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Ask A. Brain – Potholes and Sinkholes

A. Brain himselfQuestion:  I’m getting a little tired of dodging potholes. Just last week while trying to avoid them, I ran over three mailboxes, a small furry animal (might’ve been a chinchilla), a newspaper box, and the foot of a neighbor and ex-friend who—right up to the moment I changed his shoe size from 81/2 to 15 EEE—was smiling and waving cheerfully to me as he walked his dog on the sidewalk of our pock-marked street.

This is embarrassing and more than a little frustrating. Despite my best efforts, I believe my car needs a front-end alignment and I know it needs a paint job. I’m still dragging part of that newspaper box. It makes quite a racket.

What causes potholes? Are we using defective asphalt, or am I sleeping through World War II-style bombing raids at night? If so, who’s bombing us? What is the difference between a pothole and a sinkhole?

– George S. Gorge / Minot, North Dakota

Answer:  Pothole 1Okay, Gorgeous, that’s four questions, not one. What part of “answers one of your questions” did you not understand? My guess is the word one.

It’s tempting to answer the easiest of your questions (“The Germans are, you moron”) and get back to my TV (in this episode Gilligan catches the professor on the beach wearing Ginger’s underclothes and singing “Fly Me to the Moon”). But I’m in a good mood, so I’ll go a little further.

It’s not defective asphalt. Asphalt is not intended to last forever. What is the unemployment rate now, nine percent? What do you think it would be if roads paved with asphalt lasted longer than a couple of years? Millions of high school dropouts and disaffected stock brokers depend on the jobs created by the systematic disintegration of our highways and byways.[1] To stay in business, manufacturers of blaze orange vests depend on highway road crews and Ted Nugent (I always wear one when I’m anywhere close to Michigan).[2] No, we’re using the same old crappy asphalt that was used to pave the Appian Way all those centuries ago under one of the Sid Caesars, and that’s a good thing for the economy.

What causes potholes?

You might have heard the cockamamie story about how the “freeze-thaw cycle” is responsible for the various highway blemishes that are known technically as “road acne.” No, this is just a bunch of baloney dreamt up by some engineering school grad student desperate for a dissertation topic. If this were the case, potholes would be much worse in our northern states of Minnesota and North Dakota. Well, strike that. They may be worse here in the north, but nevertheless they occur everywhere from Minot to Miami, from Madrid to Manila, and from Minneapolis to the Moon. It’s cheap asphalt and a covert government employment program that is to blame.[3]

Lastly, what is the difference between potholes and sinkholes?

It’s only a question of scale, Gorgeous. Officially, a pothole can contain no more than three Honda Civics. There is a Prius and a Mini Cooper at the bottom of a hole on Sixth Street in downtown St. Paul right now and, unless I miss my guess, the next car smaller than a Camry to cross it is going in. I think we’ve got a sinkhole here. Bully for the economy!

Pothole 2Sinkhole in Guatemala

The two photos above will give you some idea of the relatives sizes of potholes and sinkholes. On the left is a medium-sized pothole not quite large enough to fit the front end of a Honda Civic. Give it time and it might make something of itself, but it’s unlikely to reach sinkhole status. On the right is photo of a large sinkhole in Guatemala; it currently contains more than 300 Honda Civics. The Guatemalan government continues to drop small cars into the hole[4], and hopes have it filled (and to earn a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records!) by the end of this year.


– A. Brain


  1. I’m not sure what a “byway” is, nor whether these are generally paved or not. [^]
  2. You’d think these cheap orange vests would be manufactured in China using a mixture of toxic materials and animal skins, but in fact this is not true. The supply of blaze orange dye is controlled by a small group of businessmen in New Jersey who refuse to ship overseas. [^]
  3. The Moon’s potholes are a mystery. [^]
  4. Wouldn’t it be great if Glenn Beck were in the trunk of one of these small cars? [^]


A. Brain himself Every week Once a month Occasionally, Mr Adelbert B. Brain answers one of your questions exclusively for Bachblog. His areas of interest and expertise include aquadynamics, baking, french literature, medical malpractice law, jigsaw puzzles, and Gilligan’s Island. He is a polyglot who is currently translating the October 1973 issue of Rolling Stone magazine into Hindi. In his spare time he constructs crossword puzzles in Esperanto. His recent self-published sci-fi/mystery novel, The Android’s Dentures, drew rave reviews from one Mr. Brian Bartlede on Amazon.com. He lives in the garage of an ex-girlfriend in the Frogtown neighborhood of St. Paul, Minnesota.


The Complete A. Brain:
04/12/2018 Close Captioning?
03/10/2017 The Pelican Dylan
10/09/2013 Cometology
01/31/2013 Shakespeariana
10/31/2012 The Mayans, Santa Claus and Bacon
04/03/2011 Potholes and Sinkholes
11/28/2010 Snoring Crosses the Line
10/14/2010 An Agony of the Feet

See also About Adelbert B. Brain

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