Benny and his friend Griffin at Ocean Beach in San Francisco.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Seven Circles of Infrastructure

Tuesday was a long day. I'd arranged to arrive at Benny's preschool at 7:45 a.m. so I could dash over to a morning business event. Instead, the morning skittered out of control and I ended up dashing to the bus stop an hour later, red-faced and cursing the stupid shoes I have to wear with my best suit.

My lack of time management may actually have been a subconscious attempt at sabotage, since the morning event was an Infrastructure Business Forum. Two months ago I edited a newspaper section on Bay Area infrastructure and I'm still coping with the trauma. Ron and I were moving to a new apartment at the same time, and I found myself reading Dante's "Inferno," perhaps hoping to find a circle for newspaper executives who think an exhaustive, comprehensive special publication on infrastructure sounds like a kicky idea.

Instead, Dante muddled my thinking further and I started imagining the Circles of Hell for Infrastructure. The Editor becomes lost in a Wood of Typos and finds her way blocked by monsters representing Deadlines, Budgets and Photo Assignments. Virgil the poet (who never had to worry about inch counts) leads her to the right path to the surface, but first she must pass through the Seven Circles of Infrastructure.

The descent begins with the Dreaded Circle of the Overview, where sinners throw completely unrelated ideas into a giant cookpot. But the ideas never jell into a coherent discussion and the sinners must stir and stir and stir …

There is also the Circle of Pointless Graphics, where sinners must compare apples and oranges and bond measure allocations and throw in a few pie charts. Then we have the Circle of High-Speed Rail, where sinners must sit through endless planning meetings, and the Circle of Transit, where sinners must take the 43 bus around and around and around …

Of course, we can’t miss the Circle of Rail, where the sinners (mostly railroad executives) are tied to the tracks and lectured about the need for port-railroad cooperation. Or the Circle of Airports, which is well named, for sinners must circle endlessly and eat stale peanuts while airport officials argue about seawalls.

And finally, the Editor reaches the end of the section with the Circle of Water, where Satan himself sits encased in the ice of a frozen Hetch Hetchy water system in dire need of seismic retrofitting.

With such lurid images in my mind (and now, Dear Reader, in yours), it’s no wonder I didn’t want to relive the infrastructure section at the event. But I arrived at the perfect time — late — which meant I missed most of the presenters and didn’t have to hear any more about high-speed rail.


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