May 6, 2003
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. -- In Pensacola, Fla., a crowd of pink,
plastic flamingos on the lawn means someone is having a birthday. The
flamingos are usually for a major, zero-ending birthday, so on the day you
turn, say, 50, you walk out of the house, and there are 50 pink flamingos to
greet you. I report this to prove that travel is culturally broadening.
Also on the Redneck Riviera, an annual sporting event I trust
will soon attract national television coverage: the Mullet Toss. Kenny
Stabler, formerly with the Oakland Raiders, throws out the first mullet in
the yearly fish fling, and then, less famous mullet chuckers compete.
Near as I can tell from a quick visit, the major problem along
the Florida Panhandle is rapid development. Same old same old, except that
both the old-timers and the newcomers have a strong interest in preserving
the natural beauty of the place. By now, everyone knows what happens if you
don't control growth. The phenomenon known as "strip commercial" appears --
endless stretches of tacky, plastic, franchise food joints.
Maybe this conflict should be covered by sports reporters: the
neck-and-neck race between those who want to preserve natural beauty and the
greedheads who destroy it. Which side surges ahead this week with a clever
end run around the zoning commission? Are local enviros able to intercept a
pass, as it were, by discovering an endangered species in some nice marsh,
thus saving it from rapacious developers?
The only time I ever envied columnist George Will a lead was one
time when he visited Denver, where I then lived, and was deeply impressed by
one of the ugliest stretches of endless, tacky, strip-commercial development
in the nation. "I could never think of a good use for the atomic bomb,"
wrote Will, "until I saw Colorado Boulevard in Denver."
If you think this blight is limited only to big cities and
rapidly growing small ones, you ought to come to Cookeville, Tenn., a tiny
college town set in the lovely hills of middle Tennessee. Boy, they have 'em
all, lined up in an endless profusion of enormous signs, a forest of signs
that completely shuts out the vistas of purple hills running into the
distance: KFC, Domino's, La Tapatia, Hardee's, Little Caesar's, McDonald's,
Papa John's, Ponderosa, Red Lobster, Taco Bell, Wendy's, Waffle House, and
so on and so forth. I exempt the DQ on account of it's probably been here
since Methuselah was young -- it's a Southern thing.
You can find people here who consider this progress, but suppose
the franchise invasion that followed the new interstate and
liquor-by-the-drink to Cookeville had instead been a flowering of local
entrepreneurs. Instead of a whole lot of people working for low-pay national
corporations, you'd have a lot of small-business owners, buying their
produce and meat from local suppliers, not to mention their tables, chairs,
linen, flatware (plastic or otherwise), etc. Bidness-wise, it would have
been a much better deal for Cookeville, Putnam County and much of middle
Middle Tennessee was a depressed and isolated area until
relatively recently; it's hard to farm these gorgeous hills. So it's
understandable that people here would welcome any business that wants to
It's harder to understand why a place like Florida (which has
had a relentless real estate boom going since the '20s) would, at this point
in its development, want any more big companies settling there. Florida's
tax base is notoriously tourist-oriented; all that more industry would do is
ruin the beauty that attracts the tourists.
Where they've got this figured out (almost) is Arizona, with all
those unpredictable libertarian Republicans in the Legislature. They're
fixing to pass a bill over there that would stop the state or any of its
political divisions from offering tax breaks, new roads, cheap electricity,
free water or anything else to inveigle some out-of-state corporation to
come and build there.
And before you dismiss that with "Arizona is always goofy," take
a look at all the studies showing that the jobs attracted by giving these
special tax breaks to corporations do not pay out, even in the long run. In
Time magazine's classic Barlett-Steele report on corporate welfare, this
particular form of welfare was thoroughly exposed as a financial disaster
for the states and towns that participate in it.
But Arizona is not the only state with innovative legislation in
the offing. Right here in Tennessee, the Road Kill Bill has attracted
This little doozer would stipulate that should you mash some
critter on the highway, you are entitled to cart home the remains and pop
'em in your stew pot without having to get a deer or critter permit from the
state hunting agency. Well, fair enough, unless the animal-cruelty folks say
this would encourage people to run over critters.
But suppose you find a tempting, tasty critter on the highway
that was not dispatched to glory by your own vehicle? What then? Many and
varied are the problems faced by our state legislatures, some of them enough
to try Solomon.
To find out more about Molly Ivins and read features by other
Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web
page at www.creators.com.
COPYRIGHT 2003 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.
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