A few years ago when I was commuting back and forth on the Expressway in Toronto every day, there was this fairly low overpass that I (and a hundred thousand or so others) drove under every day. I thought the experience would be improved if there were an old man standing on it wearing white robes in the style of a biblical prophet, slowly waving a large black flag.

That was actually quite a few years back, but I just can’t get the idea out of my mind. Most large cities do have such overpasses that span key commute routes, and most would be similarly improved by an attendant prophet. Practicalities:

  • It would be illegal in most jurisdictions to restrict employment of prophets by age or sex. However, it would be reasonable to specify a prophetic appearance, in particular locks of grey or white flowing hair and a lined face, and a bonus could be paid for those with authentic prophetic beards.

  • It might seem onerous to ask a senior citizen to stand up and wave a flag all day, but the desired effect could be achieved by limiting coverage to the morning and evening rush-hours, say four hours all told. The drivers at those times are hardened commuters who have attention to spare.

  • The monthly cost would be the number of bridges you wanted to cover, times the hourly labor cost per prophet, times four hours, times the number of commuting days in a month (something like 22 on average I believe).

  • Then there would be ongoing replacement costs for the prophets’ robes and flags, and there’d be travel costs to and from the overpasses, either public transit or mileage for those who drove.

  • Some insurance would probably be required; it is possible though unlikely that a driver distracted by a prophet might have an accident and litigate.

  • While most prophets would be part-time/casual employees, the service would require that one be designated as a prophet supervisor and paid for a few more hours per week to handle the schedules, hiring, robe maintenance, and so on.

  • Loose-fitting robes would be cool in the summer but have room for plenty of warm garments underneath, making twelve-month coverage quite practical; but no heroic efforts need be made to keep the service going during special circumstances such as blizzards.

Given this, the cost of mounting the service in a typical city would be well within the means of an even moderately-wealthy patron of the arts; and a small group of patrons could together provide it year round with very little hardship.

Once established, there is an interesting space of variations to explore. One could, intermittently in a random fashion, or perhaps to celebrate important civic events, deploy young prophets, or have them dress in green robes and wave yellow flags.

The prospect of selling sponsorships to enterprises is attractive but problematic, as sponsors would probably want logo placement on robes or flags, which would vitiate the intended effect. On the other hand, a modest sign affixed to the overpass saying “Today’s prophet sponsored by <insert logo>” might provide a satisfactory alternative.

author · Dad
colophon · rights
picture of the day
June 26, 2003
· Arts (11 fragments)
· · Conceptual (3 more)

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