A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Saturday, April 16, 2016

TOF and the Footpath

Many years ago, the TOFling desired himself to cross the campus quadrangle. It was called a 'quadrangle' because that sounds more academic even than rectangle. Furthermore, it can be nicknamed 'the Quad', whereas a rectangle's nickname is best left to the imagination. In any case, the Quad had been renovated, in the course of which labor paved footpaths had been laid leading from the classroom buildings on one side to those on the other side, students being anxious to travel quickly from class to class. Or to the cafeteria, which also lay on one side.

It did not take long before bare lines through the grass were worn from the tramp of many feet seeking different shortcuts than those allocated by the landscape planner.

Many years later when Interstate 78 was opened, a bridge was thrown across the Delaware. Happily, it landed on each side, thus providing egress from and ingress to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. A billboard went up that read: Pennsylvania: America Begins Here. Now, the planners had intended this to mean 'begin' in a temporal sense-- Independence Hall, the Constitution, Valley Forge. But folks east of the Delaware, in New Jersey, took it in a spatial sense and took umbrage with it. "What are we," New Jerseyans cried, "chopped liver?" The answer to this being "Yes," not much more need be said.

But in pursuance of the beginnings of American, the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission, known as the DRJTBC, possibly the most unpronounceable acronym a quasi-government instrumentality even coined -- although admirable in its succinct descriptive nature -- placed a Visitor's Center at the toll bridge. (Someone had to pay for that bridge, and it may as well be those who use it.) This was situated in the lower level of the Commission building wherein the toll takers took their ease when not manning the booths. (Or womanning, in some cases. Or cousining in the case of TOF's cousin.)

To access this Visitor's Center, there was an exit ramp off the highway that led to the parking lot. The weary driver could collect brochures, de-vend a machine, rest in the rest room, and so forth. When leaving, the driver would pass through a stand-alone toll booth and rejoin the mighty flow of traffic. 

However, it soon became clear that the mighty flow of traffic consisted in large part of mighty tractor-trailers of impressive length, few of which stopped at Visitor Information Centers and were rolling on No-Doz much of the time anyway.

Consequently, the toll taker was more lonely than the Maytag Repairman and about a year after opening, the toll booth was closed and the entrance to the Visitor Center was moved to a hairpin turn immediately after the phalanx of toll booths by which people had to pay to leave New Jersey. See the map above for the layout. The old ramp, now blocked with a metal gate, is not shown.)

Planners gotta plan, but the one thing such Plans have in common is that they never work out according to Plan. The reasons are manifold. They usually involve people, and people are notorious for doing what they want and not what the planners expect. They also involve a static view of the universe, and assume that factors affecting the Plan will never change. That's why so many buildings and other public facilities get reworked shortly after opening. The road gets changed from one-way to two-way -- or vice versa. Facilities get repurposed to other uses. The grand entrance becomes a lobby devoid of receptionists, with a solitary telephone on what had been the reception desk whereby the visitor may announce himself to the proper extension number.

The TOF's hometown there is a cute custom of designating single blocks as one-way. Lincoln Street, for example, is two-way west to Folk St., whereupon it becomes one-way east-bound for a single block. On the next block west, it becomes one-way westbound for several blocks. There was a reason for it, one supposes; but TOF entertains the fantasy that at some point a block will be designated one-way that will result in all the traffic in the city converging on an intersection from which there is no legitimate egress. 

Surely, it will be a grand and glorious day when all health insurance is handled by the government -- actually by a single corporation favored by the government. There will be nothing wrong with that Plan, we are sure.

The only way to ensure that the Plan is followed is to enforce the following of it with penalties, fines, and rewards for good behavior. That's why socialist regimes always tend toward the authoritarian however much they might have consisted originally of Earnest Reformers anxious to replace the inequities of the existing system with the inequities of a new one.


  1. Frequently, the issue is that they fail to have someone who isn't deeply in the same line of thought as themselves check their plan.

    See, for example, various studies that show that the "zipper" method of merging works best for traffic... which carefully avoided checking the differences between places where the lane ACTUALLY ENDS soon after the "lane ends, merge left" sign, the high speed "lane ends" with a normal distance and the low speed "lane ends" with a long distance. (they always get applied to low speed, long distance merges... usually by people who jump out of the right lane, zip up to the front, and get pissed nobody let them in)

  2. "..the phalanx of toll booths by which people had to pay to leave New Jersey." When I first moved to the Bay Area - "San Francisco and its suburbs: as Herb Caen called it - I quickly noticed that one paid to get into San Francisco and away from Oakland (tolls are only collected in one direction, we being less enlightened, toll-maximization-wise, than New York and its suburbs). Like New Jersey, there are many nice things about Oakland; like New Jersey, one wonder if, on balance the good stuff can outweigh the negatives - e.g., Newark.

    Compounding the inadequacy of planning when brought in contact with real people is the attractiveness to some people of the opportunity to do the required enforcing. You start with the avuncular Bernie, but to make it work in the logically complete sense one needs the avuncular in nickname only Stalin.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. "The only way to ensure that the Plan is followed is to enforce the following of it with penalties, fines, and rewards for good behavior."

    I'm always *not* reading about such stories in the UK. The suggestion that the NHS is punishing people for having unhealthy lifestyles is daft. And don't confuse the jerry rigged ACA with 'socialism'.

    The Irish system is a lot more socialist than the US. My dad's diabetes was diagnosed by the family doctor calling to him to come in for a free check ("we're doing a study on men of your age"). Caught his diabetes in the early stages, he's alive and healthy. Boooo, Socialismsms.

    And going from Bernie to Stalin (Joseph), hoo-eee.

    Too much 'logic' here for one day. I'm out.

  5. Clearly the DRJTBC is pronounced like "dirtbike".

    1. I think it's pronounced "Dritbts", but dabbling in Slavic languages has destroyed my conception of how many consonants in a row is "pronounceable".

  6. dermot,

    Called in because they were doing a study has nothing to do with the healthcare system as normally funtioning.


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