By the numbers

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 8, 2004

Recently I supplied you with numbers of city vehicles, 436 in all, and all of a sudden I began to see them on the streets. Mighty pretty vehicles, I thought, so easy to identify with their colorful markings. Then I wondered why they were marked, I could assume the driver knew where he/she had last parked it, knew it by sight. So why were they so colorfully decorated, I know what it cost to put thin little stripes back on my old Buick. These city vehicles stood out like sore thumbs. That’s good for police and sheriff vehicles but why the rest? Is it just for show? Does it add class?

So I inquired at an auto store where they sell those dress-up kits and was told they had to be special made for the city vehicles. To boil it down for you we figure the average Suffolk vehicle stripping kit would run about $150, probably more. We didn’t count the police or sheriff cars, just the rest of them, 253 vehicles, and that adds to near $37,950. No, we didn’t try to calculate the cost of installing the stuff, that number would be too frightening. It causes me to wonder how many Suffolk taxpayers it took to jazz up the city vehicles. Perhaps the Communications Director will straighten me out. Would it upset you taxpayers if they didn’t spend that money?

More numbers. Let’s go back exactly 100 years and take a look at this country through the eyes of my dad. Then a man’s life expectancy was 47 years. Only 14 percent of the homes had bathtubs. Most women washed their hair about once a month and used borax or egg yolks for shampoo; 95 percent of all births took place at home and 90 percent of physicians had no college education. Instead, they attended medical schools, many of which were condemned in the press and by the government as substandard.&uot;

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In 1904, sugar cost four cents a pound, eggs, 14 cents a dozen; and coffee, 15 cents a pound. It’s right out of my mother’s diary. The average wage was 22 cents per hour and the average worker made between $200 and $400 per year. A dentist earned about $2,000, a veterinarian $2,500, a mechanical engineer more than $5,000.

Eight percent of homes had telephones, cranked and connected to an operator, and a three-minute call from Denver to New York cost eleven dollars. One hundred years ago there were less than 8,000 cars in the country and only 144 miles of paved roads. The maximum speed limit in any city was 10 miles per hour. The tallest structure in the world was the Eiffel Tower. The American flag had only 45 stars; Arizona, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Hawaii, and Alaska hadn’t yet joined the team. The population of Las Vegas was 30. Canada passed a law prohibiting poor people from entering their country for any reason.

Two out of 10 adults couldn’t read or write. Some schools today produce the same ratio. Only 6 percent of Americans graduated from high school. There was no Mother’s Day or Father’s Day. Crossword puzzles, canned beer, and iced tea hadn’t been invented. Horse manure was a common sight on every road and horses with wagons had the right of way over pedestrians. You didn’t have to crank a horse to get it started

The five leading causes of death were: 1.Pneumonia and influenza. 2. Tuberculosis. 3. Diarrhea. 4. Heart disease. 5. Stroke. Marijuana, heroin, and morphine were all available over the counter at the corner drugstore. According to one pharmacist, &uot;Heroin clears the complexion, gives buoyancy to the mind, regulates the stomach and bowels, and is, in fact, a perfect guardian of health.&uot; So why the big fuss over it today? Why all my fuss over the cost of decorating city cars? Because of unfair property taxes, that’s why. Surely Planters has a point.

Robert Pocklington is a Suffolk resident and a regular News-Herald columnist. He can be reached at