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The Straight Dope 

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Why are there green lights under escalators? Should I start believing in Escalator Trolls? Am I seeing the Otis borealis? Or do I just have a brain tumor? Please--the straight dope! --John Sandel, Chicago

I don't know about the brain tumor, John, but I do know this: you can't have a stomach tumor without a stomach. Escalator companies put lights under the steps near the top and bottom of the escalator in order to silhouette the edges of each step. The improved visibility is supposed to help you avoid stumbling, or worse, as the step slides against its neighbors on reaching (or leaving) the landing area. The yellow stripe you see on the edge of the steps on some escalators performs a similar function. The lights are part of a code of standards for escalators devised by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and since adopted by many cities and states. As for why they're green, as opposed to, say, lavender, nobody at ASME could remember. But presumably it was to cut down on glare.

THE PURCHASE OF MANHATTAN: DID WE GET RIPPED?

As a follow-up to your discussion of whether or not Peter Minuit got a bargain when he paid only $24 worth of trinkets for Manhattan [July 31], there is one added factor. I grew up in the Canarsie section of Brooklyn, New York. Named after the Canarsie Indians, it is the farthest point from Manhattan in Brooklyn.

When I was in high school, a history class published a research project in which they convincingly proved that Peter Minuit had purchased Manhattan from the Canarsie Indians. Since they did not live on Manhattan Island, it is unlikely that they had any ownership claim in the first place.

While $24 in trinkets might sound cheap for all of Manhattan, it is no bargain when you have paid it to a tribe that was just passing through. Rather than giving Mr. Minuit the bargain of the century, the Canarsie Indians may have actually sold him the proverbial Brooklyn Bridge. --Kevin Welber, Alexandria, Virginia

I didn't mention this because I figured Peter Minuit had suffered enough, but now that you bring it up, I may as well pile on. One popular history of Manhattan notes that the Canarsie Indians "dwelt on Long Island, merely trading on Manhattan, and their trickery [in selling what they didn't possess to the Dutch] made it necessary for the white man to buy part of the island over again from the tribes living near Washington Heights. Still more crafty were the Raritans of [Staten Island], for the records show that Staten Island was sold by these Indians no less than six times."

So OK, maybe Peter Minuit was no Donald Trump. (Then again, considering the current state of Mr. T.'s real-estate empire, maybe he was.) But let's not be too quick to judge. The latest crop of New York historians has taken pains to point out that there is no evidence that either the Dutch or the Indians believed they had robbed or been robbed by the other party to the deal.

COME-ON LINES FOR THE 90S

Having read the Straight Dope [August 21] on the missionary position (what about the emissionary position, Cecil?), I thought the Teeming Millions would like to know that a more elegant word for the dorsal position exists, and that a gentleman desiring to initiate intercourse with his lady pal need not embarrass them both by saying, "Let's do it doggy-style, Babs." Instead he can purr (with foreplayful huskiness), "Barbara, my dove, let us retrocopulate." No question about it, there are amazing delights to be discovered in a good unabridged dictionary. --David English, Somerville, Massachusetts

Thanks, Dave. I bet you're a riot on dates.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Slug Signorino.

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