“Shovel-ready.” Boy, that one's going to get tiresome before the year is out. I don't know who first used the term, meaning an infrastructure or engineering project that has already been rubber-stamped by the 'crats, the lawyers, the locals, and the DEP, but if the American Dialect Society picks this expression as the “word of the year” I'm going to climb up on my desk and jump.
The Civil Engineer's trade group tells us that there are 2.2 trillion-with-a-T trillion dollars worth of infrastructure projects we could be tackling right now. Much of this stuff is
transportation-related. Now, back when I was in the fourth grade and we were learning about Our Nation and Our Town, we learned about how “our” tax money went to pay for roads and bridges.
I am exceedingly fond of roads and bridges.
There are nowhere any more useful, more meaningful, or more inescapable metaphors within the human experience than roads and bridges. We lace our language, our psychology, our spirituality with roads and bridges. We can hardly make our livings without roads and bridges. Our neural pathways are roads and bridges (oh, and power lines.) We make art (both Fine and Beat) of roads and bridges. If I had a web site, which I do not, I'd probably call it Roads and Bridges.
I am willing to pay for this country's roads and bridges. Fine. Let's do it. I don't really have any money, so I'll be paying for maybe three or four wheelbarrow loads of crushed rock or a bucket of rivets, but hey, in spirit, I'm there.
The difference between me and the real anarchists, libertarians, back-to-the-landers and troglodytes is that I know perfectly well that it takes all of us to pay for a bridge (or an airport, or a hospital or a water main…although not always a school.) Anyway, there are occasional advantages to civilization, and civil engineering is one of them. (Well, decent civil engineering is. On this island, we have seen several expensive examples of bad engineering, which give us pause to wonder about other places…)
Oh, by the way, that does not mean I am willing to pay for a few hundred billion dollars worth of consultants. I am not willing to pay extortionary fees to regulatory agencies (and yes, you guessed it, that is a specifically Matinicus-based complaint.) I am not willing to send in my couple hundred tax dollars plus all those little five-percents and see
them squandered on procedural maneuvers that amount to the support of thieves in suits, war profiteering, triple-redundancy, graft, circumlocution, or faulty mathematics.
I am very naïve; I've been assured of that. I have this pollyanna notion that there is absolutely no excuse for the neglect of this country's transportation, utility, health care, education and emergency services infrastructure. Oh, sorry, the economy (who is “the economy?” You?) needs that money for video games. We need it for cigarettes and wide-screen TVs and making sure the rock stars and ballplayers are jillionaires, we need it for haf-caf soy-fluf caramel latte, we need it for gym memberships and the latest gadgets, we need it for clothing with some dude's name on it.
We need all this money to pay consultants, because so many of us are consultants. We'll all help the country if we just go out and buy more consumer electronics! Oops. Sorry.(“How dare you! You obviously don't know how the economy works! What right have you to criticize our choices? You idiots on that island don't have any idea how most of America…”) I know, I know; I get to live the simple life. Sure.
Pack a couple of sandwiches, tie up your steel-toed boots, go out there, build that bridge in the hot sun or the driving sleet, collect a paycheck that can support your home and children, sleep late on Sunday and take pride in what you built. Count me in.
Oh, that's just a myth. I see. Too bad.
Back when Page Burr was alive and living on Matinicus, he'd go to the public hearings and “informal community gatherings” and all such, convened by well-meaning but useless “facilitators” to discuss the ferry wharf, the telephone lines, the culverts and similar structural essentials. Page was an electrical engineer, an inventor who held quite a few patents on electronics, and a generally brilliant man; he knew more about how things worked than the average dozen state-employed flunkies.
They'd stand there in the island schoolhouse and rattle on for a while about how we should break up into small groups with big pads and pencils and brainstorm about what we'd like to imagine the ferry service looking like in ten years. Page quietly sat there in his overalls and his two or three chamois shirts, and just as the sweet young thing was about to hand out the brand-new Facilitator Brainstorming pencils, he'd sternly enunciate the sentiment of us all: “Just fix the wharf!”
I hope Barack Obama has a Page Burr back there somewhere in the crowd. I suspect I speak for more than a few of us. We'd just as soon see our few dollars spent on something tangible, something useful, and especially if there are really that many new construction jobs involved; just don' blow it all on foolishness. Repair what we've already got before building new when possible, think about what we'll need in 20 years (public transportation, for example, or clean energy systems, or solid waste management, or elder care;) don't forget the small places of this country (island airstrips, for instance, are a joke to the larger transportation-funding world and shouldn't be) and see that the dough goes to people in work boots, not just people on laptops. I'm a halfway decent ditch-digger myself.
We miss you, Page.
Eva Murray, who is clearly not an economist, offers commentary despite advice to be quiet on Matinicus Island.