Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

Golf umbrella: Please confine to golf course

May 17, 2011 - 10:22 AM
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Creative Commons/Ed Yourdon

The rain that's falling today isn't sneaking up on anyone. Forecasts have been predicting these conditions for days. There's even a flash-flood watch going on.

Which makes today a highly umbrella'd day. And apparently some people out there are unsheathing some oversize specimens. Here's what @nprmonkeysee wrote on Twitter this morning:

"The giant golf umbrella has no place in the urban commute. NONE. #goodmorning"

That may be a case of wishful thinking. These rain shields are available everywhere, including your neighborhood CVS.

It's all about what umbrella manufacturers term the "arc." That's the distance from one tip of the umbrella to another tip on the opposite end. The arc of a good golf umbrella can extend to nearly 70 inches.

The dimensions leave no option but misery. Think about traversing any busy sidewalk or crosswalk while trying to step around someone carrying a nearly six-foot arc. Something has to give, to the point that the pedestrian headed toward the golf umbrella has a few options:

1) Run into the street to get out of the way;

2) Stage an attack against the golf umbrella; or

3) Get poked in the eye or shoulder.

Umbrella logistics usually leave 3) as the only viable option. That's because when you're walking with an umbrella, visibility is often limited in such a way that you cannot see the golf umbrella coming. It just descends on you.

People have taken to the media to express their distaste for this oversize tool. Under the headline "Don't be a brolly wally," Fiona Hudson wrote in the Courier Mail (Australia) back in 2009: "Suits power along under golf umbrellas, their giant logo-covered canopies hogging the path and scattering like tenpins those of us with sensible fold-away models. If the ``mine's bigger than yours'' war gets any worse, soon someone will start carting a super-sized market umbrella down the street."

And in the Boston Globe last year, Robin Abrahams wrote, "A beach-size umbrella in the city is the rain-gear equivalent of a car with extra bass in the speakers. To carry one is an antisocial act that clearly serves as compensation for a perceived personal inadequacy."

Total nonsense there, Boston Globe. Abrahams appears to be equating the golf umbrella with the hot rod, which popular culture has long viewed as a man's way of compensating for personal inadequacy. There's no such dynamic at work with oversize umbrellas. No one ever says, hey, look at the size of this killer umbrella!

Mere selfishness explains the golf umbrella. Those who use it want to arrive at their destination as dry as if there were no storm at all. Thus, the monster arc. In their quest for perfect dryness, golf umbrella users view users of polite-size umbrellas as mere obstacles to be poked aside. 

A few years back, Pittsburg Post-Gazette fashion writer LaMont Jones attempted something of a defense: "Nothing shields you from rain as conveniently as a huge umbrella. While most umbrellas are so inadequate that they manage to shield only a portion of the upper body, those super-size fairway umbrellas can be counted on to satisfy."

Though acknowledging their potential to annoy, Jones suggested that users raise their beasts above the crowd so as to avoid umbrellar collisions. And therein lies the problem — i.e., relying on the users of golf umbrellas to take painstaking measures of consideration.

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