Thursday, April 26, 2012

Superman's utility box (phone booths are passé)

Been mystified for a while by the AT&T utility cabinet at Eighth and Harrison Streets in San Francisco. I have two questions about it, one civic and one fantastical.

To get the civic question (O.K., civic gripe) over with: why do we have a public sidewalk right in front of this cabinet, if the cabinet says there are "active antennas" mounted, among other places, "behind this panel," and it's plastered with several kinds of warnings, and one of them says, "Stay Back A Minimum of Three Feet from These Antennas"? The cabinet doors in this picture are directly next to the sidewalk, facing the sidewalk. The entire sidewalk is only about three feet wide at that point. Are we supposed to tiptoe along the curb or get ourselves semi-voluntarily irradiated or what?

So, now, on with the fantastical: Why does one of those signs on the door say, "Did You Sign The Site Log Book ?!?! EVERYONE who walks through the door is required to sign the log." [Punctuation sic.] The doors you're seeing here go to a cabinet that an adult human would have a hard time fitting into even temporarily. These doors are, I don't know, four feet high at most. The cabinet isn't more than a person's width deep and it's probably wedged full with those antennas and other wires and stuff.

So what persons or other beings "walk through" the doors of this cabinet, how big are such persons or entities, and when they do "walk through", what mysterious country do they step into on the other side?

If not Narnia, here's another thought: I'm gonna guess that AT&T, being formerly in the phone booth business, is helping American superheroes to keep pace with the times. Superman and his cohorts don't want to be lugging around conspicuous phone booths like Doctor Who with his '60s-era police box. Instead, AT&T is helping them out with conveniently inconspicuous superhero utility cabinets that, like Doctor Who's TARDIS, are "bigger on the inside than on the outside". See, that's why they asked for and got those controversial permits last year to install 726 utility boxes on our sidewalks: the superheroes needed somewhere to change.

So, y'see, there are these moments when nobody's looking -- when unsuspecting citizens like us have carried our Trader Joe's bags on past that corner -- and that's when a mild-mannered startup coder or barista will stop by the Cabinet of Superheroes, produce a special pass key, and step briefly inside. After a quick change of clothing and gear, or perhaps a virtual chat with the crimefighter-by-night equivalent of James Bond's "Q", out will step SoMaMan, or Puggle Woman, or The Nightlife Avenger, or Mistress Robusta... or, I dunno, make up your own South of Market superhero. Good place for it: several emporia nearby can help out if a hero-type leather breastplate or bullwhip needs replacing.

Mystery solved? Inquiring minds do want to know.

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