John Laird: Does Clark County remind anyone else of Rock Ridge?

By John Laird, Columbian Editorial Page Editor

Published:

 

The meeting took place in a crowded saloon in 1913. But, ideologically speaking, many of the folks in the room were still stuck in the 1800s. This crowd was a throwback to the rowdy Rock Ridge residents in "Blazing Saddles." The 20th century hadn't even entered their minds.

The governor from across the river rose, hoisted his britches, pointed to an easel with a sketch of a bridge and bellowed: "No autos! No bridge! No kidding!"

Lo, the assembled throng erupted into riotous fury. These people were not to be bullied. Slowly, the shouting subsided and a self-appointed leader rose to proclaim: "Crime cars will never be allowed into Vancouver! They only carry criminals from Portland. We want a bridge for today's needs: buggies and horses, not some high falutin' internal combustion contraptions."

Harrumphs echoed around the saloon. Urged on by his friends, the concerned citizen continued: "Crime cars cost too much. No one uses them. Other cities build simple, unpaved bridges with no car lanes, and for far less money. Stop trying to shove this boondoggle down our throats!"

The governor braced himself and spoke patiently: "Trust me, these automobile thingies are the wave of the future. Your grandchildren will thank you for expanding transportation alternatives and building a nice, paved bridge with lanes for autos."

A fuming woman from Felida would have none of that. "You just want us to become more like Portland," she shrieked. "Why can't you just build our bridge to our town the way we want?"

The governor growled: "Because it's not YOUR bridge, lady. There are two sides to this river, and my side has quadruple the population of your side, and we're saying no autos, no bridge."

Her rage intensified. "There you go again, Mr. Fancy Pants Oregon Governor, trying to tell us how to run Vancouver. Once we let crime cars into downtown Vancouver, they'll only start to spread. Before you know it, they'll be driving them crime cars down Mill Plain and Fourth Plain and, hell, all the way up to Hazel Dell!"

The governor shot back, "Maybe if you ever got out of Vancouver you might see how the rest of the world lives. Other cities welcome progress with open arms."

"Look," said a man with a million-dollar smile and a cheap suit, "I'm a low-density guy. The crime cars will only increase density and ruin our quality of life."

The governor tried to reason with him. "Meriwether Lewis was a low-density guy, too. But this is 1913, not 1805. And Vancouver is a town, not just a fort. Times change. I suggest you do, too."

"But how can I open the floodgates of jobs if we let crime cars into Clark County?"

The governor leaned over and carefully enunciated: "If you don't move with the rest of us into the 20th century, your floodgates will freeze shut from rust."

Summon the experts

Someone in the back shouted, "What's this we hear about tolls?"

The governor sighed. "You got any better ideas on how to pay for the bridge?"

A seething, squinting woman snarled, "But our expert says you've botched this whole bridge project from the beginning."

"Your expert is paid by the low-density guy with the million-dollar smile," the governor replied. "What did you expect?"

A man on the front row whispered to his wife: "If we can keep this governor on the defensive, maybe we can keep this darn bridge from ever getting built."

Sadly, this meeting accomplished nothing. But at least the governor was able to check off his "public participation" box before taking the ferry back to Oregon. A week later, political pooh-bahs from both sides of the river held a Mud Breaking Ceremony, and bridge construction began.

Progress prevailed. And just as the railroad came to Rock Ridge, crime cars came to Clark County.

A century later, some folks still grumble about the day horseless carriages brought Portland's depravity across the river.

And in a way, they're right. Once you let progress creep into a community, life is never the same.