♫ You can’t get there, the road is under construction ♬

Mad Magazine™ was wonderful back in the ’50s and ’60s. I seem to recall that as I grew older, either my sense of humor changed – I started appreciating Harvard Lampoon’s work in the late ’60s – or the quality of the writing diminished.

At any rate, some of the early stuff was priceless, and still relevant to today’s challenges. One example that keeps surfacing in my mind every time I hit a detour is this gem, written by Tom Koch and illustrated by Bob Clarke.

Peeved at Obstructions
(Sung to the tune of “Eve of Destruction” Barry McGuire)

You save up all year long to take a nice vacation.
You make a lot of plans to drive across the nation.
You dream of all you’ll see with great anticipation.
You’ve only got a week to reach your destination,
But that seems like enough, you feel no consternation.
Then they tell you over and over and over again, my friend,
That you can’t get through; the road is under construction.

You’ve never been to Maine or Utah’s scenic section.
You call the auto club to help make your selection.
You pay to get your car a thorough trip inspection.
So you can drive afar and feel you’ve got protection.
Then, when you’re almost there, you seek a cop’s direction.
And he tells you over and over and over again, my friend,
That you must turn back; the road is under construction.

Vacation here at home, our president keeps sayin’.
Don’t spend your dough abroad, he fervently is praying.
So you head for New York do do your summer playing;
Or maybe to the west a travel plan you’re laying,
To see those snowy peaks and geysers wildly sprayin’.
But the signs warn over and over and over again, my friend,
That you can’t get there; the road is under construction.

The challenge is real. In preparation for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, UDOT undertook the I-15 corridor reconstruction project.

“The project involved the reconstruction of 16.2 miles of interstate mainline and the addition of new general purpose and high-occupancy-vehicle (HOV) lanes through the Salt Lake City metropolitan area. The project also included the construction or reconstruction of more than 130 bridges, the reconstruction of seven urban interchanges, and the reconstruction of three major junctions with other interstate routes, including I-80 and I-215.”

While the project was sorely needed and the end result was beneficial, for four years, the commute from outlying areas to Salt Lake City was a major pain in the patoot, with commuters searching out and jealously guarding favorable and secret bypass routes.

But wait, there’s more!

In 2009, UDOT undertook the I-15 Core reconstruction project, rebuilding 24 miles of I-15 from Point of the Mountain to Payson in just 35 months. The design-build strategy meant that the entire stretch was torn up at once, instead of doing a few miles at a time. The inconvenience was so significant that I was moved to memorialize the experience in video:

In retrospect, I really shoudn’t complain at all; nowadays our nation’s crumbling infrastructure could use a bit of help, and I think subsequent generations would appreciate our putting up with some inconvenience if it means that their bridges won’t collapse underneath them. But when you’re behind the wheel and trying to get to work (or to a vacation destination), the aggravation can certainly raise one’s blood pressure.

Bonus Section

Since I happened to be on the subject of MAD Magazine, another extract from the same article is precisely the reason our family threw out all our TVs over 20 years ago (the kids were absolutely devastated, but somehow they survived):

The TV Victim’s Lament
(Sung to the Tune of “Blowin’ in the Wind” by Bob Dylan)

How many times must a guy spray with Ban
Before he doesn’t offend?
And how many times must he gargle each day
Before he can talk to a friend?
How many tubes of shampoo must he buy
Before his dandruff will end?
The sponsors, my friend, will sell you all they can.
The sponsors will sell you all they can.

How many times must a man use Gillette
Before shaving won’t make him bleed?
And how many cartons of Kents must he smoke
Before the girls all pay him heed?
How many products must one person buy
Before he has all that he’ll need?
The sponsors, my friend, will sell you all they can.
The sponsors will sell you all they can.

How many times must a gal clean her sink
Before Ajax scours that stain,
And how many times must she rub in Ben-Gay
Before she can rub out the pain?
How many ads on TV must we watch
Before we are driven insane?
The sponsors, my friend, will sell you all they can.
The sponsors will sell you all they can.

Full disclosure: My mother single-handedly raised me on the income from commercial advertising, so I feel a bit sheepish about this, but the onslaught of advertising, much of which has now moved from the airwaves to the internet, still rubs me the wrong way.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Well yeah, why *can’t* public transit be free?

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Of course, it comes down to economics. But I’m reminded of a couple of stories.

A corporation needs a new accountant, and the VP of HR does the interviewing. In comes the first candidate.
“How much is two plus two?”
“What is this, a joke? I don’t need to work with simpletons!” And the first candidate walks out.
In comes the second candidate.
“How much is two plus two?”
“Well, four of course.”
“Thank you for your time, we’ll be in touch.”
In comes the third candidate.
“How much is two plus two?”
“How much would you like it to be?”
“You’re hired.”

Second was the delightful scene in the film “Dave” with Bill Pullman where a presidential stand-in rewrites the budget with the help of an accountant buddy of his to save a previously-vetoed homeless shelter that the (real) First Lady was supporting.

Now, that’s fiction – but you can’t tell me that if a room full of people of good will sat down with our national budget and cut out the fat and the folly and the inhumane bulldust, you couldn’t fund all sorts of useful and needful infrastructure and social programs like transportation and education. I simply refuse to believe it. The money is there, it’s just that so much of it is being redirected toward pork and waste and death and destruction, and the good will isn’t, because everyone wants to belly up to the public trough.

I got thinking about this today because of a recent article at the BBC reporting on a three-day free transit window in Paris (to reduce pollution), and one at The Atlantic which asks and explores the issue of free public trasnsporation.

When I was at the University of Utah in 1974, I began my experience as a freelance translator, and one of the pro-bono jobs I did was translating certain documents from Italian in to English for the benefit of Utah State Representative Sam Taylor regarding a free transit experiment in Rome. His obituary from the year 2000 illustrates that he was a controversial figure; in retrospect, I’m not sure if Representative Taylor was actually for or against the idea of free transit.

In 1970, Mr. Taylor was elected to the Utah House of Representatives, where he served until 1986. In 1973, he passed the Transit Act, which created the Utah Transit Authority.

Mr. Taylor would later become a UTA critic. In a 1995 letter to the editor printed in the Deseret News, Mr. Taylor lamented that too much tax money was being used for mass transit. He referred to the yet-to-be constructed light-rail system from Sandy to Salt Lake as “political boondoggle.”

In 1993, Mr. Taylor was appointed to the transit authority’s board and served two terms. He was often the sole voice of dissent on UTA board decisions and in 1995, while a board member, he filed a lawsuit against UTA to try to stop construction of Salt Lake County light rail.

Mr. Taylor was recognized in 1997 by the Amalgamated Transit Union and the AFL-CIO for “leadership and untiring support for the men and women who make UTA go.” Mr. Taylor left his position on the transit board last year.

The article below from the Deseret News is published from the Utah Transit Authority’s slant, but it does point out that Sam was an activist who was looking out for the rider rather than the corporation (click the image to read in full size).

Taylor

Well, Light Rail and later the FrontRunner heavy rail system ultimately went through and continues to be expanded. It was needful and remains useful, but the UTA still struggles to increase ridership. From my extensive travels in Europe, I can tell you that a good and reliable mass transit system is a huge blessing for people from all economic strata. But here in America, where people are wedded to their cars, it’s constantly an uphill battle.

That experiment in Rome? Well, it didn’t work out so positively, but I give them props for trying.

The earliest urban experiment in free public transit took place in Rome in the early 1970s. The city, plagued by unbearable traffic congestion, tried making its public buses free. At first, many passengers were confused: “There must be a trick,” a 62-year-old Roman carpenter told The New York Times as he boarded one bus. Then riders grew irritable. One “woman commuter” predicted that “swarms of kids and mixed-up people will ride around all day just because it doesn’t cost anything.” Romans couldn’t be bothered to ditch their cars—the buses were only half-full during the mid-day rush hour, “when hundreds of thousands battle their way home for a plate of spaghetti.” Six months after the failed, costly experiment, a cash-strapped Rome reinstated its fare system.

If public transit is to succeed, it must be both convenient and affordable. A monthly pass which includes Trax and buses in Salt Lake runs $83.00, with 50% reduction for seniors and the disabled. Add another $100 (or $50) if you want to use the FrontRunner heavy rail. That’s not overly burdensome for the average wage earner, but the main problem in this area is that it’s not convenient if you don’t live near a bus line, and getting from one place to another can double your commute time as opposed to driving. mostly due to the time getting to a bus stop and the wait for transfers.

In the end, I am left wondering what the effect would be if public transit were free altogether, always. I’m not offering any suggestions on how to fund this, just wondering what the overall impact would be. In the meantime, follow this link to see how your city’s public transit system stacks up.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

The 3rd Avenue El, New York City, 1952

I’ve mentioned this before in this post, but here is a lovely shot of the elevated train that used to run up and down Third Avenue in New York City [Photo: Vivian Maier, hat tip commenter Ron for the attribution.] Its official name was the IRT Third Avenue Line.

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An extract of the cartoon by Charles Addams is worth reposting here:

Sometimes, on nights like this I can still hear it rumble by.

The 3rd Avenue El

The caption read, “Sometimes, on nights like this I can still hear it rumble by.”

I was only four years old when service was discontinued and the Manhattan elevated trains faded into history, but I remember the “El” well. It was the last survivor, and was supposed to remain in service until the Second Avenue Subway was built (envisioned since 1929, and only now under construction; it’s history rivals the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona for “fits-and-starts” construction), but pressure from real estate investors caused its ultimate demise.

As a historical curiosity, notice those little fire pots on the road. Those were ubiquitous warnings found everywhere in the East where construction was going on – they were in use as late as 1965, if I recall correctly. They were the earlier version of these, which are now everywhere:

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And the curious thing is that I can’t find a decent photo of one anywhere. But up close,they looked like this:

firepot

Just a smoky little black fire pot that burned kerosene.

Edit: Ha! Thanks to my friend John Lavezzi who reminded me that these things are called smudge pots.

Smudge Pot

 

And now you can buy them in modern form for your patio:

17423_l

A random New York City memory, one among thousands.

The Old Wolf has spoken.