Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Timmerman as metaphor


By JOHN REMBER

Twenty years ago I was driving down Timmerman Hill, approaching the Highway 20 intersection, when a young man in a Ford pickup stopped and then pulled out in front of me, heading for Fairfield. I was about 100 feet away, going the speed limit.

I swerved into the other lane, hoping to pass in front of him, which is what happened. But it wouldn't have happened if he hadn't finally looked my way and hit his brakes. By swerving I missed him by inches, but if he hadn't braked I would have T-boned him, and there would been two more lives ruined at Timmerman Hill.

Since then I've grown used to hearing reports of either close calls or ambulance calls at Timmerman, and I've thought that the Wood River Valley is a community that practices human sacrifice. The bloody altar at the valley's southern end must have been designed to guarantee good snow and lots of tourists, although lately the gods must not be paying attention.

Neither, of course, is the Idaho Transportation Department. They appear to have balanced the cost of a cloverleaf against Blaine County lives, and even in these days of cell phones and texting, they've decided to save their money for the road to Tamarack.

One relatively inexpensive fix would be to build a big roundabout at the intersection, with a landscaped earthen pyramid in the center. Atop the pyramid could be a 50-foot concrete statue of Brigham Young pulling a handcart north from Salt Lake City. His statue would make it necessary to slow down or die, let you know you were entering a gerontocracy and remind you that even with slow-downs, you could still drive anywhere faster than your great-great-great grandparents would approve of.

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I should explain the bit about gerontocracy. A gerontocracy is where old people run things, and Blaine County qualifies as one. And I'm not bringing up Old Brigham to pick on Mormons. His gerontocratic genius has spread far beyond the religion he built.

Gerontocracies are characterized by planning, chains-of-command, lists of rules and controlling things from the grave. They are generally good for old folks, although some of their sons are sacrificed in war to support the gerontocratic world view, and their daughters are forced into rigid supportive and care-giving roles, roles escaped only at the cost of familial or religious exile.

But just about the time the old get things set up to their liking, they get cranky, crazed and rancid. Everything has to be in its place. Everyone has to live with their rules, and those rules are built of displaced anger, bigotry, power hunger and a querulous exactitude.

So back to Timmerman Hill. One comprehensive plan ago, it was decided that Blaine County would be a bucolic, hobby-farm, Forest Lawn type of place, dependent not on what it could dig from the ground or grow, but on well-heeled and well-behaved tourists, good medical care, investment income and a rising real estate market. Zoning regulations were enacted to ensure an under-supply of buildable real estate, which kept prices going up, and to limit competition in business, which also kept prices going up. Ski slopes, restaurants and bars, rents, gasoline and groceries became too expensive for young people. Thus does a community detach itself from the wellsprings of renewal.

In the 1970s, when the Idaho Transportation Department planned to upgrade Highway 93 to a four-lane highway, it encountered local opposition and the threat of lawsuits. So Highway 93 became Highway 75 and a major American north-south artery was routed around the Wood River Valley. One of the reasons the ITD won't consider building a cloverleaf at Timmerman Hill is because it fears legal action by the people who consider cloverleaves to be the same sort of messy conceptual artifacts as four-lanes and big-box stores.

I don't expect that things will change much until the people who have arranged things to their liking in Blaine County are all dead. They've ensured that their kids are going to want to live somewhere else, where life isn't so fully prescribed. They have been lethal to anyone who has challenged their dominance. They've refused to be influenced by what young people might want or need to live here. When they're finally gone, no one will be big enough to step into their big old concrete shoes. And then maybe somebody will get around to making the Timmerman intersection safer, if anybody's here to use it.




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