It all began innocently enough. I bought a digital camera in order to populate my Web site with silly pictures of local stuff, and allegedly entertaining captions. ("Hey, look at this stupid thing. Ain't it stupid?") Because digital cameras don't consume any expensive supplies - no film, no developing, no processing, no expensive "pay Ritz Camera to have the lab lose the PhotoCD I've been appending to for months" fees, just the minor cost of recharging batteries once in a while - I have not been hesitant to snap photos of anything even vaguely semi-interesting.
While I was investigating a local Chinese supermarket, I was looking at the hundred-pound drums of MSG, and the ten-gallon buckets of soy sauce ("Hey, do you think it's high-quality?") when I noticed an interesting "ped in danger" icon on the soy sauce buckets:
Caution: Do not allow kids to drink soy sauce directly from the bucket!
Now, I love peds, and I know you do too. You've seen 'em everywhere. And once you start looking for funny ped signs to photograph, you spot even more of 'em. When peds first flooded the world about twenty years ago they were typically seen walking around, sitting down, etc. These days, they've been showing up in situations of dire peril: a ped is the modern way of indicating "Warning! You could be crushed -- JUST LIKE THIS!"
So, I've been shooting pictures of warning icons showing unusual peds.
Danger: Stabbers! ~ Danger: Head basher! ~ Danger: Crotch electrocution!
Now, one of the most frequently-seen versions of the ped-in-danger shows up on those little yellow plastic tents they put in the middle of perfectly dry floors to indicate they were once wet:
"Produce Wet Floor"? Hmm, I better start thinking about Niagara Falls...
I started trying to collect a complete set of them. Here are a few from my archives:
You don't know just how common these are. Apparently every public space washes its floor every night, and they have to put one of these up for 24 hours after the floor's been wet, so at your local shopping mall or supermarket there's guaranteed to be at least one of these things sitting there making you walk around it.
75% of them are the Rubbermaid variety, or a generic clone thereof:
...but even the ones where someone else drew a different ped convey the same meaning: "Warning: You might fall on your butt to the left!"
Some days you just can't pee without hitting one:
How surprising - a wet floor in a restroom!
While I was collecting these, for the first week or two I grew cognizant of their ubiquity. (Yay! Two SAT words in one sentence!) But that was about all I could do with 'em -- I had snapped photos of the local varieties, and they didn't move around much from day to day or appear in compromising positions. Fortunately, my interest in the subject was saved when I noticed the yellow tent things were frequently accompanied by another insidious invader of our public spaces:
...the seemingly-harmless orange "traffic cone". Also sometimes called a "witch's hat". Usually they're fluorescent orange, although they also come in red, pink, yellow, and white. These have been around for a few decades, are cheap to make, and most importantly, in recent days they have been proliferating like bacteria in a McDonalds restroom.
Orange cones are the typographical dingbat of public spaces. Every public space has at least one (usually at least four) of them strewn around at random. I think the intent of the things was originally for highway construction crews to say "Hey! Don't go past here! And if you happen to run over this orange thing, it'll be cheap to replace!"
Of course, people had lots of fun running over the flimsy soft plastic cheap cone things. So construction crews would put up real barricades. And then put the wimpy little orange cones in front of the real barricades.
In highway construction contexts, orange cones have largely been replaced by orange barrels, which are bigger and presumably more intimidating to cars. (Also they usually have flashing lights clipped to them, and sometimes barricade tape strung between them.) The barrels aren't seen outside road work -- but for some reason the orange cones have become a consumer item. I mean, there's not a strip mall parking lot that doesn't have cones. (Where do they get the orange cones and yellow "wet floor" tents? Beats me. There must be some sort of industrial-janitorial catalog which sells them.)
From the construction sites, orange cones spread to parking lots. To the corridors of the mall. To the men's restroom at the mall. Orange cones are cheap, and serve no particular purpose, so they're suitable for deployment everywhere. Private citizens have been putting them up in front of their suburban homes in feeble attempts to keep other people from parking. (I think people have been swiping them from the supermarket parking lot, like milk crates.) You can't walk down a city street without seeing a cone or two. Soon they'll be in your home.
Orange cones don't denote anything in particular in and of themselves, and they're usually not deployed in ways that give you much of a hint why they're there -- usually they're just sitting in corners in small groups. (Often the closest I can come to figuring out their intent is "Hey! There's an orange cone on this traffic island!") Orange cones are like the paprika on food-service mashed potatoes: You get tasteless potatoes with orange dots.
These "safety" cones are designed to be highly visible, but because of their ubiquity and meaninglessness, we've been ignoring them. And while we've been ignoring them they've been taking over the world.
I don't know the "cone density" of rural area, or countries outside North America, but there are certainly enough of 'em in urban and suburban areas here to give me a few new photographs every time I go out hunting for Things To Shoot. (I had originally started by photographing signs with bad typography, and now I'm doing orange cones. Such is their insidious power that they're taking over my camera.)
On the next few pages, you'll see my collection of yellow tents and orange cones. And I think you'll be amazed. Or bored. Or both.
Then, go out and look for cones.
On to cone gallery #1:
Cones For Dummies
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August 10, 1999
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