- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 4, 2003


   The city is promising to repair all the car-eating potholes before the next snowfall.
   That vow passes as almost timely in a city that functions at three bureaucratic speeds: slow, slower and not at all.
   The pothole scourge is the last vestige of the Presidents Day weekend snowstorm. The city can’t depend on Mother Nature to repair potholes, convenient as the notion is. Let’s be fair. Mother Nature was nice enough to clear the last of the snow from the city’s secondary streets.
   This is a boon time to be in the axle-repair industry. Nothing paralyzes a vehicle like a pothole threatening to become a sinkhole.
   City officials claim to feel your pain, although the cost to repair a fallen vehicle is your burden.
   The city has allowed the pothole to become a civic badge of honor. You are not a full-fledged member of the city unless you have survived a brush with a pothole. T-shirt vendors are encouraged to market the idea.
   Potholes are the District’s version of fish tales. They become larger with each telling. Friends try to impress one another with whose pothole is larger.
   Potholes, like the cherry blossoms, come out each spring in Washington. Washington would not be Washington if it were not for potholes, cherry blossoms and flying manhole covers.
   Robert Marsili, who is in charge of responding to each sighting of a massive fissure in the pavement’s surface, is the city’s Dr. Pothole. He knows how potholes interact with vehicles. He knows the wants of potholes, their desires, their moods, everything about them. He dares any pothole to challenge him to a test of wills.
   Dr. Pothole labors under a 72-hour time limit. You call with a pothole sighting, and he sets the clock running on his crews. Seventy-two hours. Three days. The pothole is on notice. You are obligated to play the obstacle course game until Dr. Pothole has performed his hole-filling magic.
   Dr. Pothole is giving himself high marks this spring, possibly because he is grading himself on a curve following a hard winter. He says he is defeating the potholes, contrary to the anecdotal evidence. Dr. Pothole claims to have met the enemy, and the enemy cannot hold up to his persistence.
   No matter how you add it up, however, the pothole situation is not good for city coffers.
   As you know, city officials are obsessed with the automobile. It is their golden goose, their cure-all for every malady known to bureaucrats.
   There are seemingly a million and one ways to exploit each vehicle that touches the arteries of the District — in taxes, fees, stickers, permits and moving and parking violations. A vehicle that is sitting in an auto-repair shop does the city nowhere as much good as one that has overstayed its time limit by a broken-down meter.
   City residents with vehicles are having an awfully tough spring. Their licensing and registration fees have been increased. Parking fines have been increased as well.
   This is the reflexive reaction of city officials accustomed to being out of ideas.
   Their budgetary mismanagement, in effect, is passed along to those whom they purport to represent and serve. They probably should rent another $400,000-a-year consultant to figure it all out.
   Here’s an idea: Why not sock it to the tour bus operators as well? Sorry. The city already is all over that one, jacking the fine for an illegally parked tour bus from $20 to $500.
   You would think the least a car-fixated city could do is have its thoroughfares in pristine condition.
   If so, you would be exhibiting too much common sense in a city that employs vast numbers of the dead, incompetent and sleep-deprived.
   This is the city that sometimes neglects to pick up the phone to verify obvious background material after interviewing a job candidate, such as academic credentials.
   Saamir Kaiser, to name one fraud, was the make-believe lawyer who eventually helped himself to $248,105 in city funds before making a plea agreement last year. Kaiser apparently was so good at pretending to be a lawyer that the city had no choice but to promote him up the ranks.
   Kaiser is emblematic of the hidden costs of doing business in the city.
   Right now, the city’s business is trickier, if only because you are only one pothole away from being put out commission.
   Fortunately, there are plenty of tow-truck operators in the city.
   They make a nice living towing the victims of the city.
   

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