By Tony Russell

Patty and I had just finished paying some bills and were ready to head into "Agatha's Ashtray," the friendly little coffee shop which functions as the town's communication center, when out rushed Darrin Godsey, almost bowling Patty over. "I'm running late," he blurted out. "I'm trying to get this petition over to the newspaper office in time to make this week's edition, and you got in my way."

"Must be a pretty hot issue to get you all fired up like that," I observed.

"Fired up?" he said. "Oh, you must mean the smoke trailing from my jacket and shoes. No, that's just a little remnant from the air inside. It'll blow away in a few minutes."

"So what's the petition about?" I asked.

"Drivers' rights," he said triumphantly. "It's the new hot button issue for the angry white male!"

"Well, congratulations," I said. "I thought maybe you were about to run out of personal rights issues."

"Not likely," he scoffed. "As long as mushheads keep trying to push regulations down our throat based on some silly notion like 'the common good' or 'a shared space,' there'll always be a cause for me to champion."

"I hate to confess my ignorance," said Patty, "but what exactly is this 'drivers' rights' issue?"

"The county's trying to set speed limits on the roadways and eliminate drunken driving," he said. "They claim it's a public health issue. Have you ever heard of such a crazy thing? It's not a health issue, it's a freedom issue. We ought to be able to drive where we want, when we want, as fast as we want, in any condition we want. That's what freedom is all about, and we're ready to defend our freedom."

Patty looked at him as if she were examining something self-motivated that had just crawled out of a glass of lemonade. "What is it that you find controversial about those proposals?" she asked carefully. I gave her a warning look. Maybe I should have given it to Darrin. When Patty gets careful, it's time to lower your windows, because manure and fan are about to meet.

"Hey!" yelled somebody from inside just then. "Would you mind closing the door? You're letting the smoke out!"

"Sorry for the fresh air," coughed Darrin, turning toward the complainer. "It was an accident."

"You ought to know about accidents," said Patty. "Wasn't your aunt killed a few years back by a drunk driver on Rt. 5? And didn't a speeding pickup ram your cousin's motorcycle and paralyze him from the neck down?"

Darrin scoffed. "Could happen to anybody any time any place," he said. "Those are acts of God. You have to look at the big picture. You need statistics—real statistics. You can't trust government numbers on driving. They're all bogus. Drunken driving and speeding are perfectly safe. Go to a source you can trust, like the Institute for Freedom in Motoring."

"Isn't that supposed to be a front group for the Alcoholic Beverages Distributors Association?" asked Patty.

"It's a private organization. Their funding sources are their own business," said Darrin. "And their results are confirmed by the Motorists Liberty Forum."

"I thought that was a front group for the National Association of Automobile Marketers," said Patty.

"Are you going to discount the truth just because of who paid for it?" said Darrin disgustedly.

Just then Darrin's wife came up with their two grandkids, Kayla and Kylie.

"Hey, Liz, what'd the doctor say?" asked Darrin.

"He said Kayla's got another upper respiratory infection," she said. "Kylie needed stronger medication for her asthma. I'm going to the pharmacy as soon as we're done here. I promised them if they were good at the doctor's, I'd buy them a dish of ice cream."

Darrin dotes on those kids. "My treat," he said. "What flavor do you want."

"They didn't hesitate. "I want Salem Light!" said Kayla. "Winston filters in the soft pack!" yelled Kylie.

Liz shook her head. "I've already told them twice," she said. "You can't tell what flavor your food's going to be until you see who you're sitting beside."

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