Our cities are sinking

On Monday, a backhoe fell into a sinkhole downtown. But that’s only where the strange — and sad — news begins.

The corner of Guy and Ste-Catherine on Monday morning. Photo by Chrissy Durcak

Leave it to our fair city to find a new way to fill a hole using a backhoe.

Unless you were camping or exploring Mars over the last few days, you probably know that a city crew sent to find the source of a sewer leak did an amazing job of both finding the leak and filling the sinkhole around it. So the intersection of Ste-Catherine and Guy was closed for two days as the city tried to extract its heavy equipment from the hole using even heavier equipment. (Thankfully the cranes didn’t fall in the hole as well. That would be embarrassing. But what a story!)

Bizarre things seem to be happening all over the place these days, some of them tragic. Not far from the Ste-Catherine sinkhole, a pedestrian was walking on the sidewalk near a de la Montagne construction site when he was crushed by a three-ton metal plate that workers were attempting to move using an excavator and heavy chains. The chains slipped, the plate fell and 32-year-old English teacher Saad Syed was killed.

In jollier news, it is apparently not a good idea to use the term “fat” to describe a Quebec panhandler. Especially if you also call her an alcoholic with “no apparent IQ.”  An SAQ liquor store customer found that out this week when the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal ordered him to pay the woman $8,000 after he wrote an email to his local hooch outlet to complain about her occasional presence outside the store. To the SAQ’s credit, it brought the threatening letter to the woman’s attention so that she could file a complaint. (So who has no apparent IQ now, buddy?)

Speaking of fat, a London public works crew recently spent three weeks unblocking a drain. It was a big drain, but it was the blockage that drew everyone’s attention.

You know when you fry up your bangers and mash in the morning, you sometimes pour the grease down the drain, running a little hot water behind it just to make sure it doesn’t congeal in your pipes? Did it occur to you that the fat might congeal elsewhere? Well, it does. In London, millions of breakfasts worth of grease gather together to form what sewer workers unaffectionately call a fatberg.  This one weighed 15 tons and was blocking 95 per cent of a 2.4-metre diameter trunk sewer line. How big is that? Put it this way: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar could walk upright through that pipe while wearing a fedora.

But the fat had help. You know those germaphobes who use baby wipes on their tukhus after tinkling, etc.? Well, flushing those babies down with the toilet water is a big part of the problem. The wipes break apart and get wrapped around joints or edges in the pipes, becoming fat traps that grow and grow with each new delivery of grease, wet wipes, tampons, condoms and other shite. Next thing  you know, the fecal pipeline is constipated and the city is flooded with angry calls over the fatberg-blocked sewers.

Think of that the next time a flash flood leaves Montreal sewer pipes exploding like geysers.

* * *

Now what was my point? In another odd piece of news, I don’t really have one today.

In a week where:

• a pair of New Brunswick boys, Connor and Noah Barthe, are strangled by a python;

• a teacher has a three-ton metal plate dropped on his head like he’s a cartoon character;

• a recently renovated section of Ste-Catherine collapses like it was paved with paper;

• a 17-year-old driver caught clocking 253 kilometres an hour on Highway 40 is fined $100 instead of the $2287.50 an adult would pay; and

• Hydro-Québec asks for a 5.4-per-cent rate hike;

I’m just too stunned by the insanity that surrounds us.

* * *

Okay, maybe just a few points to make me feel like I’m contributing to society. 1) Don’t flush your grease or wipes (or old meds) down the crapper; 2) Don’t walk close to construction sites; 3) Don’t keep dangerous animals; 4) Don’t call other people nasty names in emails unless you’re ready to go to court.

Oh, and 5) Never end a column with a list. 

Peter Wheeland is a Montreal journalist and stand-up comic. His sardonic observations about the city and province appear every Wednesday. Follow him on Twitter, or find out about his upcoming stand-up performances here. 

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