledged that these two roads, the one coming down the hill toward my house and the one that runs in front of it, deserve special attention because of the suburban commuters that it carries.  I suppose intentionally letting a road fall apart and become difficult to use is one way to keep traffic down, but no matter how bad these roads by my house get, the traffic doesn’t let up during rush hours.  There’s no sinister master plan for me to get paranoid about here, the City has always neglected this alternate corridor.

Now and then the City does make a half-assed attempt to fill some of the holes with what they call cold patch, a mixture of large stones and asphalt that is only lightly heated.  This stuff is not intended to be permanent, it’s supposed to be a temporary solution, and so it is. Often it gets scraped out of the holes by pounding tires within a few weeks, or sometimes a few days.

This year at the beginning of March, when there was still ice and snow along the road, the cold patch crews came by and filled some, not all, of the holes in the neighborhood.  Within a few days all the patching material had exited the holes and got ground into dirt, with the exception of a hole around a storm drain which is still intact at the end of April.  Strange, but I’ll take it.  The crews even tried to patch around the State maintained pothole I’ve written about, the manhole that provides access to their fiber optic cable, but that patch was gone by the next day.

An Artistic CreviceAn Artistic Crevice
An Artistic Crevice

You know what else happened when they came by?  That morning I had just dumped a litter box into the hole behind my truck, throwing it on top of some solid ice that was half filling the pit. The result was about level with the pavement.  With satisfaction I figured that if it stayed cold and the ice underneath didn’t melt I’d have a level pavement for a few days.

Shortly after that the DGS guys came through and dropped a thin layer of cold patch on top of the litter, the only time in history that hole has ever received attention from the City.  I was not happy with the timing of these events, I kinda wished I’d known they were coming and had waited to dump the box.  But the litter had become a crisis and I couldn’t make the cats wait any longer.  The patch, such as it was, was gone without a trace before the evening rush hour.

The Official NY State Fiber Optic Pothole Remains The Same
The Official NY State Fiber Optic Pothole Remains The Same

Now, the problem with taking photos of these road pits is that the pictures don’t show the depth of the holes.  Some of the newer indentations are fairly shallow, but some of the old venerable potholes that never get fixed are more than a foot deep and wide enough to lovingly accept a car sized tire into its recesses.  And as most of us know all too well, it’s not that easy to gauge the depth of these holes in a split second from the driver’s seat of a moving car.

You just have to take my word that these holes will rattle your bones and bust the axles on your silly little “Smart Car.”  So maybe I shouldn’t complain too vociferously, maybe I’d like for these potholes to slow down all these suburban cars that twice a day tear through the stop signs at the intersection hardly slowing down.  Well maybe for that reason I certainly would stay quiet, except for that one annoying pit sitting right behind my truck...

One more thing.  I suppose after some of our local elected officials read this (they all study my blog carefully, hi guys) I will look out my front door one morning and see a City DGS crew carefully and expertly patching the hole with permanent materials.  That would be lovely if it happens, but it will leave me with one regret.  Where will I dump my cat litter?

Please, Think Of The Kitties
Please, Think Of The Kitties

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