By: Michael C. Keith
A well-developed sense of humor is the pole that adds balance
to your steps as you walk the tightrope of life.
–– William Arthur Ward
By 2048 it was difficult for urban dwellers to remember or imagine a world scarred by wires, cables, and 50-foot wooden poles. By then only scattered remote rural areas of the country still sported the remnants of a bygone era.
“Why have billions of dollars been spent on removing and burying power lines when there are so many other things more important to take care of?” asked Louisa Caldwell, swinging her backpack over her shoulder about to leave for school.
“Well, not only did they kill people, honey, they were really ugly . . . a blight on the landscape,” responded her mother.
“No, really? I think they were kind of neat . . . sweet. They were something from what you and Dad call the good old days. Now look at it out there, “ said Louisa, pointing out of the kitchen window. “It looks so empty and barren without them.”
“How do you know so much about this subject? You were little when the power lines in this neighborhood were taken down and put underground. And the poles don’t hinder drivers anymore either. ”
“Mostly drunks used to hit them. At least that got them off the road before they killed innocent people,” replied Louisa.
“Oh, let me get this straight, Lou. You think the telephone poles were a public safety asset?”
“Maybe. Besides, the money they spent to get rid of them could have paid for all the art and music classes we don’t have at school anymore. Wouldn’t that have been a better investment?”
“Well, I’m glad there are no utility poles left on your way to school, honey. Plenty of kids have died hitting them.”
“Yeah, because they were driving too fast late at night, and were probably high, too. So you can’t blame the utility poles for that. They didn’t just jump out in front of people.”
“Hmm, okay, darling. Whatever you say. Have a good day at school. Bye-bye.”
“See you, Mom,” said Louisa, dashing to the door.
* * *
Over her Christmas break, Louisa and three of her friends headed out for the ski slopes of northern Vermont. Her mother worried because there were some stretches of secondary roads there that still had telephone poles.
“Be very careful, honey. You know that there are . . .”
“Those evil telephone poles along the way? Yes, I know. You’ve told me that at least a dozen times, Mom.”
“Just watch out for them, is all I’m saying.”
“Don’t worry. Those old poles have been up there for a hundred years, and I bet they haven’t attacked anybody.”
“Just keep you your eyes on the road. No cellphones. The minute you look away . . .”
As fate would have it, just south of the Cameron Mountain Ski Resort, Louisa hit a patch of black ice and her car spun out of control. When it seemed that a horrible tragedy was about to occur, the small car came to a rest against a power pole on the steep slope’s edge. No one was injured.
“Oh my God!” shrieked Louisa. “That pole kept us from plunging over. We would all have died for sure.”
That life-altering incident soon inspired Louisa to dedicate herself to restoring utility lines throughout the country. Yet wherever she tried to mount her crusade, there were crowds that opposed her mission. The protesters carried placards inscribed with the words “Say No to Poles!” and “Steer Clear of Poles!” and shouted derogatory comments at Louisa. Despite a real effort, she found it almost impossible to recruit anyone to join her campaign.
“Why can’t people recognize that utility poles still have a place in our society,” she complained to the few individuals willing to hear her out anymore.
When the time came for the country’s last remaining utility pole to be removed during a nationally televised broadcast, Louisa packed her car and headed to the event determined to have her say. It took her a day and a half to reach the tiny village near the Canadian border in Minnesota, even though she drove non-stop.
Just before dawn she reached the empty thoroughfare where the sole telephone pole––due to be decommissioned in only a matter of hours––still stood. But exhausted from her long drive, Louisa could not keep from nodding off at that moment. A split second after she did, she careened into the country’s only surviving utility pole causing it to collapse on top of her car.
The sound of the collision quickly drew a crowd to the accident scene. When the townspeople saw Louisa’s wrecked car, several ran to her aid but found that she had been killed in the mishap.
The next day the television network covering the pole removal ceremony ran a story that suggested that Louisa might have had a sudden change of heart about the necessity of utility poles and decided to remove the last one herself. The reporter looked close to tears when she declared that the young woman had bravely sacrificed her life for others.
Finding themselves without a remaining cause, Louisa’s detractors set to work to embrace a new one. Soon they were campaigning to have all trees standing within five feet of a street or highway removed for safety. At the conclusion of a long and heated debate, they had agreed on a slogan:
Trees and Driving Don’t Mix!
Michael C. Keith teaches college and writes fiction. http://www.michaelckeith.com