Where the Sidewalk Ends (Your Life)

January 4th, 2010  |  by  |  Published in Uncategorized  |  1 Comment

704px-High_voltage_warning.svgThank you, NY Daily News, for reminding us over the weekend that the streets we walk want to kill us and possibly our kids and definitely our dogs.

Yes, it’s winter in Gotham, which means that it’s time to worry that the slurry of snow and salt on metal grates and manhole covers will act as a conduit for the leaking voltage that ConEd has decided it doesn’t care as much about as it used to.

That’s too bad, because my kids have taken a new interest in grates and grills or really any kind of metal on the sidewalk. Nico takes particular pleasure in running up to a subway grate covering a 15-foot drop and jumping up and down. I’m somewhat certain the grates won’t give, but the voltage is something else entirely. There’s some information: A foundation set up after the death of Columbia grad student Jodie Lane six years ago tracks the data about “energized objects” in the city (they’ve found more than 31,900 potential electrocution points since she died). StreetZaps has a more personal accounting of various electrocutions, mostly dogs (“Pinky Shocked in Stuyvesant Oval,” “Princess Shocked in Brooklyn”).


photo: New York Historical Society

As StreetZaps points out, New Yorkers walk above 94,000 miles of underground and transmission cables. Of course, there’s a good reason for this: before the blizzard of 1888—the Great White Hurricane—the streets of New York were a helpless tangle of telephone and electrical wires, since companies wouldn’t share hardware. The storm destroyed it all, and froze the elevated railway; 400 people died. In response, the subway was built and our electrical lives buried.

So now StreetZaps recommends you scan each block before you walk it, keeping yourself and your pet/kid away from metal and toward things like cardboard or plastic. If you really get into this habit, you can buy a T-shirt that says “Eyeball the Block, Avoid a Shock.”

Thankfully, we’ve got a few other things going for us. All the kids’ shoes seem to be made of rubber, which is not perfect, but better than, say, sandals. Also, our mayor, Mike Bloomberg—the man Al Sharpton once called “Ross Perot with a resume”—has a degree in electrical engineering (from a Dadwagon alma mater). That should help, right?

Even if ConEd isn’t really checking for stray voltage on a consistent basis, the Upper West Side is awash in a constant stream of dog piss. Every fire hydrant, flower bed, car tire and stairwell is checked dozens of times by these brave little voltage detectors. I know NY’s Bravest and and NY’s Finest are taken, but surely there’s an honorific out there for little Pinky and Princess and all the others who peed and died so that we might live?




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