Friday, January 6, 2012

Safety Symbiosis

When driving the streets of Milwaukee, the motorist will frequently encounter perplexing signs.   Since the signposts are placed within the traffic lanes, the motorist must be careful not to hit them.

Arrow meets boat.  What does it mean? Through universally understood symbols, which could even be interpreted by a visiting space alien, the motorist is warned to drive on the right side of the road.  

How strong must be the drive of the Inner European in some of us, that we constantly fight the urge not to drive on the left side of the road!  How did this come about?

Many years ago, the city bought these signs from the Acme Keep Right Sign Company at great expense to the taxpayers. Although they cost three times the normal rate for traffic signs, obtained on a no-bid contract, the president of Acme Keep Right just happened to be an old school chum of the traffic commissioner. Isn't it remarkable how such unlikely circumstances bring old friends back together? And, although it was none of their business,  taxpayers kept pestering the city with questions such as "Why the hell did you stick a sign right in the middle of the road where people are trying to drive?"  "What is the meaning of these signs?"  "If I'm not within sight of one of these signs, does that mean I'm supposed to drive on the left?"

So, to find a legal way to stop all the citizen complaints,  the city decided to call a secret meeting between the mayor and the Traffic Commissioner.

"People are constantly complaining about the signs!  They say that the signs serve no purpose, the signs impede traffic in the public roadways, and are very costly to replace.  What can we do?" the Mayor paced around, furiously puffing his cigar. (This was long, long ago).

"Well, sir, we both know that the signs are really unnecessary.  Perhaps we could move them..."

"NO, YOU IDIOT - "  The mayor interrupted. (The mayor was in the same graduating class, and appreciated the unmarked bills slipped under his door now and then). "I don't want to eliminate the signs - I want to eliminate the complaints!  It's clear what we have to do - the signs must be protected!" 

And so the oily wheels of city politics continued to turn, and soon there emerged a plan. To protect the signs from being damaged, the city built a concrete barrier completely surrounding each sign.  These protuberances are anywhere from 6 inches to a foot high, and project into the roadway.  Anyone foolish enough to drive near one of these protuberances at normal traffic speeds can severely damage his vehicle.  Tires can be flattened, wheel rims bent, suspension destroyed, and, in some cases, total destruction of the vehicle can result.

And, so, to this day, in the streets without pity, the concrete barriers protect the signs.  And the signs serve as a warning to avoid the concrete barriers, which protect the signs, which warn of the concrete barriers, which protect the signs. . .    And All is Right on the streets.

Thanks for listening and contributing. I'd love to hear from you.

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