This is sort of a sequel to the recent post ‘Commemorating‘. Sort of. And by ‘sort of’ I mean ‘if you mutate the definition of the word “sequel” beyond human recognition, you could call it a sequel.’
(Actually, if you’ve read ‘Commemorating’, then I apologize: it’s unfocused and rambling — even for me. If I achieve some minimum score on both the guilt AND motivation axes (and do these axes span two-space? If so, which two-space?) then I’ll spend some time, try to tighten it up and maybe make it better. What are the odds of that happening? Probably low, but you never know. Of course, that would also require editing this post which would require even more motivation…. Where was I?)
In ‘Commemorating’ I tried to relate some things that happened when Ms. Rose and I visited some relatives and their adolescent-canine-named-after-a-curling-club. Four days later we went back because some things were left undone on the first visit. In particular, the original visit had among its goals ‘making their (the relatives) lives a living hell’ — I don’t think that was actually accomplished; all I did was play with the puppy, (over)eat and chase loons. To the best of my knowledge, we left with only the barest metaphorical whiff of brimstone.
Never one to leave a job half-done (a lie but it’s something people say and I’m resonating again) we decided to go back so I could, um, try to finish the job. Or start it. Or something. Of course, that means Supplies. (Food, for example. Tormenting people is hungry work.) And Supplies mean Errands. And Errands usually means ‘traffic.’
Which is how I wound up stopped at a traffic light thinking about rites of passage.
A rite of passage is some sort of event (often ritual-ish) that marks a person’s change in status. Lots of societies have them. Lots of cultures. Lots of religions. Lots of things. Examples? Everyone knows someone who’s been through a Bar Mitzvah. For Masai youths, the route to adulthood used to involve hunting lions with pointed sticks (I assume this has changed). For adolescents on Alexei Panshin’s Ships, in order to become an adult, a child would be dropped on a primitive planet (with a horse) for a month. (I stole that, sort of, for a story I wrote about a Sarista from a floating rock named Sylvanus.) Lots of things are rites of passage.
Like getting your driver’s license.
When I got mine there was a (I assume from the price) heavily-subsidized-by-someone driver’s education program run through the local school system that “we” (my contemporaries and I) all took. At the time it seemed to me to be a fairly good program; it involved both ‘in-class’ (at the high school I attended) and ‘in-car’ (Plymouth Volares IIRC) sessions.
I remember some things from that course quite vividly. I remember having to give a presentation about towing a trailer (something I had never done) while sounding confident, authoritative and experienced. (I failed in all three, of course.) I remember the (in-class) instructor telling us how he almost set fire to both himself and his car with a cigar. I remember the (in-car) instructor (a pilot when he wasn’t teaching hormone-addled adolescents to drive) telling us to head the wrong way up a one-way street. And I remember both of them telling us how to approach a traffic light.
They said a lot of things about that. One thread that ran through everything, though, was the importance of planning for the light to change colour — because that couldn’t be predicted, but could be anticipated and planned for.
Of course, things have changed.
A few years ago, the local municipal Authorities started introducing traffic lights that could be predicted. In particular, while the light was green there was a countdown — displayed on the pedestrian signal — to the colour change. When the countdown reached zero, the green light would change to amber. Simple. This removed some guesswork and reduced (in a pig’s eye) the number of people running red lights.
Does it? Some reports seem to indicate that they might reduce car-pedestrian collisions but increase car-car collisions. Other reports seem to contradict this, showing no negative consequences at all. What do I think? I like it, my gut tells me that more data is always good; with it, people can potentially make better decisions. Good job, city officials — and I don’t often have cause to say that.
Of course, they screwed it up.
As mentioned (or at least implied) I think the value of these things lies in the added data they provide due to their predictability: there’s a visible and easily-understood signal that says how long until the light changes. It’s clear and unambiguous. So in some sort of weird quest for something, the municipality decided to add ambiguity back — perhaps even more than there was before. How? They introduced a new kind of traffic light that looked exactly the same but after the countdown reaches zero… nothing happens. There’s a delay and then the light changes. Any benefits from the countdown lights are gone — unless you memorize which intersections have which type of light. (If you remember wrong — if, for example, you (incorrectly) think that this was one of the ones that change at zero and, as a result you stop when the countdown reaches zero — then you’ll find out that (a) the person behind you has a working horn and (b) his passenger is a woman in labour having an acute myocardial infarction.)
Bravo, city officials. This demonstrates a certain level of both planning and guile. I didn’t know you had it in you.
All of this passed through my head while I was sitting at the light. Then I looked to my right. On the sidewalk was a young lady carrying a bag, wearing a skirt and leaning against a large piece of concrete.. While I sat there contemplating old science fiction novels, malicious bureaucrats and ice cream, she… took her skirt off.
That’s not something you see every day.
I tried to remember when last I had seen someone remove clothing while standing on a sidewalk. I couldn’t. I blinked — she was still there. While I watched she reached into her bag, pulled out a pair of shorts and put them on.
Apparently, Jersey barriers have unexpected uses.