The assignment seemed straightforward enough: a quick story on pothole repairs. But after six months of dogged investigating and digging, I was forced to confront a harsh yet unavoidable truth: it actually was just a straightforward story about pothole repairs. Also, I was now six months late on my deadline, and work on the potholes had actually wrapped up about eight weeks ago.
As soon as I got this assignment, I knew that there had to be something more to it, mainly because, if there wasn’t something more to it, I would be pretty bored and not have a very good shot at turning it into a longer series of Pulitzer Prize-winning articles. So I immediately got started doing all of the necessary background research into the history of potholes, reading Infinite Jest in case that had any good pothole context and so that people on the train could see me reading Infinite Jest, and creating, driving over and repairing a pothole myself to make sure I could incorporate some first-person components into the story and maybe use those as the basis for a bestselling memoir.
From there, it was time for a fact-finding trip to Paris, which I realized was an essential destination for the success of this story after reading a Tripadvisor review from 2015 that described the Louvre as having “great infrastructure.” It was there where I made the important journalistic discovery that Paris actually isn’t that romantic of a city if you go by yourself. Also, they have potholes in France, too, but if you try asking people about them, they respond in a totally different language that no one could ever possibly hope to understand.
Once I got back to the U.S. after a brief pit stop in Aruba just to cover all my bases, I knew it was time to buckle down and start writing just as soon as I could figure out how these supposedly simple pothole repairs were actually a microcosm for everything important going on in the country. The problem here was that most of the smart people I went to college with who I interviewed about this did not even know that said pothole repairs were going on, so it was proving tough to figure out an organic way to incorporate their insightful comments into the story.
At this point, I knew I was in trouble. Despite months of work, I had yet to figure out how to make this piece into something that would redefine what the written word could accomplish, and my attempt to pivot it into more of a profile on Daniel Day-Lewis fizzled out after my message to his publicist seeking his thoughts on potholes was never sent since I was never able to figure out whether or not he had a publicist.
As a desperate last resort, I did actually head up to the part of Main Street where the pothole work had taken place to see if anything was going on up there, but it ended up being a total waste of time. There were no massive protests or surprise Daniel Day-Lewis sightings or anything—just one longtime resident of the town who kept babbling on about how she grew up with the CEO of the company that had done the pothole repairs, and he was always trying to impress her back then by bragging about his family’s ties to organized crime. Total nonsense.
Anyway, that’s why I needed a little extra time to finish up this story, but it’s here now and ready to be published. Also, I did see your email from July about writing something on the summer programming schedule at the park, so I’ll dive into that next. You’ll have it in six months, tops.