Take My Lawmakers...Please!

Henny Youngman Is Dead, But Comedy Lives On In The Legislature.

By Jeff Smith

TOO BAD ABOUT old Henny Youngman: he's dead, in case you missed it. Happened a week or two ago.

Which has nothing to do with riding in the back of a pickup truck, except in one very peripheral sense. During the CNN report of Youngman's death and life and career as the preeminent cornball comedian of his era, mention was made of the old wheeze about the guy who carries a charm to ward off elephants. The boys in the white coats come and cart him off to the loony bin, of course, where the shrink tells him he's needlessly obsessing, since there aren't any elephants within thousands of miles.

"Effective, isn't it?" the guy says.

Smith Meanwhile back in the loony bin that is the Arizona Statehouse, the Senate has passed a bill making it illegal to ride in the back of a pickup truck. Meanwhile, only slightly later, the editorial board of The Arizona Daily Star decides that the Legislature is, as usual, making something simple and clear-cut into something complicated and stupid. Again, as usual, the Star is about half right, but for all the wrong reasons.

I read the initial news story out of Phoenix when the Senate barely passed SB 1094, and my reaction was: One more pinch-brained solution in search of a problem. And yet another example of what you get when you send a bunch of rubes to the big city and then force them to stay indoors and act busy when what they want to be doing is getting drunk, eating free hors d'oeuvres and chasing topless dancers. You get laws, is what you get: laws covering every aspect of human intercourse from thinking to speaking to farting to, well, intercourse. Laws you don't need.

The amusing thing about SB 1094 is that it would prohibit riding in the bed of a pickup, but only for children under 18, and then only in Maricopa and Pima counties, and then only in cities with populations over 60,000. The Star's editorial was right in one respect: The bill is a pretty watery broth, and it does reach hitherto uncharted depths of convolution. I mean, if it's wrong to ride in the bed of a pickup truck, why is it not wrong to do it the day of your 18th birthday? How come it's okay to do it in Sells (Hell, it's virtually de riguer there) but inappropriate in Scottsdale?

These are some of the inconsistencies that occurred to me, and evidently to the Star editorial board as well, but the Star concluded that the trouble with the bill is that it doesn't outlaw everyone, of any age, under any circumstance, anywhere in the state, from riding in the back of a pickup truck.


Along with Winchester rifles, Colt revolvers, and medium-rare steaks, the American West was won by men and women who reached many of their destinations in the back of pickup trucks. Many of us were conceived in the bed of a pickup truck. We went to the drive-in and watched John Wayne whip the bad guys in the back of a pickup truck. We watched the dust boil and the world recede in a long, sinuous snake of a dirt road, gazing backward as we rode the back country in the bed of a pickup truck.

We learned that the hardest situation in which to maintain one's cool is sitting alone in the bed of a pickup, stopped at a red light on Speedway, with a carload of the most beautiful girls you've ever seen staring back at you from the front seat of the next car in line.

And we learn, courtesy of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, that in 1996 only two persons (not kids, by the way) died in crashes in Arizona while riding in the back of pickup trucks. This, the Star editorial said, could be viewed as justification for the Senate bill, since it would not inconvenience many people.

Still, the Star persisted, "avoidable deaths should be avoided."

Avoided, sure: but legislated against? I don't think so.

We need a law against an activity that is neither wrong nor risky per se, and that in the last year for which records are available, accidentally resulted in two deaths? Give us a break. Probably 10 times that many Arizonans drowned in their chicken soup in '96, so are we to ban liquid nourishment?

If the authors of Senate Bill 1094 and of the Star editorial are to be heeded, probably--eventually--so.

But answer me this: When did being a liberal come to mean running around like Chicken Little, scared to death of the slightest threat to absolute, safe and dull status quo, screaming for laws to prevent anyone from having any fun, or doing anything that might, just possibly, upset the delicate equilibrium of a world under the complete, benevolent control of government?

I used to be considered a liberal, but under the present, Casper Milquetoast definitions of the term, I'd rather be a Libertarian. I used to be an editorial writer at the Star, but when I was writing these screeds for them, we believed both in personal liberty and personal responsibility.

Now it seems the Star believes none of us can be trusted to make up our minds and act responsibly about anything. TW

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