A modest proposal for solving everything

Posted: Friday, June 06, 2003

When the Rev. Swift suggested that overpopulated and starving Ireland solve its problem by selling its babies to the rich as edible delicacies, he counted (and was not disappointed) on credulous and humorless Britons to lend his message the public energy that social change requires.

The Last Word by Fern Chandonnet. He can be reached at fchandonnet@juneauempire.com.

Let me assure you, dear readers, that my own modest proposal makes no such presumption about the people of Juneau.

Anyhow, it would seem that, unlike Ireland's, our problem is neat and tidy: The downtown area experiences congestion.

My concern was recently awakened by that very apprehension of the City Parents; the resultant proposal that an ordinance be formulated that would clear the sidewalks of obstruction; and the subsequent hiring of an Outside consultant to look at the problem of congestion. (People Outside are extraordinarily knowledgeable about congestion, because there is so much of it out there - which is why we hire them. I liken the process to asking someone who is lying under an upended piano to provide advice on how to move the instrument.)

Before we talk about mitigating congestion, we need to consider two points: 1) The number of tourists visiting Juneau will increase in the coming years and 2) it's unlikely we can widen the sidewalks by either narrowing the streets or asking merchants to retreat into the hillside.

The problem, I'm guessing, is close to insoluble.

Now, an insoluble problem, as we all know, is not a problem at all, but, rather, a fact of life. We are left, therefore, with the task (since we must always face, resolutely, the facts of life) not of decongestion, but of making the congestion tolerable - and even interesting. (After all, we normally don't mind congestion, per se, so long as it is compelling and productive. For example, we avidly attend church, Assembly meetings, schools, bars and traffic accidents.)

Here is our course: Turn downtown sidewalks, streets and air space into a carnival or midway - with rides, games, Kewpie dolls, calliope music, tunnels of love and all the fixings that have diverted village crowds down through the millennia.

Those of you shaking your heads, fists and rattles ought first to consider what the happiest moments of your youth were. That's right: Likely as not your flashback contains a lad (or lass) leaning over the pitch-'n'-toss counter with an outstretched (and frustratingly short) arm, hoping against joyous hope that the thrown ring will settle around a post thick enough to score a stuffed beast - all for a dime or a dollar, no matter.

And who can recall without smiling that singular carnival aroma - a heady combination of cotton candy, fried meat and diesel fumes? An entire world - indeed, a complete era - right there in the nostrils.

Some places in the city are ideally suited for this makeover. The space in front of the city parking garage/library, for example, is now expensively dedicated to plants-and-shrubs-that-may-not-make-it-this-year. Why not mow them down and install a merry-go-round, complete with (amplified) calliope music and wood animals reflecting Alaska themes: your walrus, your marmot and your garden slug?

The roof of the garage/library itself offers an excellent launch point for one of those floating roller-coaster vehicles that would whiz down on tracks, splash into the channel and then, for the amorous-minded, veer into the inviting darkness under the bus-parking/pedestrian-walkway.

A Tilt-a-Whirl atop City Hall, successive Ferris wheels on rising terraces along the tramway corridor, bumper cars on Front Street, tents on the grassy verge of South Franklin bulging with cheerful corn-dog enthusiasts - all would wash away the anti-entrepreneurial spin that the old-fashioned mistakenly attach to congestion.

Unfortunately, one would have to bow to today's (in my view) overly developed sensibilities. No more hootchy-kootchy show; no more enlightening performances by Tungstena, the Human Light-bulb, or Enorma, North America's Biggest Lap-Crushing Fat Lady, or Ernest, the Wild Appalachian Geek Boy.

Such is the price of progress.

The expense to the city would be minimal, since these improvements would be financed by the ship passengers head tax. At most, a new Juneau Department of Precautionary Measures might be needed - with no more than 2.75 employees - to ensure, for example, that no patron who has eaten more than three corn dogs is allowed entry to a dynamic ride (such as the justly notorious "Yahoo Bombs Away"), when that ride is situated above a crowded intersection.

Income to the city would grow dramatically via its rake on the midway's traditional gambling concessions: Cover the Spot With the Metal Discs; Skee-ball; Knock Down the Milk Bottles; Where's the Pea?; and Whence the Rat? (For those not familiar with the last, a rat is loosed onto a spinning circular table in which rat-sized, numbered holes have been drilled. And patrons bet on the choice of exit the dazed and besieged rat will make. Imagine the excitement of watching the frantic rodent disappear - along with a day's pay - down an ill-chosen hole!)

The possibilities for entertainment are endless.

Of course, there are those who will continue to cavil about congestion-this and congestion-that. Just the other day, I remarked to an acquaintance downtown (a merchant) that what with the arrival that day of 13,000-odd ships' visitors, it would be a good day for business.

But she rolled her eyes and allowed as how she lives downtown and would have to put up with an increased amount of noise.

Still, there are remedies for even that recalcitrant a view: Pay the woman off. Claims for music notwithstanding, nothing soothes the savage breast more than pots of money. (And, trust me, three-quarters of a million passengers who have had it up to here with unending meals, unending shuffleboard and $8 drinks will be leaving our fair city knee-deep in the green stuff.)

Nevertheless, there are some out there who simply cannot be moved even by the prospect of immense profit or the jollity and excitement of a full-festival town. I propose that these nay-sayers be dipped in beer batter, deep-fried and fed to the tourists.

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