History in the Year 30,027: Rise and Fall of the One Legged Americans

Pensabama College, January 17, 30,027. “Fortunes of the one legged Americans rose and fell depending on the technological state of the automobile,” Professor Drarl Smeckinpaugh began, “regardless of such minor things as invaders from Pluto, EMP blasts by terrorists, or even the encroaching Ice Age that eventually brought us to where we are today.” He paused to see how many of his thirty-two students were paying attention, or at least convincingly pretending to care. About half and half, he judged. Which was far better than the percentages in required subjects, but Rise and Fall was an elective available only to pupils who’d already survived seven of the Survival Academy’s eight year curriculum. Fifty-fifty. He could work with that.

Sort of. Peggy Markham Willingford, owl-eyed, buxom, and way too intelligent for her own good, jumped right into the breach. He never should have paused; there was always one. “Professor Smackinpaw,” she blurted, “I thought the OLAs were just an urban legend? You know, from back when the word urban meant something, with lots of giant people-piled-on-people cities and all?”

Drarl sighed. This was what came of being a halfbreed. Society still treated people descended from the Plutocrats as second class citizens or worse. With his academic record, he should have been teaching at Chattabat U. The administration at Chattabat wouldn’t put up with nonsense like this for a nanosecond. But no-o-o-o! Just because he had three eyes instead of two and could modify his appearance by thinking about it–just a little; he was hardly fullblood Plutocrat–the age-old bias kicked in, and here he was, stuck in redneck-rich Pensabama, teaching the sons and daughters of farmers, loggers, miners, and other low types who never seemed to know enough to just shut up and listen.

Crosses to bear, and all that. Better than bears to cross, he supposed. Not much worse than a cross bear these days, especially with the glaciers no more than five hundred miles to the north and a giant Kodiak beast sighted far too often. “It is a legend,” he explained with apparent but entirely faked patience, “but legends often contain more than a kernel of truth within them. In the case of the OLAs, the One Legged Americans, there’s a whole bushel full of kernels.”

Miss Willingford subsided. No one else looked frisky. Would he be allowed to lecture now? One could always dream. “As I was saying, the automobile was the key. Hamsom de Vardandeymo, in his doctoral thesis that was later made into the movie Automotive Idiocy, posited the premise that automakers, or more precisely, automotive engineers, were the primary cause of human babies being born with a right leg that was functional but a left leg that was withered and useless or at the peak of this evolutionary foolishness, missing altogether. This process began, scientists believe, in the 20th century and moved very slowly, in fact invisibly, until the Period of Acceleration–roughly between 2050 and 3300 A.D.–kicked into high gear. When America was going through its Period, there were as we know thousands of mutations created, evolution on steroids. And Eureka! The OLAs were almost overnight recognized as a new race or sometimes an entirely new species, depending on the expert one consulted.

“By the year 4,000, Scientific Councils had made up their minds: Earth had a new species, the One Legged Americans or OLAs, scientific name Homo hoppicans, so called because any time they were out of their automobiles–which in that era was not often–they had to hop to get anywhere.”

“But Professor!” Peggy the pain again. “Why did the cars and trucks and stuff cause the hoppers to happen?”

Shut up, woman. “I’m getting there. In the beginning, when Henry Ford first came up with assembly lines to facilitate mass production of the early horseless carriages, there was no defect in the design of the machines that could have accounted for what later came to pass. Unfortunately, too many people, then and now, simply cannot leave a good thing alone. With the early cars, let’s say for the first fifty years of their existence, the driver logically utilized all four limbs to keep the rolling marvel in balance. The left and right hands worked together to operate such things as turn signals and light switches, steering wheel, radio if there was one, shifter if there was one, and often the emergency brake. The left and right feet did the job for the accelerator, brake pedal, clutch pedal, and headlight dimmer switch. It was a happy balance, from all historical records we’ve been able to find, but again, let’s get back to the automotive engineers.

“Over the decades of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, more and more changes–always billed as improvements, but all too often without considering the possibility of unintended consequences–were implemented by these idiot engineers. Or perhaps required by management of the manufacturing companies. Worst of all, they played follow the leader like a horde of lemmings headed for the nearest cliff. Somebody came up with the automatic transmission, which did not require the left foot to operate the clutch pedal. In fact, a car with an automatic transmission didn’t have any manual clutch pedal. Nobody in the industry realized this was a bad thing, but the left foot now found itself relatively idle during daylight hours. After dark, thankfully, it still had to stay alert to hit the headlight dimmer switch back and forth. But then came the tomfool decision by one car company to move the dimmer switch to the same steering column stalk that controlled the turn signals and sometimes, believe it or not, the windshield wipers.

“By then it was too late. Every other company eventually followed the leader. Every dimmer switch was finger operated instead of foot operated…and the left foot was left with absolutely nothing to do except sit and stare, every toe bored out of its toenail. Coupled with carcooning, the tendency of later Americans to abandon traditional homes in favor of living in their cars full time, followed by the industry’s frantic rush to design so-called upgrades that allowed the driver to eat, sleep, and even excrete bodily wastes without leaving their car seats, and guess what? Miss Wilingford?”

“Wha-?” Despite her early questions, Willing Willingford–as she was known to every hormone-raddled male on campus–had let her attention drift and Smeckinpaugh had caught her at it. Ha!

“Continue your daydreaming, Miss Wallingford. I’m quite certain you believe you’ll never need this information in the real world after you graduate, am I right?” A couple of the boys and one mean girl with mousy brown hair and a sharp nose snickered at that. Professor Drarl marked them for future smackdowns. He could tit for tat with Willingford, gently of course, but he had a special hatred for Snickerers. “Basically, it was very simple. The left leg of the average American driver no longer had a reason to exist, so it went away. And thus the species of One Legged Americans, Homo hoppicans, came into being. There were millions of them in existence for a few thousand years, but nothing lasts forever. Fossil fuel supplies ran out, forcing American vehicles toward alternative fuels. Then the sun flared and fried computerized electronics the world over, even those supposedly protected by Faraday cages. Cooler weather began to make itself obvious and the glaciers once again began expanding, moving from the polar regions toward the equator, shrinking habitable world acreage. Before they knew it, every Homo hoppicans was in more trouble than a one-legged man in an ass kicking contest, as the old saying goes. Running or even walking was out of the question, and the Records of the Clasp inform us that the entire species was wiped out in the Wallpaper War, terminated with extreme prejudice by an extremely busy army of one-armed paper hangers.”

“Huh.” This time the comment came from a short, fat, evil eyed little mini-troll of a fellow. “You’re saying in the end, the OLAs didn’t have a leg to stand on because automotive engineers, or their bosses, or both, were idiots who thought nothing of consigning an entire leg to uselessness?”

“Exactly,” Professor Smeckinpaugh smiled in genuine pleasure. “That’s it in a nutshell.” He glanced at the clock on the wall. “It’s a bit early, but the point has been made. Class dismissed.”

Before the class exited the long hallway to head home or wherever, Rise and Fall being their last class of the day, somebody was already composing a bit of doggerel to the laughter of his comrades.

America the beautiful
Designed a perfect mess
With engineers so dutiful
Produced extreme one-leggedness

“Well,” Professor Drarl Smeckinpaugh said aloud to the empty room, “that didn’t go so badly after all. They’ll all remember that if nothing else.” He waited another hour before leaving, though, putting the time to good use in the perusal of a history tome he’d just received from the Central Tengafl Archives. Then, the sun having set and dusk being deep enough to hide him from most likely witnesses, he finally rose from his desk, hopped on out of the building, and untied his donkey. He might not be able to win an ass kicking contest with a two legged Homo sapiens, but he could sure enough hop his ass onto his ass and ride boldly over the low ridge to the comfy cabin where his two-legged wife would have supper waiting.

11 thoughts on “History in the Year 30,027: Rise and Fall of the One Legged Americans

  1. Cute, Ghost!. A wonderful tale that could result in people thinking about unintended, yet predictable, consequences… That alternate universe sounds like a very strange place. 🙂
    Of course, I do agree that humanity is building alternative paths with huge predictable collateral damage, but we don’t want to think.
    Of course, having been a hopper with my tendon rupture, and helped my wife after her foot surgery, I have learned other low tech solutions for the one legged hop. 🙂
    But… Wall Paper Hangers???? LOL

  2. Aha! Manny, you apparently never heard that one? The Wallpaper War scenario was inspired by a saying I began hearing from the time I was old enough to listen: “Busier than a one-armed paper hanger.” The saying was most likely handed down from the time(s) before sheetrock when wallpaper was the interior wall covering of choice for many a home. And if you’ve ever hung wallpaper, you know an eight foot long sheet of the stuff will do its best to curl back on you and contort itself into impossible configurations, only settling down after finding its working place on the wall while the paste dries. It would be pretty much impossible for anyone to hang paper without the use of two hands, so….

  3. I’d forgotten the “one armed wallpaper hanger” joke… and because I knew it was a mess to take off after you put it on, I never decided to to use it in my homes, except for a wall mural I did have with my first wife… one wall of the living room was a tropical rainforest…
    Taking the mural off the wall was a real pain…
    Paint though, is fun! Specially when my young wife asked her friends over to help paint a children’s mural in the baby’s room. LOL
    Your story is one heck of a wild dream, though!
    PS – love to Pam !

  4. Pam says love back to you!

    Never thought of the story being a “wild dream.” It was just my way of expressing my displeasure with the dimmer switch being removed from the floorboards of later vehicles. To me, that design change really does represent a serious imbalance for millions of drivers who will never even realize there IS an imbalance. Admittedly, I did project that in a somewhat tongue in cheek, extreme manner, but I’m pretty sure (never say never, of course, but PRETTY sure) I’m done buying newer vehicles. Preferably, my next set of wheels will be a pre-computer, early Suburban (with barn doors in the back, thank you), not a 2018 Whizbang Electrogismo. Current new models strike me as nothing but smartphones with wheels. I both dislike and distrust transportation dependent on computers, which means the only vehicles I could truly trust in the event of a major EMP strike against the USA would be those with carburetors, not fuel injection. Built in the fifties or sixties, possibly the seventies as long as there’s a carburetor.

    I do agree that paint can be enjoyable. Mostly, I just want to get the job done, but sometimes….

  5. In my case, I believe I will enjoy the “driverless” cars of the future, since they will offer me much more freedom. Of course, in the case of an EMP, all bets are off … 🙁

  6. In your case that makes perfect sense, especially with (as I recall you mentioning) your eyesight limitations. My case (so far at least, knock on wood he said as he thunked a knuckle atop his own skull) is the exact opposite: Manual control of a motor vehicle is freedom. For me, a driverless car is a sea of electronic waves otherwise known as a prison over which I have no control whatsoever. And it does not help to know that our late Cochise County Sheriff, Larry Dever, was assassinated that way when his official vehicle was hacked and the SUV’s computer took over control of the throttle after being remotely triggered when the killers saw that he was heading onto a National Forest dirt road full of curves that were not navigable at high speed.

    Even some of the current cars advertised as stopping on their own to avoid impact…those would sicken me to drive. I’d do it if I had to, never say never, but there are times when I WANT to hit something and would be really messed up if I couldn’t. I’m not talking about deliberately destructive behavior, but (for example) if there is a roadblock ahead manned not by law enforcement but by obvious bad guys with evil in mind…and I see a way to crash on through, duck a few bullets, and keep on going rather than meekly surrender, I want to be able to go metal-to-metal. Point being, one man’s freedom is another man’s incarceration and/or potential death.

    Even the vehicles I own and drive now have mandatory so called safety measures I absolutely loathe, such as ABS brakes, seat belts, and most especially airbags. My attitude could change–we’re always changing whether we realize it or not–but at this point in time, I have no intention of buying any “newer” vehicle than I currently own. Ever. Instead, the next set of wheels will probably replace the 2002 GMC Sierra pickup truck (which bugs the dickens out of me as its increased electronics make it barely half the truck the 1996 GMC Sierra is, according to my criteria). Am looking to (someday) acquire an early Suburban, maybe out of the 1960’s, which will get me away from both airbags and ABS brakes.

    I don’t see myself as a Luddite, exactly, but do have some tendencies in that direction, for sure. On the flip side, yes, technology is marching on toward providing greater assistance for those with physical challenges of all sorts. It also provides greater assistance for those with terrorism in mind, but a lot of mankind’s discoveries serve as double edged swords. Guess that’s why those wise in the ways of Spirit talk about balancing on the “razor’s edge,” eh?

  7. The razor’s edge it is, LOL, and everytime I want to plan our and micromanage things, I get cut up! LOL
    But back to cars, I honestly love the old Toyota 4X4 jeep imitations: tough, reliable, and they delivered! another car I liked becasue no one imagined how tough it really was when in proper maintenance, was the old VW beetle. Only bad point for both was the lack of high speed capabilities. But they are reliable vehicles, and the Toyotas will last for ever (the VWs have a problem with abuse and salt corrosion). And both cars were relatively insconspicous for me, since they didn’t scream out “I’ve got money” in the back roads of Latin America. 😉
    As for all the electronics they’ve put in cars, my complaint is simply that they have followed the Microsoft example of considering the user a fool. We can’t do anything under the hood anymore, and they’ve used off the counter electronics that are easily hacked. 🙁 So I understand your concerns and decision. But I would suggest you go back to the old reliables, before the online sensors tood over. An EMP hit on any vehicle can burn out things, and in the last 2 decades the motor sensors have become critical. As I remember from old articles on the issue, any closed circuit during an EMP will fry a lot of things. So I used to have the very basic Toyota 4X4 as my backup car, and for going up mountains… but that’s another story.
    Take care! and don’t think I haven’t noticed the lack of a new post! LOL

  8. I still want a Volkswagen Thing. I still see them around here occasionally, but I haven’t found one I can afford. Well, I did, But I can’t afford to have it rebuilt. My mom and dad had one when I was in my early 20’s and I loved it. They did not consult with me though when they decided to trade it and the 65 Mustang in on a Ford Aerostar that they could use to haul the oxygen tank around in. I did get the Aerostar, but I would have preferred the Thing.
    I remember the saying about the one armed paper hanger. My dad used it a lot. My husband always refused to put wallpaper up, or to help me in any way to put it up. I may put up one wall of paper in the living room or my bedroom someday, just as an accent wall.

  9. Manny and Becky: I have to agree on the general desirability of the old VW Beetles (had a ’68 but first ex got it in the divorce) and Toyotas. Never have been close enough to a Thing to comment on it. First ex and I also started our marriage out with–not a ’65 Mustang, but close enough in the sense of none of us knowing at the time which vehicles were going to be later considered classics. Ours was a 2-tone green ’56 Chevy Bel Air four door hardtop with that first smallest (256 cubic inch?) V-8, before Chevy upgraded to the 283. VIcky bought it right out of high school while I was in Germany in the Army. We ran the wheels off of that beast on the rodeo circuit for a while, eventually trading it in on a new ’66 half ton Chevy pickup.

    Better you than me on the wallpaper. I’ve never refused to tackle it when I had it to do, but it’s certainly not my greatest talent, either.

    Oh, and Manny, I agree wholeheartedly on the “stealth aspect” of those vehicles (VW, Toyota) in Latin America. That’s one of many reasons I drive a 21 year old truck (GMC Sierra) today–the version known for paint fade, though weirdly enough, the hood is now totally “grayed out” and the rest of the paint is not. Go figure.

  10. P.S. for Manny: Hey, this post is only 4 days old. But as long as we’re talking cars, spoiler alert: I have one post coming up–probably won’t finish it tonight, but fairly soon–that keeps us in that topic area. 🙂

  11. I enjoyed reading that, as well as the back-and-forth with the readers. I had to google “Volkswagen Thing”, then googled “67 Chevy Suburban” just to verify that they existed back then (there are some pretty sweet lifted ones around!).

    My family hung some wallpaper when I was young enough that I didn’t have to/get to join in the fun. I know I’ve heard (read, more’s the like) that old wallpaper joke before, but I failed to recall it while reading your story.

    I was intrigued the first time I found the dimmer switch located on the floor of a vehicle. This was in my step dad’s ’76 or ’79 Ford F-150 (he has one of each, one automatic and one standard).

    I don’t loathe ABS, having little experience therewith, but I’ve seen/felt it work when I didn’t want it to and not work when it was ‘supposed’ to and thus currently have a moderate dislike for it. Sheesh, I actually want to learn how to use my brakes in different situations. Seat belts I would be okay with if they didn’t auto-tighten. Sometimes I’ll jam a penny in the upper slot to keep it from becoming a noose around my soul. If a penny is not quite the right thickness, then a nickel or dime or folded piece of paper does the trick. And I’ve never been involved in a crash or hard bump, so no experience with airbags.

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