Somebody has to come up with a way to create jobs in coal country and it might as well be me. I first thought of using the vast amount of hardwood we have, but realized that stuff doesn't grow on trees.
We ship away our timber to other places, where they add value to it and sell it. We don't know where it goes, or what they do with it, but if we could keep it here and make jigsawed flat ducks or garden statues of people peeing on the president or other doodads out of that lumber, then maybe we won't all have to move to Texas.
We have to figure out a reason tourists will want to come up here and spend money. They might have come to see mountains in their original form, but we don't believe in that. They might come here to see where the Hatfields and McCoys massacred one another, but we also don't believe in letting anything get old up here, so all we can do is lure people up here to read signs saying what old stuff used to be here.
When you think about it, mostly tourists want to ride rides. So I propose a roller coaster that starts on a high knob in the mountains, if there is one left unremoved, and sits right on the ground and runs for miles and miles. It could sit right on the surface, so you wouldn't need any structure and if people fell off they wouldn't have far to go. It could start in Pike County where everything and everybody is high, and peter out somewhere in the lowground about Salyersville. We could haul people back in coal trucks and dump them in the parking lot they left to get aboard.
Because it has such ups and downs, we could name our rolly coaster, which is what we call them, the Economy. At its peak, tourists could look out and see brand new ATVs, four-door pickups with dual wheels, boats, new doublewides and politicians bedded down with coal operators.
As it starts on one of its dips, people would look out and see gaunt pill poppers with stolen metal, junk cars and politicians blaming anybody but themselves for the downhill run. The coaster could zip through old abandoned coal mines, but nobody better put their hands up or light a cigarette.
As an added attraction, hunters could bring thirty-ought-sixes and shoot at elk on the side of the track. It will soon be necessary to shoot elk as a matter of survival. They are now jumping in front of cars on foggy nights like you are at an arcade, eating up anything anybody plants, and providing justification for strip mining, but they do bugle as well as Bucky Sallee. But just like the English wouldn't let the Irish go to the ocean and fish to avoid famine in the 1800s, we cannot now legally shoot a deer or elk, even if it is nibbling at our turnips and we are meat-hungry.
With a healthy tourism industry we could turn rugged coal miners into sous chefs, whatever those are, or bellhops. We could let tourists destroy a stream with a D-9, or grease up a conveyor belt and let people slide down it into a coal hopper.
We can accomplish much if we have vision, work together and let the same people who got us into this mess get us out of it.
Larry Webster is a Pikeville attorney. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org