Friday, July 01, 2016

Why Did the Chicken Not Cross the Road?

Surprise. So rare to have someone knock on the door, but a guy from the local gas company, PSEG, came by yesterday. Long time no see. He said they check the meters every three years, particularly the relief valves. What's a relief valve?

He pointed to the disk-shaped gizmo next to the meter in the basement,

then scrambled behind some shrubbery to find where the gas would be released outdoors if there were some blockage inside. If gas pressure runs amok, the excess gas will be released outside rather than in, the homeowner will smell the gas outside and call the gas company. Since the methane in natural gas doesn't smell, they have to add mercaptan to give it that special leaky gas fragrance. My takeaway was that I need to trim the shrubs away from the house.

The man noticed our free-ranging chickens, which sometimes wander out into our or a neighbor's front yard. I said that thus far they've shown no desire to cross the road. Why would a chicken cross the road, after all, particularly a busy street like Harrison Street, when there's plenty of plants and mulch and good earth to scratch and inspect and gain nourishment from on our side of the car tracks? In this respect, the chickens have thus far displayed a higher intelligence than our otherwise intelligent dog, which would dash out in front of traffic in a second, if left to his own devices. If the cars were instead a herd of cattle stampeding by, would the dog have the same inclination, to head pell mell into a brutal chaos of thundering hooves? I think not, and thus conceived a theory that there's something about wheels that make cars and trucks somehow unreal for a dog.

The gas man and I did not come to a definitive conclusion about this matter, nor the larger matter, which I didn't broach, of human obliviousness towards the global consequences of all those machines rushing by. Are we as blind to danger as dogs, in our own way? He did mention, though, speaking of crossing the road, that a problem with the Prius and other hybrids is that blind pedestrians can't hear them at intersections. There's talk of requiring that electric and hybrid vehicles emit an artificial sound--the equivalent of mercaptan in natural gas.

I was taken back to another streetside conversation I had in the 1960s with a school friend. He said that electric cars are too quiet. Fifty years later, and the same conversation is still being had, with the same din of cars driving by, sending that wonderfully, terribly invisible carbon dioxide skyward. If there's one thing we humans are good at, it's finding reasons to stick with the internal combustion engine. Why would we cross the road to new technologies, sooner rather than later? The answer is up in the air, Junior Birdmen, in a world where our priorities are upside down.

Don't feel too bad if you've never heard of this song, from the 1930s, but here are some new lyrics.
Up in the air, Junior Birdman.
Up in a world that's upside down.
Up in the air, Junior Birdman.
Keep your carbon underground.
Maybe they should put the equivalent of mercaptan in gasoline, so that our noses would tell us what our eyes do not, that there's danger all around us--something planet-threatening leaking into the atmosphere from the backs of our cars. And you'd think there'd be someone, somewhere, the equivalent of the gas man, making sure that the planet remains in good working order and all the built-in safety mechanisms are in good condition.

As the gas man headed off to the next house, I braved the ambient traffic noise to offer one more idea, that rather than electric cars being too quiet, it's the engine-driven cars that are too noisy. He took it in a good natured, open minded way, and was gone. Nice to have spontaneous conversations now and then. Will anything be different three years from now, when he knocks again?

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