Get On the Bus As Some City Council Members Tour the Trinity River -- For, Um, Like, the Very First Time?
I think maybe what I should do at this point is go down by the Trinity River with a baseball bat, hit myself in the head and just fall in. How can we be 10 years into the debate on putting a toll road inside the river park downtown? How can we be a week away from a damned referendum on it? And the city council members most responsible for the toll road still know virtually nothing about it?
Earlier this week I tagged along when the council's Trinity River Committee took a bus tour of the Trinity River project. Not too far into it I figured out this was the first time most of them had actually looked at the project area.
We rode along the levee-top trail in a white city van. You may imagine how delighted they were when I showed up and asked for a seat on the bus. The tours are supposed to be open to the public, so they didn't have a lot of choice. But we had lots of good-natured joshing about opening the door at a high rate of speed and giving me the old heave-a-rooni. These guys kill me.
The tour was guided by Trinity River Project director Rebecca Dugger, whom I just accused of ethical breaches to the city attorney, so there wasn't a whole lot of eye contact going on there. I sat toward the back on the same bench with another girlfriend, assistant city manager Jill Jordan, from whom I did get a small involuntary laugh with a remark about organic guru Howard Garrett's personal knee-pain tonic -- beer. But then it was all frowns and sang-froid, which I prefer. So here we all are, bumping along on the levee-top on the city's worn-out shocks, a bunch of crabby bobbleheads.
All of the sudden veteran council member and pro-toll road cheerleader Mitchell Rasansky has a question. Pointing down below us to this little dirt two-track service road along the foot of the levee, he asks Jordan, “Is this service road down here more or less where the toll road might be?”
I keep my silence. But the proper answer is, "No, Mitchell. That is a two-track dirt path. The toll road would be a four- to six-lane limited-access highway stretching 200 to 400 feet out into park, with a big concrete flood wall all along the edge of the so-called lakes.”
But Jordan asks another staffer, “What are our thoughts on that?”
“Yeah,” the staffer says. “It is.”
Mitchell is beaming. They’re all beaming. Oh, isn’t that great? It’s just a little tiny six-lane toll road that fits in one lane. How marvelous!
“If you all will look way westward and see that other road over there," Mitchell says, "and this road down here, picture this in here, this is the first stage. I can see the future."
Oh, my God. I love Mitchell. But they tell him the limited-access toll road will fit where the one-lane dirt track is and now he can see the future? I am seriously going to toss my cookies. Maybe it's the bad shocks on this buggy. I must bite my tongue.
Mitchell is still lost in rhapsody. "This is all going to be manicured," he says expansively. "It is just going to look fantastic."
On we go, hobble-bobble-gobble, on down the levee in the city's white van. Council member Carolyn Davis asks several questions, which, taken together, betray that she is confused whether the park and toll road go inside the levees or outside. Did I just say yikes?
Finally, however, we arrive at what I stupidly think will be a moment of truth for the worthy council member -- a reckoning, maybe even a small epiphany. Some earnest engineer has been out here ahead of us poking flags in the dirt to show how fat the toll road will really be, how far it will bulge out into the park.
Of course he has chosen the skinniest point in the road -- where it is only four lanes, not six, and certainly not at one of the toll booth interchanges that will double or triple this width.
But that's O.K. Engineers are human, sort of. They have deals to sell. And even this best face version of it is great for me, because even here at its skinniest point the blue flags show the toll road bloating way out into the park -- not at all the modest little strip Mitchell was jollying himself into believing.
I wait. I am silent. My breath is bated, because I just know at any moment one of them -- Elba Garcia or Dave Neumann or maybe Mitchell – somebody on this damn bus is going to explode and start screaming: "Holy shit! What in the hell is that damn blue flag doing out there in the middle of where the lake is supposed to go? You have got to be shitting us!! You said it was where the little dirt lane was. You're making big fat liars of us to our constituents."
The bus is silent except for the soft mushy sound of heads bobbling. Not a question. Not a ripple. The council members gaze at the distant blue flags and smile, as if to say, "Nice little flags."
And I must bite my tongue. It is not for me, in my role as journalist, to violate the silence and say, "What are you people, nuts? Do you not see where the road is going to be?" No. I must say nada. Until ...
Snidely, Jill Jordan remarks, sotto voce, as if to herself but audibly to the bus, "As you can see, it's not 'out in the middle of the park.'"
Yeah. O.K. That was for me. That little dig was directed at yours truly, and that hereby suspends the rules.
"No," I say, "but it's also not down on the little service road where you just told them the road would be."
Drawing herself up primly, she says, "I see a blue flag on the service road."
"Yeah," I say, "but where's the other blue flag for the far side of the road? Way out there!"
Silence. A general shrugging of the bobble-heads as if to say, "Hmmmph.” Or, “Piffle.” Or, “Pooh.”
They don’t care. They won’t even look.
I give. I am defeated. Not even the physical universe can persuade them. Or get their attention. I think I just need to go down there, whack myself in the head and float away on the great brown tide.
I am but a reed. They are a bus full of rocks. --Jim Schutze