Opinion

Observations from the real world

I just returned from a 14-day, 3,300-mile road trip visiting points in western Canada, Montana and Wyoming. The real purpose of the trip was to play with model trains in Edmonton, Alberta. My wife expanded the itinerary to include visits to Glacier, Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. It was really hard to take. Oh, sure! Getting to play with trains for four days would have been enough. Getting up close and personal with a large variety of the Northwest’s finest wildlife was the icing on the cake. But it was not all fun. No matter where I go, I somehow seem to observe things that are a bit unusual.

I know we are in a recession. The national media has been bombarding us with that for the past year. I wonder, did all those folk who were visiting the parks (well, after the start of school) know they were suffering personal financial difficulty? The motel, hotel, restaurant and T-shirt business owners must not be on the endangered list. Speaking of endangered lists, why is it the things we strive to protect the most also appear on so many restaurant menus? Never have I seen salmon offered in greater variety than on this trip. How long ago were the buffalo, now offered as steaks and burgers, on the verge of extinction? Perhaps the real answer to protecting a species is to make it the main ingredient in an exceptional dish so market forces can take over.

Speaking of market forces, there was no apparent impact on the traveling public by the “Cash for Clunkers” program. The data may not be scientific, but it was pretty clear the number of SUV and pickup trucks in the parks widely outnumbered the sedans and smaller cars. Though there were some hybrids on the park roads, the number was pretty small. I wonder if the Americans who like to travel and have the discretionary dollars to support the habit tend to buy the cars they want, instead of the cars government thinks best for them?

Another observation has to do with the number of RVs out on the roads and filling the park campgrounds. The price of gas may be up, but so apparently is the enthusiasm of average Americans to visit and enjoy the wonders of this nation.

Also interesting is the amazing but natural recovery of the forests of Yellowstone since the major fire of 1988 and other fires since then. My environmentalist friends might be interested to know forests do recover and wildlife does adapt to major loss of habitat.

My final observation has to do with the effective use of “Stimulus Bill” funds. I am glad the projects had to be “shovel ready” to qualify. The number of projects we passed through with the road gang leaning on shovels was disquieting. The fortunate aspect is very few of the projects involved major highways or essential roads. The US road projects, and we saw quite a few, mostly involved small secondary or tertiary roads, many of which would soon be closed for winter and buried under snow.

In contrast, the Canadian projects we encountered involved major arterials and were being worked actively. Apparently there is a shortage of “leaning” shovels in Canada or the road gangs get paid based on performance rather than hours put in. Perhaps the Canadians realized winter was coming and they had to get the job done or that they did not have a bottomless stimulus pot to fund projects.

It is good to be home and find that little has changed while we were gone. County government is still on the four-day week. The Port of Bremerton has found more ways to spend money. And the great ferry debate continues with the Port of Kingston trying to match the Port of Bremerton in the foot ferry race. A couple of million people protest in the other Washington and all we hear about is how many times the President appears on TV. I can hardly wait for election season next year.

Jack Hamilton can be reached at gradiver@wavecable.com.

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