The Golden Spike: Kicking and Screaming Our Way Into the Middle Ages

January 1, 2002 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

The Golden Spike: Kicking and Screaming
Our Way Into the Middle Ages

We all know the chronology:

After hundreds of millions of dollars worth of contracts were let, in 2000, work began on a light rail system down Houston’s Main Street, complete with torn-up streets, heavy equipment and hard hats.

Then, a petition circulated around town to let voters decide whether to have light rail.

Some observers in Houston thought this was putting the streetcar before the mule, while most people outside Houston were laughing their heads off.

More than 20,000 civic-minded Houstonians signed the petition, and the question was put on the ballot. This allowed Houstonians to, in effect, vote on whether to vote to have light rail.

In November 2001, the voters approved the plan to vote on whether to vote. The news was reported on the Comedy Network.

(Flash forward.)

In the next election, in 2002, voters rejected light rail in Houston.

Hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts were then let to pull up the rails and pave over Main Street. Observers said much of the credit could go to factions of the local Republican Party, which found light rail systems “unproven.” (This sentiment also applied to indoor plumbing.) Some citizens objected to pouring asphalt, saying that the action didn’t go backwards enough. “If mud streets were good enough for Sam Houston, they’re good enough for us.” A new petition was circulated, but the city clerk threw out several signatures, explaining, “It’s hard to read something written with a goose-quill pen.”

This movement soon gave rise to a new political power in Houston, the Luddites, whose motto was: “Never trust anything under 80.” A petition was soon making the rounds demanding that voters decide on the prohibition of satellite dishes, doorbells and most hinges. “The Houston public has never had a voice in these matters,” said U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay. “We need to vote just like they do in the other 12 states.”

When City Council took up the matter of devoting more freeway lanes to HOV (Horse Occupancy Vehicles), the Luddites were in full force. They proclaimed, “If God wanted man to move swiftly, he would have given us Rollerblades. Besides, if we move too fast, we might fall off the edge of the Earth.” A spin-off group, Friends of Smog, picketed several local flower nurseries. A spokesman said, “We’re here to show that the greenhouse effect is a myth.” They were joined by the General Association for Supporting Pollution, or GASP. When a reporter tried to explain that it was a different kind of greenhouse, a chant went up, “Hang the liberal media!”

It was at a meeting of the Taliban Friendship Society (its motto: “A woman’s place is in the cave.”) that some of the more progressive Luddites got the idea of circulating yet another petition calling on the City Council to issue a proclamation limiting city purchases to earth, wind and fire. When that effort failed, the group tried again, this time getting 20,000 signatures on a petition requiring that the city issue the following proclamation:

Whereas, for his keen observation of our country’s progress, and,

Whereas, his foresight kept our nation from needlessly expending hard-earned pelts and beads,

Be it enacted that this day shall be proclaimed Charles H. Duell Day.*

The proclamation further called on all citizens to show support for this day by turning on their whale oil lamps.

As might be expected, some of these actions were not totally supported by all Houstonians. There were those, for example, who questioned the need for cavalry outposts at the city limits, while others objected to the creation of the City Department of Inquisition. A brief period on the city’s dunking stool changed their minds.

Nothing lasts forever, and after a period of time, the Luddites lost their luster. Membership fell off as defectors joined a new and more progressive organization, the Whig Party. The news was so startling that a reporter rushed into the City Room of the Houston Apologist yelling, “Stop the chisels!”

* As Commissioner of the U.S. Office of Patents in 1899, Charles H. Duell wrote to President William McKinley urging that the office be abolished, explaining, “Everything that can be invented has been invented.” ih

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