What Ever Happened to Common Sense?
BY JUSTIN CASE
Ever wonder what it feels like getting flipped 20 feet in the air by a buffalo, then landing hard on the ground? Can’t be pleasant. And never mind the internal injuries from that horn in your belly, what about the humiliation when a relative sells a video of the incident to cable TV? You laugh, but it’s happened, and this summer a 12-year-old boy got thrown high in the air by a buffalo, as he and his family posed for a photo within a few feet of the animal.
It’s one of the things tourists do when they visit Yellowstone country. They get stupid, probably because their mammas never taught them common sense. They mistake the apparent lethargic nature of bison and their lumbering mass for gentleness. They’re like cows, they think, and they are—except quick, aggressive, and powerful enough to toss a human to treetop levels with a flick of the neck or horn (the cable TV video shows just that).
Same goes for canoeing the Yellowstone at flood stage, a popular tourist pastime that can result in death by drowning—slipping under the whitewater one last time, realiz-ing you’re not coming up, then thinking—that’s why they call it a life jacket (and by the way, bureau-cratic jargon like personal flotation device just doesn’t cut it. Not to get sidetracked in the course of this urgent message about the stupidity of tourists, and how they might save their own lives, but you can bet your life nobody screams for their personal flotation device as they go down for the third time in the Yellowstone or any other river. Just doesn’t have the same ring to it as life jacket).
Remember a few years ago when that fellow canoed Yankee Jim Canyon without one? Imagine the danger, and the foolhardiness. The big rock in the center of the canyon creates a wave in front, and a downward current in the rear, that can take a person 30 feet under then spit him out farther downriver—dead. And in June of this year, a father took his teenage son on the Yellowstone toward Livingston, camping along the way, while the river was near flood stage. Ignoring a warning by a sheriff’s deputy (who should have handcuffed the guy), the father decided to continue from Ninth Street Island. It was the day before the river all but took out the Ninth Street Island Bridge, closing it to traffic. It was at that time, as the father and son were putting in on the island, that someone heard county disaster coordinator Belinda Van Nurden say the boaters might as well be signing their own death warrants. Forewarned but oblivious, the canoeists avoided the bridge by taking the far channel. Down river their canoe capsized. Luckily, after nearly drowning, both survived, thanks to their life jackets. But what were they doing on the river in the first place and in a canoe?
Some years back, a New York state motorist pulled off I-90 between Livingston and Bozeman and shot a privately owned buffalo—remember? Guess he was caught up in it all—the mountains, the ungu-lates, the tequila. Or maybe he was the guy on cable who got gored a few years earlier and wanted pay back for his humiliation.
In the same era, several Porsche enthusiasts caravaned their high performance Carerra’s across the state when we “didn’t have a speed limit,” only to find we did if the Highway Patrol thought you were driving in an imprudent manner. In this instance, though, I’m tempted to side with the tourists, in that they were ticketed merely for driving fast, and given the fact that driving a Porsche Carerra at 150 mph is as prudent as driving other cars in a school zone. Don’t pull over to shoot bison, though. That’s imprudent.
Tourists who jump into boiling hot springs and die horrible deaths deserve special mention (sympathy too, yet enough graphic commentary to alert others), those unfortunate people who cross over to the other side in fits of flailing and screaming usually reserved for lobsters, crabs, and green-lipped mussels served in garlic and butter, having realized a tad too late why they call it Boiling River. It’s no joke, of course—we can only imagine the terror of their experience, one that, no matter how foolishly conceived, deserves our concern, but also enough publicity to dissuade other geothermally-infatuated granola heads from making the same awful mistake.
Some victims or their relatives, though, blame their misfortune on others, a lack of signage, a failure to be more emphatically forewarned. Someone should have posted a more prominent notice, which, if the victims had read, might have stopped them from taking their own lives. To put things in perspective, one wonders who Lewis and Clarke would have blamed had they made the same mistake—surely, only themselves. The victims relatives may be right in the sense, though, that we ought to do everything reasonable to prevent people from inadvertently killing themselves, no matter how obvious the danger: Do Not Drink from this Bottle of Drano, Jumping Off This Building May Result in Premature Death, and the warning that ought to be permanently affixed to all chainsaws manufactured in or imported to the United States: Not To Be Used for Personal Grooming.
But, obviously, the best and most effective remedy is personal responsibility. Owing to the socially liberal mindset though, that says people should blame their misfortune on government or society, and then sue if they fail to protect you from your own stupidity, more and more people seem to be erring in favor of stupidity.
The old way was best, the only way that works or makes sense—take responsibility for yourself and teach your children to do the same (that way, everyone’s covered). Useful admonitions once embraced across the country flowed from that principle—look before you leap, don’t take any wooden nickels, let the buyer beware (caveat emptor).
Could it be then that stupid tourist tricks are symptomatic of our times, a generational thing brought on by an ideology that has influenced our culture and schools? Hard to say, but the principle of self-reliance has been eroded in this country by the victim mentality in its many forms, much of which originates in the pervasive belief that government and society are responsible for individual failure. People, as a result, exercise less common sense these days, and here’s another example.
Occasionally, kids in Livingston have walked brazenly into traffic, forcing cars to stop for them. The practice is problematic enough when they, or others, have the right-of-way at crosswalks, where one-ton vehicles turning across congested intersections are suddenly confronted by incon-spicuous pedestrians, some convinced of their moral superiority over large, moving metallic objects that unlike them cannot stop on a dime. As towns grow, Bozeman in particular, this becomes dangerous and people die, such as has happened on Huffine Lane. But the ruling principle all along—right-of-ways, even red lights, notwithstanding, must be that of self-interest. What was it Mamma use to say? Look both ways before crossing the street. It’s another common sense injunction captured in a once common phrase that has gone the way of caveat emptor, but which ought to be resuscitated, along with the other warnings, so people don’t get hit by cars, or buffalo.
Mama didn’t say you have the right-of-way and are morally superior so don’t worry about those fast heavy cars designed for the very roads they’re riding upon, unlike you, who are designed for sidewalks. And she didn’t say go ahead and sidle up next to that buffalo for a photo, then maybe jump into a pool of boiling water and blame somebody else for your stupidity. She never said any of that (not my mamma), because there was a time, not long ago, when common sense was common.