Back in 1985, some cowboy hat wearing, dope smoking senator in Austin came up with a slogan and a television campaign to keep our sacred highways litter free. It was a stated fact, by known experts at TXDOT, that the litter on our state highways and FM roads come from young white males ejecting refuse from their pickups. I didn’t believe that, but that’s what the powers to be in Austin ran up the flagpole. Highway litter is indigenous. Purveyors of trash have no color, no age or given vehicle type. All citizens are prone at one time or another.
Being an aware driver in those years, I did, on occasion, witness assorted elderly motorist throw the following from their Buick or Cadillac : McDonalds, Dairy Queen or Sonic bags, assorted catheters, used depends, a walker, various canes, a walking boot, Rockport walking shoes, a personal scooter and a dead Chihuahua. On I-35 outside of Georgetown, a young couple in a gray primer Chevy tagged my windshield with a poopy diaper at 70 miles per hour. Lets be honest folks, it was everyone in the damn state. The shoulders of our highways looked like an alley in down town Detroit.
The first commercial of the campaign ran during a super bowl and featured Stevie Ray Vaughn playing “The Eyes of Texas” on his beat up strat and then leaning into his mic and speaking “Don’t Mess With Texas”. Yeah Bubba, we believed him because he was who he was. Willie also did a good commercial. The Red Headed Stranger himself, standing there plucking that raggedy-ass flamingo guitar, pigtails hanging down and singing half a meter behind the music. That was back in the days when he was seriously being considered for a saint hood, so he could have persuaded any Texan to walk barefoot on a trail of broken Lone Star bottles. Sassy gal, Governor Ann Richards and a cattle call of Texas born actors and musicians proudly put themselves out there for the sake of garbage. The campaign was wildly successful and within a few years the appearance of our highways was improved. What a difference three decades can make.
My wife Maureen and I drove to Dallas and Fort Worth this past Sunday from our recently adopted home in Galveston. She, to see grand children and myself to pick up my old Honda CRV from my sisters house in Plano.
Monday morning, I drove past downtown Dallas on I-45 and came upon a stretch of highway over the Trinity River. On either side of the roadway was garbage piled against the barriers. Not your standard trash bags, but sofas, chairs, lawnmowers, a dishwasher, a stove, televisions, a lemonade stand, various bumpers and tires and three cars on concrete blocks, wheels removed. It looked as if a convoy of Waste Management trucks had overturned and not bothered to cleanup the wreckage. So this is what Don’t Mess With Texas has become? City of Dallas, TXDOT…what the hell? A major highway through your city looks like a dump. At that moment, I was glad that we had left Dallas years ago. I was embarrassed for my former town. This carnage went on for at least a mile and as the long bridge ended, I saw a large travel bus parked on the right shoulder. An old bearded man in a black track suit and pigtails was walking down the side of the highway picking up garbage. I did a double take but kept on driving.