|Ushuaia, Argentina (Photo by Neil Steinberg)|
One of the wonders of social media is it allows like-minded individuals to find each other. While we focus on the extremes — white supremacists and other assorted nut-jobs who try to inflate their significance by banding together — fanatics aren’t the only kind of person who connects through social media.
There are, for instance, folks who not only notice the manhole covers most blithely ignore, but admire them, photograph them and then share those photographs. On Twitter. Every Monday.
“There were two things I was constantly taking pictures of: birds, and random bits of infrastructure,” said Bill Savage, a Northwestern University literature professor. “I was riding my bike north on Halsted and noticed a classic sewer cover, a radial design with a golf ball at the center.”
”A few people, including me and Bill, were interested in the infrastructure of the city around us,” added Robert Loerzel, a freelance journalist. “Little things, like manhole covers. The idea of doing it on a Monday was a random moment that happens on Twitter. I had posted some photos — or maybe Bill — on a Monday, and a cartoonist for the New Yorker coined the phrase.”
”I love manholes,” said that cartoonist, Julia Suits. “Love the iron, the metal, because I was a sculpture major at the University of Iowa, I worked at Beloit Foundry and loved the idea of sand cast objects. I’m really interested in economy of design. I prefer simple ones, old ones, worn down by buggy wheels, feet, traffic. That’s what my eye’s attracted to.”
She remembers Manhole Cover Monday beginning like this.
”Bill Savage posted the first manhole, and I jumped on that and said, ‘Yeah!’ and retweeted it. We kept going, and I said, “Hey, Manhole Cover Monday.”"
"A joke by her became a hashtag,” Loerzel said. “Now throughout the week, as I’m walking through the city, I’m keeping an eye out for manhole covers, for a design I haven’t seen before. Not many are new or different. But every once in a while I’ll find something odd and save it up for a Monday. Now other people in other parts of the world are tweeting pictures.”
From Barcelona to Bolivia, Montreal to Mexico. And those are just from one Monday in July.
When I’m overseas, I’m on the lookout. I once made a cab stop, in traffic in Rome, so I could leap out and grab a shot of the manhole cover with “SPQR,” the same abbreviation that legionnaires carried into battle 2,000 years ago. In March, I was standing at the bottom of the world, Ushuaia, Argentina. Looking down, I saw a manhole with “Cloacas” — Spanish for “sewers,” but, as any bird lover knows, also the term for the avian excremental cavity. “This’ll rock Manhole Cover Monday,” I thought, snapping a photo.
”I feel a connection, especially when they’re historical,” said Loerzel. “Some are very old, referring to government units that no longer exist: In Grant Park, there are covers that say ‘SPC’ — South Parks Commission. Back in the days before there was a Chicago Park District.”
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