about me quick thoughts

When the Way In is the Way Out


When I was a little bitty dude growing up in Ohio, I was very inquisitive. I asked lots of questions, and my mom answered most of them. One day while we were out driving somewhere, I saw a sign that said “No Outlet.”

“What does ‘No Outlet’ mean?” I asked.

“It means there’s no place to plug in your coffee pot,” she responded.

My mom and dad both laughed and then explained that it meant the same thing as “Dead End.” From then on whenever any of us saw a “No Outlet” sign, someone was sure to comment, “No place to plug in your coffee pot.” It became a standing joke.

That was more than 50 years ago.

I got to thinking that if “Dead End” and “No Outlet” were really interchangeable, then one would surely have supplanted the other over those 50 years. It stands to reason that if they mean the same thing, one must be newer or somehow more preferred than the other. It would slowly but inexorably overtake the older, less preferred sign. Personally, I favored “No Outlet” as the more preferred sign. It seemed newer and less likely to remind drivers of death.

After 50 years, however, I still see both signs. Sometimes there’s a “Dead End” sign, and sometimes there’s a “No Outlet” sign. This led me to reflect that the signs must differ in some way. Maybe the signs have different applications depending on the circumstances or environment.

In fact, a quick search turned up just such a difference encoded in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, a publication used by street and road engineers to decide what kind of signs and traffic control devices to use for various situations. According to the Manual, the DEAD END sign may be used at the entrance of a single road or street that terminates in a dead end or cul-de-sac, while the NO OUTLET sign may be used at the entrance to a road or road network from which there is no other exit. So, technically, the “No Outlet” sign has wider applicability, since it could always replace a “Dead End” sign. But the “Dead End” sign could not always replace a “No Outlet” sign since it always applies to a single road.

Dead end implies the possibility of a living end, which also formed a phrase from my childhood. When Mom encountered some surprising innovation, she might say, “Well, ain’t that the living end.” It was on par with, “What will they think of next” or even just, “Wow!” I suppose most roads lead to a living end, but only a few lead to dead ends. That tends to give one a fairly positive outlook on the universe. Even if you make a wrong turn, you can turn back and get out the same way you got in. You can change direction and be fairly certain of reaching a living end instead of a dead end.

about me footwear



When I was a kid, I got new shoes once a year at the end of August. My parents would pack us all into the station wagon and head to the shoe store where our feet would be measured for new shoes. Since we were growing children, and the shoes had to last—hopefully—a year, I always got shoes that were too big, with room to grow. Occasionally, when my parents had more cash, I would also get a pair of dress shoes for special occasions, but they were a risky investment when I was growing fast, so I didn’t get them until the pace of my growth had slowed. So I sometimes had two pairs of shoes: one for everyday use and another for dress-up occasions.

Now I have seven pairs of shoes, each with its own purpose. I have summer work shoes, comfortable and lightweight. I have winter work boots, heavy and warm. I have hiking boots for traipsing over rough trails in the Minnesota wilds and mesh walking shoes for urban rambles or paved trails. I have an old pair of work shoes for projects that might damage my shoes. I have a pair of dress shoes that I will use any excuse not to wear because they are uncomfortable. And finally I have a pair of slip-on house shoes for wearing in the house. I might have more shoes than my wife.

As a child I often went barefoot in summer. The soles of my feet grew callused and tough, and I could walk on gravel without discomfort. Now I wear shoes nearly all the time unless I am in the shower or in bed. My feet are tender and require coddling, so I pamper them.

It’s odd to me that as I have aged, I value comfort more at a time when I experience more pain that seems to have no specific cause. As a child, pain was always immediate and specific. Once it was addressed I forgot about it. I can still forget about pain, but if I think about it, I realize it hasn’t subsided. Pain forms more of the background of my life than it once did.