08 June 2009


'New Yorker George Pakenham is, in his own small way, doing his bit for the environment by approaching drivers who park with their car engines idling, politely passing them a small card detailing the relevant traffic codes preventing engine idling. He does this in the name of New York's air quality and the preservation of finite fossil fuels. He's distributed nearly 2000 cards over the past few years, and has recorded a 78 percent success rate in convincing strangers to turn their engines off while they wait. But he also keeps a log of the ones who refuse to cooperate:

'November 30, 2007, black male, limo, age "50+": 'He was peeing into a bottle and I disturbed him'

February 12, 2008, white female, truck, age "50+": 'I won't freeze for you'

July 11, 2008, black female, bus (Access-a-Ride), age "25-35": 'Then don't breathe'

August 8, 2008, white male, sedan, age "35-50": 'Guy was rolling a joint'.

Pakenham is unusually shy and well mannered for a curmudgeon, and his accounts of unpleasantness make several references to 'guff' and one mention of a 'MAJOR ISSUE'. Some of the most vivid rebuttals have come from what he calls 'two-time losers', or repeat offenders. (September 3, 2008: 'Get away from me. Go move to China'. September 16, 2008: 'His buddy said, "You are not human"). The idler-in-chief appears to be Tommy, a white male who works for the city and has been caught by Pakenham four times. (March 13, 2008: 'It's Tommy once again. Asleep at the wheel'). But - good news! - Tommy now drives a hybrid'.

- Ben McGrath, 'Engine Trouble', New Yorker, 18 May 2009

[Courtesy of Louise]

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