The Doubtful Looking GE M400A2 CobraHeads

GE M400A2 Power Doors, the Doubtful CobraHeads

Ode to the doubtful looking GE M400A2 power door cobraheads, a street light model that took New York City by storm starting in the late 1960s. The M400A2 was the only mercury vapor era luminaire in New York City to transition successfully into the more competitive sodium vapor era of the 1970s.
It was 1967, when I first noticed the GE M400A2 cobra head luminaires. Queens Boulevard, west of the Long Island Expressway, was sentencing its Elmhurst and Newtown area incandescent street lights to death. The executioners were not the ubiquitous, already familiar and much hated GE M-400 "Disgusteds", for they had shot their load during the Worlds Fair three years before. Neither were they the gracefull and surging Westinghouse OV-25 Silverliner "Cheerfuls", which had taken over the eastern end of the grand, 10 lane wide Queens Boulevard two years before. The new marauding, cobra-headed horde greatly resembled the scowling Disgusteds, just as the new Cheerfuls were the near spitting image of old ones. Like the new Cheerfuls, the new luminaire's photo cell switches were set further back, whereas the switches on the Disgusteds and old Cheerfuls were smack dab in the center of the top of their snakeheads.
Like most products of the late 1960's, even luminaires needed to exude a feeling of motion and sleekness, as opposed to the staid conservatism of the old cobraheads. The new M-400A2 didn't really look Disgusted to me. It did, however, look like it had been told something it didn't believe.
The inimicable expression on their visages led me to dub the M-400A2s The Doubtfuls. In these last salad days for mercury vapor lamps in NYC, the Doubtfuls and Cheerful IIs fought a pitched battle for the heart and soul of the city's highways and byways. The Westinghouse Silverliners cheerfully continued to grab new assignments on the highways, usually attached to the outrageous, mutant, braced Biggest-loop lighting standards designed by Donald Deskey. The Doubtfuls deviously bided their time.
Around 1970 , Sodium Vapor lamps began to pop up in the more crime ridden neighborhoods. The handwriting was on the wall for the white-lighted mercuries.
The Doubtfuls made the crucial jump into the sodium vapor era, which the new Silverliner Cheerfuls were apparently not able to do. The Doubtfuls, destined to dominate the city by the mid 70's, began to evict the Cheerfuls and even turned on their mentors, the Disgusteds, as the sick orange glow of sodium began to replace the clean white glow of mercury throughout the city. Eventually, Sodiumized Doubtsters took over the formerly Disgusted Bigloops on my street and by the mid 70's, they were probably the dominant luminaire in New York City. Every dog and cobra head has its day, however, and the Doubtmeister's mongoose turned out to be another Sodiumite fixture, that already had a presence in the surrounding suburbs.
This fixture made by Thomas Betts had the dummest looking grin on it's visage that I'd ever seen. Not unexpectedly, I took to calling these The Dummies. In fact, dare I say it, they looked downright constipated. Within those critical mid 70's years, both these fixtures waged a viscious war for control of NYC. This was the Kojak era, where millions around the world would get weekly glimpses of Doubtfuls and Dummies hanging from Quarterloop masts in the repetitive stock footage used whenever Kojak had to travel somewhere by car.
As I write today, both the Doubters and the constipated Dummies have proven to be perhaps the most enduring of all NYC's luminaires. Both are still numerous in all boroughs, but their numbers slowly dwindle every day. Little gnat-like fixtures began to invade the turf of these two gawky giants at the end of the 70's. I suspect this was the result of bidding reform in the handing out of supplier contracts, forcing the city to purchase the lights from multiple sources. Although there were always numerous types of fixtures in use, one or two particular models were always lopsidedly dominant, like illuminated incarnations of Microsoft and Intel.
Many of these new fixtures were probably more energy efficient. Indeed, time waits for no lamp, around here. Many of the small fry from the early 80's are now disappearing themselves. Meanwhile, I still can't get away from the Disgusteds and Doubtfuls. My present block, in Fresh Meadows, Queens, is still full of venerable, bird-dropping stained Doubters and the streets around me are a virtual Disgusted Museum. One street two blocks from me, is probably the only block left in the city, that is still all Disgusted.
Originally written in 1996.