If we don’t take a second or two to look up or down as we’re going about the business or leisure of everyday life, we might miss something. On that Tuesday’s walk/run, I did look down and was rewarded with these two charmingly lettered access covers on the sidewalk. This whimsical font (or is it technically a typeface?) stands out among the other utility access hatch covers lettered with cleaner lines. These covers are located on Flamingo Road, near the bus stop, between Sandalwood and Rainbow in Las Vegas, Nevada.
I guessed that the lettering is 1970s/early 1980s and of course I wanted to find out more about it. After a few minutes of flummoxing around Google and typing things like “Streetlight control systems in the sidewalk”, I finally zoomed in on the image and noticed that the frame around “PC Street Light” contained a more modern clue, a web address: jensenprecast.com.
That’s how I know these are called access hatch covers. But the website did not contain any information on or images of this particular model. It wasn’t until I created this blog, today, that I wondered why I don’t just call Jensen! After all, it wouldn’t be the most awkward phone call I’d made for, um, investigative purposes.
Jensen Precast was established in 1968 and is dedicated to making precast concrete and (I just learned) polymer concrete composite products for infrastructures, like streetlights. They’re based in Sparks and have offices in the rest of Nevada and in California, Hawaii, and Arizona.
Office manager Cheaunti didn’t seem put off by my call and transferred me to a sales representative. While on hold, I rehearsed a better spiel, but one that still started with, “This is perhaps a weird inquiry…” and went on to explain that I was doing, um, research and not needing any concrete infrastructure products myself before ending with a description of the words “Street Light”. Ryan chuckled and exclaimed, “You’re talking about the Sesame Street font! Well, I’m not sure what the font’s officially called, but we’ve always called it that.” It’s apt. On two levels. I mean. Sesame Street. Street light.
I asked the enthusiastic rep when they started using those covers and remarked that the ones on Flamingo had held up really well, especially if they’d been around since the 70s. “Actually,” he began, and with absolutely no trace of mansplain tone, “we used that font up until a couple of years ago before we decided on the cleaner lines that you see on other covers. I don’t know exactly when or where we started using Sesame Street, though.”
So, that particular cover could be circa 2016, for all we know. Ryan added that there were “still thousands of them” all around the valley. I mentioned that the frame, at least, was new, given the .com information. And even though we couldn’t date this artifact as precisely as I may have liked, I learned enough about to satisfy my investigation, along with the bonus information that it may not even be concrete. Ryan’s enthusiasm for the product spilled over into his explanation that about 20-30 years ago, they started using a polymer concrete that is not really concrete, but a resin composite, which is stronger and harder, but much lighter, making it easier for maintenance workers to do their jobs. It’s also cheaper, and has a longer life.
I was glad to have talked with Ryan. And glad that the polymer’s longevity might mean that future pedestrians or bus riders might also take a second to look down and see this unexpected frivolity in the midst of the seriousness of infrastructure.