Un-wiring the world
The Overall Picture
Today, We Honor The Overall Man Classic Bill Mead
Reprinted with permission
Considering how gracious she is about most things, my wife can go ape about a few things that bother her. Like truck drivers. She thinks they all get together once a week to plot how they can run her off the road. This unhealthy and, in my opinion, grossly distorted notion stems from an incident more than 40 years ago when a truck crowded her on a narrow bridge. At least she thought the truck was crowding her. Now when we travel around the country she looks for any excuse to criticize truck drivers. To her frustration, she can’t point to very many examples of poor driving on their part.
In an effort to defuse her anger over the long-ago bridge accident, I suggested the truck driver involved was probably an Irishman and not all truck drivers are Irish. Having lived almost half a century with an Irishman, she knows how credible my theory is. Even so, those Freightliners and Peterbilts get her hackles up every time.
I think she hates utility lines even more than she distrusts big rig jockeys. I know her feelings in this matter are shared by millions of other Americans but I am not sure if most other anti-wire people flip out over it as much as she does. I have a hard time calming her down because I have to admit overhead utility lines are the worst source of visual pollution in this country. Lady Bird Johnson went after billboards with a vengeance but I don’t recall she ever said a discouraging word about utility lines. I don’t hear much about it from environmental groups that usually fight about anything that humans had anything to do with.
Maybe it’s because we feel there is no practical way to get rid of these ugly canopies over our neighborhoods, so why fuss about it? We have seen photos of big cities in the late 19th century showing so many exposed wires that you can hardly see the buildings. These pictures suggest that giant silkworms had been turned loose on us. Thanks to technology, we can run our Nintendos and hot tubs with fewer wires these days but overhead utilities still look like hell. Architects wrack their brains to design attractive structures, then the whole effect is ruined by unsightly poles and other utility gadgets that dominate the foreground. I sometimes look at an upscale neighborhood marred with utility lines and try to imagine how it would look without them. It doesn’t take much imagination to visualize how much better our world would look if electric, telephone and TV services were undergrounded. Can’t some mad scientist or garage tinkerer come up with an affordable way to do this?
I have to admit that my anger over ugly poles is heightened by the way one of our beautiful Cedars of Lebanon is beginning to wrap itself around a utility pole in front of our house. I have long rehearsed a scenario where the power company guys show up with giant chain saws and hack my gorgeous tree to a stub. With my luck, they will probably send out an expert who will trim the tree lovingly and sparingly, preserving its beauty and leaving me with nobody to be sore at.
I would hate that. I don’t like anybody being nice when I’m all set to be mad.
If you don’t know Bill: Bill Mead was the longtime publisher of the Tehachapi News, along with Betty Mead, his wife and partner of more than 50 years. Known for his keen wit, which could be gentle or scathing or somewhere in between but was often self-deprecatory, Bill’s writing won him a wide following among News readers. His column “The Overall Picture” ran in the News for more than 25 years, and in 1999 he published a collection of his columns in a volume entitled The Napa Valley Outhouse War. His book is currently available for sale at the Tehachapi Museum for $10.
Bill had a remarkable mind and because of his intelligence, humor and appearance he was regarded by many as Tehachapi’s Mark Twain. As Betty used to remind him, he was “older than the oldest Model A Ford” and his wealth of life experiences and rural upbringing allowed him to bring a thoroughly American, 20th century perspective to his reflections and musings on the everyday. Bill passed away in 2008 but his writing lives on.
[Publisher’s note: I read Bill’s articles during the 80s and 90s and 20s and I am grateful to share them now with our current readers. I hope you enjoy this touch of nostalgia as much as I do.]