The Rear End

THE REAR END: Cracking the Road Code

a strategy guide for potholes and other seasonal obstacles

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Eva Paulus |

City officials recently told WQOW News 18 something astonishing – this past winter’s excessive moisture levels produced a decade’s worth of damage to Eau Claire’s beloved streets and roadways. That’s a lot. Within the report, City Engineering Director Dave Solberg explains how in cold, dry winters snow is scraped to the side of the road to melt in relative safety. But in warmer, wetter winters like the one we just had, the water sweeps directly into the pavement to refreeze and expand, causing major damage.

The end result is a city filled with disgruntled drivers navigating roads riddled with potholes, cracks, and never-ending rough patches. Without a doubt, this puts a major damper on our annual springtime joy. We survived another Wisconsin winter only to be rewarded with tailbone-shattering commutes. And with limited funds, the city can’t afford major road repairs. They can only patch the problem by patching potholes all summer long.

But is it really so bad? Maybe not. Many of our streets still have plenty of space between their holes and crevices, making passage more or less possible. You just need to remain alert, know your surroundings, and drive smart. To help, I’ve assembled some useful strategies and reminders to get you where you’re going.

Large Potholes

Do your best to straddle large potholes while staying within your lane. If driving directly over a pothole is your only option, proceed with confidence. Raise up and firmly hold on to any open beverages to reduce spillage. If possible, bite down on a (clean) piece of wood. As soon as you can, pull to the side of the street and park your vehicle. With your mobile device, Google “tie rods and ball joints,” or wait for a mechanic to explain them to you.

If driving directly over a pothole is your only option, proceed with confidence. Raise up and firmly hold on to any open beverages to reduce spillage. If possible, bite down on a (clean) piece of wood.


Very, Very Large Potholes

If you drive directly into a very, very large pothole and you find yourself (and your vehicle) lost in a labyrinthine system of strange caverns and dark tunnels, do not attempt to drive your way out. Put your vehicle in park. This is your life now. Your top priorities are a) locating a fresh water source, and b) staying quiet so as to not attract the attention of Eau Claire’s subterranean citizens (this is important).

Medium-Sized Cracks

Drive directly over any medium-sized cracks at a smooth, consistent speed and listen for the sound of your front tires – and then your rear tires – passing over the rift, making note of the time between the sounds (in seconds). Use that number, as well as the distance (in inches) between your front and rear tires, to calculate your speed and convert it to miles per hour. Note if the result matches your speedometer to ensure it is providing accurate information.

Large Cracks

Don’t be fooled. Large cracks in asphalt and concrete can be just as damaging to your vehicle as potholes. If you notice a large crack in the road ahead, be wary. Safely pull over to the side of the road and exit your vehicle. Stay calm and slowly approach the crack. Near the crack, construct a tall, steel-framed ramp. Once complete, return to your car and frickin’ gun it.

Water-Filled Sinkholes

Sinkholes are dangerous, unstable obstacles between you and your destination. When filled with water, they may look like large, shallow puddles. Do not attempt to drive through them at high speeds, spraying water up onto the sidewalk, soaking pedestrians (and their dogs) in dirty street water, because if that puddle turns out to be a sinkhole, the fun’s over.

Prolonged Rough Patches

Sometimes you must venture over rough patches of road—extended sections of uneven, pock-marked blacktop. If you encounter this situation, hold your smartphone out the window and take a photo of the problem area. Post this image to Facebook and add the caption, “Tax dollars well spent.” Do not attempt to understand that the local vehicle registration fee we pay, aka the “wheel tax,” is a county fee and thus can’t be used to maintain city streets. And try to forget how, just last March, the City Council deadlocked on creating a city “wheel tax.” Continue to complain until you pass out, red-faced and sweaty, slumped over your steering wheel in the Culver’s drive-thru lane.