Back in the early 90s, I was one of a handful of editors who helped shape a drastic reorganization of The State‘s newsroom, challenging and in some cases throwing out fundamental assumptions about what we covered and how we covered it. (I was also the first one, months later, to say the new system didn’t work, but no one was listening to me at that point.) We came up with some pretty wacky, high-concept beats, but there was one I could never get the others to go for, one that I still think would be a good one — the "driveby beat." Basically, it would involve assigning a reporter to answer the kinds of questions that occur to you driving around the Midlands — What are they building there? How long will I have to take this detour? Whose responsibility is it to fix that pothole? What do all those people waiting for the library to open do the rest of the time? Essentially, just about anything that might occur to you to wonder about when you drive by it, and that normally you would never get an answer to.
For instance, Sunday morning I wanted to know why I couldn’t get anywhere closer than a couple of blocks from the Gervais Starbucks in my truck. It apparently had something to do with people riding around on bicycles in silly outfits, but I had to wait until this morning to get an answer. And I’m still not satisfied, by the way (that is, I’m not satisfied that was worth diverting traffic for, but then I’m a real curmudgeon about these things).
One of the letter writers on our Monday page got me to thinking about another one that I usually forget by the time I get to work. Here’s the letter:
Manholes are hazards around Columbia
Why is it that with the technology to provide a smooth, correctly profiled, beautifully laid asphalt roadway, no one seems able or willing to address the numerous manholes that seem to dot every block of roadway on our main thoroughfares?
When you ask a paving contractor about it, he or she sounds like Freddie Prinz of “Chico and The Man” — “It’s not my job!” How about, at least, a composite disc to raise the low ones to the roadway elevation?
With so many diverse utilities — the water and sewer department, SCE&Grab, Bell South/Southern Bell (whatever), etc. — nobody wants to take the time, expense or effort to raise (or lower) these units to the proper elevation before paving, and they are legion. Ride over to Forest Drive and take a look.
There is one in front of the State Museum (outbound lane) that would knock the treads off an Abrams tank if hit at 30 mph.
More specifically, here’s what’s on my mind: I’ve grown accustomed to the periodic indentations along Sunset Blvd. in the left-hand land heading down to the river through West Columbia. It’s been like that for years, and I either stay in the right lane, or dodge the manholes, or put up with my truck being jarred into rattling every few seconds.
But now, on the days I take that route, there’s a new barrier — coming up from the river on Hampton. You know, the part that’s several lanes one-way? It got repaved last month, and apparently it got ground down WAY below the manhole covers before repaving, but was not paved back UP to the manhole covers. The pavers dealt with that by constructing volcano-like slopes around the manholes, creating a sort of slalom situation — particularly right at the top of the hill, at Hampton and Park — if you don’t want to experience the equivalent of multiple speed bumps.
I am as sure as anyone can be of something like this that this situation did not exist BEFORE the repaving. I’m pretty sure I’d remember it if it had been like that.
If I we had created that driveby beat, and if I still worked in the newsroom, and if I were that reporter’s editor, I’d have him or her call around to find out who’s responsible, and whether anyone plans on doing anything about it.
Or if I were an editorial page editor in another state, one where government isn’t impossibly fragmented, I’d just call City Hall and probably get an answer.
But since I’m an editor in South Carolina with half the staff he used to have, I’m going to use the same technique I used to check Nicholas Kristof’s math — post the question on a blog, and see if I get an answer.
Now I’ve got to run; there are proofs on my desk that need reading.