NEW ORLEANS — We all know the feeling of hitting a massive pothole you just couldn’t avoid. Your whole car rattles and you’re not quite sure if you need a chiropractor, a whole new set of tires, or just to drop an "F bomb."
Many curse words have been uttered by drivers making their way through New Orleans. And now, more than 91,000 can commiserate with the Instagram account dedicated to the bumps, lumps, and unpredictability of New Orleans’ roadways.
The Instagram account, called “Look At This F--- Street,” is inspired by the shortcomings of the city’s infrastructure. Followers find at least two posts per day about giant potholes, sinkholes, construction projects, and general crumbling infrastructure across New Orleans.
“I would turn onto a street and it would just be completely removed or there would be a huge you know pothole or a huge pile of gravel. And I just found myself literally saying, look at this f--- street,” said the guy behind the account.
He wouldn’t call himself a citizen journalist, but he is. He’s a one-man, digital, satirical, infrastructure crisis aggregator.
“The squeaky wheel gets the grease in New Orleans,” he said.
We aren’t using his name because he prefers to keep himself anonymous. He’s a small business owner by day, who asked us to hide his face and keep his real name under wraps. For the purposes of this story, we’ll be referring to him as “LATFS,” an acronym for his viral account.
“Part of it is that I just think it’s more effective for the account that way. I think that if it was a single personality, it’s a little less interesting it’s a little less dynamic,” LATFS said. “And also, it’s just fun. We get to do these fun interviews where I’m sitting directly behind a cone, and it gives like a pothole batman vibe.”
Yes, if you check out the video along with this story, you’ll see we did meet over a sinkhole on the West Bank and strategically angle an orange cone between our camera and his face in order to hide his identity.
Just scroll through the LATFS account, and you’ll see “Pothole Batman” has found a loyal audience for the most egregious examples of crumbling New Orleans infrastructure.
You’ll see a chair marking a hole in Hollygrove, indoor rugs covering up potholes in the Bywater, cars and buses and construction equipment, bottom up in bottomless pits.
The examples of bad streets and clever cover-ups for them is never ending. The intersection of Laurel and Webster, one made infamous on the LATFS account, has an overflowing cornucopia of flowers and other items to catch drivers’ attention.
“It started with people planting flowers there and then people now for the fall season have put gourds. Some people have put solar little lights,” LATFS said.
The LATFS account started in November of 2019 with a post of a giant hole in the road in Algiers. Almost immediately, it struck a nerve with the suits at City Hall.
“I was originally trying to get the sewerage and water board to block me. But they never did,” LATFS laughed.
In fact, the Sewerage and Water Board follows the account and interacts.
“Thanks fam,” the sewerage and water board wrote this summer. “This has been reported to our emergency line … crew en route.”
In fact, Parks and Parkways and Roadwork NOLA follow the account, too. We asked a city spokesperson about the city’s general view of the account. Turns out, what started as a ribbing has turned into a resource.
The spokesperson wrote in a statement:
“DPW and Parks and Parkways has a great relationship with this account. They will tag them in an issue they know pertains to us and we will respond if we see an issue that demands our attention. … The page is also extremely helpful in allowing us to consistently remind people to report issues to the proper channels via 311.”
The Sewerage and Water Board welcomes the partnership too. A spokesperson wrote in a statement:
“Through social media, we have become more aware of issues surrounding aging infrastructure — not only here in New Orleans, but for our country as a whole.”
“What do you think about that?” we asked LATFS.
“Yeah, I mean honestly I got a little warm fuzzy feeling,” he said. “That was cool to see. And you know, it’s a funny thing to be known for posting pictures of potholes on Instagram.”
LATFS has a local cult following, with many people dressing up as the account for Halloween. New Orleanians wore costume cones, broken street lights, and orange signs all over the city.
The account has “Pothole Watchdog” merch for sale, paid memberships through Patreon, and even a recent blanket collaboration with New Orleans rug company “We Might Be On Fire.”
LATFS has gotten national attention, too. Our Pothole Watchdog says the White House Office of Digital Strategy even slid into his DMs to talk about infrastructure on social media before the infrastructure bill was passed.
Followers send in between 50 and 100 submissions per day in hopes of being posted to the feed.
“The (Instagram) story’s really easy to get on. The main page, it’s gotta be something really good,” LATFS said while scrolling through his most recent posts.
One of those lucky few whose photos were posted is Shannon Walsh Sanders. She’s the unofficial sinkhole steward of an, at least, 3-year-old sinkhole on Eton Street near her home in Algiers.
We caught her outside as she was finishing up the Halloween display.
“So, it was a rabbit, then after the rabbit, let’s see,” she said scrolling through her phone to show us photos of past decorations.
Walsh Sanders dresses up the hole for the season, partly to entertain the neighborhood and partly so no one drives right into it.
The orange barrel has been dressed as a Saints player, a minion, a snowball, “the hole at the end of the rainbow” for St. Patrick’s Day, and many more.
“Well of course we want (the hole) filled,” she said. “But we did say that when it gets filled, we’re gonna have a jazz funeral for it.”
While Shannon shouldn’t schedule the brass band just yet, potholes featured on the account have been filled days after a post. LATFS likes to believe a little public shaming and a picture makes all the difference.
“The visual element of social media, I like to think that when the city sees some of these, they’re like, oh man, we really need to do something about that. Like… cars are getting physically stuck in it on their way to work.”
With embarrassing infrastructure failures on full display, LATFS successfully walks the line between facetious and fed up.
“I tend to fall into the camp of, we can be funny about these things and we can get something done about it. And they’re not mutually exclusive,” LATFS said.
It’s a playful part of New Orleans culture that will never be fully paved over: Comedy that crumbles underneath your tires.