May 1, 2008
Last Saturday night, I emceed a Breast Cancer Resource Center fundraiser.
It was a bra auction.
Yeah. You got it right. These women sold bras at a breast cancer deal.
Women – some fighting cancer, some survivors, and some honoring loved ones – designed “Art Bras.” The bras had designer names such as “Boo” (I had to really be careful not to mispronounce that one even a little bit), “Dragonfly,” “Shine On,” and “Viva Vaquera.” They were modeled for the crowd by members of a group called The Pink Ribbon Cowgirls, a network of young breast cancer survivors. Then the bras were auctioned off for real money that helps with the Center’s services.
I had cancer. Mine was testicular.
In my experience, there’s a level of intimacy and openness that comes with fighting cancer. Inhibitions tend to fall away. After all, what’s a body part, even a really important one, when you’re fighting to live?
Losing a breast is important. It matters – a bunch. And people deal with their disease in different ways, which is perfectly OK. Whatever gets you through the day. Or week. Or that next one.
Many survivors and their loved ones have learned that a body organ, even one that’s often used to define femininity (or masculinity), doesn’t mean nearly as much when you’re fighting just to stay around a while longer to help raise a kid. They don’t worry as much about lost tissue when they’re worried about whether a child will remember them if they die, or if they’ll miss seeing something that more adequately defines life – like graduating, or watching a child’s graduation; marrying, or seeing a child’s marriage; or innumerable other pleasures, small or large, private or common, that are part of being alive and healthy.
I lost both of my parents to cancer. I survived it.
And I love women who, through their irreverence, laugh in its face and, at the same time, raise money to support those fighting.
If you’re like me, then meditations on life, death, and existential irreverence always seem to lead to thoughts about transportation politics.
You may have noticed that Austin has a new rail plan to consider. Well, sort of.
What happened was ROMA Design Group – a well-known, well-regarded planning consultant that’s worked with the City of Austin for several years – was just about to get started collecting public input on how a downtown rail circulator might look.
ROMA assembled some options, but it was just a starting point, having more questions than answers. And that’s fine – something this important requires a lot of discussion, education, and exploration by the community.
But as things tend to happen around here, some folks – both for and against rail, by the way – lunged for answers. ROMA’s conversation-starter became, in the Statesman’s words, a “new plan for light rail”: something new to fight over.
Opponents can now dust off general slogans. Supporters can blindly defend something that may (or may not) cost somewhere between $70 million and $420 million. And the public can try to sift through it all.
My guess is an awful lot of people would tell us all to grow up by just voting “no.” Who could blame them?
It’s a particularly galling development, frankly, because a working group of Central Texas leaders that I put together has spent months holding public hearings, working on a process that would allow all Central Texans to consider things like rail in a completely transparent way that replaces politics with facts.
I appointed this Transit Working Group in my capacity as chair of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, the primary transportation planning entity in Central Texas. On Monday, less than a week after the ROMA “plan” was unveiled in the Statesman, the Working Group completed what we’re calling a Decision Tree that will ensure we all get clear answers to important questions before we start fighting over stuff like, well, the ROMA “plan.”
This Austin Chronicle story may have put it best: “The underlying purpose of the Transit Working Group process, crafted since January, is to transform regional conversations. In place of position-based fights (transit lovers vs. road warriors), Watson has been advocating for a new process of data-based, rational decisions.”
The thing is, I’m not just advocating for this. I’m pretty much demanding it. And take it from this vocal supporter of past rail initiatives: I will not get behind any transportation project – road, rail, or otherwise – where important questions aren’t answered, decisions are less than transparent, and politics are put before facts.
However, if we take the appropriate time to answer the questions, zealously work for transparency, and put facts first, I believe we can find solutions – in this and every other area – that will meet with support and make Central Texas a better place for all of us who are here and all of those who are coming.