On a daily basis, I don’t sense that Harrisburg failed for bankruptcy in October and has since been tottered on the brink of a state takeover of its finances—in any area except its potholes. When I was in Trinidad in 2010, a summer downpour washed out a portion of a major highway, and I realized for the first time that the stability of a country’s roads and bridges is the most visible (and, perhaps, under-appreciated) indication of a nation’s wealth.
Now, it’s Second Street of cash-strapped Harrisburg acts as a constant reminder of the city’s financial status. “The city’s fiscal crisis has spilled into the streets,” points out writer Eric Veronikis in a July 2011 article.
It’s not enough that water doesn’t drain beside the sidewalk next to my house, or that the street drain floods on the intersection of Kelker and Front, forcing drivers to merge onto Front Street by driving through several inches of standing water. The potholes on Second Street north of Forster are as thick as land minds, exploding under your tires and knocking your vehicle out of alignment if you—for shame!—were by chance actually watching the driver in front of you rather than scrutinizing the quality of the pavement.
Rush hour drivers have developed a considerable art of swerving and straddling the holes north of Verbeke, but they’re not the majority. My mechanic swears that he gets more complaints than he’s ever from customers who simply say, “I don’t know what happened—I was driving in the city, and something on my car just fell off…”
A portion of the far right lane of Second Street next to Sassafrass just collapsed a few weeks ago. Rumors called it a sinkhole. The collapsed portion was not marked by warning signs; instead, the equivalent of a couple of sawhorse barricades were rearranged around the crumble. Since then–until today, when repair work has begun–nothing else had been done other than the occasionally rearrangement of the sawhorses, which fell over, I suppose, due to the vibration of the traffic.
I understand the difficulty of a public works department with little money. But all the same, because of all of this, I appreciated the spectacle which appeared a few days before the October 29 snowfall: someone hung the makeshift barricade with a series of tiny ghosts cut out of plastic grocery bag and dotted with Sharpe marker eyes. The team of phantoms fluttered graciously when drivers passed. Whether it was mockery of the system or the ghost of Harrisburg past, I do not know, but I do like to think at least someone around this neighborhood still has a sense of humor.