My Street Just Went Stupid: Now What?

The Stupiding is coming...

The Stupiding is coming…

For the last 34 years I have lived on Westminster Place in Alexandria, Virginia. The address, a cul de sac, was a happy accident, as a wonderful, affordable house just happened to be there and for sale the day after I asked my wife-to-be to marry me, but it has always given me pleasure. Westminster Abbey is third among my five favorite and most cherished places on earth, the others being Fenway Park, The Alamo, Disneyland, and the Gettysburg battlefield.

Protecting my address’s integrity isn’t easy. Everyone, from clerks to salespersons to the people who address our junk mail try to change the name to Westminister Place, only to be corrected by me, or when it happens to her,  my anglophile wife. “It is Westminster Place, no “i”—you know, like the Abbey,” we say politely. The number of times the response is, “Huh? What abbey?” is a fact too depressing to relate.

Nevertheless, we refuse to let this constant attempted error pass. We have seen what can happen when illiteracy and ignorance are permitted to prevail and fester.

Just a few blocks away from us is the intersection known locally as Stupid Corner, where for decades the Waffle House there has sported a sign reading “WAFLE HOUSE.” The sign immediately lowers the IQ of anyone nearby: there mothers push their baby carriages into traffic, and pedestrians mysteriously forget where they were headed. (I just made four typos even writing about it.) When they repainted the traffic lanes—I’m not making this up—there was an arrow turning LEFT painted in the far right lane, an arrow point RIGHT in the middle lane, and an arrow pointing STRAIGHT ahead in the far left lane, when in fact no lane could go straight, since the road ends there. It was like a Stephen King story. “The Stupiding.”

Well, one of my family members who will remain nameless was going a bit too fast in their vehicle when they took the turn from the main street onto our cul de sac, and wiped out both a stop sign and the street signs. We paid for replacements, which took multiple phone calls and several letters to get them installed by the city. Finally, last week they finally went up.

Our address is now Westminister Place.  I have no idea what the import of this is, in practical terms. Will it change the official name of our locale, if left uncorrected? Are we now obligated to start spelling our cul de sac the wrong way, so it matches our street sign? Must I say to cabbies, who never can find the place anyway, “We live on Westminster Place, no “i,” like the Abbey, but you need to look for the sign that spells it Westminister Place, which is wrong but if you look for the correct spelling, then you’ll miss it”?

That’s ridiculous.  The sign just has to be fixed, doesn’t it? This mistake embodies a “broken window theory” of illiteracy. If I let it stand, who knows what will be next? Will my neighbors start using “ain’t” and their children start talking like Honey Boo-Boo? I can’t live with that on my conscience. What if the corner of my own street becomes another “Stupid Corner”? What if the Marshalls start watching reality shows and Ed Schultz, and start agitating for a third term for Barack Obama?

And yet it took over a year to get the city to replace the street sign when there was nothing. How much time and complaining will it take to persuade them to replace a sign with a misspelling that almost nobody realizes is a misspelling? Certainly this will seem like harassment and the rantings of a deranged fanatic. “Sir, the City of Alexandria really has higher priorities than fixing the typo in your street sign,” I will be told. Will that be fair? How do we know that the misspelling won’t spread, first turning up when I realize that I am watching the Westminister Dog Show, then eventually crossing the Atlantic and defiling the burial place of Chaucer, Darwin, and Browning? If that a happens, it will be my fault. Don’t I owe Western civilization more diligence and respect?

My neighbors on the cul de sac don’t care. I told one of them about it yesterday. “Really? Didn’t notice it. I don’t think nobody pays no attention to them signs anyway,” opined the retired Foreign Service official and Princeton grad who lives next to us.

Wait…what did he say?

Oh god.

Today I considered how I might be able to use matching green paint to pluck out the offending “i.” That would be destroying public property, however; illegal and thus especially unethical for a lawyer, even though I have a valid argument for an exception. But the resulting street name would be Westmin ster Place. Is that even an improvement?

What, oh what, should I do?

31 thoughts on “My Street Just Went Stupid: Now What?

  1. Suggestion: place a TEMPORARY plastic or cardboard sign with the CORRECT spelling over the current city sign, thus not DEFACING public property, while you wait for the city-corrected sign that you have requested to show up (within the next decade perhaps).

    • Suggestion 1: Call your local 911 center and explain the situation to an administrator, adding that you are afraid that the misspelling will delay the emergency response of public safety personnel. Ask her or him to contact the street department and request a correction forthwith.
      Suggestion 2: Alternatively, call the sign shop that actually makes the signs and explain that you’d like to save them the embarrassment of an official inquiry (above), and ask them to fix it asap.
      And, it won’t change the official name of the street; that takes action by your local governing body.
      If you correct the name, that’s arguably not “defacing” because your intent was to help, not commit malicious damage.

      • I think your #1 and #2 are unethical, as they are dishonest.

        But if the sign doesn’t end up altering the name of the street–I am not so sure, since official names and what something is called are two different things—that’s some consolation. The things they eat at that dumb restaurant are still called “waffles”….

        • I do not believe “Option 1” is totally unethical, because it does raise a legitimate concern. Giving them notice of the street sign error may truly help them dispatch vehicles (though using this to manipulate the system would be unethical). Emergency departments maintain a database with several “aliases” to roads within their district to cover common misspellings, and the notifying them of the minor discrepancy in spelling could save them a few precious seconds or minutes when responding, especially if there are other “Westmin(i)ster” roads in neighboring jurisdictions.

          Giving them this info allows them to decide what to do with it; they may choose to put in a work order to correct the sign, they may choose to make a note in their dispatch maps, or they may choose to do nothing. Merely informing them is not unethical. (Obviously, one must use an administrative line to contact the center.)

        • I need to elaborate on my answer, which was too dismissive. I apologize.
          I should have been more detailed. Both suggestions involve me, so they would be based on what I believe, not what you might believe:

          Suggestion 1: Call your local 911 center and explain the situation to an administrator, adding that you are afraid that the misspelling will delay the emergency response of public safety personnel. Ask her or him to contact the street department and request a correction forthwith.

          But I’m not afraid of that, not even slightly. You have to look real hard to notice the misspelling. Moreover, I live literally half a block from the fire station. They know where I am. I just couldn’t honest say this. It may be fine in the abstract, and you have no reason to know otherwise. But for me and this sign, and this street, it would be dishonest.

          Suggestion 2: Alternatively, call the sign shop that actually makes the signs and explain that you’d like to save them the embarrassment of an official inquiry (above), and ask them to fix it asap.

          This is a closer call, but I think it’s unfair and even bullying. Since my guess is the 90% of the public doesn’t know or care about the missing i, I can’t say truthfully that the revelation that a sign company did this would cause :embarrassment” with a straight face…or even be sure the sign company was at fault.

      • #1)

        The kiddo came home from elementary school with a Fire Safety flyer talking about precautions to take that would assist the family in surviving a house fire.

        One of the line items said “Make sure your street number is clearly visible so the Fire Department can find your house to try to put out the fire”.

        Because the house with flames licking out of the windows and smoke pouring out of the roof line wasn’t clue enough…

  2. I live in the mid-west. I live on Superior Street. If I had a nickel for every time the person taking my address information has paused because they do not know how to spell “Superior”. I’d also love to have a nickel for every time a non mid-west person has responded with “oh, well, excuse me” when I’ve said I live on Superior Street. I will then explain further: “as in Lake Superior” (being in the mid-west and all). They then pause because they do not know how to spell “Superior”.

  3. I received a solicitation from my doctoral alma mater today. There was a fairly egregious grammatical error in the first sentence. Imagine my pride!

    Luckily, the solution for my problem is easy: a smaller check than last year’s and an explanatory letter.

  4. What morons. You should erect your own sign right next to the incorrect one. I know of a company that makes street signs if you need a recommendation. Every year we auction off the right to name a “street” on our school property for one year. Very popular. Not very expensive. Looks just like a real street sign.

  5. Oh Jack- don’t get me started. I laughed so hard when I read this. I live in a development called Forrest Hill, complete with a legal “association.” There’s a big beautiful sign down at our pond, paid for out of association dues. It’s been there for 10+ years. Only problem, there’s an “R” missing from Forrest. Nobody cares (except me) and every time I walk or drive past it, it makes me nuts.

    My maiden name was “Brooks.” It was pretty hard for phone solicitors to get that one wrong. But now my name is “Kimmel” and every moron solicitor in America (or India) calls and asks for Mrs. Kimball. That, in and of itself, is enough reason for me to immediately hang up. Donation? Are you kidding?

    I could go on all day, but won’t. Nobody cares about quality any more. If they did, our society (and Washington, DC) would look (and behave) much differently.

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