Chris Bowen: Fear and loathing

Published: 4/14/2021 2:40:35 PM

It was 25 years ago when my wife Darlene and I learned that our town would vote on whether or not to allocate $70,000 to help build the Southampton section of the Manhan Rail Trail.

A similar article sailed through an Easthampton Town Meeting 75-4. Knowing our town had difficulties with the Hampshire Regional School District funding, I was immediately alarmed. My good wife Dar agreed.

At the town meetings, attendees twice defeated the motion to appropriate this modest investment. The Manhan Rail Trail Committee of that era responded with a no allocation motion. The $70,000 would be raised by private donations. This third motion passed with a simple majority.

But there was a backlash. A movement that labeled itself START waged an ugly propaganda campaign that tried to convince citizens that a rail trail would lead to increased crime, and add patrol and maintenance costs. Horrors! We’ve all seen bicyclists with stolen projection TVs on their rear carrier racks, right?

START got a fourth vote scheduled. At the meeting, I was prepared to stand up and ask the crowd of some 300 if any of them had ever been teenagers. Didn’t they need to get around before they could drive? Would they now prefer their children bike on College Highway/State Route 10?

I was and still am unfamiliar with the arcane aspects of town meetings. START followers “called the question” to a vote before any discussion could take place. I should not have let that stop me; discussion is what town meetings are for. In short order the town voted the rail trail down again on the fourth round. One of my neighbors said that she voted against it, but added “I feel like a hypocrite, since I would use it” often. What was going on here?

A peaceful, harmless, wonderful linear park, for no cost, and my town voted it down. How could such a travesty occur in such a beautiful place? Appropriate terms to sum it up were fear and loathing. Two words well paired well Hunter Thompson, but I take their English definitions, not Thompson’s gonzo viewpoint.

Fear and Loathing. How else to explain it? Back then, Hadley environmentalist Alexandra Dawson had a monthly column on this page. Soon after that fourth vote she covered the events in a column that began with the same phrase, “Fear and loathing in Southampton.” Painfully obvious, but nice to hear my feelings about these sorry events independently acknowledged.

Now we need $400,000 to do what could have been done more easily long ago at little or no town cost. Personally, I am very patient. After all, I’ve been waiting 46 years for another no-brain-required-decision, the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Maybe one day you’ll see me out on Southampton’s segment when it finally gets built. By then, I’ll be a septuagenarian. You’ll know me by my battery-powered backpack blower. I’ll be cleaning off the leaves, sticks and pebbles so we can all skateboard and roller blade!

Chris Bowen lives in Southampton.

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