I am speaking, of course, of the horrible scourge of hayrides. And I am speaking, of course, sarcastically.
The outskirts of Ann Arbor is peppered with little cider mills and farmer's markets and other homespun, quasi-rural , family-oriented sites of interest. Most open up in late summer and go until it gets too cold. Some of them are dedicated facilities, some are working farms. I don't go to them very often but they are one of the charming points of living on the cusp of the rural and the suburban. Most of these establishments offer hayrides -- horse-drawn wagons filled with bales of hay on which you (mostly children) ride around the grounds for a small price.
A couple of weeks ago, at one local market, there was a hayride accident. It was a bad one. The driver fell off and was possibly hit by the wagon or stepped on by one of the horse -- details are confused as usual in such circumstances -- and the result was tragic. It looks like the driver may be paralyzed. It's a horrible thing to have happen.
But in our brave new world, we can't see an accident as an accident and mourn the tragic outcome. We have to have a scandal. We have to have moral indignation. We have to sue and legislate.
As part of a diligent journalistic crusade, AnnArbor.com has discovered that there is no state agency regulating hayrides! How can this be? It turns out there have been two -- TWO!!! -- hayride accidents in the last two years. Not two this season or even two in the same place. Just plain two. So of the hundreds of hayrides and thousands of hayriders, there have been two accidents. No wonder we want to get the government involved.
Amy Hogg said many people don't understand the risks from hayrides. "I've tried so hard to educate people on makeshift hayrides and how dangerous they are," she said. "They don't realize that this isn't a freak accident. This is happening a lot."Evidently, two is a lot and requires education and regulation. You can tell because of the rhyming catchphrase.
She said she made up her own slogan to try to educate people."If it wasn't built with sides it wasn't meant for rides," she said.
You'd have to be blind not to see the way this will play out.
- Somebody, perhaps the aforementioned Amy Hogg, forms an interest group: Mothers Against Agricultural Violence. Despite having a total membership of four (including Betty from up the street who only ever came to the first meeting and just ate a muffin then had to leave) they find some a congressman willing to champion legislation in the hopes of building some family-values cred.
- Regulatory legislation slides into law in some sort of omnibus bill. The three lawmakers that actually read the hayride legislation aren't enthusiastic about it but they can't risk being painted as heartlessly pro-business.
- A new office of Agricultural Entertainment is created and filled with bureaucrats charged with implementing the regulation. They conclude that,
- All hayride drivers must take a safety certification course -$50
- All hayride operators must be licensed - $125/year
- All hayride wagons must be modified with fixed seating, including three point restraints, and guardrails - $2500/wagon
- All riders under the age of 18 must wear helmets - $600
- Any hayride with a capacity of 5 or greater must have a hydraulic lift to accommodate the differently-abled - $3000/wagon
- All hayrides proprietors are subject to annual inspection - $200/year.
- AnnArbor.com runs a human interest story about the grass roots success of Mother's Against Agricultural Violence with photos of determined looking women and smiling happy children.
- Hayride operators struggle to meet these new requirements. They try to raise prices to cover them but that just cuts into the volume.
- AnnArbor.com runs a human interest story about the economic struggles of hayride proprietors featuring photos of downtrodden looking rural workers.
- Hayride operators band together to form an interest group, The Society for Farm Heritage Preservation. Despite the fact that only two of their members are actual farmers, they find a state congressman willing to champion legislation in the hopes of building some limited government cred.
- The Hayride Tax Relief Credit slides into law in some sort of omnibus bill, the three lawmakers that actually read the hayride legislation aren't enthusiastic about it but they can't risk being caricatured as hindering small business, and besides, the property tax increase will cover it.
- The following summer, in an effort to win a prize offered by the cable show Who's America's Biggest Assclown?, a teenager unbuckles his safety harness, tears off his helmet, moons the other riders, and leaps from a hay wagon on to a passing dirt bike driven by a friend. Not surprisingly he cracks his skull and breaks about thirty-seven bones and ends up in a coma. But the video taken by his cohort gets the most hits on you tube for five days running.
- His parents sue for 5 million dollars arguing the restraints and helmets are too easily removed. They settle for 50 thousand, 25 of which goes to their lawyers and another 12 goes to the IRS.
- Insurance companies, spooked by the risk, quadruple the price of liability coverage.
- By the end of the next summer, hayrides have nearly all disappeared. A start-up firm attempts to market a Virtual Hayride app for the iPhone. It never catches on, despite an AnnArbor.com feature about all the jobs it will bringing to the area.
- In the year 2032, somebody circulates a list regarding the characteristics of the high school graduating class. In addition to "Never heard of a fax machine" and "Vanuatu has always been underwater" there is "Never been on a hayride."
But that's just a guess.
(Addendum 1: For those of you have been following my occasional references to signaling and how so much of what we do is little more than identity proclamation, this situation is a face-slapping example.)
(Addendum 2: If you're interested in a humorous take on this sort of thing, I strongly recommend the comic novel Big Babies, by Sherwood Kiraly. It's a lighthearted, and good-hearted, story of a fellow who invents a head-to-toe protective covering for children. It's actually about the fellow's relationship with his brother, but the baby armor is the MacGuffin. Good work; similar to something I might write. Of course, like all good comic novels, it appears to be out of print.)