CAWTHON'S CATHARSIS - If You'll Hang With Me We Can Jump-Start Our Economy from the New River Bridge

(04/02/2003)

Editor's Note: Since the New River Gorge Bridge is now representing the state of West Virginia, it is time to re-visit Cawthon's economic development ideas.

By Jack Cawthon (2001)

Seldom a day goes by that we aren't made aware of terrorism in our midst. When I read the headline over an Associated Press story in the Morgantown Dominion-Post my nerves became a bit more frazzled: "Economic SWAT team ready to go, Wise announces." I could picture our governor with beret in place clogging down the street in Special Forces gear followed by a platoon of economists all marching in step to a martial band led by David Satterfield, whose true profession was music until he became attuned to the beat of a different drummer performing at a somewhat higher union scale.

I'll bet bin Laden turbans quivered at that image, if not in fright certainly in suppressed laughter. "Just as with a SWAT team in law enforcement, so will this SWAT team respond immediately to situations dealing with economic threats," Wise told the West Virginia AFL-CIO at the union's annual state convention.

The governor plans to bring together economists and experts in business and labor to identify the overall problems in different parts of the state's economy. If I may make a constructive comment at this point, maybe the best maneuver at the beginning would be to use the weapons in hand to shoot the economists, as I have found very few of them able to balance their own checkbooks and they construct formulas that even they don't understand.

As I studied journalism and, if I modestly say so myself, am an expert in economic development I have had a proposal that has been ignored for a goodly number of years, perhaps because I am lacking an adequate background in music.

Our state is blessed with what the economists might label a lucrative "fixed asset," the bridge over the New River Gorge which for most of the year is used inefficiently merely to carry traffic from one side to the other. However, for one day each year half of the bridge is closed to traffic and people are allowed to jump over the side much like lemmings in Alaska.

This year even that event was cancelled when costs for protection against pure terror terrorists proved too great. A watered-down festival was held in the vicinity of Fayetteville instead.

I have insisted all along that a one-day "Bridge Day" use of the bridge is highly inefficient and while the event may attract a vast multitude of people for the special day for a truly adequate return on the bridge investment it should be used for what will yield the greatest percentage overall and that is not a one-day only jump fest but a year-round spate of public hangings.

Public hangings have always brought out the best in human nature. The last one held, at least legally, in this state, as I recall, was in Jackson County back at the turn of the century. People came from far and near in covered wagons, on foot and no doubt by swimming the Ohio River from our neighboring state to have family fun and entertainment with the main attraction some wastrel of society swinging at the end of a rope.

Now, before the ACLU becomes both red in agitation and political outcries let me assure them and you, who I know all to be broadminded readers, that this is not cruel and inhumane punishment but a wonderful opportunity to benefit the poor and neglected.

The current corps of bridge jumpers must provide a goodly outlay of expenditures for equipment, transportation and many miscellaneous items that enable them to fully celebrate the experience of jumping over the side of the bridge and, most importantly, returning to go again another time. This experience is denied the poor for the obvious reason that the poor lack money. They aren't allowed even to end their miserable existence by jumping without a parachute as some silly law prohibits it and may relate to federal funding.

But the poor are plentiful in our prisons, many of them languishing on "death row," as studies, which I can't cite here at the moment as it is such a drag to do adequate research for the stuff that I write, have shown that the poor are far more apt to be capital punished than the rich. Justice may be blind but she seemingly winks one sightless eye at both the judge and jury when the defense is well-heeled. So, why not utilize both the resources of the bridge and the poor to bring this state some well-deserved prosperity?

For a brief moment the condemned of society would realize the thrill of free fall over the glorious New River Canyon that now only Republican yuppies can afford. Granted, it would be only a one-time adventure but that far exceeds the unimaginative use, say, of lethal injections.

The problem we face currently is that West Virginia has banned the efficient utilization of its poor prison population. But not Texas which utilizes to the max and has more than enough to share. I propose that we contract with that state until we can correct our own lack of foresight.

When we consider the related revenues from concessions, book sales, movie rights and perhaps souvenirs of bits of hair and clothing from the lucky participants we are talking in terms of millions of dollars. But by far the greatest revenue producer would come from the lottery; not a lottery returning a paltry few million in dollars but one which would award the lucky winner the opportunity to spring the trapdoor allowing the lucky dropee the exhilaration of free fall if for only a few feet. Adrenaline would be pumping for both parties, I can assure you.

I beg you loyal readers to contact your lawmakers and insist on action. I ask for little in return, except maybe a piece of the tee shirt concessions.


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