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Mobtown Beat

The Hole Story

Hampdenite Makes Fun, Not War, With City Bureaucracy

By Van Smith | Posted 3/26/2003

"I used to bring them coffee and donuts," George "Gary" Taylor remarked on the afternoon of Thursday, March 13, as he surveyed a large construction hole in the alley behind his West 37th Street house in Hampden, where he says city crews and contractors have been at work since last August. "Now I just make these drawings."

They're cartoons, really, commenting on the absurdities of the public-works project Taylor has dubbed "The Million Dollar Hole." He staples photocopies of the penciled pieces to his backyard fence, right next to the hole, and rotates new ones in every few days. Neighbors, who have been reading them since last year, say they find them amusingly obsessive--and right on.

"I like the one about the rats moving into the hole," says Jon Jolles, a locations manager for the film and TV industry who lives a half-block south of Taylor on Chestnut Street. "He drew them really well, and they had their little suitcases and they were just moving right into this 'Million Dollar Hole,' like, permanently. I don't know how much the hole has cost, but it seems to me crews have been there on and off for almost a year. Earlier today [March 18], there were 15 or 20 guys and probably five or more trucks, and the whole street was blocked off, and mostly they were just standing around, scratching their heads. And this is what the Million Dollar Hole guy's comics have been about: how work on the hole just keeps going on and never seems to end."

The hole in the unnamed alley behind Taylor's home was first dug by city workers after one of his neighbors experienced a sewage leak in the basement.

"It's about a three-day job, and they've been at it since August," says Taylor, who is retired after 42 years as a union plumber. "It started out to be a very friendly operation. A simple sewer job. But they started digging in the wrong place--I told them, but they did it anyhow--and then they had to take out the storm drain and the telephone pole to dig down to the sewer line. And they screwed everything up in the process. After a couple of months, they hired a . . . contractor to come in. He dug everything up that they did, fixed it, and filled it back up in a day. I went out and bought him a pizza, he did such a good job.

"But it wasn't over, 'cause then there's a water [main] break," Taylor continues. "And then the whole thing sits there, covered up with boards, over the winter. But still, trucks would come. I made a nine-hour videotape of a city crew sitting in their truck the whole time. I could have done 90 hours of tape. They spend more time getting out of work than doing work."

Taylor says he shopped the tape around to local media outlets, but when no one expressed any interest in the footage he taped over it.

From the city Department of Public Work's perspective, work on the project has been performed apace. "The gentleman should be happy that we got this resolved relatively quickly, at least as far as our records show," DPW spokesman Kurt Kocher says, noting that the earliest records of complaints about the hole date from last October, not last August. As for cost, the city paid the contractor nearly $11,500 for work on Nov. 14, Kocher says, but DPW cannot yet estimate how many hours city employees have worked on the project. There are many legitimate reasons, he adds, for city crews to appear to be sitting idle: "They may be waiting for necessary materials, for instance."

On the morning of Thursday, March 20, the "Million Dollar Hole" was filled in with newly dried concrete, all the underground plumbing presumably restored to good working condition. "I'm just glad it's done," Taylor says over the phone, then adds, "but it's not really done. I don't want to nitpick, but the telephone pole still hasn't been put back in the ground, so they're going to have chop up all that new concrete again to put the pole back in. There's just no coordination. So, yeah, it's done--but it's another joke."

A joke that's likely to end up in another cartoon by Taylor.

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