By Bill Hudgins
Have you ever said, “If I owned the road…”? I bet 99.9 percent of all the drivers on our highways believe they DO own the road – or drive like it at least once a day. That includes professional drivers, who by dint of sheer time on the asphalt have a solid squatter’s claim to at least some of the superslab.
Through a fluke of public mismanagement, my friend and ace gearjammer Rufus Sideswipe actually came to own a piece of the road – surely a combination of Christmas, Easter, Halloween and winning Powerball for any trucker. But as he learned, be careful what you wish for.
It happened like this.
The county where the Sideswipes live decided to do some major repairs on the main road through the county seat. This meant shutting down the road for several months. The best possible detour included a tar-and-gravel track that ran through what was locally known as “Sidetown.”
This was a rural stretch long inhabited by the vast and extended Sideswipe family. The road had been there forever, and when the main road was built, the county had virtually abandoned it to the Sideswipes. Now, it needed it back for a while.
As leader of the family, Rufus realized they had the county over an orange barrel. He figured this was an easy way to make some extra money, so they made the deal.
Rufus realized he needed help to collect, and the cheaper the better. Immediately, he thought of his wife’s three brothers. They bear a disturbing resemblance to Larry, Darryl and Darryl from “The Bob Newhart Show.” But Rufus figured this would be the easiest job they had ever had – all they had to do was sit, eat snacks and wait for people to hand them money. If three guys ever had relevant job experience, they did.
Within a couple of days, Rufus had cobbled together a couple of lift gates and found some old truck cab bodies that could serve as tollbooths. The detour signs went up, and the “Sideswipe Detour” was in business.
Trouble started almost right away.
At $1 for motorcycles, cars and pickups, the toll seemed unreasonably steep to the locals. As though a virus had swept the town, Rufus’ neighbors cleaned out their penny jars to pay the fee. Traffic backed up as the brothers-in-law tediously counted the coppers.
Out-of-town drivers fumed in the backups, wondering what idiot had routed traffic down this narrow, beat-up piece of pavement. Big rig drivers were especially miffed at having to pay $1 per axle to creep past this podunk burg.
After a couple of nights listening to idling engines, honking horns and angry shouts, Rufus ordered his crew to quit counting and let the traffic through. By then, they had most of the loose change in the county, so the problem soon solved itself.
Then an odd thing happened.
Word got out that the road was owned by a trucker, none other than Land Line’s famous Rufus Sideswipe. Truckers came miles out of their way, hoping to catch a glimpse of Rufus. Instead of sitting home and wrapping pennies, Rufus was obliged to come out to greet his fans and sign autographs.
One of the stargazers was an Australian who claimed to be a big-time TV producer from Down Under. He said he wanted to create a TV show about Australian trucking called “Rufus and the ’Roo.” “R ’n’ R” would be a combination of “BJ and the Bear” and “Crocodile Dundee,” in which the hero, aided by his faithful and unnaturally clever kangaroo sidekick, would tool around the Outback in a mammoth road train. They’d right wrongs, drink beer, chase down poachers and other bad guys, and always leave the girl behind with a sad version of “Waltzing Matilda.”
Rufus was excited until he learned they didn’t actually want him to play the role, but just to sign over all rights to use his name. He’d had a bad experience doing that with Mrs. Rufus No. 1, and wasn’t about to do it again with some funny-talking guy who drove on the wrong side of the road.
For its part, the county rushed the repairs and re-opened the road within three months – the citizenry had threatened a recall election if they didn’t finish soon. Rufus’ anticipated bonanza vanished beneath numerous repairs to the road, which had crumbled under the weight of sightseeing 18-wheelers.
Now, as state governments in their infinite silliness think about “privatizing” roads by leasing them to for-profit businesses, we may see whether private enterprise can do a better job than public oversight – or at least, do no worse than the Sideswipe Detour.
Until next time, be safe, make money and get home often.
Bill Hudgins may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.