Today, the subject is public roads and public money, and you may write your own story by filling in the blanks. It might start this way:
If Rep. (name) had his way, the new federal highway-aid law will provide [amount] for a drmatic, forward-looking, revolutionary (pick one) project to help the community of (name).
For background, remember that this is an election year, when it helps a congressman to send some extra greenbacks to the home district. Not coincidentally, it is also the year for the crafting of the biennial federal highway authorization bill, a grand-daddy among public works measures. Roads, cement, motor vehicles, lots of money, etc, etc.
Some sample starters for your story:
If Rep. James J. Howard (D-N.J.) has his way, $30 million will be used to set up a seagoing jetfoil passenger service to connect his district with New York City.
If Rep. James C. Cleveland (R-N.H.) has his way, federal law will be changed to allow the state of New Hampshire to sell lottery tickets along its interstate highways.
If Rep. Harold T. Johnson (D-Calif.) has his way, the vending machine will finally make its appearance, dispensing drinks and goodies, at rest stops on interstate highways.
If Rep. Robert C. McEwen (R-N.Y.) has his way, the law will be changed to allow placement of a duty-free store on an interstate highway in his district near the Canadian border.
You get the picture, and by now, your story is writing itself. When House and Senate committees take up federal-aid highway legislation, as is the case this month, it is a good bet that dramatic, forward-looking, revolutionary (pick one) ideas will gush forth.
As surely as sap rises in the spring, people in Congress know that even-numbered years are the times to strike for winning a morsel of federal highway money for a special project back at home.
A subcommittee of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is expected to finish work on its version of a highway bill next week. Its counterpart on the House Public Works and Transportation Committee plans to begin work Tuesday.
Jetfoils, lotteries and vending machines aside the committees are dealing with monumental bills - multibillion-dollar measure for roads, safety and mass transit programs that are supposed to help us get from here to there.
Terms of the House and Senate bills are different, but their major features are aimed at speeding up completion of the interstate highway system, replacing and repairing thousands of unsafe bridges, promoting urban mass-transit programs.
The money for these activities would come mainly from the highway trust fund, which is financed by taxes on gasoline and tires.
The House measure seems the more imaginative of the two in devising ways to spend the money.
For example, Rep. Howard, chairman of the Surface Transportation Subcommittee, wants the Department of Transportation to set up a project to demonstrate a jetfoil passenger service.
Howard and committee aides traveled to Hong Kong to see a jetfoil - a vessel whose hull rides above the surface of the water - carry passengers.
Just the ticket for Howard's 3rd District of New Jersey, they decided, to connect lower Manhattan with Sandy Hook, N.J., a barren peninsula that is part of the Gateway national urban seashore park.
So the bill proposes $30 million to carry out a study to see if jetfoils are a good way to provide mass transit.
Two of the special portions of the House bill are designed to bring a little bit more of the 20th century to the rest stops on the interstate system, which so far have been immunized from commercialism.
The first, allowing vending machines providing food and drink, developed from a California experiment at rest stops on the state road system. It worked. Travelers were refreshed and California made money.
A committee staff assistant said the proposal for a demonstration test on the interstates came from "California people" who thought it was a good idea. No, he said, vending machine lobbyists were not behind it.
In corroboration, a lobbyist for the National Automatic Merchandising Association, the chief trade group, with 2,200 members, said he was not aware that the provision was in the bill.
The chances of success for the proposal would seem enhanced by the fact that the "California people" include Rep. Johnson, chairman of the Public Works and Transportation Committee.
The second idea for the rest stops comes from Rep. Cleveland, who would set up a demonstration of sales of lottery tickets by machine or by state employes. His hope is that New Hampshire, the first state to operate a lottery in modern times, would be picked for the test.
Another proposal would, for the first time, allow a commercial establishment to be operated on interstate right-of-way - in this case, a duty-free store 600 feet from the Canadian border in upper New York at the Thousand Islands bridge on I-81.
Duty free shoppers now must make their purchases at a shop located off the interstate and pick up the goods at another point. The bill would allow for establishing a one-stop shopping mart out on the main highway.
The House subcommittee will be considering another idea offered by one of its members, Rep. Don H. Clausen (R-Calif.), who wants a $50 million road built in his district.
Clausen calls it a demonstration to determine how much the road would divert motor vehicle traffic around the Prairie Creek Redwood State Park in Humboldt County.
Vehicles now must go through the park. Build the bypass and the park's natural beauty will be preserved - if the demonstration works, the bill says.
All of these proposals and others in the House version must survive committee and floor action and then be dealt with in a conference with the Senate if they are not in the Senate version.
"We're going to hold firm wherever we can," said a Senate Public Works Committee attorney. "They're turning this bill into another Christmas tree."