Showing ankle

Today I finally noticed—or rather, finally admitted—that the tube sock has been fully replaced by the bootee. We drove past a cyclist this afternoon, and he was wearing bootees under his sneakers. What clinched it was that he looked nondescript, without any deliberate style. So bootees must now be standard.

I’m sure that there’s some name for them that’s more, um, vigorous than “bootee.” It’s because I don’t know it, perhaps, that I have resisted them for so long. I always thought it seemed a little overnice, to wear socks that ended just a few millimeters above the shoeline. Plus I feared that they would scrunch themselves up during exercise, wadding themselves further down into the shoe with every step, until they were lost beneath the heel. But some innovation in stretchy fibers must prevent this. Or else it has become the sort of thing that even straight athletes will put up with in order not to look dorky, and so there is no longer any choice. Except whether or not to wear the ones with pompoms.

Highway clumping

This weekend, while driving, as I am wont, five miles per hour below the speed limit, as imperturbably as I can manage, I turned over in my head a “human math” problem that has puzzled me for years, namely: Do automobile drivers clump? In other words, do drivers unconsciously (or consciously) bunch up on the highway, instead of spreading out to take the full rational advantage of the available timespace on the road?

From my vantage, consistently and irksomely five mph slow, it seems as if they do. For five or even ten minutes, our car will be more or less alone, the only vehicle in the stretch of road visible before and behind us. Then we’ll be overtaken by a group, who will spend some time maneuvering around pokey me, until, having overcome the impediment, they zoom off, and there is peace again.

My first question is, Are the cars really bunched up, or do I merely perceive them to be? Perhaps the cars are randomly spaced, and it is my mind that groups them. Presumably this question could be answered with time-lapse aerial photography and some undergraduate statistics.

My second question is, If the cars are bunched up, why? Is the cause traffic lights? They gather cars up and then release them en masse, and maybe they leave a residual “groupiness” in traffic even miles down the road. Or is bunching a way to dodge speeding tickets? Maybe drivers feel that in a group they are less likely to be singled out by a state policeman.

Or is the cause some vestige of evolutionary programming within drivers? Maybe humans like to drive in groups, because they share a bit of mental code with birds that fly in V-formation and wolves that hunt in packs. In that case people may speed up or slow down until they are travelling in a configuration that feels right to them. And perhaps within that configuration they position themselves — in the high-testosterone avant-garde, in the safe middle, or straggling behind — in a way that corresponds to the social role they believe they inhabit.

Urban fruit snacks, 1851

Strawberries in the nineteenth century were “an almost indispensable luxury on the tables of all classes,” according to the New York Herald, and the spring of 1851 was an unusually good season. On 13 June, the newspaper estimated that at least a hundred thousand gallons had been sold in New York City’s four major markets—Centre, Washington, Fulton, and Catherine.

“Strawberry girls” and “cart hucksters” also sold the fruit throughout Manhattan. As the Herald explained, they

carry them round to the groceries, the saloons, the private houses, and every other place where a pint basket can be sold. These strawberry dealers can be met with at almost every corner with their baskets and covered carts; and many of those little girls, dressed in their simple calico frocks and calico sun bonnets, command a quick sale by their modest expressions of, “please to buy my strawberries.”

The fruit cost between four and seven cents per pint. Probably in response to the Herald‘s article, a Staten Island farmer sent to the newspaper samples of four strawberry varieties: British Queen, Turner’s Pine, Black Prince, and Judge Buel. “They were of delicious flavor,” the paper reported on 14 June 1851, “and several of them measured five inches in circumference.”