Hamtramck Guerrilla Road Crew fights potholes, raises funds

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Residents of Hamtramck have faced some unusually bumpy roads this year. According to reporting in the city's hometown paper, The Review, the city piggybacked on a pothole repair contract with another city, then had to discontinue the filling because the project wasn't properly bid out. That left Hamtramck in a lurch of sorts, as other cities had their potholes filled promptly after the last frost, even as Hamtramck still has many roads filled with potholes that are only getting larger and deeper.

But Hamtramck is a town where it's best not to leave things undone — if only because it gets people talking. Sometimes they even do something about it, like this time, with the formation of the Hamtramck Guerrilla Road Crew. 

It all started at a local watering hole, where several residents of the city were talking about the potholes, a common topic around town. At least that's how Jonathan Weier tells it.

He says, "We were just sitting there at the bar, and that particular topic came up. I know there have been stories about people blowing tie rods, the guy who lost four tires this summer, about ball joints needing to be replaced. We just posing these questions, like, 'Hey, how do you fill a pothole? What do you need? How much does it cost?"

One of the drinkers at the bar knew the business, and told Weier and the others it was a fairly simple matter of pouring fill in the hole and stomping on it with a tamper tool.

Weier says, "So I posted to Facebook, basically asking, 'Is anybody going to fuck with me if I start patching potholes?' That started a big flow of comments." Weier says the commenters included Hamtramck Mayor Karen Majewski, who said she wouldn't have a problem with any guerrilla patching.

With seed money of $120, and a willing group of a half-dozen volunteers, Weier and company set out on Saturday, July 25, with 900 pounds of fill. They wanted to do one of the worst streets in town, so they picked the block of Lumpkin north of Caniff, which Weier describes as having "cavernous holes every two feet that are four feet wide across the street." The crew spent about 90 minutes at work until they ran out of material about 80 percent of the way through with the job.

"No one bothered us," Weier says. "We did get asked, 'You from the city?' And we said no, we're just doing this ourselves. And they were like, 'Alright. Good on you.'"

HGRC volunteer Maritza Garibay tells us, "We had so much fun on Saturday. It's hard work, but so rewarding. I think we all took turns driving down Lumpkin to feel the lack of potholes."

Since that initial bit of work, the notoriety of the Hamtramck Guerrilla Road Crew has taken off. The group set up a page on gofundme.com that has been receiving generous donations. Some contractors have gotten in touch offering donations of materials. Mediawise, the group was profiled in Mlive, and has even received calls from NPR. Gee says, "I feel like the last 48 hours have just been non-stop!"

Are the powers that be upset at all that citizens are taking public works into their own hands? According to Weier, the reaction isn't as negative as some might think.

Weier says, "We heard from city manager Katrina Powell. She wanted to have a chat. It sounds like we have their blessing, though I don’t know if they’d appreciate us saying that. But we've spoken, and apparently, it's all pretty positive. They just wanted to make sure we're not doing redundant work."

Politically speaking, the HGRC seems as tranquil as the Hamtramck leadership is about this unusual turn of events. Weier says, "Making noise and complaining about politicians is not going to fix the problem. I think we can do what we’re going to do with local support. You can do this you can accomplish this with the help of your neighbors."

For more information, see the group's gofundme site.

About The Author

Michael Jackman

Born in 1969 at Mount Carmel hospital in Detroit, Jackman grew up just 100 yards from the Detroit city line in east Dearborn. Jackman has attended New York University, the School of Visual Arts, Northwestern University and Wayne State University, though he never got a degree. He has worked as a bar back, busboy,...
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