About the time I conquered use of the 12-inch ruler, a teacher one day produced a stick that was slightly larger than a yardstick and told us that one day we would measure everything in meters and centimeters.
I don’t remember everything I learned, but I can remember her telling us that our children would never know anything about feet and inches.
I feel certain she has retired now and spends her days contemplating what happened to the U.S. conversion to the metric system.
In 1975, Congress appointed a board to implement the metric system. By 1981, they had abandoned the whole idea and the board was disbanded. That may be the only government agency that was actually shut down in a timely fashion.
My wife’s car has a switch that will convert the speedometer to kilometers per hour. If you’re stuck behind a driver that is not in a hurry, it can make you feel better that you’re going faster in the metric system.
I buy milk and gasoline by the gallon. Although some things, like ice cream, are no longer measured by the half-gallon.
The measurement that confounds me is car engines. I grew up in the era when we had big cars with big engines. The big powerhouse was the 455-cubic-inch V-8 with a four-barrel carburetor, found in big Buicks and Pontiacs. Many cars had the 350-cubic-inch V-8, which still delivered plenty of horsepower.
An average boy in my day could look under the hood and make a pretty good guess about an engine size in cubic inches.
Now, engines are measured in liters. I had enough trouble with inches to centimeters, I have never even tried to convert cubic inches to liters. Maybe we smelled a little too much leaded gasoline, but we never talked about how many liters we had under the hood. I heard of people who might talk about how many gallons they have in the trunk, but that’s a story for another day.
If we had converted to the metric system, what would have happened to great song lyrics like “Walk a mile in my shoes,” or “500 miles away from home?”
Even if you embrace the metric system, there is nothing poetic about singing “804.672 kilometers away from home.”
I am glad Larry Munson never had to tangle with the metric system. I can hear him growl, “He’s halfway down the field and God only knows how many meters that is.”
A few things have inched their way (pardon the pun) into the marketplace, such as the 2-liter soft-drink bottles. That’s the only metric measurement I can readily identify.
Runners seem to have also latched on to the metric system. I’m not sure about the distance of 5 kilometers. I just know it’s farther than I can run.
This is just one of those things in school that never came to pass. I’m still looking for that fourth-grade teacher who signed me up for my trip to outer space in the far-off year 2000. It’s 10 years late and I’m still waiting.
Harris Blackwood is the author of “When Old Mowers Die.” His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.