Cute. But my response startled him.
“All the time,” I nodded. “And when I’d hear the banjo, I’d pick up a big bass fiddle and join in.” It always worked like a charm, disarming backwoods rowdies looking for a fight.
Truth is, I never worried much about leaving the comforts of Columbia to test those deep woods thresholds, scattered with rattlesnakes and rednecks, whirlpools and whiskey stills, deep woods caverns and cracks named after devils, nervous meth cookers and fish that jump up and smack you in the head.
I could handle the devils and rednecks and wilderness.
But one thing scares the bejeebers outta me. It bothers me so much that if I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t go. I wouldn’t drive every mile of every road on my Missouri map. I’d stay right here in Columbia, away from danger, mostly.
My biggest fear? Texters on wheels.
Missouri may be the meth capital of the world, yet in all my travels, I only had to outrun half a dozen meth-crazed maniacs. But OMG, texting drivers saturate the roadscape like mobile dandelions.
Well, thank God for the Missouri General Assembly.
The legislature has begun the effort to come to grips with personal electronic devices behind the wheel. A state representative has filed a bill that “Prohibits anyone from using a hand-held electronic wireless communications device while driving unless the device is equipped for hands-free operation and is being used in that manner.”
Well, it’s a start. We’ll see if this measure passes.
Another bill takes aim at your head, prohibiting “the operation of a moving motor vehicle while wearing a head-mounted display…” I’m all for banning head-mounted video screens. But if “a head-mounted display” includes “I’m with stupid” ball caps or fake reindeer antlers, count me out.
Restricting textosterone is just one way your Missouri legislature is gonna make things better for drivers. A tougher seat belt law plans to fine violators $50 instead of $10. Good luck with that. Seat belt laws are damn near unenforceable. So are texters.
Still, our creative legislators continue to try to narrow that gap between law and law enforcement. Here are a few other life-changing bills offered up this year:
- Express Permission. A senate bill will clarify that breast feeding in public is not sexual conduct as defined in criminal law.
- “The Sextracurricular Activities Act” requires that a “school board member who has been charged with a sexual offense involving a minor” shall “be suspended from attending board meetings until the charge has been adjudicated.” There must be a story behind this one.
- The Shopper Chopper Act will require retailers to be closed on Thanksgiving Day. Only restaurants, gas stations and pharmacies will be allowed open. So next Thanksgiving, look for big screen TVs for sale in gas stations.
- Apres Gun Safety. A proposed law would deny hunting privileges for up to 10 years for anybody who, while hunting, kills another person.
- The Meet The Flintstones Act allows camping trailers more than 25 years old to be permanently registered and receive historic trailer license plates.
- Bumper cars. Failing to yield the right-of-way may get more costly. The proposed increase in fines may be a response to texter crashes. But threatening texters with higher fines is like shouting “last call for happy hour!”
- Open Bar. The Business Freedom Act will outlaw state or local governments regulating the hours when liquor is sold in St. Louis City. This bill gets extra style points for naming itself the “Business Freedom Act,” a stroke of marketing genius. This law won’t make any of us safer, but a lot of folks will pass out with less money in their pockets.
- Tree Saver or Time Saver? The Paperless Documents and Forms Act doesn’t outlaw paper forms, but it offers the electronic option. Now you can fill out your driver’s license app while you’re driving to the DMV.
- The “Oops, Sorry About That Inadvertent Lobotomy” bill establishes a two-year statute of limitations for actions against a mental health professional for malpractice, negligence, error or mistake. Already, doctors and dentists and hospitals are covered by this law. I just hope an accidental lobotomy doesn’t cause me to forget to file a timely claim.
- Have A Nice Weekend. This proposal lengthens the deadline for the Department of Social Services Children’s Division to complete a child abuse or neglect investigation from 30 days to 30 business days. One look at child abuse case loads, and you can understand why overburdened case workers might need more time. But what does more time allow for a child in a potentially abusive situation?
- What Would Teddy Say? One proposal requires “an independent study of environmental and economic need before the allowable volume of water contaminants or pollutants discharged is changed in clean water law permits.” The ghost of Theodore Roosevelt urges me to watch this one. Last year Teddy’s ghost was spooked about a bill that would relax requirements to tell neighbors about Class I Confined Animal Feeding Operation construction permits.
- Flight or Fight? Current Missouri “Stand Your Ground” law states that a person does not have a duty to retreat. New language would repeal that provision. But the new language doesn’t require a retreat, either.
- But Can I Drink, Too? This bill would lower the minimum age for a firearm conceal-and-carry permit from 21 years of age to 19 years of age. Watch for amendments to further lower that threshold, and the drinking age, too. But before we turn our toddlers loose with liquor, guns and ammo, the bill’s supporters probably need a dose of Mark Twain, who said: “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned ….”
- “The Buzz Off, Fed Act” creates the “Joint Committee on the Tenth Amendment” to the United States Constitution. The watchdog committee would notify Missouri’s attorney general when federal law oversteps Congress’s enumerated powers and intrudes on Missouri’s state sovereignty.
- The “No, Really, I Mean It: F**k Off, Fed Act” creates the Intrastate Commerce Act. If something is produced or manufactured in Missouri, and it stays in Missouri, it is not subject to federal law. Does that include meth?
- $1,000 for each eye. This bill replaces common law with a statutory cause of action for damages against a health care provider for personal injury from that provider’s services, or lack thereof.
- The Safest Day for Radiation. March 27 will become “Medical Radiation Safety Awareness Day” if the measure passes.
- “Get Thee Behind Me, State Man.” Under this proposal, the state board of education and the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education cannot mandate curriculum, textbooks, or other material used in public schools.
- The “Bring Back Knowledge” Bill. This refreshing constitutional amendment would relax term limits, allowing future state legislators to serve 12 years in any one house and up to 24 years total in both chambers. This measure has zero chance of passage, since voters overwhelmingly favor strict term limits, thus ensuring a never-ending fresh supply of clueless rookies in your legislature.
- But as an old tourism huckster, my favorite is the “Discover More on Route 54” bill. I know, it’s a new twist on an old theme: “Get Your Kicks on Route 66.” But I can see the possibilities.
A few months ago after a Mizzou home football game, a newspaper story said a northwest Missouri legislator’s car apparently cut off another driver trying to turn left from Stadium Boulevard onto Highway 63. The offended driver reported the legislator’s license plate, which turned out to be expired. That’s why I’m asking my legislators to sponsor a bill that will offer a very helpful reminder to lawmakers who think they’re invisible: “Don’t Try to Flee on Route 63.”
Like I said: I’m glad I’m done driving everywhere.