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.