Dripping Springs, Texas, is a small, rural town of roughly 6,000 residents located about 25 miles west of Austin. It bills itself as the “Gateway to the Texas Hill Country,” and in truth, it is known for its rolling hills and country character. Long ago, it was a stagecoach stop between Austin and Fredericksburg, now known and promoted as the epicenter of the Texas Hill Country. Dripping Springs is a lovely, quaint little community, but you might be forgiven for not having ever heard of it before.
And you might not have ever heard of Mr. James Akers, a 15 year resident of Dripping Springs, who recently brought an unusual measure of publicity to his small town. Mr. Akers is a parent of four children, one of whom is still in high school in the Dripping Springs Independent School District (servicing 7200 students — yes, more than the total population of the town because it also serves children of surrounding towns in Hays County). Akers appeared at the August 23 school board meeting to make a case for requiring face masks in the schools (in spite of the Governor’s ban on such mandates). Dressed conventionally in a jacket and tie, he nevertheless gave an unconventional performance in his allotted 90 seconds of speaking time.
This routine, small-town event ended up being widely quoted and reported by multiple local and national newspapers and television stations (from which the following synopsis has been compiled). This is the way it went: “I’m here to say I do not like government, or any other entity telling me what to do,” Mr. Akers began. “But sometimes I’ve got to push the envelope a little bit, and I’ve just decided that I’m going to not just talk about it, but I’m going to walk the walk.”
He continued: “On the way over here, I ran three stop signs and four red lights. I almost killed somebody out there, but by God, they’re my roads too, so I have every right to drive as fast as I want to, make the turns that I want to.” Then, stepping back slightly from the microphone, he began to take off his jacket. “At work, they make me wear this jacket. I hate it. They make me wear this shirt and tie. I hate it,” he added, removing both.
Mr. Akers’s not-so-subtle parody of those who oppose a school mask mandate became clear as he continued to disrobe.. “It’s simple protocol, people,” he said, by then having removed his pants. “We follow certain rules for a very good reason.”
When his time was up, the School Board President said she understood, but added, “If you wouldn’t mind putting your pants back on for a comment that would be appreciated.” Akers calmly did so and walked away amid a muffle of laughter and applause. “There are too many voices out there that I think are digging in for political reasons, and absolutely just not thinking about the common-sense decisions we make every day,” Akers later explained to Austin TV station KXAN.
An earlier order issued by Hays County Judge Ruben Becerra mandating masks in all public schools expired on August 21. No further action has since been taken by the Dripping Springs Board beyond recommending masks for students and staff. Mr. Akers made his point, even if he didn’t win it, and he did so with dignity and a certain amount of self-deprecating humor. I found his confidence and mature common sense to be inspiring. No doubt even some of those in the audience on the other side of the mask issue found themselves chuckling and clapping, and sheepishly admitting that Akers had a point.
Compare the tenor of the meeting in Dripping Springs to the insults, threats, heckling and physical confrontations that have erupted over masking in Tennessee and California, particularly the all-out parking lot brawl that occurred in Missouri this week (Sept. 7) when a small town board of education there voted to reinstate a school mask mandate. The issue is about the safety of school children, and these are, supposedly, the adults!
Reason, maturity, civility and humor — these have become almost impossible to find in public life in America anymore, locally or nationally. Instead, our leaders exhibit behaviors that would be promptly punished among children on the playground: bullying, name-calling, threatening, extortion, foot-stomping and temper tantrums. When leaders are no longer held accountable for what they say and do, then everyone else down the line feels licensed to act in the same offensive ways. In terms of modeling behaviors for our future citizenry, that promises as much long-term damage to our children as Covid does.
Humor is the trait I miss most of all these days. No one laughs anymore, especially not at the self. Everyone is soooo self-righteous, soooo self-absorbed, not to mention soooo woefully ignorant of the definitions of humor-related literary tools such as irony, sarcasm, hyperbole, satire, understatement, parody, pun, oxymoron, or malapropism. Everyone frowns and scowls and stomps along so resolutely that they can’t even appreciate the inherent relief and wisdom of moments of comic relief when they happen.
But the wisdom of comic relief was appreciated in Dripping Springs on August 23rd and I, for one, was grateful. It gave me a brief, but welcome, reason to be proud of my fellow Texans on both sides of an issue. And it made me smile.