There’s a wildly inaccurate misconception about me that I’d like to put to rest. Some folks around here apparently think I am a cranky, terrible, spiteful demon who hates absolutely everything in the world and takes no joy from anything. This is simply not true. I just don’t like most of the things that the rest of you like.
There is, however, one thing that I like very much: The Princess Bride, both the movie and novel. After all, what’s not to love about a story that’s got fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, and miracles?
But as much as I adore The Princess Bride, I still find flaws in it, and for me, the clearing of the Thieves Forest by Prince Humperdinck’s forces has always seemed the tiniest bit off. I suppose this is mostly because of the rather clumsy story Humperdinck gives his chief enforcer, Yellin, for wanting the forest cleared: a tale about foreign killers hiding in the forest. Yet Yellin buys the story, even after telling the prince he has no idea what he’s talking about. And we the viewer accept Humperdinck’s rationale because it sounds somewhat plausible.
It just so happens that there are two similarly clumsy stories right now concerning forests in Charleston. Neither of these sit well with me either because I suspect that, like Yellin, we’re being told one thing so that something else can happen.
On the one hand, there is the S.C. Department of Transportation’s much-discussed, much-delayed, and much-contested clearing of trees from the I-26 median between Summerville and I-95. Most of what we were told about the rationale — it was for “safety” reasons — hasn’t made much sense. Or, at least, it doesn’t make sense unless you delve into the findings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s Highway Loss Data Institute, where you can learn that “fixed object” crashes are a factor in about 20 percent of all car fatalities each year and that half of those deaths involved trees. I guess they didn’t know just how dangerous trees were when the interstate system was being built in the 1950s or they wouldn’t be there in the first place.
Considering this bit of information, it seems prudent, perhaps, to cut down the trees in the I-26 median, except that replacing the trees with traffic barriers will likely increase the number of traffic barrier fatalities; currently, 8 percent of traffic fatalities involve the barriers.
It could also be prudent to utilize the trees in some sort of large-scale bonsai project to help shield the eyes of the thousands of motorists on I-26 each day from being blinded by the sunlight, as that stretch of road seems fairly lined up with the sunlight each morning and evening.
I’m not serious about the bonsai project, of course. But it would be interesting to see what more highway patrol officers could do on that stretch of road. After all, it appears that increased patrolling cuts down on speeding and actually makes people drive better. At least, this is based on what I have seen with my own two eyes. Apparently, the only time people drive the speed limit on I-26 is when an officer is around.
In the end, it seems likely that the clearing of the trees on I-26 has something to do with the seemingly little-mentioned future widening of I-26 from Summerville up to I-95. But if the state’s ultimate goal was to widen that stretch of 26, then why not just tell us that’s what they want? Unless, of course, the thousand-year resistance to finishing I-526 has taught the state that it is best to, well, “fib” a little to people and find ways to “sell” us on long, cumbersome road projects.
Which brings us to the SCDOT’s second forest clearing, this one of a homeless camp on Transportation Department property near One80 Place, a local homeless shelter. Again, safety was the cited issue. But coming on the heels of so much anti-homeless, anti-panhandling rhetoric in this town, it’s hard not to see other motives. At the very least we have to question the timing of such a move. Certainly, safety was a factor, but it was a factor from the moment the first tents went up, months if not years ago; it wasn’t something that just occurred to the DOT last week unless someone, like say Mayor Riley or somebody else at City Hall, pressured them to clear out the area.
It might seem like a bit of a cheat to get this far into a piece before bringing up the homeless issue in Charleston and then leaving it hanging, but like the grandfather in The Princess Bride, I’m going to end the story here for now. In the meantime, you should all ponder the meaning of Prince Humperdinck’s orders to his enforcer — and why trees and the homeless are suddenly the biggest enemy to the “good” people of Charleston.