Friday, May 22, 2009

‘Krazy Karl’ is bound for The Wall

On this Memorial Day weekend, I can’t help thinking about our Life Member “Krazy Karl” Haartz.

On his big blue Honda Gold Wing, Karl is doing “The Run for The Wall.” He should be rolling into DC about now, along with thousands of other bikers.

For those soldiers who never made it home, the annual “Run for The Wall” is a motorcycle pilgrimage by military veterans, friends and relatives and others, which starts in California and ends at The Vietnam Veterans Memorial – The Wall – in Washington, DC.

This event takes hundreds of motorcycle riders right past our OOIDA headquarters on the way to Washington, to the Wall.

On Monday, May 18, one big roaring division of the pack rolled past OOIDA headquarters on I-70 east of Kansas City, MO, and a crowd of OOIDA employees were out on the shoulder to greet them. We did this last year, too.

As the pack rolled by – all of us out there waving like crazy and whooping it up – one of the bikers pulled out, slowed down and guided his bike to a stop on the shoulder – RIGHT THERE where we were standing. The leather-covered rider – denim vest covered with patches and badges – swung off his bike and introduced himself to our elated group.

“I’m Krazy Karl, Life Member!”

One of our own? We screamed and converged on him for hugs. Our Land Line photographer Nikohle Ellis quickly snapped some shots, and Land Line Now’s Reed Black put a microphone up to catch an interview on the fly. Karl Haartz served in the infantry in Vietnam in 1966-67. He now lives in Thornton, NH.

Karl told Reed (who’s another Vietnam vet) that because he knows trucks, he was assigned to communicate with truckers by CB as the motorcycle convoy moves down the highway.

“Most of them are very good, very appreciative,” Karl told Reed. “We have 1 percent in every group, but that’s what freedom is all about. ... If they get mad at being hung up 10 minutes, so be it, no problem.”

Then he was gone, off to catch up with the pack. I yelled after him that every single one of us at the HQ was riding with him in spirit. It was a wistful moment as we watched him streak on down the interstate.

A little Web research tells me that “The Run for the Wall” was started in 1989 as an effort by James Gregory and Bill Evans, two Vietnam veterans who made the trip to raise awareness that we had thousands of men and women still unaccounted for from all of our wars.

The riders are scheduled to arrive in Washington, DC, during the Memorial Day weekend where they’ll participate in the annual Rolling Thunder observance at The Wall. The trip takes 10 days to reach the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, where the Run officially ends on Sunday evening before Memorial Day. It’s a tradition that will likely continue for a long time.

And if the pack continues to run down I-70 on its central route that takes them to Arlington, then our staff running out to I-70 to wave will likely be a tradition, too.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Taking on the toll-happy

In Massachusetts, a group of fed-up toll payers have filed a lawsuit demanding their money back. An anti-toll coalition in Pennsylvania is pressuring lawmakers to defeat the proposal to toll Interstate 80. And in Texas, an anti-toll group is rallying against legislation that would allow private companies to build and own toll roads for profit.

Fighting against excessive tolling is nothing new, and those are just the latest examples of taxpayers growing tired of digging deeper each year to drive.

OOIDA has led and been a part of many a fight against excessive tolling and privatized toll-road leases that leave highway users stuck with the bill.

Everybody wants good roads, and nobody disputes that good roads are expensive. If you ask people how they want their tax money spent, many will say police and fire protection, clean water, good schools for their children and good roads to drive on.

Unfortunately, lawmakers can’t always be trusted with the purse strings, as toll and tax revenue routinely get diverted to pet projects like museums, bike paths and beautification.

It’s no wonder then that most or all of the states that have toll roads also have grassroots organizations working to keep the governments and toll authorities in check.

I-80 in Pennsylvania was designed and constructed as a freeway paid for with federal and state tax money – as were most highways with interstate designation. Tolls on that highway would amount to double taxation for highway users, yet the state government set the table for tolls in the 2007 law known as Act 44. Luckily, the federal government has not signed off on the proposal and in fact rejected the application.

A state lawmaker, Rep. John Pallone, wants the application dusted off and resubmitted, but committed efforts by OOIDA and grassroots groups like the Alliance to Stop I-80 Tolls will make sure that lawmakers hear the other side.

The lawsuit in Massachusetts is interesting, too. A group of taxpayers contend that Massachusetts Turnpike tolls are unfair taxes and should be abolished because the revenue is siphoned away from turnpike operations to pay down mountains of debt incurred by the “Big Dig” tunnel project.

The attorney who filed the lawsuit is sure that small-business truckers have signed on to get their money back in Massachusetts.

The Lone Star State does everything big, and the effort against privately owned toll roads is no exception.

You may have heard of TURF, the Texans United for Reform and Freedom. TURF founder Terri Hall is a formidable campaigner against for-profit toll roads and the Texas land grab that was, or still may be, the Trans-Texas Corridor.

The American people deserve good highways and are willing to pay for them, and truckers are perhaps the strongest proponents of good roads. But those who make their living on the highways have made it clear that they do not want unfair diversion of toll revenue, double-dipping on interstate highways, or for-profit toll schemes.