This 1956 science fiction movie is the perfect metaphor to explain the pro-Trinity toll road campaign.
This 1956 science fiction movie is the perfect metaphor to explain the pro-Trinity toll road campaign.

Body Snatchers

Maybe you're not like me. You don't explain life as science fiction. So you don't think of Dallas politics as The Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

I do. Body Snatchers is the movie where the space pods grow in your basement, and then they turn into you. I forget what happens next. I think they eat you. I know in the end you're a pod person—like a space zombie.

I meet pod people all the time. Think I'm nuts? Fine. Could be I am. But I'll tell you this: I'd rather be nuts any day than a pod person.


Trinity River project

The pod people were among us last week when the city council debated setting a date for the Trinity toll road referendum. Back during the petition drive when a grassroots citizens group was gathering signatures to force a vote on putting a new toll road next to the river downtown, it seemed as if at least a few city council members would join council member Angela Hunt in her fight to stop the road and save the park and lakes we were promised.

That way we would have human differences of opinion. Some humans on one side. Other humans on the other side. A debate. Like humans do.

But no. Not last week. When it came time to discuss the Trinity toll road, the mayor and the entire rest of the city council turned their half-closed pod eyes on city council member Hunt and started chanting like Tuvan throat-singers: "The toll road is good. Angela is bad. The toll road is good. Angela is bad."

I see that stuff, and it makes me want to run from the room screaming, "THEY'RE HERE! THE POD PEOPLE ARE AMONG US! RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!"

I admit it. City Hall scares me. Then if I want to scare myself so badly I can't even leave the house to go to City Hall, I start reading The Dallas Morning News. How is it even humanly possible to have a major daily newspaper in America at which every single staff member—all the editorial writers, the news editors, even the Howdy Doody metro page joke-writer columnists—all are 100 percent perfectly in agreement with the opinions of the publisher about a toll road?

Want to know the answer? It is not humanly possible. It is only podly possible.

The Morning News could choose one token columnist. Take him or her aside and say, "Look, the chief wants you to pretend to disagree with him sometimes on this Trinity toll road. It's so people won't snap to the fact that we've all been eaten by the space pods.

"Just sort of fake disagree, so the readers will think we're still human."

You know what? I could almost live with that. It wouldn't scare me as much. It's the throat singers who make me not want to go outdoors. They're like cicadas. "Tollroadtollroadtollroad."

When I talk about The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, maybe you think I mean the old version made in 1978 with Donald Sutherland and Jeff Goldblum. That's because you don't know how old I am. I mean the really, really old black-and-white Cold War-era version made in 1956. I still remember the speech the town doctor makes in that one when he's trying to talk the hero and heroine into becoming pod people:

"There is no pain. Suddenly, while you're asleep, they'll absorb your minds, your memories and you're reborn into an untroubled world. Tomorrow you'll be one of us. There's no need for love. Love. Desire. Ambition. Faith. Without them, life is so simple, believe me."

I remember sitting in the balcony of the State Theatre in Ann Arbor, Michigan, pouring Coke on the little kids downstairs and thinking, "Damn! That guy sounds exactly like the counselor they're trying to make me see at school!"

Two weeks ago the Morning News published what I guess was supposed to be an investigative story about the original 1998 election to authorize bonds for the Trinity River project. The grassroots petition people say the city got its bond money from the voters in '98, then changed the whole deal—bait and switch—from parks and lakes to a high-speed toll road.

Let's get real about bait and switch. They showed us lakes and sailboats to get us to vote for the thing. Now most of the lake and sailboat features are mysteriously "un-funded." But they want to put a high-speed limited access highway through the park at a cost of more than a billion dollars.

If that ain't bait and switch, Howdy Doody's not a puppet.

It's exactly how former Mayor Laura Miller described the project in an interview with D magazine in January 2005. She said after she was elected mayor in 2002 she learned what had been done:

"Because I lived in North Oak Cliff and because it was being sold as this dramatic improvement of the river, complete with recreation and lakes, I was excited about it."

She said she was dismayed when she saw what the city was really doing with the $246 million in city bond funds since the 1998 election: "They sat me down at the Oak Cliff Chamber—Halff and Associates, the road engineers who designed it, which is your red flag right there—with all the transportation folks and floodway folks. At the end of two hours, I said, 'I have only one question: Where's the water?' Because they'd talked to me for two hours about the roads."

So here in what was basically an "advertorial" edition of D magazine paid for by public works contractors and law firms as a promotion for the river project, we have Laura Miller admitting that the city, which had promised the voters lakes and parks, turned the whole project over to road designers.

Miller said she asked city staff, "Would you bring me all the backup data on how we got to $246 million? I mean, clearly we have the details. The dredging is this much, the levee is this much. Bring it to me.

"Four days later, they brought me three sheets of paper, which were the brochures that Rob Allyn [a political advertising agency] had done for the river. And I said, 'This isn't what I'm talking about. I want the archival stuff from the public works department.' They said, 'Well, there really isn't any. We just came up with a number.'

"At the time, I was just shocked. It was a fantasy. And what was really strange is that, if you're going to create the largest urban park in America, you should have some urban planners working on it."

Yeah. Guess what. They had no intention of building the largest urban park in America. It was, indeed, a fantasy. Or, as I like to call it, a lie. It was the lie they had to tell the voters in order to get the voters to approve the bonds.

The story two weeks ago in the Morning News was perhaps the most bizarre newspaper story I have ever read in my life—a supposed investigative piece by Bruce Tomaso intended to show, I think, that there was never a bait and switch by the city. To prove his point, Tomaso quoted from a pile of brochures and documents in which a toll road was mentioned before the 1998 bond election.

All of his points were sort of courtroom gotchas. You know, like exhibit A, paragraph four, line 3. At no point did he call anybody who actually knows about politics and ask, "What would constitute a bait and switch in political terms?"

I know why he didn't make that call. Because anybody with a normal hat size would have said, "Bruce, it's not a question of technical gotchas. It's the general impression you create in the voter's mind. If after you talk to them the voters come away expecting a lake with sailboats, and you don't deliver a lake with sailboats, you lied. Politically, you lied."

He even quoted me. He quoted a single line from a near-biblical-length story I wrote about the project in 1998 in which I said highway funding was a key ingredient.

But, Bruce, the point of my story 10 years ago was that all of this was a scam. Your point then, I take it, is that if I knew it was a scam 10 years ago...well, therefore...yikes. I can't even finish the thought. The hair is starting to stand up again on the back of my neck. I hear the Tuvans.

"Nobaitandswitch, nobaitandswitch, nobaitandswitch."

For this fine piece of Woodward and Bernstein journalism, Tomaso started calling me the Friday afternoon before his story was to run on Sunday. It worked. I was gone fishing, so he could report that, "Mr. Schutze did not return telephone calls or e-mail messages seeking his comment for this story."

But when I tried to reach Tomaso for this column, he e-mailed me: "If you're calling and e-mailing because you want to quote me on something (unlikely, but who knows?), I have no comment."

Bruce, I ask you: How is this fair?

I actually do know the answer to this. Morning News reporters are not allowed to speak to us here at the Dallas Observer for attribution. They can call us and ask us questions. But if we ask them questions back, they have to hang up. And do you know why that is?

They're pod people.

You know what the pod people finally tell the guy in the 1956 Body Snatchers? I remember it word for word. They can only turn you into a pod person while you're sleeping. So they tell him: "We can't let you go. You're dangerous to us. Don't fight it, Miles, it's no use. Sooner or later, you'll have to go to sleep."

Not me. I can stay awake forever. Every time I start to fall asleep, I just think of Tomaso.



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