And They Taste Great!
©2021, George J. Irwin. All rights reserved.

I know exactly how to annoy Colleen as we're walking in or near the cleaning products aisle of a supermarket, big box store or warehouse outlet. As a certain style of laundry detergent comes into view, I announce, "...and it tastes great!"

Which gets either a glance in my direction that is not exactly approving, or an attempt at a "Gibbs Slap" in the back of the head (NCIS fans do not need to look up the preceding term).

But which is also a symbol of a kind of weariness of a seemingly constant reminder that Some People Do Really Stupid Things.

This is just one example, but it is a strange one. It started with the introduction of a concentrated laundry detergent that comes packed in a water soluble pouch. (Fun fact: The idea of concentrated laundry detergent is not quite that new: in the 1960s, tablet-shaped compressed forms of detergent granules were sold, a direct predecessor to these "pods.")

Initially there was a serious problem of infants and toddlers being somehow attracted to these, and, believing they were candy, eating them. This problem can be largely attributed to said children's parents, who should have understood the long-used warning, "Keep out of reach of children." (And if there was nowhere to place this product out of reach of children, perhaps some reorganization was in order.) Nonetheless, the manufacturer took steps to address this issue: they changed the look of the container they came in, they made the container harder to open, and they infused a bitterness into the actual pods—so, no, despite the smart-aleck remark I use in the cleaning products aisle, they do NOT taste great.

You would think that would have been the end of the story, but, incredibly, it wasn't. Someone significantly older than an infant or toddler thought up the idea of eating these pods anyway. And sharing a video of doing so. Which "inspired" others to do the same thing. And led to sickness, hospitalizations, and, unfortunately, deaths. Among older children. And adults. Adults? What were they thinking?

As my mother would say, "Not much," I suppose.

Okay, so every generation indulges in some Suboptimal Activity but I cannot think of one from mine that offers a higher danger to gratification ratio than eating detergent. Drag racing on city streets, dumb; bungee jumping without professional assistance, not terribly smart; running closely behind the "bug spray" truck, probably not life-extending in the long term. But there are certain visceral thrills that one gets by participating in these activities... what is the payoff from downing a pod of laundry soap?

Well, since I can't answer that question, I suppose I'll need to move on to the fallout from this, ahem, activity. This time, the manufacturer did not make any changes to the product, although it did conduct a campaign—on social media, of course—to categorically discourage the use of detergent pods for anything but their intended use. They also showed restraint otherwise, understanding that while you can make something fool proof, you can't make it damn fool proof, a statement attributed to Mark Twain, who was here and gone long before there was such a thing as detergent pods, or, for that matter, the contemporary washing machines in which they are used. (Early washers have been around since the late 1700s, but the Bendix Washing Machine, a direct predecessor of what we have now, debuted in 1937, while Twain passed away in 1910.)

For me, this all begs the larger question of balance, that is, to what extent does the rest of the world need to protect those who are going to Make Wrong Choices?

Here's another example from the Previous Century, which I imagine still applies today. During a two-week business trip to Arizona, a colleague and I decided to visit the Grand Canyon National Park. As you can imagine, the rim of the canyon within the most popular section of the park is well fenced to discourage tourists from getting too close. However, the Grand Canyon is not only wide and deep, but it's long—277 miles long (446 kilometers), give or take. That would be a lot of fencing.

So once you leave the main part of the park, there are no barriers. Since I know I couldn't get too close to the edge without feeling like I was going to fall in, I stayed a respectful distance back. My collegue thought otherwise, and stepped right up to the rim.

And nearly fell in.

For a few seconds that seemed like hours, he windmilled his arms to regain his balance, and flung himself backward away from the precipice. I was too far away to help in time and I doubted that I could do anything anyway.

"Wow! That was close! Did you see that!"

"Uh, yeah, I did."

Does this now mean that because one person—and possibly others, I know—thought that it was perfectly alright to stand right on the edge of a canyon that was a mile or so deep, that we now need to erect about another 277 miles of fence? Per side of the canyon? And what about the other canyons around the world? How damn-fool proof do we need to make things?

Don't answer yet.

One of my many friends and acquaintances who are connected with the railroad business noted a post about some work going on at a railroad crossing. This crossing isn't very busy, for either motor vehicles or trains, but unlike the majority of rail and road intersections around the country, it has a full signal and gate assembly. I'd say it's what most people think of when asked to describe a railroad crossing, even though it is not actually the degree of protection provided at most railroad crossings. (Often there is just a crossbuck, "Rail Road Crossing" or "Rail Crossing Road," depending on how you read it. At very lightly used and private crossings it's not even that, just a plain metal sign.)

Quick now, without looking it up: There are reflective stripes on the gates that go down to block the road, allowing trains to pass safely (well, most of the time). In what direction do these stripes run: horizontally, vertically, or diagonally?

You don't know? No worries. Neither did I.

Apparently, the correct answer was "diagonally." However, it is, or will be, or will be again, "vertically." Why? Because some percentage of motorists have somehow decided that "diagonally" is the direction in which they should drive when encountering these gates in the down position. In other words, don't stop; just continue on to the right or left.

I don't know whether that previous sentence needs to end with a period, a question mark, an exclamation point, or one or more expletives.

However, word is that because diagonal is too confusing, any stripes on a crossing gate need to be changed to vertical if they are not already in that orientation. So the work going on at the crossing in question which was posted about was changing the stripes, no more, no less.

And, you might ask, how much is this going to cost? More specifically, how many potholes could we fill instead of spending money on changing the stripes on railroad crossing gates?

While we're on the subject of driving, the vast majority of cars in the United States still need gasoline in order to use them. There was a small blip in the supply of gasoline caused by a cyberattack on the pipeline system that serves a large section of the eastern half of the country. Completely unnecessary panic buying resulted, including topping off tanks, purchasing and filling spare cans...

...and storing gasoline in plastic bags.

I had not been keeping up with the news that particular day, so when a friend of mine mentioned "don't worry, I've filled a few plastic bags with gas" in an e-mail, I thought it was his usual sarcastic wit. I knew he wouldn't do something that stupid, but I had no idea that someone thought that made any sense. For one thing, how do you close a plastic bag filled with gasoline so it doesn't leak? For another, how can one even address this level of inanity?

And don't tell me that gasoline tastes great... it doesn't even smell very appetizing...