Frankly, I have nothing against our fine Air Force Academy spending money. As we're all aware these days, the Academy has an important mission in our world -- pilots to train, basketball coaches to hire, Jews to be converted to Christianity, etc. -- and such a mission isn't cheap.
(News flash: The Academy has signed famed trumpet player Wynton Marsalis to a five-year, $6.5 million contract. The deal calls for the musician, who can hold a note for 35 seconds because of his unparalleled lung capacity, to spend each December at the academy -- bursting into Cadet Steinberg's room and blowing out his Hanukkah candles.)
But sometimes you get subtle indications that the Academy might actually waste money. Example: Back in the 1990s, the Academy spent -- I am not kidding -- $20,000 in taxpayer money on a dishwasher for the personal kitchen of then-superintendent Lt. Gen. Tad "What The Hell Does A Guy Have To Do To Get A Clean Glass Around Here?" Oelstrom.
Oelstrom left the Academy in 2000 and is now the director of the National Security Program at Harvard, where he's known for his no-nonsense views on terrorism and also for having unbelievably spotless pasta bowls.
Now there are new indications the Academy might be spending money -- to use the old expression -- "like Paris Hilton in a personal lubricant store."
Today, then, we will examine the Academy's spending in two areas: asphalt and sod.
Some quick math
Last week the Academy completed a paving project on a one-mile stretch of Pine Drive leading to Air Academy High School. The exact same stretch of Pine Drive was paved just 20 months earlier. Prior to the recent repaving project, the asphalt road was fine. Hardly a crack.
I know that because my son, Chester Tosches, has just completed his sophomore year at the school and I often drive on that road. (About three times a week, I'm summoned to the school with my tranquilizer dart gun after the frantic principal calls to say that 16-year-old Chester has "seen a girl.")
Anyway, to repave the mile of roadway that had been repaved just 20 months earlier, the Academy spent roughly $250,000, according to spokesman John Van Winkle. (Voicemail message: "Hi. You've reached the office of Mr. Van Winkle. Please leave a message and I'll get back to you when I wake up in about 20 years.")
Van Winkle said the one-mile job was part of a project that will repave six miles of Pine Drive. The contract to repave the six miles: $1.5 million, according to Van Winkle.
Which makes Greg Danis, owner of Danis Asphalt in our village, laugh so hard that tar comes out of his nose.
"The general price to repave a mile of two-lane asphalt road is between $60,000 and $80,000," Danis said. "Although a big contractor with a big contract might do it for less than $60,000 a mile."
Doing some quick math here, that seems to be less than the $250,000 a mile the Academy is paying.
I'm sure this has nothing to do with the paving frenzy at the Academy, but there are some people who believe that as the federal government's fiscal year nears an end in the summer, government agencies tend to work very hard at spending whatever money remains in the budget.
"I was contacted about 12 years ago to bid on an Air Force Academy paving job," said Danis. "I looked at the road and told them the asphalt was fine and the road definitely didn't need to be repaved. They told me they'd find someone else. And they did.
"It's in their budget. They have to spend it. So they'll pave anything just to make sure they don't leave anything in the budget."
Salting the sod
Let's move to sod. Every year the Academy replaces several miles of sod along its medians. Specifically, a 24-inch strip of sod nearest the road that turns brown from the winter salting and sanding of the roadways.
The procedure is done in the usual way: Football coach and devout Christian Fisher DeBerry and his team of devout Christian football players pray over the grass until it miraculously turns green again. (Then Coach DeBerry scampers away to one of the Academy's lakes and spends the rest of the day walking on the water and shouting, "I'd like to see a doggone Jew do this!")
No, actually, the 24-inch strip of sod on both sides of the median along South Gate Boulevard and Stadium Boulevard is replaced every spring as part of the Academy's $1.2 million annual budget for sod, fertilizing, mowing, weed control and snow removal, according to Van Winkle.
Here's my favorite part: The same contractor who spreads the salt on the road in the winter also has the contract to replace the sod that is killed by the salt that (wink-wink) somehow misses the road.
Which explains why the contractor uses an F-15 fighter jet.
And drops that controversial "smart salt" from 32,000 feet.
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