Sunday, August 28, 2011

Tea Party Slim: "Keep the change"

An August Sunday morning. Tea Party Slim and I were dining on the veranda. We weren't so much "dining" as eating doughnuts and swilling coffee. And "veranda" would be a high-falutin' name for my utilitarian back porch.

The sun was out, sprinklers were on and we were at rest on the Sabbath. Slim's wife was at church. Mine was walking the basement treadmill.

I announced: "Which way, Cheyenne?"

Slim looked at me blankly. He held half of a gigantic apple fritter in his hand.

I pointed at the front of the Cheyenne paper. Big headline: "Which Way, Cheyenne?" Smaller subhead: "What do you want our city and county to look like 20 years down the road?"

Slim sat back in the chair. "I like it just the way it is."

"Keep the change, right? Just like your bumper sticker?"

Anti-Obama stickers remained affixed to the massive bumper of Slim's Hummer. I guessed that he was saving them for 2012.

He nodded. "Change is not good."

I finished off my chocolate doughnut and sipped some coffee. "Don't you enjoy electricity and indoor plumbing?"

He waved the fritter at me. "Don't be ridiculous. Our country's been the leader in those sorts of improvements."

"So you wouldn't be adverse to further civic improvements? Paved roads, traffic lights, schools, hospitals, long-range planning, better airports?"

"Paved roads are overrated," he harrumphed. "What kind of long-range planning are we talking about?

I picked up the paper and read aloud about the two long-range plans. The City of Cheyenne Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) is commissioning a new five-year plan as the previous one expires. It will cost $278,000, 90.5 percent paid for by federal funds and the rest split between the city and county. Clarion Associates out of Fort Collins will conduct the study. Laramie County's five-year plan is five years out of date. It will only incur nominal expenses for printing and community events as it plays catch up to things such as the massive Swan Ranch development, the Niobrara Oil Play, increased industrial development along county stretches of I-25 and I-80, etc.

Slim's responses was predictable. "The first is a waste of time and money. The second is a waste of time."

"But the Feds are picking up most of the tab for the first one"

He sat up. "See, there you go again. That's our tax money you're talking about. Why should it go to some nonsense like long-range planning when developers and and businesses and oil companies should be left alone to grow our economy." Slim paused. He looked thoughtful for a micro-second. "In fact, I'm going to write Rep. Cynthia Lummis and tell her to eliminate whatever federal agency is providing money for that stupid study." He jammed the rest of the fritter into his mouth, washed it down with some java.

"Wow, Slim, I didn't know you felt so strongly about boring planning issues."

He chuckled. "You like to push my buttons, don't you?

"I truly do. Hey Slim, did you know that U.S. Secretary of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood recently announced a $400,000 grant to our county. It's for rebuilding the interchange at I-25 and College Drive. The goal is to 'reduce crashes.' Good idea, don't you think?"

"I hate that interchange. Some nitwit from Colorado ran into the Hummer there last winter."

"So it's O.K. to spend federal money on that project?"

"Let those gigantic truck stops pay the costs. There's three of them out there. Plus a bunch of fast-food joints."

"Soak the corporations, eh Slim?" I smiled. "Socialist!"

He laughed. "They benefit the most from he interchange. Let them pay to rebuild it."

I paused. "You may have a revolutionary idea there there, Slim. Have developers actually pay up-front for the roads, sewers, water lines, electric services and everything else that will benefit them. The developers will love that idea."

For the first time that morning, Slim began to look uncomfortable. "People should pay for the services they use. That's all I'm saying. Don't overextend yourself. That goes for people and that goes for our country. That's how we got into this mess. Now everyone wants to get bailed out."

"I don't."

"You're one of the few Liberals who can say that."

"My wife can say that. My kids can say that."

"You know what I mean," he snapped. "Not all Liberals want a bailout. A lot of them do. And so do some Republicans. They should be ashamed of themselves."

I felt a need to sum up the conversation so I could go inside for another doughnut. "So no change?"

"No change."

"Another fritter?"

I fetched more fried dough and brewed dark roast. For a few moments, we sat quietly in the warm morning.

"I probably won't be around in 20 years," Slim said.

"Not if you keep eating those fritters."

He contemplated his lumpy slab of fried dough. "You may be right."

"Your kids and grandkids will be here, though. Mine too."

"I guess they'll have to figure it out," Slim said. "Just like we did."

"Or not."

"Or not," he concluded.

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