July 09, 2009
In a classic 1993 episode of "The Simpsons," the town of Springfield finds itself flush with cash after the Environmental Protection Agency fines Mr. Burns $3 million for dumping nuclear waste. How to spend it? Smooth salesman Lyle Lanley (played by Phil Hartman) convinces the city to build a futuristic monorail. On it's maiden voyage—marked by a Leonard Nemoy appearance—the monorail disastrously malfunctions and Homer, the conductor, stops the speeding train only by anchoring it to the town's giant donut. Meanwhile, Lanley absconds with the cash.
Little did the show's writer, Conan O'Brien, know that 16 years later Missoula would be flush with stimulus money and an uncannily similar scheme to bilk it. In March, Unimodel introduced Missoula to "SkyTran," a $25 million project that would use hydrogen-fuel-cell-powered "magnetic levitation vehicles"—essentially space pods—to connect Missoula and Hamilton.
For better or worse, the two "visionaries" behind the proposal—Paul Williamson of the University of Montana's Alternative Energy Technologies program and Unimodel CEO Christopher Perkins—lack Lanley's salesmanship (and, perhaps, a citizenry as gullible as Springfield's). The SkyTran mostly fell on deaf ears. But before they push these preposterous space pods and the promises that "Missoula is poised to become the Kitty Hawk of the 21st Century," we recommend Williamson and Perkins watch the end of "The Simpsons" monorail episode. After leaving Springfield, Lanley's flight redirects to North Haverbrook, a prior victim of his swindling, and he's lynched by the locals.