We were coming back from Asheville. It was late and raining. Ted was driving. It is more than an hour-long drive and I needed to make sure that Ted stayed awake. I asked him what he wanted to listen to. Being the nerd that he is, he requested that we listen to a podcast from Oxford’s anthropology lecture series. If you have ever been in one of these late-night driving situations you know how much of an altered state it can be–tired but hyperaware at the same time. Things that the lecturer said seemed to sear right through and instantly rise to the status of metaphor. So when he started talking about potholes in Kinshasa, I was ready.
Apparently, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s infrastructure is in horrible shape. Huge crater-like potholes are everywhere, making driving and the transportation of goods extremely difficult. And yet, the man pointed out, in Kinshasa there wasn’t a huge outcry for the government to fix them. It seems many of these potholes are “owned.” Individuals claim them and, for a fee, they will fill them for you so you can drive over them. Then, at night, they dig them out again.
Before you decry this as just some “third world” economic craziness, consider the metaphor. This is what businesses do all the time. One way to fulfill the perceived need to keep expanding markets is to create your own new ones. All you have to do is simultaneously create a problem and provide the solution (for a price, of course). Pothole filling is just another form of that. Now when a pop-up ad for Downy tries to embarrass me about how my t-shirt is more of a U-neck rather than a V-neck because I don’t use their product, I think, “fillin’ potholes.” (The Martin/Coyles are, by nature, a wrinkled and stained people, so this this one hit hard). And when I hear about how Ford makes so much of its money from the sale of trucks and SUVs that they are actually going to stop making cars, I think, “fillin’ potholes.” Bottled water is a big one. Countless insurance scams and cyber protection schemes, all “fillin’ potholes.” I know it is not quite the same thing, but it did make me laugh when I saw this morning that Domino’s new ad campaign includes filling potholes in cities around the country (to protect the pizza, of course) and stenciling the Dominos logo on them.