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'Pothole Picasso' turns bad roads into good art

Plus, other things to talk about at Thanksgiving.


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Welcome to PA Local, a free weekly newsletter about the great people, amazing places, and delicious food of Pennsylvania.

November 18, 2022
Inside this edition: Thanksgiving talking points, ketchup krazy, grand new flag, scrapple by any other name, Philly's new-seum, and the prince of potholes.
This week's PA Local trivia question.

Next week is Thanksgiving.

Which Pennsylvania city hosted "the first national Thanksgiving" in 1777?

Keep scrolling for the answer and lots of other stuff you can use to deflect from talk of the midterms at Thursday's big meal.

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Our five favorite Pennsylvania stories of the week.

» One thing worth sharing: Things are getting weird over at Pittsburgh-based Kraft Heinz. How weird? TribLIVE reports there's talk of "stuffing pants," "Velveeta martinis," and even "hot-dog popsicles."

» One thing worth seeing: A $3,000 Kickstarter wants to give Pennsylvania the flag it needs and deserves. It's called the Keystone Flag and it's "as bold and recognizable as Pennsylvania itself."

» One thing worth reading: The Rigas mansion in Coudersport is on the market 20 years after federal fraud charges toppled the family's telecommunications empire, The Inquirer (paywall) reports.

» One thing worth knowing: Cincinnati, Ohio, has its own version of scrapple, per Daily Meal. It's called goetta (pronounced GET-uh) and it's bound with oats instead of cornmeal. We'll see you at the festival

» One thing worth doing: Philadelphia's Neon Museum says goodbye for good next month. Get there while you can. In future museum news: Philly is one step close to its Alexander Calder showcase.

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Spotlight PA's top original news stories of the week.
» COVID-19 UPDATE: Your guide to finding resources on cases, vaccines, and tests

» Democrats win control of Pa. House after picking up 12 seats
» DA probing Pa. county's Election Day paper shortage
» Why Pa. teams got left out of the minor league baseball union
» Officials deal with service funding questions as Centre Region grows
» Why Penn State faculty are questioning university leadership
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A Jim Bachor pothole mosaic placed in Chicago. (Courtesy of Jim Bachor)

Artist Jim Bachor is turning potholes across America into actual street art. And, yes, that includes Pennsylvania — naturally.

Bachor, a Chicagoan and former advertising worker who's been dubbed "Pothole Picasso" by the New York Post, has done three installations in Philadelphia (see them here). One earned him an unsolicited tip from a grateful neighbor. Another has since disappeared.

The process is fairly simple if not entirely legal: Bachor picks a pothole, fills it with concrete, and tops it off with mosaic tiles carefully arranged into the image of a person, animal, food, cleaning product, or a statement.

We talked to him about the work, the "universal hate" that potholes inspire, and when he's coming back to the craterlands of the Keystone State.

The conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

PA Local: Hey Jim. Describe your ideal pothole.

Bachor: An ideal pothole is like 18 by 24 inches. Can't be too shallow. Can't be in the center of the road. I can't be blocking traffic. I can't be drawing too much attention to myself. I like to kind of get in and get out.

PA Local: Ever get in any trouble for this? 

Bachor: I've done this almost 10 years and I've had about eight encounters with the cops. My favorite happened at Hyde Park in Chicago. A cop car pulled up and I look up and he looks down at me and goes, 'Are you that pothole guy?' I said yeah, and he goes, 'That's so f---ing cool.'

PA Local: Pennsylvania has a proud history of guerrilla pothole action. How do non-police respond to your art? 

Bachor: The only time I've ever had some blowback is if the piece is political. But it's almost always positive. A woman in Philadelphia actually gave me a little tip. She came out and I think she gave me $10. I never ask for that type of stuff, but she insisted and I thought that was kind of cute. Some people see it as kind of a Robin Hood thing. 

PA Local: Is it? Are these critiques of bad government services?

Bachor: People like to think that that my work is some statement about the lack of the government, you know, taking care of things. It really isn't that. It isn't trying to draw attention to the problem of potholes at all.

PA Local: What started it then? 

Bachor: It really started to kind of like get some self-promotion and get people to go to my website and look at my fine art

PA Local: Everyone hates potholes. Setting aside the tangled knot of public opinion around infrastructure and how it's maintained (Hi, Domino's), how does that popular sentiment influence what you do? 

Bachor: I kind of realized that potholes are a universal hate. It doesn't matter who you are; everyone hates them. And so I will sometimes juxtapose this universal hate with subject matter that is kind of universally loved, like flowers, or ice cream, or junk food. That kind of stuff. So there's that nice kind of tension between the two ideas.

PA Local: How are you picking your designs? 

Bachor: Sometimes I'll steer campaigns to the town I'm in. Like, if I'm in the middle of a junk food series and I'm in Detroit — I'm originally from Detroit— but if I'm in Detroit I'll consider what junk food items are specific to it, like Faygo pop. The Philly piece was that Arctic Splash or whatever that iced tea thing is that you guys drink out there.

PA Local: How do you decide where you're going next? 

Bachor: I'm not independently wealthy. So it's all based on people bringing me out. The Philly pieces were sponsored by a gallery in town, Paradigm. I did a bunch in Detroit because I was invited to a street fest there. I did some in Nashville because I was hired to do some promotional stuff for a country singer. So if I'm somewhere for a reason, I'll bring a piece.

PA Local: How long do they typically last?

Bachor: If the pothole gods are looking down on me favorably, probably a couple of years. I've had them last over five years, and they're in great shape. But I've had other situations where it was gone in a week because the street got repaved and it's like you gotta be kidding me. 

Colin Deppen, PA Local editor

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"Having trouble using Ticketmaster? Pennsylvanians experiencing problems using the site should submit a complaint to my office..."

Pennsylvania Gov.-elect and Attorney General Josh Shapiro soliciting consumer complaints after this week's Taylor Swift Ticketmaster debacle
Our favorite photo of the week submitted by a PA Local reader.

Flocking together at the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum, via Don N. Send us your photos, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.

The answer to this week's trivia question.

York claims to be the site of "the first national Thanksgiving" in 1777.

It was more of a military holiday then.

According to the York County History Center, thrilled about a Continental Army victory in the Battle of Saratoga, a young Continental Congress issued a proclamation on Nov. 1, 1777, encouraging colonists to observe Dec. 18 as a day of thankfulness and revolutionary reflection.

The national holiday most of us know, celebrated on the last Thursday of November, also links back to war and Pennsylvania. 

President Abraham Lincoln created the holiday after the punishing but pivotal Union Army victory at the Battle of Gettysburg.

Thanks for reading PA Local! We'll see you back here next week. But first ... send us your feedback. What did you like? What didn't you like? 

Spotlight PA is an independent, non-partisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with PennLive/The Patriot-News, TribLIVE/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and WITF Public Media.

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