Can You See That? And other answers to your overheard questions at Juliet
By Joshua Lewin
Can you help us settle a dispute?
If you were given a free telephone pole, you would take it, right? Because why not?
Stop. Just stop. Obviously I’m not going to take a telephone pole. Even a free one. Where am I supposed to put it, and what is it for?
Ok, so what is it for? And what could you do with a used one?
Every once in a while, I look up and notice the network of bare wooden pylons strung together with what I assume are dangerous wires. Most of the time, even when they are stapled with notices for tag sales, missing cats, upcoming local shows, I don’t notice them at all. I notice the flyers, sure, I just rarely notice deep enough to think about what they are fixed to. They are huge, about 40 feet tall it turns out; that is standard. There are tons of them, and they are all interconnected in a web of deadly but insulated ropes. Growing up we called them phone poles. The above guest — yes, this was a real question— called it a telephone pole. When you call the city to inquire about them, they prefer the term utility pole.
If you are reading this magazine, 99.something percent of you being in the United States (although that near unanimous number is slowly shrinking, so hello, welcome, and thank you, international reader), you probably don’t notice these either. You grew up with them. Like me. All of you. They have been ubiquitous throughout the landscape of the United States since the 1950’s, although a few had been in place long before that. They began appearing by the late 19th century, Edison’s electric light bulb being the main driver of their initial proliferation.
Many people from around the world, though, notice these things right away when visiting the United States. In much of Europe especially, power and utility lines run underground. This is exactly where Mr. Edison himself wanted them, fearing the dual and directly related negatives of the destruction of trees and the marring of landscape through their re-erection. More like re-animation, in a Frankenstein’s monster sort of way; bolted, wired, and full of life sustaining juice, as well as life-ending potential. About 20% of fatal automobile accidents each year involve collisions with fixed objects, the most common object: utility pole.
But here we are, the North American landscape solidified as a new world of interconnected, dead but reanimated, 30 - 100 (40 feet is the most common and standard height for utility poles, but the potential range is quite large depending on specific circumstances) barkless and limbless trees. Just like anything else in our modern world, these things don’t last nearly forever. They can cost up to $3,000 to replace (including the cost of installation), and, at least according to one recent guest at Juliet, the used ones should be good for something. So, upon my research, I’m a convert to the reuse scenario regarding this piece of our international acclaim. But as it turns out, the preservatives used to guard against fungus and other natural hazards to unnatural stuff probably make these things toxic and re-useful for only certain types of lumber. Conclusion: no, I’m not taking one, even if it is free. Unless you have any better ideas?