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June 18, 2008

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MainStreet Newspapers, Inc.
PO Box 908
33 Lee Street
Jefferson, Georgia 30549


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By Mark Beardsley

Trying To Keep At Or Below The Speed Limit
Driving to and from Clayton both Saturday and Sunday, I decided to experiment on driving within the speed limit. In other words, I would drive like an old person.
U.S. 441 is four-laned all the way to Clayton. Speed limits range from 45 miles per hour at Banks Crossing and in the towns of Baldwin, Cornelia, Tallulah Falls and Clayton to 55 mph and 65 mph depending — apparently — on the whims of the DOT.
On the way back on Saturday, I filled the truck up, getting a bargain rate of $3.97 per gallon. Since the only time I ever check the mileage on my Tacoma is when I’m driving to Tennessee each year at speeds normally well over the speed limit, this experiment is designed to see if driving slower makes an appreciable difference in miles per gallon. Since I get 25 driving hell-bent and loaded with my boat and the provender for a long weekend, what can I expect carrying nothing in the truck and moping along like a student driver?
Lacking cruise control and conditioned by my gender and background to get there as quickly as possible, staying under the speed limit required at least as much focus as staying in the correct lane. Fifty-five mph on an open four-lane road is absolutely crawling. Normally, I’d be doing eight miles above the posted speed limit (as fast as I can go and still hope to avoid being cited by radar-toting cops).
At my “normal” speed, a third to a half of the vehicles pass me. At my old-dude speed, virtually everyone swept around me, except other old dudes and an occasional vehicle whose smoky exhaust suggested the imminent demise of its engine. Maybe it was my imagination, but it seemed as if a significant percentage of the driving public disapproved strongly of my law-abiding energy-conserving display of patience.
(A word of caution. Do not try this on Interstate 85. U.S. 441 has about a tenth the traffic and I can’t recall seeing a single 18-wheeler on U.S. 441 above Banks Crossing. If you drive 65 through Jackson County on I-85, make sure your life insurance is paid up. If you survive, it’ll be because a Commerce cop pulled you over to ticket you for impeding traffic.)
When you’re the slowest vehicle on the road, everyone else seems to be in an unnecessary and dangerous hurry. I took the opportunity to feel righteous for my conservative driving and frowned with judgment when a Humvee and a Suburban raced by me driving like I normally drive.
If we all drove like old guys, the nationwide fuel savings and lives saved would be significant. Unfortunately, they would probably be offset by greater incidence of mental illness brought on by the frustration of driving slowly. It could be a generation before the conditioning of the last century is reversed by the need to conserve fuel.
As soon as I can afford a fill-up, I’ll know how many extra miles per gallon my patience created. Let’s be generous and think two more miles per gallon. Going to and from Clayton that would work out to a savings of $.36 gallon. At $4 per gallon, that’s a whopping $1.44.
Enough for two cups of coffee if I get the senior citizen’s discount.
Mark Beardsley is the editor of The Commerce News. Contact him at

City Needs Historic Preservation Ordinance
Another historic Commerce building fell victim to “progress” this week, when the 132-year-old Pittman House was demolished to make room for the new Walgreens Pharmacy.
The destruction of the house, not to mention the magnificent oak tree on the same lot, illustrates a critical local shortcoming — we have no means of protecting our beautiful and unique old buildings.
Commerce recently adopted a demolition ordinance that will provide some protection for its central business district, but it needs a preservation ordinance to assure that growth and progress don’t come at the expense of our culture and heritage.
Commerce is not exactly Madison. We don’t have the quantity of stately antebellum houses, but we’re at risk of losing those grand old houses we do have, not to mention our historic downtown facades that make Commerce unique, at the point when after a fire or act of God takes out a section of the downtown and a Starbucks or a Rite Aid Pharmacy or any other business sees an opportunity to locate in our community.
Commerce can be business friendly without sacrificing its heritage. We have ample space to locate new businesses without allowing them to remake Commerce into one large strip shopping center. It’s time to protect our historic buildings while we still have some left — and before some Fortune 500 Company buys up a block of town to reshape in its own style. Without a preservation ordinance, the appearance of Commerce is left in the hands of people whose only interest is in making money out of it.

Cable Barriers On I-85
The Georgia Department of Transportation started this week on a line of “cable barriers” designed to prevent deadly crossover accidents on Interstate 85. The barrier is being installed in the median of I-85 from State Route 20 in Gwinnett County all the way to the Franklin County line.
As DOT projects go, the $6.5 million is very small, but the new barriers will save lives, not to mention prevent numerous injuries and significant property damage. Too often in the past couple of years, this newspaper has had to report on fatal accidents caused when a driver traveling one direction lost control of his or her vehicle, crossed the median and slammed into one or more vehicles going the opposite direction.
The barriers, three to four strands of steel cable anchored with steel and concrete, won’t stop accidents. Their role is to lessen the severity of the accidents by preventing out-of-control vehicles from crossing the median into oncoming traffic.
I-85 is a major artery subject to high traffic volumes. With thousands of trucks and automobiles roaring up through Jackson County at speeds averaging more than 70 miles per hour, there is always the potential for disaster. The new cable barriers will provide an extra margin of protection for drivers.

By Susan Harper

Inquiring Mind Wants To Know
Why do so many pencils have lousy erasers these days? I bet you’ve been wondering about that too. I can’t be the only one — it’s too annoying. My own personal choice for worst erasers would be the ones that look exactly like the Ticonderoga pencil erasers but turn out to be hard as rocks, useless for anything unless you enjoy making broad black streaks across the page you’re working on. To me, manufacturing bogus erasers is fraud. But I forget about them until I’m halfway through completing a long intricate form in a doctor’s office, for instance, and have to start over.
Here’s another question from the dark recesses of my mind: do the same people who make the pencils with evil erasers also make those pitiful toothpicks that splinter when they’re used in the way their name suggests? I’ve actually had an emergency dental bill for that problem, although now that I think of it, those toothpicks were made by Diamond. You know, the company that also makes those big matches you’re supposed to strike on the side of the box, only you can’t, because the striking surface crumbles, tears, and peels off when you try. (Sigh.)
While I’m asking questions, why do the food manufacturers make it next to impossible to get into their packaging? I’ve seen more than a few potato-chip and pretzel bags that had to be opened with kitchen shears, and I’ve had to use pliers to get into a bottle of water. If you were marooned on a desert island with this stuff, you’d have to find sharks’ teeth and crab claws just to break into your own food supply.
Speaking of food, I think I know why restaurants play fast music at a fairly high volume: they want you to eat and run so they can give your table to someone else. I guess that makes sense when they have customers lined up and waiting. But these days you don’t see those lines, so wouldn’t the restaurants be smart to play something so pleasant that we diners want to linger over dessert and coffee, thus spending more money?
Inquiring minds (and obsessive-compulsives) ponder these things in idle moments — in doctors’ offices, in restaurants, in dentists’ waiting rooms. They wonder why advertisers have turned the volume up so high on their TV commercials that we’ve all learned to find the “mute” button on the remote, even in the pitch dark, so we can skip the commercials entirely. They worry about the IRS, which keeps coming out with new and more impossibly complicated forms. Has no one told them that we’re planning to do away with their agency for that very reason? It’s like Detroit making bigger and bigger cars, while all around them they could see us (if they looked) driving by in our economical little Hondas and Toyotas, which were outselling the gas-guzzlers by a country mile.
Well, there’s lots I can’t figure out. Why don’t books become obsolete? All the computer advances have done is make it easier to buy them, so book sales have gone up, not down. But aren’t we running out of trees? One thing we’re not running out of is questions, and I’m glad. What else would occupy us in waiting rooms?
Susan Harper is director of the Commerce Public Library.
She lives in Commerce.


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