There are three pet peeves of mine that I had hoped to see go away before I die. But it’s not looking like any of them will go away soon. Maybe not even in my kids’ lifetime.
In a time when NASA is planning a trip to Mars, we’ve mapped the human genome, and Elon Musk is starting work on his Hyperloop, why are these three things still, well, a thing?
- Telephone poles
- License plates
OK, I realize there are many bigger problems facing the world, but hear me out on this.
C’mon, really? We are still stringing up wires on dead trees in order to communicate with each other?
We’ve given up communicating by smoke signals and pigeons, why not telephone poles?
They are so ubiquitous that for most people the millions of dead trees with billions of miles of wires strung from them are just part of the background noise of life. Doesn’t even register. Anyone alive today cannot imagine what the world would look like without them.
I can tell you this…the world would look a LOT better without this visual pollution.
In San Francisco, where I live, there seems to be a strange obsession with telephone poles. You can barely see the sky through the maze of wires. It’s sort of strangely and ironically appealing…a super high-tech city that still communicates via wires and wooden poles.
Like most things, ugly telephone poles appeal to some people. There’s even a website devoted to them www.oldgreypole.com. I learned a couple facts about utility poles here, like that the first one was erected in 1844 for telegraph wires. And that utility companies have been given a free ride to do what they want on your property with their dead trees and wires.
Personally, I HATE telephone poles. It offends my sense of order and beauty that I ideally believe should exist in the world (despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary).
Telephone poles are just plain ugly.
Imagine a world without them? The next time you are driving down a bucolic country road, picture the same scene without the seemingly endless line of poles and wires obstructing the view. Much nicer, right?
I tried to find out how many millions of telephone poles dot the country so I could roughly estimate the billions of miles of wires that blight our beautiful nation, but this proved nearly impossible. The utility companies, the perpetrators in large part of this travesty (and benefactors of free land and right-of-way access) aren’t talking. Actually, I honestly think they just don’t know. And they all said no one has ever asked the question before.
Such is the state of American indifference.
The best estimate I could find was “somewhere between 180 million and 250 million.” Just a little spread of 70 million. Still, it’s a LOT of dead trees (and equally ugly metal poles). Forests of trees.
Am I the only neurotic obsessive compulsive who sees this as a problem?
I did find out that if you want to remove the eyesore in front of your home that is spoiling your million-dollar view it will practically take an act of Congress to do it (and you know how well they get things done). I was quoted a wide range of prices (hypothetical, I think, in most cases) to take out telephone poles and put them underground. It’s REALLY expensive. The only person who even ventured a guesstimate of the cost said $80,000 per home (and I think she was pulling that price out of her…). You usually also have to get all your neighbors to agree to do it, which is like getting Republicans and Democrats to agree on anything.
The big reason why there are gazillions of utility poles blighting the land is (surprise) it’s cheaper to do than putting them underground. Who cares that they are ugly. Who cares that thousands of people have died from running into telephone poles or having one fall on them during a storm. Who cares that environmental groups say there is “widespread contamination and poisoning” from the single largest pesticide group, wood preservatives used in telephone poles.
Since the utility companies have gotten pretty much a free ride for, oh, the last 150 YEARS, shouldn’t they bear the cost and responsibility to remove them and place utilities underground? Seems more than fair to me.
If we really want to live up to American exceptionalism and realize the meaning of the words “America the beautiful,” shouldn’t we get on this problem now? It’s going to take some time (and employ a LOT of people). If I was running for president I would include the removal of telephone poles as a major plank in my platform. Democrats would support it because it would create jobs and spend money. Republicans might get behind this because they support the removal of everything from immigrants to Social Security. My campaign slogan would be “Go to the polls to get rid of the poles.” Hopefully, the wingnuts and racists wouldn’t mistake this for deporting Polish people.
PS: there’s still time to place me on the ballot.
BTW, if for some reason you want to purchase a used telephone pole (and who doesn’t?), your friendly utility company auctions them off regularly. Used poles can be purchased for as little as $50. New ones will set you back between $350 to $1,800.
Go to www.usedpoles.com for more information about these fascinating eyesores.
My new car looks so good without those ugly metal license plates festooned with numbers and letters dangling from the front and back bumpers. You know, the same ugly thing that we’ve been subjected to for the last 120 years (the first license plate was issued in France in 1893).
How many products are there in widespread use for more than a century that haven’t been disrupted by a better idea or new technology? Right, almost none.
So, where are the entrepreneurs who want to make a difference in the world who can find some simple, high-tech solution to vehicle identification? After all, we have wireless flat screen TV’s and GPS satellites circling the globe and drones delivering pizzas…why are we still using metal license plates? Where’s the high-tech solution?
We’re wasting precious resources making metal plates (although we do keep the criminals who make them busy). And with 260 million registered vehicles in the U.S. alone, that’s a lot of metal.
When I bought my car, the sexy car commercial didn’t show how much these antiquated things ruin the lines of an otherwise sleek and aerodynamic vehicle. Wisely, they show the car as it should be seen…without license plates. Why? Because they are UGLY!. Would you hang a big metal plate around the neck of a supermodel unless you were an avant garde New York designer? Of course not. So why mess up the looks of my car?
Again, I say that any country that can create Snapchat and $99 DNA profiles should be able to come up with a better way to identify vehicles than bolting metal plates to them.
My final pet peeve is carpeting, especially wall-to-wall plush carpeting. While I don’t want to put American workers out of business (45% of the world carpeting production is American), perhaps we can find other things for them to make that aren’t, well, so TOXIC.
Carpeting is a rather new blight on our lives, historically speaking. Carpets only became popular after the introduction of big textile mills capable of producing them in the early 19th century. Wall-to-wall carpeting only became popular after World War II.
Carpeting is a sneaky danger to our health. Most people don’t give a thought to the toxic chemicals that new carpeting releases; fun stuff like formaldehyde, benzene, and perchloroethylene. Or the many toxins in the backing, adhesives, bug repellants, and flame retardants that go into modern carpeting. That new carpet you installed in your baby room has the potential to reduce her IQ, cause behavioral problems, and increase the risk of allergies or asthma.
And this is just from the carpet itself.
Every day my wife and I clean our hardwood and tile floors with a Swiffer sweeper that collects the dirt and dust left from the previous day’s activities. I’m always shocked at how much dust, dirt, and dog hair there is. Yet, for carpet owners (who may vacuum once a week or less), this crud gets ground into their carpeting. Even the most thorough vacuuming can’t get it all out.
If you’re stuck with carpeting, you can reduce carpet pollution somewhat by taking off your shoes when you enter the house, keep pets outdoors, and make sure your furnace filters are clean. Indoor air filters can also help. But these are like patching holes in the Titanic; you won’t be walking on a clean surface if your home is carpeted.
When something is outdated and proven to be harmful, don’t we have an obligation to find a new way? Let’s retire the 20th century notion that homes need carpeting to be comfortable.
Well, those are my three biggest pet peeves about things that have outlived their usefulness in a modern 21st century world. It’s time for enterprising entrepreneurs to solve these problems (Elon Musk, do you hear me?).